Friday, December 26, 2014

Morning News: George Washington Beats Wichita State, Hawaii Knocks Off Colorado, And Isaiah Whitehead Out

Not a long list of coaches who have done a better job than Benjy Taylor this season.
As there are no games today, expect to probably have no Morning News post tomorrow. But we did have some games yesterday, so let's talk about the most important action:

George Washington Knocks Off Wichita State Wichita State was shaky throughout the Diamond Head Classic. It does seem like weird things tend to happen at tournaments away from the Contiguous 48 states, so I'm not sure how meaningful Wichita State's struggles were, but they didn't look great this past week. The media narrative after this game was that George Washington's switch to the zone confused Wichita State's offense. I suppose that's true to a degree, but it's overblown. George Washington wasn't much better at getting to the rim than Wichita State was. The difference was that the Shockers were 1-for-15 on two-point jumpers. They certainly didn't get to the rim, or to the line, as much as they wanted to, but if they shot anything close to their season average on two-point jumpers they still would have escaped with a win.

This is a huge win for a George Washington team that is a sleeper at-large contender. Assuming that they take care of VMI, they'll end non-conference play 10-3 with wins over Wichita State and Colorado along with a bad loss to Penn State. The concern is that the only other likely RPI Top 50 opponent in conference play will be VCU. If they can win at least one of their two games against VCU and then get to 12-6 in Atlantic Ten play then that could be enough to get in. Anything less than 12-6 will be an issue with how poor the Atlantic Ten is perceived this season.

Wichita State is a borderline Top Ten quality team. The problem is, the Missouri Valley is not strong. Seton Hall is their only defeated opponent with a real shot to finish in the RPI Top 50, and Northern Iowa is their only conference opponent with a realistic chance to get there. So unless they go something like 27-3, it's going to be tough for them to earn anything better than a 4 or 5 seed. It's going to be easy to pick apart their resume for lack of quality wins.

Hawaii Upsets Colorado If there's one thing we've learned this season it's that you want to avoid playing Hawaii in Hawaii. They've faced four Top 100 teams as home this season, and they knocked off Pittsburgh, Nebraska and now Colorado, while taking Wichita State to overtime. It's too small of a sample size to draw reasonable narratives from, but there is something to opponents traveling thousands of miles and spending time on the beach while Hawaii stays at home. That said, Hawaii played about as well as they could here, hitting 9-for-18 behind the arc and forcing as many steals (9) as committed turnovers. Colorado was a rough 5-for-17 behind the arc.

Colorado is a bubble-quality team, but they've had a brutal non-conference performance. They went 7-5 with zero quality wins to go with a bad loss to Hawaii and a potentially bad loss to Wyoming. It's going to be very difficult for them to earn an at-large bid now unless they reach at least 11-7 in Pac-12 play.

Hawaii continues to improve under Benjy Taylor, who has done an absolutely fantastic job. Depending on how much you want to value these Diamond Head Classic performances, Hawaii is suddenly looking like a legitimate contender in the Big West, which seemed utterly implausible preseason. Coach of the Year awards are stupid, and they're handed out via stupid narratives, but it's hard to find many coaches in the nation that have gotten more of their roster so far this season than Benjy Taylor.

Isaiah Whitehead Will Be Out For A Few Weeks Seton Hall's second leading scorer (11.9 ppg) and leading assist man (3.4 apg) looks like he'll be out for a few weeks with a stress fracture. Whitehead is a player who could really use the game reps, as he's a super talented freshman who is still finding his game at the college level. His shot selection has not been great so far, and it's why his offensive efficiency stats aren't yet great, despite the good counting stats.

This is bad timing for the team as well, as Seton Hall was going to have a chance to really prove themselves. They are well loved by the computers, but due to a soft schedule only really have a home over George Washington to brag about. Home games against St. John's and Villanova to start Big East play were going to be very important tests. They'll need to go at least 9-9 in Big East play to earn an at-large bid, so if they don't win at least one of those two games they could dig themselves a serious hole with road games against Xavier and Creighton coming up next.

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