Saturday, February 26, 2011

Michigan Bounces Back At Minnesota

Michigan 70, Minnesota 63
Tim Hardaway, Jr led all scorers with 22 points, but Michigan won this game because of Darius Morris. Minnesota is extremely thin in the backcourt and often plays with four forwards, which makes it so difficult for them to guard a Michigan team that basically plays four guards at all times. Morris in particular is hard for anybody to guard one-on-one, and he was attacking the Minnesota defense with reckless abandon in the second half as Michigan came back from a late deficit to score a huge victory. Morris not only scored on those drives (8-for-14 on two-pointers), but he also set up his teammates with seven assists.

You have to give Michigan credit for bouncing back in a strong way from that heartbreaking buzzer beater loss to Wisconsin. They're now 8-9 in the Big Ten with only a home game against Michigan State left. They already won at the Breslin Center, but MSU is playing a lot better now than they were back then. Should Michigan win, though, they'll enter the Big Ten tournament 3-8 against the RPI Top 50 with a Top 50 RPI of their own. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is already in the Top 50. If they can beat Michigan State and then win a game in the Big Ten tournament, they'll at least be in the discussion on Selection Sunday. But honestly, I think they need to do even more than that to feel good about their at-large chances.

Minnesota has fallen like a rock. They've lost 7 of 8 and are now 6-10 in Big Ten play with three RPI Top 50 wins (North Carolina, West Virginia and Purdue) and two RPI 100+ losses (Indiana and Virginia). They finish the season at Northwestern on Wednesday, and then at The Barn next Sunday against Penn State. I don't think any team is making the NCAA Tournament with a record four games under .500 in conference play, so Minnesota really needs to win those last two games. They have quality wins, so if they can win those last two games and then one game in the Big Ten tournament they should be in good shape. But I just really can't see a 7-11 Minnesota team making the NCAA Tournament. For Minnesota the NCAA Tournament has already begun - they can't afford a loss.

#22 Kentucky 76, #13 Florida 68
I'm not sure anybody could have expected a different result in this game. Kentucky came into this one having won 33 straight at home, while they're 1-6 in SEC road games. There's no clear reason for this - all aspects of their game are far better at home than on the road. At home this season they are scoring 1.19 PPP and allowing 0.85, while on the road they are scoring 1.04 PPP and allowing 0.99. First of all, think for a second about how dominant that home performance is. Often it's hard for fans to truly swallow PPP numbers since we're used to thinking in points per game. So to break that into points per game, the average score of Kentucky home games this season is 83.5-59.7. Almost a 24 point margin! On the road, they are averaging a 72.3-68.6 victory. The reason they're outscoring their opponents on the road but losing so many games? Mostly it's just luck. You'll hear a lot of sports writers saying that Kentucky is too young to win close games, and that this proves that they won't do well in the NCAA Tournament. Nonsense. First of all, Kentucky has lost their last five games by an average of 2.2 points per. When you lose a game by 2 points there's a lot of luck involved. Second of all, Kentucky went on a neutral court way back in November and won a close game over Washington - so they obviously do have the ability to beat an elite team away from home. Kentucky will play Tuesday against Vanderbilt, but the bigger test will be next Sunday at Tennessee. It will be good for Kentucky's self-confidence, if nothing else, for them to finish a game off against a good team on the road.

Even with this loss Florida is in the driver's seat in the SEC East. With a win at home on Tuesday night against Alabama they will clinch it. Florida is now a ridiculous 13-3 against the RPI Top 100, although they don't have any truly elite wins. Their best wins came against Xavier, Kansas State, Kentucky, Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt. They've also got a few bad losses (Jacksonville, Mississippi State, South Carolina). Florida's RPI is 12th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will only be narrowly inside the Top 20. I've seen them getting some hype as a potential 2 seed if they win out, but I don't see it. Realistically I don't see them getting any higher than a 3 seed, even if they win out. And I don't expect them to win out anyway.

Mississippi State 70, Tennessee 69
The way traveling is called in basketball has never made sense to me. If a guy is 40 feet from the basket and is holding the ball and accidentally drags his pivot foot 1 inch he gets called for a travel every time, yet in a fast break situation we've all agreed that a player can take two (or often three) steps? Mississippi State scored the winning bucket in this game when Dee Bost attacked the basket, took two steps, and passed to Wendell Lewis for a dunk with three seconds left. When looking at a replay the color guy calling the game (Jimmy Dykes? I forget) counted out the steps: "Okay, let's count the steps: one... two... and then the pass. Good call, it's not a travel". Wait, what? When did we all decide that two steps is okay when gaining an advantage, but it's illegal when you're not gaining an advantage (dragging your foot 1 inch, 40 feet from the basket). But sorry, Tennessee fans, you didn't get "robbed", per se. That's just the way it's called. You guys have benefited from that rule plenty of times yourselves. And the reality is that if Tennessee hadn't shot 5-for-23 on threes or 16-for-23 at the free throw line or turned the ball over 17 times, they wouldn't have had to depend on a traveling call in the final five seconds of the game at home against Mississippi State.

This bad loss puts pressure on a Tennessee team that still hasn't locked up an NCAA Tournament bid. In fact, with a 7-7 SEC record, I think they'll be in really big trouble if they lose both of their remaining games. With a road game at South Carolina and a home game against Kentucky (Kentucky is 1-6 in SEC road games), Tennessee should win at least one. If they win both games they'll lock up an at-large bid. If they split those two games they'll still have some work to do in the SEC tournament. Mississippi State moves to 7-7 themselves, and into a tie for second place in the SEC West with Arkansas. Getting second place and the bye will mean a lot, so MSU has a big game up next at Arkansas on Wednesday night.

1 comment:

Evan Christopher Burke said...

Yeah Michian! Can't wait for state!