Monday, February 28, 2011

Cheerleader-Gate Overshadows Big Result

#16 Louisville 62, #6 Pittsburgh 59, OT
By now, everybody and their sister has heard about the idiot male cheerleader on Louisville who ran on the court and threw the ball up in the air in celebration, unaware that there were still 0.4 seconds remaining. This allowed Pitt to get two technical free throws and gave them a desperation attempt to tie the game that they missed. I was watching the game live, and my favorite quote came from one of the announcers after the game was over when the camera was zoomed in on the offending cheerleader. I'll paraphrase the quote as I remember it: "Only the equipment manager will know just how nervous he was on that final shot attempt." As humorous as that situation was, it overshadowed what was a great win, and a tremendous defensive performance from Louisville. Pitt has one of the five best offenses in the nation, and Louisville stopped them cold. Louisville forced 15 turnovers and held Pitt to a 45.3 eFG%. Overall, Pitt was held to 0.85 PPP. To put that in perspective, Pitt hadn't been held below 0.97 PPP all season. Probably the most underrated part of the performance was on the boards. Pitt is second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and it's a huge reason why their offense is so efficient. Louisville, though not normally a very good defensive rebounding team, held Pitt to a 25% offensive rebounding percentage - their lowest of the entire season.

Louisville has won three straight to get to 11-5 in Big East play. If they can win their two remaining regular season games (vs Providence, at West Virginia) they will lock up one of the four coveted double-byes in the Big East tournament, and will potentially finish as high as second place. At 8-5 against the RPI Top 50 and with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that's up to 14th, they would be in contention for a 3 seed if the season ended now. If they can win their final two games and do some damage in the Big East tournament, a 2 seed isn't entirely out of the question.

Pitt's lead is down a single game over Notre Dame. They will be favored in their final two games (at USF, vs Villanova), and might need to take care of business in both to hang onto that outright Big East title. Another worry for Pitt has to be the increasing support that BYU is getting for a 1 seed. Even assuming that Pitt wins their final two games, they might need to win the Big East tournament to lock up a 1 seed. Certainly Pitt fans will be watching closely as the muddled Big East standings start to clear up, as they get a better idea of what kind of route they'll have to take through the Big East tournament. The double-bye, which they've already clinched, will be a huge help. Don't forget that Pitt has historically done very well at Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament.

#19 North Carolina 87, Maryland 76
I'm actually surprised that the North Carolina hype hasn't been louder in the media. They're normally one of the media darlings, yet casual fans at this point probably don't even know how large of a turnaround Harrison Barnes has made, and how well North Carolina has been playing over the past few weeks. Both of these teams like to run, and this game was played at a breakneck pace (81 possessions). It's easier for teams with inferior raw talent to hide that at a slow pace, but in a track meet it becomes very apparent which team has more athleticism. In this particular game, it became clear very early that Jordan Williams is the only Maryland player that could crack the North Carolina starting lineup. And Williams is more effective at a slower pace anyway - Maryland just doesn't have guards that can pressure and attack like Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall can. Strickland and Marshall combined for 18 assists and 5 turnovers in this game - a testament to how much better the team's ball control and passing have been since Larry Drew left.

North Carolina has won 10 of 11 to pull even in the ACC standings. They still have to get past a tricky road game at Florida State on Wednesday, but if they can then they'll head into a Saturday night game against Duke in Chapel Hill with the ACC title on the line. I have a feeling that the hype for UNC will get started before that game tips off. North Carolina only had one very good win out-of-conference (Kentucky), but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 17th. If the season ended now they'd be a 5 seed, but they can easily move up to a 4 or even a 3 if they win the ACC.

Maryland continues to search for a big scalp. They are 1-9 against the RPI Top 50, and the lone win was not particularly impressive (at home against Florida State). Their best non-conference win was against Penn State, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is still only 63rd. There's no question that if the season ended now they'd be out of the Tournament. They head into a big road game on Wednesday night at Miami. They should win their finale on Senior Night against Virginia, so if they can beat Miami then they'll likely finish 9-7 in ACC play, and a finish above .500 will mean a lot when you consider the lack of respect the Selection Committee will likely have for the conference. If they win both of those games they'll also likely set up a reasonable path through the ACC tournament. They'd almost definitely finish as the 5 seed, which would put them against Wake Forest in the first round, and then (most likely) Florida State or Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals. There could be an at-large bid on the line if that potential ACC quarterfinal match-up comes to pass.

Washington State 80, Washington 69
Washington is frustrating to watch because it's obvious that there's an elite team inside. Even if you put aside the computer numbers, you can see it in spurts. Even in this game I briefly saw the same team that beat Arizona by 18 points and won at UCLA by double-digits. With about 10:30 to go, Washington State led this game by 21, and the Huskies tried to get back in the game with a full court press that began forcing steals and delivering easy baskets. They went on a 24-10 run over the next 6:30, and got within six points before a tv timeout seemed to take the life and energy out of the crowd and the players. Washington self-destructed over the next few minutes with 0-for-4 shooting and 2 turnovers, and finally topped by a frustration technical foul on Venoy Overton. Even before the technical foul the game was over. Two stats that stand out to me from this game were 8-for-27 three-point shooting from Washington and 32-for-36 free throw shooting from Wazzu, which helped them put the game away in the final minutes.

For Washington, the story all season long has been offense, and the way that they've had stretches where they've seemed like one of the most explosive offenses in the land, and other stretches where it seemed they weren't ever going to score again. This season, Washington is 0-6 when scoring less than 1 PPP (this game against Wazzu was the sixth). Washington is 18-1 when scoring more than 1.06 PPP. And it's not like they're just struggling against good defenses. Their worst offensive output of the season actually came in a 68-56 loss to Oregon State, probably the worst defense in the entire Pac-10. Washington will come home this week to play USC and UCLA, arguably the two best defenses in the Pac-10, in games that they actually need to have. The Huskies have fallen to 10-6 in the Pac-10 and have fewer RPI Top 50 wins (2, against Arizona and UCLA) than RPI 100+ losses (3, against Oregon State, Stanford and Oregon), and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen all the way to 52nd. With the lack of big wins, I don't think Washington can make the NCAA Tournament unless they win at least two more games. If the bubble is strong, Washington might actually need three more wins between the regular season and Pac-10 tournament.

Washington State moves to 8-8 in Pac-10 play with this win, and they are also 6-7 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 76th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 70th. If they're going to make a run at an at-large bid they've really got to win their final two regular season games, at home against USC and UCLA. If the season ended now the Pac-10 tournament would actually have a quarterfinal match-up of Washington vs Washington State, and a match-up like that could potentially be an at-large elimination game. Certainly Wazzu will need to make some noise in the Pac-10 tournament, against whoever they face, to avoid the NIT.

Purdue Embarrasses Michigan State

#8 Purdue 67, Michigan State 47
When Michigan State had their awful stretch a month ago where they lost five of six games, the primary reason was atrocious defense. I detailed all the stats showing that in a post here. Even during the worst of their slump, Michigan State's offense was still moving along with an okay efficiency. But in this slaughter last night (at the Breslin Center, mind you), it was Michigan State's offense was that a joke. MSU had a 34.2 eFG% and had more turnovers (12) than assists (11). They finished with 0.73 PPP, which was by far their worst offensive output of the season. Even in that 20 point loss to Iowa, which had previously been their worst offensive performance of the season and which had been seen by many as the nadir of the MSU season, they still managed 0.81 PPP. Obviously a lot of credit has to go to Purdue's defense. JaJuan Johnson was a monster in the paint with 7 blocks all by himself, Lewis Jackson is a tremendous one-on-one perimeter defender, and Purdue is as good of a team at rotating and helping on defense as anybody. But even by their standards this was unbelievable. The only two teams to perform worse offensively against Purdue this season were Alcorn State and Howard, two cupcakes that the Boilers destroyed to start the season in November. I should never have to talk about Michigan State's offense in the same sentence as Alcorn State and Howard.

So what to make of this? It's possible that Michigan State is just mentally weak. Usually when teams lose their mental focus it comes on defense, which is why I say that almost all losing streaks are caused by defensive slumps. But against Purdue, it's very easy to get frustrated offensively. So maybe Michigan State is just all around a mentally weak team. And that's a problem for a Spartans team that honestly still has a lot of work to do to lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State does have some strong aspects to their resume: wins over Washington, Wisconsin and Illinois, an 8-8 Big Ten record and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 35th. Their biggest problem is that they are only 15-12 against Division I teams this season, which is way too close to .500 to feel comfortable. They play against Iowa on Wednesday, and then head to Michigan on Saturday. Remember that Michigan already beat them at the Breslin Center, and obviously Iowa had their 20 point demolition when the teams played in Iowa City. If Michigan State does not sweep those two games then they will need at least one win in the Big Ten tournament.

