Sunday, January 31, 2016

Morning News: Virginia Stifles Louisville, Florida Routs West Virginia, Kansas Beats Kentucky In OT, And More

Your favorite for NPOY.
New Bracket Projection Two changes were made to the Field of 68: Syracuse and Yale moved in, while George Washington and Princeton dropped out. Click the link for the full bracket projection and more details.

Virginia Stifles Louisville We've been wondering where Virginia's defense has been all season, and it finally showed up here. Amazingly, this was the first ACC opponent that they have held below 1 PPP all season long, after allowing just 0.88 PPP in ACC play last season. And this was, finally, a suffocating defensive performance. Louisville scored just 0.44 PPP in the first half, and only after scoring a bunch of points in garbage time did they get their game total up to 0.77 PPP.

It will remain to be seen whether this Virginia defensive performance is a sign of a real shift, or if this was just a fluke. Louisville's lack of players who score consistently in the paint, where Virginia is weakest defensively, suggests that perhaps the Cardinals were just a perfect opponent for the Cavaliers.

Even after this ugly loss, Louisville is still the team best positioned to steal the ACC regular season title from North Carolina. Their home game against the Tar Heels is up next, on Monday night. They don't have a return trip to Chapel Hill, so a win there would put them in a great position.

Florida Routs West Virginia Games involving West Virginia are almost always ugly. There are going to be a lot of turnovers, a billion fouls, and a ton of stoppages of play. This game had more fouls (45) than made baskets (40) and took nearly two and a half hours. But West Virginia needs those turnovers to win, and Florida actually had the advantage in turnovers (17 to 13). This result was hardly a shocker, as West Virginia was only a 1 point favorite in Vegas, but the margin of victory was surprising. Florida's hot outside shooting (10-for-16 on threes) was a big factor there.

This is probably the best all-around performance by Florida this season, though they've been better than their resume. Some bad luck in close games, particularly against quality opponents, has been the problem. But this win should put the bubble concerns to the side for a while. A 10-8 SEC record will likely keep their RPI in the Top 40, which would make them a near-lock to get in.

Kansas Beats Kentucky In Overtime If Kansas had blown this game, they would have pointed to their free throw shooting, hitting just 58% in regulation. They hit 75% in overtime, however, which was sufficient to put the game away. Kentucky fans will feel that the whistle was not in their favor, leading to the huge Kansas advantage in free throws attempted (47-to-22) and the fouling out of four Kentucky big men, and they would have a point. I don't recall any grievously blown calls, but Kansas seemed to get the lion's share of the 50-50 calls. But of course, that's what homecourt advantage is for.

It would have been tough to explain to somebody earlier this season how irrelevant Cheick Diallo and Skal Labissiere would be in this game. The two players combined for 6 points and 3 rebounds in 24 minutes, and it wouldn't have even been that much if Labissiere wasn't forced to play late in regulation and overtime due to foul outs.

In the end, I think this game tells us more about Kentucky than Kansas. The Wildcats have been playing better basketball the past few weeks, and fighting to a draw on the road at Kansas is just another sign of that. Texas A&M still has the inside track to the SEC regular season title, but I think that Kentucky will be the best team in the SEC when March comes around.

Texas A&M Picks Up A Big Win There aren't a lot of Top 25 wins to be had in the SEC, so this game was a huge opportunity for Texas A&M to build the type of resume to contend for a 3, 2, or even potentially a 1 seed in March. I don't know how much we really learned in this game, though. Iowa State struggled with 16 turnovers, also shot an ugly 31% on jumpers and 4-for-12 from the line, had a slightly hobbled Georges Niang, and still led this game with 4:30 to go. But Danuel House keyed the late Aggies run, scoring 10 of their next 12 points, including this exclamation point that effectively ended the game:
Danuel House is a dunking authority - ESPN Video
The Aggies have a 5-1 record against the RPI Top 50 and have the inside track to the SEC regular season title. If they can pull off the SEC regular season and tournament titles they'll likely earn a 2 seed in March, and could potentially even be in line for a 1 seed.

Iowa State will have plenty more chances for Top 25 wins in Big 12 play, so this game didn't mean as much for them as for the Aggies. They'll forget this game in an instant if they can knock off West Virginia at home on Tuesday night.

Oklahoma Tops LSU In A Thriller This game was a ton of fun, even if the Ben Simmons hype was (as expected) nauseating. The one man who apparently wasn't aware of Ben Simmons was his head coach, Johnny Jones, who allowed LSU to go completely away from him in the final stretches of the game. With ten minutes to go, LSU led this game by 10 points. Over those final ten minutes, Simmons was a grand total of 0-for-1 from the field with 0 assists. It's one thing to use Simmons as an occasional decoy, though it's not particularly effective since he's no threat to attempt a long jump shot, but at some point you have to give him the ball and let him go to work. In contrast, it was the favorite for National Player of the Year, Buddy Hield, who went off for 7-for-10 shooting behind the arc in the second half, and 32 points for the game. He was used properly as a decoy on Oklahoma's final possession, by faking a screen and flaring to the perimeter, drawing the defense away Isaiah Cousins:
Oklahoma wins on Cousins' dramatic late jumper - ESPN Video
The big story of this game was jump shooting, which is not exactly surprising for a game involving Oklahoma. In the first half, LSU hit 62% of their jump shots while Oklahoma hit 33% of theirs. In the second half, it was Oklahoma hitting 58%, compared to 37% for LSU.

This is potentially a crippling loss for LSU's at-large hopes. They still have just a single RPI Top 50 victory, and are just 8-8 against the RPI Top 200. They'll get the benefit of the doubt because they've played better since putting their full roster together at the end of the fall semester, but their computer numbers are just far too ugly at the point. At this point, they could go 12-6 in SEC play and still end up with an RPI in the mid-70s. So even if they do get to 12-6, they're going to need a strong SEC tournament run to avoid the NIT. They need to find a way to get to 13-5 in SEC play to feel good about their chances.

NC State Crushes Miami Miami fans will surely complain about the reffing, as they were called for 25 fouls, compared to 14 for NC State. But there's no question that NC State's front line was more physical. They won the rebounding battle, and dominated the paint scoring (a 34-to-20 advantage).

This loss probably ends whatever small chance Miami had at earning a share of the ACC regular season title, but they will still have plenty of opportunities down the stretch to make a case for something like a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. NC State, meanwhile, is still a long way off from the bubble. Just 2-7 in ACC play, three of their next four games are on the road against Pomeroy Top 50 opponents. They'll need to pull several upsets down the stretch just to get to 8-10.

Is Butler An NIT Team? It's amusing that in a year where ESPN has become the Ben Simmons Network, you can barely find any coverage at all of Henry Ellenson. Yet Ellenson is another one-and-done player who has a chance to sneak into the Top 5 of the NBA Draft, and he's had an absolutely monster season on a team where he is getting very little help from his teammates. He dominated this game with 32 point, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks, while putting much of the Butler front line in foul trouble. 10-for-17 three-point shooting was perhaps the biggest reason Marquette won this game, but there's no question that Ellenson was the best player on the court.

Butler has wins over Purdue and Cincinnati, but they also have a 3-6 Big East record, and now have this bad loss. Their strong non-conference performance means that their computer numbers will be good if they can get to 9-9 in Big East play, but just getting to 9-9 is probably unlikely after this loss. A home game against Georgetown on Tuesday will be a Bubble Battle.

Columbia Stuns Harvard At The Buzzer Harvard has had a difficult season, but this might be their toughest loss to swallow. They led this game by 29-9 at one point, but Columbia outscored them 46-25 the rest of the way. Alex Rosenberg led all scorers with 14 points, including the shot at the buzzer to deliver victory:
Harvard should be back with a big time recruiting class next season, but this season it's actually Columbia that has the better shot of stealing the Ivy League from Yale, the favorites. Both teams are now 4-0, and will play at New Haven on Friday night. Princeton is still Yale's top challenger at the moment, but Columbia can change that by winning on Friday night.

Texas Overwhelms Vanderbilt Vanderbilt is the early leader in the clubhouse for the best team to miss the NCAA Tournament. A combination of a poorly timed Luke Kornet injury and some bad luck in close games has their resume looking pretty ugly despite some good computer numbers. They are 38th in Pomeroy and 22nd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, yet they are just 5-9 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is just 57th. Here, they were undone by Shaka Smart's defensive pressure. They only committed 13 turnovers, but 10 of those 13 turnovers were steals, and they led to a massive 17-to-3 advantage in fast break points for the Longhorns.

Vanderbilt does have two huge opportunities remaining with home games against Texas A&M and Kentucky. If they can win those two games and get to 10-8 in SEC play, that probably is enough to get them an at-large bid.

Texas now has wins over North Carolina, Iowa State, West Virginia, and Vanderbilt, with only one bad loss (TCU). If they get to 9-9 in Big 12 play, that should lock them into the NCAA Tournament.

W-6 BP68

There were two changes to the Field of 68 this week. Among the at-larges, Syracuse moves in while George Washington drops out. Among the automatic bids, Yale moves in as the new Ivy favorite, replacing Princeton.

