Sunday, January 11, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, UNC Thrilling Win Over Louisville, Another Big Road Win For Virginia, Texas Loses, And Much More

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New Bracket Projection If you aren't familiar, I talk this week in my bracket projection post about why exactly it's a bracket projection, rather than a "where they stand now" bracket. Meanwhile, the three changes to the makeup of the Field of 68 are Dayton, Louisiana Tech and Hofstra moving in, with Washington, UTEP and Northeastern dropping out. For more details, click the link.

North Carolina Wins A Thriller Over Louisville Most of the country missed most of this game to watch the end of Kentucky/Texas A&M, but this was a fantastic, exciting game. For Louisville, Chris Jones had probably his best game of the season, scoring 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, while Terry Rozier helped his dark horse All-America campaign with 25 points on 10-for-21 shooting. But Louisville struggled with North Carolina's size. Montrezl Harrell was limited and Mangok Mathiang was invisible (aside for bad plays, like not chasing a ball bouncing out of bounds in the final minute). But after Terry Rozier put Louisville ahead, Marcus Paige hit an absolutely incredible shot to give UNC the win. You can watch that final sequence here:
This win helps keep North Carolina alive in the ACC regular season title race, though in my personal opinion they're not quite good enough to top Duke or Virginia - or even Louisville, since they still have to head to Louisville, and a 1 point home victory is hardly convincing evidence that they're better. But even without an ACC title, UNC's strong strength of schedule puts them on good pace for something like a 3 seed in March.

Louisville will be able to forget about this loss if they take out Duke next Saturday. They won't have to head to Cameron Indoor, so getting the home win would be huge for potentially winning an ACC regular season title.

Another Impressive Road Win For Virginia Virginia is ranked #3 in the country, but they still seem wildly underrated. There's no team in the nation with a more impressive set of true road victories (Notre Dame, Maryland and VCU), and due to their slow tempo they are falsely presented by the media as a team that is just a great defense. Their defense is certainly great, but so is their offense. By the Pomeroy ratings, Virginia's offense is ranked as high nationally (5th) as their defense. And overall, they are very close to passing Kentucky as the best overall team in the nation. But as I've said before: Quick, name a player on Virginia. Most NCAA basketball fans can't. Maybe if they win the national championship they'll finally get some respect.

Notre Dame impressed in defeat here. They played about as well as they could, and they looked better defensively than they had for much of the season. They're not going to win the ACC, but they're closer to a Top Four finish in the ACC standings than we would have guessed a few weeks ago. Now 3-0 in ACC play they head into a softer stretch of schedule, with Georgia Tech, Miami (at home) and Virginia Tech up next.

Texas Loses Again The Big 12 is looking awfully wide open. Texas has bizarrely struggled since getting their star point guard, Isaiah Taylor, back. They beat Texas Tech, which isn't saying much, but then lost to both Oklahoma teams by double-digits. As always, though, it would be a mistake to overreact too much. Oklahoma State shot the lights out here (9-for-17 on threes), which allowed them to overcome Texas's advantage in the paint (17  offensive rebounds, 12 blocks). Myles Turner, in particular, impressed (18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocks).

In the Big 12 this season there just aren't many easy games, so Texas won't have much time to lick their wounds. They head home next to take on a strong West Virginia team before heading on the road to try to avoid an upset at TCU. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, finally has their first big scalp of the season. They have no bad losses, and with the Big 12 as strong as it is they should be in the NCAA Tournament with a 9-9 conference record or better. Now 2-1, they head on the road this week for tough games at Kansas and Oklahoma.

Kansas State Stuns Oklahoma It's the proverbial "Does anybody want to win the Big 12?" Just a wild day of results from the conference, with none wilder than Marcus Foster hitting the two big shots to beat Oklahoma in overtime. Below you can see his shot to send the game into overtime, and then his clutch game winner in overtime.
It's been an awfully frustrating season for both Marcus Foster and Kansas State as a whole. This win is probably cathartic in that sense. It's also a sign that the Wildcats aren't going to roll over and quit. They'll be a feisty team all season long. Now 2-1 in Big 12 play, they have a relatively easy home game against Texas Tech coming up next. After that, three of their next four games will be at home against quality opponents (Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia), so they'll have a chance to do more havoc.

This is a really disappointing performance from Oklahoma. Coming off wins over Baylor and Texas, though, there's no reason to panic about a single game. But they had a chance to steal the mantle of "favorite" in the Big 12 from Texas and Kansas and didn't. They'll try to get back on track on Tuesday at West Virginia.

Indiana Hangs On For A Crucial Win This is the type of game that gives Indiana (and other bubble teams in major conferences) such a huge advantage over bubble teams in mid-majors and smaller conferences. Beating Ohio State at home isn't super difficult (Vegas had Indiana as a 2 point underdog and Pomeroy gave Indiana a 45% chance to win), but it goes down as a "quality" win over a team likely to be in the Top 25 on Selection Sunday. This is a huge win for the Hoosiers, even if their performance in the final few minutes was shaky, at best.

