Friday, February 19, 2010

Notre Dame Off The Bubble?

Louisville 91, Notre Dame 89, 2OT
There's a joke that always makes me chuckle, and it's that there are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and Notre Dame basketball on the Tournament bubble. The Irish put up a great fight here, but in the second overtime Louisville hung onto the lead with some clutch Samardo Samuels free throw shooting (6-for-6 in the period, 16-for-19 for the game). And while this is not a bad loss, the fact is that Notre Dame is running out of time for moral victories as they're arguably not even on the bubble right now. They've fallen to 6-8 in the Big East play and an atrocious 11-10 against the RPI Top 200 with a team RPI of 79th, and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 67th. Their schedule down the stretch is brutal, too: vs Pittsburgh, at Georgetown, vs UConn, at Marquette. I don't see any path to an at-large bid that doesn't involve winning at least two of those four games. As for Louisville, I do think that Rick Pitino is really starting to get his team where he wants it. He's famous for his team's slow starts and strong finishes, and it's possible that it might just have taken him an extra month or so this season to get that strong finish together. Samardo Samuels is starting to show why he was such a highly rated recruit, and the Cardinals really do have a nice deep bench (they are solid 11 players deep). Other than Samuels, they are not really harmed by any of their other players in foul trouble, because none are indispensable. At 8-5 in the Big East they should lock up an at-large bid if they can win three more games this season: either a 3-2 regular season finish, or a 2-3 regular season finish combined with a Big East tournament win.

Missouri 82, #17 Texas 77
We saw here that despite how good the Texas backcourt is, and despite how good Damion James is, they do really struggle when they can't get Dexter Pittman on the floor and when an opponent gets them out of what they like to do. Missouri did what they usually do to opponents: they forced turnovers (17 here) and got their opponents' big men in foul trouble (Dexter Pittman played only 12 minutes because of his foul trouble, and Damion James had to play down the stretch with four fouls as well). This win pushes Missouri up to 7-4 in the Big 12 and 5-5 against the RPI Top 50, and near the point where a team stops worrying about making the Tournament and begins to start worrying about their seed. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as the 13th best team in the country, which means that they could continue to move up the standings. With Texas falling back and Kansas State showing flaws as well, there's no reason Missouri can't finish as the second highest seed in the Big 12 (obviously Baylor and Texas A&M deserve to be in that discussion as well, of course). As for Texas, since being ranked #2 in the country they've lost six of their last nine games and are now only 6-5 in the Big 12. And their schedule is not easy ahead, with a game at a desperate Texas Tech team next, then at home against Oklahoma State, followed by a road game at red hot Texas A&M. And they close at Baylor. Believe it or not, it's possible that Texas could fall all the way to the bubble. I doubt that will actually happen, but the fact that it's even possible for Texas to miss the NCAA Tournament on February 19th after how good they looked in the first half of the season is fairly remarkable.

Saint Louis 62, Rhode Island 57
It's pretty unbelievable that the team with the seventh best resume in the Atlantic Ten has a better chance of making the NCAA Tournament than the team with the seventh best resume in the SEC or Pac-10, but it's true. Saint Louis is actually starting to get a little bit of bubble buzz after this win, with an A-10 record that is up to 8-3. That said, the Selection Committee is going to need a really good reason to overlook a 9-5 record against an out of conference schedule rated 288th by Pomeroy. They have losses to Bowling Green, George Washington and Iowa State, and their best out of conference win came over Nebraska. Their RPI is 84th, their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 77th and their Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR rankings are both outside the Top 100. So Saint Louis still has a huge uphill battle to becoming a really legitimate bubble team. But that said, Rick Majerus has done a fabulous job building this team through recruiting rather than quick-fix transfers, and he's got arguably the youngest team in the country (it depends how you define "youngest"). His boys have improved rapidly this season, and should be even better next year. As for Rhode Island, they've now lost three straight games, and the main culprit has been a defense that has totally fallen apart. They masked a mediocre defense all year with some uptempto pressing defense, but opponents are either figuring it out or Rhode Island's players are just wearing out. They're now 7-5 in conference play with a 4-6 record against the RPI Top 100. Despite these three losses they are still right on the bubble, and probably would be in the field of 65 if the season ended now. Their remaining regular season schedule is pretty easy, and they could easily win their final four games to be in a really good position for an at-large heading into the A-10 tournament.

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