I used to do this every day, then every week, and now it’s every two weeks. I’d like to do it every day, but I’d go crazy. So here are the last two weeks, reviewed:
Public service message: But first, this message. This time of year people will often say something like “kenpom.com predicts team X will win its next seven games” or something. But that’s usually not true! Just because a team is favored in its next seven games does not mean it is expected to go on a seven-game winning streak. It is very rare that is the case, actually. If a team was favored to win each of those games with a 51% chance, we’d expect then to go 4-3 because there’s a large chance of an upset in each of those games. Don’t confuse being favored in a bunch of games with being expected to win ALL of those games. Now the review…
3. Dec. 17: #336 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 61, #175 Houston 56 (OT, 8%). This one was especially fun because Houston was down 45-35 with just under five minutes left. Then the Cougars woke up and scored the next 10 and eventually withstood Tevin Hammond missing two free throws with six seconds left in regulation. So the game went to overtime and the Cougars got new life.
A wise man once said, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That man never said, “you never get a second chance to avoid an upset.” Because this was a case where Hammond’s misfortune at the line gave the Cougars another shot at avoiding embarrassment. However, Houston squandered that chance, too. This will be the best win a SWAC team gets all season, and this game serves as another reminder that changing coaches, even if you hire a big name like Kelvin Sampson, is often a painful process at first.
2. Dec. 8: #277 Brown 77, #53 Providence 67 (6%). Speaking of quotes that have stuck with me over the years, “Rhode Island isn’t big enough for two good basketball teams” is another one. And with Brown completing the sweep of Bryant and Providence, the Bears are the state champs this season. The Ivy League is currently ranked 12th in my ratings, and collectively the conference is as strong as it’s been in decades. No, I mean it. You have to go back to at least 1970 to find a stronger Ivy. (Do the research, yourself.) Even then, it might not be so obvious that that Ivy was better than this one.
1. Dec. 6: #293 NJIT 72, #20 MIchigan 70 (3%). For the second consecutive review, the Highlanders make the list of upsets. One time is a fluke, but two upsets? It’s still probably a fluke because NJIT subsequently needed last-second heroics to beat Saint Francis Brooklyn, then lost convincingly to Holy Cross and LIU Brooklyn. But for one day, they truly looked like a team deserving an at-large bid.
Least likely comebacks
3. Dec. 6: North Florida over Purdue (1.5%). The Ospreys were down in the first half by as much as 13, but their worst situation was a deficit of 62-55 with 3:11 remaining. Then they would score 18 points in those three minutes and pull out a 73-70 upset. You might say Big Ten teams were big time pushovers over the past two weeks. Read on!
2. Dec 10: Incarnate Word over Nebraska (1.2%). The Word was down 71-66 with 33 seconds left. They benefited from back-to-back three-point shooting fouls on their last two possessions and managed to steal a 74-73 win in Lincoln.
1. Dec 6: NJIT over Michigan (1.1%). Detailed above, but NJIT was generous enough to spot Michigan the first eight points in this one. You may have heard that the Wolverines were also upset in their next game hosting Eastern Michigan. And in that one, Michigan owned a 10-2 lead out of the gate. So much for the underdog needing to start well being a key to the game.
My five-man #ShootersClub of Micah Mason, Brett Olson, Michael Frazier II, Seth Hinrichs, and Devante Wallace is barnstorming the country this season, spreading goodwill and providing inspiration that you, too, can make three-point shots with enough practice.
Actually, they’re also spreading the word of regression to the mean. Why does regression occur? Is it purely random variation or are these guys actually worse shooters than last season? Those are some thoughts to ponder over the holiday break. These guys hit 35-of-98 attempts over the past two weeks for a respectable 35.7 percent and their season-long accuracy now stands at 36.7 percent. But just being respectable is not why these guys were picked for the #ShootersClub. Kudos to Frazier who carried the Club with a 14-for-30 effort.
Fastest game: Dec. 13, UMKC 79, Nebraska Omaha 72 [83 possessions]. It was the rare defensive-oriented 79-72 game at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. Fun Fact: The Municipal Auditorium hosted three consecutive Final Fours from 1940 to 1942, and none of those games at the Municipal were as high-scoring as this one.
Slowest game: Dec. 10, Kentucky 56, Columbia 46 . It’s often said that it’s good strategy for a heavy underdog to limit possessions. It’s a nice thought in theory, but less so in practice since this often means the underdog will play a style it’s not completely comfortable with. (See Providence’s 38-point dud against UK in late November.) Not so for Columbia, though, whose adjusted tempo is the second-slowest in the nation. The slow pace was one factor in allowing the Lions to hang around for about 28 minutes, although it wasn’t like there was ever much doubt about the eventual outcome.
Highest-scoring game: Dec. 10, Davidson 110, Montana 99 . I vote for more Atlantic 10-Big Sky matchups if the result is going to be a points explosion. The two teams combined to make 64 percent of their 2’s, 47 percent of their 3’s, and 89 percent of their free throws (of which there were 63). Fun, fun, fun.
Lowest-scoring game: Dec. 13, Texas 59, Texas State 27 . This game had 15 fewer possessions than the one in Missoula, and 123 fewer points. It was 8-3 at the 10 minute mark and there was a chance of breaking the modern record for fewest combined points. Texas State upheld its part of the bargain, but the Longhorns had normal offensive production for the rest of the game. Boooooooooooo!
Alan Williams Watch: UCSB played just two games in the past two weeks and Mr. Williams was too busy preparing for finals to be bothered with playing serious basketball. So he only went for 9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals in an overtime loss to SMU. Then he scored 18, rebounded 8, blocked 7 and stole 2 in a loss to San Diego. Mr. Williams will be back to making double-doubles and triple-triples shortly, but there are bigger things in life than basketball, you know?
kPOY Watch: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky is still holding the top spot, but Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is closing fast. It’s a virtual dead heat. Still hanging on at #3 is super-sleeper Wesley Saunders from Harvard, who will get a chance to showcase his skills on Sunday in a game at #3 in the team department, Virginia.
Best games of the next two weeks (as determined by FanMatch, all times eastern)
#15 Ohio State vs. #16 UNC, Saturday, 1 PM, CBS
#1 Kentucky at #5 Louisville, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2 PM, CBS
#7 Gonzaga at #44 BYU, Saturday, Dec. 27, 9:30 PM, ESPN2
#24 Minnesota at #49 Purdue, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 3:15 PM, Big Ten Network
#21 Georgetown at #25 Xavier, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 10 PM, Fox Sports 1