Saturday, January 26, 2013

Arizona State Beat UCLA; Are They A Pac-12 Contender?

Arizona State 78, UCLA 60
This was a fairly emphatic victory. UCLA never trailed by fewer than nine points in the final 18 minutes of the game. The Sun Devils dominated the glass (a 36.1 OR% vs a 14.3 OR% for the Bruins) and shut down UCLA offensively (a 38.2 eFG%). In all, UCLA was held to 0.76 PPP, their worst offensive performance since a 67-46 thrashing by USC on January 16th, 2010. Shabazz Muhammad actually had a pretty good game (18 points on 8-for-15 shooting), but Travis Wear didn't play while David Wear (2-for-12 shooting, 1 offensive rebound) got abused by Jordan Bachynski (22 points on 10-for-12 shooting with 8 offensive rebounds and 6 blocks).

With this win, Arizona State moves to 5-2 in Pac-12 play. Other Pac-12 teams with two losses are UCLA, Arizona and Washington. The only team with fewer than two losses, Oregon, just lost Dominic Artis indefinitely with a foot injury. So is Arizona State a real contender in the Pac-12? Honestly, I don't think so. Five of their seven games have come at home and two of their wins came in overtime. They're nowhere near the top Pac-12 teams in Pomeroy or the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They can finish near the top of the standings, but I don't see how even an Artis-less Oregon team is within reach. Particularly since Oregon has already beaten them head-to-head to lock in the tiebreak.

Overall, the Sun Devils are 16-4, with wins over Colorado and UCLA, along with a bad loss to DePaul. They are 3-3 against the RPI Top 100 and their RPI is up to 58th. If the season ended now they'd be in the NIT, but they're not far from the bubble. A 6-5 finish (to get to 11-7 overall) would put them on the bubble heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Next week they'll be on the road, heading to Washington State on Thursday and Washington on Saturday.

This was a tough letdown game for UCLA after that big win over Arizona. I still think that they are one of the two teams (along with Arizona) with a real shot to take the Pac-12 regular season title from Oregon. But they just made their task harder with this bad loss. Their next game will be on Wednesday, against USC.

#3 Kansas 67, Oklahoma 54
With the fact that the Big 12 doesn't have a second elite team or serious challenger to the Jayhawks, it feels like we're really not going to hear much from Kansas until the NCAA Tournament. They're going to quietly churn through game after game like this, getting closer to locking up that 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They'll probably lose a game or two because it's just so difficult to go 18-0 in any of the power conferences, but they should win the Big 12 with two or three games to spare.

Jeff Withey had another outstanding game here, scoring 13 points (on 6-for-11 shooting) with 5 offensive rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals. Romero Osby had no chance (4-for-16 shooting). Withey is far and away the best defender in the nation, and he's a pretty good offensive player and rebounder as well. I don't understand (other than the typical bias toward offense and toward one-and-done freshmen with NBA star potential) why Ben McLemore is considered the only Kansas player in contention for National Player of the Year. Withey wouldn't be my pick for NPOY, but I'd have him before McLemore and at least in the discussion.

Oklahoma is 13-5 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12, with a win over Oklahoma State and iffy losses to Arkansas and Stephen F Austin. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is sitting around 40th. Right now, that's a very bubble-ish resume. I think they'll be in the NCAA Tournament if they get to 11-7 in Big 12 play. At 10-8 they'll probably need a win or two in the Big 12 tournament.

The Sooners will next play on Wednesday at Baylor. Kansas will play on Monday night, at West Virginia.

San Diego State 55, #15 New Mexico 34
New Mexico came into this match-up two games clear in the Mountain West, though as I discussed on Thursday the race was still very tight at the top. New Mexico hadn't been significantly better than any other team, so it makes sense that San Diego State was able to chip away at half of their lead in the standings here. The difference in this game was the length and athleticism of this San Diego State defense. New Mexico is a perimeter-oriented offense that is putrid at scoring in the paint (their 44.2 2P% is tied for 285th best in the nation), and they hit only 27.6% of their two-point attempts here.

San Diego State won this game emphatically despite a 4-for-16 shooting performance from Jamaal Franklin, but you can get away with some bad offense when you hold your opponent to 0.56 PPP, which is tied for the 19th worst offensive performance by any Division I team this season (the worst was a 0.43 PPP by UC-Riverside against USC).

New Mexico doesn't have long to dwell on this loss. They'll play on the road at Wyoming on Wednesday. After that they'll play Nevada on Saturday. San Diego State has a week off before a road game at Air Force next Saturday.

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