Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pitt Falls, Is UAB Out?

#19 UConn 76, #3 Pittsburgh 74
Let me say first that UConn deserved to win this game. I can't recall the last time I saw a Pitt team get beat so handily on the boards. Alex Oriakhi had 13 points and 7 rebounds for UConn, and Gary McGhee was made irrelevant (1 point, 2 rebounds and 4 fouls in 18 minutes) for Pitt. UConn had five more offensive boards, 5 fewer turnovers and 5 more steals. They earned 9 more field goal attempts and 11 more free throw attempts.

But that said, I was shocked to see the way Pitt broke down defensively on that final play. Brad Wanaker was guarding Kemba Walker and was screened, forcing Gary McGhee to guard him. Walker then dribbled in place for ten seconds before breaking McGhee's ankles off the dribble and nailing an open jumper at the buzzer. I understand McGhee had to help on the screen, but in those ten seconds that Walker was dribbling in place, where was the help? UConn has absolutely nobody other than Kemba Walker that can hit outside shots or that they allow to take final shots - the odds of him passing the ball to any of his teammates on that last shot were equivalent to the odds of him passing to my mother for that final shot. Wanamaker should have come back over to be the primary defender, and another quick defender should have come over to help. Instead, the four Pitt players most capable of guarding Kemba Walker stood around and watched him take that final shot. You just can't choke mentally in the clutch like that.

Pitt's 1 seed is in big trouble now. Had Kansas lost to Oklahoma State then Pitt could have made an argument to get the 1 seed over them, but Oklahoma State's blown final shot means that Kansas is still building their resume while Pitt is not. Ohio State is now definitely ahead of Pitt, and Pitt is vulnerable to being passed by Duke, Kansas, Texas, Notre Dame, Purdue, and even BYU. Pitt can still earn a 1 seed, but they're going to need to some help. As for UConn, they are now 10-8 against the RPI Top 50 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that should move up to around 11th in the nation. They'd be in the discussion for a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. I don't see them ending up with worse than a 4 seed no matter what.

East Carolina 75, UAB 70, OT
It was just one of those days for UAB. Offensively they could not find the rhythm at all, and to be fair it wasn't all their fault. UAB came into this game ready to play, but the refs took the game over, calling a combined 56 fouls and awarding 81 free throws. East Carolina was given 48 of those 81 free throw attempts. UAB just couldn't get their offense going with so many stops and starts, and ended up with a horrendous 38.1 eFG%. To put that futility into perspective, this was only the second time in conference play all season long that UAB had an effective field goal percentage under 40%. And East Carolina, a team that finished 10th in the 12-team conference in defensive eFG% hadn't held a conference team below 40% all season long until this game. So it was just a tremendously bizarre game for UAB, and it's a killer loss for them.

Heading into this game UAB was probably in the Field of 68, but they were on the bubble, with very little space between them and the NIT. But this loss is a big problem. It's only their second loss all season to an RPI 100+ team (Arizona State was the other), but they have zero wins over teams with an RPI higher than 50th (they did beat the team currently 50th in RPI, VCU). VCU, Southern Miss, UTEP and UCF are not the wins a bubble team wants to be heading into Selection Sunday with. UAB's Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be just narrowly inside the Top 50 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. In my opinion, they're still on the bubble. If the bubble weakens then they could still sneak into the Tournament, but if the bubble gets tighter (which it likely will) then they're out. East Carolina will play tomorrow against the winner of Memphis/Southern Miss.

#11 Syracuse 79, #18 St. John's 71
This game was an up-tempo rugby match. Every rebound was a war. St. John's got a blow early on when DJ Kennedy injured his knee and did not return, but the difference in the game might have been Fab Melo, who has suddenly awakened after being one of the most disappointing super-freshmen in the nation for most of the season. Melo finished with 12 points (including two key baskets in the final two minutes), 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, and several other good defensive plays. Because they lack outside shooters, St. John's has struggled against the zone all season long, and nobody plays the zone better than Syracuse . In the first half the Johnnies were able to get out and run after a slew of Syracuse turnovers, but the Orange cleaned things up in the second half and the St. John's offense slowed down in the half court.

Syracuse moves to 9-4 against the RPI Top 50, and they have only one mediocre loss (Seton Hall). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be no worse than 8th when the new numbers come out tomorrow, and at this point I don't think there's any way that Syracuse ends up with worse than a 3 seed. Right now they're probably a 2 seed, and it's not impossible for them to get into 1 seed consideration if they win the Big East tournament. They'll play UConn tomorrow with a spot in the Big East title game on the line. St. John's finishes 8-8 against the RPI Top 50 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that should be right around 20th. If the season ended now I could see them with any seed in the 4-6 range. Most likely they're going to settle in at that 5 seed.

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