#15 UConn 67, Cincinnati 59
UConn shot the lights out in this game (10-for-19 behind the arc), although Cincinnati did make a late run. In fact, UConn's Alex Oriakhi missed a free throw with 40 seconds to go and Yancy Gates came down with the rebound, with Cincy back within 7 points and the crowd ready for a great comeback... and then Jeremy Lamb stripped the ball right out of Gates's hands, taking the air out of the comeback and ending the game. This was a great bounce back road win for UConn after two straight losses. They still have two tough games to go (at West Virginia, vs Notre Dame), but at 9-7 in Big East play they're in a good position to earn a single bye in the Big East tournament. And despite that 9-7 conference record, they are 12-7 against the RPI Top 100, including 8-6 against the RPI Top 50, with no losses against a team with an RPI worse than 51st. That's why their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 12th and they remain very much in the hunt for a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Cincinnati is getting a reputation as a team that takes care of business but can't rise to the occasion about the big boys. They are 4-7 against the RPI Top 35 and 15-0 against everybody else. And those four wins (Xavier, St. John's, Georgetown Louisville) are good, but nowhere near the scalp collection that the big boys in the Big East have collected, particularly since that Georgetown win came in the game that Chris Wright was injured. Cincy's RPI is 39th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 16th, and in my opinion their NCAA Tournament seed will likely be in between those two. If the season ended now they'd be in the 5-8 seed range. They might still be one win away from completely locking up an at-large bid, but I expect them to get that. They play at Marquette on Wednesday and then get Georgetown at home on Saturday. And even if they do lose both of those they'll get dumped to the first round of the Big East tournament, where they should clean up against a team like DePaul or Rutgers. So Cincy should be in the NCAA Tournament, but just beware of picking them to go far in your bracket.

Xavier 66, Dayton 62
With the way Xavier has been playing lately, you have to give Dayton a lot of credit for fighting back from a 12 point second half deficit to nearly take them out. Tu Holloway was the man down the stretch for Xavier, scoring their last seven points, including two free throws to ice the game with six seconds remaining. For the game, Holloway had 26 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Holloway is scoring 20.5 points per game, including 21.1 in Atlantic Ten play, a number that leads the conference. Holloway has also locked up a spot in the "Here are the people you don't know yet that you should pay attention in the NCAA Tournament" columns that every lazy sportswriter will be putting out in two weeks. Xavier is rolling with 14 wins in their last 15 games, and they only need a win over Charlotte and St. Louis to finish the season to lock up the outright A-10 regular season title. Xavier does have zero wins against the RPI Top 25 along with two RPI 100+ losses (Charlotte and Miami-Ohio), but their RPI is 22nd and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 27th, and there's a wide gulf between them and the bubble right now. They'd probably have to lose every game between now and Selection Sunday to fall onto the bubble.

This loss is nearly a knock-out punch for Dayton's at-large chances. We can chalk this one up as another win for Sagarin and Pomeroy, which both were very down on Dayton, even when they were 13-3 with wins over George Mason and New Mexico and were getting tons of at-large hype. Coming into this game they were 6-0 in games decided by four points or less or in overtime, so they've been lucky. Even after this loss they are still 22nd in the Pomeroy Luck ratings. Dayton is now 19-10 with a 1-5 record against the RPI Top 50 (the George Mason win) and with bad losses to UMass and East Tennessee State, an RPI that is 63rd and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 67th. They'll have to win out at least through to the A-10 semifinals to have any shot at an at-large bid.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 Conference Tournament Previews: Part I

For the complete list of conference tournament previews, as well as a schedule of when all of these games will be played, please click here.

Atlantic Sun:
This was the Belmont show all season long. They went 19-1 in conference play, and won those games by an average of over 20 points per. And this is a team with computer numbers that are out of this world for an Atlantic Sun team. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 42nd, their PREDICTOR is 27th and their Pomeroy rating is 21st. The caveat is: as good as their computer numbers have been, they went 0-3 against the RPI Top 100. They lost three close games against SEC opponents: Vanderbilt and Tennessee (twice). But the reality is, this doesn't matter. I've talked many times about how statistically, the popular idea that if you haven't beaten good teams yet it means you can't beat good team is, in fact, nonsense. And we only have to go back to the 2007-08 Davidson team that went 0-4 against the RPI Top 100 during the regular season, and proceeded to beat Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament. Belmont wins with a suffocating defense that forces a zillion turnovers, but they don't have a true elite scorer that can get them big baskets against elite defenses (Ian Clark is good, but he's no Stephen Curry). So while they might have a Sweet 16 run in them, let's not confuse them with the 2007-08 Davidson team.

As for the conference tournament, is it a given that Belmont wins? They're definitely the heavy favorites, but if I'm going to be play devil's advocate I'll argue that the league has caught up to Belmont a little over the past few weeks. In their first 8 conference games they won every single time by 15+, averaging a 27.8 point victory. Since then, in addition to losing a game, 3 of their final 11 wins came by single-digits. East Tennessee State, their top competitor, only lost by ten on Belmont's home floor. ETSU has also beaten Dayton and Mississippi State this season, and are rated the 108th best team in the nation by Pomeroy and 116th by Sagarin. Lipscomb is also rated near 150th, and is the team that has already beaten Belmont. So, Belmont could lose. But don't bet on it.

Big South:
Coastal Carolina ran through this conference again and is the heavy favorite. But even when they were 15-0 in conference play and 24-2 overall I felt that they were overrated. This was no Belmont - destroying everything in its path. Instead, six of those first 15 conference wins were by six points or less. It wasn't that shocking when they finally lost a couple of narrow games, to UNC-Asheville and Gardner Webb, down the stretch. On the season they are still 9-2 in games decided by six points or less. Liberty will be the 2 seed in the Big South tournament, but UNC-Asheville is probably the top contender to Coastal Carolina. UNC-Asheville had some bad luck with a 2-5 record in conference games decided by five points or less, and they did beat Auburn this season (I know, not that impressive... but for a Big South team that's still a nice win). So if Coastal Carolina does go down, UNC-Asheville would be my pick. But my pick is still Coastal Carolina.

Horizon League:
With Butler taking a step back and the rest of the league stepping up, this became one of the most muddled conferences in the nation. The league ended up with a three-way tie atop the standings, between Butler, Cleveland State and UW-Milwaukee. Butler and Cleveland State are both on the bubble and were expected to be good, but UW-Milwaukee has been on an unbelievable run. After losing a slew of bad games earlier this season they have responded by winning nine straight in conference play, including wins over each of the five best teams in the conference (Butler, Cleveland State, Valparaiso, Detroit and Wright State). With one of the two double-byes (Butler has the other), and homecourt advantage, how can UW-Milwaukee not be considered a top contender for the Horizon tournament title right now?

Cleveland State has arguably the best overall resume of any Horizon League team, and they probably have the best player (Norris Cole), but they've been dealt a tough draw. They must beat Illinois-Chicago (not a gimme) and then probably Wright State in the quarterfinals, and then Butler in the semifinals, just so they can possibly play a finals game at UW-Milwaukee. That's brutal. In my opinion, Butler is the favorite to win the conference tournament. They are (in my opinion) the best team. And they have a bye into the semifinals where they'll have a game where the best possible opponent (Cleveland State) is a team they've already swept this season. They might have to win a true road championship game at UW-Milwaukee (a team that swept them this season), but I've been saying all season that Butler has been playing to their opponent. They've been playing biggest in their biggest games. It's just very difficult mentally for a team to go from a National Championship game to bringing a high level of intensity to a game against Youngstown State. And that's why even after all of those bad losses in the middle of the season I correctly picked Butler to win a road game at Cleveland State, and why I think they'll rise to the occasion in the Horizon title game, even if it's on the road.

With Siena's reign atop the conference over, this ended up being a very tight conference race all season. In the end, Fairfield pulled away with the regular season title (15-3, two games clear of the pack), but they achieved that by pulling out a series of narrow victories over the bottom of the conference. Against the top of the conference they were mediocre. They split their season series with Rider, Iona and Loyola (Md) and needed a one point overtime win to survive a road game at St. Peter's. I've believed all season long that the best team was Iona, rather than Fairfield. And honestly, the difference in the team's records has mostly to do with the fact that Fairfield was 4-1 in games decided by five points or less, while Iona was 3-7. It's also worth pointing out that Fairfield was 7th in the nation in free throw defense, so either they have the most distracting fans behind the opposing basket or they got lucky there too.

I think Iona is the team with the most talent, and they've simply taken some time getting used to playing under a new coach. Fairfield relies most on a perimeter pressure defense that forces a lot of turnovers, but Iona has the best point guard in the conference (Scott Machado). So for those reasons, I've stuck with Iona all season long, and they remain my pick to win the MAAC tournament. Fairfield will likely be the media's favorite. The most likely team to upset both to steal the automatic bid is, obviously, Rider.

Missouri Valley:
The Missouri Valley, honestly, hit a new low this season. I love watching Missouri Valley games because the crowds are great and the games are fun, but the level of play in the conference is at the lowest it's been in years. I already detailed what a debacle their Bracketbusters performance was. It's very unlikely that either Missouri State or Wichita State can earn an at-large bid, so Arch Madness will be entirely about who will win the automatic bid. Missouri State and Wichita State are the clear two best teams, and Missouri State swept the season series and will be the #1 seed. Yet I've already talked in detail about why I think Wichita State is the favorite. Rather than regurgitate the same arguments, let me just link to it here. Staring at the bracket, I've actually got another advantage for WSU. Despite having the 2 seed, I actually think they'll have the easier semifinal match-up. In my opinion, the third and fourth best teams are (in arbitrary order) Northern Iowa and Creighton. Those two teams will play in the 4/5 game, and the winner will play MSU. Indiana State managed to wrest the 3 seed from those two, and if form holds they will play WSU in the semifinals. So that's just another reason, in my opinion, to pick Wichita State as the favorite..

