Saturday, January 29, 2011

Louisville, Georgetown Win Thrillers

#19 Louisville 79, #5 Connecticut 78, 2OT
The law of averages tends to catch up to teams, and it caught up to UConn here, a team that came in 5-1 in games decided by five points or less. Kemba Walker was kept completely out of this game, and he finished 7-for-23 from the field. It was a strong game from Jeremy Lamb (21 points on 9-for-17 shooting) and another hot shooting night from Shabazz Napier (5-for-11 shooting behind the arc) that kept the game close. The star of the game was Peyton Siva, who is starting to get a reputation for clutch play. After that spectacular game-winner Wednesday against West Virginia he again hit an array of clutch shots to close this one. He is one of those really slippery guards who seems to be able to penetrate against any defender.

If there is a sleeper team in the over-hyped Big East it's Louisville, a team that will move very close to the Top Ten in both the Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings and is now in second place in the Big East at 6-2. Not only that but their remaining games against Pitt, Syracuse and UConn are all at home. But they can't start thinking too far ahead - they've got to play at Georgetown on Monday night. UConn slides to 5-3, but after a game against Syracuse on Wednesday night they head into a pretty easy schedule for a while. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should stay in the Top Ten even after this loss, so while they probably still have more ground to fall they would still likely be a 2 seed in the Tournament if the season ended now.

#20 Georgetown 69, #7 Villanova 66
Georgetown has looked shaky at times this year, but this is the best they've looked. Their ball handling has been a huge problem all season (they've actually committed more turnovers than they've forced), and they will be very happy to nearly break even today against that intense full court trapping defense that Villanova runs (Georgetown had 13 turnovers, Villanova had 9). The Hoyas also had 19 assists on 24 made baskets, and hit 16-of-17 at the line. Meanwhile, while I often talk about how many teams often rely on too many three-point attempts, Villanova actually shot far too few in the first half. They attempted only three in the first half, and missed all of them, perhaps still recovering from that putrid shooting performance against Providence. But in the second half they hit 5-for-8 behind the arc (not counting two desperation misses in the final seconds). They can get streaky behind the arc, but that outside shooting opens up not only driving lanes but also offensive rebounding. The Nova big men are undersized but strong and athletic, and they do well at chasing down long offensive rebounds. But clutch play down the stretch made this a huge win for Georgetown, particularly in a game where they got nothing from Chris Wright (0 points, 6 assists, 4 turnovers).

With this win Georgetown moves back above .500 in the Big East at 5-4, and now they head home to play Louisville and then Providence. Despite all of those conference losses Georgetown is still 10-5 against the RPI Top 100, including 6-5 against the RPI Top 50, with wins over Missouri, Utah State, Old Dominion, St. John's and now Villanova. Their RPI is 5th, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be closer to 10th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be a 3-4 seed in the Tournament, and could potentially climb as high as a 2 if they finish strong. Villanova falls to 5-3 in conference play and also now has two keep home conference games, against Marquette and West Virginia. They are 8-4 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati and Temple, although they also have a questionable loss to Providence. Their RPI is 13th, which is close to where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will move to. They'd most likely be a 4 seed if the season ended now, and I don't see them moving too far in one direction or the other. They're likely looking at a 3-5 seed when the season ends.

Xavier 85, Richmond 62
No team has played better in the A-10 since conference play began than Xavier. They entered this game 6-0 in A-10 play and proceeded to destroy a good Richmond team in their own building. The star for Xavier, as per usual, was Tu Holloway, a scoring machine who had 33 points here to raise his season average up to 21 per game. As a whole the team hit 29-for-30 free throws, and at a strong 73% for the season (along with a low offensive turnover rate) they are very tough to come back on. While the computers aren't too impressed with Xavier yet (Pomeroy and Sagarin will likely rate them close to 60th when the new numbers come out tomorrow) they are now 7-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Butler, Temple, Dayton and Richmond, and only one questionable loss against Miami-Ohio. Their RPI is 21st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should slide just narrowly inside the Top 40. So if the season ended now they would be in the Field of 68, but only narrowly. They will have to finish at least 12-4 in conference play to stay in a good position for an at-large bid. Their next game is Wednesday night at Charlotte. Richmond is now 6-4 against the RPI Top 100, but their upset of Purdue over Thanksgiving weekend remains their only Top 50 win, and they have bad losses against Iona and Georgia Tech. Their RPI is 55th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely fall out of the Top 50. If the season ended now they'd be one of the last teams in or out of the Field of 68. They are 5-2 in A-10 play and need to get to 11-5 or better to be in a good position for an at-large bid heading into the A-10 tournament. They have a stretch of four games coming up against weak opponents (St. Joe's, Fordham, George Washington and Saint Louis), and cannot afford to lose any of them.

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