Monday, November 30, 2015

Morning News: Michigan St Tops Providence, Alabama Upsets Notre Dame, Iowa Routs Wichita St, And More

We can't believe how well you're playing either.
Michigan State Tops Providence The difference in this game was Michigan State's depth. Providence only plays seven guys, and by midway through the second half their entire starting lineup was in foul trouble. Kris Dunn picked up his fourth foul with 8:07 to go, and Ed Cooley tried to buy time with him on the bench, but three minutes later their three point lead and turned into a two point deficit. Dunn was rushed back into the game, but the Spartans hit their free throws down the stretch and never again surrendered the lead.

While Providence is going to be vulnerable to foul trouble this season, they have looked really good early on this season. We knew Kris Dunn would be Kris Dunn, but Ben Bentil has taken a leap and become a really good post player. The Friars certainly look like an NCAA Tournament team right now.

The Spartans will get some good competition at the top of the Big Ten from Purdue, Maryland, and Iowa, but for the time being they have to be considered the favorite. I've been very impressed by how much freshman production this experienced, talented team has gotten. Deyonta Davis in particular is a monster in the paint for a freshman. He's a force on both ends of the court. Gavin Schilling has not played yet this season, and at this point he isn't even really needed. Davis is already a better player than Schilling.

Alabama Upsets Notre Dame Mike Brey teams are always going to score points, particularly one as talented as this one. And the Irish scored plenty here, finishing with 1.14 PPP. The problem was that they could not stop Alabama ball handlers - particularly Retin Obasohan - out of the lane. Alabama hit 22 of their 31 shots in the paint (a 44-30 advantage in paint points), and hit 63% of their two-pointers overall. Obasohan had 19 points, including this beautiful drive for the game-winner:
This win for Alabama comes on the back of a win over Wichita State, but that Wichita State team was down Fred VanVleet for the entire game and Anton Grady for a big chunk of it. In contrast, Notre Dame was at full strength here. There are still significant flaws for this Alabama team (their inability to shoot or rebound being the two most blatant), but they're showing some life in Year One of the Avery Johnson era.

Notre Dame leaves Orlando with losses to both Alabama and Monmouth while beating Iowa. It's generally not a good idea to draw narratives from three game samples, but it's worth noting that Alabama and Monmouth are both teams that have quick perimeter players who attack the rim hard while Iowa is a team that likes to have jump shooting contests. It might not be meaningful, but it might be.

Iowa Routs Wichita State Wichita State was very much shorthanded here. They are going to be led later this season by the three-headed juggernaut of Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Anton Grady, yet VanVleet and Grady both missed this game with injuries. But that doesn't take away from the fact that this was a very impressive performance from Iowa. The Hawkeyes were up 51-21 at one point in this game. Jarrod Uthoff was strong on both ends of the court, pouring in 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks.

The media loves to say that the Selection Committee will give teams a discount for games lost without injured players, but the reality is that it's awfully hard to find any examples of it, other than the famous Kenyon Martin case from 15 years ago. The fact is that Wichita State, as good as they are, are now in very serious trouble of needing to win Arch Madness to make the NCAA Tournament if they don't get healthy soon. A game against Utah in a couple of weeks will potentially be their only remaining chance for an RPI Top 50 victory this season.

Iowa quietly looks like a contender to win the Big Ten. It's early, but so far it's been hard to distinguish their level of play significantly from Michigan State, Purdue, or Maryland, the other top title contenders.

Oklahoma Suffocates Wisconsin Oklahoma's defense has quietly been one of the best in the country for a while now. They led the Big 12 in PPP defense last season, and are holding opponents to 0.82 PPP so far this season. Here, they shut off the paint and forced Wisconsin to hit jump shots, finishing with a 34-to-10 advantage in paint points. Wisconsin's young team has struggled to hit jump shots all season, and they were particularly awful here. In the end, Wisconsin finished with a 28.7 eFG%, which was their worst shooting day since they had a 25.0 eFG% against North Dakota State on January 21, 2006.

Off their worst shooting day in almost a decade, Wisconsin is picking a bad time to head to Syracuse to face Jim Boeheim's zone. That said, at some point their shooting gap (they are hitting 30% on threes and allowing 45%) will close somewhat out of pure statistical regression.

The Sooners are again in a position to challenge Kansas in the Big 12. Baylor and Iowa State will be there, too, however. Expect the top of the Big 12 to be a bloodbath, as it was last season. They head off to Hawaii in a week to play what should be a fantastic game against Villanova.

Monmouth Tops USC I hesitate to call this an "upset", even though Monmouth was officially a five point underdog in Vegas. This Monmouth team is good, and point guard Justin Robinson has been outstanding all week in Orlando. Robinson had 25 points here, pushing his season average up to 24.4 points per game. Throw in 20 points from Micah Seaborn, and the Monmouth bench was feeling like:

Iona is a good team as well, but Monmouth is going to push them for the MAAC title. Unfortunately, the two teams don't play the first of their two match-ups until January 15th, so it might be a while before we have some clarity there.

As for USC, they are definitely improved this season, but are not yet at-large quality. They have a very tricky game coming up on Thursday night at UC-Santa Barbara (Pomeroy's ratings have USC as only a 1 point favorite), and then don't see a "quality opponent" until Pac-12 play.

Xavier Annihilates Dayton Dayton managed to hang relatively close in the first half here, but were just run off the court in the second. Xavier's defense has taken a step up from last season, and they forced 9 steals and 22 turnovers here, holding Dayton to 0.79 PPP. All five starters scored in double-figures as well, and by midway through the second half this one was over.

Xavier has quietly been one of the most impressive teams in the nation in the early going. They are 7-0 while outscoring opponents by 0.21 PPP, with three wins already over Pomeroy Top 50 opponents. The addition of Edmond Sumner was highly anticipated, and he has given Xavier another angle offensively. And Chris Mack teams are always well-coached. Throw it all together and you have a team that can legitimately challenge Villanova in the Big East.

Dayton, despite this loss, has had a good start to their season. They have a quality win over Iowa and their only loss has been to Xavier. Their remaining opportunity for a quality win outside conference play will come December 9th at Vanderbilt.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Morning News: Valparaiso Goes Down, Cincinnati Holds Off George Washington, And Tulsa Falls To UALR

Things are not going to plan for Frank Haith so far this season.
New Bracket Projection Syracuse, Akron, and UT-Arlington move into the projected field, while Tulsa, Central Michigan, and Georgia State drop out.

Valparaiso Goes Down Valparaiso was bound to lose a few games this year like this, and this is precisely why any at-large hopes for them were unrealistic.  There was nothing fluky in this game. It was just a road game against a solid mid-major, and it was close in the closing minutes. Ball State just happened to make more plays down the stretch, including hitting 8 of their last 9 free throws. Valparaiso star Alec Peters had a monster 28 points (including 5-for-9 behind the arc), but it wasn't enough.

In the end, Valparaiso is still the heavy Horizon League favorite, and they're likely heading to an 11 or 12 seed in March if they take the Horizon title, but they can only afford one or two more losses like this if they're going to have any at-large hope. As for Ball State, this is easily their best performance of the young season. As wide open as the MAC is, there's no reason Ball State can't contend for one of the top spots. They're not really in the class of a team like Akron, but this is a nice victory for a team picked to finish in last place in the MAC West preseason.

Cincinnati Holds Off George Washington George Washington was white hot here, hitting 11-for-22 behind the arc, but Cincinnati's defense shut them down otherwise. The Colonials hit only 29% of their two-pointers, and were held to 0.93 PPP despite the hot shooting. Cincinnati had shown some explosive offense to start this season, but it had mostly come against soft competition. This felt more like one of last year's games, where Cincinnati ground out quite a few close wins with suffocating defense.

Offensive efficiency will be the difference between Cincinnati winning the AAC or falling short. At this point it looks like like a two-way battle between them and UConn. George Washington, meanwhile, looks to be in the thick of a very deep Atlantic Ten race. The Colonials could easily find themselves on the Tournament bubble in February and March, and a win here would have looked nice alongside the upset of Virginia.

Tulsa Falls To UALR This probably isn't as big of an upset as many might think it is. UALR is no cupcake - they're a contender to win the Sun Belt. And the fact was that they just got hot here, hitting 8-for-15 behind the arc (compared to 9-for-31 for Tulsa), allowing them to overcome Tulsa's advantage in rebounding, turnovers, and getting to the line.

While Tulsa's performance here was not that awful, the fact is that they have underperformed expectations early on this season. They are the most experienced team in the entire nation, and this was supposed to be the year that Frank Haith took them to the NCAA Tournament. They did upset shorthanded Wichita State, but that's more than balanced out by losses to UALR and South Carolina. Considering the disrespect the AAC got from the Selection Committee last season, Tulsa is going to need to play significantly better the rest of the season to avoid the NIT. They have an interesting (and difficult) road game at Oklahoma State on Wednesday.