The NEC has been seemingly an automatic 16 seed for the past few years, but LIU is actually making a pretty good case for a 15 (or maybe even a 14?) seed. They blew through the conference and finished 24-5 overall. They didn't beat anybody good out-of-conference, but they didn't lose to anybody particularly bad either (Iona, at Northwestern, at St. Peter's). Their only really bad loss on the season was against St. Francis (PA). LIU has been even better than last year's Robert Morris team, which if you recall ended up taking Villanova to overtime in the NCAA Tournament. LIU should have little trouble making the NEC finals, but they could get trouble there, where they will likely face Quinnipiac or Robert Morris. Even though Robert Morris is rated the second best team in the conference by both Sagarin and Pomeroy, and beat LIU this season, I think Quinnipiac is the scarier match-up.

LIU's strength is offensive rebounding and their weakness is turnovers. And in that loss to Robert Morris, they actually were not challenged in either of those categories. They had an OR% of 48.7 and only had a turnover rate of 16.1% (lower than their season average of 20.4%). LIU lost the game because Robert Morris shot the lights out (10-for-23 behind the arc, compared to 5-for-23 for LIU) and hit all of their free throws (10-for-10) to overcome a fierce LIU rally late. LIU also did them a favor by hitting only 18-for-30 on their own free throws. Quinnipiac didn't get a chance to play LIU at home this year, and they actually are a better rebounding team, and won the rebounding battle when these teams played this season. When they played at LIU, Quinnipiac had an ice cold 41.0 eFG% compared to 55.6% for LIU. And even with that, and homecourt advantage, LIU only won by ten. To wrap all of those numbers up, I think Quinnipiac is the team best positioned to take out LIU. LIU is still the favorite, though.

Ohio Valley:
The OVC had a three-headed monster that dominated the league: Murray State, Morehead State and Austin Peay. All three went 1-1 against each other, and all are rated as somewhere between the 110th and 135th best teams in the nation by both Sagarin and Pomeroy. All three teams are similar in that they are solid defensively and force a lot of turnovers, but are poor offensively. Murray State does have a couple of strong outside shooters that can get hot, and Morehead State draws its strength from their super-rebounder Kenneth Faried. Faried's stats are inflated by the conference he's in, and he wouldn't have broken Tim Duncan's NCAA record of 1570 rebounds if he were playing in a BCS conference, but he is a legitimately elite rebounder. Watching him play, he's a beast, and looks like a man amongst boys in the OVC. He can bang with anybody.

That said, Austin Peay seems the weakest of the three teams to me. They rely on an uptempo pressing defense, but have no way to put up points if they're not getting steals. They've actually had more success out-of-conference (a win against St Louis and an overtime loss to Memphis, for example), where teams are not used to their playing style. In conference they've had less success, and have been outscored on net by both Murray State and Morehead State. I think Morehead State beats them in the OVC semifinals and gets Murray State in the finals. And there I give the edge to Murray State. I'm giving the edge to the team that has been there before and has had so much success dominating the Ohio Valley Conference for years. They've won four of the last nine OVC tournaments, and I think they're the narrow favorites to win again.

Patriot League:
Bucknell ran away with the Patriot League this season, with only American University remotely in the same universe. They had one inexplicable 20 point loss at Army, but won every other conference game by an average of more than 10 points. Bucknell also beat Richmond this season, and only lost to Boston College by four points, so they're not at all a bad team. If they can earn a 14 seed (very realistic) then they might give a 3 seed problems. Don't forget that we're only six years removed from that Bucknell team that, as a 14 seed, knocked off Kansas in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. This will be the fifth straight year that the Patriot League has played all games at the campus location of the higher seed, and in the previous four the title was won by the 1 seed. Yes, there's a chance that American might pull a shocking upset, but don't bet on it. Bucknell should win.

Southern Conference:
The Southern Conference always has a hard tournament to project because of the two divisions and the fact that there are so many teams. This year, the clear best team was Charleston, which was no surprise to anybody. What was surprising (at least to me) was that the rest of the conference was relatively weak. Wofford was the only other quality team in the conference over the course of the season. Those two teams finished 1-2 in the SoCon South, so they'll be on pace to face each other in the SoCon tournament finals. Charleston did sweep the season series, and they'll be favored to win. And, like I said, they're the better team. But you can't count out Wofford because they have a trio of outstanding three point shooters that can really got hot. They hit 40.5% as a team from behind the arc on the season, which was 9th best in the nation. They shot poorly in both of their match-ups with Charleston this season, but there's no reason why that should happen again. Charleston's defense isn't particularly stout. So, Charleston is the favorite, but don't be shocked if Wofford wins instead. The darkhorse is Davidson, a team that has won nine of ten, and beaten both Charleston and Wofford during that stretch (the Wofford win came on the road). So throw Davidson in the hat as a legitimate contender as well.

Complete 2011 Conference Tournament Previews

As promised, here is a calendar and my previews for the 2011 conference tournaments. The previews will be done over the next week, because ideally I will be able to wait for each conference's regular season to end before previewing its postseason tournament. So stay tuned. The links at the bottom with the conference previews will go live as soon as those previews are published.

First, the calendar. This is a guide so that you can check back each day to see which conference tournaments will be playing, and how far into the tournament each conference is. Here is that listing:

Tuesday, March 1st:
Quarterfinals: Big South
First Round: Horizon

Wednesday, March 2nd:
Quarterfinals: Atlantic Sun, Patriot
First Round: OVC

Thursday, March 3rd:
Semifinals: Big South
Quarterfinals: Atlantic Sun, OVC
First Round: America East, Missouri Valley, NEC

Friday, March 4th:
Semifinals: Atlantic Sun, OVC
Quarterfinals: Horizon, Missouri Valley
First Round: Colonial, MAAC, SoCon, WCC

Saturday, March 5th:
Championship: Atlantic Sun, Big South, OVC
Semifinals: Horizon, Missouri Valley
Quarterfinals: America East, Big Sky, Colonial, MAAC, SoCon, Summit, WCC
First Round: Sun Belt

Sunday, March 6th:
Championship:, Missouri Valley
Semifinals: America East, Colonial, MAAC, NEC, Patriot, SoCon, WCC
Quarterfinals: Summit, Sun Belt

Monday, March 7th:
Championship: Colonial, MAAC, SoCon, WCC
Semifinals: Summit, Sun Belt

Tuesday, March 8th:
Championship: Horizon, Summit, Sun Belt
Semifinals: Big Sky
First Round: Atlantic Ten, Big East, MAC, MEAC

Wednesday, March 9th:
Championship: Big Sky, NEC
Quarterfinals: MEAC, Southland, SWAC
Second Round: Big East
First Round: Big 12, Conference USA, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-10, WAC

Thursday, March 10th:
Semifinals: Southland
Quarterfinals: Big East, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-10, SWAC, WAC
First Round: ACC, Big Ten, SEC

Friday, March 11th:
Championship: Patriot
Semifinals: Big East, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-10, SWAC, WAC
Quarterfinals: ACC, Atlantic Ten, Big Ten, SEC

Saturday, March 12th:
Championship: America East, Big East, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-10, Southland, SWAC, WAC
Semifinals: ACC, Atlantic Ten, Big Ten, SEC

Sunday, March 13th:
Championship: ACC, Atlantic Ten, Big Ten, SEC

Conference Tournament Previews:
America East
Atlantic Sun
Atlantic Ten
Big East
Big Sky
Big South
Big Ten
Big 12
Big West
Conference USA
Missouri Valley
Mountain West
Ohio Valley
Patriot League
Sun Belt

W-2 BP68

We're two weeks from Selection Sunday. Conference tournaments will begin Monday, so I will begin posting my conference tournament previews. The first will be up Sunday night (that would be tomorrow night, or tonight, depending on what time zone you're in). The next BP68 will be out after Wednesday night's games.

Remember, this is a projection of where things will end up and not a snapshot of where things are now. If your team is not rated where you think they should be, please tell me what you think I did wrong in the comments and I'll be happy to discuss it with you. One other note is that teams in CAPS are teams I'm projecting to earn automatic bids.

As always, here is how I see things ending up:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. BYU (MWC)
2. Texas
2. Purdue
2. San Diego State

3. Notre Dame
3. Syracuse
3. Wisconsin
3. Louisville

4. North Carolina
4. UConn
4. Villanova
4. Florida

5. Georgetown
5. Arizona
5. Cincinnati

6. St. John's
6. Texas A&M
6. Vanderbilt

7. West Virginia
7. Missouri

8. Xavier
8. Tennessee
8. Michigan State

9. George Mason
9. Kansas State
9. Illinois

10. Marquette
10. Georgia
10. Virginia Tech
10. Richmond

11. Baylor
11. Saint Mary's (WCC)
11. Florida State

12. UAB
12. Maryland
12. Minnesota
12. Alabama




16. LIU (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Boston College, Clemson, Michigan, Colorado, Missouri State, Gonzaga

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Dayton, Penn State, Nebraska, Southern Miss, Cleveland State, Colorado State

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Duquesne, Oklahoma State, Drexel, VCU, Marshall, UTEP, Princeton, New Mexico, Washington State

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Miami (Fl), NC State, Virginia, Rhode Island, Northwestern, Hofstra, James Madison, Tulsa, Valparaiso, Fairfield, California, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State

Va Tech Beats #1 Duke, But Beating #1 Is Overrated

Virginia Tech 64, #1 Duke 60
While Duke has on occasion gone three-happy during upsets, in this game they actually only had a 3PA/FGA of 0.35 (below their season average). But they couldn't hit a shot, and finished 4-for-20 behind the arc. What was perhaps more important, however, was Virginia Tech's offense. They only turned the ball over 5 times and came down with 14 offensive rebounds. And with such a thin team (the bench combined for zero points scored) the entire starting lineup showed up. In fact, all five starters scored in double-digits. Interestingly enough, Duke isn't really capable of taking advantage of a thin opponent. With Kyrie Irving out and Seth Curry and Miles Plumlee giving the team nothing, Duke actually spent most of the game with a six man rotation. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler both played all 40 minutes.

