Saturday, March 13, 2010

Houston Pops A Bubble

Houston 81, #23 UTEP 73
Ah, Gus Johnson in March. He was fired up today, and made just about everybody excited for the big Houston win. The people not excited? Bubble teams, because one of them just had their bubble popped. UTEP will still be Dancing, and Houston had no chance of an at-large bid. The star for Houston was Kelvin Lewis, who was red hot with 6-for-10 behind the arc, including the big one that put them in the lead for good with 3:15 to go. For UTEP, they got another huge game from Derrick Caracter (18 points, nine rebounds), but their best player was probably Randy Culpepper. Houston just did not have anybody who could guard him, but it seemed like UTEP wrongly went away from him for much of the second half. He led the team with 20 points, but he didn't hit a single basket in the final 19 minutes of the game, after hitting 7-for-11 in the first half. Houston should be considered a dangerous first round team for the NCAA Tournament with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will be up around 80th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. They should be a 13 or 14 seed, and will be a scary opponent for whichever 3 or 4 seed gets put against them. As for UTEP, they finish 8-4 against the RPI Top 100 with a 7-0 record against the four best teams in the conference (Memphis, Tulsa, UAB and Marshall). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 28th, although you'd think that the lack of big wins (zero against the RPI Top 40) will probably keep them from getting higher than an 8 seed. I see them as an 8 or 9 right now.

#17 Temple 57, Rhode Island 44
Speaking of Houston popping a bubble, the bubble that they popped might have been Rhode Island's, the team that I was projecting to be the last team in the field at the end of play last night. This was a tough way to finish the season for Rhode Island because last impressions matter so much, and they were never really in this game, trailing by around 20 points for most of the way. They actually played pretty well, committing only six turnovers and dominating the offensive boards 15-to-3. They earned themselves 21 more shots from the field (although with 16 less at the free throw line the total possession disparity was not quite as bad as that crazy Wisconsin-Illinois game yesterday), but they just were ice cold. They shot 27% as a team from the field, and you could see the team's frustration over the final few minutes of the game. It's tough to outplay your opponent but end up getting blown out, in a game that they probably needed to win to make the NCAA Tournament. They finish 7-8 against the RPI Top 100, but only 1-6 against the RPI Top 50 (the win came over Oklahoma State). Their RPI will be right around 45th, but their ELO_CHESS will be 48th-50th, which will put them right on the bubble. They'll be in serious consideration on Selection Sunday, but they cannot afford any more Houstons getting into the bracket. They will need some help over the next 26 hours to avoid the NIT.

#2 Kentucky 74, #13 Tennessee 49
Tennessee really struggled with the Kentucky defense, committing nearly as many turnovers (15) as made baskets (17). Scott Hopson was the only Volunteer to score more than eight points. The freshman trio of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe all went for 14+ points. Kentucky looked great today, and they will be a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but you cannot make the Final Four if your three key players are freshmen. They will need Patrick Patterson to have more of an impact on games if they're going to get that far. As for Tennessee, they finish only 2-5 against the RPI Top 50, but those two wins were over Kentucky and Kansas. And they went 10-1 against the RPI 51-100, with only two losses against teams with an RPI worse than 55th (road games at Georgia and USC). Their RPI is 11th, and their ELO_CHESS will be around 16th-18th. They should be looking at a 3 or a 4 seed in the Tournament, although it's not completely implausible that they might fall to a 5.

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