W-15 BP68

With Kansas getting Cheick Diallo back, I now feel confident having them as the #1 team in the country. Overall, there hasn't been much movement with the teams near the top of the bracket, though UConn, Butler, and Cincinnati are among the teams that continue to slide up as they impress.

Near the bottom of the bracket there were three changes. First, Syracuse moves in as a projected at-large, replacing Tulsa. Then, Akron replaces Central Michigan as projected MAC favorite, while UT-Arlington replaces Georgia State as projected Sun Belt favorite.

Yesterday was the last full Saturday of the college football season. That means that eyes are going to increasingly turn to college basketball. The first conference games in some mid-major conferences are tipping off this week, and we're about 3-4 weeks away from the major conferences starting conference play. The season is really getting going, you guys. It always goes so quickly.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday 2016:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Virginia

3. Maryland
3. Oklahoma
3. Duke
3. Iowa State

4. Purdue
4. Baylor
4. Xavier

5. Cincinnati
5. Oregon
5. Miami-Florida
5. Texas A&M

6. Indiana
6. Vanderbilt
6. West Virginia

7. Louisville
7. Texas
7. Notre Dame

8. Dayton
8. Butler
8. Utah

9. Providence
9. California
9. Wisconsin
9. Pittsburgh

10. Georgetown
10. Iowa
10. Michigan
10. NC State

11. Florida State
11. Syracuse
11. Ohio State
11. LSU

12. BYU
12. UNLV





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Tulsa, George Washington, Rhode Island, VCU, Oklahoma State, Northern Iowa, Boise State, Oregon State, USC, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Temple, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Creighton, Marquette, Seton Hall, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Kansas State, William & Mary, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, Evansville, Colorado State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Colorado, Washington, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Saint Mary's

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Houston, Virginia Tech, UMass, St. Joseph's, Saint Louis, TCU, Texas Tech, Hawaii, Northeastern, UTEP, Yale, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Kent State, Illinois State, Loyola-Chicago, Fresno State, Utah State, North Dakota State, Stanford, Washington State, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Morning News: Gonzaga Holds Off UConn, Syracuse Wins Atlantis, Kris Dunn Takes Down Arizona, And More

Gonzaga Holds Off UConn The first half of this game was all about jump shooting. UConn was 0-for-11 on jump shots while Gonzaga was 7-for-12 on threes alone (and 57% on all jump shots). UConn had a 22-to-18 advantage in paint points and were still down by 16 points. Gonzaga's hot shooting disappeared in the second half, where they only hit 15% of their jump shots, but UConn simply could not make a shot. For the game, UConn shot a putrid 2-for-23 on jump shots. It was particularly rough for UConn fans given that for the second straight day Kevin Ollie chose to play out a possession when down by 3 points with only 6-8 seconds between game clock and shot clock, when the analytics says that you absolutely need to foul there. It didn't work against Syracuse and it didn't work here either.

It's always easy to overreact to these Thanksgiving tournaments, but the fact is that they'll be of relatively minor importance for a team like UConn by the time March rolls around. This game means more for Gonzaga, as they need to pick up as many RPI Top 50 victories as they can before WCC play (where there will potentially be none available). The Zags have a crucial home game coming up on Saturday against Arizona.

Syracuse Takes Battle 4 Atlantis Title The Orange defeated ranked UConn and Texas A&M, while America was introduced to star freshman Tyler Lydon. All in all it was a really nice week for Syracuse. Lydon was again white hot from outside here, hitting 3-for-3 behind the arc and scoring 13 points with 8 rebounds. Michael Gbinije was 4-for-6 behind the arc and led Syracuse with 20 points. Outside shooting really was the difference here, as the Orange shot 11-for-25 on threes, overcoming a 38-to-20 disadvantage in points in the paint.

It's nice to see Syracuse playing tough non-conference games away from home and winning, but we have to be careful about over-hyping a team after a couple good games in a Thanksgiving week tournament that featured hot outside shooting. It's hardly proof that they're a Top 25 team or an ACC contender. But certainly the emergence of Lydon as an explosive scorer off the bench makes Syracuse look like something they weren't a week ago: A clear Tournament-quality team.

As for Texas A&M, I think their fans would have happily signed up on Monday for wins over Texas and Gonzaga with a loss to Syracuse. So this loss stings as a missed opportunity, but the Aggies still leave the Bahamas as a legit Top 25 team and a possible SEC contender.

Kris Dunn Leads Upset Of Arizona Kris Dunn picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half, but he managed to avoid his fifth and absolutely took over down the stretch. He finished with 19 points and 8 assists, but he did almost all of his production late. He scored or assisted on every single Providence made basket in the last six minutes, and he scored the last ten points himself, including a beautiful jumper to put them in the lead with 32 seconds left and then the dunk to punctuate the victory after Ben Bentil forced a steal.

Arizona was shorthanded here, as Kaleb Tarczewski missed the game with an ankle injury, and could be out a little while longer. Ryan Anderson did a good job in the middle in his place, pulling down 5 offensive rebounds and scoring 27 points, but this is still a major loss for the Wildcats. Tarczewski is actually on the Wooden Award watch list this season. Despite a couple of dicey performances this week (the overtime win over Santa Clara being the other one) this is still easily the most talented team in the Pac-12 when they get healthy. There's no reason for panic.

As for Providence, a team that entered the season looking like a potential bubble team, this is a really nice win. What has stood out this season has been the number of turnovers that they have forced. They forced 21 turnovers here, and are currently 11th in the nation in defensive turnover rate after finishing only 134th in the nation last season. If this holds up, along with Kris Dunn's potential All-America play, Providence will be an NCAA Tournament team.

Alabama Defeats Short-handed Wichita State It's pretty obvious that Wichita State isn't even close to being the same team without Fred VanVleet. Yet after losing to USC in this state on Thursday, things got even worse for Wichita State as Anton Grady (already with his time shortened by foul trouble) took an elbow to the head and had to be stretchered off the court. At this time there's no timetable for his return. And to make matters even worse for this game, Ron Baker had a bad shooting day, hitting just 4-for-12 from the field. Still, even with everything going wrong, Wichita State had the ball down by three with plenty of time to tie the game. Unfortunately for them, they panicked on that final possession, and Bush Wamukota (who had never taken a three in his two-year college career) rushed a three-pointer with ten seconds still left in the game.

Wichita State drops to 37th in Pomeroy and 65th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Obviously they're better than that when healthy, but the problem is that it's incredibly difficult to build a resume in a conference that doesn't provide you with RPI Top 50 opponents (as the Missouri Valley potentially won't). The Shockers will get Iowa tomorrow, and also have Utah, UNLV, and Seton Hall ahead, but it's going to be almost impossible for them to earn higher than a 4 or 5 seed in March unless they go close to undefeated the rest of the way. It's a long way off, but we're setting up for the real possibility of some 2 seed in March getting screwed by having a 7 seed Wichita State in their region. Ask Kansas fans their thoughts on that one.

As for Alabama, this is a great win for Avery Johnson, but it shouldn't be confused with evidence that Alabama can make an at-large run this season. It's going to have to take much more than a three point upset of a team missing two of its three stars down the stretch. They got smoked in their other two games against non-cupcakes (vs Dayton and Xavier).

Quincy Ford Stuns Miami Miami lost this game despite a staggering 50-to-18 advantage in paint scoring. The reason Northeastern was in this game was because of white hot outside shooting. They hit 12-for-22 (55%) behind the arc. Still, it took some heroics in the final seconds to delivery victory, and Quincy Ford supplied it:
Miami can call this a "hangover" after beating Utah and Butler in Puerto Rico, but this Northeastern team is actually pretty good. They're a contender in the Colonial, and a potential Top 100 team. They're the type of team that just needs some fluky outside shooting to knock you off. This Miami team has still had a very impressive start to their season, and they are still (in my opinion) a dark horse contender in the ACC.

California Is Not Enjoying Las Vegas One night after falling to San Diego State, California dropped this one to Richmond, despite a furious finish. Richmond hit 12 straight free throws over the final 65 seconds, yet California still was able to get the ball back within three points in the closing seconds, where Richmond properly executed a #FoulOrDefend by fouling and then grabbing the defensive rebound. For the game, Richmond hit 31-for-39 at the line to go with hot 9-for-18 shooting behind the arc, which allowed them to overcome a more talented Cal team.

Richmond has enough weapons that they could make a run at an at-large bid in February and March. And if they do, this win will be the start of building that resume. California is young enough that they should improve later in the season, but for now they are 0-2 against likely RPI Top 100 opponents. They have a few weeks to figure things out against softer competition. A home game against a rebuilding Saint Mary's squad is their only non-cupcake before they face Virginia on December 22nd.

