Saturday, December 17, 2011

Florida Torches Texas A&M

#14 Florida 84, #22 Texas A&M 64
This game was never close. Florida jumped out to an 18-2 lead and led by 25 points at halftime. Texas A&M just got torched. They came into this game seventh in the nation allowing only 0.80 PPP, but they gave up 1.25 PPP here (their worst defensive performance since an 81-60 loss to Texas on January 19th). There were two big differences for Florida. First, Erik Murphy looks to finally be close to fully healthy, and had a big impact here. But more importantly, Florida's backcourt blew by the Texas A&M backcourt defenders at will. Erving Walker and Bradley Beal combined for 16 free throw attempts themselves. As a team Florida took 30 free throws, compared to only 12 for the Aggies.

This was Khris Middleton's second game back for Texas A&M after a knee injury, and he played well (7 rebounds and 7 assists) but was rusty (5-for-18 from the field). When he gets going he'll lift up a struggling Aggies offense. I don't think their defense will have this type of performance again too often. The Texas A&M resume is poor right now, though. They have a loss to Mississippi State and zero quality wins. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is outside the Top 100. They only earned that #22 ranking through inertia - beating cupcakes while other teams lost. They'll now finish non-conference play without a quality win. They go against Rice on Thursday, then play a non-DI opponent a week later before opening Big 12 play at Baylor on January 2nd. The Big 12 is strong this year, which will help Texas A&M's resume, but the Aggies will have to go at least 9-9 with a couple of big scalps just to make the NCAA Tournament.

Florida now has this win and a win over Arizona. Both of their losses are against top teams (Ohio State and Syracuse). The SEC is increasingly looking like a three-way race between Kentucky, Florida and Alabama. But before Florida can get there, they've still got a few quality opponents to play. They get rival Florida State on Thursday, followed by a game at Rutgers on December 29th. They also have UAB coming up on January 3rd.

Gonzaga 71, Arizona 60
Gonzaga opened up a 22-4 lead to start this game (including 12 points from Elias Harris over that stretch), though it turned out that they really needed those points (not to mention the timeouts that Sean Miller had to burn to get his team into the game). Arizona actually pulled within six points with a little more than a minute to go, but 5-for-6 free throw shooting down the stretch helped Gonzaga finish this game off.

Robert Sacre and Sam Dower only combined for 20 points, but they were the difference in this game. Arizona has nobody big enough to guard either one man-to-man, and had to constantly have a help defender in the area, which opened up the perimeter for Elias Harris to go wild (25 points on 11-for-15 shooting). The biggest problem offensively for Arizona, as it's been all year, is at point guard. Josiah Turner has been in a major disappointment, and Jordin Mayes just hasn't played well enough to pick up the slack. With Kevin Parrom struggling, Arizona just doesn't have a lot of players that can make their own offense. They need point guards to break the defense down, and it's not happening. They're a young team that I expect to improve, but they're further behind than I thought they'd be at this point.

This is Gonzaga's best win of the year. They've also beaten Washington State and Notre Dame, and are still without any bad losses. It's a Tournament resume, but not overwhelmingly so. They could still use another quality win or so. The WCC is improved this year by the addition of BYU, but it's still a lot harder to build your Tournament resume than it would be in a major conference. The Zags will play Butler on Tuesday, and also have upcoming games against Xavier and Air Force. Arizona, now 7-4 without any particularly bad losses but without any big wins either, will try to lick their wounds on Tuesday against Oakland. The problem is that there will be no real premier wins in a horrid Pac-12 conference, and they have no more big non-conference opponents either. The way things are looking, I think Arizona will probably need to get to 12-6 in Pac-12 play just to make the NCAA Tournament (if they end up 11-7 they'll have a bunch of work to do in the Pac-12 tournament).

Central Florida 61, Old Dominion 53
It's been a frustrating start to the season for Old Dominion, and this game was no different. They earned six more offensive rebounds and committed two fewer turnovers, but the difference in this game was outside shooting. UCF was 7-for-12 behind the arc, Old Dominion was 4-for-21. This is Old Dominion's fifth loss of the season, and they've had an effective field goal percentage of 36.6 or worse in every single one. At some point it stops being a fluke and starts becoming a trend - Old Dominion doesn't have anybody that can shoot.

With this loss and losses to Vermont and Fairfield, ODU is piling up the bad losses, and they don't have any wins yet against likely RPI Top 100 teams. At this point, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Colonial is going to be a one-bid league this year. That means ODU needs to find a way to edge out George Mason, VCU and every other team in that conference for the Colonial's auto bid. Their next game will be at Richmond on Tuesday, and they also have an upcoming game against Missouri, but the conference games will be what matter more. They have a huge home game against George Mason on January 4th - a loss there would severely damage ODU's hopes for a regular season conference title.

This is a nice win for a UCF team that had previously only beaten UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis, which few college basketball fans actually watched. They don't have any other big wins, but they've proven themselves good enough to be a contender in Conference USA. Memphis is the most talented team in that conference, but their halfcourt offense is still very weak and they're vulnerable. UCF, Marshall, Tulsa, Southern Miss and Houston are just some of the teams that will contend atop a wide open C-USA. Their next game will be Wednesday at Louisiana-Lafayette. They open C-USA play on January 4th against a suddenly decent Tulane team.


Tom said...

How do you let a team go up 14-0? Freaking ridiculous. It's been a trend this year (SD State game started the same way). I'm honestly becoming worried about even making the NCAAs for the reasons you stated. I guess the goal should be to win the conference championship in the regular season now, though I have to pick Stanford as the favorite.

Jeff said...

The thing with the Pac-12 is that every team is off to an awful start. It's not like you're getting left behind.

I think Arizona has more room to grow than the other teams, which is why they're still the favorite to win in the end (in my opinion).

Tom said...

Winning the regular season outright still = tournament lock, right? I know it's bad, but even Cal got an 8 seed two years ago and the league was a whole lot worse.

Jeff said...

Assuming they win the rest of their non-conference games and win the Pac-12 with a 13-5 record, I'd say that would make them a lock. 12-6 and a loss in their first Pac-12 tournament game could potentially put them on the bubble, depending on how strong the bubble is this year.

And statistically, I think this year's Pac-12 is actually worse than it's been since that horrible 1985-86 season. Look at their Kenpom or Sagarin rating - it's brutal. The bottom of the conference is flat out atrocious. Utah could be the worst major conference team in decades.