Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Morning News: Iowa Wins At Ohio St, Maryland Tops Michigan St In 2OT, Florida Loses Creatively, And More

This Big Ten thing is kind of fun, huh?
Iowa Wins At Ohio State Last season, Iowa went 2-9 in games decided by six points or less, but they're now 2-1 in such games this season after this impressive win at Ohio State in both teams' Big Ten openers. Of course, you never want to draw conclusions by how a small handful of jump shots fall. In this one, it was Iowa hitting their final three jump shots while Ohio State missed their last three shots (two of the three being jump shots). That's just how it goes sometimes.

But while Iowa isn't really any different of a team by winning or losing this game in the final minute, this win is really big for their resume. They had been just 1-4 against likely Tournament teams prior to this one. They didn't have any bad losses, and despite being outside the bracket in nearly half of the Bracket Matrix brackets, the reality was that Iowa was not at serious risk of missing the NCAA Tournament. But Iowa's Big Ten schedule is definitely front-loaded, and they easily could have started the season with something like a 3-6 conference record. This win should help them avoid that.

I talked a few times the last couple of months about how much of a mystery Ohio State was going to be when they entered conference play. They played just two games against likely RPI Top 100 opponents, and lost both. Both games were respectable, competitive losses away from home against elite teams, but it was going to be hard to tell how good they were until they played a few Big Ten games. For example, would a player like D'Angelo Russell be able to keep up his hot start when the level of competition rose. He struggled here (4-for-16 shooting), but it is just a single game. The Buckeyes can easily bounce right back by taking care of business at home against Illinois on Saturday.

Welcome To The Big Ten, Maryland As far as conference openers go, Maryland sure picked an interesting way to finish their first ever Big Ten game. It was an ugly start, though, with the two teams combining to shoot 2-for-18 behind the arc in the first half. Michigan State had a 22.9 eFG% in the first half, and they entered the half with just two touchdowns, trailing by a field goal 17-14. Shooting wasn't particularly good in the second half, but it was better. Anytime you have a game go double overtime both teams inevitably had multiple chances to win, so it's silly to draw narratives, but a road victory at East Lansing will look good on Maryland's resume all season long.

Maryland was happy to finally have a full strength Dez Wells. Wells had missed seven straight games before playing not particularly effectively against Oakland. But he was effective here, pouring in 16 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Maryland freshman star Melo Trimble showed the savvy of a veteran being productive when his shot wasn't falling, attacking the rim and getting to the line 14 times, allowing him to score 17 points despite just 2-for-13 shooting from the field. On the other side of the ball, Denzel Valentine couldn't do the same, shooting 1-for-9 but finishing with just 4 points. Valentine just isn't capable of creating his shot enough to be a consistent go-to scorer for the Spartans in the Big Ten.

With this win, we have to start talking about Maryland as potentially the top contender to Wisconsin in the Big Ten. I don't think they're quite there, but they have to at least be in the discussion. Just in case they do make a run, it's worth noting that their only game against the Badgers this season will come in College Park.

Michigan State is now 0-3 in overtime games, and their season would look a lot different with better luck in close games. That said, their offensive execution late in games continues to be really miserable. They have a key home game coming up next against Indiana. That's the type of game that they should take care of business in, but if they lose then we might actually have to start talking bubble scenarios with them.

Florida Loses In Very Creative Fashion Well, I don't think I've seen a team lose this way before. With the clock running down on a tie game, Devon Bookert attempted a three-pointer and missed it, but in trying to rebound the ball Florida's Jacob Kurtz accidentally knocked the ball back into the basket. Officially in the box score it counts as a "team basket" for Florida State. You can watch the crazy play below:

Florida's roster is still not fully together yet. Brandone Francis just began to practice with the team and didn't play here. Eli Carter continues to suffer with injuries, and he played less than a minute here before re-aggravating his injury and sitting out the rest of the game. If they can ever get their full roster together there's no reason that they can't be one of the ten best teams in the country in March. But bad luck in close games has combined with the injuries to give the Gators a pretty brutal resume at this point. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 81st. Unless they knock off Kentucky and win the SEC, they're going to have a relatively low NCAA Tournament seed, and they're potentially going to be a very dangerous one.

This is a nice win for Florida State, but a fluky home upset of Florida is far from a sign that they've turned the corner with this young team. Overall they just haven't been a good team this season, and they still appear destined to finish below .500 in ACC play.

Michigan Escapes Illinois After a horrific few weeks, Michigan needed some kind of win... any kind of win. And they actually trailed by double-digits early in the second half here, but finally got some good shooting luck and hit 6 of their final 9 three-pointers to get this game to overtime and to eventually pull away in the extra period. The star was Aubrey Dawkins, who had scored just 15 points in his college career before scoring 20 points here, including 6-for-7 behind the arc.

Michigan's offense still doesn't look right. There's still not enough passing and offensive movement, for example. But their turnovers were back to normal (just 5 of them here), and they finally out-shot an opponent, if only barely. But now Michigan heads into an interesting stretch with three upcoming games that are more or less toss-up games, on the road at Purdue and Penn State and then back home for Minnesota. The Vegas lines should be small for all three games. The Wolverines no longer have a large margin of error for earning an at-large bid.

Illinois has struggled to score efficiently against quality opponents this season. They have failed to crack 1 PPP in any of their five games against Pomeroy Top 100 opponents thus far. They don't shoot that badly, but they don't pass well and it makes it hard for them to get easy shots. They probably need to get to 10-8 in Big Ten play to have a good shot for an at-large bid, and 0-2 is staring them in the face with a road game at Ohio State up next.

Cincinnati Beats NC State Mick Cronin is still not able to coach Cincinnati, but they did have an uncharacteristic offensive explosion without him here against NC State. The defensive effort just wasn't there for the Wolfpack, who allowed Cincinnati to hit 15-for-19 on layups and dunks and to score 38 paint points. Overall, Cincy had a 56.7 eFG% and 1.25 PPP. To put that in perspective, that's their second best offensive efficiency against any team all season long, including cupcakes. In fact, all of last season they had just a single game where they both shot and scored more efficiently. It's just not often this easy for the Bearcats offensively.

With the AAC down this season, Cincinnati really needed this win. All they had in non-conference play before this was a win over San Diego State, with potentially iffy losses to Ole Miss and Nebraska. They'll still need to go at least 11-7 in AAC play to earn an at-large bid, but that's very doable. A home game against SMU provides them with an important AAC opener on Saturday.

NC State finishes non-conference play with zero wins over likely RPI Top 50 opponents and two iffy losses (Wofford and Purdue). They're going to face an uphill battle in ACC play to an at-large bid. They'll need to go at least 9-9, and probably will need to get to 10-8. In their first two weeks they get home games against both Duke and North Carolina, and really need to find a way to steal at least one of those games.

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