Saturday, December 31, 2011

Louisville's Offense Abandons Them At Kentucky

#3 Kentucky 69, #4 Louisville 62
You had to know what you were getting into with this game. The athleticism on these two teams is mind-boggling, but the game was just incredibly sloppy and out-of-control. There were 34 turnovers, 18 steals, 15 blocks and only 16 assists. There were 70 free throw attempts compared to only 37 made shots from the field. By my calculation this game had 80 possessions... and neither team broke 70 points. If there was one player that really stuck out, though, it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. We already knew he was the best player on Kentucky, but his poise and maturity stood out so starkly among all the craziness of this game. He looked like the one guy under control.

For Louisville, besides the fact that they were terribly sloppy offensively (if I'm right about the 80 possessions, then the 0.78 offensive efficiency for them is their worst since December 14th, 2010), this was something of a "changing of the guard" game. Last season, this team rose and fell with Peyton Siva. Every big win they had came when Siva hit big shots in the final minute. Heading into this season, it was assumed Siva would be even better. He was named Second Team All-Big East preseason - the only Louisville player honored at all. Yet what I've seen these past few games has been terrible inefficiency from him. He attacks the rim completely out of control, taking horrible shots, often with 20-25 seconds left on the shot clock. He never just works the offense. Siva's Pomeroy ORtg is under 100 this season, making him only the fourth most efficient Louisville starter.

In this game, Louisville went on runs when the ball came out of the hands of Siva, and went into the hands of Russ Smith. Smith had 30 points, on 10-for-20 shooting here. Smith was averaging 7.1 points per game through December 15th - he's averaged 20.6 since. In my opinion, Louisville needs to take the ball out of the hands of Siva. Siva is a great attacking player, and you can put the ball in his hands when you need a basket late in the game or shot clock, but the normal-possession offense needs to be run through the most efficient ball handler, and right now that's Russ Smith.

The good news for Louisville is that this game didn't count in the conference standings. They're still 0-1 in Big East play with a relatively soft upcoming schedule. They'll play at St. John's Tuesday, and then will play Notre Dame next Saturday. After that they'll play Providence and DePaul before their next really tough game, on the road at Marquette on January 16th. Kentucky also gets a soft start to their SEC schedule, against South Carolina, Auburn and Tennessee. They might not be seriously tested until they face Alabama on January 21st.

Seton Hall 67, West Virginia 48
I wanted to talk about one final game from last night. West Virginia has a tendency to struggle to score if they're not hitting threes and can't get out in transition. They were only 6-for-20 on threes here, and they forced only one steal. A lot of credit goes to the Seton Hall backcourt for hanging onto the ball, but I thought they just had a sound offensive strategy. Rather than asking the guards to create offense, they ran the offense through the bigs, allowing the guards to sit back. Herb Pope and Fuquan Edwin were unstoppable in the paint, combining for 32 points on 14-for-25 shooting.

Seton Hall is a team that is still a bit of a mystery. Their RPI has been awful high all season long, and after this win it's all the way up to 3rd in the nation. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 15th, their PREDICTOR is 46th and their Pomeroy rating is 43rd. They have wins over West Virginia, Dayton, St. Joe's and VCU, with zero bad losses. They're 3-0 in games decided by five points or less, and two of those were decided in overtime. In other words, they're a pretty good team, but they've been a little lucky. And while they have several decent wins, none are great resume-builders. By Selection Sunday, none of those wins will be the wins they're bragging about. So everything is going to come down to Big East play, where they're off to a 1-1 start. In my opinion, a 9-9 Big East record puts them on the bubble, and a 10-8 record probably gets them in. One thing that works in their favor is a relatively soft Big East schedule. All Big East teams will play a second game against three different opponents, and Seton Hall is matched up with Rutgers, DePaul and UConn. They'll play UConn Tuesday, and then have a road game at Providence next Saturday.

West Virginia had a stronger set of non-conference wins than Seton Hall. They beat Kansas State, Missouri State and Miami (Fl), along with a bad loss to Kent State. They'll still need to go 10-8 in the Big East to feel good about an at-large bid, but at 9-9 they'll be better positioned heading into the Big East tournament than Seton Hall. They go to Rutgers Wednesday, and then get Georgetown next Saturday.

Virginia Tech 67, Oklahoma State 61
For whatever reason, nobody ever pays attention to games like this. I understand that it's not a conference game, but Oklahoma State is a bubble team and this is a very nice win for Virginia Tech. This is as good of a win as a win at Florida State or Virginia, but it won't get 1/5th as much attention, even from Hokies fans. The difference in this game was the fact that Oklahoma State doesn't really have a front court. They've been getting murdered on the boards all season, and that continued here (a 47.1 OR% for Va Tech, compared to 18.2% for the Cowboys).

Travis Ford is trying to recruit bigs, and I do think that he'll eventually fill out his front line. True freshman Le'Bryan Nash is already a good player, but he's still learning how to rebound. Michael Cobbins, a 2010 recruit, still needs to get in the weight room and to fill in his frame. 2012 recruit Kamari Murphy will also be asked to add size. But unless some of these young bigs develop quickly, Oklahoma State's chances of making the 2012 NCAA Tournament are starting to get a little bit long. They are only 7-6, and though none of the losses are that bad, they only have one decent win (Missouri State). The Selection Committee does care about win-loss records, and they're not going to give an at-large bid to a team that goes 17-16 (which is what Oklahoma State will be if they go 9-9 in conference play and win one game in the Big 12 tournament). That means that as good as the Big 12 is, Oklahoma State is going to have to go at least 10-8 in Big 12 play, and even at 10-8 will need to do some damage in the Big 12 tournament. They'll open Wednesday against Texas Tech.

Virginia Tech enters ACC play 10-3 with a pair of wins over Oklahoma State and zero bad losses. The ACC is down this year, though, so Virginia Tech won't feel comfortable if they only finish 9-7 in the ACC, particularly considering their history with the Selection Committee the past few years. They'll open next Saturday with a road game at Wake Forest, and then will play a home game against Florida State and a road game at Boston College. Those are all games that they should win. They just need to take care of business.

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