UCLA stakes claim as Pac-12′s second-best; Michigan still perfect in B1G
Seemingly every Pac-12 team with a shot at making the NCAA Tournament has had a run as the conference’s second-best team behind Arizona this year.
Oregon looked like it was that team after starting the season 13-0, but the Ducks have come undone in conference play.
Colorado was that team hands down before Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL.
California looked like it could be the team when it won its first five conference games, but it is now riding a three-game losing streak.
Enter UCLA. The Bruins currently lay claim to the title of the Pac-12′s second-best team, earning it with an impressive 70-68 win at Oregon on Thursday night. At the same time, they dealt a serious blow to the Ducks’ postseason hopes.
The Bruins are now 17-4 overall and 6-2 in conference. They’re 3-3 against teams in the RPI top 50, and gave Arizona one of its toughest tests all season, losing by just four points. With Kyle Anderson struggling to get anything going in Eugene, Jordan Adams and Nathan Powell picked up the slack. Adams had 19 points and six rebounds, while Powell added 17 and six boards of his own. Anderson, meanwhile, found ways to contribute while shooting 1-of-8 from the floor, dishing out 10 assists and forcing the weak-side help that led to the game-winning basket.
Of course, the game was almost nowhere near this close. After Oregon tied the game at 52 with 10:35 remaining, UCLA went on a 13-2 run, taking a 65-54 lead with just more than six minutes left in the game. It then became the Joseph Young and Jason Calliste show, as the dynamic guard duo scored the game’s next 12 points, improbably giving the Ducks a one-point lead with exactly 100 seconds left on the clock. After two Richard Amardi free throws put the Ducks up three, it appeared the Ducks would avoid another hit to their tournament resume.
On the opposite end of the floor, Adams and Anderson had other ideas. The sophomore point forward found Adams, who made a layup and drew a foul, converting the three-point play to tie the game. A miss by Calliste gave the ball back to UCLA, and a fortuitous jump ball meant the Bruins would be able to hold for the last shot. Anderson drove and though he missed a short jumper, he drew help from Travis Wear’s defender. That freed up Wear to grab the rebound and put back in what proved to be the game-winner.
The Pac-12 could put as many as seven teams in the tournament. Arizona is the only lock, though UCLA continues to trend in that direction. California has a strong case, as does Colorado, even though it is in a free fall after losing Dinwiddie. Oregon and Arizona State are in the next tier, and Washington is on the fringes, as well. Still, other than the Wildcats, there’s a chance no team will be seeded higher than sixth or seventh. With the Bruins’ win Tuesday night, they could be the one team that still has a chance to break through.
Oregon won’t have much time to lick its wounds. The Ducks are now 2-6 in conference and their best win of the season was at home against BYU. They play conference doormat USC on Saturday, but then take a tour of the state of Arizona next week. They’ll obviously be huge underdogs against the Wildcats, but they could very easily lose both of those games, which would give them eight conference losses by the second week of February. Once considered a shoo-in for the tournament, this season could get a whole lot uglier for them.
Wolverines remain undefeated in the Big Ten
Michigan moved to 8-0 in the Big Ten with a 75-66 win over Purdue on Tuesday night. The Wolverines had four players in double-figures, with Nik Stauskas leading the way at 16. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. each had 14, while Jordan Morgan had 11.
While the Wolverines will certainly be happy they continued their best Big Ten start in school history, the disturbing trend of Glenn Robinson III struggling in conference play also carried on in this game. He quite simply has not been an efficient scorer since Michigan wrapped up it’s non-conference slate. He has 17 points in his last two games combined, and has scored single-digits in three of Michigan’s eight conference games. Even in matchups where he has scored at his season average, he has struggled from the floor. He needed 13 shots to score 15 points against Penn State, and 15 shots to get 14 points against Iowa. The Wolverines have emerged as a legitimate Final Four threat, but if they are to get back there for the second-straight year, they will need Robinson to be a reliable scorer alongside Stauskas.
The Wolverines are still in a stretch where they’ll play the lesser that the conference has to offer with their next two games coming at Indiana and home against Nebraska. After that however, they kick off a four-game run in which they play Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Now is the time for Robinson to get back on track. If he cannot, Michigan may end up pointing to that as their undoing in the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana’s tournament hopes take potentially fatal blow from Nebraska
Sixteen was an operative number for Indiana on Thursday night. After leading by 16 points late in the first half, the Hoosiers went ice cold from the field, scoring just 23 points in the second half of a 60-55 loss to Nebraska. Now, they’re likely to become the 16th team to miss the NCAA Tournament after being a 1-seed the previous year.
With all the principles from its regular-season Big Ten championship team from a year ago gone, there wasn’t any doubt this Indiana team would struggle at times this year. With losses to Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois and Notre Dame — all teams that rank 60th or worse in RPI — on the resume, it’s a stretch to see this team dancing in March. The only way it appears that can happen is if they can pull off a miracle run in the conference tournament in which they would have to beat three of the top four teams in the conference on consecutive days. In other words, Hoosiers fans can probably start planning for the NIT.
It was more of the same for Indiana on Thursday night. The Hoosiers rank 173rd in adjusted offensive efficiency on kenpom.com, and they showed why against the Cornhuskers. Noah Vonleh, the team’s leader in field goal percentage at 53.6 percent, got just five field goal attempts. Meanwhile, Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey combined to go 8-of-21 from the floor. Ferrell knocked down four three-pointers, but Sheehey missed all four of his attempts from behind the arc. They managed to shoot 45.5 percent on the night, and even that makes it sound better than it was. With eight minutes left in the game, they still led by three points. They made just two field goals the rest of the way.
Terran Petteway continues to be the most overlooked player in the Big Ten. He led Nebraska with 18 points on Thursday, and is now averaging 17.2 points per game this season. In conference play, that number jumps to 19.5.