This was a great win for Virginia Tech, but the mainstream media is way overstating how much it impacts Virginia Tech's resume. Dick Vitale went on a long rambling rant after this game about how if you beat the #1 team and finish above .500 in a major conference you should never get left out of the Tournament, and how Virginia Tech was now a "lock" for the Tournament. Not exactly. This is still the team's only win against the RPI Top 45, and they've got three RPI 100+ losses: Georgia Tech and Virginia (twice). Virginia Tech's RPI is 50th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be up close to 40th. If the season ended now they would be in the Tournament, but they've still got work to do. One other thing Dick Vitale said was that a win over a #1 team is equal to wins over five other ranked teams. Huh? In fact, beating the #1 team at home is about as easy to do as beating the 25-30th best team in the nation on the road. I'm not trying to take away from how fun it is to be somewhere that a #1 team goes down. I've been there and it's awesome. But beating a #1 at home isn't a Tournament ticket-puncher. It's great, but it's still overrated. Virginia Tech needs at least one more win (and probably two) to lock up a Tournament bid. They will play Boston College on Tuesday, and then will play at Clemson next Saturday.

As for Duke, this loss increases to non-negligible chances their odds of winning the ACC tournament and not getting a 1 seed. They will play Clemson on Wednesday night, and then will play at North Carolina next Saturday. If they can win both of those games and then win the ACC tournament then they will get a 1 seed for sure. But if they lose one of those two remaining regular season games? Things could get interesting. Particularly since a loss to North Carolina would presumably cost them the ACC regular season title.

Baylor 58, #17 Texas A&M 51
Both of these teams went cold offensively for long stretches, particularly in the second half. Both teams shot below 40% from the field for the game. The difference in this game was the fact that Baylor has two go-to scorers (LaceDarius Dunn and Perry Jones) that both were able to hit shots in clutch moments. Texas A&M has a go-to scorer (Khris Middleton), but he had a bad day (4-for-16 from the field), and the Aggies had nobody else who could step up on the road against a team as good as Baylor. Baylor was the team that came in with more urgency, too, with so much left to do just to get themselves into the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor moves to 7-7 in Big 12 play with this win, and they now have a couple of RPI Top 50 wins (both again Texas A&M) to go with their bad losses (Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Iowa State). Both their RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS are still very close to 75th, but I think Baylor is on the bubble. They'd be out of the Tournament if the season ended now, but they're only one big win away, and they've got Texas coming to town next weekend. I actually think they'll win that game, honestly. The tougher game is the road game at Oklahoma State on Tuesday.

Central Florida 65, Southern Miss 64
Other than Tennessee, it's hard to think of another team more schizophrenic this year than Central Florida. This is a team that started the season 14-0 with quality wins over Florida, Miami (Fl), Marshall and Princeton - earning a spot in the Top 25. This same team proceeded to lose eight straight conference games - yes, eight straight. And since that they've come back with four wins in their last five games, including wins over UTEP, Tulsa and now Southern Miss. And the one loss in that stretch was a very respectable five point loss at UAB. Honestly, I think this is a talented team that is just young, with a young coach in his first year at the school, in a program that has no history of success, that just didn't know how to deal with success or failure and allowed a cold streak to snowball.

UCF actually has an RPI of 59th right now, although it doesn't matter. They're going to finish below .500 in Conference USA, so they're not earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But they are a good team that appears to be hitting its stride at the right time - they have to be considered a sleeper in the CUSA tournament. As for Southern Miss, it's worth noting that they entered this game with an RPI near 40th and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 48th. With this loss that ELO_CHESS will drop out of the Top 50, and they're only 1-3 against the RPI Top 50 (the win was over UAB). They also have a bad loss to SMU. This loss doesn't end the at-large hopes of Southern Miss, but it eliminates their margin of error. They've got two regular season games left (vs UAB, at Tulsa) and I think they've got to win both of those.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Michigan Bounces Back At Minnesota

Michigan 70, Minnesota 63
Tim Hardaway, Jr led all scorers with 22 points, but Michigan won this game because of Darius Morris. Minnesota is extremely thin in the backcourt and often plays with four forwards, which makes it so difficult for them to guard a Michigan team that basically plays four guards at all times. Morris in particular is hard for anybody to guard one-on-one, and he was attacking the Minnesota defense with reckless abandon in the second half as Michigan came back from a late deficit to score a huge victory. Morris not only scored on those drives (8-for-14 on two-pointers), but he also set up his teammates with seven assists.

You have to give Michigan credit for bouncing back in a strong way from that heartbreaking buzzer beater loss to Wisconsin. They're now 8-9 in the Big Ten with only a home game against Michigan State left. They already won at the Breslin Center, but MSU is playing a lot better now than they were back then. Should Michigan win, though, they'll enter the Big Ten tournament 3-8 against the RPI Top 50 with a Top 50 RPI of their own. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is already in the Top 50. If they can beat Michigan State and then win a game in the Big Ten tournament, they'll at least be in the discussion on Selection Sunday. But honestly, I think they need to do even more than that to feel good about their at-large chances.

Minnesota has fallen like a rock. They've lost 7 of 8 and are now 6-10 in Big Ten play with three RPI Top 50 wins (North Carolina, West Virginia and Purdue) and two RPI 100+ losses (Indiana and Virginia). They finish the season at Northwestern on Wednesday, and then at The Barn next Sunday against Penn State. I don't think any team is making the NCAA Tournament with a record four games under .500 in conference play, so Minnesota really needs to win those last two games. They have quality wins, so if they can win those last two games and then one game in the Big Ten tournament they should be in good shape. But I just really can't see a 7-11 Minnesota team making the NCAA Tournament. For Minnesota the NCAA Tournament has already begun - they can't afford a loss.

#22 Kentucky 76, #13 Florida 68
I'm not sure anybody could have expected a different result in this game. Kentucky came into this one having won 33 straight at home, while they're 1-6 in SEC road games. There's no clear reason for this - all aspects of their game are far better at home than on the road. At home this season they are scoring 1.19 PPP and allowing 0.85, while on the road they are scoring 1.04 PPP and allowing 0.99. First of all, think for a second about how dominant that home performance is. Often it's hard for fans to truly swallow PPP numbers since we're used to thinking in points per game. So to break that into points per game, the average score of Kentucky home games this season is 83.5-59.7. Almost a 24 point margin! On the road, they are averaging a 72.3-68.6 victory. The reason they're outscoring their opponents on the road but losing so many games? Mostly it's just luck. You'll hear a lot of sports writers saying that Kentucky is too young to win close games, and that this proves that they won't do well in the NCAA Tournament. Nonsense. First of all, Kentucky has lost their last five games by an average of 2.2 points per. When you lose a game by 2 points there's a lot of luck involved. Second of all, Kentucky went on a neutral court way back in November and won a close game over Washington - so they obviously do have the ability to beat an elite team away from home. Kentucky will play Tuesday against Vanderbilt, but the bigger test will be next Sunday at Tennessee. It will be good for Kentucky's self-confidence, if nothing else, for them to finish a game off against a good team on the road.

Even with this loss Florida is in the driver's seat in the SEC East. With a win at home on Tuesday night against Alabama they will clinch it. Florida is now a ridiculous 13-3 against the RPI Top 100, although they don't have any truly elite wins. Their best wins came against Xavier, Kansas State, Kentucky, Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt. They've also got a few bad losses (Jacksonville, Mississippi State, South Carolina). Florida's RPI is 12th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will only be narrowly inside the Top 20. I've seen them getting some hype as a potential 2 seed if they win out, but I don't see it. Realistically I don't see them getting any higher than a 3 seed, even if they win out. And I don't expect them to win out anyway.

Mississippi State 70, Tennessee 69
The way traveling is called in basketball has never made sense to me. If a guy is 40 feet from the basket and is holding the ball and accidentally drags his pivot foot 1 inch he gets called for a travel every time, yet in a fast break situation we've all agreed that a player can take two (or often three) steps? Mississippi State scored the winning bucket in this game when Dee Bost attacked the basket, took two steps, and passed to Wendell Lewis for a dunk with three seconds left. When looking at a replay the color guy calling the game (Jimmy Dykes? I forget) counted out the steps: "Okay, let's count the steps: one... two... and then the pass. Good call, it's not a travel". Wait, what? When did we all decide that two steps is okay when gaining an advantage, but it's illegal when you're not gaining an advantage (dragging your foot 1 inch, 40 feet from the basket). But sorry, Tennessee fans, you didn't get "robbed", per se. That's just the way it's called. You guys have benefited from that rule plenty of times yourselves. And the reality is that if Tennessee hadn't shot 5-for-23 on threes or 16-for-23 at the free throw line or turned the ball over 17 times, they wouldn't have had to depend on a traveling call in the final five seconds of the game at home against Mississippi State.

