Thursday, February 03, 2011

Syracuse, Villanova Bounce Back

#17 Syracuse 66, #7 UConn 58
Pronouncements of Syracuse's demise were greatly exaggerated, with media types again falling for the flaw of drawing too many conclusions out of one or two games. I saw a lot of people on tv talking about how this losing streak was different than a normal losing streak because of the 22 point loss to Seton Hall, but as I pointed out, Syracuse actually played better in that game than they did the last time they played Seton Hall - which was back when the same media "experts" were hailing Syracuse as arguably the best team in the nation. The fact that Seton Hall hit every open shot they saw on one night, and missed every open shot from more than five feet from the hoop on another night, has nothing to do with how good Syracuse is. It's just luck, and Syracuse went from being a lucky team to an unlucky team. The Cuse won this game by manhandling UConn inside. They ended up with 8 more offensive rebounds and 5 fewer turnovers, which helped them overcome a 40.6 eFG%.

Syracuse is 6-4 in Big East play after this win, only a half game out of second place. Of course, there are eight teams in the Big East right now with three or four wins, so Syracuse could easily finish in second place... or 9th place. I expect them to be much closer to second. They head to USF on Saturday, and next Wednesday will play Georgetown at home. They do still have road games left against Villanova, Louisville and Georgetown, so they are going to have plenty more chances to collect quality wins. UConn has now lost two straight at home, but both games were tight and both were against teams rated in the Top 20 by both Sagarin and Pomeroy. UConn's rating, which has been right around 20th all season, is now 19th in the Pomeroy ratings and 22nd in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. The Huskies are only 5-4 in Big East play, but the toughest part of their schedule is over. Their next three games will be against Seton Hall, Saint John's and Providence.

#12 Villanova 75, Marquette 70
The national story out of this game was Villanova bouncing back after two straight losses, but the story for me is how brutal of a loss this is for Marquette. The Golden Eagles have lost so many close games this season, and after finally closing the deal against Syracuse I thought maybe they were over the hump. And in this game they spent the entire night about five points back of Villanova, constantly lining up a big three, and constantly missing. They ended the night 3-for-16 behind the arc, knowing that even average shooting for them would have given them another big win. Marquette is now 2-7 in games decided by five points or less, and 12-2 in all other games. And that's why both Pomeroy and Sagarin rate them as approximately the 25th best team in the nation but they're still on the bubble. They have wins over Syracuse, Notre Dame and West Virginia, but they're 4-9 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has fallen all the way to 68th. Of course, RPI doesn't matter, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 39th would have them in the Field of 68, but only narrowly. At 5-5 in the Big East they should lock up a spot in the Tournament if they can get to 9-9 and then win a game in the Big East tournament. With only two of their final eight games coming against Top 25 teams they should be able to get there, but it's not a certainty by any means. Their next game will be on Wednesday at USF.

Villanova stays in a tie for second place in the Big East with this win at 6-3. They have quality wins over Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Temple, Maryland and Marquette, and zero really bad losses (Providence is debatably a bad loss). They still have a home-and-home with Pittsburgh which means that they still have a chance to win the Big East. If they can earn a share of the Big East regular season title and win the Big East tournament they will earn a 1 seed. More realistically the best finish for Villanova is a 2 seed. If the season ended now they'd most likely be a 3 seed.

Southern Miss 75, UAB 71
There probably hasn't been a conference in the nation as topsy-turvy as Conference USA has been. I think five different teams have been considered the top team at one point this year. And for the first time, Southern Miss is arguably the conference leader. At 6-3 in conference play they are in a virtual tie for the conference lead (UTEP is 5-2). In addition, Southern Miss now has the best Sagarin ELO_CHESS (52nd) in the conference. Of course, it's very close. Memphis and UAB are close behind in ELO_CHESS, and those two teams also have a slightly higher RPI. The Sagarin PREDICTOR gives UTEP the narrow edge over second placed Southern Miss. Pomeroy also puts UTEP first, but puts UAB in a close second and Southern Miss in a close third. And do you know what team I didn't just mention? Central Florida, the CUSA team most recently in the AP Top 25. Throw in Marshall plus Tulsa as a sleeper and we've got seven teams that can win this conference, none of which at this point would earn an at-large bid.

Southern Miss has wins over California and UCF to go with this win, along with a bad loss to SMU. UAB, meanwhile, is 5-3 in CUSA play and 6-3 against the RPI Top 100, but they've got zero wins against the RPI Top 50, and that loss to Arizona State is a bad loss. While none of the CUSA teams are currently at-large teams, several of them have a chance, but it will be an uphill battle for all of them. I don't see any of them having a good shot unless they can get to 11-5 in conference play.

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