Meanwhile, we're starting to trim the fat from the full bubble. 21 teams were eliminated from at-large contention: Ball State, Bowling Green, UC-Santa Barbara, East Tennessee State, Eastern Michigan, Elon, Iona, La Salle, UMass, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Missouri State, Navy, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota State, Northeastern, Tennessee State, Toledo, Tulane, Western Kentucky, and Wyoming. That leaves 90 teams currently out of the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

Remember, this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now.

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

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. Oklahoma

2. Xavier
2. Iowa

3. Virginia
3. Maryland
3. Texas A&M

4. Purdue
4. Louisville
4. West Virginia
4. Oregon

5. Iowa State
5. Miami-Florida
5. Michigan

6. Baylor
6. USC
6. Providence
6. Indiana

7. Duke
7. Florida
7. Texas
7. Utah

8. Notre Dame
8. Seton Hall

9. Cincinnati
9. VCU
9. Florida State

10. Saint Mary's
10. Saint Joseph's
10. Colorado
10. Vanderbilt

11. Butler
11. Pittsburgh
11. California
11. Syracuse
11. South Carolina
11. LSU






Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
George Washington, Georgetown, Ohio State, Evansville, UCLA

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Tulsa, Clemson, St. Bonaventure, Creighton, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Boise State, Oregon State, Washington, Arkansas, Georgia, BYU

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Houston, Memphis, Temple, Georgia Tech, NC State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Davidson, Rhode Island, Richmond, Illinois, Nebraska, UC-Irvine, UNC-Wilmington, William & Mary, Middle Tennessee, Princeton, Southern Illinois, New Mexico, Arizona State, Stanford, Alabama, Tennessee

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, East Carolina, Albany, Boston College, Duquesne, Fordham, Saint Louis, DePaul, Marquette, St. John's, Weber State, Penn State, Rutgers, Oklahoma State, TCU, Long Beach State, Charleston, James Madison, Towson, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Old Dominion, Oakland, Siena, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Illinois State, Indiana State, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV, Utah State, Washington State, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Mercer, Texas A&M-CC, IPFW, Georgia State, Louisiana Lafayette, UT-Arlington, Pepperdine

Friday, January 29, 2016

Morning News: Oregon Grabs A Hold Of The Pac-12, Maryland Knocks Off Iowa, Syracuse Routs Notre Dame, And More

Nothing is better than sports.

Oregon Grabs A Hold Of The Pac-12 Oregon has been sneaking up on people in the Pac-12, and they are now pretty clearly the regular season title favorite after going into Tucson and coming out with a win, the first team to do so since February 10, 2013. Arizona jumped out to a 26-13 lead here, but their defense couldn't do much all night. Arizona actually lost despite a 68.3 eFG%, their best shooting day since November 28, 2012. They gave up an ugly 1.24 PPP, in large part because Oregon was able to get to the rim at will. Dillon Brooks led the way with 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Oregon had a 44-to-28 advantage in paint points. Arizona was also undone by mistakes, committing 19 turnovers.

Oregon is now tied for first place in the Pac-12 with a Washington team that won't have that gaudy record for long. They're a game ahead of the other serious Pac-12 contenders and two games clear of Arizona. I still believe that Arizona is the best team in the league when fully healthy, but the losses of Kaleb Tarczewski and Allonzo Trier for long stretches of this season have had a major impact on their Tournament resume. If Arizona can get fully healthy by March, they will be a team you won't want in your region.

Maryland Knocks Off Iowa Iowa came into this game shooting an unsustainably high 44% on three-pointers in Big Ten play, and as a team that is heavily dependent on hitting jump shots they were bound to have a disappointing result when their shooting numbers regressed. And so in some ways it's kind of impressive that they only lost by 6 on the road at Maryland despite 5-for-24 three-point shooting. Maryland's shooting wasn't much better (6-for-25 on threes), particularly in the second half, but they are normally not nearly as dependent on jump shooting as Iowa. Iowa managed to fight to a draw on rebounds, turnovers, and getting to the line. In the end, it's a great win for Maryland and a disappointing loss for Iowa, but I don't think this performance can change how we feel about either team too much.

Maryland is now just a game back in the loss column of Iowa and Indiana, and Indiana's schedule is about to get far more difficult. With the tiebreak over Iowa, Maryland is very much in the mix for the Big Ten title. But Iowa's remaining schedule is a bit softer, and I think Iowa is the slightly better team, so at this point Iowa remains the favorite for the Big Ten title.

Syracuse Routs Notre Dame You would have assumed that a big Syracuse win over Notre Dame would mean that the Irish went ice cold on their threes, but they actually shot 10-for-24. Demetrius Jackson being out was a significant factor, certainly, but this result was more about the Syracuse offense being absolutely on fire than anything else. The 1.31 PPP that Syracuse scored was their best offensive output since they knocked off Duke on February 1, 2014. The 23-1 run that blew this game open was powered primarily by Trevor Cooney (22 points) and Tyler Lydon (15 points and 10 rebounds).

This was a crucial win for Syracuse. They get back to 4-5 in ACC play with wins over Duke, Texas A&M, UConn, and Notre Dame to go with a bad loss to St. John's. This win also gets their RPI inside the Top 50 for the first time since very early in the season. If they can get to 9-9 in ACC play and then win a game or two in the ACC tournament, that probably gets them into the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish are still 5-3 in ACC play, but their schedule was very back-loaded. Those big wins over Iowa and Duke will look great on Selection Sunday, but their computer numbers will be dicey if they slip to 9-9 in ACC play. Sunday's game against Wake Forest is nearly a must-win before they head into four weeks of death.

Richmond Beats George Washington In 2OT This was a wild game that both teams had many chances to win. George Washington was saved by Paul Jorgenson's three in regulation, but then it was Jorgenson who missed the potential game winner at the end of the first overtime. In the second overtime, George Washington's offense fell apart (5 points on 9 possessions), and Richmond escaped with an important victory. The play of the game was the Jorgenson shot to force overtime, despite eventually leading to a loss anyway:
GW forces overtime with 3-point bank shot - ESPN Video
George Washington had spend December and early January sitting around 20th in RPI, but the computers felt that they were overrated and due to decline, and they have. They are just 4-3 in Atlantic Ten play and still only have a single RPI Top 50 victory (the Virginia win from November). They realistically need to get to at least 11-7 in A-10 play to earn an at-large bid, and this loss makes that significantly more difficult.

Richmond is still outside the Top 100 in RPI, but they're better than their record, and are now 3-4 in A-10 play with a soft schedule coming up after Sunday's game at St. Bonaventure. They should finish with a pretty solid league record.

UConn Loses A Heartbreaker The Huskies led this game for most of the second half, but their offense fell apart down the stretch. Over the final six minutes they were 1-for-11 from the field with 3 turnovers. It was Gary Clark who drove into the lane for the three-point play that put Cincinnati ahead, and then UConn had three chances on their final possession but couldn't hit any of them:
UConn misses three shots to end the game. - ESPN Video
Cincinnati needed this win more than UConn. Despite strong computer numbers (30th in Pomeroy and 28th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR), their resume lacked big wins. Wins over VCU and George Washington are their only victories against RPI Top 50 opponents. Their RPI is up to 58th, which for the time being would be a ticket to the NIT. Home games against UConn and SMU remain as chances to build on their resume.

UConn is actually an ugly 73rd in RPI at the moment, though they have better wins than Cincinnati (Michigan, Texas, Georgetown, and Ohio State). Those computer numbers will improve down the stretch, but Selection Sunday will be stressful unless UConn can get to 12-6 in AAC play and avoid going one-and-done in the AAC tourney. Now 4-3, they need to try to go 8-3 or better the rest of the way.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Morning News: Arkansas Stuns Texas A&M, Utah Pulls Away From California, And Pittsburgh's Offense Is Still Broken

"Perhaps we left our offense over there."
Arkansas Stuns Texas A&M Texas A&M had been off to a nearly perfect start to SEC play, and they were overdue to finally have a game where they played poorly. And they played poorly here, committing 21 turnovers and hitting just 22% of their jump shots. Meanwhile, an Arkansas team that had been 1-6 in games decided by six points or fewer finally pulled off an overdue close win.

If there was one thing that stood out in this game it was Texas A&M point guard Alex Caruso picking up two early first half fouls and being #autobench'd by Billy Kennedy for the final 18 minutes of the first half. It's dumb, yet almost every college coach does it. With Caruso on the bench, the Aggies committed a turnover on 35% of first half possessions while scoring 0.89 PPP. With Caruso playing almost the entire second half, the Aggies committed turnovers on just 22% of possessions and scored 1.03 PPP. It remains hard to fathom why coaches foul their own players out of games. If a guy is going to foul out, so be it: maximize his minutes. Why foul him out before the refs do it for you?

Texas A&M can put this game behind them quickly if they can take out an Iowa State team on Saturday that might be really shorthanded without Jameel McKay (his healthy status is currently uncertain). They also still are the favorites to win the SEC title.

