Saturday, March 05, 2011

Michigan Sweeps Michigan State

Michigan 70, Michigan State 63
It looked early like this might be another embarrassing Michigan State loss, like the kind they've suffered against Iowa, Wisconsin and Purdue this season. Michigan jumped out to an early 15-3 lead, but to their credit the Spartans did not quit and did fight back. They got things close late in the game, but never pulled even and ended up suffering a devastating defeat. Michigan has been playing great lately, and the primary reason is because they took my advice and stopped chucking threes. I complained many times earlier this season that the team would just stand around and launch three-pointer after three-pointer (see here and here for examples) when they have talented perimeter offensive talents in Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway, Jr. In this game the Wolverines shot 26% behind the arc, and earlier in the season they'd have lost to every Big Ten team if they shot that poorly. But in this game they attacked the basket, and ended up hitting 16-for-31 on twos, and earned 31 free throw attempts. Morris and Hardaway combined to shoot 7-for-16 on twos and 13-for-16 at the line, all while dishing out 9 assists and only 4 turnovers.

This win pulls Michigan all the way up to the bubble. They are 9-9 in Big Ten play and 9-11 against the RPI Top 100 with two wins over Michigan State to go with that bad loss to Indiana. Their RPI is only 54th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way up into the Top 40. Unless I'm misinterpreting the Big Ten tiebreakers, I believe that Michigan is locked into the 4/5 game in the Big Ten tournament against Illinois. It's not yet set whether Michigan will be the 4 or the 5, but that will only affect the color uniform they'll be wearing. If they can win that game over Illinois that could be the win that puts them into the NCAA Tournament for good. Certainly they'll appreciate it if the bubble stays weak enough that they won't need a win over Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals.

Michigan State is in big trouble now. They are only 16-13 overall against Division I teams, which is a bad sign right off the bat. The Selection Committee does not like taking teams that are so close to being .500 overall. Michigan State is 9-9 in the Big Ten with several nice wins (Wisconsin, Washington and Illinois) and good computer numbers (their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be very close to 40th), but they are only very narrowly in the Field of 68. Even if they beat Iowa or Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, a loss in the quarterfinals to Wisconsin or Purdue could knock them out of the Tournament. Since Michigan State will be a pretty large underdog against either Wisconsin or Purdue, Spartans fans need to root for a very weak bubble. They're going to be big Temple/Xavier, Utah State, Old Dominion/George Mason and Saint Mary's fans for the next week.

Iowa 67, #6 Purdue 65
Iowa games are just fun to watch this season. Even though this win only gets them to 4-14 in Big Ten play the fact is that Iowa has a bright future under Fran McCaffery, and the fans sense it. They're playing a new up-tempo style that makes games exciting, they're playing with a lot of effort every night, and the fans are beginning to fill up Carver-Hawkeye Arena again. They're leading the Big Ten in possessions per game in conference play and have had some very respectable results at home: a win over Purdue, a 20 point win over Michigan State, a 5 point loss to Ohio State, and overtime losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. Interestingly enough, this win came without a lot of turnovers. Iowa only forced two steals and seven turnovers the entire game, but played tremendous halfcourt defense (a 39.9 eFG% for Purdue). In Big Ten play up to this point Iowa was second in the conference in forced turnovers, and 10th in eFG% against, so it was very interesting how today's game was the opposite of that. Iowa will be the 10 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and honestly will not be a welcome sight for whichever Big Ten team ends up with the 7 seed.

This loss ends Purdue's chances of a share of the Big Ten regular season title and the 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. They are now locked into the 2 seed. This also does tremendous damage to Purdue's hopes for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the season ended now they might actually fall as far as a 3 seed, and even with a Big Ten tournament championship they might only end up with a 2 - it would depend what happened in other conferences around the nation.

#5 Pittsburgh 60, #19 Villanova 50
Pittsburgh began this game knowing that they needed to win to earn the Big East regular season title and a 1 seed in the Big East tournament. And while this was a win, it wasn't pretty. Forget the #19 next to Villanova's name - they came into this game with five losses in their previous seven games, and the two wins were an overtime win over DePaul and a three point win over Seton Hall. And on top of that, Villanova was without Corey Stokes because of injury, and Corey Fisher was largely ineffective. Fisher collected three fouls in the first half and had to miss a bunch of the game, and never got going when he made it back in, finishing 3-for-14 from the field.

But ugly or not, Pittsburgh is the Big East outright regular season champion, and Jamie Dixon would be my pick for Big East Coach of the Year. If they win the Big East tournament they'll obviously be a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even if they fall in the Big East tournament they could get a 1 seed, depending on what happens in other conference tournaments. Unless DePaul pulls a miracle in the first round of the Big East tournament, Pitt will play the winner of the 8/9 game in the Big East tournament quarterfinals. The 8 seed is Georgetown, and the 9 seed will be either Marquette, UConn or Villanova (somebody has to work out that tiebreaker for me).

Villanova's slide continues, and they now finish 9-9 in Big East play. They are 6-8 against the RPI Top 50 with only two losses outside the Top 50 (Providence and Rutgers) and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that should still be in the Top 30, so they still would be looking at something like a 6-8 seed if the season ended now, but that seed will continue to fall if they lose in the first round of the Big East tournament. As I said in the previous paragraph, I still don't know who that first round opponent will be.

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