Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pitt Downs WVU In Triple Overtime

#23 Pittsburgh 98, #5 West Virginia 95, 3OT
After as ugly as the first match-up between these two teams was, this game was played with much more quality, and without any assistant coaches getting hit by projectiles from drunk fans. Any overtime game in the Big East inevitably gets compared to that Syracuse-UConn six overtime game from last season. And one thing that is bothering me about the analysis of this game is the same thing that bothered me about the analysis of that game (I wrote a long piece about that six overtime game right after it happened last season), that we look for a reason why one team won. The fact is that there is no reason that anybody won this game, as either team could have won if a clock operator had started a clock sooner or later, or a ref hadn't blown some foul call, or a bad shot didn't bank in. There is more randomness in sports than people like to admit, even though it's the reason we all love sports: if sports were deterministic then why bother watching? But on Selection Sunday, it's all about which wins and losses you have, and this game will have a big effect on both of these teams. For Pitt, they looked like they'd be a bubble team just six or eight weeks ago, and now they are close to locking up an at-large bid even though we're not even halfway through February. They are now 8-4 in the Big East, and while their next three games are difficult, their final three regular season games are pretty easy. They are in a tie for third place in the conference standings, and there's no reason why they can't find themselves with a 4 or 5 seed on Selection Sunday if they keep playing well. As for West Virginia, this loss ends any hopes they had at a Big East title, but they can still potentially get a 2 seed if they can win the Big East tournament. They'd probably have to win every single remaining regular season game to earn a 2 seed without winning the conference tournament.

#7 Duke 77, Maryland 56
Brian Zoubek really came to life in this game, not only with 16 points and 17 rebounds, but also by drawing offensive fouls and staying out of bad foul trouble himself. This was not just by far his best performance of the year, but probably the best performance of his career. He's been considered a disappointment because he was expected to play like this often when he first showed up at Duke. Whether this play continues or not is yet to be determined, but Duke can be a legitimate NCAA Championship contender if he can. Duke is closing in on an ACC regular season title, and can pretty much lock it up if they can win at Maryland in a few weeks. The ACC is not as highly regarded as it's been in recent years, and Duke didn't collect the nice out-of-conference wins that they often get (wins over Gonzaga and Charlotte were their only RPI Top 50 wins out-of-conference), so they would likely end behind Kansas, Kentucky, and any team that sweeps the regular season and tournament titles in the Big Ten or Big East. But there's no question that Duke will deserve a 1 seed if they can sweep the regular season and tournament titles. As for Maryland, they fall to 6-3 and a tie for third place in the ACC, but their upcoming schedule is pretty easy, and if they can beat Duke at home then they will still have a shot to win the whole conference. They need to finish at least 10-6 to be sure of an at-large bid, but I think they'll get there.

Cincinnati 60, UConn 48
I give Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin a lot of credit for his plan of attack here. UConn is a team that thrives on defense that leads to transition offense, and they really struggle to score in half court sets. Cronin's approach to this game was to squeeze the life out of it by slowing things down to a crawl, and making sure that even their turnovers were the types of turnovers that didn't lead to fast breaks. They forced UConn to work 30 seconds on defense, and then work to create their own offense in the half court, and UConn's offense sputtered. It seemed like UConn was psychologically taken out of what they like to do, and they even lost the rebounding battle to a hustling, but much smaller, Cincy frontline. Cincy is a team that has been sitting on the fat part of the bubble for quite some time. The win gets them back to 6-6 in Big East play and 15-9 overall, with a solid 6-9 record against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 45th, but more importantly their ELO_CHESS will be inside the Top 50 when the new numbers come out in the morning. They'd be one of the last teams in or one of the first teams out if the season ended now, and they'll probably have to finish at least 9-9 in Big East play and then win at least one Big East tournament game to get into the Tournament. They have three pretty easy games coming up, followed by three very difficult games, so they'd like to have those nine Big East wins locked up before they head to West Virginia on February 27th. As for UConn, they continue to fall apart with five losses in their last six games. Teams seem to have figured out what I've been talking about for some time, which is that the way to beat UConn is to slow things down and force them to score in the half court. They scored 70 or more points in three of their first six Big East games. And in their last six games, where they've lost five and only won once, they have not gotten to 70 points once. They came into this game with the fifth most efficient defense in the Big East according to Pomeroy, but only the 12th most efficient offense. That gap will not close with this performance. UConn has now fallen to 4-8 in Big East play, with a dreadfully mediocre 12-11 record against the RPI Top 200. They're 1-8 against the RPI Top 50, with the only win coming over Texas, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen out of the Top 65 in the nation. Not only would they not be a Tournament team if the season ended now, they wouldn't be particularly close. They will have to win four of their final six games to even have a shot heading into the Big East tournament.

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