Thursday, February 10, 2011

UNC Pushes Duke To The Brink

#5 Duke 79, #21 North Carolina 73
Duke didn't walk into this game with the same intensity as the Tar Heels, and it's getting worrying how often the Blue Devils are getting off to these slow starts. The St. John's game turned into a total disaster because Duke couldn't hit a shot to save their lives. In this game they did get a 3-for-17 shooting performance from Kyle Singler, but Nolan Smith shot 13-for-23 and is beginning to get some attention as a possible National Player of the Year. I don't think he deserves that one, but I have said that I believe he is in a three-way battle for ACC Player of the Year, with Jordan Williams and Reggie Jackson. But really, the difference in this game was that North Carolina couldn't hit an outside shot. Kendall Marshall hit 3-for-11 from the field, and as a team they hit 2-for-14 behind the arc. Add in some putrid 13-for-22 free throw shooting and it was enough for Duke to escape with the win. But this game, even in a loss for UNC, should be a tremendous confidence boost for their return game at Chapel Hill on March 5th. Kendall Marshall proved that he could survive the Duke perimeter pressure, ending up with six assists and only one turnover. In addition, they proved that they could dominate the paint. John Henson and Tyler Zeller combined for 17-for-29 shooting and 25 rebounds (12 on offense). The entire Duke front court (the Plumlees, Ryan Kelly and Kyle Singler) combined for only 20 points. There's no question that the Tar Heels should believe that they're going to beat Duke on March 5th.

North Carolina is 7-2 in ACC play even after this loss, and they are 11-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Kentucky, Florida State and Boston College, along with a bad loss to Georgia Tech. Their RPI is 13th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 19th. Right now they're looking at a 5-6 seed, and could really use another big win. A win over Duke would count. They do have to beware a road game on Saturday at a Clemson team that has been playing very well lately. Duke heads into a relatively soft stretch next. They play at Miami on Sunday, and then head to Virginia on Wednesday.

Rutgers 77, #10 Villanova 76
This game had a remarkable ending that you've probably all seen by now. Down by three, Florida transfer Johnathan Mitchell hit a four point play with under a second to go in the game. I've seen four point plays to win games (everybody remembers the famous Larry Johnson shot for the Knicks to beat the Pacers in 1999), but never in the final second of a game like this. Remember, Rutgers head coach Mike Rice was at the helm of Robert Morris last season, when as a 15 seed they took Villanova into overtime in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe Rice just has Villanova figured out. Regardless, this is by far Rice's biggest win since taking over the Rutgers job. It's his first win at Rutgers against the RPI Top 60, and this win moves them to 4-8 in Big East play. If you think about how awful this team has been the past few years, a 4-8 Big East record is a tremendous start. Rice has a big time recruiting class coming in for 2011, so it's possible that he could have this program back in the middle of the pack in the Big East as early as 2013. Rutgers fans are definitely excited by the developments these past few months.

This is a disappointing loss for Villanova that drops them into the gigantic cluster of Big East teams with four or five losses (in total, nine of the 16 Big East teams have four or five conference losses right now). And they have a tough schedule remaining, with a home-and-home against Pitt, a road game at Notre Dame and a home game against Syracuse. The home game against Pitt is next, on prime time on Saturday night. I think they will win that game, particularly with Ashton Gibbs very unlikely to play, but if they should fall then a finish in the bottom half of the Big East is actually possible. But this is still a very good Villanova team that will be a great sleeper pick in the NCAA Tournament should their seed fall too far. Keep in mind that they're still rated as the 12th best team in the nation by Pomeroy and 13th by Sagarin.

James Madison 68, Drexel 54
Drexel couldn't hit a shot in this game. Their 2P%/3P%/FT% in this game was 44%/8%/50% compared to a season average of 45%/32%/62%. Drexel is not a team that tends to blow out their opponents. According to Pomeroy's ratings they are 296th in Adjusted Tempo, 24th in Adjusted Defense and 216th in Adjusted Offense. That means that they're grinding out games. In fact, 11 of their 24 games have been decided by six points or less. They actually are playing well in close games - they are 8-3 in those close games and 8-5 in blowouts. But it's just hard to keep winning night in and night out when you're playing so many close games. And the Colonial Athletic Association is improved, but it's still only possible to earn an at-large bid with an overwhelming won-loss record. Drexel's 16-8 record right now just isn't enough. Drexel does have wins over Louisville and Old Dominion, and only one RPI 100+ loss (William & Mary), but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way out to 68th. There's almost no chance Drexel can receive an at-large bid without getting that ELO_CHESS into the Top 50 because of that weak schedule. They end the regular season with three relatively easy games along with home match-ups against VCU and Kent State. I really think Drexel needs to win all five games to put themselves in the bubble discussion. Certainly they can't afford to lose more than one of those games. James Madison moves their own Sagarin ELO_CHESS up to 75th with this win, but they still have zero RPI Top 50 wins and two RPI 200+ losses (Georgia State and William & Mary). Even if they win out I still view them as a long shot to get onto the bubble.


Evan Christopher Burke said...

What's the chance of Michigan getting in the tourney?

Jeff said...

I talked about this in a post in the past couple of days (I'm a rush right now but I can find it for you later). Michigan has a chance, but they have to pull at least one more big upset, and probably more. They need to get to 8-10 in Big Ten play at a minimum, and even at 8-10 they'll have to win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament.