Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Kentucky Finally Wins A Close Game

#23 Kentucky 68, #20 Vanderbilt 66
It just goes to show you how much impact luck has in very close games. Kentucky came into this game 0-6 in games decided by five points or less, and the knock was that they couldn't win a close game. And honestly, Kentucky didn't play well down the stretch in this game at all. They blew a late lead, and the final 60 seconds turned into a comedy of errors for both teams, including a horrendous travel by Terrence Jones with under two seconds to go that gave Vanderbilt one last chance to win or send the game into overtime. But they missed, and Kentucky escaped with their first narrow victory of the season. This was also a huge win because a loss would have sent Kentucky to the first round of the SEC tournament. If they win on Sunday afternoon at Tennessee they'll have an excellent shot at second place in the SEC East, a position which is rewarded with a bye to the SEC tournament quarterfinals. Getting second place also likely means a match-up with Alabama in the SEC tournament semifinals, instead of Florida - a desirable improvement.

Kentucky is 7-5 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI up to 12th. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is only 22nd, but they'd likely be a 5-6 seed if the season ended now, and they can potentially move as high as a 3 seed if they win out and get some help. Vanderbilt closes on Saturday at home against Florida, where they should actually be favored. If they win and Kentucky wins at Tennessee then the SEC East will have a tie for second place, and somebody is going to have to figure out what the tiebreaker on that is (the two teams split the regular season series). All of the arguments for why the 2 seed is a lot better than the 3 seed are as true for Vanderbilt as they are for Kentucky. Vandy doesn't have quite the overall resume that Kentucky has - they're 5-6 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI of 25th and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 33rd. I don't think there's any way they can fall to the bubble, even if they lose out, but their Tournament seed would only be in the 6-8 seed if the season ended now. Obviously there will be plenty of chances of quality wins ahead, though, with the Florida game and then the SEC tournament.

Boston College 76, Virginia Tech 61
You had to see this coming, right? It's a shocker at this point if a team wins a game as big as Virginia Tech did over Duke and doesn't come back with a stinker in their next game. Virginia Tech was poor offensively (6 assists, 3-for-17 behind the arc), but their biggest problem was lazy defense. They didn't close out on shooters, and continually fouled attacking BC players, allowing 26 free throw attempts on only 62 possessions.

This loss emphasizes the fact that despite what a lot of people were saying after the win over Duke, Virginia Tech has in no way locked up a Tournament bid. They are 9-6 in the ACC and only 11-9 against the RPI Top 200, with wins over Duke and Florida State along with bad losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia (twice). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is only 46th, and they face a tough game on Saturday afternoon against Clemson. I don't think there's any question that Virginia Tech needs at least one more win to assure themselves a Tournament spot. If they lose to Clemson they're going to have work to do in the ACC tournament.

Boston College moves to 8-7 in the ACC and 7-10 against the RPI Top 100 with a win against Texas A&M along with a bad loss to Yale. Their RPI is 37th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 45th. Even though BC actually has better computer numbers than Virginia Tech, they have the inferior resume because they have been unable to collect big scalps. The Selection Committee will always prefer teams with big wins and bad losses to teams with neither. But that said, BC is right on the bubble now - they'd either be one of the last teams in or one of the first teams out of the Tournament. They finish the regular season on Sunday at home against Wake Forest, a game that they should win easily. But after that they'll still need at least one win the ACC tournament to feel good about their at-large chances.

West Virginia 65, #16 UConn 56
This game was actually very close the entire way, and UConn led with under eight minutes to go. But a 15-2 stretch by West Virginia down the stretch was initially powered by Deniz Kilicli. Truck Bryant was clutch down the stretch, hitting seven free throws in a row to put the game away. West Virginia played this game the way you've got to play it to beat UConn. They worked very hard to make Kemba Walker an inefficient scorer (8-for-23 from the field) and kept the UConn front line off of the offensive boards (a 25.0 offensive rebounding percentage).

West Virginia closes the regular season at home against Louisville, and a win there will move them to 11-7 and will clinch a bye in the Big East tournament. West Virginia is now 6-6 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Purdue, Vanderbilt, Georgetown and Notre Dame, and zero losses to a team outside the RPI Top 70. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up into the Top 20, and they would earn a seed in the 4-6 range if the season ended now. Obviously they'll have the chance to move that seed even higher in the Big East tournament.

UConn drops to 9-8 and a tie for 10th place in the conference with Villanova. How crazy is the Big East that the two teams tied for 10th place are both currently ranked in the Top 20? To be fair, Villanova doesn't deserve to be in the Top 20 (and they won't be when the new polls come out on Monday), but UConn is a legitimate Top 20 team. They have zero losses to a team with an RPI worse than 53 this season, and are 8-7 against the RPI Top 50, with wins over Kentucky, Texas, Michigan State, Georgetown, Tennessee, Villanova and Cincinnati. If the season ended now they would be a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But even if they beat Notre Dame on Saturday, they still might be stuck playing in the first round of the Big East tournament.

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