Thursday, March 11, 2010

Syracuse No Longer A 1 Seed "Lock"

#22 Georgetown 91, #3 Syracuse 84
I pointed out a little more than a week ago how silly it was for every tv analysts to say that Syracuse was a "lock" to get a 1 seed. The fact is that they had to avoid falling on their face down the stretch, and now they will be heading into Selection Sunday on a two game losing streak. It's not a surprise that those two losses came to Louisville and Georgetown, which are two of the best-coached and best passing teams in the league. The Syracuze zone destroys guards that try to create offense off of the dribble. You have to pick apart the zone with the pass and avoid turnovers. Avoiding turnovers is the key to stopping the Syracuse offense, which puts up huge points because it gets so many fast breaks, and is actually pretty weak in the halfcourt. They are particularly bad with ball control, and the difference in this game was the 17 turnovers committed by the Orange. Syracuse will actually still probably get a 1 seed, but they're going to need some help. Kansas will be a higher seed, and I expect Kentucky to be ahead also (they just have to avoid falling on their face in the SEC tournament). The question is whether two other teams can pull ahead of Syracuse. Duke can pull ahead by winning the ACC tournament. Kansas State, Ohio State and West Virginia are the other teams that can potentially move ahead of Syracuse if they can win their conference tournaments. A bigger concern might be Arinze Onuaku, who may miss time with a knee injury. His presence on defense is essential because the whole zone is fed down low to the two big men. And the team is already very thin with only seven players that ever see the floor - what does Syracuse do if Onuaku goes down? Who do they bring in off the bench? As for Georgetown, they aren't getting the seed respect that they probably deserve and it's due to that 10-8 Big East record. But they played a killer schedule and have a bunch of really nice wins and nice numbers. They're 6-4 against the RPI Top 25 and 14-8 against the RPI Top 100 with only one bad loss (to Rutgers). This win probably pushes Georgetown up to a 4 seed, and at worst they're a 5. If they can win another Big East tournament game they can potentially go as high as a 3 seed, depending on what the other contenders for a 3 seed accomplish between now and then.

Notre Dame 68, Seton Hall 53
I wanted to go back to the key game from yesterday. Seton Hall loves to run, and I thought Notre Dame did a good job of keeping them out of their comfort zone by practically running the four-corners offense the entire game. It showed good discipline to turn away from good shots, but Notre Dame was doing that all night. Seton Hall was dropped from 109 points the night before to 53 points here, although by my calculation they had 89 possessions the night before and 61 possessions here. So that works out to 1.22 points per possession against Providence vs 0.87 points per possession against Notre Dame. On the season, Seton Hall averaged 1.10 points per possession, while Providence allowed 1.10, and Notre Dame allowed 1.06. While it's well known to Big East fans that Providence has the worst defense in the conference, what was not as well known was that Notre Dame had the second worst. But they've rapidly improved since the loss of Harangody. It's possible that Mike Brey just lucked into the idea of playing slow, and that it has been elixir for their defensive woes. Because even with Harangody back on the floor for extended minutes here (his first extended minutes since his injury) the team still played slow, and the defense was still a lot better than it was before the Harangody injury. Either way, this game was the closest game we've had so far this season (other than small conference tournament championship games) to "winner goes Dancing, loser goes to the NIT". Seton Hall absolutely had to have this win, and with the loss they are effectively eliminated from at-large contention. They'd need a crazy set of results between now and Selection Sunday to still have a shot. As for Notre Dame, this win might not lock up their at-large bid for certain, but it certainly puts them in the Field of 65 for now. And with so much carnage going on to the rest of the bubble, the Irish are certainly in really good shape. If they can pull off the upset of Pittsburgh tonight then they'll lock up their at-large bid for certain.

Cincinnati 69, Louisville 66
I wanted to talk about one last game from yesterday, which was probably the most surprising result of the day (other than maybe that huge road comeback by Montana over Weber State... even though I'm probably one of seven people on the planet who is not an alumnus of one of those schools who was watching the end of that game or cared about the result). This Louisville loss came down to two things: hustle on the boards (Cincy won the offensive rebounding battle 21-8) and free throw shooting (Louisville hit 57% as a team). Louisville continues to be a perplexing team because sometimes they come out and look like they just spent a week in the film room, with excellent strategy and execution, and other times they look like they spent the last week partying. This game was the latter, and Louisville was just a step slow with everything they were trying to do. And this loss will do damage to the Louisville Tournament seed that is sitting in the 8-10 range right now. They could fall as low as an 11 if the rest of this week's results go the wrong way for them. As for Cincinnati, they're not completely eliminated from at-large contention, but even with this win and as weak as the bubble has been, the Bearcats still have a lot of work left to do. They went 7-11 in the Big East, and 7-14 against the RPI Top 100, although with wins over Vanderbilt, Maryland and Notre Dame to go with this one, and zero bad losses. Their RPI is 61st, but this win pushes their Sagarin ELO_CHESS up inside the Top 50 (48th, to be exact) for the first time in a very long time. There's no question that they need to beat West Virginia tonight to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. But if they win that and lose their next one (against either Notre Dame or Pitt) could they still get in? Maybe. Depends on if the bubble keeps weakening, or if it starts to strengthen.

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