This bad loss puts pressure on a Tennessee team that still hasn't locked up an NCAA Tournament bid. In fact, with a 7-7 SEC record, I think they'll be in really big trouble if they lose both of their remaining games. With a road game at South Carolina and a home game against Kentucky (Kentucky is 1-6 in SEC road games), Tennessee should win at least one. If they win both games they'll lock up an at-large bid. If they split those two games they'll still have some work to do in the SEC tournament. Mississippi State moves to 7-7 themselves, and into a tie for second place in the SEC West with Arkansas. Getting second place and the bye will mean a lot, so MSU has a big game up next at Arkansas on Wednesday night.

CU Stuns Texas, UCLA Draws Even With Arizona

Colorado 91, #5 Texas 89
I warned you a few weeks ago that Texas was due for a couple of bone-headed losses. Rick Barnes teams always have a few of them. The loss to Nebraska wasn't that embarrassing, but this loss was. Colorado isn't a bad team by any means, but Texas led by 22 points at one point, and had an 18 point lead with 17:30 remaining. Over the next 13:30, Colorado went on a 40-11 run. That's not a typo: a 40-11 run. And what was amazing about that run wasn't that Texas went over 8 minutes without making a field goal, but that the defense that entered the day rated as the #1 defense in the nation by Pomeroy allowed 40 points in 13:30. And it was a complete defensive breakdown - not just some hot Colorado shooting. The Buffaloes did hit some clutch threes, but for the game they shot only 8-for-21 (compared to 11-for-23 for Texas, by the way). The Colorado comeback was powered by their guards attacking the basket - constantly beating Texas defenders off the dribble, and never having to face a well-placed help defender. Alec Burks shot 1-for-6 behind the arc, but was 9-for-15 on two-pointers and was 12-for-20 at the free throw line. As a team, Colorado hit 61.5% on two-point attempts and had 21 assists on 32 made baskets.

This loss is costly for Texas because of what happened today in San Diego, and the vastly increased probability that BYU will enter Selection Sunday 32-2, meaning that there's no guarantee that the Big 12 will earn a 1 seed. So Texas could win the Big 12 tournament and still end up with a 2 seed. They should beat Kansas State on Monday night, but then will face a tough battle at Baylor next Saturday. Colorado moves to 7-7 in Big 12 play and 5-6 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Missouri, Texas, Colorado State and Kansas State (twice), along with losses to Oklahoma and San Francisco. Their RPI is only 74th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be up inside the Top 60 when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning, and they'll have more quality wins than most teams on the bubble. Colorado would still be bound for the NIT if the season ended now, but they have to at least be in the bubble discussion after this win. They play at Iowa State on Wednesday and then get Nebraska at home on Saturday. I think that to earn an at-large bid they've got to win both of those games and then win at least one game (and possibly two) in the Big 12 tournament. It's unlikely, but I don't think there's any Colorado fan that wouldn't have signed on preseason to having a plausible path to an at-large bid on March 1st.

UCLA 71, #10 Arizona 49
I know UCLA beat BYU earlier this season, but I think this was the best (and most important) win that UCLA has had in two years. UCLA was playing here for a chance to draw even in the Pac-10 title race and they did so in dominating fashion. UCLA actually had more assists (18) than Arizona had made baskets (17). Reeves Nelson (27 points on 10-for-13 shooting, 15 rebounds) completely outplayed Derrick Williams (15 points on 5-for-11 shooting, 7 rebounds). Arizona as a whole was held to a 35.2 eFG%, the first time they've been held below 40% all season long.

Arizona expected to be heading home from Los Angeles with a Pac-10 regular season title. Instead, they have to leave with two losses and the complete elimination of their two game lead. They are still the favorite to take the regular season, though, with just home games left against the two Oregon schools, while UCLA has to go on the road to play the two Washington schools. But these two losses may end up costing Arizona a 3 seed should they win the Pac-10 tournament. A 4 seed might be as high as they'll go now. Even if UCLA doesn't win the Pac-1o title, this win has strengthened their at-large resume. They've won 12 of their last 14 games and are 12-4 in the Pac-10 with wins over BYU, St. John's and Arizona, along with a bad loss to Montana. Their RPI is 38th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be inside the Top 40 as well. Those two games at the Washington schools will be tough to end the season, but if they split those and then win a game in the Pac-10 tournament I don't see them missing out on the NCAA Tournament.

Mississippi 68, Alabama 63
Alabama fans can complain that the margin of error everybody has been giving their team isn't enough. But that's what they get for a non-conference performance that featured zero wins against the RPI Top 120, and four losses against teams outside the RPI Top 100 (St. Peter's, Providence, Iowa and Seton Hall). They've been rolling through the SEC West with their suffocating defense (best in the SEC in defensive efficiency and eFG% against), but their offense is poor, and it let them down in this game. They forced 12 steals but were absolutely inept in their half court offense.

Now, Alabama certainly is not out of at-large contention, but they've now got a road game at Florida followed by a home game against Georgia. Unless they sweep those two games they're going to have ground to make up in the SEC tournament. They might need to win three more games between the regular season and SEC tournament to earn an at-large bid, which won't be easy. Particularly since there's a decent chance that their first SEC tournament opponent will be Tennessee. Ole Miss moves to 6-8 in SEC play and 18-11 overall, and they're a decent 5-8 against the RPI Top 100, but their RPI is 72nd and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is closer to 80th. I won't say that it's impossible for them to get an at-large bid, but for all intents and purposes they've got to win the SEC tournament. They still have a chance at second place in the SEC West and a bye through to the SEC tournament quarterfinals. They will play at Auburn on Wednesday, and then at home against Arkansas next Saturday.

BYU Beats San Diego State. Possible 1 Seed?

#7 BYU 80, #4 San Diego State 67
Many casual national viewers tuned into this game to watch The Jimmer Show. Honestly, he's been better. He did have 25 points and 9 assists, but he shot 8-for-23 from the field. BYU won this game going away because of two things. First, BYU players not named Jimmer Fredette hit a combined 10-for-16 on threes. Second, BYU did a great job of packing the paint with defenders. They knew that SDSU would get their share of offensive rebounds (a 35.9 OR% in this game), but wanted to make it difficult for them to convert those into baskets, and to force SDSU to run as much of its offense as possible far away from the basket. SDSU's backcourt has nothing on their frontcourt, and their offense couldn't get going when they couldn't get those easy baskets in the paint. BYU also forced their style of play onto this game by pushing the ball - they blew open this game early during a period of frenetic pace. It was actually bizarre at one point when the CBS announcing team (I believe it was Verne Lundquist, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr) all seemed to agree that SDSU needed to push the pace to try to get back into the game. I'm constantly flummoxed when announcers say things with authority that aren't just disputed - they're flat out false. SDSU, because they are so dominant inside and on the boards, wants a deliberate pace. They are averaging 63.7 possessions per game this season, which makes them the 302nd fastest in the nation. BYU is tremendous in transition offense because they generate so much offense from their guards and because it prevents opposing teams from setting their anti-Jimmer defense. BYU is 20th in the nation with 72.1 possessions per game.

This game had tremendous meaning for both teams. Barring a couple of shocking upsets, BYU will win the Mountain West regular season title. That means more than it usually does, because right now it looks like UNLV is going to be the 3 seed, and the Mountain West tournament is being played on UNLV's home floor. That gives SDSU a significantly harder path to the MWC title game than BYU. If BYU can win out and wins the Mountain West tournament, a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is definitely possible, although it will be out of their hands. They will need some help from some of the five teams currently ahead of them in the pecking order (Duke, Pitt, Ohio State, Kansas and Texas). San Diego State probably can't get a 1 seed now, although they're still in a good position for a 2 seed. They might actually find themselves playing for that 2 seed in the Mountain West semifinals against UNLV. SDSU did win by six at UNLV two weeks ago, so they can definitely do it again.

#25 St. John's 81, #14 Villanova 68
Has any team been hotter than St. John's lately? And they proved here that it's not just the magic of Madison Square Garden - they won this game on the road at The Pavilion. Dwight Hardy is putting his name in the hat as a potential Big East Player of the Year and continued his run with 34 points here. The team shot 10-for-22 as a team behind the arc, committed only ten turnovers and blew Villanova out on the boards (a 38.5 OR% compared to a 20.6 OR% for Villanova). The Johnnies have now won six in a row to get to 11-5 in the Big East. Remember when they were 11-8 on the season and I was worried their record would be too close to .500 for them to get an at-large bid. They've gone 8-1 since then and are now 19-9 with an 8-6 record against the RPI Top 50 and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS rating that should be up near 12th. You can make an argument that if the season ended now they'd actually be a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It's been a remarkable turnaround. The caveat? They are 5-1 in Big East play in games decided by five points or less, and so both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated them outside the Top 30 coming into this game. They've been playing wonderfully for the past few weeks, but there's no guarantee that play will continue. St. John's hasn't been in a meaningful postseason situation in almost a decade, and it's impossible to know how they're going to respond mentally. The Johnnies will play on Thursday at Seton Hall, and then next Saturday at home against South Florida. If they win both they'll lock up a double-bye in the Big East tournament.

As for Villanova, it's worth pointing out that not only have they lost six of their last ten, but two of those wins have been an overtime victory over DePaul and a three point victory over Seton Hall. They're 9-7 in Big East play and close with brutal road games at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Notre Dame is overrated and can be beat, but I don't see how this Villanova team can win at The Pete. So realistically they're not finishing better than 10-8, which gives them a realistic shot of being relegated to the first round of the Big East tournament. This team could plummet all the way to a 6 or 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they don't stop this slide soon.

