Sunday, March 03, 2013

Ryan Kelly Returns To Lead Duke Over Miami

#3 Duke 79, #5 Miami 76
Think Duke missed Ryan Kelly? Kelly returned with a monster 36 points on 10-for-14 shooting, including 7-for-9 behind the arc, to lead Duke to a very important win over Miami. The win was narrow, of course. Miami had three chances in the final 45 seconds to tie or take the lead. Shane Larkin was turned over first and then, after Seth Curry hit 1-for-2 at the free throw line, the Hurricanes missed two three-pointers on their final possession.

The misconception about Kelly's absence was that it mainly impacted the offense. This is partially due to Kelly being such a good shooter, but more due to the fact that almost all mainstream sports analysis is done of the offense only, because defense is so hard to judge. To use an NBA example, that's why the Los Angeles Lakers have an elite offense and a terrible defense, yet 99% of criticism of their team is of Mike D'Antoni's "system" and the misuse of various players on offense. Casual fans (and I include nearly all television commentators in this group) simply don't know how to judge defense. That said, we can judge Kelly's absence with statistics. And despite missing Kelly for 13 of 16 ACC games, Duke still has had the clear best offense in the ACC (1.11 PPP, with NC State in second place at 1.07 PPP). But after allowing more than 1.00 PPP in only 3 of 15 games before the Kelly injury, they allowed 1.00 or more PPP in 7 of 13 games without him. Duke's 0.97 PPP allowed this season are only tied for sixth best in ACC play. That is where Kelly matters - on the defense end.

There is also too much analysis of this game in terms of judging which of these two teams are better. Why is it a paradigm shift that Duke, at home and with a historically good performance by Ryan Kelly, won by three points? Homecourt advantage is worth four points, after all. I thought Duke was the slightly better team coming into this game, but nothing that happened here changed my opinion one way or the other. Where this game really matters is in each team's resume. Duke now controls their own destiny for a 1 seed. Win out and they'll earn one. They will play Virginia Tech on on Tuesday, followed by a road game at North Carolina on Saturday.

Miami no longer controls their own destiny for a 1 seed, but if they win out I still would like their chances. Their remaining two regular season games should be easy (at home against Georgia Tech and Clemson), and a win in either game will lock up the 1 seed in the ACC tournament. Win the ACC tournament and get a little bit of help in other conference tournaments, and Miami will find themselves right back on the 1 seed line. And unless they totally fall on their face in the ACC tournament, they should at least earn a 2 seed.

Mississippi State 73, Ole Miss 67
There is no bubble team that has crashed worse over the past few weeks than Ole Miss. They have lost six of their last ten games, but not even that loss to South Carolina compares to this loss. Mississippi State is probably the worst team in any BCS conference this season. They came into this game having lost 13 straight games, Six of their previous seven losses had been game double-digits, and their previous two losses had been by an average of 35.5 points.

Marshall Henderson had yet another terrible game, finishing a horrific 3-for-18 behind the arc. There's simply no excuse for that many shots, and it's an indictment of Andy Kennedy that Henderson wasn't benched. Marshall Henderson has taken double-digit three-pointers in 11 of his last 14 games, despite only being a 35.6% three-point shooter this season. Henderson is a ton of fun to watch play, but he's out of control and killing his team.

Ole Miss is still 21-8 overall, but only 10-6 in the SEC, and with only a single RPI Top 50 win (Missouri) and two RPI 200+ losses (South Carolina and Mississippi State). Their RPI is 59th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 49th. Considering their lack of quality wins, I think it's almost a certainty that they'd be NIT-bound if the season ended now. To get back in the NCAA Tournament, they need at least three more wins. And by that I mean that even if they sweep their final two regular season games (vs Alabama, at LSU), they'll still need to win one SEC tournament game to feel good about their at-large chances. And should they fail to sweep these two final regular season games, they're going to have to make a run to at least the SEC tournament semifinals.

Mississippi State will play next on the road at South Carolina, on Wednesday. No matter what they do in their final two games they will have to play in the SEC tournament first round.

California 62, Colorado 46
There was a lid on Colorado's rim in this game. Andre Roberson was the only player on the entire roster who shot better than 30% for the game. As a team they had a 27.7 eFG%, which is the worst shooting performance by any Pac-12 team this season (second worst was Oregon's 29.3 eFG%, which also came against Cal, on February 21st). Trying to analyze this game beyond that is going to be futile. California's defense played really well, and Colorado couldn't hit the few open shots they got anyway.

It seems like half of the Pac-12 is on the bubble, which means that we're having a ton of these bubble battles. The one team that is making a strong push right now, more than any other, is California. The Golden Bears have won seven straight games powered by suffocating their opponents. They now lead the Pac-12 in both 2P% and eFG% defense, and are tied for second in overall defense (0.94 PPP). And they're peaking now. They have held their last four opponents to an eFG% under 38%, with a combined total of 0.78 PPP. You can make an argument that no Pac-12 team is playing better right now, though overall I still think the NCAA Tournament ceilings of Arizona and UCLA are higher.

Now 12-5 in Pac-12 play and 8-9 against the RPI Top 100, with zero RPI 100+ losses and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE up to 41st, California would definitely be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. They will close their regular season against Stanford on Wednesday. A win there with a win in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals (Cal has clinched a bye to the quarterfinals) should be enough to assure the Golden Bears an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Colorado's at-large hopes are looking a bit dicier right now. They are now only 9-7 in Pac-12 play, with wins over Colorado State, Baylor, Arizona, California and Stanford (twice), along with bad losses to Washington, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona State (twice). Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE has slipped to 47th. If the season ended now they'd be right on the bubble, and one of the final teams either in or out of the Field of 68. To get in, they probably need to sweep their final two regular season games (at home against the two Oregon schools). Otherwise, they're going to need to win a couple of Pac-12 tournament games.

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