Thursday, February 03, 2011

Iowa Embarrasses Michigan State

Iowa 72, Michigan State 52
The wheels are beginning to fall off in East Lansing. It's not a shock that Michigan State has struggled without Korie Lucious, but I expected those struggles to be on offense. Instead, their defense has become a joke. They allowed Iowa to run all over them for 72 points on 58% shooting. Iowa is now the fifth consecutive opponent to score more than 1 point per possession against Michigan State. Michigan State just went 1-2 against Michigan, Indiana and Iowa, with the one win coming in overtime... and now they begin the difficult part of their schedule. Two of their next three games will be on the road at Wisconsin and Ohio State, and they've also got a home game against Purdue as well as a whole bunch of other difficult games (including a road game at Michigan on senior night in Ann Arbor).

The Spartans do have wins over Wisconsin, Washington and Minnesota, but they're now only 6-8 against the RPI Top 100, and 8-9 against the RPI Top 200. Their RPI is 41st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 43rd. And considering the fact that they're 3-0 in overtime games, it could definitely be worse. I had thought Michigan State couldn't possibly fall to the bubble, and if they do get to 9-9 in Big Ten play they will not. But with their final schedule there's a real chance they fall to 8-10, and at 8-10 they will enter the Big Ten tournament with work still left to do to avoid the NIT. I do like this new uptempo style that Fran McCaffery has installed at Iowa (they are 91st in Adjusted Tempo this year, compared to 321st last year). It has given them a spark and is helping bring fans back. With a couple of recruiting classes this Iowa team might become competitive again. But this year they remain in a battle for last place in the conference. This win only gets them to 2-8.

Kansas State 69, Nebraska 53

Kansas State needed a win here and they came out with great intensity. The Wildcats grabbed a quick 13-6 lead which they opened up to 14 by the half, and the game was never close after that. Kansas State ended up with 10 fewer turnovers and 4 more offensive rebounds - Nebraska didn't have a chance. Despite all of their off-the-court troubles, Kansas State is definitely improving on the court, and they are definitely playing like a Tournament team at the moment. They are up to 3-5 in the Big 12 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that has moved into the Top 50. But that said, their 0-7 against the RPI Top 50 is a killer. If they can get a Top 25 win and finish 8-8 in Big 12 play I don't think there's any way they miss the Tournament. They have a key stretch up next, with road games on consecutive Saturdays against Iowa State and Colorado. They have two easy games later on (home games against Oklahoma and Iowa State), so wins in those two road games will mean that a single quality win (they have games against Kansas, Texas and Missouri ahead) should send them Dancing. As for Nebraska, they have lost four of their last six, and whatever at-large chances they had are really fading. They have a nice win recently over Texas A&M, but it's their only win against the RPI Top 80, and they've got bad losses to Davidson and Texas Tech. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is out to 80th now. They are 3-4 in Big 12 play and would probably need to finish 9-7 to have a chance on Selection Sunday. I just don't see it. They are now a long shot.

Oklahoma State 76, #15 Missouri 70
Missouri fans will blame bad weather (a difficult trip through bad weather for the Tigers players to get to this game) and the refs (Oklahoma State took 41 two-point attempts and 43 free throws), but the reality is that they've struggled away from home all season long. Missouri is now 0-4 in Big 12 road games. They did win a true road game during their non-conference slate, but it came against a terrible Oregon team. It makes sense that Missouri would struggle away from their home crowd because of how important energy is to them. They are so dependent on their press and getting steals off of it. As I've detailed many times, Missouri is a poor defensive team in the half court, so when their opponent can break the press they typically score a lot of points and they typically win. When Missouri is at home their home crowd fires the players up, which can be the difference between a tipped pass and a completed pass. Not to mention that a big effect of the press is the mental pressure of not being able to easily move the ball up the floor, and a home crowd will help build that mental pressure.

Missouri is now only 3-4 in Big 12 play, although they've got wins over Illinois, Old Dominion and Kansas State, and zero bad losses (other than perhaps Colorado). They are still 16-5 overall, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 27th. So Missouri is safely in the Field of 68, and should stay there if they get to 8-8, unless there's a particularly strong bubble this season. And their path to 8-8 is not that tough with a really easy stretch ahead. Three of their next four games are at home against Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. A loss in any of those games will be a massive upset. Oklahoma State desperately needed this win after losing five of their previous six games. They're now back to 3-5 in Big 12 play with wins over Missouri State, Kansas State and Alabama to go with this win, along with a bad loss to Texas Tech. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is now 56th. If the season ended now I think Oklahoma State would be narrowly out of the Field of 68 because of a lack of a big win (I don't think Missouri really counts). They have road games against Texas and Kansas, although their best chance for a quality win will likely be February 19th against Texas A&M. If they can win one of those games and get to 8-8 in Big 12 play, that should be enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament. Their next game will be Saturday against Oklahoma.

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