Saturday, March 14, 2009

Talking Kentucky, Minnesota, Virginia Tech

#16 LSU 67, Kentucky 56
I got the sense watching this game that Kentucky has just resigned themselves to the NIT. They just seemed to give up near the end of the game. And Kentucky in the NIT is not a normal occurrence: Not only have they played in 17 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but that streak goes back to their NCAA probation. They actually haven't played in the NIT since 1979. They finish 20-13, but only 8-8 in the SEC, 11-13 against the RPI Top 200, and 4-6 in road games. The five losses in their final six games are the clincher. They might not have even made the Tournament with a win here, but they definitely won't make it with the loss.

#6 Michigan State 64, Minnesota 56
This was an important game for both teams, but probably more so for Minnesota. As good as they've been this year, they did tail off late and it's hard to feel confident when you only finish 9-9 in conference play and don't make a run in the conference tournament. A quick look at the other numbers: 22-10 overall, including 9-10 against the RPI Top 100. Wins over Louisville, Illinois, Ohio State and Wisconsin (twice). Their RPI is 40th, and Sagarin has them 32nd. Those numbers are good enough for the Tournament, and they'd be in the Tournament if the season ended now. They just need to hope that they don't get killed by the final conference tournament games. Some of the teams they need to start rooting for include Missouri, Temple, Duke and Tennessee. As for Michigan State, all of the carnage among the top teams in the nation has opened up a 1 seed. Television analysts complain that Michigan State plays an ugly brand of basketball, but I'd rather win ugly than look good in a loss. Michigan State has a preposterous 13 wins over the RPI Top 50 (the only other team with double-digits is Oklahoma, with 10), and they're up to 4th in the RPI and the Sagarin ELO_CHESS. If they win the Big Ten tournament then their hopes for a 1 seed might depend on the Big East tournament. They should rank behind Pitt and UNC, and they might be ranked behind Memphis as well (that obviously will depend on the C-USA title game, which Memphis is winning by six as I type). They should be ahead of UConn, which means it comes down to Louisville. The Big Ten is a better conference than the Big East, but most people think the Big East is better and the Selection Committee is only human, and that's why a Louisville team that sweeps the regular season and tournament titles will probably have the upper hand, even though Louisville's regular season title only came because they lucked out with the unbalanced schedule, and Michigan State won the Big Ten by a remarkable four games. So that means that Michigan State needs to root for Syracuse tonight, and then needs to take care of business against Ohio State this afternoon, and then against either Illinois or Purdue tomorrow.

#1 North Carolina 79, Virginia Tech 76
Poor Virginia Tech just cannot win a close game, which is even more remarkable when you consider that they have one of the best late game players in the nation in A.D. Vassallo. Of course, a lot of that is just bad luck, which also goes for another extremely snake bitten team that on paper should be great in close games (Wisconsin). The only other teams I can think of off the top of my head that have had similarly bad luck in every close game this season are Georgia Tech and Oregon. Virginia Tech is a better team than some teams that are going to be in the NCAA Tournament, but the Selection Committee is about resumes, and Va Tech's resume just isn't good enough. I can't see them making the Tournament with an 18-14 record and 7-9 in the ACC, and with all of their computer rankings near 60th in the nation. North Carolina, on the other hand, probably had that 1 seed locked up before this game. All of losses for teams like Oklahoma, UConn and Kansas probably would have sealed that 1 seed for UNC without any ACC tournament wins, but now there is no doubt. The Tar Heels will have a 1 seed, and will probably be #1 overall.

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