It's gotten to the point that Ohio State is basically living and dying with D'Angelo Russell. He was a brutal 3-for-15 from the floor here. Against Pomeroy Top 100 opponents this season, Russell has a 28.7 eFG% in Ohio State's four losses and a 68.6 eFG% in Ohio State's three wins. It's the life you live when you rely on a true freshman to be your do-everything playmaker on offense.

Now just 2-2 in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes head for an interesting home game against rival Michigan on Tuesday. They might still be the second best team in the Big Ten, but that's going to be an uphill battle if they fall at home to the Wolverines. Indiana, meanwhile, is now 2-1 in the Big Ten with wins over Ohio State, Butler, Pittsburgh and SMU, along with a bad loss to Eastern Washington. It's a Tournament-quality resume (their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is now sitting at 41st), but it's going to be tough to win consistently in the Big Ten with their defense so awful. Ohio State shot a brutal 3-for-21 behind the arc here, but that's just Indiana getting lucky for a day. The Hoosiers will need to go at least 10-8 in Big Ten play to go Dancing.

Iowa State Steals A Sloppy Win We have a tendency to only use the word "ugly" for low scoring games, but that's pacist, as low scoring games are often just slow tempo. This Iowa State/West Virginia game had a relatively high score because the tempo was high, but it was ugly and disjointed. West Virginia relied heavily on the glass (19 offensive rebounds) and turnovers (they forced 18), but had an ugly 37.5 eFG%. And the refs did their part in calling a ton of fouls on both teams (50 total fouls and 55 total free throw attempts), ensuring that both fan bases were angry at them.

In the end, whether a team wins a game or loses a game by two points doesn't say much about them, but Iowa State hanging even on the road with West Virginia is consistent with what most of us already believed, which is that they're the better team. Certainly with the way Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma have hit speed bumps in the last two weeks, Cyclones fans are dreaming of a Big 12 title, though I'd pump the brakes on that a bit for now. The Cyclones head to Baylor on Wednesday, but next Saturday have a massive home game against Kansas. If they want some deserved Big 12 title hype, they have to beat Kansas at home.

West Virginia remains a mystery because of their soft non-conference schedule. They beat UConn, but also lost to LSU and don't have another victory over a likely NCAA Tournament team. But despite that mediocre resume, the computers love them. They're 15th in Pomeroy and 13th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. It's always smart to be skeptical of strong computer ratings due entirely to blowing out bad teams, but nothing they've done in Big 12 play so far suggests they're anything other than a quality team destined for the NCAA Tournament. They get another big chance to finally collect a quality win on Tuesday, when Oklahoma comes to Morgantown.

Sterling Gibbs Stuns Creighton Seton Hall had two timeouts to set up a final play against Creighton and nothing worked, but with everything breaking down it was star Sterling Gibbs who hit the clutch game winner. You can watch the shot below:
Seton Hall is now 3-0 in games decided by four points or less or in overtime, and they've also been fortunate on opponent FT% and 3P%, so there is some reason to suspect that they'll regress as the season goes along, but for now they have a Tournament quality resume. They're 3-1 in Big East play and will likely get in if they finish 10-8. They have a home-and-home the next two weeks with Butler, another potential bubble team.

Poor Creighton can't catch a break the past few weeks. They've lost five straight games and are now 0-4 in Big East play. Any chance of an at-large bid is slipping away. They head on the road next to face Marquette.

Providence Overcomes Georgetown Josh Smith put this game into overtime with a putback with barely a second left in regulation, but Kris Dunn took over in overtime. Dunn got an old-fashioned three-point play, then hit a three-pointer, then blocked a shot and delivered an assist to Carson Desrosiers. For good measure he hit two key free throws down the stretch. I've talked a lot about how Kris Dunn is so talented but can also kill Providence by becoming turnover prone. Providence got "Good Dunn" here, as he delivered 16 points and 9 assists with only 2 turnovers.

With back-to-back wins over Butler and Georgetown, Providence's at-large hopes are looking up. Now 3-1 in Big East play they have good chances to grow their resume over the next two weeks with home games against St. John's and Xavier (with a road game at Creighton in between). Georgetown drops to 10-5 and 2-2 in Big East play, with wins over Florida and Indiana. With their strong schedule, Georgetown could earn an at-large bid with a 9-9 Big East record, but it would be tough. 10-8 would make their odds much better.

Baylor Wins At TCU TCU has crashed back to Earth after the media pretended that they were a Top 25 team after starting the season 13-0 against arguably the softest schedule in the entire nation. "All you can do is win the games on your schedule" is a good television narrative, but it's a silly way to project the future. That all said, the reality is that TCU is far improved this season. They'll likely end up something like 5-13 or 6-12 in Big 12 play, but that's still really good considering how strong the Big 12 is and how awful TCU had been since entering the Big 12. Trent Johnson deserves credit for doing a good job with this team.