UTEP 74, Memphis 47
It's hard to find a bubble team that has been more pathetic the past eight days than Memphis. One week after an embarrassing 15 point loss at Rice they now suffer this 27 point drubbing at UTEP. The Memphis offense has been ugly all year (too much one-on-one play, too many rushed shots), but it's gotten embarrassing. In the losses to Rice and UTEP the team has scored a combined 0.71 PPP. Let me throw out some stats from this debacle against UTEP: 20 turnovers vs 8 assists, 1-for-18 behind the arc, 12-for-21 at the line. With so many athletic athletic, talented scorers, how is that possible?

Even after this loss, Memphis is 9-6 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI of 34th, but that gets less impressive when you break it down. Their only RPI Top 60 wins have come against UAB (twice) and Southern Miss (twice), and they've got bad losses to Rice and SMU. Memphis will still have a Sagarin ELO_CHESS in the low-to-mid 40s after this loss, but in my opinion they'd be in the NIT if the season ended now. Memphis finishes the regular season at East Carolina on Wednesday, and then at home against Tulane on Saturday. Assuming they win both of those easy games and then make it to at least the CUSA tournament semifinals, they'll at least have a case on Selection Sunday, but it might not be enough. The bubble will tighten up. And besides, the way Memphis is playing offense right now, why can't they lose to East Carolina?

UTEP moves to 21-8 and 9-5 against Conference USA with this win, and this win is also their first against the RPI Top 50. They do have three RPI 100+ losses (Georgia Tech, Pacific and East Carolina), which is why their RPI is 70th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be closer to 85th, even after this big win. They are a good team that should be considered a contender in the CUSA tournament, but they're still a long shot for an at-large bid. Their next game will be Wednesday against Marshall.

Missouri State Wins First Ever MVC Title

Missouri State 69, Wichita State 64
The Missouri Valley Conference is way down this year, but games in that conference are still so much fun to watch. The crowds are great out there. In my opinion, it's the most underrated conference to watch on television. WSU's David Kyle hit a 25-footer to tie the game with under 90 seconds left, and MSU's Adam Leonard responded by hitting his own three. Kyle tried to match again but missed and MSU came down with the ball and was fouled. I thought the roof was going to blow off the building. Missouri State hit enough free throws to put the game away, to lock up their first ever Missouri Valley regular season title.

Missouri State swept the season series with Wichita State and they'll be the #1 seed in the Missouri Valley tournament. So naturally, MSU is the tournament favorite, right? Not necessarily. I actually think WSU has the edge, and not just because WSU is rated better by both Sagarin and Pomeroy. If you break down the games, in neither game was MSU clearly the "better" team. In the game at WSU, the Shockers hit 27% on threes while MSU hit 50% on threes, and the Shockers only lost by three points. WSU had 5 more steals, 5 more offensive rebounds, shot better on two-pointers and basically identical on free throws. So in my opinion, WSU was "better" on that day, and MSU simply got uncharacteristically hot behind the arc. The game today at MSU? MSU had 5 more offensive rebounds but also one more turnover, and they shot very poorly from the line. The difference in the game was actually reffing - WSU was called for 8 more fouls and MSU earned 17 more free throw attempts. In my opinion, the game was a wash - both teams were approximately equal and a few generous home town calls carried MSU through. And clearly WSU has been better in non-head-to-head games this season than MSU. So in my opinion, WSU is still the favorite, and I'm keeping them the favorite in the BP68 I put out tonight.

One other question from this is as follows: let's say I'm right and Missouri State loses in the Missouri Valley tournament finals to Wichita State. Can they earn an at-large bid? In that scenario they will beat SIU or Illinois State in the quarterfinals, and then will beat either Northern Iowa or Creighton in the semifinals, and then will lose to Wichita State in the finals. That will make them 25-8 with their two wins over Wichita State being their only against the RPI Top 100. They'll have three RPI 100+ losses (Evansville, Indiana State and Northern Iowa). In that scenario their RPI might stay near the Top 50, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be outside the Top 60. With the lack of big wins I don't see how that nets them an at-large bid. They've got to win Arch Madness to go Dancing.

#20 Syracuse 58, #11 Georgetown 51
Georgetown is hoping to have Chris Wright back for the NCAA Tournament, but that seems like a stretch to me. Even if it's his non-shooting wrist, it's still a broken wrist. How can he play on that in two and a half weeks? And without Wright, this is just a completely different Georgetown team offensively. Wright is the team's primary offensive playmaker, and without him they tend to stagnate. Austin Freeman played well in this game, but Georgetown needs somebody else to step up offensively, and nobody did in this game. Credit goes to the Syracuse defense, which has actually been better on the road than at home this season (a 46.5 eFG% allowed at home, versus a 44.4 eFG% allowed on the road). Syracuse held Georgetown to 44% shooting on two-pointers in this game, and a 43.0 eFG%, as they overcame their own mediocre offensive performance (0.97 PPP).

Syracuse has won four straight games to get to 11-6 overall, and assuming that they beat DePaul next Saturday they will have a decent shot at a double-bye in the Big East tournament. At the very least they've locked up a single-bye. With this win Syracuse is 8-4 against the RPI Top 50 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should move into the Top Ten. They'd most likely be a 3 seed if the season ended today, and they definitely can move up to a 2 seed with a strong Big East tournament performance. Georgetown falls to 10-7 with a road game at Cincinnati remaining, and I would make even a fully healthy Georgetown team the underdog at Cincinnati. Of course, Georgetown went 10-8 in the Big East last season and still got a 3 seed, so they still can earn a good NCAA Tournament seed. Georgetown fans should worry more about Chris Wright getting healthy as soon as possible than about their NCAA Tournament seed anyway.

Kansas State 80, #21 Missouri 70
If you read Luke Winn's power rankings this week (and if you're not reading it weekly you should start) he did a really interesting breakdown on home-vs-road team efficiencies. He broke down the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Missouri Valley. Two things stood out. First, the two teams that were better on the road than at home were BYU and Syracuse, and judging by results today that will not change. Syracuse is not a surprise - I've always found their home crowd muted in that gigantic dome. But BYU is a surprise, since they've had such a famously strong homecourt advantage over the years. The other interesting thing I noticed was that Kansas State and Missouri might have been the two teams with the most dramatic drop-offs on the road. In other words, I hope you picked the home team to win this game. Missouri is now 1-6 in Big 12 road games this season.

Why has Missouri been so awful on the road? Defensive pressure. At home their press is so much more effective, either because they are feeding off the crowd or because the crowd is intimidating their opponents. Missouri is forcing turnovers on a staggering 23.6% of defensive possessions at home, compared to 16.2% on the road. Missouri's half court defense is mediocre, and it's particularly bad in transition when teams break their press, so as go turnovers so goes the Mizzou scoring defense. This season Missouri is allowing 1.09 PPP on the road and 0.84 at home. You can compare that to their offense, which is scoring 1.12 PPP at home and 1.07 on the road. Kansas State in general is sloppy with the ball (they are turning the ball over on 22.3% of possessions in Big 12 play, which is second worst in the conference), so they continued that here with 17 turnovers (a 24% turnover percentage). But Missouri can't just hold a team to approximately their season average on turnovers or they're going to get burned, and K-State indeed burned them for 80 points on a 58.3 eFG%.

As easy as it's been to beat Missouri at home this season this is still a big win for Kansas State. They move to 8-6 in the Big 12 and a more respectable 2-6 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Kansas, Missouri, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech, and zero bad losses. Their RPI is all the way up to 26th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be close to 30th as well. They will play at Texas on Monday, and then Iowa State at home next Saturday. With a split there and a win in the Big 12 tournament they should lock up an at-large bid. Missouri, on the other hand, doesn't have to worry about the bubble. They should be worrying about a Tuesday night game at Nebraska - their final chance to beat an RPI Top 100 team in the road this season. If they fall there then they will have to do some damage in the Big 12 tournament, to prove to both themselves and to the Selection Committee that they can beat quality teams away from home.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gonzaga Reshapes WCC With Win Over SMC

Gonzaga 89, Saint Mary's 85, OT
I admit it: I gave up on Gonzaga. Elias Harris and Steven Gray were supposed to be the team's stars and were huge disappointments, Demetri Goodson had plateaued, and most importantly the team's defense was horrid. Prior to the home loss to Saint Mary's they had lost back-to-back games against Santa Clara and San Francisco where they had allowed a combined 181 points in 146 possessions (a mind-boggling 1.24 PPP). But over the past 15 days they've won five consecutive games. What has changed? Casual fans always look for offensive reasons to streaks or slumps, and if you're looking for an offensive reason it's Marquise Carter. Carter, a 2010 Juco recruit, barely played for most of the season but has been inserted into the starting lineup lately and has blown up. It wasn't until January 29th that Carter scored more than five points in a WCC game, but over the past three games he's averaged 16.3 points on 65.4% shooting (a 72.4 eFG%). Carter has taken pressure off of guys like Goodson and David Stockton, who are better when they can play within themselves and aren't forcing their games. But as I've argued many times, the difference between hot streaks and cold streaks for teams are always about defense. It's definitely true for the Zags. During their first eight WCC games they gave up 1.05 PPP. They did get scored on by Saint Mary's (1.21 PPP), but Saint Mary's does that to everybody at their place. But for the four games Gonzaga had won coming into this game last night? 0.83 PPP game. Now that's the defense the Zags have needed all season, and that's why they're on a roll.