Notre Dame Holds Off Iowa The Hawkeyes went on a 16-0 run at one point in this game, though long streaks (both good and bad) are typical for this jump shot happy program. The Hawkeyes took 21 two-point jumpers in this game (compared to 11 for Notre Dame), and overall hit just 31% of their jump shots. Last season, 41.2% of the shots Iowa took from the field were two-point jumpers, which was 17th highest in the nation. They are going to have to get to the rim more to win consistently in the Big Ten.

This marks Notre Dame's first win this season over a non-cupcake, and helps them to bounce back from that bad loss to Monmouth. This is a talented Irish roster, and they're going to score in bunches with all of the weapons that they have. The question, as it generally is with Mike Brey teams, is whether they can play consistently strong defense against ACC caliber teams.

Ohio State Falls Again It's been a nightmare start to the season for Ohio State, as they drop to 2-3 despite not playing a likely NCAA Tournament team yet. And this game was poorly played, with 50 fouls, 34 turnovers, and some awful execution late in the game as both teams allowed chances to win the game to slip out of their hands.

JaQuan Lyle (18 points, 8 assists, 4 turnovers) shows flashes of inconsistent brilliance, which is a way you can describe much of what Ohio State does. They have several awfully talented young players, but they are so raw and mistake-prone. The Buckeyes will get better as the season goes along, but right now they simply are not playing like an NCAA Tournament team.

Memphis has their own talented/inconsistent freshman in Dedric Lawson, but three of their top four minute earners are seniors, so they basically are what they are. This is a nice win for them, but they still look like an NIT team.

San Diego State's Offense Sputters When things go ugly for San Diego State, it tends to be their offense disappearing into a black hole, and that's what happened here. They had a horrific 21 turnovers to only 3 assists, shooting 0-for-9 on threes and finishing with 0.69 PPP. West Virginia's defense deserves a lot of the credit here, as their pressure can really frustrate teams that don't handle the ball well. Daxter Miles, Jr had six steals by himself, while also leading West Virginia with 14 points.

San Diego State has a win over California, but that is more than cancelled out by the bad loss to Arkansas-Little Rock. Unless they can stun Kansas in a few weeks, they're going to struggle to pick up quality wins in a Mountain West Conference that might have zero other teams in the RPI Top 50. They're going to need a really strong won-loss record (14-4 or better in Mountain West play) to earn an at-large bid.

West Virginia moves to 6-0, and looks very much like they did last season. They're going to overwhelm inferior teams with their pressure, but they're going to have to prove that they can beat the top tier of the Big 12 at a reasonably regular rate to challenge Kansas.

Michigan Holds Off Texas In a match-up between a pair of Power 5 teams off to disappointing starts, it was Michigan that got hot from outside, pouring in 14-for-25 from beyond the arc. It's certainly not the greatest performance for the Wolverines to end up in a tight battle with shooting like that, though it feels like John Beilein is still trying to figure out his rotation. Young players like Ricky Doyle and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman haven't developed as much as expected since last season, while at the same time they have seen surprising production from newcomers like Duncan Robinson and Moritz Wagner. At some point, Beilein is going to figure out the best rotation with his available personnel.

Speaking of coaches trying to figure their roster out, Texas continues to underperform under new head coach Shaka Smart. In this game, for example, Cameron Ridley was unstoppable when he got the ball but only was able to take five shots (he didn't miss a single one). At this point, the Longhorns have probably played more like an NIT team than a Tourney team, though it's hard not to think that Shaka Smart will figure his roster out sooner rather than later.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Morning News: Monmouth Knocks Off Notre Dame, Shorthanded Wichita St Falls, San Diego St Rolls California, And More

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family. It's the greatest holiday of the year, and a time to gorge on food, drink, and sports. And we did have some really fun college basketball yesterday. Let's get to the games with the most important results:

Notre Dame Falls To Monmouth America was introduced to 5'8" Justin Robinson here. Robinson's 22 points featured 14-for-15 shooting at the free throw line, including the two in the closing seconds as he buried his shoulder into Demetrius Jackson and drew the foul. Throw in Micah Seaborn and Je'lon Hornbeak, and this Monmouth team has three explosive perimeter playmakers. It's the type of roster that would scare a Round of 64 opponent, and Justin Robinson is the type of player who could be the hero of a 13/4 or 14/3 upset in the NCAA Tournament. The question is: Can they get there? Iona is always tough to take out in the MAAC, but Monmouth appears to be their top competitor. And at this point, it's too close to have a firm opinion.

As for Notre Dame, they've now been shaky in their two games against non-cupcakes (they also had a 6 point home win over Milwaukee). Their problem, as it often has been under Mike Brey, has been defensive. That said, they're allowing 46% three-point shooting and 72% FT shooting, both of which are likely to regress over time. I don't think their defense is quite as bad as it's looked so far.

USC Knocks Off Short-Handed Wichita State Wichita State certainly was not at full strength here. Fred VanVleet was out injured, and Ron Baker seemed less than 100% (or just extremely tired) late in the second half here. But the difference was white hot USC outside shooting (12-for-23 three-point shooting), led by Bennie Boatwright's 5-for-9. Wichita State did make a furious rally in the final seconds, and got a good clean look by Zach Brown at the buzzer that just missed.

Andy Enfield was desperate for a big win to give his program some positive momentum, and this qualifies, even if it was a bit fluky. USC moves to 5-0, and are very quietly in the Top 50 of both the Pomeroy and Sagarin ratings. It's a very small sample size, but it's worth paying attention to USC as a plausible bubble team.

As for Wichita State, they've been playing shorthanded basically the entire season, so they're better than they've looked. The problem is that it's hard to build a resume for a high NCAA Tournament seed in the Missouri Valley. And now they're stuck in the consolation bracket in Orlando.

San Diego State Rolls California Cal actually led this game by 15 points early in the second half. But for the rest of the game they were outscored by a brutal 42-13 margin. Winston Shepard was a monster, pouring in 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in that second half alone. San Diego State was just better at getting the ball to the rim and drawing fouls, while California's offense sputtered.

The San Diego State defense struggled at times early this season, particularly in that game against Utah, but it seems to have settled down back to the elite level it has been at in recent seasons. They looked dominant at points in the second half here.

As for California, you have to expect inconsistencies with true freshmen, and Jaylen Brown was the superfrosh who struggled here, finishing with just 7 points on 2-for-8 shooting with 3 rebounds. Before the season I thought California was overrated because of their two hyped freshmen - the fact was that the rest of the team was pretty bad last season, and it's hard to expect two freshmen to single-handedly drag a team into the Top 25. Ivan Rabb has lived up to the billing so far, while Brown has (as he did here) struggled with his consistency. And so far, Cal isn't playing like a Top 25 team. But if Jaylen Brown can find a way to live up to expectations by the time Pac-12 play rolls around, their projection absolutely can change.

Dayton Defeats Iowa With no ranked teams in this game it definitely fell below the radar of most casual fans, but this was a game between two likely NCAA Tournament teams. The worry for Iowa here, honestly, is that this result could have been far worse. When Iowa's offense has struggled under Fran McCaffery it has been when they are too happy taking long jumpers, and don't make the effort to get to the rim. And that was on display here, as Dayton had a massive 18-to-5 advantage in layups/dunks. The reason Iowa still managed to score 1.05 PPP was because of hot outside shooting (12-for-24 on threes, and 45% on all jump shots). Iowa is a good team, and still very much in the mix for a Top 3 or 4 spot in the Big Ten, but they seem to have the same flaws and deficiencies that they had last season.

Dayton moves to 4-0, though this was easily their best win of the season. Scoochie Smith was the star for Dayton, finishing with only 11 points, but doing it with 7 assists, and scoring the two biggest baskets for the Flyers down the stretch.

Syracuse Upsets UConn This was a fun, evenly played game between two old Big East rivals. The game was at a high tempo (72 possessions), though the referees did interrupt the play quite a bit with the whistle. Foul trouble hit UConn harder than Syracuse, as six different players accumulated four fouls apiece. Amida Brimah, for example, was held to just 19 minutes on the court. The spark for Syracuse was star freshman Tyler Lydon, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds and also hit 2-for-3 behind the arc to push his season eFG% up to 59%. Lydon has very quietly been one of the best freshmen in the nation.

The Orange are now 5-0 with a quality win, and will get a chance to really launch themselves into the Top 25 if they can upset Texas A&M later today. UConn, meanwhile, gets Gonzaga today, as the Zags were also upset yesterday. Michigan/Syracuse/Gonzaga is quite the gauntlet for this trip to the Bahamas.

