Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Harrison Barnes Ices Florida State

#13 North Carolina 72, Florida State 70
If you don't realize that March Madness is already here, you didn't watch this game. You could feel the passion and intensity of Florida State as they desperately tried to crawl back from a second half deficit. Without Chris Singleton it takes so much work for them to get the ball in the bucket, and offense seems so easy for North Carolina, which made the deficit feel bigger than it really was. Down by one point with under 20 seconds to go, Derwin Kitchen attacked the basket for FSU and was fouled. He hit both free throws to give FSU the lead, but gave UNC enough time to set up a final play for Harrison Barnes - a clear out on which he calmly stuck a three-pointer over the fingertips of Michael Snaer. Barnes finished with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting, as he continues to come on strong after struggling under all of the hype early in the season.

North Carolina now gets what they wanted - a Saturday night game in Chapel Hill against Duke with the ACC regular season title on the line. The Tar Heels are now 5-4 against the RPI Top 50, and their own RPI has moved into the Top Ten. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is closer to 15th, but they'd be a 4 or 5 seed if the season ended now. With a win on Saturday over Duke they could slide that seed up to a 3, and with an ACC tournament title they could move all the way up to a 2 seed.

This was the best FSU has looked since losing Chris Singleton, and this should be something of a moral victory in that sense. But Seminoles fans know that they could have clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a win here, and probably still need to win at least one more game. They also need to win at NC State on Sunday to avoid potentially losing their bye into the ACC quarterfinals. FSU's Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be right around 45th, but they're only 2-5 against the RPI Top 50 and are only narrowly still in the Field of 68.

Miami (Fl) 80, Maryland 66
Maryland was blown off the court in the first half of this game, trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half. The lead got up to 17 in the second half before Maryland turned up the defensive intensity, forced a few turnovers, and went on a 17-5 run. But Miami responded by getting hot behind the arc, hitting five of their next eight three-point attempts to blow the lead back open. Miami finished 12-for-23 behind the arc for the game. What was shocking for Maryland was the way that Jordan Williams struggled, hitting only 3-for-17 from the field. The Miami post defenders deserve a lot of credit, although some of the credit goes to the refs, who gave a few hometown calls and occasionally allowed Miami to just maul Williams down low.

This is a devastating loss for a Maryland team that falls to 7-8 in ACC play, which looks really bad in tandem with their 1-9 record against the RPI Top 50 (and the one win came against Florida State, a team that might not be in the Top 50 much longer). Their RPI has actually fallen all the way to 87, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be in the Top 70 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Senior Night on Saturday against Virginia is a must-win, and Maryland is probably going to have to win a minimum of two games in the ACC tournament to earn an at-large bid. Assuming that they beat Virginia they'll likely face NC State or Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC tournament. They'll hope to crawl all the way up to the 6 seed, because that will allow them to avoid having to play Duke or UNC in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

Miami is 6-9 in the ACC and 5-10 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over West Virginia and Boston College (twice), along with bad losses to Rutgers and NC State. Their RPI is 67th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be near 70th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Their at-large hopes aren't completely extinguished. They will have to win at Georgia Tech on Sunday, and then they'll have to win a couple of games in the ACC tournament, and then we'll be able to re-evaluate them relative to wherever the bubble is at that point.

UAB 67, Southern Miss 66
It's been a bad couple of days for many bubble teams, with so many of them losing games they should be winning. And that's all good news for a UAB team that is getting zero national attention but has been building a really solid resume. And this was a great win in and of itself. Southern Miss had won their previous five home games, and they had a narrow lead most of the way, but were undone by a tremendously clutch three-pointer from Preston Purifoy with three seconds remaining. Honestly, UAB would have felt that they let this one get away if Purifoy hadn't hit that shot. They dominated the boards (15 offensive rebounds vs 5 for Southern Miss), and also had twice as many assists as Southern Miss (18 vs 9). But putrid 4-for-14 free throw shooting (they'd actually been third best in Conference USA with 72.8% free throw shooting in conference play) and 5-for-21 three-point shooting kept Southern Miss in the game.

UAB has won six of seven and is now 11-4, firmly in control of Conference USA. They will clinch the outright regular season title if they win at home against East Carolina on Saturday. UAB has only had one bad loss all season (Arizona State) and at 21-7 overall have an RPI that is up to 28th. That said, their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely still be outside of the Top 35, and this is their first win all season long against a team inside the RPI Top 50. If the season ended now they would be in the NCAA Tournament, but without a big win their situation is still precarious. If they beat East Carolina and then have a respectable performance in the Conference USA tournament (semifinals or better) they should make the NCAA Tournament. But that said, they are now the top rated C-USA team by both Pomeroy and Sagarin, and should enter the CUSA tournament as the favorite to win the automatic bid.

Southern Miss is fading, having lost two straight to fall to 9-6 in CUSA play, with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will fall to around 60th. Their lone win against the RPI Top 50 came against UAB, so they also will be held back by the lack of big wins. They can still get back onto the bubble, but they'll need to win Saturday at Tulsa, and then they'll need to make some noise in the CUSA tournament.

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