Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Irish Salvage Something From Monday Night, Upset Cincinnati

#17 Notre Dame 66, #21 Cincinnati 60
Cincinnati is a team that, even at their best, is not a great offensive team. But they're a terrific defensive team, and it's carried them all season long. Coming into this game, they had not allowed a single opponent all season to reach 1.00 PPP. Well, that streak ended here in a big way (1.14 PPP for Notre Dame). How did it happen? The one weakness every defense has: three-point shooting. Notre Dame not only hit 9-for-16 behind the arc for the game, but they took control of the game when they made six consecutive three-pointers between 6:30 and 1:00 in the first half. They turned a nine point deficit into a six point lead, and Cincy was chasing the scoreboard the rest of the game.

The star for Notre Dame was Jerian Grant. Against the long, athletic Cincinnati defense, the Notre Dame bigs were really struggling to handle the ball efficiently. Grant was the one Irish player who could control the ball and attack the rim. Particularly in the final few minutes, Grant was the one indispensible Notre Dame player. He also ended the game with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting.

So while last night's title game debacle was a tough blow for Notre Dame football fans, their basketball team delivered a really nice victory. It's their second big scalp of the season (Kentucky was the other), and they also have a decent win over BYU, along with an iffy loss to St. Joe's. The question after this quick 2-0 start to their Big East season is if they can challenge for the Big East title. I don't think they have a realistic chance, but they could finish as high as third. Their next game will be Saturday against UConn.

After beating Pittsburgh, Oregon and Iowa State away from home, Cincinnati has now lost three consecutive home games, including a bad loss to St. John's. Go figure. That said, as I've said all year, Cincy is the perfect design for an inconsistent team. They are going to have surprising wins and surprising losses, and a lot of each. They head on the road next, to face Rutgers on Saturday and DePaul on Tuesday.

Virginia 61, North Carolina 52
Virginia is one of the most underrated teams in the nation, and has been for the past few weeks. Missing Jontel Evans was a big reason for their struggles (Evans played a grand total of three minutes in Virginia's three losses this season), but the biggest improvement has been their defense. Without an elite scorer like Mike Scott this season, Tony Bennett's team was going to need to have a really suffocating defense to win games. They gave up 0.99 PPP or more in three of their first six games. But since? They have held six of their last seven opponents to 0.86 PPP or fewer. For the season, they are now 4th in the nation in 2P% and eFG% against.

North Carolina was just the latest victim, finishing with a 41.2 2P%, a 42.2 eFG% and 0.82 PPP. Of course, UNC's team offense has been a problem all season long. Reggie Bullock is their one consistently good offensive player (22 points on 7-for-9 shooting). The James Michael McAdoo hype machine has crashed in a ditch. He had an invisible ten points here. You want a jarring stat about how much trouble the Tar Heels have had scoring? They have played five teams in the Pomeroy Top 100 this season, and reached 1.00 PPP in just one of those five games. For comparison, the Tar Heels failed to reach 1.00 PPP in only four games in last year's entire regular season (not counting the ACC or NCAA tournaments).

North Carolina is now 10-4, with a win over UNLV and a potentially bad loss to Texas. They probably need to get to 10-8 in ACC play to feel good about their at-large chances. At 9-9, they'll have work to do in the ACC tournament. They'll try to get back on the winning track on Thursday at Miami.

Virginia has those three bad losses, to Old Dominion, Delaware and George Mason. But they now have a second quality victory (they also beat Wisconsin), and they should be good enough to get to the 10-8 ACC record they need to be on the bubble. They might need to get to 11-7 to secure that at-large bid, though I think they should achieve that also.

Pittsburgh 73, #19 Georgetown 45
A ranked team losing at home to an unranked team... gotta be an upset, right? Well, Vegas had Georgetown as a 1 point favorite, but they were shockingly far away from the computers here. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy actually had Pittsburgh as the three point favorite. What every computer rating agreed on coming in was that Pitt is a better team than Georgetown and that, as always, the human polls are a joke.

That all said, don't draw too many conclusions from this game. This was just one of those days for Georgetown. The team fell behind, nothing was working, and they just lost their cool. They had five assists as a team vs 16 turnovers. Heck, even JTIII picked up a technical foul - his first since March, 2007. Pitt couldn't miss a shot (a 60.2 eFG%) and Georgetown couldn't make one (2-for-11 three-point shooting). Again... it's just one of those days.

I wouldn't expect Georgetown to fall apart as a team under JTIII, but they are facing some adversity right now with this stinker coming right after a brutal one-point loss to Marquette. They are now 0-2 in Big East play and lack a single quality win for the season. And to add misery on top of that, they're heading into the worst part of any team's schedule - the games that you can easily lose, but which nobody will give you any credit for winning. Their next three games are at St. John's, vs Providence and at South Florida. Their next chance for a quality win won't be until January 21st, when they'll play at Notre Dame.

This is Pitt's first quality win of the season, and it comes on the heels of a bad loss to Rutgers, so their overall resume is not good. But the reason they are so popular with the computers (11th in Pomeroy and 14th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR even before this romp over Georgetown) is because all three losses have been very narrow losses, and their lack of big wins has more to do with a soft schedule than anything else. They'll get plenty of chances for quality wins in Big East play, and I'm sure they'll collect a few more nice scalps. Their next game will be on Saturday, against Marquette.

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