Missouri State 69, Wichita State 64
The Missouri Valley Conference is way down this year, but games in that conference are still so much fun to watch. The crowds are great out there. In my opinion, it's the most underrated conference to watch on television. WSU's David Kyle hit a 25-footer to tie the game with under 90 seconds left, and MSU's Adam Leonard responded by hitting his own three. Kyle tried to match again but missed and MSU came down with the ball and was fouled. I thought the roof was going to blow off the building. Missouri State hit enough free throws to put the game away, to lock up their first ever Missouri Valley regular season title.
Missouri State swept the season series with Wichita State and they'll be the #1 seed in the Missouri Valley tournament. So naturally, MSU is the tournament favorite, right? Not necessarily. I actually think WSU has the edge, and not just because WSU is rated better by both Sagarin and Pomeroy. If you break down the games, in neither game was MSU clearly the "better" team. In the game at WSU, the Shockers hit 27% on threes while MSU hit 50% on threes, and the Shockers only lost by three points. WSU had 5 more steals, 5 more offensive rebounds, shot better on two-pointers and basically identical on free throws. So in my opinion, WSU was "better" on that day, and MSU simply got uncharacteristically hot behind the arc. The game today at MSU? MSU had 5 more offensive rebounds but also one more turnover, and they shot very poorly from the line. The difference in the game was actually reffing - WSU was called for 8 more fouls and MSU earned 17 more free throw attempts. In my opinion, the game was a wash - both teams were approximately equal and a few generous home town calls carried MSU through. And clearly WSU has been better in non-head-to-head games this season than MSU. So in my opinion, WSU is still the favorite, and I'm keeping them the favorite in the BP68 I put out tonight.
One other question from this is as follows: let's say I'm right and Missouri State loses in the Missouri Valley tournament finals to Wichita State. Can they earn an at-large bid? In that scenario they will beat SIU or Illinois State in the quarterfinals, and then will beat either Northern Iowa or Creighton in the semifinals, and then will lose to Wichita State in the finals. That will make them 25-8 with their two wins over Wichita State being their only against the RPI Top 100. They'll have three RPI 100+ losses (Evansville, Indiana State and Northern Iowa). In that scenario their RPI might stay near the Top 50, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be outside the Top 60. With the lack of big wins I don't see how that nets them an at-large bid. They've got to win Arch Madness to go Dancing.
#20 Syracuse 58, #11 Georgetown 51
Georgetown is hoping to have Chris Wright back for the NCAA Tournament, but that seems like a stretch to me. Even if it's his non-shooting wrist, it's still a broken wrist. How can he play on that in two and a half weeks? And without Wright, this is just a completely different Georgetown team offensively. Wright is the team's primary offensive playmaker, and without him they tend to stagnate. Austin Freeman played well in this game, but Georgetown needs somebody else to step up offensively, and nobody did in this game. Credit goes to the Syracuse defense, which has actually been better on the road than at home this season (a 46.5 eFG% allowed at home, versus a 44.4 eFG% allowed on the road). Syracuse held Georgetown to 44% shooting on two-pointers in this game, and a 43.0 eFG%, as they overcame their own mediocre offensive performance (0.97 PPP).
Syracuse has won four straight games to get to 11-6 overall, and assuming that they beat DePaul next Saturday they will have a decent shot at a double-bye in the Big East tournament. At the very least they've locked up a single-bye. With this win Syracuse is 8-4 against the RPI Top 50 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should move into the Top Ten. They'd most likely be a 3 seed if the season ended today, and they definitely can move up to a 2 seed with a strong Big East tournament performance. Georgetown falls to 10-7 with a road game at Cincinnati remaining, and I would make even a fully healthy Georgetown team the underdog at Cincinnati. Of course, Georgetown went 10-8 in the Big East last season and still got a 3 seed, so they still can earn a good NCAA Tournament seed. Georgetown fans should worry more about Chris Wright getting healthy as soon as possible than about their NCAA Tournament seed anyway.
Kansas State 80, #21 Missouri 70
If you read Luke Winn's power rankings this week (and if you're not reading it weekly you should start) he did a really interesting breakdown on home-vs-road team efficiencies. He broke down the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Missouri Valley. Two things stood out. First, the two teams that were better on the road than at home were BYU and Syracuse, and judging by results today that will not change. Syracuse is not a surprise - I've always found their home crowd muted in that gigantic dome. But BYU is a surprise, since they've had such a famously strong homecourt advantage over the years. The other interesting thing I noticed was that Kansas State and Missouri might have been the two teams with the most dramatic drop-offs on the road. In other words, I hope you picked the home team to win this game. Missouri is now 1-6 in Big 12 road games this season.
Why has Missouri been so awful on the road? Defensive pressure. At home their press is so much more effective, either because they are feeding off the crowd or because the crowd is intimidating their opponents. Missouri is forcing turnovers on a staggering 23.6% of defensive possessions at home, compared to 16.2% on the road. Missouri's half court defense is mediocre, and it's particularly bad in transition when teams break their press, so as go turnovers so goes the Mizzou scoring defense. This season Missouri is allowing 1.09 PPP on the road and 0.84 at home. You can compare that to their offense, which is scoring 1.12 PPP at home and 1.07 on the road. Kansas State in general is sloppy with the ball (they are turning the ball over on 22.3% of possessions in Big 12 play, which is second worst in the conference), so they continued that here with 17 turnovers (a 24% turnover percentage). But Missouri can't just hold a team to approximately their season average on turnovers or they're going to get burned, and K-State indeed burned them for 80 points on a 58.3 eFG%.
As easy as it's been to beat Missouri at home this season this is still a big win for Kansas State. They move to 8-6 in the Big 12 and a more respectable 2-6 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Kansas, Missouri, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech, and zero bad losses. Their RPI is all the way up to 26th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be close to 30th as well. They will play at Texas on Monday, and then Iowa State at home next Saturday. With a split there and a win in the Big 12 tournament they should lock up an at-large bid. Missouri, on the other hand, doesn't have to worry about the bubble. They should be worrying about a Tuesday night game at Nebraska - their final chance to beat an RPI Top 100 team in the road this season. If they fall there then they will have to do some damage in the Big 12 tournament, to prove to both themselves and to the Selection Committee that they can beat quality teams away from home.