Texas A&M Upsets Gonzaga The Texas A&M defense came up strong here, while Gonzaga was forced by foul trouble to play smaller than they usually like. The Aggies are holding opponents to 0.87 PPP this season, and held Gonzaga to 1.00 PPP here. Domantas Sabonis fouling out with just 2 points on 3 shots was part of it, but in general the Aggies did a nice job of forcing the ball out of the hands of the Goznaga bigs. Throw in 7-for-14 three-point shooting for Texas A&M and you have this upset.

It looks like Kentucky is actually going to have some serious competition in the SEC this season. Both Vanderbilt and Texas A&M are legitimate Top 20/25 teams, and could be even better. As for Gonzaga, this loss means that the 40-0 hype will stop before it gets started. But with the WCC down this season, the Zags do need some quality victories in November and December if they're going to contend for a 1 or 2 seed in March.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Morning News: Kansas Had A Very Nice Day, Texas A&M Impresses, Tory Miller Bit A Guy, And More

"I just got lei'd this morning" was an actual line Bill Walton spoke during this broadcast.

Kansas Had A Very Nice Day Wayne Selden was the star as Kansas won the Maui Invitational over Vanderbilt. Selden poured in 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and had plays like this:
Vanderbilt will feel that they missed a gigantic opportunity against a short-handed Kansas team, but I think they have to come out of this Maui Invitational feeling that they proved that their high preseason ranking was deserved. The Commodores are explosive on both sides of the ball, and are even a dark horse contender to Kentucky. And if anything, they only lost this game because their 3P% defense regressed (Kansas hit 8-for-16 here, after Vanderbilt had an unsustainable 19.5 3P% against coming into the game).

But for Kansas, this game ended what was a fantastic day for the fan base, in large part because...

Cheick Diallo Ruled Eligible For all the sturm und drang over the Cheick Diallo eligibility debate, it's going to turn out to mean basically nothing. Kansas did pick up a loss to Michigan State, but they played like a Top 5 team in the nation despite no Diallo and despite missing Brannen Greene with a suspension. In the end, if they win sweep the Big 12 titles in March, a loss or two in November simply will not matter. And in my opinion, Kansas is now (with the addition of Diallo) the best team in the nation.

Texas A&M Impresses Texas is probably an NCAA Tournament team, but Texas A&M was never really in difficulty here. They had a small to mid-sized lead for almost the entire game. It was hard for either team to get into their offense with the quick whistles (56 fouls were called and the teams combined to make more free throws than field goals), but Anthony Collins did impress and covered for a mostly quiet Alex Caruso.

The Aggies are now 5-0, though this is their first win against a non-cupcake. If they play this well the rest of the season then they'll contend for second place in the SEC, though one game in the Bahamas isn't proof of anything. They'll take a step up in talent against Gonzaga later today, and then should have one more quality opponent in the Bahamas.

Texas will play Washington in the Bahamas later today, fewer than two weeks after playing them in China, which is kind of weird. Regardless, Texas needs a win to avoid dropping to 1-3. They have talent, and Shaka Smart will have this team playing better later in the season, but they can't fall too far behind the curve in non-conference play.

Tory Miller Did What? Colorado's Tory Miller, uh, bit a guy:

UConn Stifles Michigan The Wolverines could not get their offense going in the Bahamas. They hit a putrid 24% of their jump shots, finishing with a 39.3 eFG%. The fact that Michigan rarely commits turnovers meant that they still managed to score 0.92 PPP, but the Wolverines don't have the defense to win many games when they're scoring less than a point per possession. Daniel Hamilton was the best player on both ends of the court for UConn, finishing with 16 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals.

It's still early this season, but UConn and Cincinnati do appear to be separating themselves from the rest of the field in the AAC. Picking a favorite this early on will be difficult, but this is a different type of UConn team than we've seen in recent vintages. There is no Kemba Walker or Ryan Boatright type player to carry them late in games, but this is also a much deeper team than Kevin Ollie has ever had. They easily go ten men deep.

As for Michigan, there's no huge shame in losing to UConn or Xavier, but it means that they are 0-2 against non-cupcakes, and it also means that they're in the consolation bracket in the Bahamas, stuck playing a bad Charlotte team later today. John Beilein's team does not yet seem to be showing significant improvement over last season, despite returning their entire regular rotation.

Indiana Falls To UNLV This probably wasn't as big of an upset as most people thought it was. I currently have UNLV projected as an at-large team, while Indiana's #13 ranking was clearly too high. Still, Indiana was a mess here. They were a white hot 11-for-20 on threes and still only scored 0.95 PPP. How did they pull that off? Turnovers on 30% of possessions and a brutal 10-for-24 shooting on layups did them in. As for UNLV, Patrick McCaw (20 points, 6 assists, 5 steals) is a fun player who can become a really good player if his outside shot gets more consistent.

Indiana fans are panicking, but their team is not as bad as they've looked in Maui. They're still a Tournament-quality team, and they're still in the mix for a Top 4 finish in the Big Ten. UNLV, meanwhile, is not just building their at-large resume but also throwing their hat in the ring to be a contender in the Mountain West this season. The conference is wide open.

UCLA Drops To Wake Forest UCLA's shaky start to the season continued here. They did beat UNLV by 2 points, but they lost to Monmouth, were smoked by Kansas, and now lost to a Wake Forest team that is unlikely to make a postseason tournament. What they struggled with in a big way here was Wake Forest's size in the paint. The Demon Deacons have several different strong shot blockers, and though they only blocked 4 shots here, UCLA finished an ugly 19-for-40 on layups.

As for Wake Forest, earning a 2-1 record in Maui is really nice, though it remains to be seen just how impressive these wins over Indiana and UCLA will look at the end of the season. Mixed with a blowout loss to Vanderbilt, a loss to Richmond, and narrow wins over UMBC and Bucknell, and I don't really see the argument for why Wake Forest is playing like a bubble team yet. They should improve whenever Codi Miller-McIntyre gets back, though. They have an underrated and tricky game coming up on Monday at Rutgers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Morning News: Another Ohio St Loss, Another Ben Simmons Wasted Performance, Smashed Backboard, And More

It was just that kind of day for UCLA.
Ohio State Loses Again So maybe that Texas-Arlington win over Ohio State wasn't as much of a fluke as we thought it was? Texas-Arlington went on to beat Memphis, while Ohio State looked awful again here. This marks the first time Ohio State has lost consecutive home non-conference games since 1963. The biggest thing you notice watching them is a bit of a cliche, but they simply have nobody who can get to the rim and score. JaQuan Lyle is the one Buckeye player capable of getting to the rim, but he isn't much of a scorer or shooter. None of the other players demand the ball, create their own offense, or do much of anything at all. This young Buckeyes team will get better as the season goes along, but there's only so large of a hole they can dig out of during Big Ten play to earn an at-large bid.

Louisiana Tech is no cupcake. They are a contender in Conference USA, and could also get themselves into contention for the first at-large bid for the conference since 2012. It's going to take a gaudy won-loss record to earn an at-large bid out of Conference USA, but 4-0 with a win over Ohio State is a good start.

Another Big Ben Simmons Performance In A Loss LSU does have Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor coming later this season, but these games in November still count, and Ben Simmons continues to have to do everything himself. He had another monster game (14 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 blocks, 3 steals), though he again was afraid to shoot (just 1-for-6 from the field). For the season, Simmons is hitting 18% of his jump shots and 77% of his shots at the rim, so his play is understandable. Both teams had plenty of chance to win this game, but NC State just happened to make more plays in overtime. The Wolfpack were led by a 20 point, 7 rebounds, 7 assists performance from Anthony Barber.

LSU doesn't play another "quality" opponent until SEC play, though they do have some tricky games (including road games at Houston and College of Charleston). This means that LSU will likely pick up another bad loss or two (or more) without a quality win. In other words, LSU is going to have to do significant work in the SEC to make the NCAA Tournament. It's impossible to see how they get in unless they get to 11-7 or better in conference play.

NC State picks up their first win of the season against a likely RPI Top 100 opponent. They have an interesting opportunity on December 1st with Michigan coming to PNC Arena.

Hulk Go Smash The UMass-Lowell/Wheelock game probably won't have any NCAA Tournament implications (Wheelock College is a Division III school, in case you're wondering). But it did feature a backboard smash courtesy of Dontavious Smith:
Kansas Annihilates UCLA The final score doesn't do this dominance justice. Kansas actually led by as many as 29 points in the first half. The final stats in this game don't even really matter since the entire second half was "garbage time". However, what has impressed about Kansas so far in Maui has been how efficient the offense has been even without Cheick Diallo and Brannen Greene. They have so many guys who can shoot, and so many who can get to the line. They're not the best team in the country right now, but Diallo and Greene would (in my opinion) make them that.