Arkansas, meanwhile, is a good enough team to make a serious run at an at-large bid. They are currently 49th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR and 55th in Pomeroy. The bad luck in close games, however, is why their resume is currently pretty mediocre. They have this win and a win over Vanderbilt to go with bad losses to Mercer, Wake Forest, Georgia, Akron, and Stanford. It took this win just to get their RPI inside the Top 100 for the first time all season long. Realistically, they need to get to 12-6 in SEC play to have a good shot on Selection Sunday. At 11-7 they'll need an SEC tourney run and some help.

Utah Pulls Away From California California had managed to avoid any negative effects from the Tyrone Wallace injury thus far. They had played two games without him, both at home, and both were narrow victories (an average of three points per game). But on the road, their offense fell apart. They had 12 turnovers to just 8 assists, scoring just 0.97 PPP (they have not won yet this season when scoring under 1 PPP).

Utah's computer numbers are really good right now. Their RPI sits 15th. Those computer numbers will likely fade as the season goes along, but they should be an NCAA Tournament lock if they can get to 10-8 in conference play. Now 5-3, they will get to 10-8 if they just win the games they'll be favored in the rest of the way.

California drops to 4-4 in Pac-12 play, though they have nice wins over Arizona, Saint Mary's, Utah, and Colorado. Their RPI sits 38th, and they have five RPI Top 50 victories. That's a Tournament resume at the moment, but they'll be in danger if they fail to finish above .500 in Pac-12 play.

Pittsburgh's Offense: Still Broken Pittsburgh's offense, which was so strong in non-conference play, has continued to scuffle ever since the Louisville game. After scoring below 1.1 PPP only once in their first 15 games, they have averaged just 0.97 PPP over their last five games. More than anything they have struggled to score around the rim, hitting just 44.6% of their two-pointers in ACC play. Clemson is one of those teams with strong defenders in the paint that can make shots near the rim difficult. Pitt hit just 8 of 20 layups here, and were outscored 26-to-18 in the paint.

Pitt is 16-4 overall and 5-3 in ACC play, but with only two wins against teams likely to finish inside the RPI Top 50. Their won/loss record and computer numbers will get them into the NCAA Tournament if they get to 10-8 in ACC play, and even at 9-9 they'll have a decent shot. But their remaining ACC schedule is awfully difficult, and even getting to 9-9 will be an uphill battle.

Clemson continues their rise, up from 101st to 51st in Pomeroy over the last month. They now have five RPI Top 50 wins, though their RPI is still an ugly 88th. Their computer numbers are going to be difficult to salvage, in large part because of terrible non-conference scheduling by Brad Brownell, but if they can get to 11-7 in ACC play with the set of quality victories they have, it's going to be tough to keep them out. Now 6-2, they head into a tricky stretch with three consecutive road games, beginning with a game at Florida State on Saturday.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Morning News: Xavier Wins At Providence, Wake Forest Loses A Heartbreaker, Wisconsin Holds Off Indiana, And More

On a night with multiple crazy collapses, Wake Forest's was the most painful.
Xavier Wins At Providence On a night with some wild comebacks, Providence nearly had one of their own. Xavier led by 17 points with 7:20 to go. Providence then hit four consecutive three-pointers and eventually got as close as three points with around a minute to go, when JP Macura didn't see Chris Mack asking for a timeout and nailed a three-pointer instead. Despite that flurry of three-pointers, Providence's cold shooting the rest of the night was what did them in. Xavier hit 48% of their jump shots for the night, while Providence hit just 23% of theirs.

Xavier is now very much back into the Big East title race, particularly with a home game against Villanova still remaining. They head into a relatively soft stretch now, but still will have road games at Butler and Creighton before the Villanova rematch.

Wake Forest Loses A Heartbreaker Virginia has been scuffling in ACC play, and looked on their way to a bad loss at Wake Forest here. Wake Forest led by 10 points with 1:20 to go. But Wake Forest missed 7 of 14 free throws down the stretch, while Virginia hit four consecutive threes, including three 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds. The last of them was this miracle bank shot from Darius Thompson:
UVA vs. WAKE - ESPN Video
Virginia was 1-for-13 on three-pointers over the first 39 minutes of this game and 4-for-4 in the final minute. Small sample sizes are gonna small sample size. Malcolm Brogdon hit two of those final minute threes and led all players with 27 points. Virginia's defensive problems have hardly been solved (Wake Forest poured in 1.09 PPP), but the Cavaliers will be happy for a win of any kind with a nasty schedule to close the season.

Wisconsin Holds Off Indiana This was a really fun game that was close and competitive for all 45 minutes. Yogi Ferrell (30 points on 12-for-20 shooting) was spectacular, while Nigel Hayes did an excellent job driving to the hoop and taking advantage of tight reffing (31 points, including 17-for-22 at the line). Ethan Happ (25 points on 10-for-15 shooting) dominated the Indiana front line as well. One stat to note from this game is the way Wisconsin's three-point defense played excellently, even if they won't get credit for it. The media credits teams for 3P% defense, which is mostly luck, rather than 3PA%, which is mostly skill. Indiana is a 44% three-point shooting team for the season and they hit 44% here. However, 42% of their shots in Big Ten play have been three-pointers, while it was just 26% here. Wisconsin ran Indiana off the three-point line and forced them to take more two-pointers, where they're not as effective.
I made the above image from Pomeroy data and posted it on twitter last night. It's a reminder of just how ridiculously soft Indiana's Big Ten schedule had been before yesterday compared to the other Big Ten teams, and just why it was wise to remain skeptical of that 7-0 start. This Wisconsin game was easily their toughest of the season thus far. And it's going to get tougher, as they still have a home-and-home with Iowa, road games at Michigan State and Michigan, and home games against Purdue and Maryland. Rutgers is in the rear view mirror for Indiana.

This win doesn't get Wisconsin back into the projected Field of 68, but a loss here would have been brutal to their hopes. After losing their first four Big Ten games decided by six points or fewer, they've now won three straight. These things tend to even out. Now 4-4 overall, they need to get to at least 10-8 in Big Ten play to earn an at-large bid. A road game at Illinois on Sunday is the type of toss-up game that they really need to find a way to win.

Creighton Collapses Against Georgetown Wake Forest outdid Creighton a few minutes later, but Creighton's collapse probably had more meaning for the two teams involved. Georgetown had major foul trouble and trailed by 11 points with 2:30 to go. But Creighton scored just three points on their final seven possessions, while D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera took over for Georgetown. It was Smith-Rivera who drove to the rim in the final ten seconds of the game, drew the contact, and then hit a pair of free throws to give Georgetown the lead and the win.

This game had significant meaning for two potential bubble teams who both are sitting a bit outside the Field of 68 at the moment. With all the losses Georgetown has accumulated, they realistically need to get to 11-7 in Big East play to make the NCAA Tournament. This win gets them to 6-2, though against a softer schedule than they'll see the second half of the season. A home game against Providence on Saturday will be a crucial game for them to win (expect the Hoyas to be narrowly favored in Las Vegas).

Creighton, like Georgetown, had a brutal non-conference performance and needs to get to at least 11-7 in Big East play to have a real shot on Selection Sunday. This loss drops them to 5-3 with road games still remaining at Villanova, Xavier, Butler, and Providence. That's going to be an uphill battle.

Vanderbilt Finally Collects A Quality Victory Vanderbilt came into this game without a single win against a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, in large part due to a 1-5 record in games decided by seven points or fewer. They nearly blew a 13 point lead, though in the final stretches of the game Florida never did have the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. Vanderbilt won from the inside out, getting 20 points and 12 rebounds from Damion Jones, and 4 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 blocks from Luke Kornet. They had a 33-to-10 advantage in attempted free throws as a team.

Vanderbilt, now 4-4 in SEC play, heads into perhaps the most important week of their regular season, with a road game at Texas followed by a home game against Texas A&M. The game against the Aggies, in particular, will be a great chance for them to put a quality win on their resume.

Florida's only win over a likely RPI top 50 opponent came against Saint Joseph's, but their strong schedule means that their computer numbers are strong. If they can knock off West Virginia at home on Saturday then even a 10-8 SEC record will probably get them into the NCAA Tournament.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Morning News: Iowa State Beats Kansas, Is Duke Actually A Bubble Team?, And A Wild Georgia Southern/Appalachian State Finish

Defenders have been scoring in the paint with ease against Duke.
Is Duke... A Bubble Team? Trying to draw new narratives about these two teams from this result is a bit silly. With neither team doing anything out of the ordinary or having fluky shooting, this game basically played to expectations. Pomeroy had this game as a 6 point spread, and Miami was up by 6 with 30 seconds to go. The standout performer for Miami, unsurprisingly, was Angel Rodriguez, who had 13 points and 11 assists. Once again, Duke basically played with a 6 man rotation, as Sean Obi and Chase Jeter combined for 0 points and 0 rebounds in 2 minutes. The two players have combined for all of 0 points and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes over the last five games, during which Duke has lost four.

