Sunday, January 25, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, Kansas Takes Control Of The Big 12, Texas Tech Knocks Off Iowa St, And Much More

These aren't your father's Wisconsin Badgers.

New Bracket Projection There were two changes to the Field of 68 this week. Davidson and Indiana came in, while Minnesota and Pittsburgh dropped out. In addition, Kansas is the new Big 12 favorite, replacing Texas after beating them in Austin. For all the details, click the link.

Kansas Grabs Control Of The Big 12 Every year of the Bill Self era we've ended up at the end of the season feeling dumb for doubting that Kansas would end up winning the league. And we might be there again, because Kansas looked awful impressive in taking this win at Texas and grabbing a full game lead over all of their contenders. This was a near-perfect performance from Kansas, with just 3 turnovers along with an encouraging performance from Brannen Greene (4-for-5 behind the arc) off the bench.

The difficult thing in the Big 12 will be earning a 1 seed, because every team is going to lose so many games. I've said all season that I don't think any team will go better than 13-5 in conference play, But Kansas and Texas should both end up 2 seeds or 3 seeds at worst. There will be a whole lot of Big 12 teams near the top of the bracket.

Kansas has a potential letdown situation on the road at TCU next, and then has their home re-match against Iowa State looming on February 2nd. Texas heads into a nasty weeek, with Iowa State and Baylor on the road.

Texas Tech Knocks Off Iowa State There's some stupid overreaction to this game, as there will be in the media after just about every Big 12 game. Every team is going to lose a bunch of games, as I said in the Kansas/Texas recap above. You can't freak out after every result. Why did Iowa State lose this game? Outside shooting. Texas Tech hit 11-for-24 (46%) behind the arc while Iowa State hit 6-for-31 (19%). Considering the fact that the Vegas spread was 9.5 points, you'd expect a close game here with outside shooting like that.

Kansas has certainly grabbed control of the Big 12, but Iowa State can grab it back if they can pull the upset in Lawrence on February 2nd. They can't worry about that yet, though, with a home game coming up against Texas on Monday. Texas Tech, meanwhile, is pretty clearly the worst team in the Big 12, but they're not a terrible team. They'll probably pull another upset or two like this before the season is over.

Kansas State Knocks Off Oklahoma State Kansas State was a brutal 7-6 in non-conference play, with no quality wins to go with bad losses to Texas Southern and Long Beach State. But all of a sudden they're 5-2 in the best conference in the nation after knocking off Oklahoma State. The star was Nino Williams, who was 6-for-6 from the field in the first half alone.

So is Kansas State making an at-large case? They now have four RPI Top 50 wins to only one RPI 100+ loss. That said, their RPI is only 79th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 58th. If they can get to 11-7 in Big 12 play then they'll have to be considered, but their remaining schedule is just ridiculously difficult, and I still think that's pretty unlikely.

Oklahoma State heads into a key week. They're taking on Baylor and Oklahoma at home. Now 3-4 in Big 12 play, they could really use a sweep.

Iowa Loses Game, Aaron White Aaron White has been easily Iowa's most important player this season, and he deserves at least some consideration for First Team All-Big Ten, but that assumes he plays in every game the rest of the season. That is now in doubt, as White suffered a rough shoulder injury early in this game that kept him out the rest of the day. After the game, Iowa called the injury a "stinger" and kept open the possibility of him playing against Wisconsin next week, though at this point it's impossible for any of us to know if that's true.

Either way, Iowa actually put on a really impressive performance in the second half here. Purdue was a 1 point favorite in Vegas, yet without Aaron White the Hawkeyes were able to overcome a 10 point second half deficit to actually grab a lead in the final minute. It was with 50 seconds left that Raphael Stephens, a 27% three-point shooter coming into the day, hit a three-pointer with the shot clock running down for Purdue. And that turned out to be the game winner after both Mike Gesell and Peter Jok missed on the other end of the court.

If Aaron White misses significant time, Iowa suddenly is at real risk of ending up in the NIT. They're 4-3 in Big Ten play with no really bad losses but with only one quality win (North Carolina). Their two best chances for a quality win will come the next two weekends, when they face Wisconsin and Maryland at home. That's why it's essential for White to be available. Purdue, meanwhile, moves to 4-3 in Big Ten play themselves, though they're not really a realistic at-large team unless they get to 11-7 or better.

West Virginia Wins In A Wild Finish TCU was closing in on a huge road upset when Trey Ziegler hit a runner with 1.8 seconds to go. But West Virginia had not timeouts so they just hurled the ball down the court and got the ball to Jevon Carter, who was fouled and hit the two free throws to give West Virginia the win. It's amazing how much more fun basketball is when there are no timeouts and players just play in the final seconds. Here's the wild sequence below:
Poor TCU is now 1-5 in Big 12 with a nasty schedule upcoming. West Virginia, meanwhile, probably won't contend for the Big 12 title, but they're increasingly looking like a 3 or 4 seed in March with a real chance for a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 if they get the right draw.

Oklahoma Loses Again The Big 12 is a brutal place. Two weeks ago Oklahoma looked like the potential Big 12 favorite, but they've now lost four of five to fall to 3-4 in conference play. This Oklahoma team is still very good, but their offense can be spotty, and they've been held below 1 PPP in three of these four losses, including 0.92 PPP here. Baylor bounced back from their own tough loss to Kansas State to get back to 3-3 here, though they're back on the road on Tuesday for a tough road game at Oklahoma State.