Assuming Gonzaga doesn't fall on their face against San Diego or Cal State Bakersfield they'll head into the WCC tournament 22-9 and with at least a share of the WCC regular season title. Assuming they win their semifinal game but lose to Saint Mary's in the championship game they'll be 23-10 with quality wins against Saint Mary's, Xavier, Baylor and Oklahoma State, along with those bad losses to San Francisco and Santa Clara. I would expect their Sagarin ELO_CHESS to be narrowly outside the Top 50. That will get them on the bubble, and it might even get them into the NCAA Tournament, but honestly I think they'll get left out. I know that everybody is talking about how weak the bubble is, but people saying that have amnesia. The "We have no great teams and this is the weakest bubble ever" articles are a rite of February like Valentine's Day and Groundhog Dog. The reality is that the bubble will tighten over the final couple of weeks with major conference bubble teams picking up big wins, and automatic bids being stolen because of upsets in conference tournaments. Assuming we get a normal amount of tightening, I think that leaves Gonzaga out if they cannot win the WCC tournament.

Saint Mary's is 22-7, and is a home victory against Portland away form earning at least a share of the WCC regular season title, but they have really killed themselves with the slump they're in. Two weeks ago they looked to be safely in the NCAA Tournament, but three straight losses now has them all the way back to the bubble, with real questions about their weak non-conference schedule. Their only wins against the RPI Top 100 came against St. John's, Gonzaga and Long Beach State. That St. John's win is looking better and better, but it's always a bad sign when a team's third best win came against a Big West team. That loss to San Diego was a terrible loss, and their RPI has fallen all the way to 55th. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has also fallen, to 47th. I think they have a better chance at an at-large bid than Gonzaga, but it's still fairly precarious. At best I give them a 50-50 shot at an at-large bid should they beat Portland then win in the WCC semifinals and then fall in the finals to the Zags. I would still make them the narrow favorite over Gonzaga in the WCC tournament finals, but the Zags will have confidence after this huge win.

#6 Pittsburgh 71, West Virginia 58
Talib Zanna broke his finger before the game and will be gone for at least three weeks, but that's not a big loss. The freshman is still very raw, and is more of a project than a key player right now, despite the 12 minutes he's been playing per game. Pitt won this game by pounding the ball into the paint with players like Nasir Robinson (15 points on 6-for-8 shooting). They managed to get almost the entire West Virginia front court into foul trouble, including Deniz Kilicli, who fouled out after only 12 minutes played. Pitt also dominated the paint defensively, holding West Virginia to 8-for-36 shooting on two-pointers. It was only some hot outside shooting by Casey Mitchell (4-for-6 on threes) that kept this game competitive.

With this win Pittsburgh clinches one of the four double-byes in the Big East tournament. That's huge for a team that already tends to have a lot of success in that tournament. Pitt also is closing in on a Big East regular season title, which they'd have to choke away at this point. They do have a very difficult game coming up on Sunday at Louisville, but with a win there they'll effectively clinch that Big East title.

This loss drops West Virginia to 8-7 in Big East play, and also drops them to the bottom half of the conference. Certainly they'd like to at least get into the top half to get a single bye in the Big East tournament. The Mountaineers have six wins against the RPI Top 50 (Notre Dame, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Cincinnati and Cleveland State) and zero losses outside the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 20th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 24th. The one warning sign is their 17-11 overall record, which means that still need to win a game or two in order to be certain of an at-large bid. I do expect them to get there, though. They play at Rutgers, and then come home for UConn and Louisville. They should get two wins there, but even if they don't they'll be dumped into the first round of the Big East tournament where they'll get an easy first round opponent that they should clean up against. West Virginia should be in the Tournament, and deserves to be there - it's just a question of the Selection Committee being squeamish about teams with a record that is too close to .500.

USC 65, #10 Arizona 57
Maybe Arizona players are reading my blog? After their last game I talked about how their game against USC didn't matter. It's also possible that Kevin O'Neill had an impact on the referees when earlier this week he publicly complained that Derrick Williams was "the most protected due I've seen since Michael Jordan". Williams came into this game drawing an insane 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes, and earning 9.1 free throws per game. He drew exactly two free throws in this game. Williams actually only scored 11 points in the entire game. USC got a huge boost from Fordham transfer Jio Fontan, who scored 21 points - his first 15+ point performance in Pac-10 play.

Of course, as I said, this game really didn't matter for Arizona. They will play at UCLA tomorrow, and a win there will clinch the Pac-10 title for them. And if they win out and win the Pac-10 tournament they'll still likely get up to a 3 seed (they were never going to earn a 2 seed no matter what happened because of their weak schedule). Should they lose to UCLA they'll actually be drawn into a tie atop the Pac-10, but they will close the season with home games against the two Oregon schools while UCLA will end the season with road games at the two Washington schools. So Arizona will probably win the regular season title anyway. But they'd like to win it tomorrow. USC moves to 8-7 in the Pac-10 and 4-4 against the RPI Top 50. That sounds good until you see their 10-6 record against teams outside the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 74th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 88th. Even if they win every game between now and the Pac-10 tournament championship game they're still very unlikely to get an at-large bid.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Marquette Finally Wins a Close Game

Marquette 74, #15 UConn 67, OT
Marquette grabbed an 11 point lead at halftime of this game, which they proceeded to squander in mere minutes. UConn went on 20-4 run to start the second half, and with Marquette blowing through timeout after timeout to try to stay in the game, it just seemed like deja vu all over again. I can't think of another team that has blown more second half leads than Marquette this season, and they came into this one only 3-7 in games decided by five points or less. But UConn was determined to blow this game, and they achieved that by throwing the ball away with 11 seconds left and a 2 point lead. That led to a Darius Johnson-Odom layup, a missed Kemba Walker buzzer beater, and overtime. In overtime it was never really that close, and Marquette collected by far their best road win of the season (previous to this their only RPI Top 100 victory away from home came at Rutgers).

Marquette was right on the bubble coming into this game, but in my opinion they're clearly in the Field of 68 after this win, despite that 17-11 overall record. They are 8-7 in the Big East and have wins over Notre Dame, Syracuse, UConn and West Virginia, and that loss at Rutgers is their only outside the RPI Top 50. Their RPI is only 54th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be up near 30th. With a relatively weak remaining schedule (vs Providence, vs Cincinnati, at Seton Hall), I'd like to see Marquette win two of three to stay firmly in the Tournament. Two wins there plus one in the Big East tournament will get them to 20 wins and should lock up an at-large bid. Anything less than that and they could find themselves left out in the cold on Selection Sunday. UConn falls to 8-7 with this loss, which actually drops them out of the top half of the Big East. They're certainly not going to want to need to play in the first round of the Big East tournament. They'll probably need to go 2-1 down the stretch against a difficult schedule (at Cincy, at WVU, vs Notre Dame) to avoid that fate.

Old Dominion 75, James Madison 59
At this point, it's a news story when Old Dominion doesn't blow away a Colonial opponent on the boards. And honestly, they didn't blow James Madison away on the boards here. Their 37.9% offensive rebounding percentage was actually down from the 45.1% they were averaging coming in. That 45.1% was #1 in the entire nation. ODU dominated this game by playing very deliberate offensive, and working the ball patiently into the paint. They committed only six turnovers, which led to 13 more shots from the field and 9 more at the line. It's hard to lose a game when you get that many more shots than your opponent.

ODU moves to 13-4 in CAA play with this win, and they will close the regular season on Saturday at home against William & Mary. Assuming they don't fall in that game (they'll be at least 15 point favorites) they'll be locked into the NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens in the Colonial tournament. But ODU has a strong enough resume this year that they could earn a nice Tournament seed, potentially putting them in position for a Sweet 16 run. With a win in the Colonial tournament they could realistically earn as high as a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UW-Milwaukee 87, Cleveland State 83
UW-Milwaukee has been a giant killer in the Horizon League this season. They beat Butler twice, and also beat Valparaiso and now Cleveland State. They also came within three points of knocking off Marquette. Of course, they also have horrid losses to Western Michigan, Buffalo, DePaul and Loyola-Chicago, so they're a long shot to even make the NIT. But they've done their damage to Butler's at-large hopes, and now they've damaged Cleveland State. The Vikings are still 23-7, but they're 0-4 against the RPI Top 50 and have a bad loss to Detroit. Their RPI is 40th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall to around 50th, and the lack of big wins have them definitely out of the Field of 68 for now. They have a home game on Saturday against UW-Green Bay, and if they can win that and then make it to the Horizon League finals then they'll at least have a shot on Selection Sunday, but I don't like their odds. This loss also puts into risk a first or second place finish in the Horizon standings - either position would net them a bye to the Horizon tournament semifinals. Right now there's a possibility of a four-way tie atop the standings, and somebody else is going to have to figure out how they'd sort that out.

Florida Clinches A Share Of The SEC East Title

Florida 71, Georgia 62
Coming off a road victory at Vanderbilt, Georgia actually led for almost the entire first half in this game, briefly getting the lead up to double-digits. But over time the Gators began to enforce their will, and pulled away down the stretch. The difference in the game was the Florida backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, who combined for 33 points and were uncharacteristically clean with the ball (two turnovers). With this win Florida moves to 11-2 in the SEC, which clinches at least a share of the SEC East title. Alabama is sitting at 10-2, but it really doesn't matter, particularly since Florida's record has come against a much tougher schedule. Florida moves to 22-5 with this win, including an 8-1 record against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee (twice) and Kansas State, along with bad losses to Mississippi State, Jacksonville and South Carolina. Their RPI is 12th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is in the Top 20. If the season ended now they'd be a 4-5 seed and can potentially get as high as a 3 seed. I think that the weakness of the SEC probably precludes a 2 seed, even if they win out, unless they get a lot of help.

