Friday, November 30, 2012

Boise State Shocks Creighton

Boise State 83, #11 Creighton 70
This game got lost in the shuffle with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge going on simultaneously, but this is one of the most shocking upsets of the year. Creighton had just been rolling everybody, with a dominating offense tied with a solid defense. Strong defensive rebounding and the fact that they don't foul much means that opponents really have to earn points. Boise State earned this one with incredible shooting - 10-for-19 behind the arc and a 70.8 eFG%. To put that shooting performance in perspective, it's the best shooting all season by any team against an RPI Top 100 opponent (second best was a 69.4 eFG% by Baylor over Lehigh on the opening night of the season).

As outrageous as Boise State's shooting was, Creighton still could have won this game if their offense had been sharp - but Boise's shooting clearly took them out of their game. Somehow, Grant Gibbs took as many shots (11) as Doug McDermott, with Josh Jones taking only two fewer. McDermott usually takes 1/3 of Creighton's shots when he's on the floor, but in a game where they really needed his explosive offense he took just over 1/5th. In all, Creighton finished with only 1.07 PPP, which is tied for their worst offensive performance of the season (tied with their opening night win over North Texas where they were up by so much that all of the starters were pulled with several minutes left, and 14 different Creighton players ended up seeing the floor).

A loss like this hurts Creighton more than it would a major conference team, for reasons I have touched on several times already this season - their schedule lacks Top 25 opponents. Their top opponents this season are Wisconsin, St. Joseph's, Illinois State and California. All are likely RPI Top 50 opponents, but none will really wow the Selection Committee. Unless Creighton finishes with a jaw-dropping won-loss record (say, 29-4), it's going to be awfully difficult for them to earn anything higher than a 4 or 5 seed in March. And now they have a bad loss on top of that. It's a serious problem.

Boise State won't repeat a performance like this all season, but it's worth noting that they're not a "bad" team. Even before this win they were Top 100 in Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. It's hard to see them finishing better than fifth in the Mountain West, but it's not inconceivable that they could challenge Colorado State for fourth. They head on the road next, to face Seattle on Sunday and Utah on Wednesday. Creighton heads home to face an underrated St. Joe's team tomorrow.

#22 Illinois 75, Georgia Tech 62
Georgia Tech put up much more of a fight here than most people expected. Georgia Tech only trailed by one at halftime and actually led for much of the second half. An 11-2 run by Illinois over the final four minutes of the game made the final score appear much more lopsided than it probably deserved to be. And in fact, Illinois probably only won this game at all because of hot outside shooting (14-for-28 behind the arc), led by 3-for-4 performances from both Tyler Griffey and Joseph Bertrand.

Georgia Tech falls to 4-2 with this loss, though both losses have been to quality opponents and they have a nice win over St. Mary's. They have an important game coming up on Tuesday against Georgia. Beyond the general rivalry bragging rights, a win will send them off to a series of cupcakes, with a likelihood of entering ACC play 10-2 and confident. If they can back that up with a 10-8 ACC record? They'll be looking at a likely at-large bid, believe it or not.

Illinois moves to 8-0 with this win, although their schedule has been relatively soft. This win and their win over Butler are their only victories against likely RPI Top 100 opponents. So while inertia is moving them up the Top 25 rankings, I don't think we can put them higher than the second tier of the Big Ten right now, along with Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Of course, a week from tomorrow they'll play on the road at Gonzaga. A win there would give some credence to the argument that Illinois deserves to be in the conversation with Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State atop the conference.

Washington 66, St. Louis 61
The difference in this game was simple - Washington could get to the rim and St. Louis couldn't. Washington earned 22 free throw attempts vs only 3 for St. Louis, while the Billikens took more than twice as many three-pointers. The inability for St. Louis to get to the line has been a problem all season long, though this was a problem when Rick Majerus was head coach as well. Washington's CJ Wilcox was the star of this game, finishing with an absurd 100 eFG% (11-for-13 from the field, including 4-for-5 beyond the arc), scoring 27 points.

Wilcox's hot outside shooting brings up a reminder that St. Louis fans shouldn't be in total panic mode over their 3-3 start. The reality is that they've been awfully unlucky with opponent outside shooting this season. They are allowing an absurd 50.8 3P% against - the only team in the nation allowing worse than 50%. The reality is that 3P% defense is basically just luck - the sign of good perimeter defense is preventing three-point attempts, rather than holding opponents to a low 3P%. And by the way, St. Louis is actually really good at preventing threes - their 19.7 3PA/FGA ratio is third best in the nation. So one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation is giving up 50.8% behind the arc? That won't keep up - that's a guarantee. So once opponent outside shooting returns to realistic levels, expect St. Louis to suddenly look a lot better in the won/loss department.

St. Louis will take on Valparaiso on Sunday before heading into Cupcake City for the next few weeks. Washington will play Cal State Fullerton and, for the most part, shouldn't be challenged until they play on the road at UConn on December 29th.

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