It's kind of hard to find new things to say at this point at this middle of the pack in the Big 12 (Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and perhaps others). All of these teams are good, but they all have flaws which keep them from being one of the top tier contenders in the nation. They're all likely to end up with solid seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and they're just playing to slide up or down a seed line or two in the final Tournament bracket. I'm not sure what else to say but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Minnesota Tops Illinois Illinois came into this game with the best defensive rebounding percentage in Big Ten play, but Minnesota dominating them here with 14 offensive rebounds (a 48.3 OR%). Maurice Walker in particular was a monster, with five offensive rebounds in the second half alone. At 1-6 in Big Ten play, this was practically a must-win for Minnesota. Now at 2-6, they need to pile up some wins against a soft upcoming schedule, including games against Penn State and Nebraska next week. They need to get to at least 9-9 in Big Ten play to earn an at-large bid.

Illinois really needs Rayvonte Rice back before this season spirals out of control. They're 3-5 in Big Ten play and 3-8 against the RPI Top 100. Their next two games are at home against Penn State and Rutgers. It's needless to say they can't afford to get upset in either of those.

Ohio's Buzzer Beating Dunk Ohio had one of the prettiest game-winning plays you'll ever see to knock off Buffalo. Maurice N'Dour had the winning dunk, which you can see below:
Ohio isn't likely to contend for a MAC title, but Buffalo is, and this loss drops them a full two games back in the MAC East. They'll try to bounce back with a couple home games next week.

Michigan State Is Staring At The Bubble This was an ugly loss for Michigan State.  All year we've seen Nebraska's offense bog down with a bunch of Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields hero ball (the two took 76% of Nebraska's shots here), and Michigan State was weirdly inspired by that, allowing Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine to combine for 62% of their shots here. The two combined for 48 points, but it came on 17-for-41 shooting, so it wasn't particularly efficient.

This isn't a shocking loss for Michigan, but it's a bad loss for their resume, and they already have that loss to Texas Southern without any wins over teams likely to finish in the Top 25 polls. Their only game against Wisconsin is on the road and they're done with Maryland, so their only good chance for a win against a team with a realistic Top 25 chance is Ohio State on February 14th. They're now 3-6 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has fallen out of the Top 40. They're still likely to make the NCAA Tournament, but they're cutting it close.

Larry Nance Steals A Win Over New Mexico Larry Nance is having a hell of a season, but he might not have a sequence all season long quite as impressive as this steal and score at the end of overtime to deliver a victory over New Mexico:
Wyoming is now alone in first place at 6-1 in Mountain West play, though despite their 17-3 overall record their soft strength of schedule means that they're a long shot at-large team. But in a wide-open Mountain West, they're a contender for the conference title and automatic bid, at least. New Mexico is now two losses back in the standings, though they head into a relatively soft stretch of schedule. They should still be a contender in the Mountain West tourney.

Colorado State Holds Off San Diego State Colorado State seemed to have this game in hand, leading the entire way and still holding a 10 point lead with under 10 minutes to go. But San Diego State got hot, hitting 7 of 8 shots, including three straight behind the arc. Malik Pope was the catalyst during that stretch, and he led San Diego State with 22 points off the bench. But JJ Avila was the steady rock all night for Colorado State. Avila led all scorers with 29 points and was 12-for-16 from the field, including the jumper that pretty much iced the game with around 20 seconds to go.

Both of these teams are now one game behind Wyoming in the Mountain West standings. Colorado State already lost at home to Wyoming, though they actually lead the Mountain West in efficiency margin (+0.16 PPP). San Diego State lost to Wyoming also, though the loss came at Wyoming and was competitive. San Diego State is also, in my opinion, the most talented team in the conference. The summary of this paragraph? The Mountain West is wide open. But the smart bet is that one of those three teams ends up winning it. For now, my money is still on San Diego State.

Miami Hangs On Against Syracuse Miami nearly blew a 12 point second half lead here. If this game was a minute or two longer, Syracuse would have had a great chance of pulling it out. But it wasn't, and Syracuse is now staring at the Tournament bubble. They're 5-2 in ACC play, but against a completely back-loaded ACC schedule. They only have a single RPI Top 50 win to go with bad losses to California and Clemson. If they can get to 10-8 in conference play they should get an at-large bid, but that's going to be tough. 6 of Syracuse's last 11 games will come against Pomeroy Top 15 opponents, starting with a road game at North Carolina on Monday.

Miami was led by the physical play of Tonye Jekiri, who had 13 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks. And Miami, in contrast to Syracuse, heads into a really soft stretch of ACC schedule, starting with Georgia Tech and Florida State next week. They're only 4-2 in ACC play, but shouldn't have much trouble getting to the 11-7 record they need to basically seal up an at-large bid.

Stephen F Austin Grabs Control Of The Southland Stephen F Austin is an awfully good team. They're now up to 40th in Pomeroy and 53rd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They don't have any "quality" wins, but they did beat Memphis and Long Beach State in non-conference play. The lack of quality wins is going to make it really hard for them to earn an at-large bid, but they'll be a scary 11-13 seed if they go Dancing.

The one challenger to Stephen F. Austin in the Southland is Sam Houston State, another team in the Top 100 of pretty much every computer rating. And so by winning this road game at Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin is now the heavy favorite to take the Southland regular season title.

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