Now 5-2 in ACC play, Miami is still probably a long shot to win the ACC regular season title, but they could very plausibly be in the mix for a 2 or 3 seed on Selection Sunday. Their remaining schedule is conducive to picking up big wins, including home games against Virginia and Louisville.

So let's ask the question that is being asked: Is it possible Duke is a bubble team if Amile Jefferson doesn't return? Right now, Duke is 4-4 in ACC play, and both Sagarin and Pomeroy project them to finish 10-8. But those computer ratings have some of the play with Jefferson baked in, and so let's say Duke has a tough close loss or two and ends up 8-10. Now let's say they have a disastrous ACC tournament where they go 1-and-done (I'll assume Pittsburgh as a plausible opening opponent for an 8-10 ACC team). In that case, Duke ends up 19-13 overall with a projected RPI of 43. They've already banked wins over Indiana, VCU, and Georgetown, and with home games remaining vs UNC, Louisville, Virginia, and Florida State will likely pick up another quality win or two. Does that get in? I think it does, but it's damn close. If Duke actually fell all the way to 7-11 in ACC play, then that really might be an NIT resume. But even if Amile Jefferson doesn't return, a 7-11 ACC record is still a very unlikely possibility. So at this point, my answer is still "no", Duke is not a bubble team. But they could reasonably drop to something like an 8 or 9 seed.

Iowa State Pulls Away From Kansas Kansas had a seven point halftime lead here, but the second half was a nightmare. Kansas had as many turnovers (10) as made field goals. Meanwhile, Iowa State was 5-for-9 behind the arc and had an 11-to-5 assist/turnover ratio. In all, Iowa State outscored Kansas by 0.54 PPP in the second half. The best player for either team was the always-efficient Monte Morris (21 points, 9 assists, and 0 turnovers).

A couple weeks ago, Iowa State had lost three of four and the narrative was filled with panic. Now they've won four straight including wins over Oklahoma and Kansas. This is why you cannot overreact to small sample size results in the Big 12, particularly when it's the home team winning the game. Every team is going to lose games in this conference.

The Big 12 now has six teams within a game of first place, including both Kansas and Iowa State. Considering the remaining schedules (among other things, that Oklahoma's remaining game against Kansas will come in Norman), Oklahoma is probably the favorite to win the Big 12 regular season title, but it will be a close three-team race. And I still think that the best team in the conference will end up being Kansas in March.

Georgia Southern Wins A Wild Finish Everybody watching college basketball last night was watching Duke/Miami and Iowa State/Kansas, but the craziest finish of the night (and one of the craziest of the season) came when Georgia Southern's Mike Hughes hit a wild four-point play with 0.8 seconds to go to knock off Appalachian State. Neither of these teams have much to play for in a conference dominated by UT-Arlington and Arkansas-Little Rock, but this result is a reminder that college basketball craziness can happen in the strangest of games:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Morning News: Providence Stuns Villanova, SMU Finally Loses, Gary Payton II Leads Oregon State To A Big Win, And More

So what does SMU play for now?
Providence Stuns Villanova This game isn't getting the hype of a massive upset because Providence came in ranked in the Top 20 of the human polls, but Vegas had the spread at 12.5 points, which was in line with Pomeroy (13 points) and Sagarin (14 points). Why? Providence came in with a 9-1 record in games decided by eight points or fewer.  Providence's previous two wins were decided by Kris Dunn banking in a straight-on jump shot... this type of luck tends to regress over time. But it didn't regress here. 46% of the shots Villanova has taken this season have been three-pointers, so they tend to live and die by the three, and they died here, hitting just 29% (9-for-31). Once again, Ben Bentil was a monster for Providence, pouring in 31 points and 13 rebounds.

Villanova still has a 1 game lead in the Big East, but they have to head on the road to face Xavier, so their margin for error for a Big East title is significantly smaller. But there's no reason to panic over one upset. They weren't going to go 18-0 in the Big East, so they were due to lose eventually.

As for Providence, their fans are going to continue to be surprised by the Vegas lines, but in March your wins are your wins and your losses are your losses, and Providence has a whole bunch of nice wins. They have four RPI Top 50 wins and an RPI up to 21st. Luck in close games generally regresses to the mean, but even with a slight decline down the stretch the Friars are still likely going to end up somewhere in the range of a 5-7 seed.

And Then There Were None We're out of undefeated teams now that SMU has finally lost a game. They've played with fire a few times, and the odds were tiny that they would go undefeated the rest of the way (their schedule gets significantly tougher down the stretch). This is an upset win for Temple, but not a huge one. Vegas had the spread at 6.5 points and Pomeroy had it at 5. What put Temple over the top? A 31.4% three-point shooting team for the season, they hit 48% (14-for-29) here. Devin Coleman was the star with 7-for-7 shooting behind the arc.

Temple is hardly a great team, but they've played a ton of close games, and with some better luck in close games might be in the mix for the NIT. But in the wide-open AAC, they have the potential to be in the mix for one of the top two or three spots in the league standings. The AAC auto bid has to be considered a reasonable objective, and so Temple's play the rest of the way could make that AAC tourney path easier.

Gary Payton II Leads Oregon State To A Crucial Win Oregon State had lost four of five games, and had the Arizona road trip looming, so they were desperate to pick up the win here to stay in the thick of the bubble discussion. Payton has been a stat stuffer all season long, and he poured in 22 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals here, including this:
This win still only gets Oregon State to 3-4 in Pac-12 play with that tough road trip coming up. In all, 7 of their final 11 games are on the road, which will make it tough to get back to 9-9. But if they can get to 9-9, the strength of the Pac-12 will put them in good shape on Selection Sunday.

USC drops to 4-3 in the Pac-12, but they're still within a game in the standings of the serious conference contenders, and they have the Washington homestand up next. They are still firmly in that title race.

Iowa Handles Purdue Purdue played Iowa tough here, in a game that basically played out as expected. Purdue's backcourt struggled offensively (more turnovers than assists) while their dominant front line controlled the paint (a 33% to 16% advantage in offensive rebounding rate, and a 32-to-24 advantage in paint points). In the end, Iowa games tend to come down to how well they hit their outside shots, and for the last few weeks those shots have been falling. They hit 11-for-20 behind the arc here, led by 4-for-5 from Jarrod Uthoff. They are now hitting a ridiculous 43.7% of their threes in conference play, best in the Big Ten and up from 36.1% last season.

At some point, Iowa is going to have a cold shooting day and lose, but at this point they've built up a significant buffer in the Big Ten title race. They have to be considered the favorite at the moment.

Purdue has some significant concern with Kendall Stephens out indefinitely, but otherwise I still think that this is a very dangerous team. They remain 9th in the Pomeroy ratings and 4th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. I would still expect a strong finish to 12-6 or 13-5 in Big Ten play and then a Tourney seed in the 3-5 range.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Morning News: MIchigan State Outduels Maryland, California Stuns Arizona, Team Effort For Oklahoma, And More

The Court Storm Police Were A Bit Ruffled By Cal's Court Storm Last Night
New Bracket Projection There were two changes to the Field of 68 this week, with Saint Mary's and Saint Joseph's coming in, replacing UCLA and Oregon State. Also, Oklahoma slid up and grabbed a projected 1 seed. The full bracket and details are at the link.

Michigan State Outduels Maryland This game basically played out exactly how everybody expected. Denzel Valentine and Melo Trimble both came up big for their respective teams. Bryn Forbes and Robert Carter, the sidekicks to their team's stars, both hit big shots. Michigan State had the advantage on the glass. And the game basically played out according to the spread. The Spartans were 4 point favorites, and led by around 2-5 points for almost the entire second half. Some late free throws in garbage time got the final margin up to 9. If there was one difference in the game, it was Matt Costello (15 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks). Costello has quietly been a really good player all season long, but this was his introduction to a national television audience. He was certainly fired up by his performance:
Drawing any new conclusions from a result that played out to expectations is always a bit silly. This result did hopefully put to bed the silly narrative that Michigan State was in a "slump" because of a three game losing streak. Two of those losses came by a single point, and only one of those losses was legitimately a bad loss (Nebraska). One bad performance does not a "slump" make. Michigan State has probably doomed their Big Ten title hopes, but they are still in line for a strong finish to the season and a strong seed in March.

California Stuns Arizona With the Tyrone Wallace injury, California's at-large hopes were suddenly looking dicey, and they needed this home victory over Arizona in a big way. Kaleb Tarczewksi physically dominated the Cal front line, and Arizona had a 40-to-22 advantage in paint points, but Cal hit enough jump shots to stay in the game. Jordan Mathews was the star, hitting 6-for-12 behind the arc and pouring in 28 points. Tarczewski fouled out in the final 20 seconds, and Arizona had no timeouts, so they went with Gabe York hero ball to win the game, and it didn't work out:
Cal fans storm the court when Arizona's shot doesn't fall - ESPN Video
Arizona has lost four games this season, by a combined ten points. All four losses have come to Tournament/bubble quality teams, and all four have come away from home. On top of that, one loss came without an injured Tarczewksi, and this one came without an injured Allonzo Trier. So while their resume right now is not that of a 1 or 2 seed, they remain a serious Final Four contender when they can get fully healthy.

