Sunday, March 06, 2011

VCU Beats George Mason, Bubble Teams Worry

VCU 79, #25 George Mason 63
I watched a lot of this game and actually thought George Mason played fairly well other than an incomprehensibly bad stretch late in the first half. During a stretch of about 6 minutes, George Mason shot 0-for-3 from the field, 0-for-2 at the line, and committed five turnovers. VCU went on a 12-0 run over that stretch. Other than that the game was pretty even, without either team going on much of a run. The Patriots finished 6-for-25 behind the arc for the game, and that cold shooting kept them from coming back.

I've seen a lot of people talking about this loss potentially putting George Mason on the bubble. Even Seth Davis on his twitter after the game said that George Mason was in trouble. I'm sorry, but that's a joke. This was the same Seth Davis that during the Kentucky/Tennessee pregame show this morning said that Michigan and Alabama had "essentially punched their tickets" and then 60 seconds later said that both teams were among his final four into the field. My regular readers know that I'm extremely cautious when I use words like "lock" or "certain". When I say something is a lock then it happens (see here for an example of me ranting about this issue). And George Mason is a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

The reason there's confusion about George Mason is because people often confuse wins over good teams with wins over teams with good names. George Mason's three RPI Top 50 wins are over Harvard, Old Dominion and VCU. That doesn't sound impressive. But those three teams are, respectively, better wins (according to Sagarin) than wins over Marquette, Villanova and Memphis. Would you be more impressed if George Mason's wins were over teams named Marquette, Villanova and Memphis? The Selection Committee can be swayed by glamor teams, but not that much. George Mason's RPI is 26th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is near 30th. They're fine.

What fans of other bubble teams are worried about is the VCU win. First of all, VCU is now only one win from stealing the Colonial automatic bid. All fans of bubble teams will be Old Dominion fans during the CAA tournament title tomorrow evening. But even worse, VCU has now gotten themselves on the bubble, and even if they lose to ODU they could end up being a factor on Selection Sunday. VCU is currently 23-10 and 10-6 in the CAA, including 8-7 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over UCLA. Old Dominion and George Mason, along with bad losses to South Florida, Georgia State and Northeastern. Their RPI is 49th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be in the 50-55 range when the new numbers come out tomorrow. With a loss to Old Dominion tomorrow, VCU would probably be NIT-bound. But if the bubble gets weaker? They could sneak in. So no matter what happens tomorrow, VCU made the bubble at least a little bit less soft with this big win.

#23 Kentucky 64, Tennessee 58
It goes to show you what I've said many times, which is that casual fans and tv talking heads overrate results in close games and results on the road. There's just so much luck involved in close games. A week ago Kentucky was 1-6 in road SEC games and 0-6 in all games decided by five points or less. We were told that Kentucky couldn't win close games and couldn't win road games. Then on Tuesday they beat Vanderbilt by two. And then earlier today they went into Tennessee, on Senior Night, and escaped with a close, hard fought victory.

This game was huge for Kentucky because a bye in the SEC tournament was on the line. Kentucky now finishes second in the SEC East and will have a bye. I've been saying all season long that Kentucky is the best team in the SEC rather than Florida, and I feel even more confident in their chances in the SEC tournament because I think they actually have an easier path. It has to do with the peculiarities of a system with two divisions where one division is far better than the other. Kentucky will face either Ole Miss or South Carolina in their quarterfinal game, while Florida will face either Arkansas or Tennessee. Tennessee is by far a tougher opponent than Ole Miss or South Carolina. In the semis, should they get there, Kentucky would face the survivor of Alabama/Georgia/Auburn. Florida would play the survivor of Vanderbilt/MSU/LSU. As good as Alabama's defense is, I'd rather play them than Vanderbilt. With a potential path of Tennessee then Vanderbilt then Kentucky, I just don't like Florida's chances to win the SEC tournament. Kentucky is the favorite.

Tennessee could have locked up a Tournament bid with a win here, and even with this loss they're still in the Field of 68. But they enter the SEC tournament with work left to do. Certainly Tennessee can not afford a loss in the first round against Arkansas. But even with that win and a loss in the quarterfinals against Florida they might have to sweat out Selection Sunday. They'll need to beat Florida to assure themselves an at-large bid.

USC 62, Washington 60
Washington came out looking terrible and fell behind by double-digits early, and fought hard to get back into the game with tight defense but struggled because a lid was on the basket (2-for-15 shooting behind the arc). That story I just told describes about half of Washington's Pac-10 games this season. It's getting to the point that you'd think they would change something. Maybe change up the pregame meal or something. Because even though both Pomeroy and Sagarin rate Washington as one of the 20 best teams in the nation, their resume is looking really weak, and they now head into the Pac-10 tournament with work to do to avoid falling into the NIT.

Washington finishes the regular season 20-10 and 11-7 in Pac-10 play with a 7-7 record against the RPI Top 100. They have wins over Arizona and UCLA (twice) along with bad losses to Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State. Their RPI is 46th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 55th. Washington will open the Pac-10 tournament against Washington State, and I honestly think they've got to have that win to make the NCAA Tournament. There's always a chance that the bubble will stay weak or will get weaker and Washington will be able to sneak in with a loss to Wazzu, but I expect the bubble to tighten. That game, which will be Thursday evening on Fox Sports for those that are interested, is (in my opinion) an elimination game. Wazzu certainly would have their at-large hopes extinguished with a loss there.

USC is a team that wasn't even on the bubble radar a few weeks ago, but they've won five of their last six games and actually would have to be in the bubble discussion if the season ended now. They finish the regular season 18-13 and 10-8 in the Pac-10 with a 7-7 record against the RPI Top 100 and wins over Texas, Tennessee, UCLA, Arizona and Washington. The problem is, they've also got a bunch of horrible losses, including losses against Bradley, TCU, Rider, Oregon State and Oregon (twice). As I've said many times, the Selection Committee prefers teams with big wins and bad losses to teams with neither, but USC's overall computer numbers are still very soft. Their RPI is 68th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 80th. In my opinion, USC has to reach the Pac-10 tournament finals to have any hope at an at-large bid. They will open against California in the Pac-10 quarterfinals on Thursday, and if they win they will play either Arizona, Stanford or Oregon State in the Pac-10 semis.

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