As for UCLA, they weren't going to get many chances for a resume-building win like a shorthanded Kansas team on a neutral court. Still, they do have Kentucky, North Carolina, and Gonzaga coming up, so they will have multiple shots at a big win.

Valparaiso Shuts Down Oregon State Oregon State is a Tournament-quality team, yet Valparaiso won this game despite a poor shooting day both from outside (4-for-16 on threes as a team) and from star Alec Peters (3-for-12). They did it with suffocating defense, holding Oregon State to 0.86 PPP, despite a stat-stuffing 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 steals from Gary Payton III. Valparaiso's defense has been great all season long (Pomeroy currently ranks it 6th in the nation).

Valparaiso is a team that would be good enough to earn an at-large bid in a tougher league. Unfortunately, it will be almost impossible for them to pull it off out of the Horizon League when their best non-conference wins will be over Oregon State and Rhode Island. The Selection Committee just does not properly value road games. Via the Sagarin ratings, a road game at Horizon League foe Milwaukee is approximately equal to home games against Georgetown, Wisconsin, or Florida State. We can be damn sure the Selection Committee won't see it that way, though. A home win over Georgetown would be an RPI Top 50 "quality win", while a loss to Milwaukee will be an RPI 100+ "bad loss".

Oregon State, in contrast, will get plenty of chances to pick up quality victories in conference play. They still look like a team destined to be in the bubble mix in February and March.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Morning News: Ben Simmons And LSU Fall, Wake Forest Upsets Indiana, UT-Arlington Pulls Another Upset, And More

I, for one, welcome our new UT-Arlington overlords.

Ben Simmons And LSU Fall Too much is going to be made of Ben Simmons, but we did see both the good and the bad of him here. The good is that he's an athletic freak, pouring in 21 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 assists. The bad is that he not only struggles to shoot, but has no confidence in his shot. Marquette was playing off of him all game, begging him to shoot, and he refused. It's why the fact that he passed up a chance for the game-winning jumper on the final possession was no surprise - he had passed up that shot all game long. In the end, however, the difference in this game was that Simmons's teammates just aren't very good. Marquette did everything they could to blow this game, committing 22 turnovers, shooting 58% at the free throw line, and looking completely out of sorts of offense, but LSU just isn't a very good team, as good as Simmons is.

LSU's Top 25 ranking was just a function of Simmons hype. They are very likely a bubble-quality team, and aren't doing their bubble hopes much help with a really soft non-conference schedule. They will play NC State later today and then Wake Forest on December 29th, but that's it for likely RPI Top 100 opponents before SEC play. LSU does add Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor soon, so they will get better, but they're likely going to need something like an 11-7 SEC record to make the NCAA Tournament.

As for Marquette, I'm not sure how much this win really means. They didn't play particularly well, and have looked shaky in their other games as well (a loss to Belmont, a blowout loss to Iowa, and an OT win over IUPUI). They have two talented young big men in Luke Fischer and Henry Ellenson, but they're going to need to better perimeter play to make a run at a postseason tournament.

Wake Forest Upsets Indiana So the Big Ten has been secretly mediocre to start this season, huh? Michigan State, Purdue, and Iowa are the only Big Ten teams that have really impressed in the early going. Indiana here was undone by some putrid defense, particularly off the pick-and-roll. Star freshman Thomas Bryant often looked totally lost all game, including the play on which Bryant Crawford hit the game-winner. Overall, Wake Forest finished the game on a 19-6 run.
B. Crawford made Layup. - ESPN Video
Bryant Crawford's game winner

Wake Forest scored on 25 layups/dunks, finishing with a ridiculous 52-to-32 advantage in points in the paint. Tom Crean is going to have to make some adjustments to fix that, perhaps a zone. We know that this Indiana offense is tremendously explosive, and when they're hot from outside their defense won't matter, but when they get bogged down in tight games they're going to need to find a way to get a stop to contend in the Big Ten.

UT-Arlington Pulls Another Upset Three days after knocking off Ohio State, Texas-Arlington proved it wasn't a fluke by taking out Memphis. And amazingly, they did it despite ugly 5-for-28 shooting behind the arc. They won with the same pressing defense that caused Ohio State problems, forcing 10 steals and holding Memphis to just 36% shooting on two-pointers.

Memphis is scoring just 0.98 PPP this season despite an awfully soft schedule. As long as their offense is unable to shoot the ball (they are hitting just 21% of their threes thus far), they're going to struggle to even be in the bubble mix in February and March. As for UT-Arlington, an at-large bid isn't a realistic possibility out of the Sun Belt, but they are making a very strong case that they should replace Georgia State as the conference favorite.

UCLA Hangs On Late UNLV charged hard late, scoring on their final three possessions, including a pair of Patrick McCaw three-pointers, but UCLA hit ten consecutive free throws down the stretch to hang on by the skin of their teeth. For the game, UCLA shot an absurd 23-for-24 at the free throw line. Aside from free throws, UCLA was led by big man Thomas Welch (20 points on 9-for-12 shooting, with 8 rebounds).

This win for UCLA is about a lot more than just this win. It means that later today they get a shot at a significantly short-handed Kansas team in Maui, which will be perhaps their best chance all season at a resume-building win. UNLV is stuck playing Chaminade, and is going to have trouble getting anything out of this trip to Maui now. And throw in the relative weakness of the Mountain West Conference this season, and UNLV just made their task of building an at-large quality resume significantly harder.

Illinois Upsets Chicago State At The Buzzer Okay, that's kind of a joke. It wasn't technically an upset. But Illinois did finally get some joy out of this miserable season with this beautifully drawn up final play and the buzzer beater by Jalen Coleman-Lands. Watch it below:

UMass Smokes Clemson This game was over early. UMass was up 39-16 at one point, and led by 26 points midway through the second half before taking their foot off the gas pedal. To be fair to Clemson, they weren't outplayed by as much as the score might suggest. The difference was white hot Massachusetts outside shooting (16-for-31 on threes). But it's never a good sign when a team loses to their first opponent of the season with a pulse.

UMass entered this game 3-0, though all three games were against opponents ranked 200th or worse by Pomeroy, and two of the three were close in the final minute. But fluky shooting aside, this was still an impressive performance. The Minutemen have one of the most explosive backcourts in the country, so it's not inconceivable that they could get into the at-large picture out of a strong Atlantic Ten.

Kansas State Routs Missouri This result probably is more about Missouri not being any good than about Kansas State being a good team, but this is still an impressive thrashing by Kansas State. The Wildcats led 31-14 at halftime and then by 20+ for almost the entire second half. Their defense completely stifled Missouri. The 0.65 PPP was the fewest that Kansas State had allowed vs a power conference team since holding Rutgers to 0.61 PPP on November 15, 2006.

Kansas State moves to 4-0 for the season. It's come against a soft schedule, but there's still something to be said for taking care of business. We'll have a much better idea of where they stand as a team when they take a step up in competition and play North Carolina later today.

Arizona State Upsets NC State It's been a rough start to the season for NC State, now 0-2 in games against non-cupcakes. The star for Arizona State was Savon Goodman, who had 7 offensive rebounds as the Sun Devils rebounded 42% of their own misses. He also scored 21 points. As a whole, the Sun Devils simply had easier shots to make, as they finished with a 17-to-10 advantage in layups/dunks.

For Arizona State, this win helps to remove the bad taste from that loss to Sacramento State on the opening night of the season. A November upset can be easily forgotten by March, but a single strong result is not a trend. Bobby Hurley's team is going to need to show this level of performance consistently to contend for a postseason berth.

South Carolina Defeats Tulsa In a game between two potential bubble teams, it was South Carolina's hot outside shooting (7-for-14 on threes) which was the difference.  Shaq Harrison did his best to carry Tulsa, forcing himself to the foul line 16 times and finishing with 20 points, but it wasn't quite enough. South Carolina is quietly 5-0 with wins over a pair of likely RPI Top 100 opponents in Tulsa and Hofstra. Frank Martin teams have a tendency to be inconsistent, but so far they've played like a Tournament team.

Tulsa's win over Wichita State more than balanced out this loss, but the margin of error between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT will not be huge for Tulsa this season. They'll want to build up as strong of a resume as they can before AAC play starts, because we learned last season what the Selection Committee thinks of the AAC, and it's not good.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Morning News: Duke Escapes Georgetown, Miami Holds Off Butler, Purdue Pulls Away From Florida, Wisconsin/VCU, And More

Duke was one of three ACC schools to win a tournament title yesterday.
Duke Escapes Georgetown Georgetown gave Duke all they could handle here. Duke had made 9 of 10 free throws over the final 1:10, but back-to-back Georgetown threes forced Derryck Thornton to the line for a pair of key free throws with five seconds left. He missed both, and Isaac Copeland got a clean three-point look at the buzzer that he just happened to miss. Grayson Allen was, again, the star for Duke. He poured in 32 points and is now averaging 29 points per game over Duke's four wins compared to just 6 points in that loss to Kentucky.

