Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Pitt Survives WVU Without Ashton Gibbs

#4 Pittsburgh 71, West Virginia 66
It's become very clear that almost none of the announcers that call college basketball games have learned to discern between a team that plays with a slow pace and a team that is bad at offense. Pittsburgh is in that club, along with Notre Dame, Georgetown and Wisconsin. All of those teams are better offensively than defensively but play at slow paces and so are stereotyped on television as defense-first teams that grind out victories. Pitt's offense is, in fact, arguably the best in the nation. But it was asking a lot for them to overcome a good West Virginia team that is a heated rival on the road without Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs will be out for 10-14 days, and he is the team's best shooter, best offensive creator, and most efficient overall offensive player. So without as many open shots and made shots the onus fell on the rebounders, and Pitt did a tremendous job of working the boards. Pitt had a 49% offensive rebound percentage, while West Virginia's was 22%. And that was the difference in this game, because the turnovers were identical (10), West Virginia had more blocks, steals and assists, and also shot better. Pitt moves to 10-1 and remains a full two games ahead of the pack in the Big East. They still have a home-and-home with Villanova and a road game at Louisville, but it's looking increasingly likely that they will eventually lock up the Big East regular season title.

For West Virginia the star was Deniz Kilicli, who had 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field, doing almost all of his damage with a seemingly-unstoppable hook shot that he could take with both his left and right hands. West Virginia is not a good shooting team, so if they can consistently get this type of shooting from Kilicli it will really improve their offensive efficiency and open things up for perimeter shooters like Casey Mitchell. In Big East play this year, for the most part, West Virginia has been taking care of the bottom of the conference and losing against the top teams. That leaves them at 6-5 but with still a lot of tough games left, with road games at Syracuse and Pitt, as well as home games against UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville. West Virginia's ELO_CHESS is 22nd, so they can afford to lose against a bunch of those teams without falling out of the Tournament, but they've got to win at least one of those aforementioned games. I think they need to get to 9-9 to stay in a good position for an at-large bid.

#2 Kansas 103, #20 Missouri 86
We've known all season long that Missouri's defense really struggles if they aren't forcing a lot of turnovers. They are averaging a 24.5% turnover percentage this season, and you had to figure they'd need at least that much to pull the road upset of Kansas. But not only did they not even come close (11 turnovers in 72 possessions = a 15.3% turnover rate) but Kansas shot particularly well (11-for-19 behind the arc). It wasn't a huge surprise - Mizzou's defense has been far better at home than on the road all season long. That said, Missouri should be very encouraged by their offense in this game. I was particularly impressed with Phil Pressey, a freshman who became Mizzou's top offensive playmaker in the second half and ended up with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting (including 4-for-5 behind the arc), 6 assists and 1 turnover.

Missouri falls to 4-5 in Big 12 play but their remaining schedule really eases up. Their next two games, at home against Oklahoma and Texas Tech, are as close to gimme games as you can have in the Big 12. Mizzou will be a double-digit favorite for both games. With wins over Vanderbilt, Illinois, Old Dominion and Kansas State, and zero bad losses (a road loss at Colorado is the worst) Missouri should lock up a Tournament bid if they get to 8-8, and I'll be shocked if they don't get there. Kansas is beginning to heat up with four straight dominating (15+ point margin) wins. I still view them as the favorites in the Big 12. Texas will lose at least once and I think Kansas has a really good shot to win out in the regular season (Pomeroy rates it as a better-than-40% shot, and if anything I think their odds are better than that). And regardless, I expect Kansas to win the Big 12 tournament. Even if Kansas does lose another game, a Big 12 tournament championship will lock up a 1 seed for them.

Southern Illinois 56, Wichita State 53
This game was like going back in a time machine to 2006. Southern Illinois came out and absolutely shut down the best offense in the Missouri Valley. Wichita State entered this game with a 54.3 eFG%, good for 21st best in the nation. SIU held them to a 38.7 eFG%. Offensively SIU got a big performance from Carlton Fay, their premier frontcourt scorer for seemingly ever, who had 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the field. What was different relative to the year 2006? The fact that for most of the rest of this season SIU has been awful. In fact, this was by far the biggest shocker of the night. Pomeroy projected a 17 point victory for WSU, Sagarin predicted 18. SIU's once feared defense (rated among the ten best in the nation by Pomeroy for both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons) came into this game rated 145th. Even with this win SIU is 5-9 and almost assured of a position in the bottom half of a relatively weak Missouri Valley. If SIU can find this type of performance again they might pull another upset or two, but they don't even have a shot of making the NIT this season.

This is a really tough loss for Wichita State. It's not their fault that their conference is having a down year, but the fact that they didn't collect a big win out-of-conference is. Wichita State is 0-3 against the RPI Top 50 this season, and this now represents an RPI 100+ loss. This loss drops their RPI out of the Top 50, and there's a good chance that their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will follow. The good news for Wichita State is that they've got three quality road opponents to go: Northern Iowa, Missouri State and Evansville. If they can win out then they will still have a good shot at an at-large bid should they fall in the Missouri Valley tournament. They certainly have a better chance than any other team in the Missouri Valley.

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