Saturday, February 19, 2011

Utah State Gets The Big Win They Needed

#24 Utah State 75, #23 Saint Mary's 65
Utah State is unquestionably a very good team, and the 24-3 record they had coming into this game was imposing, but the one thing they lacked was any kind of a good win. In fact, they had zero RPI Top 100 wins. This big win came because Utah State got the ball into the paint and attacked a Saint Mary's team that is weakest in the post. Despite being on the road, Utah State actually earned 19 more free throw attempts. Utah State also took 88% of their shots from the field from inside the arc. With this win Utah State's RPI jumps up to 18th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be up close to 25th. They have three WAC games remaining, but should be favored in all of them. If they can take care of business in all three, I do think they'll be in the NCAA Tournament, even if they should fall in the WAC tournament.

Saint Mary's is 22-6 after this loss, with a 2-5 record against the RPI Top 100. Their best win is against St. John's, and they've got a horrible loss to San Diego. Their RPI is 46th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 40th. They're still in the NCAA Tournament for now, but their margin for error has really shrunk. They finish the regular season with home games against Gonzaga (on Thursday) and against Portland (on Saturday). Both would be RPI Top 100 victories, so if Saint Mary's wins both they should lock up an at-large bid. A loss in either game and they'll have work left to do in the WCC tournament.

Michigan State 61, Illinois 57
Kalin Lucas scored 25 points, which earned him the attention from this must-have win for Michigan State. But as I've said many times, Michigan State's play this season all about defense. They held Illinois to 0.90 PPP, and that was why they won. Even at the worst of MSU's slump this season they were still scoring well over 1 PPP on offense, so offense was never the problem. But this was a game the Spartans had to have because a loss would have dropped them to 14-12 and 6-8 in the Big Ten. Being 15-11 and 7-7 just seems so much better. The Spartans do have a very good strength of schedule, and wins over Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, and their RPI is up to 42nd with this win. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should slide up into the 40-45th range. I definitely think that Michigan State would be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they've probably got to go 2-2 down the stretch to stay there. Their next game is Tuesday night at Minnesota.

Illinois has had a frustrating season because they're in every game but just seem to fade down the stretch. Only once this season have they played a game where they didn't have the lead at some point in the second half, and they're 2-7 in games decided by five points or less. They still have a quality 10-8 record against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Minnesota, along with a bad loss to Indiana and that inexplicable loss to Illinois-Chicago. Their RPI is 41st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be inside the Top 40. They have two extremely difficult road games (Ohio State and Purdue) and two easy home games (Iowa and Indiana) remaining in their regular season. Assuming they split those four games they'll be in the NCAA Tournament heading into the Big Ten tournament, but might need a win in the Big Ten tournament to lock things up.

#17 Texas A&M 67, Oklahoma State 66
Roger Dowell scored 22 points but made an incredibly bone-headed play at the end of this game, following Texas A&M's BJ Holmes in the backcourt with 15 seconds remaining in a game they were winning by a point. The play certainly reminded a lot of people of that horrible Jamelle Horne play a few years ago, but that foul was committed with less than a second remaining. In Dowell's case, at least he committed the foul with 15 seconds remaining - A&M might have scored on that possession anyway. Oklahoma State also had a chance to come back and win - Matt Pilgrim just missed. Texas A&M moves to 8-4 in Big 12 play with this win, and they have two easy home games ahead (against Oklahoma and Texas Tech). If they win both of those games they'll lock up an at-large bid. They also have road games at Baylor and Kansas, which both will be chances for Texas A&M to improve upon what is something like a 5-7 seed right now.

Oklahoma State is 2-5 this season in games decided by five points or less or in overtime, and they're now only 4-8 in Big 12 play. They do have wins over Missouri and Kansas State and only two weak losses (Texas Tech and Colorado), but the 5-9 record against the RPI Top 100 is not good. Their RPI is 59th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be very close to that. There's no question that if the season ended now they'd be NIT-bound. I'm fairly certain that no Big 12 team has ever finished below .500 and earned an at-large bid, although Oklahoma State would have a shot if they got to 7-9. Certainly they can't afford to be worse than that so they've got to win at least three of their final four regular season games. Unfortunately they begin with a road game at Kansas on Monday night. To state the obvious, they could really use that win.

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