With this loss, Georgia remains on the bubble. They are 7-6 in the SEC with a 3-9 record against the RPI Top 50 (and a 15-0 record against everybody else). Those three big wins have come against Kentucky, Tennessee and UAB. Their RPI is 39th, which is approximately where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be in the NCAA Tournament, but with a seed in the 9-11 range. I think that they need to win at least two of their three remaining regular season games to avoid needing to do work in the SEC tournament. With home games up next against South Carolina and LSU, they should be able to take care of business.

Kansas State 61, Nebraska 57
Kansas State has struggled to shoot the ball away from home this year (other than the inexplicable 86 points they put up at Iowa State a few weeks ago), and they struggled again here, particularly in the first half. But the Kansas State defense showed up and forced 17 turnovers and held Nebraska to a 39.8 eFG% themselves. That, along with 20 second half points from Jacob Pullen, was enough for a huge road victory for the Wildcats. With this win they put themselves firmly into the NCAA Tournament, for now. They still only have that one big win over Kansas, but that's a very nice scalp, and other than a season sweep to Colorado they haven't lost to a single team outside the RPI Top 60. They are 7-6 in Big 12 play and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way up to 33rd. They should be favored in two of their three remaining games (vs Missouri, at Texas, vs Iowa State), and if they can go 2-1 that should just about lock up an at-large bid. If they finish 1-2 in their final three games then they'll have some work left to do in the Big 12 tournament.

Nebraska started to get a little bit of bubble hype after that upset of Texas, but if they really did get on the bubble they weren't there very long. They're now 6-7 in the Big 12 and 2-6 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Texas and Texas A&M along with bad losses to Davidson and Texas Tech. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen all the way to 60th. They can't afford to finish worse than 2-1 to keep their at-large hopes alive, and it won't be easy (at Iowa State, vs Missouri, at Colorado). According to Pomeroy, Nebraska's win probability in those three games varies between 42% and 51%. So they basically have three toss-ups and have to win at least two of them.

UNLV 77, New Mexico 74, OT
New Mexico fought back from a 15 point second half deficit and actually had the ball and a one point lead with under 30 seconds left. But after being fouled, Dairese Gary hit only one-of-two at the line, and then after Oscar Bellfield tied up the game for UNLV it was Gary again that missed a game-winner at the buzzer. UNLV took the lead in overtime and survived a couple of game tying attempts from the Lobos. Tre'Von Willis led the way for UNLV with 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting (including 5-for-6 behind the arc). This is getting disheartening for a New Mexico team that has now lost four straight games, all by single-digits. The Lobos are 2-6 overall this season in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. And that's why their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 48th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 84th. They're now only 5-8 in Mountain West play, and really need to win out to keep their at-large hopes alive. They still have a road game at BYU ahead, so it's something of a long shot at this point.

UNLV, meanwhile, just about locks up an at-large bid with this win. They are 9-5 in Mountain West play and 7-6 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Wisconsin, Kansas State and Colorado State, along with just one bad loss (UC-Santa Barbara). Their RPI is 25th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way up to 21st. I would say that one more win against anybody between now and Selection Sunday will lock up an at-large bid for sure. After that they can begin worrying about their NCAA Tournament seed, which at this point is probably in the 6-8 range. Having the Mountain West tournament on their home floor will give them a great opportunity to do some damage and to build on that seed.

W-2.5 BP68

We're less than a week from the opening of the first conference tournaments. This weekend will be the final full weekend of the regular season. The next BP68 will be out after Saturday night's games.

Remember, this is a projection of where things will end up and not a snapshot of where things are now. If your team is not rated where you think they should be, please tell me what you think I did wrong in the comments and I'll be happy to discuss it with you. One other note (since it came up last week) is that teams in CAPS are teams I'm projecting to earn automatic bids.

As always, here is how I see things ending up:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Texas
2. BYU (MWC)
2. Purdue
2. San Diego State

3. Notre Dame
3. Syracuse
3. Wisconsin
3. Georgetown

4. Louisville
4. North Carolina
4. UConn
4. Villanova

5. Arizona
5. Florida
5. Texas A&M

6. Vanderbilt
6. Missouri
6. West Virginia

7. Cincinnati
7. Tennessee

8. St. John's
8. Xavier
8. Michigan State

9. George Mason
9. Illinois
9. Saint Mary's (WCC)
9. Georgia

10. Richmond
10. Kansas State
10. Virginia Tech

11. Baylor
11. Minnesota
11. Marquette
11. UCLA

12. Maryland
12. Florida State
12. UAB
12. Alabama




16. LIU (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Boston College, Clemson, Nebraska, Southern Miss, Cleveland State, Missouri State, Colorado State, Gonzaga

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Dayton, Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma State, Drexel, VCU, New Mexico, Washington State

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Miami (Fl), Duquesne, Northwestern, Colorado, James Madison, Marshall, UTEP, Valparaiso, Princeton

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
NC State, Virginia, Rhode Island, Hofstra, Tulsa, Fairfield, California, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Portland

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cincinnati Just About Locks Up An At-Large

Cincinnati 58, #11 Georgetown 46
This was a painful game for Georgetown in more than one way. The most painful part was Chris Wright going down with a wrist injury and not returning. It's impossible to get injury information very quickly with college players, but that could be a serious one. We'll know in a day or two certainly. With Wright out and Julian Vaughn struggling (1-for-8 shooting from the field) it was the Austin Freeman show for Georgetown. He did score 19 of Georgetown's 46 points, but it wasn't enough. Cincinnati did get a strong Yancy Gates performance off the bench (17 points and 12 rebounds). He's been playing better since he's been benched - maybe it's motivated him.

Cincinnati has won three straight to get to 9-6 in Big East play and 6-6 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Louisville, Xavier, St. John's and Georgetown along with zero bad losses. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be around 15th after this win. I don't want to say Cincinnati has "locked" up an NCAA Tournament bid because if they lose four straight games to end the season then they could end up on the bubble, but for for all intents and purposes they're good to go. They do have a fairly tough schedule remaining (vs UConn, at Marquette, vs Georgetown), but that schedule will give them an opportunity to drive their Tournament seed higher. They can realistically work themselves as high as a 4 seed if they finish strong.

Georgetown falls to 10-6 in Big East play and is in severe risk of failing to earn the double-bye in the Big East tournament (which goes to the top four teams in the Big East standings). It's very hard to win the Big East tournament without the double-bye. But the bigger worry is Chris Wright. Any hopes they had of an Elite Eight or Final Four run involved Chris Wright in a big way. They can't afford to lose him for an extended period of time.

#21 Missouri 77, Baylor 59
Missouri is such a better team at home, where they use the crowd's energy to fuel their full court press. The Tigers forced 21 turnovers in this game and collected 14 steals that led to a lot of layups. In Big 12 play this year they are 7-0 at home and 1-5 on the road. The problem is that they've still got to head on the road to Kansas State and Nebraska (two bubble teams) and their remaining home game is against Kansas. It's not completely unrealistic that Missouri might end the regular season 8-8 in Big 12 play. They do have wins over Illinois, Vanderbilt, Kansas State and Old Dominion, with zero bad losses, and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS in the Top 25, so even if they lose their final three games I don't think they're going to be in too much risk of missing the NCAA Tournament. But certainly Missouri will like to prove, if nothing else, that they can beat a good team away from home. The NCAA Tournament won't be played at Mizzou Arena, after all.

Baylor falls to 6-7 in the Big 12 and a putrid 11-10 against the RPI Top 200. Their only big win came against Texas A&M and they've got bad losses to Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas Tech. Their RPI is 81st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is actually a little bit worse than that. They finish the regular season with Texas A&M at home, then a road game at Oklahoma State, and a home game against Texas. The Texas home game will be key - a win there and a win in at least one of the other two games will put them in decent shape for an at-large bid.

Maryland 78, Florida State 62
I don't think anybody is too shocked that Florida State has gone into a minor swoon without Chris Singleton. But while their offense was supposed to struggle, their defense struggled mightily by their standards in this one (1.08 PPP). Jordan Williams was actually relatively quiet, and it was 7-for-14 three-point shooting by the Terps that led the way. The problem for Maryland is that this loss knocked Florida State out of the RPI Top 50, and so the Terps are still 0-8 against the RPI Top 50. They are 18-2 against everybody else, though, and they're now 7-6 in ACC play with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will be up close to 60th with this win. Maryland now heads into a huge road game on Sunday at North Carolina. If they fail to win there then they will need to win their final two regular season games (at Miami, vs Virginia) to stay in a good position for an at-large bid.

Florida State is still 9-4 in ACC play but they have three games ahead against RPI Top 100 teams (vs Miami, vs North Carolina, at NC State). They haven't beaten an RPI Top 100 team since Chris Singleton got hurt, so they'll want to win at least one of those games for confidence, if nothing else. FSU didn't do anything out-of-conference, but they've got that win over Duke and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be inside the Top 50. If they win two of their final three regular season games then they'll put themselves very safely into the Field of 68. If they lose two of three they'll still have work to do in the ACC tournament. If they lose all three then their at-large hopes will be in big trouble.