Kenny Cherry had the chance at the end of regulation to score but failed (TCU got the ball back with about a second to go but never got a shot off after a player slipped), but Cherry made up for it in overtime by scoring 7 points and saving Baylor from an 0-3 start to Big 12 play. They have a massive game up next at home against Iowa State. Expect them to be a narrow favorite in Vegas, and a win would be easily their best of the season thus far.

Washington Falls To Washington State I'm putting this result right after discussing the TCU game, because Washington was another team that was moved up far too high (13th in both human polls) due to an undefeated start. Washington's start was more legit than TCU since they actually beat some teams with a pulse (Oklahoma and San Diego State), but they were always going to regress in a big way. And they have, with four straight losses, dropping to 0-3 in the Pac-12.  Outside shooting has been the major problem over this stretch, and they hit just 4-for-19 here. If they can get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play that should get them Dancing, but that's more difficult now. They head home this coming week to face the two Oregon squads, and really need to take care of business in both games.

Washington State is certainly playing hard for Ernie Kent, but it would be a mistake to read too much into these road victories over California and Washington. They've had some terrible losses this season and as a whole still might be the worst team in the Pac-12 (though I'd personally give that designation to USC). Remember that Kent's teams played hard for him in Oregon as well, but a lack of talent held him back. And a talent upgrade is needed in a big way in Pullman.

Old Dominion Loses To Western Kentucky Old Dominion fans have been very angry at me for excluding them from my bracket, but they do fall into a similar category to TCU and Washington in that they got themselves overrated after 10-15 games because of a good record against a soft schedule. Old Dominion fans argue that their case is different, because their conference is so weak that they have a good chance to end up with something nice like a 25-5 record. And that's partially true - they should finish with a good record. But Old Dominion's good FT% and 3P% defenses will likely regress, and more importantly there just are no chances to win quality games in Conference USA. They will enter Selection Sunday with just one "quality" win (VCU), while every loss in conference play will be a bad one (including this one). In my opinion, Old Dominion needs to get to 15-3 in conference play (and 26-4 overall) to have a reasonably good chance for an at-large bid. At this point, I don't think they get there.

Michigan Beats Minnesota Michigan has finally exited their tailspin. They're not playing great, but they're looking better. The Wolverines didn't even shoot well here (4-for-18 behind the arc), but their offense flowed better. They scored 14 of their 21 baskets from the paint and committed only 9 turnovers (compared to 17 for Minnesota). The Wolverines only got 2 bench points, though it's not news that Michigan lacks depth.

With the hole they've dug for themselves, Michigan could potentially go 11-7 in Big Ten play and still miss the NCAA Tournament (it would depend how they did in the Big Ten tournament and how the bubble looks), but they're now 3-1. A road game at Ohio State next will be a fantastic chance to change the national narrative about their team. Obviously 4-for-18 behind the arc won't cut it in Columbus. Minnesota, meanwhile, is off to an ugly 0-4 Big Ten start, though it's been against a nasty schedule. They have a much, much easier schedule in their next seven games. A home game against Iowa is up next, followed by Rutgers and Nebraska.

UConn Tops Cincinnati The AAC got the first game of the day on Saturday, though it was pretty much what you had to expect from a UConn/Cincinnati game. Neither team could get any offensive flow, and the game was very evenly played with neither squad having much of an advantage at anything. But UConn managed to build a small lead with a few minutes to go, and they had the best player on the court, so they let Ryan Boatright dominate the ball and hit the clutch free throws to finish the game off.

UConn is only 9-5, but it's come against a tough schedule. They have a bad loss to Yale, but they have wins over Florida, Dayton and Cincinnati, and even that loss to Temple doesn't look so bad anymore. The AAC isn't very good, so they're going to have to go at least 12-6 in conference play to earn an at-large bid (and even 13-5 won't be a lock), but they should get there. Cincinnati's resume isn't quite as strong, with wins over SMU and San Diego State to go with losses to Nebraska and Ole Miss, but they're in a similar position where a 12-6 record probably will be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. They head out next for a tricky road game at Memphis.

Temple Falls To Tulsa Temple had been 6-0 since adding midseason transfers Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman, including wins over Kansas and UConn, before falling here at home to Tulsa. Coleman's a bench rotation player, but Morgan had been the best all-around player for Temple during this run. So what changed here? Well, Morgan went 1-for-17 from the field. That's hard to do, but it was just one of those days. There's no reason to overreact too much to a single poor performance, and Temple can bounce right back with a home win over SMU on Wednesday. But with their mediocre play before the transfers and with the AAC down this season, Temple will probably need to get to 12-6 in conference play to have a good at-large chance.

Tulsa has terrible losses to Oral Roberts and SE Oklahoma St, so the odds are low of them actually earning an at-large bid this season, but they're better than their resume and absolutely are good enough to steal one of the top two or three spots in the final AAC standings. Don't be stunned if they beat UConn at home on Tuesday.

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