This Duke team has demonstrated this past week that they do have significant flaws. Their defense is shaky, and their offense gets bogged down when Grayson Allen isn't creating. But the reason why they are still likely a Top 10 team in the country is because of their depth of talent. The fact that they had a 5-star recruit like Chase Jeter (who didn't even play against VCU on Friday) come off the bench to give them a few great minutes of energy to turn the game around in the first half is the type of luxury that only a small handful of teams have.

Georgetown has now lost their three games by a combined 8 points. A home game against Syracuse in a couple of weeks is their last chance to beat a quality opponent in non-conference play, so they're not going to have a great Tournament resume when Big East play tips off, but they certainly look like a Tournament-quality team. They should do well in Big East play.

Miami Holds Off Butler Miami looked fantastic early in this game, pulling out to a 19 point first half lead. But Butler has one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, which means that they're never out of a game. They scored 1.31 PPP in the second half behind an absurd 20 points from Kellen Dunham (Dunham had 23 points for the game, with 5-for-8 shooting behind the arc). Butler pulled within four points with three minutes to go, but Miami hit 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch to hold out for the win.

This result means more about Miami than Butler. The Hurricanes were coming off a 24 point domination of Utah, as well as blowouts of their earlier opponents. Take computer ratings with a spoonful of salt in November, but they currently sit 10th in Pomeroy and 11th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. It's too early to say that they're a true ACC contender, but it's also too early to say that they aren't.

Butler, meanwhile, has a very tough game coming up on December 2nd at Cincinnati. it will be interesting to see how their explosive offense does against the elite Cincinnati defense. So far this season, Butler is scoring 1.28 PPP while Cincinnati is allowing 0.70 PPP. Something's got to give.

Purdue Pulls Away From Florida Florida kept this game close in the first half, but Purdue took over midway through the second half and ended up with the comfortable victory. True freshman Caleb Swanigan was inconsistent, but he was physically dominant, though the underrated key to Purdue's early season success continues to be the development of Isaac Haas (11 points on 5-for-6 shooting here).

Purdue moves to a dominant 5-0 to start the season and has slid inside the Top 10 of the Pomeroy ratings, which is best in the Big Ten. Computer ratings need to be viewed skeptically this early in the season, but it's fair to ask: Is Purdue the best team in the Big Ten? At this point I'd answer "no", because I think it's Michigan State, but it's a fair question, and one where reasonable minds can disagree. The good news is that Purdue still has several quality opponents before Big Ten play, so we will learn more about how good they really are. Butler, Vanderbilt, and Pittsburgh are all on the schedule before they open Big Ten play at Wisconsin on December 29th.

As for Florida, there's no shame in a neutral court loss to Purdue. This has been their only game against a Tournament-quality team, though, so the post-Billy Donovan Gators still are a bit of a mystery. One bright spot has been the energetic John Egbunu (19 points and 7 rebounds here).

Wisconsin Tops VCU At The Buzzer In a one point game there are a million little things that can make the difference. After shooting 4-for-5 on threes in the first half, VCU went 0-for-8 in the second half. They also shot just 17-for-29 at the line. Wisconsin suffered from a combination of VCU's pressure and a tight whistle to end up with 20 turnovers and 21 fouls, both uncharacteristic from the team that led the entire nation in offensive turnover rate and defensive FTRate last season. But the game came down to Bronson Koenig scoring on a beautiful spin move in the final seconds.
The good news for VCU is that the Atlantic Ten looks strong this season. They'll have plenty of options for RPI Top 50 wins in conference play. They certainly seem like the type of squad that is going to end up on the bubble in February and March, so these close losses to Duke and Wisconsin definitely hurt, but aren't crippling.

This young Wisconsin team is going to continue to improve as the season goes along. They're likely a Tournament team, but they're going to have to get significantly better by January if they are going to contend for one of the top two or three spots in the Big Ten.

Ge'Lawn Guyn Takes Out Georgia Tech East Tennessee State had not held a lead since midway through the first half before Ge'Lawn Guyn hit a rainbow three-pointer to knock out the Yellow Jackets with 0.9 seconds left. He was the star all game as well, pouring in 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting, with 7 rebounds. Georgia Tech got a nice game from Marcus Georges-Hunt, who had 20 points (including a monster dunk with 24 seconds left that looked like it might seal the win), but they were let down by a defense that hasn't been nearly as good this season as last season. East Tennessee State scored 18 of their 21 made two-pointers from inside the paint and scored 1.11 PPP overall.
Ge'lawn Guyn's game winner

A single bad loss hardly ends a season, but Georgia Tech isn't showing signs of a team likely to seriously contend for an at-large bid in March. And the question that will arise if they fail to make it for the sixth straight season will be whether Brian Gregory has to go. And this decision is complicated by the fact that they are still paying Paul Hewitt's buyout. In my opinion, Georgia Tech is still showing some forward momentum (the program was in awful shape when Gregory took over), so I don't think they should pull the plug quite yet. But whatever my opinion is, Brian Gregory's seat is definitely getting warmer on the Georgia Tech bench.

Saint Mary's Routs Stanford Stanford has had a shaky start to their season, though this game was entirely about jump shooting. Saint Mary's hit 59% of their jump shots, including 9-for-16 behind the arc. Stanford hit just 18% of their jump shots. It's almost impossible to beat a quality team with that type of shooting differential. Saint Mary's was led by 11-for-15 shooting from Joe Rahon.

Power 5 conference teams are not eliminated from at-large contention in November, but at this point Stanford doesn't look like a team capable of contending for an at-large bid. And with Villanova coming up next (part of the NIT Season Tip-Off), Stanford is likely going to drop below .500 for at least a little while.

Saint Mary's was expected to be in a rebuilding season, with no seniors on the roster and with a lot of playing time going to freshmen like Kyle Clark. But this performance suggests that maybe they'll be a little bit more competitive in WCC play than was expected preseason. Perhaps an NIT bid will be possible.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Morning News: Down Goes #1, Illinois Falls Again, San Diego St Is Upset, And Dayton/William & Mary

Buzz Williams honored Frank Beamer's final home game as Virginia Tech head coach.
New Bracket Projection I made two changes to my projected bracket this week. Iowa moved in as an at-large team, replacing Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, Bucknell replaced Lehigh as the new Patriot League favorite.

Down Goes #1 This wasn't anywhere near the upset that the media is making it out to be. Vegas had the spread at 6.5 points and Pomeroy gave Northern Iowa a 30% chance of the win. Why? Because it's hard to win on the road against a bubble-quality team (which Northern Iowa probably is), particularly when your best player is out injured. It's why top tier Power 5 teams really should never schedule road games against quality mid-majors until the Selection Committee starts properly valuing the difficulty of homecourt advantage (which won't happen anytime soon).

Why did North Carolina lose this game? I honestly don't think Marcus Paige was a big factor. The Tar Heels still had 17 assists on 26 made baskets with only 12 turnovers. What really held them back offensively was ice cold 5-for-18 shooting behind the arc. The bigger problem for the Tar Heels was defensively, where 11 of Northern Iowa's 24 made baskets were layups or dunks. The Panthers scored 1.06 PPP, which is the most that a non-Power 5 opponent has scored in a non-conference regular season game against North Carolina since Belmont scored 1.14 PPP in a win over the Tar Heels on November 17th, 2013. Wes Washpun led the way with 21 points and 8 assists.

In the end, there's no reason for North Carolina fans to panic. If Marcus Paige comes back and they win the ACC then nobody will remember what happened in November. But the defensive shortcomings could be the difference between winning or losing the ACC if they aren't cleaned up. As for Northern Iowa, a single game isn't convincing evidence that they're more than a bubble team, but if they do end up on the bubble in March then a win over North Carolina is going to look awfully nice on their resume.

Illinois Falls Again In defense of Illinois, they are shorthanded. Tracy Abrams, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate are all out hurt. But Abrams is done for the season, while Nunn and Tate are both going to remain out for a significant period of time. And these results for Illinois are just flat out ugly. They are 1-3 with losses to North Florida and Chattanooga, with the one win coming narrowly at home over North Dakota State. They don't even look like a Top 100 team, let alone a team that can compete for an NCAA or NIT bid.

Chattanooga, meanwhile, already has victories over Georgia and Illinois, and looks like the clear favorite in the Southern Conference. Those wins aren't going to set the college basketball world on fire, but they could be the wins to push them to something like a 14 seed in March.

