Saturday, March 05, 2011

Florida Wins SEC Regular Season Title

#14 Florida 86, #20 Vanderbilt 76
This was Billy Donovan's 500th game coached at Florida, and it was one of his biggest career regular season wins. It's always a quality win when you get a victory at Vanderbilt, and this win sealed a 13-3 record and the outright SEC regular season title. The win was powered by Florida's backcourt of Ervin Walker and Kenny Boynton, who both showed more patience than they've shown for much of this season. When they're not forcing dumb shots and are actually patiently probing the defense, they both take full advantage of their immense talent. The two combined for 33 points on 8-for-22 shooting, with only three combined turnovers. Vanderbilt also really struggled with Alex Tyus, who had more offensive rebounds (7) than the entire Vanderbilt team did combined (3).

If Florida was in a glamor conference they'd be getting a lot of hype. They've won 8 of 9, and are up to 15-3 against the RPI Top 100, including 10-2 against the RPI Top 50. Their RPI is 10th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be very close to 15th. They would be a 4 or 5 seed if the season ended now, and can easily move up to a 3 seed if they win the SEC tournament. In fact, a 2 seed isn't impossible if they win the SEC tournament and get a lot of help from other conference tournaments. That said, depending on the result of tomorrow's Tennessee/Kentucky game and results in the SEC tournament, it's not out of the question for Florida's path to the SEC tournament title to be Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. If that's what ends up happening, I wouldn't like their odds to beat all three of those teams in consecutive days on a neutral floor.

Butler 76, Cleveland State 68
The Horizon tournament is being played on UW-Milwaukee's home court, and the Milwaukee fans were chanting "We want Butler!" throughout this game. And they'll get their wish, getting to play Butler in the Horizon tournament championship game on Tuesday night. This game was incredibly tight, with both teams attempting exactly 53 shots from the field and 26 at the line. Cleveland State just ended up being slightly more inefficient, and the reason was because of how little offensive support they have for Norris Cole. Once the game got tight late, it was obviously to everybody and their sister that Norris Cole was going to be trying to make every play, and Butler just keyed their defense on him. They knew that Cleveland State's other players simply weren't going to be the ones that beat Butler.

Cleveland State's RPI is still 44th after this loss, but they're almost surely heading to the NIT. they finished 26-8 and 13-5 in the Horizon, but 0-5 against the RPI Top 50, with their best wins coming against Iona, Kent State and Valparaiso. They also have a bad loss to Detroit, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should tumble out of the Top 50. The only way they can make the NCAA Tournament will be if this weak bubble gets even weaker over the next week, and that's very unlikely. It's too bad, because they're a very good team, and this is their last go-around with Norris Cole.

Should Butler fall in the Horizon tournament finals to UW-Milwaukee they'll have a better bubble case than Cleveland State does. They are currently 22-9, and went 13-5 in Horizon League play. Butler has wins over Florida State, Washington State and Cleveland State (three times), along with bad losses to Evansville, Wright State, Youngstown State and UW-Milwaukee (twice). A loss in the title game would mean a third loss to UW-Milwaukee. Their RPI is currently 40th, and would probably stay in the Top 50 with a loss, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS would be outside the Top 50. I think they'd be an NIT team, but unless the bubble gets stronger they'd at least be a bubble team. But even though UW-Milwaukee swept the season series and has homecourt advantage, I think Butler is the favorite for Tuesday's game. All season long they've played their best against the best opponents, when they can focus and play with full intensity. The bad losses this year were a function of a hangover from last year's run to the National Title game. With an NCAA bid on the line I expect Butler to come through.

Harvard 79, Princeton 67
This game was billed at the most important game in the history of Harvard basketball. The Crimson delivered, and clinched their first ever share of an Ivy League title. The onus is now on Princeton to win on Tuesday night at Penn. If Princeton wins then we'll have a tie and a one-game playoff. If Princeton loses then Harvard will have the outright Ivy title and an NCAA Tournament berth. Harvard is much more athletic than Princeton, to the point that during their loss to Princeton back in February I noted that it looked like a major vs mid-major battle, where Princeton was the mid-major team executing back door passes to help them frustrate their athletic superiors. The star for Harvard was Kyle Casey, who scored 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including a tremendous dunk early in the second half that sparked a 10-2 Harvard run and helped to really open the game up.

Should Princeton beat Penn and then win the playoff over Harvard, Harvard would actually have a resume good enough that they'd get some at-large attention. The Ivy League has never had multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament, so the fact that this is even a discussion is a testament to the quality of the league this year. Should Harvard lose to Princeton in a playoff they will finish the season 23-6 with a 12-3 Ivy record and a 3-5 record against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Boston College and Colorado, along with only one loss outside the RPI Top 55 (Yale). Both their RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS ratings will be inside the Top 50. They'd have to at least be in the discussion.

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