Sunday, March 07, 2010

Mississippi State Sleepwalks Through Senior Night

#13 Tennessee 75, Mississippi State 59
Teams almost always come up fired up on Senior Night, and I've documented plenty of cases over the last couple of days of teams coming out with huge runs to start their Senior Night games. But occasionally the Senior Night energy backfires, and I can't remember any team that ever came out worse on Senior Night: Tennessee scored the first 17 points of this game. That's not a typo. And the thing with Mississippi State is that they're not designed to come back from huge deficits. They don't have much offense other than launching up a ton of three-pointers, and they aren't too efficient at those anyway (they are in the top ten in the nation in percentage of field goal attempts taken behind the arc, but are hitting only 36% on the season). They don't have an explosive offensive player. They also are thin, and the fact that Tennessee is fine going ten deep while Mississippi State really only has a six or seven man rotation meant that the Vols just looked fresher in the second half, when Mississippi State needed more energy to make a comeback. For Tennessee, they were going to finish third in the SEC East regardless of the result of this game, and so because of the goofy way that the SEC seeds their tournament the Vols will have to play in the first round while Mississippi State will get a bye. If the season ended now Tennessee would likely be a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they could easily slide up to a 3 seed if they can play well in the SEC tournament. A looming potential semifinal match-up against Kentucky could determine whether they are able to get their seed higher than a 4. As for Mississippi State, this loss devastates any chance they had left at an at-large bid. They fall to 9-7 in the SEC (and remember that a 9-7 record in the SEC West is even worse than a 9-7 record would have been if they'd played an SEC East schedule), with a 1-4 record against the RPI Top 50, and computer ratings that have all fallen out of the Top 60. They will play either Auburn or Florida in the SEC quarterfinals, and with a win would likely get Vanderbilt in the semifinals. Mississippi State will have to win both of those games to get to the SEC title game to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

Wichita State 65, Illinois State 61
Illinois State actually entered this game with a small chance at an at-large bid, but those hopes were dashed with this tough loss in the Missouri Valley semifinals. Their weakness all season long has been field goal defense, and so it was no surprise to see 48% shooting from Wichita State, the best offense in the conference. Illinois State could be a dangerous team in the NIT should they get there, but even that is unsure at this point. Wichita State, on the other hand, has assured themselves of at least being in the discussion on Selection Sunday. Even with a loss in the MVC championship game tomorrow Wichita State will still have a strong resume that could get them into the Field of 65 if the bubble stays weak. I'll get into their resume in detail should they lose tomorrow, but it won't matter if they can pull the upset over Northern Iowa (the game starts at 2PM eastern time tomorrow). It should be an interesting game, with the conference's best offense (Wichita State) against its best defense. Also, despite the fact that Northern Iowa is the better team, you can't discount the fact that Wichita State will be playing with more at stake. Northern Iowa knows that they're in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens tomorrow.

Saint Louis 71, Dayton 66
Dayton is really falling apart down the stretch. As I've talked about, their defense has been horrid of late, but it actually was pretty decent today and they still managed to lose another close game. They scored 47 points in the second half to pull within two points late in the game, but couldn't get over the top. They've lost four of five to end up 8-8 in the Atlantic Ten, meaning that there's basically no at-large scenario left for them. They've almost surely got to win the A-10 tournament. They open up against George Washington on Tuesday, and with a win would next play Xavier on Friday. It's surprising that a team with a Sagarin PREDICTOR of right around 50th (which is where they'll be when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning) would enter their conference tournament without a shot at an at-large bid, but Tournament bids are not given out for how good a team is, but how good their resume is, and Dayton just has not been able to win any close games. They've lost their last eight games that were decided by five points or less, which is one of the worst streaks I've seen in years. Their Pomeroy Luck rating is 343rd. As for Saint Louis, they've been on a tear through the A-10 over the past month or so, with wins over Rhode Island, Duquesne and Dayton (twice) since the beginning of February. But despite the 11-5 A-10 record they've probably done more to burst the bubbles of other teams than to build up their own resume. They still have only one win against a team with an RPI higher than 40th (Richmond), and they have four RPI 100+ losses (Bowling Green, George Washington, Iowa State and Georgia). Their RPI is 84th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is still right around 70th. I don't see any way they can end up with an at-large bid. They will open the A-10 tournament on Friday against either Rhode Island or St. Joe's, with a likely match-up against Temple if they can reach the semifinals.

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