Friday, February 10, 2012

Duke Shocks North Carolina On An Austin Rivers Buzzer Beater

#9 Duke 85, #5 North Carolina 84
I don't think I've ever said this in the past and I don't think I'll ever say it again, but I think this UNC/Duke game was under-hyped, and Dick Vitale was understated on the Austin Rivers buzzer beater. Absolutely nobody in the media was talking about this game until the day of. And then after a gigantic collapse down the stretch (UNC led by 10 with just over two minutes to go), North Carolina lost on that Austin Rivers buzzer beater over Tyler Zeller, and Vitale seemed too shocked to even yell. Duke finished the game on a 13-2 run that, honestly, seemed to have more to do with a North Carolina choke than anything else. The Tar Heels scored two points total on their final four possessions, which featured a pair of dumb turnovers. And despite the fact that Duke scored half of their shots behind the arc, the Tar Heels never adjusted to try to run them off the arc.

Austin Rivers was the star of the day, of course. He scored 29 points, including 6-for-10 behind the arc and that game winner. And he's a superb scorer who can break down just about anybody off the dribble and who can get hot behind the arc. But my concern about him, which I've had all year, is that he doesn't make his teammates better. He plays one-on-one basketball and forces shots too often. The part of his game that he needs to add is the ability to beat his man and then set up a teammate after the defense helps, which is something I haven't really seen from him. I don't mean to be down on him, as he's an excellent freshman, but the people saying he's the best player in the ACC are just wrong. I'd rather have Harrison Barnes or Mike Scott on my team right now than Austin Rivers.

This loss is a big problem for North Carolina. Not only will they have to play at Duke on March 3rd, but they also have to play a home-and-home with Virginia and will head on the road to face NC State and Miami. It's hard to see them getting through that stretch without losing a couple of games, and it's going to be difficult for a six-loss North Carolina team (they've already lost four games) to earn a 1 seed, even if they win the ACC tournament. Their next game will be on Saturday, against Virginia.

Duke is now in a three-way tie for the ACC lead. They won at North Carolina, but also fell at home to Florida State. So you can't really call them the favorites, but they'll have their shot. Certainly they need to avoid any losses in games they're "supposed" to win, and they've got a pair of those coming up next. They'll be at home against Maryland on Saturday, and then against NC State on Thursday.

#22 Wisconsin 68, Minnesota 61, OT
This was almost an epic collapse for Wisconsin. They led by ten points with 7:41 to go and didn't score again in regulation. But only against Wisconsin does it take 7:41 for an opponent to go on a 10-0 run, and Wisconsin got to play an overtime period. They managed to hit a shot in overtime, and then iced the game with 15-for-17 free throw shooting in overtime. It's worth noting that the Badgers scored nearly as many points in overtime (17) as they did in the second half (19). Once again, the good and bad of Wisconsin was on display here. They can be so inconsistent on offense (though at 1.10 PPP for the game, they were fine overall offensively), and can go long, long stretches without scoring. But their defense is so sound, they hit their free throws, and they never make dumb mistakes, and so they can survive these long stretches without losing too much ground. I don't think anything typifies their season more than the fact that they hit one shot from the field in the final 12:40 of this game... and their lead only dropped from ten to the final margin of seven.

This is a huge missed opportunity for a Minnesota team that is just too sloppy on offense. It's why despite the fact that they've been hanging around .500 in the best conference in the nation that I haven't put them in my bracket. They're just way too inconsistent on offense. In the Big Ten, execution and consistency matters more than in any other major conference, and a 20.7 turnover percentage (second worst in the league, ahead of only Nebraska) isn't going to cut it. They need a point guard.

Minnesota will have a huge opportunity on Tuesday at the Barn against Ohio State, but a loss there will drop them to 5-8, and they can't finish worse than 8-10 if they're going to earn an at-large bid. Wisconsin moves to 8-4 in Big Ten play and has a full week to get ready for a road game at Michigan State on Thursday.

Saint Louis 72, St. Joseph's 60
St. Louis has such a good defense that they don't need a lot of offense to win games. If they come out and hit 10-for-20 behind the arc? They're almost unbeatable. Cody Ellis was the star here, hitting 6-for-9 behind the arc. As a team, St. Louis has hit more than 41% of their threes nine times this season, and won all nine. Remember that not only is St. Joe's a quality team (they were a bubble team for a while, though they've faded the past couple of weeks), but they entered this game 10-0 at home this season.