San Diego State Is Upset San Diego State scored 1.10 PPP against Utah, but other than that game they have been a mess. Their offense was just bad here. They committed 16 turnovers and had an ugly 34.8 eFG%. Overall this season they are turning the ball over on 22% of possessions and have a 45.5 eFG%, with just 0.94 PPP against a relatively soft schedule.

San Diego State should improve, in large part because their inconsistent backcourt is very young. Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley (a combined 3-for-13 shooting with 3 assists and 6 turnovers here) will eventually adjust and play better. The problem is that with the Mountain West down, San Diego State has to build their Tournament resume in non-conference play. They'll get a chance for a quality win or two in Las Vegas next week, and they'll also get Kansas at home on December 22nd, but that could be it for potential RPI Top 50 victories.

Dayton Defeats William & Mary Dayton newcomer Charles Cooke took over in the second half, pouring in 18 point by himself. As a team, Dayton hit 69% of their two-pointers, scoring 20 points in the paint and 1.33 PPP overall. This William & Mary team had already won at NC State this season and looks like a Top 100 squad, so this is a solid victory for the Flyers.

Dayton moves to 3-0 on the season, but are going to take a significant step up in quality of opponent next week, starting with Iowa. The Atlantic Ten will be a multi-bid league this season, but Dayton will not want to enter conference play without a quality win or two.

W-16 BP68

Watching the college football poll/playoff debate makes me thankful that the college basketball system is so superior to football. We don't have to pretend that Northern Iowa is better than North Carolina just because "They won head to head! They proved it on the field! They're better!". #CollegeFootballTwitter is enough to make your head hurt.

College basketball fans generally understand that your resume is who you beat and who you lost to, and that's all that matters in the end. Of course, the season has a long way to go, so the fact that Northern Iowa's resume is superior to North Carolina's at the moment is not really relevant. By the end of the season, with Marcus Paige back, I still think the Tar Heels have to be considered the ACC favorite.

In the end, I moved just two new teams into the projected bracket this week: Iowa and Bucknell. Iowa replaces Oklahoma State, while Bucknell replaces Lehigh as the new Patriot League favorite.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday 2016:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Virginia

3. Maryland
3. Oklahoma
3. Duke
3. Iowa State

4. Purdue
4. Baylor
4. Texas

5. Indiana
5. Xavier
5. Cincinnati

6. Oregon
6. Miami-Florida

7. Texas A&M
7. California
7. Louisville
7. Notre Dame

8. Michigan
8. Utah
8. Vanderbilt
8. West Virginia

9. Pittsburgh
9. Dayton
9. Wisconsin
9. Butler

10. LSU
10. Providence
10. Georgetown

11. Ohio State
11. Tulsa
11. Iowa
11. NC State
11. BYU

12. Florida State
12. UNLV





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Syracuse, George Washington, Rhode Island, Oklahoma State, Old Dominion, Northern Iowa, Boise State, Oregon State, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Temple, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Creighton, Marquette, Seton Hall, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, TCU, William & Mary, UTEP, Akron, Evansville, Illinois State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Colorado, USC, Stanford, Washington, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Saint Mary's

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Vermont, Houston, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, St. John's, Nebraska, Penn State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Hawaii, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Oakland, Yale, Buffalo, Kent State, Loyola-Chicago, Fresno State, Utah State, Wyoming, Murray State, North Dakota State, Washington State, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, Pepperdine

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Morning News: Bad Day For The Big Ten. Also, Miami Routs Utah, Duke Tops VCU, And More.

"Wasn't this game supposed to be easy?"
Miami Routs Utah Utah was outplayed across the board here. Miami outrebounded Utah, they forced more turnovers (a 23-to-4 advantage in points off turnovers), they shot better, they scored more points in the paint... It was just a nightmare game all around for Utah. I think if there's one area that is more of a concern for Utah than any other it's their defense, which was so strong last season (rated 6th best in the nation by Pomeroy). This season they are allowing an ugly 1.10 PPP. Jacob Poeltl is still a dominant interior force, but Utah's perimeter defense has been very shaky. This Miami team is good, so a loss isn't the end of the world, but Utah's defense will have to be better for them to contend in the Pac-12.

As for Miami, you don't want to react to a small sample size, but there's no question that thus far they've played like a Top 25 team. If they can knock off Butler in the Puerto Rico title game on Sunday then they really might start getting some dark horse buzz in the ACC.

Xavier Takes Down Michigan Xavier took the lead late in the first half here and never let it go. They exploited a Michigan defense that was very porous, particularly in the paint. Xavier had a monster 34-to-14 scoring advantage in the paint, led by 15 points and 9 boards from Jalen Reynolds. Michigan got 29 points from Caris LeVert, but it wasn't enough to overcome the 1.25 PPP that Xavier scored.

The good news for Michigan is that this probably is not how bad they really are. Every team is going to have some bad days, and this was a bad day for Michigan. Fans should never panic over single game performances. That said, this Michigan team is simply not getting good production from their young big men, and if they have to play small (as they did here) then they are going to be over-powered by the bigger teams in the Big Ten. Players like Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal (a combined 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 7 fouls here) simply have to play better.

Meanwhile, this Xavier team might just be good enough to contend for the Big East title. The same skepticism of not overreacting to 40 minute sample sizes applies to them, too, but I already had Xavier projected as a 5 seed. We'll see how they look in Orlando next week.

Georgetown Outshoots Wisconsin Sometimes basketball is easy to analyze. It doesn't matter what you do if you don't make shots.  And here, Georgetown got hot while Wisconsin was ice cold. Georgetown hit 40% of their jump shots, including 50% behind the arc. Wisconsin, in contrast, hit just 22% of their jump shots. Reggie Cameron was the catalyst for Georgetown, knocking down 4-for-6 behind the arc. Wisconsin, in contrast, got a putrid 2-for-12 shooting performance from Bronson Koenig.

Wisconsin will have an interesting test in the consolation game on Sunday against VCU. Historically, Bo Ryan teams would have been krypton to VCU's press because of the lack of mistakes, but this Wisconsin team is so young and raw. They're not your typical Bo Ryan team at all. Georgetown, meanwhile, will get a chance in the 2k Classic title game to steal a big win over Duke. After that game, Syracuse is their only remaining quality opponent before Big East play tips off.

Duke Holds Off VCU VCU absolutely had their chances to win this game. Their tempo and pressure caused significant problems for Duke. Superfrosh Brandon Ingram (8 points and 5 rebounds), in particular, seems unsettled. Duke was able to settle down in the second half by going with a smaller, more mobile lineup. While Grayson Allen was the star (30 points on 9-for-15 shooting), I was really impressed by Derryck Thornton's ball handling. As a young player, he held out against VCU well.
Everything was going in for Grayson Allen

VCU fans will feel unjustly done by the reffing (Duke had a 27-14 advantage in foul calls), and it certainly did seem like Duke got the lion's share of the iffy calls. But VCU had chances to hit big shots in the second half and just missed. They finished just 26% on jump shots for the game. VCU will attempt to collect their first quality win of the season on Sunday when they take on Wisconsin.

George Mason Pulls Another Upset Coming off a win over Ole Miss, Dave Paulsen's squad collected another nice win here. Once again, shooting was a factor, as George Mason hit 46% of their three-pointers, including 5-for-7 from Jaire Grayer. But at the same time, they got another nice game from Shevon Thompson (20 points and 17 rebounds), and will get a chance to pull a staggering upset if they can knock out Virginia in the Charleston Classic title game on Sunday.

As for Oklahoma State, the "don't overreact to a 40 minute sample size" thing applies here, too. But this is an Oklahoma State team I wasn't high on preseason. Being without Phil Forte was obviously a big factor, but their offense didn't look great with him this season either, and the Cowboys defense and rebounding both look shaky. And if the Tournament bubble is where they find themselves in March, this loss to George Mason could end up being very important. The good news is that their upcoming schedule is pretty soft, so they will have some time to get Forte healthy before Big 12 play ramps up.

UT-Arlington Stuns Ohio State We've seen some weird upsets in the early going this season, but this is one of the stranger ones. What makes it particularly bizarre is that UT-Arlington didn't have a goofy shooting day. In fact, they hit just 26% behind the arc. Ohio State gave away a lot of points at the free throw line (48%), but UT-Arlington outrebounded them (a 42.9 OR% compare to a 31.7% for Ohio State) and kept turnovers even.

Ohio State is young, and they seemed to really struggle with the UT-Arlington press. They'll play better as the season goes along, but at this point it's hard to have any confidence in Ohio State as a contender in the Big Ten. They look more like a bubble team than a Top 25 team. That said, JaQuan Lyle and Daniel Giddens have both showed flashes of real talent early on in their freshman seasons, and if they can figure out how to play more consistently then the Buckeyes could improve significantly as the season progresses.

