Saturday, February 05, 2011

Florida Beats Kentucky, Holds SEC East Lead

#23 Florida 70, #11 Kentucky 68
This was a great game - tight the entire way. Florida briefly built up an 11 point lead in the second half, but for the most part these two teams were never more than a few points apart. Kentucky shot uncharacteristically well behind the arc (7-for-12) and Florida shot uncharacteristically well at the line (18-for-22, compared to 64.7% on the season coming in). So both teams were playing well. Florida had two mental advantages - they had the homecourt (19 fouls called on Kentucky vs 11 on Florida), and they needed this victory more. This win propels Florida into a solid lead in the SEC East - they are one game in the loss column ahead of Tennessee, and two ahead of everybody else. But the reality is that Florida's toughest games are ahead of them. They still have to head to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, so taking care of those two teams at home this week was their best hope of winning a regular season SEC East title. This win also builds Florida's at-large credentials, which are actually becoming quite impressive. They are 11-2 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Florida State, Kansas State, Xavier, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia. They also have three bad losses (Jacksonsville, Mississippi State and South Carolina). Their RPI is 14th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will also be inside the Top 20. If the season ended now they'd be a 4-6 seed. They have two tricky games this next week: on the road at South Carolina on Wednesday, and at home vs Tennessee on Saturday.

I still believe Kentucky is the best team in the SEC. And their Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings will still be far and away the best in the conference even after this loss. But they have struggled against elite teams because of their youth. They are only 5-6 against the RPI Top 100 this season, which is a bad sign for any hopes of a long Tournament run. Kentucky is only 4-4 in SEC play, but they'll have plenty of opportunities to close ground on the leaders. They still have a home-and-home with both Vanderbilt and Tennessee, and they also will have a home game against Florida. Kentucky is undefeated at home this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if they stay undefeated at home all year long.

#4 Pittsburgh 71, Cincinnati 59
This was a ruthless defensive game from Pittsburgh. Their normally-explosive offense was sloppy (18 turnovers), but they held Cincy to a 34.9 eFG% with 14 turnovers for themselves. And so Pitt opened up a 17 point lead by halftime that they spread out to 21 in the early second half before cruising to the finish. Yancy Gates wasn't playing for Cincinnati, but the reality is that he's such a hit-or-miss player that there's no guarantee that he would have made much of an impact even if he had played. Pittsburgh is now 9-1, which makes them a full two games ahead of second place. They still have a home-and-home to play against both Villanova and West Virginia, and they've also got road games at Louisville and St. John's. Those games will decide whether Pitt can hang onto their conference lead. Barring a big collapse they will earn at least a share of the regular season Big East title. And that along with a Big East tournament victory will assure them a 1 seed. Although really, with the weakness of Kentucky and Washington, there's a real chance of two Big East teams earning 1 seeds.

Cincy is now 5-5 in Big East play. They are 16-5 overall, but the worry is their 2-5 record against the RPI Top 50, and the fact that even those Top 50 wins were over St. John's and Xavier. They still lack a real impressive win. They still have a home-and-home against Georgetown as well as road games against Marquette and Providence, and home games against Louisville and UConn. So they'll have plenty more chances for big wins. A 9-9 Big East finish should lock Cincy into an at-large bid.

#22 Arizona 107, California 105, 3OT
Lamont Jones had the game of his life in a wild, wild game for Arizona. He had a three-point play to tie things up at the end of regulation, then hit a three-pointer with five seconds left in the second overtime to send the game to a third overtime. And finally, in that third overtime, it was Jones that scored the layup that gave Arizona their final lead. Jones ended up with 27 point on 9-for-18 shooting. Arizona has done a good job of avoiding Washington's current predicament by taking care of business in close games. Arizona's Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings will be nearly identical to Washington's after tonight's results, but Arizona is 4-1 in games decided by five or fewer points this season. So unlike Washington, Arizona currently has no fear of falling to the NIT. Arizona lacks any wins inside the RPI Top 40, but they also only have one RPI 50+ loss (Oregon State). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is inside the Top 25, and they also are in the driver's seat for a Pac-10 regular season title. They now have a full eight days to prepare for a road game at Arizona State. They will play Washington again on February 19th (Washington won the match-up at their place a couple of weeks ago.

California is a good team. They don't have any blatant weakness. And they did a great job of putting together a tough strength of schedule - something which always appeals to the Selection Committee. The problem is, you've got to win some of those tough games. Cal is 6-5 in the Pac-10, but only 1-9 against the RPI Top 50 and only 13-10 overall. They can still make a run at an at-large bid, but only if they get on a three or four game winning streak. They next have road games at the two Washington schools followed by home games against the two Los Angeles schools - all good chances for quality wins.

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