California is 4-3 in Pac-12 play with wins over Arizona, Saint Mary's, Utah, and Colorado, with no losses against teams likely to finish outside the RPI Top 100. They will be nearly a Tournament lock at 10-8 in Pac-12 play, and will be in decent shape at 9-9. But without Tyrone Wallace for a few weeks, even getting to 9-9 is going to be difficult. A road trip at Utah and Colorado next week will be a severe test, and they will be happy with a split.

Team Effort For Oklahoma The narrative that Oklahoma is just Buddy Hield and a bunch of nobodies is annoying, and comes from people who don't watch much college hoops (but who unfortunately are the loudest voices in the sports media landscape). Hield's teammates came up big on the road here, however. Jordan Woodard had 20 points in the first half. Isaiah Cousins had 13 points and 9 assists. And as a team, Oklahoma poured in 1.22 PPP while rolling over Baylor, and keeping pace in a tight Big 12 title race.

Baylor had a chance to get themselves a little bit of Big 12 title hype with a win here. Realistically, though, that was always a long shot. They are a safe NCAA Tournament team, and are really just playing out the rest of the regular season to determine what seed they'll end up with.

Texas Tech Suffers A Brutal Loss With their brilliant manipulation of the RPI, all Texas Tech has to do is get to 8-10 in Big 12 play to be a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament. But getting to 8-10 is so difficult in the Big 12, and the missed opportunity here could be crucial. West Virginia closed the final 75 seconds of the game on a 10-2 run, and Texas Tech's final possession was sub-optimal:
Texas Tech can't convert in final seconds - ESPN Video

This loss drops Texas Tech to 2-5 in Big 12 play with a road game at Oklahoma up next. 8-10 in Big 12 play is still plausible, but it's certainly an uphill battle. West Virginia isn't worried about the bubble, of course, but this win breaks a two-game losing streak and keeps them in the mix for the Big 12 title. Their key remaining match-ups with Kansas and Oklahoma will come in mid-February.

Oregon: Pac-12 Title Contender? Oregon's success this season has gone under the radar, and they had no trouble rolling over UCLA at home here. Their +0.09 PPP in Pac-12 play is now second best (behind just Arizona). A big part of their success has come from dominating the paint with an athletic front line. They scored 42 paint points here, overcoming 50% three-point shooting by UCLA. Chris Boucher is quietly putting up an All-Pac 12 caliber season, and he had 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks here.

UCLA has scuffled pretty badly in Pac-12 play aside from that big win over Arizona. They have dropped to 3-4 in conference play against a relatively soft part of their schedule. The Washington homestand is up next, and they have to sweep there, because their remaining schedule after that is nasty, including the road trips to Arizona, the Bay Area, and USC. Even with their big wins, it's hard to see them earning an at-large bid unless they get to 9-9.

Creighton Picks Up A Big Win This was not an "upset", as Creighton was favored in Vegas. Why were they favored? This Creighton team  did nothing in non-conference play, but have been playing significantly better in conference play. They are a steady team - they don't turn the ball over or allow offensive rebounds, and they just grind out games with an efficient offense. Butler was also shorthanded here, with Tyler Lewis missing the game. In addition, Roosevelt Jones picked up his fourth foul with 15:08 to go. With three other Butler starters fouling out, Jones was forced to play a long time with four fouls, and simply wasn't his usual self.

Creighton didn't do themselves any favors with their non-conference schedule and performance, and that's why their RPI is 87th despite being 33rd in Pomeroy. Because of that, it's going to be tough for them to make the NCAA Tournament unless they get to 11-7 in Big East play. Now 5-2, they have a key stretch up next at Georgetown and then at home against Seton Hall.

There's some panic around Butler being 2-5 in Big East play, but it seems overblown to me. Their Big East schedule was front loaded, and gets significantly softer. They have six losses this season, and all six have come to Pomeroy Top 50 opponents, and all but two came away from home. They should be in decent shape for an at-large bid if they get to 9-9 in Big East play, and at this point that is still likely.

Kentucky Smokes Vanderbilt This was arguably the strongest performance by Kentucky all season, particularly on the defensive end. When John Calipari defenses are strong they are able to aggressively disrupt on the perimeter, able to run opponents off the three-point line and forcing them into low-probability two-point attempts. Vanderbilt, a 41% three-point shooting team, was able to attempt just 15 of them here. Kentucky still didn't get much offense from their front court players, but Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray combined for 39 points.

Kentucky still has plenty of time to win the SEC regular season title and to earn a 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The question will be whether this improved play the past two games is real, or just an anomaly. As for Vanderbilt, they are better than their resume. Despite a lack of RPI Top 50 wins and an RPI sitting 60th, they are 32nd in Pomeroy. Bad luck in close games is the primary problem. They will have a great chance to improve their resume down the stretch, however, with home games against Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Florida still to come. The Florida game is up first, on Tuesday.

Georgetown Falters Down The Stretch Georgetown fans will feel like the homecourt advantage free throw attempt gap was the difference in this game. It was inflated in the final minute, but even with five minutes left in this game UConn had a 27-to-8 advantage in attempted free throws. And part of that was undoubtedly due to homecourt advantage, but UConn also did a far better job of getting to the hoop. 49 of Georgetown's 59 shots were jumpers, including a staggering 31 attempted threes. In contrast, only five of the shots UConn made all game were outside the paint.  And down the stretch, Georgetown just chucked up jumper after jumper, failing to score on their final eight possessions. Down by two points with 4:30 to go, UConn hit just one shot from the field the rest of the way and still won by six points.

This is a killer loss for Georgetown's at-large hopes because they just have too many losses. If they go 10-8 in Big East play they'll only be 17-14 overall with an RPI near 60th. Even with a Big East tourney run an at-large bid would be unlikely. So realistically they need to get to 11-7 or better. They are 5-2 now with important home games against Creighton and Providence up next.

The AAC doesn't get much respect, so UConn needs quality wins outside conference play. They now have wins over Georgetown, Michigan, Texas, and Ohio State. If they get to 12-6 in AAC play (a reasonable current projection) they should be safe on Selection Sunday.

Ball State/Eastern Michigan Ends In Chaos We joke and groan about referees who swallow their whistles at the end of games, but this was ridiculous. Travels, fouls, and all sorts of chaos went completely uncalled as Ball State/Eastern Michigan finished up the second overtime period. In the end, it was Francis Klapaway, who shot 7-for-15 behind the arc, who finished the game off:
Controversial three gives Ball State the 2OT win - ESPN Video

Arkansas-Little Rock Takes Control Of The Sun Belt Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington are both good enough to earn at-large bids, but the reality is that it's nearly impossible to earn an at-large bid out of the Sun Belt. That means that these two teams will most likely be playing for an auto-bid during the Sun Belt tournament. But the regular season conference title will mean an easier path to that title game, as well as a stronger seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Arkansas-Little Rock now has control there with the road win at Texas-Arlington. They almost had an epic collapse, though, going into the Prevent Offense too early after opening up a 28 point lead at halftime. Texas-Arlington actually pulled within 5 points with a minute to go, but UALR hit enough free throws while UT-Arlington missed a slew of three-pointers down the stretch.

South Carolina Loses Again The good news for South Carolina is that their remaining schedule is really soft, but it's still hard to not feel the 2008-09 Clemson parallels here. We knew that South Carolina was not a great team with that 15-0 start, and the lack of a single projected RPI Top 50 win combined with the soft SEC schedule (only a single game each against Kentucky, Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, and Vanderbilt) means that their resume is going to end up really soft. Right now, using Pomeroy's numbers, South Carolina projects to end up 11-7 in SEC play, and 24-7 overall, which would put their RPI at a projected 50th. To go 24-7 with an RPI of 50 is a mid-major resume, and it's basically unheard of in a power conference. To put that in perspective, with a team that had a much tougher schedule, Texas Tech could go 17-13 overall and still end up in the RPI Top 50. Considering how much the Selection Committee wants to see quality wins, the Gamecocks are in a perilous situation right now.

As for Tennessee, they have certainly been playing better basketball the past few weeks. Kevin Punter is one of the most improved players in the nation, and he exploded for a career-high 36 points here. They're not a realistic NCAA Tournament team, but the NIT is perhaps within range if they can continue to improve down the stretch.

Ethan Telfair's Game Winner The Big Sky is once again a battle between Montana and Weber State. After Montana picked up a loss this week, Weber State had a chance to move into first place. Instead, it was Idaho State knocking them off on one of the best crossover moves to set up a game winner that you've ever seen:

Pitt Comes Back To Beat Florida State At home, Florida State looked to have this game in hand with a ten point halftime lead. Their offense went into a shell late in the game, however, including a seven minute stretch where they hit just two shots. On a key possession with under 30 seconds to go they even committed a five second violation on an inbounds pass with a timeout still in their pocket. Florida State held Pitt to just 22 points in the paint, including just 37% shooting on two-pointers, but a rebounding and turnovers advantage allowed Pitt a large advantage in shots taken (7 more from the field and 12 more from the line), and the Panthers shot well behind the arc.

