Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Morning News: Michigan Tops Syracuse, Ohio State Digs A Big Hole, Miami Over Illinois, Aqueel Quinn, And More

The MVP of Michigan/Syracuse.
Michigan Tops Syracuse In A Thriller This was just a really good basketball game all around, but I loved Michigan's gameplan. They're built offensively to handle a zone (John Beilein teams always are), but defensively they made it a clear focus to keep Rakeem Christmas from beating them. Syracuse has struggled offensively this season when Christmas has been in foul trouble or otherwise ineffective (such as the California game, when he fouled out after 23 minutes with just 8 points). Christmas scored 15 points here, but was limited to just 9 shots from the field, and he also committed 6 turnovers.

Offensively, Michigan's best player was Spike Albrecht, who controlled their offense from the top of the key and led all players with 9 assists, along with 11 points (including 3-for-5 behind the arc). Michigan committed 12 fewer turnovers than Syracuse, who got particularly sloppy down the stretch, including not one but two crushing turnovers in the final 20 seconds after Michigan let them back into the game by missing the front end of consecutive one-and-ones.

Michigan only has one loss this season and it came by five points against an awfully good Villanova team. But that said, this was the type of game where absolutely everything was working, other than perhaps Caris LeVert's shot. You don't want to overreact too much to a single great performance, but at least for this one night they looked like the second best team in the Big Ten. Syracuse will get a chance to bounce back on Saturday against St. John's. A couple Saturdays after that they'll have their monster road game at Villanova.

Ohio State Digs Too Big Of A Hole Ohio State started this game shooting poorly, missing 11 of their first 12 shots. And they responded to adversity poorly, forcing offense and making dumb mistakes and committing 9 first half turnovers. But after finishing the first half with only a 26.9 eFG%, they had a 43.3 eFG% in the second half, and were able to slowly get back in the game.

Down the stretch, the hero for Louisville was Terry Rozier. In the first 35 minutes of the game Rozier was 0-for-7 from the field with 4 turnovers, but after Ohio State had pulled within 5 points it was Rozier who scored 8 straight points, including a pair of threes. The Buckeyes finished strong, but simply had built too deep of hole to dig out of.

Louisville started their season with a relatively soft schedule, which inevitably caused them to fly underneath the radar. But there's no reason to think that they can't steal the ACC from Duke and earn a 1 seed in March. That game against Kentucky on December 27th looms as a titanic battle.

Speaking of soft schedules, the only other team Ohio State has played so far that has a chance to finish in the RPI Top 100 is Marquette, and they won't play another one until December 20th (North Carolina). They're going to remain something of a mystery until Big Ten play.

Miami Takes Care Of Illinois The Illini did really well in this game in everything other than shooting the ball.  They won the rebounding battle, they committed only 7 turnovers, and they played fairly good defense. But sadly, shooting is an important factor in basketball, and Illinois bricked a whole lot of jump shots. In all, they shot 13-for-53 on jump shots, including 7-for-30 (23%) behind the arc.

The Illini came into this game 6-0 with a win over Baylor, and a loss at Miami certainly will not look bad on Selection Sunday, but this is a missed opportunity. They'll get another chance for a defining victory next Tuesday against Villanova at Madison Square Garden.

Miami continues to roll. They're now 8-0 with wins over Florida and Illinois. Are they really this good? Are they really a Top 15 or 20 team in the nation? It's too early to tell. There is still time to regress. But so far they've played better than any ACC team not named Louisville or Duke.

Aqueel Quinn Out For A Month The senior was averaging 9.7 points in 23.7 minutes per game for San Diego State, but a broken finger will keep him out for close to a month. This means that he'll likely miss San Diego State's two toughest road non-conference games, at Washington and Cincinnati. San Diego State should be good enough to still take care of business in those games, but their margin for error is a lot lower this season with the Mountain West Conference down. They can't afford any additional losses.

Indiana Impresses No, really, they did. They absolutely took Pittsburgh to the woodshed here. They led by 23 points before taking their foot off the pedal late in the second half. They did struggle on the glass (Pitt rebounded 52% of their own misses), but their offense was really sharp. The Hoosiers had a gigantic 48-to-28 scoring advantage in the paint, hitting 59% of their two-pointers. They finished with 1.27 PPP, their best offensive performance against a major conference opponent since they had 1.31 PPP against Nebraska on February 13th, 2013.

So did we all underrate Indiana? I don't think you can say that after one game. Their defense is still fairly awful, and it's possible that Pitt just isn't good this season. It's hard to see them winning enough Big Ten games to earn an at-large bid. That will change, of course, if they can steal a win over Louisville next Tuesday. But that would be even more of a stunner than crushing Pitt.

This Pitt team seems to struggle with cross-country travel. They had an embarrassing loss in their final game before the Maui Invitational (a loss to Hawaii), and now this is an embarrassing loss in their first game back. Unfortunately, they're not scheduled to play another likely RPI Top 100 team before ACC play begins, so Pitt is going to have to stew on these losses for a while before they get a chance to atone.

Memphis Is Not Good After getting beaten badly in their two games against Pomeroy Top 100 opponents thus far, this was an ugly 12 point home loss to Stephen F. Austin. Shooting 1-for-13 behind the arc partially mitigates this performance, but only a little bit. They also committed 16 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle. And this has all been a problem all season long. They turn the ball over on 26.3% of possessions, which is 11th worst in the nation (the 10 teams with worse rates are all from small conferences like the SWAC and Big South), and they're shooting just 29.7% on threes.

Memphis wasn't looking like a Tournament team even before this game, but they're at risk of not even being on the bubble. Their one remaining chance to build their resume in non-conference play will come against Oklahoma State on December 13th.

Stephen F. Austin was my preseason pick in the Southland, and they've done nothing so far to suggest that I was wrong. But what they lacked, and what they finally got here, was a win over a likely RPI Top 100 opponent. They will get Long Beach State on their home court on Friday. But after that, it's nothing but bad teams on their schedule after that. They'll need a really gaudy won-loss record to avoid a 15 or 16 seed in March.

Purdue Hangs On To Beat NC State This game was weirdly fascinating in the way that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge makes these types of games interesting. NC State played well, shooting 5-for-11 on threes, committing only 9 turnovers, and getting a big game out of Trevor Lacey (15 points on 6-for-10 shooting). But Purdue has more scoring options, particularly in the paint. While AJ Hammons is the star and Isaac Haas has been the up-and-coming freshman getting attention, it was Vince Edwards who had the best game, leading Purdue with both 16 points and 9 rebounds.

Purdue looks like a true bubble team. Even their resume so far (wins over BYU and NC State with a loss to Kansas State) screams "bubble". They've got a few cupcakes coming up next before their next competitive game, at Vanderbilt on December 13th.

NC State came into this game 7-0, but against a pretty soft schedule (no wins over likely Tournament teams). They will actually play their ACC opener on Saturday against Wake Forest. Considering the lack of big time opponents on their non-conference schedule, they'll have to build their Tournament resume in conference play.

Loyola-Maryland's Buzzer Beater The victim here was Columbia, who had fought back from being down by 9 points with under 2 minutes to go. But it was Eric Laster who stole the game at the buzzer:

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