#16 Louisville 62, #6 Pittsburgh 59, OT
By now, everybody and their sister has heard about the idiot male cheerleader on Louisville who ran on the court and threw the ball up in the air in celebration, unaware that there were still 0.4 seconds remaining. This allowed Pitt to get two technical free throws and gave them a desperation attempt to tie the game that they missed. I was watching the game live, and my favorite quote came from one of the announcers after the game was over when the camera was zoomed in on the offending cheerleader. I'll paraphrase the quote as I remember it: "Only the equipment manager will know just how nervous he was on that final shot attempt." As humorous as that situation was, it overshadowed what was a great win, and a tremendous defensive performance from Louisville. Pitt has one of the five best offenses in the nation, and Louisville stopped them cold. Louisville forced 15 turnovers and held Pitt to a 45.3 eFG%. Overall, Pitt was held to 0.85 PPP. To put that in perspective, Pitt hadn't been held below 0.97 PPP all season. Probably the most underrated part of the performance was on the boards. Pitt is second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and it's a huge reason why their offense is so efficient. Louisville, though not normally a very good defensive rebounding team, held Pitt to a 25% offensive rebounding percentage - their lowest of the entire season.
Louisville has won three straight to get to 11-5 in Big East play. If they can win their two remaining regular season games (vs Providence, at West Virginia) they will lock up one of the four coveted double-byes in the Big East tournament, and will potentially finish as high as second place. At 8-5 against the RPI Top 50 and with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that's up to 14th, they would be in contention for a 3 seed if the season ended now. If they can win their final two games and do some damage in the Big East tournament, a 2 seed isn't entirely out of the question.
Pitt's lead is down a single game over Notre Dame. They will be favored in their final two games (at USF, vs Villanova), and might need to take care of business in both to hang onto that outright Big East title. Another worry for Pitt has to be the increasing support that BYU is getting for a 1 seed. Even assuming that Pitt wins their final two games, they might need to win the Big East tournament to lock up a 1 seed. Certainly Pitt fans will be watching closely as the muddled Big East standings start to clear up, as they get a better idea of what kind of route they'll have to take through the Big East tournament. The double-bye, which they've already clinched, will be a huge help. Don't forget that Pitt has historically done very well at Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament.
#19 North Carolina 87, Maryland 76
I'm actually surprised that the North Carolina hype hasn't been louder in the media. They're normally one of the media darlings, yet casual fans at this point probably don't even know how large of a turnaround Harrison Barnes has made, and how well North Carolina has been playing over the past few weeks. Both of these teams like to run, and this game was played at a breakneck pace (81 possessions). It's easier for teams with inferior raw talent to hide that at a slow pace, but in a track meet it becomes very apparent which team has more athleticism. In this particular game, it became clear very early that Jordan Williams is the only Maryland player that could crack the North Carolina starting lineup. And Williams is more effective at a slower pace anyway - Maryland just doesn't have guards that can pressure and attack like Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall can. Strickland and Marshall combined for 18 assists and 5 turnovers in this game - a testament to how much better the team's ball control and passing have been since Larry Drew left.
North Carolina has won 10 of 11 to pull even in the ACC standings. They still have to get past a tricky road game at Florida State on Wednesday, but if they can then they'll head into a Saturday night game against Duke in Chapel Hill with the ACC title on the line. I have a feeling that the hype for UNC will get started before that game tips off. North Carolina only had one very good win out-of-conference (Kentucky), but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 17th. If the season ended now they'd be a 5 seed, but they can easily move up to a 4 or even a 3 if they win the ACC.
Maryland continues to search for a big scalp. They are 1-9 against the RPI Top 50, and the lone win was not particularly impressive (at home against Florida State). Their best non-conference win was against Penn State, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is still only 63rd. There's no question that if the season ended now they'd be out of the Tournament. They head into a big road game on Wednesday night at Miami. They should win their finale on Senior Night against Virginia, so if they can beat Miami then they'll likely finish 9-7 in ACC play, and a finish above .500 will mean a lot when you consider the lack of respect the Selection Committee will likely have for the conference. If they win both of those games they'll also likely set up a reasonable path through the ACC tournament. They'd almost definitely finish as the 5 seed, which would put them against Wake Forest in the first round, and then (most likely) Florida State or Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals. There could be an at-large bid on the line if that potential ACC quarterfinal match-up comes to pass.
Washington State 80, Washington 69
Washington is frustrating to watch because it's obvious that there's an elite team inside. Even if you put aside the computer numbers, you can see it in spurts. Even in this game I briefly saw the same team that beat Arizona by 18 points and won at UCLA by double-digits. With about 10:30 to go, Washington State led this game by 21, and the Huskies tried to get back in the game with a full court press that began forcing steals and delivering easy baskets. They went on a 24-10 run over the next 6:30, and got within six points before a tv timeout seemed to take the life and energy out of the crowd and the players. Washington self-destructed over the next few minutes with 0-for-4 shooting and 2 turnovers, and finally topped by a frustration technical foul on Venoy Overton. Even before the technical foul the game was over. Two stats that stand out to me from this game were 8-for-27 three-point shooting from Washington and 32-for-36 free throw shooting from Wazzu, which helped them put the game away in the final minutes.
For Washington, the story all season long has been offense, and the way that they've had stretches where they've seemed like one of the most explosive offenses in the land, and other stretches where it seemed they weren't ever going to score again. This season, Washington is 0-6 when scoring less than 1 PPP (this game against Wazzu was the sixth). Washington is 18-1 when scoring more than 1.06 PPP. And it's not like they're just struggling against good defenses. Their worst offensive output of the season actually came in a 68-56 loss to Oregon State, probably the worst defense in the entire Pac-10. Washington will come home this week to play USC and UCLA, arguably the two best defenses in the Pac-10, in games that they actually need to have. The Huskies have fallen to 10-6 in the Pac-10 and have fewer RPI Top 50 wins (2, against Arizona and UCLA) than RPI 100+ losses (3, against Oregon State, Stanford and Oregon), and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen all the way to 52nd. With the lack of big wins, I don't think Washington can make the NCAA Tournament unless they win at least two more games. If the bubble is strong, Washington might actually need three more wins between the regular season and Pac-10 tournament.
Washington State moves to 8-8 in Pac-10 play with this win, and they are also 6-7 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 76th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 70th. If they're going to make a run at an at-large bid they've really got to win their final two regular season games, at home against USC and UCLA. If the season ended now the Pac-10 tournament would actually have a quarterfinal match-up of Washington vs Washington State, and a match-up like that could potentially be an at-large elimination game. Certainly Wazzu will need to make some noise in the Pac-10 tournament, against whoever they face, to avoid the NIT.