Monday, December 29, 2014

Morning News: Stony Brook Stuns Washington, Harvard Falls to Arizona St, Alabama Beats UCLA, And More

Jameel Warney was the best player for either team last night.
Stony Brook Stuns Washington Washington was due for a reality check at some point. Being ranked 13th in both human polls was kind of a joke. But I don't think any of us saw that reality check coming at home to Stony Brook. That said, Stony Brook is no joke, and they have a big time talent in Jameel Warney who was a man amongst boys in the America East even back when he was a freshman. Now a junior, he's a major conference talent. He led all players here with 15 points, including 10 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in the 2nd half alone. Stony Brook did hit 9-for-18 behind the arc, but they also played even on the glass and had 9 steals and 7 blocks. Those are not typical stats you see for an America East team on the road in the Pac-12.

I've projected Washington as a bubble team the last few weeks, and moved them up to an 11 seed in my most recent projected bracket. This bad loss doesn't wipe away what they've done in the early going this season, but with the Pac-12 down there isn't a big margin for error. The fact that they're likely going to have a gaudy won/loss record will help, but they probably need to get to 10-8 in conference play to earn an at-large bid.

Stony Brook was my preseason pick to win the America East and I've stuck with them since, but this is the type of win that could turn them from a 15/16 seed to something like a 14 seed, or even possibly a 13 seed if things fall right during conference tournament season. There's no question that this Stony Brook team is good enough to win an NCAA Tournament game if given a chance. They proved that right here.

Harvard Falls To Arizona State Harvard's offense has been uneven, at best, in the early going this season. Struggling against Virginia is understandable, but they've also finished well under 1 PPP against Holy Cross, Vermont and Arizona State. They finished with 0.77 PPP here. When Harvard's offense really stalls, it's when Wesley Saunders plays hero ball. Here he took more than 1/3 of Harvard's shots, scoring just 15 points. Saunders is a very good player, but if Harvard doesn't share the ball well they're really going to struggle to score. Their defense is awesome, but they need something offensively to be a dangerous team in March.

Harvard will finish the regular season without an RPI Top 50 win, and they don't even have a certain RPI Top 100 win, though UMass has a good chance to end up there, and there's a reasonable chance for Yale and Columbia to end up there as well. But Harvard's resume is going to remain soft, and it's going to make it very difficult for them to earn better than a 10-12 seed.

Arizona State is not a bad team, but they've had bad luck in close games, going 0-4 in games decided by five points or fewer. So they finish non-conference play 8-5 with just this win to go with bad losses to Marquette and Lehigh. They're potentially good enough to make a bubble run, but they have a ton of work to do in conference play. Anything less than 11-7 almost certainly leaves them out.

Alabama Beats UCLA The media "conference" focus has been entirely on the Big Ten, due to the fact that Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska have each suffered a really bad loss. But if one of the six big conferences has been a disappointment this season, it's really been the Pac-12. In fact, both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate the SEC better than the Pac-12. It's not a big gap, so we can't say definitively that the SEC is better, but the fact that it's even at this point would have seemed impossible preseason. And so though this seems like an "upset", it really wasn't. Bama was a four point Vegas favorite.

Of course it's always a mistake to draw narrative conclusions from close games. Bryce Alford had a really good look at a three with UCLA down by 1 with around 45 seconds to go and it bounced off the rim twice before falling out. Alabama then hit five of six free throws down the stretch to finish this one off. But UCLA has, overall, been a disappointment this season. This is the only loss UCLA has suffered against a non-elite opponent, but their best win was a close one over San Diego and they even struggled with teams like UC-Riverside. They're going to have to go at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play to earn an at-large bid, and realistically need to get to 11-7. They open with a brutal road trip, to Colorado and Utah, this coming weekend.

Alabama doesn't have a loss outside the RPI Top 50 this season and this could potentially end up an RPI Top 50 victory, so it looks like once again they'll be hanging in the vicinity of the Tournament bubble. But until they can score more consistently or rebound better, it's hard to see how they can win enough in the SEC play to earn that at-large bid. Obviously that home game against Kentucky on January 17th looms as a gigantic opportunity.

Cal State Bakersfield Knocks Off California The Pac-12's no good very bad day completed itself here with California getting dropped by Cal State Bakersfield. This was a flat out awful performance by California. Cal State Bakersfield basically played them even all game long. The Roadrunners led for nearly the entirety of the game, opening up their lead after Cal's putrid 13 turnover, 1 offensive rebound first half. Cal State Bakersfield shot just 2-for-11 on threes, or this could have been worse.

Cal's offense put up an impressive 1.05 PPP early in the season against Syracuse, but ever since then they've been a massive disappointment. They've failed to crack 1 PPP in six of ten games since, despite has a relatively soft schedule. It's not Tyrone Wallace's fault, because he's playing well, but they haven't gotten much from anybody else. David Kravish has really regressed from last season, for example.

With as bad as the WAC has been, a win like this puts Cal State Bakersfield into the conference title discussion. They entered this game 2-10, but they were 0-9 in games decided by seven points or less, so they were due some good luck in a close game. If they made the NCAA Tournament they'd very likely be a 16 seed, but they'd take that in a nanosecond. Since becoming a full Division I team in 2010 they haven't come particularly close to going Dancing.

Texas Southern Knocks Off Kansas State Kansas State absolutely gave this game away. They hit just 2 of 8 free throws in the final 70 seconds, and after Texas Southern had pulled within a point with a second to go, Jevon Thomas threw the inbounds pass away without it touching anybody. That gave Texas Southern the ball back underneath Kansas State's basket, which set up this beautiful game-winning play at the buzzer:
Jason Carter's game winner off a beautiful out-of-bounds play.
The SWAC recently ended a seven year losing straight against RPI Top 100 opponents, but Texas Southern in particular has been dangerous in the early going this season. They already took out Michigan State, and they also only lost by 1 point at Auburn. Mike Davis has this team playing really well, and potentially looking like the favorite in the SWAC title race.

Already with iffy losses to Long Beach State and Tennessee, and without a win over a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, the last thing Kansas State needed was this awful loss dragging on their resume all season long. They'll get a chance for a potential RPI Top 50 win against Georgia on New Year's Eve, but are going to have to go at least 10-8 in the Big 12 to earn an at-large bid. So far they've done nothing to suggest that they can get particularly close to ten wins in the Big 12.

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