Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kansas State Gets Desperately-Needed Win

Kansas State 84, #1 Kansas 66
The Kansas reign at #1 certainly didn't last long... Although honestly, anybody trying to come to grand conclusions about Kansas State being back are missing the point. This game was a fluke. Kansas State is a streak-shooting team and they were white hot here. They hit 50% on threes, 58% on twos and 83% on free throws, with the latter number being most jarring considering their 62% team free throw shooting percentage coming in. If they had shot their season average from the field they'd have lost this game pretty badly. But Kansas State did get a win, and it was huge for a number of reasons. First of all, Kansas was 42-2 in their previous 44 games against their in-state rival. Also, a loss here would have dropped Kansas State to 4-7 in Big 12 play with several tough games remaining, including a road game at Texas. They can't finish worse than 8-8 and still have a good shot at the NCAA Tournament, so being 5-6 keeps them right in things. Kansas State does have wins over Virginia Tech, Gonzaga, Baylor and Washington State, and zero bad losses. But it's going to be asking a lot for Kansas State to make the Tournament if they fall to 7-9 in Big 12 play, even if they play well in the Big 12 tournament.

For Kansas, the reality is that this loss doesn't mean a whole lot. If they can avoid another bad loss and then win the Big 12 tournament they'll be a lock for a 1 seed. Their next game is Saturday against Colorado. Kansas State plays Oklahoma on Saturday. And they have to be wary - with as pesky as Oklahoma has been the past few weeks, K-State can't afford to follow up this huge win by stumbling to an RPI 100+ home loss.

George Mason 71, VCU 51
Few people understand how impressive this win was for George Mason. First of all, VCU is a good team. According to the computers a win at VCU is approximately equivalent to a home victory over UConn or Missouri. And to not only win, but to win by 20? The 9-for-16 three-point shooting inflated the final score, but George Mason was tremendous offensively with 17 assists on 23 made shots, and only 11 turnovers. George Mason has now won 12 straight, and several of those have been really impressive. They beat Old Dominion by 17, Drexel by 24, Hofstra by 19 and James Madison by 14. So that means that during this stretch they've beaten the five other top teams in the Colonial standings by double digits. The computers have been as impressed as I am, and both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as a Top 30 team. The concern for George Mason is that their schedule has been soft. Their biggest wins out-of-conference were against Duquesne and Harvard, and they have bad losses to Wofford and NC State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 26th, but that could drop quickly if they lose a bad game or two. George Mason will play at Northern Iowa on Saturday, and then finish the regular season against bottom-feeders Northeastern and Georgia State. At this point, even if George Mason loses at UNI, avoiding a bad loss in those final two regular season games should pretty much lock up an at-large bid for them.

Many analysts view George Mason and Old Dominion as likely NCAA Tournament teams out of the Colonial, and if the league was going to get a third at-large bid it would have to be VCU. VCU does have 20 wins and they're 12-4 in CAA play with wins over Old Dominion and UCLA, along with bad losses to South Florida, Georgia State and Northeastern. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is now 65th, and there's no question they'll need to have that inside the Top 50 to have a real shot on Selection Sunday. They don't have the big time wins a team needs to get in when outside the Top 50. They have a big opportunity on Friday night at Wichita State. If they can't win there then it's hard to see VCU having a realistic path to an at-large bid.

Virginia Tech 91, Maryland 83
An interesting match-up between two teams that have struggled in close games and are liked a lot more by the computers than they'll be liked by the Selection Committee. The winner ended up being the home team, and Virginia Tech has quietly run their ACC record up to 7-4. I was really impressed with Malcolm Delaney in this one because he couldn't hit a shot and still ended up finding a way to be extremely productive. He hit 3-for-14 from the field but got to the line for 14 free throws (he hit all 14) and had 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 0 turnovers. He was a big reason that Virginia Tech had only 8 turnovers in 78 possessions. Virginia Tech would almost surely be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. They've got wins over Florida State, Penn State, Maryland (twice) and Oklahoma State, along with weak losses to Virginia and Georgia Tech. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 47th. They still have to play Duke at home and Clemson on the road, but they'll be favored in their other three games. If they can win three of those five games (to get to 10-6 in ACC play) and then win a game in the ACC tournament they should be able to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

As for Maryland, I don't think there's another team in the country more loved by the computers relative to what their resume actually looks like. The Terps are rated as a Top 20 team by both Sagarin and Pomeroy, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 74th. They are 16-10 and 5-6 in the ACC with wins over Clemson and Penn State and no bad losses. But those nice wins aren't very impressive for a major conference team, and neither is that 5-6 record in a down ACC. I think Maryland needs a 4-1 finish to their regular season to get to 9-7. It won't be impossible for them to get an at-large bid if they finish 8-8, but they'll need to reach the ACC tournament championship game. Their next game will be Sunday against NC State.

No comments: