Saturday, March 05, 2011

Notre Dame Escapes UConn With Hansbrough On Bench

#7 Notre Dame 70, #16 UConn 67
Kemba Walker outscored Ben Hansbrough 34-to-21, but Hansbrough clearly was the better of the two when they were guarding each other, and has made a great case that he should be the Big East Player of the Year. The reason Hansbrough didn't score more was because of foul trouble. He collected his fourth foul with about 12 minutes to go, when Walker goaded him into a cheap offensive foul. He sat on the bench for a few minutes, and while UConn didn't gain on the scoreboard, the momentum of the game had shifted and Mike Brey threw Hansbrough back in the game... where he picked up his 5th foul on a not-debatable offensive foul on the first offensive possession the Irish had. Brey is getting a lot of heat in the media for bringing in Hansbrough early, but how exactly would Notre Dame have benefited if Hansbrough had sat out for four minutes longer before fouling out on his first possession back in the game? The fault is on Hansbrough for not being careful. And in general, coaches are way too cautious about holding players out with foul trouble because they react to pressure from fans, and fans overrate clutch play in the final minute. Statistically, the best chance a team has to win is by getting the most minutes possible for their best players. Getting 8 minutes from a player from the 16-to-8 minute mark is superior to sitting him out from the 16-to-4 minute mark and then getting 4 minutes of him down the stretch. While watching the game live I agreed with Brey's decision to bring back Hansbrough. I sensed the tide shifting, and a few strong minutes from Hansbrough could have put the game away. It's Hansbrough's fault that he committed such a stupid foul.

After Hansbrough fouled out, UConn proceeded to go on a 13-0 nothing over the next four minutes to turn an 8 point deficit into a 5 point lead. But the lid got put on the basket after that, and UConn finished 1-for-9 shooting down the stretch as Notre Dame pulled out a very clutch and important win. It goes to show you how much of "clutch" play is luck - who would have guessed that UConn with Kemba Walker would get badly out-played in the clutch by a Notre Dame team without Ben Hansbrough? Notre Dame switched to a zone with Hansbrough out, but you have to wonder why they didn't do it earlier. UConn has nobody other than Kemba Walker that can hit a shot, and Walker is nearly un-guardable one-on-one. A zone seems the obvious way to play UConn at all times. At most you could maybe do a box-and-one, with one defender chasing Walker around and the other four in a zone.

Notre Dame finishes second in the Big East with a 14-4 record. Their RPI is 7th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be either 5th or 6th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. They'd be a 2 seed if the season ended now, but are very much in play for a 1 seed now that Texas, Purdue and BYU have had a bad loss recently. There are actually scenarios where Notre Dame could lose in the Big East tournament and still earn a 1 seed - it will depend what other teams do. UConn finishes 9-9 in the Big East and will actually have to play in the first round of the Big East tournament (their opponent is yet to be decided). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be inside the Top 20, and they wouldn't be worse than a 5 seed if the season ended now, but with four losses in their last five games their seed is moving in the wrong direction.

Virginia 74, Maryland 60
There have been several teams that collected bad losses on Senior Day already, but this might be the absolute worst. What a disaster for Maryland. And this result was no fluke - Virginia played great. The Cavaliers did a great job of taking Jordan Williams out of the game - he only attempted 8 shots and had zero offensive boards. Virginia also committed only 5 turnovers. Maryland could have escaped with some hot shooting, but a 46.8 eFG% wasn't going to cut it.

This is Maryland's first RPI 100+ loss of the season, but it's a disastrous one because of the fact that they've been so poor against elite teams (1-9 against the RPI Top 50) and only 7-9 in the ACC. Their RPI is 99th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely be outside the Top 80. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated Maryland as a Top 25 team coming into this game, but a 3-8 record in games decided by single digits will have the effect of destroying a team's resume. With a win in this game and a trip to the ACC semifinals Maryland would have been in excellent position for an at-large bid, but with this bad loss I don't see any way they can go Dancing without reaching the ACC tournament championship game. Maryland will play in the first round of the ACC tournament, although their opponent has not yet been set.

Virginia obviously isn't going to play in the NCAA Tournament, but if I was a voter I'd probably give my vote to Tony Bennett for ACC Coach of the Year. I know that he won't win because the media will never vote for a coach of a team that finishes 7-9, but the reality is that this team has no ACC-level talent. Bennett is in his second year at Virginia and had to blow up the roster at the end of last season so he could bring in guys that fit his system, and then suffered an unbelievable number of injuries this season to his best players. This team easily could have given up and gone 2-14 in conference play. Instead they went 7-9, and were not an easy team for anybody to beat. It's a testament to how good of a coach Bennett is. Give him another year or two to collect better talent and he'll have this team contending for a top three position in the ACC standings. Their seed is not yet set in the ACC, but they will play in the first round of the ACC tournament.

Oklahoma 64, Oklahoma State 61
Oklahoma is a team that doesn't have a lot of talent but, like Virginia, is playing with a lot of effort and has not been a gimme game for anybody. Oklahoma's very unlikely to even play in the NIT this season, but fans have to be optimistic about the future, and delivering this type of devastating loss to Oklahoma State has to be a wonderful way to end the regular season.

Oklahoma State finishes 6-10 in the Big 12 which, no matter what else is on their resume, is a huge problem. Somebody can fact-check me on this, but I'm fairly sure that no team has ever even finished 7-9 in the Big 12 and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. If it was going to happen it would happen this year with the expanded field and the fact that the ACC, Pac-10, SEC, Atlantic Ten and Mountain West are all down. But 6-10? That seems almost impossible. The rest of OSU's resume really isn't that awful. They're 3-5 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Missouri, Kansas State and Missouri State, along with bad losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Their RPI is 56th, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be in the 60-65 range. The computer numbers are okay, but I just don't see a 6-10 Big 12 team making the Tournament without some truly remarkable scalps, which OSU doesn't have. They will be the 9 seed in the Big 12 tournament, although they'll have to wait until later tonight to know who they'll be playing in the 8/9 game. They do know that if they win that game their reward will be a quarterfinal game against Kansas.

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