Saturday, December 31, 2011

Iowa Shocks Wisconsin

Iowa 72, #11 Wisconsin 65
Pomeroy's ratings gave Iowa a 2% chance of winning this game. While the word "upset" gets abused by mindless media types who don't understand efficiency ratings, this was a true shocking upset. As is usual for an upset of this magnitude, it required more than one thing to go wrong for Wisconsin. First, their shooting was atrocious. They finished 3-for-28 (10.7%) on threes, and had a 37.0 eFG%. The only time in the past few years that Wisconsin shot worse than that behind the arc was that 36-33 abomination against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament last season. That eFG% is tied with a performance earlier this season against Marquette for their worst shooting since their NCAA Tournament loss to Butler last season. Second, Wisconsin's defense was uncharacteristically bad. They came into this game leading the nation (by far) in eFG% (Kentucky, at 40.0%, was second to Wisconsin's 36.1%). Yet Iowa torched them for a 50.8 eFG%, the worst Wisconsin has allowed in any game this season (UNLV, North Carolina, Marquette and BYU were all held to 46% or less).

I just threw a lot of stats out there. What do they mean? First, this game was a bizarre statistical fluke. It would be silly to think that Wisconsin is going to shoot 11% on threes this season or stop being an elite defensive team because of one crazy game. On a deeper level, I find it fascinating that Wisconsin two worst shooting days of the season, by far, have come at home in their losses to Marquette and Iowa. For years Wisconsin has had one of the widest home/road performance differentials, particularly with regards to shooting the ball. It had gotten to the point that announcers alleged that their rims were loosened, or that the ball they used was sufficiently different from other balls that it was giving them an unfair home advantage. Last year, for example, they had a 58.3 eFG% at home vs a 46.5 eFG% on the road. This year? It's 54.7% vs 52.4%. The sample sizes are still kind of small, but this suggests that Wisconsin is going to be a much more balanced home/road team this season for whatever reason.

I saw some people on my twitter feed saying that they're going to drop Wisconsin from the Top 25 for this loss, but that's insane. They're still likely going to be in the Top 5 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. This loss is just a statistical fluke that shouldn't be considered a trend. Where this game matters is in the Big Ten standings, where Wisconsin has just spotted all of the top contenders a free game. It's going to dramatically reduce their chances of stealing the Big Ten title from Ohio State, and also severely hurts their chances of finishing in second place or even third. They will have to bounce back on Tuesday against Michigan State or they'll really put themselves in a hole. Their next game after that will be on the road at Michigan on January 8th.

This is a huge win for an Iowa team that was really reeling. Their non-conference performance was really disappointing: losses to Campbell, Clemson and Iowa State, and zero quality wins. Even after this huge win their RPI is still 145th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be in that neighborhood as well. But it gives them a much better shot at a respectable Big Ten record (7 or 8 wins, perhaps). They'll play on the road at Minnesota on Wednesday, and then will come home for a game against Ohio State next Saturday.

#17 Michigan State 68, Nebraska 55
Nebraska had an opportunity to start their first ever season in the Big Ten with a pair of home games. Unfortunately, those games were against Wisconsin and Michigan State. Both games ended up double-digit losses. Here, Nebraska just could not handle the Michigan State defense. Not only did they shoot 28% on their threes, but they only hit 44% of their twos as well. Keith Appling played well again for the Spartans (14 points on 5-for-10 shooting, along with 4 assists), and the team also got some quality minutes off the bench from Austin Thornton.

Michigan State is very quietly a real contender in the Big Ten. They started the season 0-2 with losses to North Carolina and Duke, but they're 13-0 since with wins over Indiana, Gonzaga and Florida State. Ohio State tripping up against Indiana today gives Michigan State an early one game lead over the Big Ten favorites. A key game for them will Tuesday on the road at Wisconsin. A win there and the Spartans will really be able to make a claim as the potential favorites in the Big Ten. After that they'll get a week off before a home game against Iowa.

Nebraska is now 0-2 with a road game Tuesday at Ohio State followed by a road game at Illinois next Saturday. In other words, there's a really good chance they'll be 0-4 heading into a home game against Penn State on January 11th.

Youngstown State 73, Cleveland State 67
This game got lost in all the action today, but it's a really shocking upset as well. Youngstown State is a perennial bottom-feeder in the Horizon, and Cleveland State had been arguably the best team in the league up to this point in the season. Both Pomeroy and the Vegas casinos projected a 13 point victory for Cleveland State. Cleveland State was held back here by the fact that they don't have an explosive scorer this season. They don't have a Norris Cole-type player that can get them a few baskets when they need them. When they fell behind in this game, they had grind their way back in, and just couldn't do it. The star for Youngstown State was Damian Eargle (20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, along with 10 rebounds).

Cleveland State was always a long shot for an at-large bid, but this just about ends whatever hopes they had. They now have three bad losses (Hofstra, South Florida and Youngstown State) and only one real quality win (Vanderbilt). But even with their at-large hopes effectively gone, they're still a prime contender to win the Horizon League. This loss sets them back, but they still have home games against Butler, Milwaukee and Detroit to go. Their next game will be Thursday against Illinois-Chicago.

This win will probably be the highlight of Youngstown State's season, though it is worth noting that they're 2-1 in conference play and will likely see their Pomeroy rating move up to around 200th in the nation (they haven't finished higher than 210th since the 2006-07 season). They only have two seniors in their regular rotation as well, so things are getting better for a program that, as I said, has been a perennial bottom-feeder. Their next game will be Thursday, against Loyola-Chicago.

No comments: