Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Illinois Still On The Bubble

#4 Purdue 75, Illinois 65
The reason Purdue is so good is because they have so many weapons. You can contain their three best players, and they can still beat you with their fourth and fifth best players. In this game it was Keaton Grant, who has only six points per game on the season yet scored ten points over the final six minutes of this game to put Purdue's lead out of reach. Just about everybody jumped off the Purdue bandwagon when they lost three straight games back in January, and I got a lot of grief for leaving them as a 1 seed in my bracket, but it was so obvious to me that Purdue is the best team in the Big Ten. They have now grabbed back control of the conference, and have the opportunity to basically lock up the regular season title this week. If they can do that and then win the Big Ten tournament then it will be unlikely that they won't get a 1 seed. Even if they go down in the Big Ten tournament they're still probably looking at a 2 seed. As for Illinois, they remain in a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten at 9-5, but despite that they're still sitting on the bubble. They are only 6-8 against the RPI Top 100 with bad losses against Utah and Bradley, but good wins against Vanderbilt, Clemson, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Those nice wins will more than balance out the bad losses, but most worrisome is the Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 61st. They've got to get that up close to 50th, and I would think that three more wins this season would probably be enough. The worry will be if they go 2-2 over their final four games and then end up with Wisconsin or Michigan State in their first Big Ten tournament game, potentially needing a win to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.

UTEP 78, Tulsa 70
UTEP is really getting hot down the stretch here, although their resume is still very vulnerable to just one or two mediocre losses. Derrick Caracter is the most well-known player on the team to casual fans, and he's certainly had a remarkable transformation in terms of work ethic, attitude and on-court performance this season, but he's only one of several key players on a team with five players averaging double-digit points per game. Their leading scorer is Randy Culpepper, at 18 per game this season, who led all scorers with 29 points in this game. Tulsa is certainly an impressive team to beat on the road, but they do seem to be falling apart down the stretch and UTEP still doesn't have the elite wins that other teams fighting for at-large bids have. The Miners are 20-5, but only 1-2 against the RPI Top 60, with that one win coming against UAB. If they earn an at-large it will come on overwhelming total numbers and the fact that they've done a good job of taking care of business against teams in the RPI 60-150 range that so often trip up others (UTEP is 10-3 against those teams), with an 11-1 conference record, an RPI of 49th and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that is all the way up to 41st. With numbers like that you'd have to say that UTEP would more likely than not make the Tournament if the season ended now, although they'd be only an 11 or 12 seed. The key for them will be finishing the regular season strong. If they lose even one of their final four regular season games then they'll be right on the bubble if they fall in the Conference USA tournament. As for Tulsa, they've fallen apart with three straight losses at one of the worst possible times, to fall to 8-5 in conference and 2-7 against the RPI Top 100, with computer numbers that have all fallen out of the Top 70. They probably need to win every single remaining regular season game to have any hope of an at-large bid should they fall in the C-USA tournament.

#2 Kentucky 58, Vanderbilt 56
John Wall stole the show again, making the key defensive play at the end of this game. Although once again it was Patrick Patterson who really held this game together for long stretches, with 13 points and 13 very important rebounds (the whole rest of the team combined for only 16 boards). It's a sign of how much the media hypes freshmen that more casual fans know who Eric Bledsoe is than Patrick Patterson. John Wall is a potential National Player of the Year, but Patterson is the second most important player on the team. But because he's a senior and not a big NBA prospect, nobody bothers to talk about him. Vanderbilt really struggled to score in this game, with only one player in double digits - who scored most of his points at the free throw line anyway (Jeffery Taylor). A.J. Ogilvy seemed particularly rattled by the physicality of Kentucky's post players. Even after this win Kentucky is rated as only the seventh best team in the country by both Sagarin and Pomeroy, but they're one of only two teams in the country that seem to be near locks for 1 seeds (along with Kansas, the best team in the nation). I do think that the fact that they've won so many close games is something of a detriment. You learn more from a close loss than a close win, particularly when you're young and inexperienced, as every key player on Kentucky other than Patterson is. Kentucky is going to need a friendly draw to make the Final Four, although that's certainly very possible with a 1 seed likely in their future. Vandy, meanwhile, continues to sit in the 5-8 seed range. They needed a win in a game like this to make a push into the discussion for a 3 or a 4 seed. It will probably take a nice winning streak to end the regular season, or else an SEC tournament title, to get a seed like that.


Anonymous said...

You need to start giving UTEP some credit. Just because you lack a wow win doesn't mean you aren't good. Beating top 70 teams on the road is a much more difficult task than you give it credit for. To be 11-1 in a conference with seven top 100 teams is incredibly good. They've beaten the 2-4 teams in the CUSA on the road. Start giving them the credit they deserve.

jfgogold said...

You're missing the boat on Vanderbilt. On bracketproject.com, you are literally the only person in the country who doesn't have Vandy with at least a 5 seed. They are the top 4 seed at the moment when all guessers are averaged together.

And how can you possibly have Tennessee ahead of Vanderbilt. That's nuts. We beat them twice, comfortably at their gym and blew them out in ours.

Jeff said...

jfgogold, ask 2007-08 Arizona State fans or 2005-06 Hofstra fans how much a season sweep is worth to the Selection Committee.

I do agree that Vandy and Tennessee's resumes are fairly close right now and that a good argument can be made that Vandy has the slightly better resume, but I also think that Tennessee is the better team and will finish stronger.