Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Louisville Shocks Syracuse

Louisville 66, #3 Syracuse 60
With the way Louisville had struggled this season there were questions about Rick Pitino's coaching job, and whether he was affected by that scandal over the summer, or the talks about him leaving for the NBA. But he put in a magnificent performance here. Syracuse plays a zone better than any other team in the country, and if you don't come in prepared to attack it then they'll eat you alive. But the fact is that the zone is predictable, and no matter how well you execute the zone there are still weaknesses that can be attacked, and if you execute perfectly then you will get open shots. And that's what Louisville did, their guards did a great job of attacking the center of the zone, forcing the defense to collapse and opening up men on the perimeter or on the baseline. Louisville also played some nice zone themselves, which is the probably the correct way to play Syracuse. Syracuse is a mediocre outside shooting team, although at the same time they're a terrific rebounding team and a zone will allow more offensive boards. But Louisville executed well, and kept the Syracuse offense frustrated for most of the day. This is a huge win for Louisville, a team that entered this game right on the bubble. They are now 7-5 in the Big East, and 5-8 against the RPI Top 100 with this being by far their best win, and a loss to Western Carolina being their only bad loss. This win pushes their RPI up to 33rd, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS to 43rd. They'd be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but they don't have much room to spare. If they can split their final six regular season games and then win one game in the Big East tournament then that should be enough to get them in. As for Syracuse, this does damage to their hopes for a 1 seed. If they can get a share of the Big East title and then win the Big East tournament then they'll get a 1 seed, but without that tournament title then they might need to win the rest of their regular season games to still get that 1. It's unlikely that the Big East will get more than one of them, particularly with teams like Purdue and Duke coming on strong.

Portland 80, Saint Mary's 75
Portland had disappeared a bit after grabbing so much attention early in the season. Losses to Portland State and Idaho really killed the momentum they had after beating Oregon, UCLA and Minnesota in consecutive games (that UCLA win being a 29 point blowout on national television). But while their at-large chances are pretty much over, they are still in prime position to steal the WCC's automatic bid. This win ties them for the second fewest losses in the WCC regular season (three), giving them a real chance to grab the second seed and to have an easier path. Also, it seems likely that they'll end up with St. Mary's in the WCC semifinals, and so the win here will give them confidence that they can win again. As for St. Mary's, this win throws them right back onto the bubble. They are 21-5 and 5-5 against the RPI Top 100, but their only RPI Top 50 wins came over Utah State and San Diego State, and came more than two months ago. They don't have any bad losses, but their weak schedule really hurts their computer numbers: their RPI is 46th and their ELO_CHESS is 37th. They'd be one of the last teams into the Tournament, or one of the first teams out, if the season ended now. But what they have going for them is a very easy schedule for their final three regular season games, and for their first WCC tournament game. If they can get to the WCC tournament finals (presumably by beating Portland) then even a loss to Gonzaga would leave them 26-6 with no losses outside the RPI Top 90, and likely at least one win over another Tournament team. I'm fairly certain that no team from an RPI Top 15 conference has ever missed out with 26+ wins, and Saint Mary's wouldn't either. If they can win their next five games then they'll make the Tournament.

#16 Ohio State 72, Illinois 53
Illinois had won so many good games in a row that they were due for a letdown game, and they had one here. Ohio State played well, of course, but Illinois also just couldn't hit a shot. They hit 34% from the field, 17% behind the arc, and even just 50% at the line. Nothing was going in. They even dominated the boards (15 offensive rebounds, to only 2 for Ohio State), and it still was a blowout. But despite coming into this game tied for the fewest losses in the Big Ten, even the biggest Illinois fans knew that they didn't have any real chance at a conference title. They had feasted on an easy schedule in the first half of the season, and their final month was always going to be brutal. They had started with huge wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin, but after this loss they still have road games at Purdue and Ohio State, and also have another game against Wisconsin. But just a couple of weeks ago this Illinois team was a true bubble team, and for the time being they look in good shape with a 9-4 Big Ten record. Their computer numbers are not good because of a weak out-of-conference performance (an 8-5 record against an OOC strength of schedule of 135th, according to Pomeroy), so they will probably need to finish 11-7 to make the Tournament. So they still have work to do, but they've put themselves in a good position.

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