Pitt bounced back nicely from a bad loss at home against NC State. They are also 5-2 in ACC play, though they only have one more week of a relatively soft ACC schedule before things get tough down the stretch. For Florida State, a team that looks very likely to end up on the bubble in March, this could be a crucial loss. They have wins over Virginia, Florida, and VCU, with only a bad loss to Hofstra, but they are just 2-5 in ACC play. If they can get to 9-9 in ACC play their computer numbers will be strong enough to have them in the at-large discussion, but they need to get to 10-8 to be safe.

W-7 BP68

We are now nearly halfway through conference play, and so the die has already been cast for many teams which have already had good or bad luck in close games or with injuries. And so for the first time this season I have two teams from the same conference as projected 1 seeds: Kansas and Oklahoma from the Big 12.

At the bottom of the at-larges, the Pac-12 continues to dominate the discussion. The problem for getting a large majority of your league in the Tourney, however, is that every game in conference play requires a winner and a loser. That means that some teams, even if they're pretty good, are going to pick up losses. And so this week, two Pac-12 teams ended up dropping out of the projected bracket (UCLA and Oregon State). In their place, Saint Mary's and Saint Joseph's move in.

Meanwhile, 8 new teams were eliminated from at-large contention: Air Force, Cal Poly, George Mason, Green Bay, Oral Roberts, South Florida, Tennessee Tech, and Vermont. That leaves 111 teams currently out of the projected bracket that still have a chance for an at-large bid.

Remember, this is a projection of what the bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, and not a measure of where teams would be if the season ended now.

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

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. Oklahoma

2. Xavier
2. Iowa

3. Virginia
3. Purdue
3. Maryland

4. Louisville
4. Texas A&M
4. West Virginia
4. Duke

5. Iowa State
5. Miami-Florida
5. Oregon

6. Indiana
6. Michigan
6. Baylor
6. USC

7. Providence
7. Pittsburgh
7. Butler

8. Florida
8. Notre Dame
8. Vanderbilt

9. California
9. Cincinnati
9. George Washington
9. Texas

10. Utah
10. Seton Hall
10. Florida State

11. Saint Mary's
11. VCU
11. South Carolina
11. LSU
11. Saint Joseph's
11. Colorado






Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Syracuse, Creighton, Georgetown, Ohio State, Texas Tech, Evansville, Oregon State, UCLA

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Tulsa, Clemson, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Boise State, Stanford, Washington, Arkansas, Georgia, BYU

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Houston, Memphis, Temple, Georgia Tech, NC State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Davidson, Richmond, Marquette, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, UC-Irvine, James Madison, UNC-Wilmington, William & Mary, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Yale, Northern Illinois, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, New Mexico, Arizona State, Alabama, Tennessee, UT-Arlington

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, East Carolina, Tulane, Albany, Boston College, Duquesne, Fordham, La Salle, UMass, Saint Louis, DePaul, St. John's, Weber State, Minnesota, Penn State, Rutgers, TCU, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State, Charleston, Elon, Northeastern, Towson, Marshall, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Milwaukee, Oakland, Iona, Siena, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Ohio, Toledo, Illinois State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV, Utah State, Wyoming, Tennessee State, Washington State, Navy, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State, East Tennessee State, Mercer, Texas A&M-CC, IPFW, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota State, Georgia State, Louisiana Lafayette, Pepperdine

Friday, January 22, 2016

Morning News: Saint Mary's Wins A Classic, USC Falls To Oregon, Daniel Dion's Buzzer Beater, And More

Is Saint Mary's legit? They looked so last night.
Saint Mary's Wins A Late Night Classic If you stayed up late, you were in for a treat, as Gonzaga and Saint Mary's played their umpteenth classic from the last 15 seasons. This one had a goofy finish, too, as Joe Rahon thought Saint Mary's had a foul to give and committed a dumb intentional foul with a one point lead and three seconds to go. But Eric McClellan missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Saint Mary's held on. Gonzaga fans will feel that the reffing was not fair down the stretch, and Saint Mary's certainly seemed to get all of the 50/50 calls, but that's what homecourt advantage is for. Gonzaga will get their chance at home on February 13th.

So the question is: Who is the WCC favorite? Saint Mary's has the better computer ratings, but I've talked about why it's worth being skeptical of those. They entered this game leading the nation in 3P% and eFG%, which are stats likely to regress to the mean over the course of the season, and have also played a very soft schedule almost exclusively at home. This marks the first win for Saint Mary's against a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, and they still have played only a single game outside the Bay area (a loss at Pepperdine).

A three point home win is holding serve, it is not proof of superiority. In my opinion, I need to see Saint Mary's continue to win consistently once they have to go on the road in WCC play. A road game at BYU on February 4th will be a good early test. And the road to the WCC title still goes through Spokane.

USC Falls To Oregon USC came into this game with a chance to pull back into a tie for first place in the Pac-12, and also to build on the increasing hype they have been getting as the potential league favorite. I have stuck with Arizona as my pick for the Pac-12, but USC's three game winning streak was certainly impressive. If there's a real sleeper in the Pac-12 title race at this point, it might be Oregon. The Ducks have quietly slid up to 25th in Pomeroy, and are third in the Pac-12 in efficiency margin at +0.07 PPP, just narrowly behind second placed USC (+0.08 PPP).

Oregon moves to 4-2 in Pac-12 play with a home game against UCLA up next. The problem for seriously making a run at the Pac-12 title is that their one game against Arizona will come on the road, on January 28th.

There's no shame in a competitive road loss at Oregon, of course, and USC played very well despite losing. They committed just 9 turnovers, and were done in by cold 8-for-28 three-point shooting. They are still very much in the Pac-12 title race, though they still have five difficult road games to get through, including Oregon State up next, and their road trip to Arizona. In my opinion, Arizona remains the favorite.

Daniel Dions Buzzer Beater It wasn't a game that had any importance outside the America East, but it had a hell of a finish, as New Hampshire's Daniel Dion did this at the buzzer:
Stony Brook is, of course, the class of the America East, with Albany as their top challenger, but New Hampshire is in the thick of things near the top, now at 3-2 in conference play.

Purdue Pulls Away From Ohio State Purdue's shooting was awful in the first half here (0-for-8 on threes), and they trailed by as many as eight points. But the shots started to fall in the second half (4-for-9 on threes), and that opened things up in the paint, allowing AJ Hammons, Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, and Vince Edwards to all finish in double figures. The Buckeyes got 17 points and 10 rebounds from Jae'Sean Tate, but freshman playmaker JaQuan Lyle was completely stifled (0-for-4 shooting, 2 assists, 4 turnovers).

A lot of people gave up on Purdue after their home loss to Iowa and the shocking upset at Illinois, but this win pushes them back to 5-2, and they remain on the periphery of the Big Ten title race. If they are going to have a chance, though, they are going to need to get revenge against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye. That game is up next, on Sunday.

The Buckeyes are 4-3 in Big Ten play, but their win over Kentucky remains their only win against a team likely to finish inside the RPI Top 50. They're going to need to pick up some more big wins, and then they'll need to get to at least 10-8 in Big Ten play, to have a real shot on Selection Sunday. They still have home games against Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa, so they'll have their chances to build an at-large resume.

Monmouth Loses It is just so difficult to earn an at-large bid out of a mid-major/low-major conference, where "quality" wins do not exist and "bad" losses are a realistic possibility every time you go on the road. Monmouth just was not at their best here, committing 17 turnovers and shooting just 5-for-17 from behind the arc. Calvin Crawford went off for 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks for Manhattan.

Monmouth has those wins over Notre Dame, UCLA, USC, and Georgetown, but they also now have bad losses to Canisius, Army, and Manhattan. Their RPI is still 29th at the moment, but that is going to drop over time as their strength of schedule softens. They can probably afford one more regular season loss, but two more will dump their RPI out close to 50th, and their at-large hopes will start getting very shaky.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Morning News: Texas Impresses Against West Virginia, Michigan St Loses Another Heartbreaker, Wichita State Takes Control Of The Valley, And More

"We're in first place, but..."
Texas Impresses Against West Virginia Everybody in the Big 12 knows the formula to defeat West Virginia, the problem is that it's very difficult to execute. West Virginia's half court offense is bad, and they rely on forcing a ton of turnovers and getting easy baskets off rebounds. Texas is not a great rebounding team, but they're leading the Big 12 in offensive turnover rate, and they committed just 8 turnovers here. West Virginia dominated the glass, but their shooting was just so awful (a 33.6 eFG%) that they couldn't score enough to win.

West Virginia has lost two straight games now, but teams are going to lose games in the Big 12. We have to get used to that and not overreact to each loss. The Mountaineers can stick around in the Big 12 title race if they can consistently win games like their upcoming one, on the road at Texas Tech.