St. Louis has gaudy computer numbers. They're up to 10th in the Pomeroy ratings. Are they really the tenth best team in the country? They're only 1-2 against the RPI Top 50, after all, and their RPI is 30th. Honestly, I'm not sure. Part of the problem has been that their schedule has just been too soft. They've also been unlucky a bit in the games they have played. They are 3-4 in games decided by single digits, and 16-1 in games decided by double digits. I wouldn't say right now that I think they're one of the ten best teams in the country... but top 20? Yes. The fact that they haven't received a vote in the AP Poll in a month is yet another embarrassment for the terrible human polls. St. Louis would be favored by 5-7 points on a neutral court against Murray State, yet Murray State is 7th in the polls and St. Louis can't even get a vote? Come on, guys.

I have St. Louis as an 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament because that's what I think the Selection Committee will do. If you don't have big wins, are not from a major conference and you're not in the Top 25, it's impossible to do better than a 7 or 8 seed. But I can tell you right now that no top team wants to see St. Louis in the Round of 32. On any given day, the Bilikens can beat anybody in the country. They have two quality opponents left on their regular season schedule: La Salle (on the road) tomorrow, and a home game against Xavier on February 28th.

St. Joe's has lost five of eight to fall to 5-5 in Atlantic Ten play. Their RPI is still 48th, but they are only 11-10 against the RPI Top 200 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has slipped to 73rd. I think they need to win five of their final six games to get back into the bubble discussion. They'll play UMass tomorrow.


DMoore said...

"my concern about [Austin Rivers] that he doesn't make his teammates better"

Ummm, this was a lot more true early in the season. He's improved substantially on this in many of his recent games. His number of assists per game is right up there with the other guards, and frankly would have had more if his teammates hadn't been so shocked to receive a pass that they missed the shot.

Rivers didn't make his teammates better on offense in the Carolina game, but much of that is because of Duke's strategy for the game. They specifically chose not to drive as much on UNC, because of John Henson, and because the three pointer is the weakest part of Carolina's defense. This is by design -- Carolina sees the inside game as the most important and makes it the focus of both their offense and defense. If you look at the final play of the game, Rivers chose not to drive (he could have easily beaten Zeller) because Henson was waiting behind him. An isolated three was the best shot Duke could get there.

The other thing to realize is that in Duke's system, making your teammates better is every bit as important on defense as offense. This year, it's more important, as Duke's offense is great and their defense struggles. Rivers is easily Duke's best defender, and his teammates know it.

Jeff said...

I'll admit that I haven't watched as much of Duke this year as you have, but is it really true that Austin Rivers is the best defender? I haven't seen anything that makes me think that.

And I've found that typically the media will inflate how good defensively the players are that are good at offense. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James make the NBA All-Defense team every year even though they barely ever even try on defense so they can save their energy for offense.

Would you really take Austin Rivers for this year over Harrison Barnes or Mike Scott?

DMoore said...

"is it really true that Austin Rivers is the best defender?"

I'd have to try to dig up the links. I've seen statistical breakdowns on a couple of sites that calculated that Rivers is the best defender. On the other hand, Tyler Thornton is very close, and he seems to have Coach K's trust as the best on the team. From my views, Rivers is the only guy on the team who is quick enough to consistently stay in front of his man.

"Would you really take Austin Rivers for this year over Harrison Barnes or Mike Scott?"
I want about to answer "Oh Hell Yeah" for Barnes, but I had to stop and think it through. On ACC sites, Barnes takes a lot of flak for what he is not -- he is a 6'8" guy who simply does not want to go inside. Doesn't want to post up, doesn't want to get in there and rebound. After hearing questions for a week on whether he was looking forward to being guarded by guys who were 6'4" and smaller, he didn't go down low once in the first half of the Duke game. He also doesn't make his teammates better. He has very few assists, and has twice as many turnovers. Honestly, the more I think about it, the two are kind of a wash -- Barnes is an great shooter and has an amazing one or two dribble midrange game, and Rivers is a good shooter and amazing driver. But I think Rivers is/can come around on setting up his teammates given his skills. If I'm picking teams on the playground, Rivers is the first or second Duke guy I'm picking. Comparatively, there's no way I'm picking Barnes over Zeller or Marshall, and maybe not over Henson.

Am I taking Rivers over Mike Scott? No Freaking Way. Mike Scott is the ACC player of the year so far, with Zeller right there with him.