Brannen Greene Suspended With Cheick Diallo's situation still unresolved, Kansas is suddenly looking short-handed. Greene averaged just 5.7 points per game last season, but he has the ability to really light it up from deep (he hit 40% behind the arc last season). But if he's not going to behave off the court, as it seems he isn't, Bill Self has to get him under control. The non-cupcake games affected will be their games in Maui next week. In the end, if Greene and Diallo are both playing for this team during Big 12 play then none of this matters, but for the time being it certainly has Kansas fans on edge.

Hofstra Upsets Florida State Joe Mihalich has done an incredible job building up Hofstra out of utter rubble into the Colonial preseason favorite (the media picked them, as did I). And that's why this upset probably wasn't as much of an upset as most fans think it was. Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a rough day at the office (4-for-14 from the field), while Florida State had nobody who could slow down Brian Bernardi (24 points on 8-for-10 shooting).

Is it possible Hofstra is good enough to make a run at an at-large bid? It's probably a bit earlier to suggest something like that. The Colonial hasn't had an at-large team in five years, back when George Mason and VCU were in the league. But Hofstra has proven that they're good enough to scare their Round of 64 opponent if they can earn the CAA's auto bid.

Florida State fans shouldn't panic over a single game, but in the early going their returners have not shown any real improvement over last season. Malik Beasley has been a good newcomer, but the Seminoles have struggled as a team, particularly on the defensive end. They need to beat DePaul later today or else the warning lights will really start to fire.

Butler Survives Temple Butler's offense was basically unstoppable against cupcakes to start the season, but their shooting disappeared against Temple.  They hit just 23% of their jump shots on the day. What was impressive was that it kind of didn't matter. Butler just got to the rim, poured in 15 layups and dunks, and still ending up with 1.14 PPP. There's no question that they are going to be one of the most explosive offenses in the country this season.

A few questions remain about Butler, however. First, how well will these offensive stats hold up once the level of competition gets ramped up? How well will their defense hold up? And will their lack of depth prove a problem? Butler played only seven players here, and only six scored. They are certainly going to be very vulnerable if any of their key players gets hurt. So only time will tell if they are able to contend near the top of the Big East or not.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Morning News: Iowa Annihilates Marquette, Stanford's Defense Falters, George Mason Upsets Ole Miss, And More

Iowa Annihilates Marquette The 28 point loss for Marquette was their worst ever in the Bradley Center, yet somehow the final score doesn't even totally indicate how lopsided this game was. They trailed by 27 points at halftime, and the second half was just played in cruise control. It's not even worth analyzing the stats in this game since it never really was a game.

For Marquette, this second season for Steve Wojciechowski was not supposed to be a finished product (they still are a very young team), but the team was supposed to be improved. They are just not playing well at all so far this season, in any of their three games. As for Iowa, this was their first game against a non-cupcake and they certainly impressed. The question is whether this is their true talent level or just a fluke. We'll get a much better idea next week when they play in Orlando.

Stanford's Defense Falters Again Stanford has had a shaky start to their season, needing an overtime to beat a mediocre Green Bay team at home, and they were run out of the building here.  SMU had a big 46-34 scoring advantage in the paint and scored 1.31 PPP. Take computer ratings for what they're worth early in the season, but Pomeroy rates Stanford's defense only 128th best in the nation right now. They've got a tricky stretch coming up, with a road game at Saint Mary's and then Villanova in Brooklyn. They'll need to play better just to get a split in those two games.

SMU has nothing to play for this season officially, but they are a very talented roster, and it will be interesting to see how they continue to play as the season goes along. I'd be interested to see how the Selection Committee treats the other top teams in the AAC if SMU is the regular season champion.

George Mason Upsets Mississippi Dave Paulsen inherited a rough situation at the once dominant mid-major program George Mason, but it's hard to imagine that he's not a coaching upgrade over Paul Hewitt. They opened this season with losses to Colgate and Mercer, but this season isn't going to be about results, it's going to be about progress. And while they were inconsistent and made mistakes here, George Mason pulled off a really nice upset.

The silver lining for Ole Miss is that they were probably the better team here. What doomed them (despite an 18-to-4 turnover advantage) was jump shooting. George Mason hit 40% of theirs while Mississippi hit a putrid 24% of theirs. But the fact is that a Tournament team shouldn't be in a position to lose to a team like George Mason, and Mississippi probably is not a Tournament team.

Arizona Holds Off Boise State Arizona was expected to win this game, and they did, but what stood out here was just how well Boise State played in defeat.  This game was played at a high level, and in particular Boise State managed to outplay the Arizona front line. James Webb III went for 27 points and 9 rebounds while Nick Duncan poured in 21 points of his own. In fact, Boise State might have pulled off the upset if Arizona hadn't out-shot them (48% on three-pointers vs 33% for Boise State). Boise State suffered a tough opening night loss at Montana, but if they continue to play like this then they could definitely get themselves into the at-large picture.

Seton Hall Falls To Long Beach State Kevin Willard might be coaching for his job, and this is not the start to his season that he wanted. The struggles for Seton Hall have tended to come when Isaiah Whitehead dominates the ball too much, and that happened here. He scored 21 points but on only 7-for-18 shooting. If you recall last season, Seton Hall actually played better ball without him, though that team had Sterling Gibbs to lean on. With Gibbs gone, Kevin Williard has to live and die with Whitehead.

The star for Long Beach State was Nick Faust (yes, the former Maryland player), who poured in 16 points. And with this win coming off of a win over BYU, Long Beach State is making a good case that they were underrated preseason. The media picked UC-Irvine as the Big West favorite (as did I) and only placed Long Beach State fourth. At this point, they're as good of a contender as any.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Morning News: Providence Survives, Akron Defeats Arkansas, Giants Collide, And Richmond/Wake Forest

I can definitely watch these two guys go at it again.
Providence Survives At The Buzzer Illinois had approximately 17 shots in the final 10 seconds of this game (I might be exaggerating slightly), but none of them went in and Providence managed to survive a heart-stopping finale. The Illini did manage to reasonably contain Kris Dunn (10 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists), but their offense sputtered, as it likely is to continue to do for much of this season without Tracy Abrams. The Illini are desperately looking for something good to happen to them this season, but so far they haven't been able to catch a break.
Illinois/Providence final seconds

I'm not quite sure how impressive home wins over Harvard and Illinois are this season, and what that really says about Providence. Are they a Tournament team? It's way too early to tell. We should get a much better idea of where this team is next week when they play at the Wooden Legacy tournament.

Akron Defeats Arkansas There was a lid on the basket for Arkansas in this game, as they hit just 30% of their jump shots. It's why they outscored Akron 32-to-20 in the paint and still lost the game by 8. We have seen this from Mike Anderson teams in the past, however, when they aren't getting easy baskets off of turnovers or offensive rebounds. They forced only 12 turnovers here, in what was an ugly defensive performance overall. The 1.28 PPP they allowed were their most allowed in a game since way back on January 17th.

The fact is that this wasn't much of an upset. Arkansas was a 6.5 point favorite in Vegas, but the computer ratings had the spread even closer, with these two teams almost even. Pomeroy actually rated Akron the better team (though computer ratings, of course, have large margins of error this early in the season). Akron is definitely looking like a serious contender in the MAC. Arkansas, in contrast, is not yet playing like an NCAA Tournament team. Their defense has just been brutal, even if you consider that their 3P% allowed (42.5% so far) has been unlucky and will regress.

Giants Collide UCF vs UC-Irvine wasn't a game with likely NCAA Tournament implications, but it did feature a 7'6" vs 7'6" match-up between Mamadou Ndiaye and UCF's new Tacko Fall. And when the two men went up against each other, Fall was the winner:

Ndiaye had the last laugh, though. His free throw with 1:49 left in overtime proved to be the game winner. UC-Irvine was my preseason pick to win the Big West Conference, and a quick 3-0 start to the season has hardly disabused me of that notion, but they will be in a competitive race with teams like Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara and Hawaii.

Richmond Tops Wake Forest Wake Forest had escaped with narrow wins over UMBC and Cornell, but Richmond is better than either of those. The Spiders really caused troubles defensively for Wake Forest, forcing 11 steals and finishing with a 20-to-6 turnover advantage. The Atlantic Ten has looked strong in the early going this season, but this Richmond performance at least puts them in the discussion of the top tier teams in the conference, perhaps not quite at the level of Dayton, VCU, George Washington, Rhode Island, or Davidson, but right behind them.

For Wake Forest, the fact is that they're not at full strength right now. Cornelius Hudson (7.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last season) is suspended while Codi Miller-McIntyre (a team-high 14.5 points per game last season) is out injured. The good news for them is that the ACC is so well-respected and deep that they will be able to make an iffy non-conference performance disappear if they can get their full roster together and play well in ACC play.