Saturday, February 19, 2011

St. John's Knocks Off Another Giant At The Garden

St. John's 60, #4 Pittsburgh 59
Ashton Gibbs came back for Pittsburgh in this game, but it wasn't enough to overcome the magic that St. John's has had at Madison Square Garden this season. What was particularly amazing was how Pitt fell apart down the stretch. Pitt led by three with two minutes remaining, and each team had three possessions the rest of the game. Pitt had two turnovers and one made basket. St. John's had 7 points, including rebounds on both of their missed shots. The poor rebounding was particularly shocking (St. John's fought to an effective draw on the boards the entire game) when you consider that Pitt entered this game first in the Big East in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage in conference games, while St. John's was dead last in offensive rebounding (a 29.8 OR% in Big East games).

The reality is that St. John's isn't as good as their resume. In Big East play they are 4-1 in games decided by three points or less (i.e. toss-up games). So they could easily be 5-9 in Big East play and hoping for an NIT bid, but instead they're 9-5 and have nearly locked themselves into the NCAA Tournament. They now have seven wins against the RPI Top 50, including three against the RPI Top 10. Their RPI is up to 13th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be inside the Top 20 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd actually be a 5-7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their remaining regular season schedule will have two easy home games (USF and DePaul) and two road games (Villanova and Seton Hall). At this point, even one win in those four games could be enough to lock up an at-large bid for St. John's. Both of those road games will be tough but they should be heavily favored in both of those home games. It's hard to see them finishing worse than 2-2 now.

For Pitt, the fact is that this game really just didn't mean much to them. Yes, a loss is always depressing. But Pitt still is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East regular season title, and they will earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can win the Big East tournament - which they should be favored to do. Pitt has a history of playing well at the Big East tournament, so I'd like their chances even if they weren't the best team in the Big East, which they are. Pitt's next game will be Thursday night against West Virginia.

Dayton 64, Duquesne 63
This was a tight battle the entire game, with the margin between the two teams only getting beyond one possession on a few brief occasions. The difference in this game was Dayton's height and athleticism in the paint. Duquesne entered this game with rebounding problems (Pomeroy rates their Effective Height 308th in the nation, and they were 333rd in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage), but the rebounding disparity was ridiculous in this game. Dayton had a 50% offensive rebound percentage while Duquesne had a 9% offensive rebound percentage. Dayton's 16 extra offensive rebounds helped them overcome poor ball handling (19 turnovers) to escape with a huge one point victory.

Dayton needed this win to keep their at-large hopes realistically alive. Even with this win they are only 7-6 in Atlantic Ten play with a 1-4 record against the RPI Top 50 (the one win was over George Mason) and two RPI 100+ losses (East Tennessee State and UMass). This win pushes their RPI up to 55th, and I think their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should slide inside the Top 60 as well. They now have eight days to prepare for a huge game, at home against Xavier. If they can win that one then they'll have two games left against A-10 bottom-feeders (Saint Louis, George Washington). Wins in all three games will have them right back on the bubble heading into the A-10 tournament.

Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate Duquesne as the second best team in the Atlantic Ten (behind Temple), but they have a remarkably horrible record in close games. Duquesne is 0-7 this season in games decided by single digits, and 17-1 in games decided by double-digits. Four of those losses have been by three points or less, or in overtime. I can't recall the last time I've seen a team with that bad of a disparity. Duquesne is a horrid 9-8 against the RPI Top 200 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will fall out of the Top 70 with this loss. They have a relatively tough schedule remaining (vs Rhode Island, at Saint Louis, vs St. Bonaventure, at Richmond), so they can get closer to the bubble if they can win all of those games. But even if they win all four games they'll still enter the A-10 tournament on the outside of the Field of 68.

Georgia 69, Tennessee 63
Tennessee came out asleep in this game, and Georgia was up 22-7 seemingly just moments after the opening tip. Tennessee fought back and actually grabbed a brief lead but couldn't hang on, despite a tremendous 32 point performance from Scotty Hopson (on 12-for-19 shooting from the field). This is Georgia's first road/neutral victory against the RPI Top 50 of the season, and that's always a good thing to have on Selection Sunday. Georgia still doesn't have a lot of big wins (their win over Kentucky is their only against the RPI Top 30), but they don't have any bad losses either (all eight losses have come against the RPI Top 50). Georgia's RPI is 45th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should move into the RPI Top 40 with this win. Georgia's non-conference schedule wasn't that tough (Pomeroy rates their non-conference SOS 183rd in the nation), but they did emerge with a couple of decent wins (UAB and Colorado) and zero bad losses (Temple, Xavier and Notre Dame were their only three losses). So with that and a Top 40 Sagarin ELO_CHESS, I don't see any way Georgia would be out of the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. That said, they still have work to do. They are 7-5 in SEC play and need to play at least 2-2 down the stretch to stay in the Field of 68. Their next game is their toughest remaining: at Florida on Thursday night.

Tennessee falls to 16-11 with this loss, including losses to Charlotte, Oakland, USC, Charleston and Arkansas. Of course, they've also got wins over Pittsburgh, Villanova, Vanderbilt and Memphis. They are 5-5 against the RPI Top 50. With this loss their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall out of the Top 50, but even when the Tournament only had 65 teams we typically saw one or two teams each year from outside the Top 50 getting an at-large bid, and Tennessee has the perfect resume for that (a lot of big wins). I'd like to see Tennessee finish 3-1 down the stretch to feel comfortable about their at-large chances, though. Key games will be on Tuesday at Vanderbilt, and on March 6th against Kentucky.

No comments: