Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Gonzaga Wins Again, Villanova To The Bubble??

Gonzaga 75, Saint Mary's 63
You have to admit, Gonzaga just has a way of bringing their best in the WCC tournament. This will be their 13th consecutive NCAA Tournament. Assuming Michigan State, Texas and Wisconsin make the Tournament this season, Gonzaga will be tied for the fourth longest Tournament streak in the nation. It's pretty amazing when you consider where this program was before this Tournament streak began. I give them a lot of credit for mentally turning around their play down the stretch - they're playing with much more intensity and mental focus, particularly on the defensive end. When they were in their slump it was a defensive slump, including the low point of the season when they lost consecutive games to Santa Clara and San Francisco with an average defensive efficiency of 1.24 PPP. Even in their win over Saint Mary's a couple of weeks ago they gave up 1.21 PPP, although that's not horrible when you consider how potent the Saint Mary's offense is (1.17 PPP average on the season). In this game last night, the Zags held Saint Mary's to 1.03 PPP, the Gaels' third weakest offensive output against a WCC team this season.

The Zags had a good shot at making the NCAA Tournament even with a loss here, and with this win they're likely looking at a Tournament seed in the 9-11 range. It will obviously depend a lot on how much the bubble tightens up over the next week. Saint Mary's entered this game with a slightly better resume than Gonzaga, so they are in even better shape for an at-large bid. They finish the season 24-8 and 11-3 in WCC play with wins over St. John's and Gonzaga along with a bad loss to San Diego. Their RPI is 48th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 47th. If the bubble gets much tighter then the Gaels could be in trouble, but at this point I expect them to stay in.

South Florida 70, Villanova 69
This year's collapse by Villanova is even worse than what happened last year. Last season they lost five of seven down the stretch, but the media rationalized it with their over-hyping of the Big East and gave Nova a 2 seed, which was a good gambling opportunity. This season they won't get that same benefit of the doubt because their collapse started earlier: Nova has lost 10 of their last 15 games. I understand that Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher aren't fully healthy, but blowing a 16 point halftime lead against South Florida? That's a joke.

In the world now where everybody is on twitter, stories and rumors spread fast, and as soon as this game ended there were people all over the place talking about Villanova as a bubble team. I'm sorry, but I don't see it. They've got six wins over the RPI Top 50, including wins over Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Temple and UCLA. Yes, they've lost a ton of games down the stretch, but they also had a back-loaded Big East schedule, so most of those losses were against Top 25 opponents. In fact, in that streak of 10 losses in 15 games, 7 of those 10 losses came against Top 25 teams. On the season Villanova only has three losses outside the RPI Top 50: Providence, Rutgers and now South Florida. Their RPI is 36th, which is approximately where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be when the new numbers come out tomorrow. I won't say that Villanova can't end up on the bubble, but it's a long shot. They'd need a tremendous strengthening of the bubble. Most likely they're just going to be punished with a Tournament seed that drops into the 8-10 range. South Florida will play Cincinnati tomorrow, where I expect them to get smoked.

Old Dominion 70, VCU 65
This was a heck of a game. ODU jumped out to an 18 point lead the way you'd expect them to - dominating the boards. Not only are they a tremendously dominant rebounding team, but VCU is a poor rebounding team, so this was expected. What was not expected was what happened in the second half - ODU seemed to wear down from their short rotation, and VCU became energized by their comeback. By the end of the game, VCU had almost drawn even on the boards, and actually got a majority of their offensive rebounds from their backcourt. They were simply chasing the ball harder than ODU was. They pulled within two points late but just could not get over the top, and the bubble breathed a collective sigh of relief as ODU won the CAA tournament.

The bubble was pleased with this result because ODU was going to the NCAA Tournament regardless. If they lost this game they were going to earn an at-large bid. VCU probably will not earn an at-large bid, and would have been a bid stealer if they'd won here. VCU finishes 23-11 and 12-6 in the CAA with wins over UCLA, ODU, George Mason and Wichita State, as well as bad losses to South Florida, Georgia State and Northeastern. Their RPI is 50th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is only 59th. With the expanded field this season I do expect three or four teams with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS outside the Top 50 to make the Tournament, but those will be teams with big wins or that finished particularly strong. VCU isn't either. Unless the bubble gets much, much weaker, VCU will be heading to the NIT. ODU is likely looking at a Tournament seed in the 6-7 range, although depending on what happens around the nation they could find themselves sliding up to a 5, or sliding down to a 8.

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