Saturday, March 12, 2011

Clemson, Alabama and Michigan Await Their Fates

#7 North Carolina 92, Clemson 87, OT
Harrison Barnes had the game of his life with 40 points on 12-for-17 shooting, including 6-for-8 behind the arc. Clemson let a 14 point lead slip away and North Carolina grabbed their first lead of the game with a little under 11 minutes to go. At that point it felt like they were going to run away with it, but to Clemson's credit they fought back and led for most of the rest of the game. Holding for one with a tie game at the end of the regulation Clemson got a horrible shot, and in overtime they just ran out of steam. One play that was really telling was early in overtime (I think it was the first possession in fact) when UNC had the shot clock running out on them and fired up a 30 footer just before the buzzer, but the Clemson players had mentally processed it as a shot clock violation and were already beginning to lean over to tug on their shorts, allowing the ball to bounce to a UNC player, who passed it immediately off to Harrison Barnes, who nailed a three. Just a devastating sequence that showed which team had the momentum and more energy.

Clemson will be an interesting case for the Selection Committee. By "the eye test" they looked like a Tournament team this week, but the eye test is generally not the way the Selection Committee works. Nor should it be, by the way - teams are ranked by the Selection Committee not by how good they are but by how good their resume is. If we were rating teams on how good they were rather than by their resume then Maryland would be a Tournament lock instead of a team that might not even make the NIT. Clemson finishes 21-11 and 9-7 in the ACC, but 0-6 against the RPI Top 50, with three RPI 100+ losses (South Carolina, NC State and Virginia). Their RPI is 56th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be near 45th. They're right on the bubble, and will be one of the last teams in or first teams out on Selection Sunday.

With this win North Carolina remains in the hunt for a 1 seed. They've got to win the ACC tournament title tomorrow, of course. But even with a loss tomorrow they've just about locked up a 2 seed.

#16 Kentucky 72, Alabama 58
This game was much more of a blowout than the final score would suggest. Kentucky led by 16 at halftime and by as much as 26 in the second half. Alabama went on a meaningless 13-3 run in the final three minutes to get the final margin down from 24 to 14. Kentucky's offense was incredible in this game against what has otherwise been a superb Alabama defense. Kentucky had a 58.3 eFG% and scored 1.22 points per possession. That is the third best shooting and third best scoring efficiency by an SEC team against Alabama all season long.

I've been saying that Kentucky is the best team in the SEC and they've been my pick to win the SEC tournament, but that's now in jeopardy with Doron Lamb limping off the floor with an ankle injury. If he can't play tomorrow then Kentucky has a problem. John Calipari has been playing a six man rotation all season long, and all six have been playing heavy minutes. Eloy Vargas and Jon Hood are guys that can come out an eat minutes, but you have wonder if Kentucky is going to wear out playing three games in three days with those types of minutes for all of their key players.

As for Alabama, they're in trouble now. Alabama did go 12-4 in the SEC and they've been playing better over the last two months than several teams that will earn at-large bids, but as a whole their resume is really weak. They went 10-11 against the RPI Top 200, with only five RPI Top 100 wins to four RPI 100+ losses. Their only RPI Top 25 scalp came at home against Kentucky two months ago. Their RPI is 80th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be very close to 65th. I won't say that they can't earn an at-large bid, but at this point I'll be surprised if they do.

#1 Ohio State 68, Michigan 61
Michigan did put in a really good effort here. After falling behind by 11 points early in the second half they went on an 18-9 run to get back within 2. Ohio State called timeout and started playing more through Jared Sullinger (since apparently it's a foul when you breathe on him - although he's been getting those superstar calls all year long... maybe the Big Ten needs a coach to go Kevin O'Neill on the league officials) and went on a 16-0 run to open up an 18 point lead with under five minutes go. But rather than roll over and die (like Maryland did yesterday, the most glaring example of a team just giving up on a game), Michigan fought back with a 16-2 run of their own to get the margin as close as four points in the final 30 seconds.

I thought Ohio State had locked up a 1 seed even before this game tipped off. If they win the Big Ten tournament title tomorrow they should be the #1 overall seed in the bracket. Michigan, on the other hand, is going to have to sweat out the next 25 hours or so. They finish 19-13, 9-9 in Big Ten play, and 6-9 against the RPI Top 50, with wins over Michigan State (twice), Illinois, Penn State (twice), Harvard and Clemson, along with only one bad loss (Indiana). Their RPI is 51st, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be inside the Top 40. If the season ended now they'd be in the Tournament, but they need to root for teams like Utah State and Richmond just to be sure.

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