Monday, January 02, 2012

Pittsburgh Continues To Slide

Cincinnati 66, #22 Pittsburgh 63
While Xavier has been decimated by the brawl with Cincinnati, both in terms of personnel and team psychology/chemistry, Cincinnati has been largely unaffected. They played four cupcakes and then beat Oklahoma at home, and now pulled this nice road upset of Pittsburgh. By the time they take the court again they'll be back at full strength, with Yancy Gates back in the lineup. Considering how badly they behaved in that brawl, it's disconcerting that Cincy didn't end up suffering for it at all, but you have to give them credit for coming up with a win at the Petersen Events Center. Cincy hit seven 3-pointers in the second half, and finished the game 41% behind the arc. They also committed only eight turnovers all game.

Pitt has fallen apart the past couple of weeks with three straight losses. And what's stood out more than anything over this streak has been horrific offensive execution. Offensive efficiency has been the hallmark of the Jamie Dixon era, but they've scored just 0.98 PPP over this three game losing streak. And you can just see that there's no flow on offense - the team is just playing one-on-one basketball. In this game they had 17 turnovers and finished with only a 45.5 eFG%, despite 17 offensive rebounds. A lot of this has to do with the absence of Travon Woodall, of course. Woodall is a superb offensive creator and passer. But Pitt shouldn't be fragile enough that one injury turns their offense into the Memphis offense.

Pittsburgh is now 0-2 in Big East play with a bad loss to Wagner, and no quality wins (Oklahoma State is their best win, but they'll have to improve to move into the RPI Top 50). They might need to get to 9-9 in conference play just to make the NCAA Tournament (at 8-10 they'll enter the Big East tournament with work left to do). They'll play at DePaul on Thursday, which is no walkover this season. After that they'll head home to play Rutgers and then head on the road to play Marquette and Syracuse.

This is the best win Cincinnati has had all year (Oklahoma is the other potential quality victory that they have). They've also got a bad loss to Presbyterian. They'll try to keep rolling on Wednesday when they play Notre Dame. Their next game after that will be Saturday against St. John's.

#13 Marquette 81, Villanova 77
This was a "taking care of business" game for Marquette. At home this is a game they're supposed to win. But this game is noteworthy because in a narrow defeat this was probably the best Villanova has played all season. They fought an aggressive rebounding Marquette team to a draw on the boards, and if they'd shot the ball even remotely well behind the arc (Nova finished 3-for-17 on threes) they'd have won the game.

Villanova's strongest win all season came against La Salle, and prior to this game they had lost by double-digits to every quality team they'd played (Saint Louis, Missouri, West Virginia, Temple and St. Joe's). They also have a brutal one point loss to Santa Clara. They're not a bad team, but their resume is weak (their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 120th and their RPI is 92nd). But hanging in tough and effectively fighting to a draw against a good Marquette team in their building was a nice performance, and should give the Wildcats some confidence as they head into home games against USF (on Thursday) and DePaul (Sunday).

Marquette is now 12-2 with wins over Wisconsin, Villanova and Washington, along with a bad loss to LSU. We'll have a very good idea whether they'll make a run at the Big East title over the next few days. They'll play at Georgetown on Wednesday, and at Syracuse on Saturday. A win in either game would be huge. Note that they'll get a return visit from Georgetown in March, but won't play Syracuse again in regular season play. So the luck of the draw says that Marquette will be in a hole with the tiebreaker if they lose to Syracuse.

#16 Michigan 61, Minnesota 56
Michigan struggled a lot more in this game than I thought they would. It took a career-best performance from freshman Trey Burke (27 points on 8-for-11 shooting) to put this game away. But this Burke performance is what is noteworthy. It was assumed that Tim Hardaway, Jr would take over this team after Darius Morris left for the NBA. But Burke, the star freshman, is already proving to be at least the equal of Hardaway. Having somebody who can take the team on his back when Hardaway is struggling (Hardaway was 2-for-14 from the field in this game) will be huge for a Michigan team that needs perimeter players that can create offense to open things up for their shooters.

Despite the narrow margin of victory, this still goes down as a pretty good win for Michigan. Their best win this season was over Memphis, and they don't have any bad losses. It's a Tournament resume, but only narrowly. They certainly haven't earned that #16 ranking yet. They'll get a chance now as they head into a brutal week - on the road at Indiana on Thursday, and then at home against Wisconsin on Sunday.

Minnesota is still 12-3 after this loss, but they're 0-2 in Big Ten play and don't have any quality wins yet. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 35th, but they'd more likely than not be left out of the Tournament if the season ended now. The bare minimum for an at-large bid will be an 8-10 Big Ten record, which would require an 8-8 finish. They'll play Iowa on Wednesday, and then Purdue on Sunday.


DMoore said...

Why would a 9-9 record in the Big East get Pitt into the tournament? It's an unbalanced league. Pitt could go 10-8 in the conference and it would just mean you won these games at home:
West Virginia
South Florida
St Johns

And these on the road:
West Virginia
South Florida
Seton Hall

Combine that with a win over Oklahoma State, -- how in the world is that an NCAA resume? Is the bubble going to be THAT thin?

And frankly, I don't think Pitt will do that well. They have not looked good on defense all year.

Jeff said...

Well, the odds are that they're going to win at least one or two of their games against top opponents.

And you're right, it's not impossible for Pitt to go 9-9 and miss the Tournament. But considering the weakness of the Pac-12 and ACC this season, and the typical love the Selection Committee has for the Big East, and it's just very hard to see Pitt going 9-9 and missing out. Even at 8-10 they'll still be in the thick of things, assuming they get some of those big wins along the way.

Pitt's played awful these past three games, but let's see what happens when Travon Woodall gets back. It's hard to believe that they'll play this badly the rest of the season.