Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Nebraska's Out, Is Marquette In?

Oklahoma State 53, Nebraska 52
There's something to be said for that old cliche about teams "being there before". All season long Nebraska proved themselves a feisty team that could knock off big time opponents, but they constantly struggled to maintain success. Five times this year they beat an RPI Top 100 team in Big 12 play, and in four of those five occasions they responded by losing their next game. There were some people who still had Nebraska in their bracket before their loss to Colorado in their season finale, but none did afterwards. There was no question that this was a must-win game for them, and they fell short. Nebraska will be heading to the NIT, and then to the Big Ten. At 10-11 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI of 78th and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will be close to 70th when the new numbers come out tomorrow, they're done.

Oklahoma State isn't completely eliminated from at-large contention, but they probably need to reach the Big 12 tournament finals. Their next game will be tomorrow against Kansas, a game that is a must-win for them. I don't see that happening, of course. But Oklahoma State did at least firm up their place in the NIT with this win.

Marquette 87, Providence 66
This is one last game from last night that I wanted to talk about. Marquette entered this game believing that they needed a win to make the NCAA Tournament, and they came out with so much more energy and intensity than a Providence team that had nothing to play for. Providence had no answer for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Marquette executed well a team-wide effort to limit the damage that Marshon Brooks could do (20 points on 7-for-18 shooting). One player I was impressed with was Davonte Gardner, a freshman on Marquette's bench who has been seeing his minutes picking up. Gardner had 9 points and 7 rebounds in only 17 minutes on the floor. Along with Jae Crowder he actually gives Marquette some rebounding and size, which is something that they've generally lacked for the past few years.

Marquette finished 9-9 in the Big East and is currently sitting 19-13 overall with a 4-11 record against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Syracuse, UConn, Notre Dame and West Virginia, and zero losses outside the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 64th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 34th. That ELO_CHESS rating will have to fall out of the Top 40 for there to be any shot of Marquette missing the Tournament. The Golden Eagles are probably in the NCAA Tournament even if they lose to West Virginia tonight, but a win would assure it.

#19 UConn 79, Georgetown 62
The Georgetown offense was again disjointed without Chris Wright, their point guard and most important offensive player. But that said, it's a mistake for analysts to pin all the blame for Georgetown's slide on the Wright injury. Their defense has also slid, and they haven't allowed fewer than 0.99 PPP in nearly four full weeks. The two things are probably related - the loss of Wright hurts the team psychologically, which impacts their ability to play strong defense. But well-coached teams, like Georgetown is, should be able to overcome that. They've been through a tough schedule, but losing five of six games, after having won the previous eight? They're going to have to get themselves mentally focused for the NCAA Tournament. Their NCAA Tournament seed has already slid into the 4-5 range, and it could fall as far as a 6.

UConn lost 7 of their final 11 games in the regular season, but they've gotten into a nice groove early here in the Big East tournament. Kemba Walker has been re-energized and they've now thumped DePaul and Georgetown on consecutive afternoons. Can it continue tomorrow afternoon against Pittsburgh? Certainly stranger things have happened. They'll probably only be something like a five point underdog. Even with a loss to Pitt, UConn will not end up with worse than a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With a win over Pitt they can get themselves into the 3 seed debate.

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