#8 Purdue 67, Michigan State 47
When Michigan State had their awful stretch a month ago where they lost five of six games, the primary reason was atrocious defense. I detailed all the stats showing that in a post here. Even during the worst of their slump, Michigan State's offense was still moving along with an okay efficiency. But in this slaughter last night (at the Breslin Center, mind you), it was Michigan State's offense was that a joke. MSU had a 34.2 eFG% and had more turnovers (12) than assists (11). They finished with 0.73 PPP, which was by far their worst offensive output of the season. Even in that 20 point loss to Iowa, which had previously been their worst offensive performance of the season and which had been seen by many as the nadir of the MSU season, they still managed 0.81 PPP. Obviously a lot of credit has to go to Purdue's defense. JaJuan Johnson was a monster in the paint with 7 blocks all by himself, Lewis Jackson is a tremendous one-on-one perimeter defender, and Purdue is as good of a team at rotating and helping on defense as anybody. But even by their standards this was unbelievable. The only two teams to perform worse offensively against Purdue this season were Alcorn State and Howard, two cupcakes that the Boilers destroyed to start the season in November. I should never have to talk about Michigan State's offense in the same sentence as Alcorn State and Howard.
So what to make of this? It's possible that Michigan State is just mentally weak. Usually when teams lose their mental focus it comes on defense, which is why I say that almost all losing streaks are caused by defensive slumps. But against Purdue, it's very easy to get frustrated offensively. So maybe Michigan State is just all around a mentally weak team. And that's a problem for a Spartans team that honestly still has a lot of work to do to lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State does have some strong aspects to their resume: wins over Washington, Wisconsin and Illinois, an 8-8 Big Ten record and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 35th. Their biggest problem is that they are only 15-12 against Division I teams this season, which is way too close to .500 to feel comfortable. They play against Iowa on Wednesday, and then head to Michigan on Saturday. Remember that Michigan already beat them at the Breslin Center, and obviously Iowa had their 20 point demolition when the teams played in Iowa City. If Michigan State does not sweep those two games then they will need at least one win in the Big Ten tournament.
#15 UConn 67, Cincinnati 59
UConn shot the lights out in this game (10-for-19 behind the arc), although Cincinnati did make a late run. In fact, UConn's Alex Oriakhi missed a free throw with 40 seconds to go and Yancy Gates came down with the rebound, with Cincy back within 7 points and the crowd ready for a great comeback... and then Jeremy Lamb stripped the ball right out of Gates's hands, taking the air out of the comeback and ending the game. This was a great bounce back road win for UConn after two straight losses. They still have two tough games to go (at West Virginia, vs Notre Dame), but at 9-7 in Big East play they're in a good position to earn a single bye in the Big East tournament. And despite that 9-7 conference record, they are 12-7 against the RPI Top 100, including 8-6 against the RPI Top 50, with no losses against a team with an RPI worse than 51st. That's why their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 12th and they remain very much in the hunt for a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Cincinnati is getting a reputation as a team that takes care of business but can't rise to the occasion about the big boys. They are 4-7 against the RPI Top 35 and 15-0 against everybody else. And those four wins (Xavier, St. John's, Georgetown Louisville) are good, but nowhere near the scalp collection that the big boys in the Big East have collected, particularly since that Georgetown win came in the game that Chris Wright was injured. Cincy's RPI is 39th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 16th, and in my opinion their NCAA Tournament seed will likely be in between those two. If the season ended now they'd be in the 5-8 seed range. They might still be one win away from completely locking up an at-large bid, but I expect them to get that. They play at Marquette on Wednesday and then get Georgetown at home on Saturday. And even if they do lose both of those they'll get dumped to the first round of the Big East tournament, where they should clean up against a team like DePaul or Rutgers. So Cincy should be in the NCAA Tournament, but just beware of picking them to go far in your bracket.
Xavier 66, Dayton 62
With the way Xavier has been playing lately, you have to give Dayton a lot of credit for fighting back from a 12 point second half deficit to nearly take them out. Tu Holloway was the man down the stretch for Xavier, scoring their last seven points, including two free throws to ice the game with six seconds remaining. For the game, Holloway had 26 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Holloway is scoring 20.5 points per game, including 21.1 in Atlantic Ten play, a number that leads the conference. Holloway has also locked up a spot in the "Here are the people you don't know yet that you should pay attention in the NCAA Tournament" columns that every lazy sportswriter will be putting out in two weeks. Xavier is rolling with 14 wins in their last 15 games, and they only need a win over Charlotte and St. Louis to finish the season to lock up the outright A-10 regular season title. Xavier does have zero wins against the RPI Top 25 along with two RPI 100+ losses (Charlotte and Miami-Ohio), but their RPI is 22nd and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 27th, and there's a wide gulf between them and the bubble right now. They'd probably have to lose every game between now and Selection Sunday to fall onto the bubble.
This loss is nearly a knock-out punch for Dayton's at-large chances. We can chalk this one up as another win for Sagarin and Pomeroy, which both were very down on Dayton, even when they were 13-3 with wins over George Mason and New Mexico and were getting tons of at-large hype. Coming into this game they were 6-0 in games decided by four points or less or in overtime, so they've been lucky. Even after this loss they are still 22nd in the Pomeroy Luck ratings. Dayton is now 19-10 with a 1-5 record against the RPI Top 50 (the George Mason win) and with bad losses to UMass and East Tennessee State, an RPI that is 63rd and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 67th. They'll have to win out at least through to the A-10 semifinals to have any shot at an at-large bid.