At this point, Texas really just needs wins over anybody, whoever it is. They already had big wins over North Carolina and Iowa State, and their computer numbers are going to be strong in the Big 12, so if they get to just 9-9 in Big 12 play they should be in good shape on Selection Sunday. They are 4-2 in Big 12 play now, but their schedule the last six weeks or so is just filthy difficult.

Michigan State Loses Another Heartbreaker Nebraska has quietly played pretty well in Big Ten play. Take efficiency margin for what it's worth when Nebraska has already played both Rutgers and Minnesota early in the season, but Nebraska's net efficiency in conference play is +0.10 PPP, which is 5th in the Big Ten. Still, this is their first win over a likely RPI Top 50 opponent, and they did it despite white hot 11-for-18 three-point shooting from Michigan State. How did they do it? They shredded the Michigan State defense - Shavon Shields (28 points on 12-for-20 shooting) in particular. For the second straight game, Denzel Valentine had a good look to win the game, and for the second straight game he missed.
There was no shame for Michigan State in a loss to hot-shooting Iowa, or on the road by a single point at Wisconsin, but this is a downright mediocre performance. Their defense has fallen apart (they have allowed at least 1.1 PPP in all three games in this losing streak), and they are now 3-4 in Big Ten play facing Maryland up next. Still, it's hard to believe that this team won't look at the tape and figure out what they've been doing wrong defensively the last three games. They will be favored in Vegas against Maryland on Saturday, and rightly so. But if they lose that game, there's a risk of the wheels falling off this season.

Nebraska is now 4-3 in Big Ten play though, as I said earlier, that's in large part driven by their soft schedule. This is a great win, but their schedule gets much more difficult now, with Michigan, Purdue, and Maryland up next. If their improvement in Big Ten play is real, and not a small sample size mirage, we'll find out in those next three games.

Wichita State Takes Total Control Of The Missouri Valley Even Wichita State might not earn an at-large bid if they lose in the Missouri Valley tournament, but they're the one team in the conference with a real chance. And with this win, they are now the heavy favorites for the regular season title as well. When they play like this they're tough to beat. Ron Baker went off for 21 points, as a team they hit 8-for-15 behind the arc, and they always limit turnovers and offensive rebounds.

Because of their lack of quality non-conference wins, Wichita State is going to have weak computer numbers. If they can get to 16-2 or better in Valley play, though, they will be tough to keep out of the NCAA Tournament. They are now 7-0 and will likely be favored in every remaining game.

Even after their wins over North Carolina and Iowa State, Northern Iowa was still just 66th in Pomeroy, and they have slid significantly further from there. They have accumulated a number of bad losses, and simply are not playing like an at-large team. At this point, even the NIT will be an uphill battle.

Washington Is Leading The Pac-12? Really? Technically, yes, Washington is now in first place in the Pac-12 at 5-1. That said, they are 5-1 despite actually being outscored in conference play. They are being outscored by 0.01 PPP, which makes them just 7th in the Pac-12 in efficiency margin. And that is a big part of why the computers are down on them, as they are now 88th in Pomeroy and 66th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They played well here, finishing with a 55.6 eFG% and blocking 15 shots, but this is just a single game. The computer numbers don't lie.

Considering Washington's poor non-conference performance (a win over Texas with bad losses to Oakland and UC-Santa Barbara), it's hard to see how they even have a chance at an at-large bid without getting to 11-7 in conference play. 5-1 is a good start, but their schedule is going to get tougher, and at some point that luck in close games will likely run out. Their at-large chances are still pretty low.

Colorado, in contrast, looks like a more typical bubble team. This loss drops them to 3-3 in Pac-12 play with only quality wins over Oregon and Oregon State (it will remain to be seen if that latter win will stay inside the RPI Top 50), but with zero bad losses. Their RPI at the moment is 24th, but it's likely to decline for a number of reasons. To stay inside the RPI Top 40 (no major conference team in the RPI Top 40 has missed out in the modern era) they probably need to get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play. A tricky road game at Washington State is up next before they come home for the Bay Area schools.

Seton Hall Misses A Great Opportunity The end of this game was hardly a clinic in end-game execution.  Both teams had a turnover due to failing to inbound a ball. Until Villanova fouled intentionally on the final possession during a #FoulOrDefend situation, Seton Hall had gone five consecutive possessions without scoring. Villanova, meanwhile, had just come off missing three out of four free throws. And in the end, Villanova clinched this game after Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead accidentally made a free throw that he intended to miss on purpose. On Selection Sunday, however, this will just look like any other win.

This game meant a lot more for a Seton Hall team that looks likely to be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. They are now 3-3 in Big East play with wins over Wichita State and Providence along with a bad loss to Long Beach State. If they get to 10-8 in Big East play they'll be in the mix on Selection Sunday, but unless they get to 11-7 I think they're going to need to go on a run during the Big East tournament. Their lack of quality wins is going to be a problem.

Villanova is now firmly in control of the Big East, and look on pace for their third straight regular season title. The road game at Xavier looms, but they can lose that game and still be in good shape as long as they take care of business in the games they're supposed to win.

Louisville Annihilates Florida State The media has been doubting this Louisville team, scoffing at how much the computers love them, but it's hard deny how impressive their defense is. Louisville held Florida State to 0.90 PPP here, and have allowed only one ACC opponent to crack 1 PPP. For the season, they lead the entire nation with 0.86 PPP allowed. I've talked before about how Florida State tends to go with how Dwayne Bacon goes, and Bacon was 4-for-17 from the field here.

Louisville's offense is not great, but it's good enough to challenge for an ACC title considering how elite their defense is. Road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech up next will be key road tests to get through before they get Virginia and North Carolina at home. Louisville does not have to play a game at Chapel Hill this season, so if they can beat UNC at the Yum Center then they will have a plausible path to the ACC title.

Florida State will want to forget this game happened, as they have a more important game up next: at home against a reeling Pitt team. The Seminoles are just 2-4 in ACC play, and need to get to at least 9-9 in ACC play to earn an at-large bid.

UCLA Wins At Oregon State UCLA's short and mid-range shooting game was on point in this one. They hit 16 of 22 two-point jumpers (73%), rolling to 1.14 PPP. Isaac Hamilton led the way, hitting 6 of his 7 two-point jumpers (and 10-for-14 overall from the field) while leading all scorers with 25 points.

UCLA needs this win to avoid dropping to 2-4 in Pac-12 play with a road game at Oregon looming. With their big wins (Kentucky, Arizona, and Gonzaga), they'll be in good shape even at 9-9 in Pac-12 play. They still have quite a few difficult road games, though, so 9-9 is far from a sure thing.

Oregon State ended up being the team in this game that dropped to 2-4, and they don't have the big wins to fall back on that UCLA does. Their only wins against likely RPI Top 50 opponents have come against Oregon and California. They realistically need to get to 9-9 in Pac-12 play to have a shot on Selection Sunday, which makes Sunday's home game against USC a crucial test to avoid dropping to 2-5 with the Arizona road trip up next.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Morning News: Walking Kansas Fans Off The Ledge, Georgetown Knocks Off Xavier, Providence Escapes Butler, And More

Undoubtedly an earned court storm for Oklahoma State.
Walking Kansas Fans Off The Ledge This was a poor performance from Kansas. No way around that. But I want to offer two caveats to talk Kansas fans and the media off the ledge here. First of all, home/road matters. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate a road game at Oklahoma State as more difficult than a home game against Iowa State. That doesn't justify a 19 point scoring margin, but much of that comes down to fluky jump shooting. Oklahoma State shot 11-for-21 (52%) on threes while Kansas shot 6-for-22 (27%). Of course, even if you normalize that jump shooting, Oklahoma State still wins. Kansas was an ugly 6-for-16 on layups (finishing around the rim has continually been an issue in recent seasons when Kansas hs struggled), but this result isn't as crazy as the final score makes it seem.

How much of a "slump" is this for Kansas? Not much. There's no shame in a competitive road loss at West Virginia, and the close game against TCU wasn't a great performance, but hardly worth panicking about. The only really poor performance is this one, and you just can't jump off the ledge over a single poor performance. Kansas is still one of the two favorites in the Big 12, along with Oklahoma.

What about Oklahoma State? A win like this single-handedly starts the at-large hype. But it's their first win over a likely RPI Top 100 opponent and they have bad losses to Missouri State and George Mason. They've been doomed in part by bad luck in close games (2-5 in games decided by five points or fewer). This win pushes their RPI up from 159th to 138th, and that number will naturally improve as their SOS improves in conference play, but they still have a long way to go. Even if they somehow get to 9-9 in Big 12 play, they'd still be a long shot on Selection Sunday.

Georgetown Knocks Off Xavier A Georgetown team that has had a disappointing season picked up a huge road victory here. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is maddeningly inconsistent, but when he's on he's one of the most explosive offensive players in the nation. He was the star for Georgetown here, pouring in 20 points and 7 assists. Tre Campbell had 21 points with 5-for-7 shooting behind the arc.

