Saturday, February 26, 2011

BYU Beats San Diego State. Possible 1 Seed?

#7 BYU 80, #4 San Diego State 67
Many casual national viewers tuned into this game to watch The Jimmer Show. Honestly, he's been better. He did have 25 points and 9 assists, but he shot 8-for-23 from the field. BYU won this game going away because of two things. First, BYU players not named Jimmer Fredette hit a combined 10-for-16 on threes. Second, BYU did a great job of packing the paint with defenders. They knew that SDSU would get their share of offensive rebounds (a 35.9 OR% in this game), but wanted to make it difficult for them to convert those into baskets, and to force SDSU to run as much of its offense as possible far away from the basket. SDSU's backcourt has nothing on their frontcourt, and their offense couldn't get going when they couldn't get those easy baskets in the paint. BYU also forced their style of play onto this game by pushing the ball - they blew open this game early during a period of frenetic pace. It was actually bizarre at one point when the CBS announcing team (I believe it was Verne Lundquist, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr) all seemed to agree that SDSU needed to push the pace to try to get back into the game. I'm constantly flummoxed when announcers say things with authority that aren't just disputed - they're flat out false. SDSU, because they are so dominant inside and on the boards, wants a deliberate pace. They are averaging 63.7 possessions per game this season, which makes them the 302nd fastest in the nation. BYU is tremendous in transition offense because they generate so much offense from their guards and because it prevents opposing teams from setting their anti-Jimmer defense. BYU is 20th in the nation with 72.1 possessions per game.

This game had tremendous meaning for both teams. Barring a couple of shocking upsets, BYU will win the Mountain West regular season title. That means more than it usually does, because right now it looks like UNLV is going to be the 3 seed, and the Mountain West tournament is being played on UNLV's home floor. That gives SDSU a significantly harder path to the MWC title game than BYU. If BYU can win out and wins the Mountain West tournament, a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is definitely possible, although it will be out of their hands. They will need some help from some of the five teams currently ahead of them in the pecking order (Duke, Pitt, Ohio State, Kansas and Texas). San Diego State probably can't get a 1 seed now, although they're still in a good position for a 2 seed. They might actually find themselves playing for that 2 seed in the Mountain West semifinals against UNLV. SDSU did win by six at UNLV two weeks ago, so they can definitely do it again.

#25 St. John's 81, #14 Villanova 68
Has any team been hotter than St. John's lately? And they proved here that it's not just the magic of Madison Square Garden - they won this game on the road at The Pavilion. Dwight Hardy is putting his name in the hat as a potential Big East Player of the Year and continued his run with 34 points here. The team shot 10-for-22 as a team behind the arc, committed only ten turnovers and blew Villanova out on the boards (a 38.5 OR% compared to a 20.6 OR% for Villanova). The Johnnies have now won six in a row to get to 11-5 in the Big East. Remember when they were 11-8 on the season and I was worried their record would be too close to .500 for them to get an at-large bid. They've gone 8-1 since then and are now 19-9 with an 8-6 record against the RPI Top 50 and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS rating that should be up near 12th. You can make an argument that if the season ended now they'd actually be a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It's been a remarkable turnaround. The caveat? They are 5-1 in Big East play in games decided by five points or less, and so both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated them outside the Top 30 coming into this game. They've been playing wonderfully for the past few weeks, but there's no guarantee that play will continue. St. John's hasn't been in a meaningful postseason situation in almost a decade, and it's impossible to know how they're going to respond mentally. The Johnnies will play on Thursday at Seton Hall, and then next Saturday at home against South Florida. If they win both they'll lock up a double-bye in the Big East tournament.

As for Villanova, it's worth pointing out that not only have they lost six of their last ten, but two of those wins have been an overtime victory over DePaul and a three point victory over Seton Hall. They're 9-7 in Big East play and close with brutal road games at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Notre Dame is overrated and can be beat, but I don't see how this Villanova team can win at The Pete. So realistically they're not finishing better than 10-8, which gives them a realistic shot of being relegated to the first round of the Big East tournament. This team could plummet all the way to a 6 or 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they don't stop this slide soon.

UTEP 74, Memphis 47
It's hard to find a bubble team that has been more pathetic the past eight days than Memphis. One week after an embarrassing 15 point loss at Rice they now suffer this 27 point drubbing at UTEP. The Memphis offense has been ugly all year (too much one-on-one play, too many rushed shots), but it's gotten embarrassing. In the losses to Rice and UTEP the team has scored a combined 0.71 PPP. Let me throw out some stats from this debacle against UTEP: 20 turnovers vs 8 assists, 1-for-18 behind the arc, 12-for-21 at the line. With so many athletic athletic, talented scorers, how is that possible?

Even after this loss, Memphis is 9-6 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI of 34th, but that gets less impressive when you break it down. Their only RPI Top 60 wins have come against UAB (twice) and Southern Miss (twice), and they've got bad losses to Rice and SMU. Memphis will still have a Sagarin ELO_CHESS in the low-to-mid 40s after this loss, but in my opinion they'd be in the NIT if the season ended now. Memphis finishes the regular season at East Carolina on Wednesday, and then at home against Tulane on Saturday. Assuming they win both of those easy games and then make it to at least the CUSA tournament semifinals, they'll at least have a case on Selection Sunday, but it might not be enough. The bubble will tighten up. And besides, the way Memphis is playing offense right now, why can't they lose to East Carolina?

UTEP moves to 21-8 and 9-5 against Conference USA with this win, and this win is also their first against the RPI Top 50. They do have three RPI 100+ losses (Georgia Tech, Pacific and East Carolina), which is why their RPI is 70th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be closer to 85th, even after this big win. They are a good team that should be considered a contender in the CUSA tournament, but they're still a long shot for an at-large bid. Their next game will be Wednesday against Marshall.

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