Thursday, February 02, 2012

Another Brutal Loss For Texas

#4 Missouri 67, Texas 66
The end of this game, after Myck Kabongo missed the potential game winner, led to the classic post hoc analysis. Everybody praised Frank Haith for his brilliant coaching adjustments, particularly switching to a zone on the final possession. Everybody heaped scorn on Rick Barnes. It was enough that even Ken Pomeroy had to crack open his rarely-used blog to talk about coaching luck. As he pointed out, Texas had a play called out of the huddle to deal with the zone, and not only did they get a good shot on the final possession, but Myck Kabongo was probably fouled. Rick Barnes claimed that officials told him after the game that they'd blown the call and that Kabongo was actually fouled. If the officials had called that foul and Kabongo had hit both at the line, the story would have been how Frank Haith's bad coaching had blown a late ten point lead. The difference between a coach getting loads of praise or loads of scorn from the media shouldn't be a single play where a single referee can change things single-handedly... but it is.

Right now, Texas sits at 61st in the Sagarin ELO_CHESS and 21st in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Their Pomeroy rating has moved up to 20th. There really is no other recent example of a team like this. The best example I can think of is the 2009-10 Washington team that spent most of the year rated around 20-25th in the Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR but was 7-7 in Pac-12 play at one point. I got a lot of criticism just for leaving them in my bracket (and as the favorites to win the Pac-12 tournament) that year. But they won their final four regular season games, took the Pac-12 tournament and after earning an 11 seed went all the way to the Sweet 16. Another comparison is the 2006-07 Villanova team that was 6-7 in the Big East at one point and that finished the season 15th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR and 38th in Pomeroy. But they only earned a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament and went one-and-done after an atrocious shooting performance against Kentucky. And of course, this Texas team is improving as the season goes along. I think that by March they'll be one of the 10 or 15 best teams in the country.

So Texas now sits at 3-6 in Big 12 play, and at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament. But if they get into the Tournament they'll have a great shot to reach the Sweet 16 and will be a dark horse Final Four contender. It's a bizarre place. They shouldn't have any trouble on Saturday with Texas Tech at home, but then will have a difficult road game Monday night at Texas A&M.

Two of Missouri's last three wins have been by a single point, but both games were against elite teams (the other was against Baylor), so there's no reason to worry too much. If they'd lost both of those games by a single point I'd be defending their bad luck right now. They have a huge game coming up Saturday night against Kansas, a team that has struggled against opponents that can hit threes and get to the line (both of which Missouri does quite well). With a home game against Baylor coming up a week later, they do need to be careful of looking past a potentially tricky road game at Oklahoma.

Illinois 42, #10 Michigan State 41
This wasn't a well-played game, but it wasn't horribly played either. Both of these teams are better on defense than offense, and both played good defense here. But then, neither team could hit a jumper either. The two teams combined to hit 6-for-31 behind the arc. Of course, the big story from this game was Draymond Green's injury. Green twisted his knee and fell without touching any other player, and couldn't put any weight on that leg the rest of the night, which is never a good sign. For now, Michigan State is claiming it's just a sprain and that he's "day to day", which is a good, but I just find it hard to believe that he won't miss at least a game.

Michigan State will be a great rebounding team as long as Tom Izzo is there, and their defense will still be excellent without Green also, but offense is where they'll feel his absence. Besides his scoring, Green is effectively tied for the team lead in assists (3.5 per game, compared to 3.9 for Keith Appling). He's like Goran Suton, only much better. Appling has turned into an excellent scorer, but Michigan State doesn't really have anybody else that can score besides Draymond Green. The key test will be on Sunday against Michigan. After that they only will have an easy home game against Penn State before playing Ohio State on February 11th, when Draymond Green will likely be back. Can they score enough to keep up with the Wolverines? We'll see.

This may have been an ugly win, but it's also a huge win for Illinois. They're now 16-6 with a 5-4 conference record and wins over Ohio State, Michigan State, Gonzaga and Minnesota, along with a bad loss to Penn State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 23rd, and there's no question that if the season ended now that they'd be in the NCAA Tournament. With that set of big wins and the strength of the Big Ten, I think that a 9-9 Big Ten record and a win in the Big Ten tournament will be more than enough to lock up an NCAA Tournament bid. Their next game will be on Sunday against Northwestern. After that they'll go on the road for a pair of key games against Indiana and Michigan.

Iowa State 72, Kansas State 70
For a while it looked like a classic letdown game for Iowa State. Coming off that huge win against Kansas they were struggling mightily at home against a Kansas State team that has struggled badly on the road so far this season. They trailed for most of the second half, falling behind by as much as 14 before Royce White and Chris Allen took over down the stretch.

It's been a very impressive two weeks for Iowa State. They went to Lubbock and destroyed Texas Tech by 24, then hung close until the final minute at Texas, then beat Kansas and had this nice comeback win over Kansas State. They're now 6-3 in the Big 12 with wins over Kansas, Texas and Kansas State, and only one real bad loss (Drake). Their RPI is 38th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 41st. If the season ended now, Iowa State would be an NCAA Tournament team for sure. But the season doesn't end now, and the concern is that this Cyclones team is going to have a reality check at some point. They're not going to keep this level of play up through March. So can they absorb that reality check and keep rolling? I think they need to go 4-5 down the stretch (to get to 10-8 in conference play) to stay in the Field of 68. Their next game will be on Saturday at Oklahoma.

This loss drops Kansas State to 4-5 in Big 12 play, though with two easy games coming up (at home against Texas A&M and Texas Tech). They had a much stronger non-conference performance than Iowa State (wins over Virginia Tech, Alabama and Long Beach State, and zero bad losses), so even a 9-9 conference record should be enough to send Kansas State to the Tournament. Getting there won't be easy, though. These really need these two home wins coming up, because after that they have a vicious stretch (at Texas, vs Kansas, at Baylor, at Missouri). They could easily lose all four of those games.

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