As good as the Big East is, and Georgetown is now in second place, the fact is that Georgetown did a ton of damage to their resume in non-conference play. Even if they get to 10-8 in Big East play, they'll be just 17-14 overall with an RPI in the mid-60s when the Big East tournament kicks off. So realistically, they've got to get to at least 11-7 in Big East play to go Dancing. They have some key toss-up games up next, so they'll have a chance to climb closer to the bubble.

Xavier drops to 4-2 in Big East play, which means it's going to take a nearly perfect performance the rest of the way to catch Villanova. Still, even without a Big East title, and even with this loss, they are still in line for a strong NCAA Tournament seed, somewhere in the 2-4 range.

Providence Escapes Butler For the second time in a week, the difference in a game for Providence was Kris Dunn banking in a straight-on jump shot. Dunn actually had a relatively quiet game besides that late three-pointer, finishing with just 9 points, 7 assists, and 4 turnovers. The player who got Providence back into this game when they trailed in the second half was Ben Bentil (20 points and 7 rebounds). 

Providence moves to 9-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer. But on Selection Sunday it doesn't matter how good you are, and Providence's luck in close games has allowed them to build a strong resume. Despite a Pomeroy rating of 47th, their RPI is up to 30th. Now 4-2 in Big East play, they should lock up an at-large bid at 10-8. After that they'll just be building their seed.

Butler is into a bit of a danger zone as they drop to 2-4 in Big East play with a road game at Creighton up next. They have wins over Purdue and Cincinnati, but still probably need to get to 10-8 in Big East play to avoid the NIT. Their schedule does ease up after the Creighton game.

Tyrone Wallace Out 4-6 Weeks For a California team that looks likely to end up on the bubble in March, this is a crucial and poorly timed injury. For all the attention that the star freshman duo of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb gets, Wallace is the team's primary ball handler, and he leads the team in both points (15.4) and assists (4.5) per game. The Selection Committee is not going to give them a pass for games without Wallace, and now at 2-3 in Pac-12 play they head into a crucial stretch at home against the Los Angeles schools and then on the road at the Arizona schools. It's going to be hard for them to make the NCAA Tournament if they don't get to 10-8 in Pac-12 play.

Uh... Pittsburgh? So, who broke Pitt? They managed to make this result a little more respectable in the second half, but they were just atrocious in the first half here. Just five days after they posted their second worst offensive efficiency over the past 20 seasons against Louisville, they scored an abysmal 0.51 PPP in the first half here, going into the locker room down by 25 points.

In large part, this Pitt loss came down to awful jump shooting (27% as a team), but there's no question overall that they haven't performed as well in ACC play as they did in non-conference play. You have to wonder if those really strong computer numbers that they put up in non-conference play were in part inflated by just out-athleting inferior opponents. Their non-conference SOS was very weak, and that poor schedule also means that their at-large resume is soft, with Syracuse and Notre Dame being the only teams they've beaten with a good chance to finish inside the RPI Top 50. They don't have a lot of time to scuffle, as they head on the road next to face Florida State and Clemson.

NC State desperately needed a win after an 0-5 start to ACC play. They did beat LSU, which might be worth something eventually, but they have losses to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. This win pushes their RPI inside the Top 100, but they'll need to get to 10-8 in ACC play to get back into the RPI Top 50, and I doubt that they're getting there. If they're going to make a run, though, they have good opportunities with Duke and Miami coming to Raleigh in the next couple of weeks.

Texas A&M Pulls Away From LSU Texas A&M is also pulling away with the SEC regular season title as they continue to chew through their schedule. The Aggies have been the best defense in the SEC this season, and they completely bottled up LSU here. The Tigers committed 19 turnovers, hit just 40% of their two-pointers, and scored a season-low 0.73 PPP (their lowest since getting Victor and Hornsby in the lineup had been 0.88 PPP against Florida). Offensively, Danuel House only scored 5 points, but he was able to repeatedly break down LSU's soft defense. He finished with 6 assists, and the Aggies as a whole assisted on 75% of their made baskets.

Now 6-0 in SEC play, Texas A&M has Missouri next, but they then get into the most difficult stretch of their schedule, with road games at Arkansas and Vanderbilt sandwiched around their game against Iowa State. Sweep that stretch, and they'll start getting hype for something like a 2 or 3 seed.

LSU drops to 4-2 in SEC play. Their RPI is still outside the Top 100, though it will improve as the season goes along. That Oklahoma game looms as a chance to really turn their at-large resume around. The fact that they were short-handed in November/December and the fact that they have Ben Simmons on their roster means that they'll likely get the benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday. But they have to get significantly closer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Morning News: Iowa State Beats #1, How Far Will Duke Fall?, And Arkansas-Little Rock Goes Down

"We covered the spread! Woo!"
Iowa State Beats #1 This was a fun, well-played basketball game that came down to the final seconds. What else can you ask for? For Oklahoma fans, they're going to wonder about consistent calls on inbound plays. Steve Prohm called a clever inbounds play with 4 seconds to go and a 2 point lead that involved two players passing the ball to themselves out of bounds convincingly enough that Buddy Hield thought it was the inbounds pass and reached to foul. The refs, correctly, called that a technical foul for reaching across the out-of-bounds line and touching the player. Of course, Oklahoma lost their game to Kansas when the refs didn't make the exact same call. So they got it right in this case, but Oklahoma will feel like they're still owed one.

In the end, this game doesn't matter as much as the media thinks it does. "#1 GOES DOWN!" is a sexy headline, but the fact is that Iowa State was a 2 point Vegas favorite. It's hard to win on the road against Top 20 opponents, even if you're the best team in the country. Coming into this game, the Pomeroy ratings had Oklahoma as the best team in the Big 12, had them favored in every remaining game but one, and still projected them to lose three more times. Why? When you play a bunch of 60/40 games, you're going to lose sometimes. However good you think Oklahoma is, a five point loss on the road at Iowa State should not change that projection in any meaningful way.

This result means a lot more for Iowa State. The Cyclones had started just 2-3 in Big 12 play, and needed to get back on the winning path before their Tournament seed started to slide. This win doesn't get them back into the Big 12 title race (that ship has probably sailed), but they're back to looking like a potential 3-4 seed on Selection Sunday. The big question for them as they go through a Big 12 schedule with no easy games is their total lack of depth. Foul trouble will be a significant problem, particularly on the road, and any potential injury will be killer.

How Far Will Duke Fall? Duke's slide without Amile Jefferson continued with their third consecutive loss. This game had some ref controversy, too, and despite the usual perception it was Duke that felt like they got a raw deal at the end of the game. First, Grayson Allen had a great chance to score with Duke down by a point and around ten seconds to go. Syracuse had a foul to give and looked to be trying to give it. Coach K felt that a foul came on the shot. The refs called neither. Then, after Malachi Richardson hit one of two at the free throw line, Matt Jones had one final chance for a 50+ foot buzzer beater on which there was a ton of contact, though realistically a team has to commit felony assault to get called for a foul on a desperation heave like that. Judge for yourself:

Regardless, the biggest difference in this game was fluky shooting in the favor of Syracuse. The Orange were 11-for-23 behind the arc while Duke was only 10-for-37. Duke allowed the Syracuse zone to force them into a lot of long jumpers, but if they hit their season average on three-pointers (38%) they'd have won the game. Still, there is no question that the team has dropped off since they've lost Amile Jefferson, and if Jefferson does not come back soon they could be at risk for something like a 10-8 ACC record. Instead of being in the mix for a 1 seed on Selection Sunday, they might be looking at something like a 6 or 7 seed. We're still at least a month before Jefferson realistically can return.

As for Syracuse, this win gets them right back in the thick of the at-large debate. They are still just 3-4 in ACC play, but they have only one bad loss (St. John's) and they have nice wins over UConn, Texas A&M, and Duke. Their RPI has slid up to 51st, and it should move into the Top 50 if they can get to 10-8 in ACC play. At 10-8, they probably are in good shape on Selection Sunday.

Arkansas-Little Rock Goes Down I've talked many times before about the inherent unfairness of the RPI and the current Selection system toward teams from low-major conferences. It is awfully hard to win on the road repeatedly against teams in the 100s and low 200s in the RPI, yet the Selection Committee and the RPI give you no credit for those wins, and every loss is a "bad loss". You have to go, effectively, perfect in conference play. UALR had one of those types of games here, on the road at Arkansas State. They fought back from 17 points down with 7:30 to go and managed to get a clean look at the buzzer only down by three-points... but Marcus Johnson missed it.

Arkansas-Little Rock is probably a better team than some squads that will earn at-large bids, but their margin for error is now zero. We can project their RPI using RPIForecast, and if they go undefeated the rest of the way and only lose to Texas-Arlington in the Sun Belt title game (the best case scenario) they'd be 28-3 with an RPI that was 27th. They'd have a good chance to get in with that resume. But the odds of going undefeated the rest of the way are so low as to be almost irrelevant. It's a shame, because the Sun Belt has two very dangerous teams in UALR and Texas-Arlington, but realistically only one is going to make the Big Dance.