Saturday, February 04, 2012

Memphis Beats Xavier, Firms up Their At-Large Chances

Memphis 72, Xavier 68
It's bizarre that a game between Memphis and Xavier would get exactly zero media attention, particularly with both teams on the bubble and desperately needing this win. The reason for the media blackout was the fact that neither team is ranked, of course. It's bizarre how much media coverage is based on the atrocious human polls, filled out by people that don't understand advanced stats, don't watch many games, and constantly contradict their own logic. Right now, Murray State is snug between Kansas and Michigan State in the Coaches Poll, even though Murray State would be a ten point underdog on a neutral court against either opponent.

I have been at this blog long enough that a lot of fan bases have decided one year that I hate their fan base and another year that I love them. As many angry Missouri fans there have been coming over here telling me I'm the dumbest person ever, the most hate I've ever gotten came from Memphis fans a couple years back (when I tried to argue that losing Calipari and losing out on the Big East would be the end of their time as an elite Final Four-contending program for the foreseeable future). But this year? I've been defending them and calling them underrated. I don't want to repeat what I wrote in that post (click on the link for all of the stats), but the short story is that Memphis was incredibly lucky in close games last year and so they ended up way over-ranked in the human polls to start this season. But this year they've been unlucky, and so the media is too busy talking about how big of a "disappointment" Memphis is to notice that they are actually ranked 27th in Pomeroy's ratings and are a sleeper Sweet 16 team.

Xavier led for the first 18 minutes of the second half here, but a 17-2 Memphis run late blew this game open. Xavier had three turnovers during that stretch and also gave up some easy layups off of long rebounds. It turned into a layup line, which is precisely the way Memphis beats teams. There are few teams in the nation as dependent on fast breaks and layups as Memphis, and Xavier walked right into their hands at the worst possible time.

Despite being a borderline Top 25 team, the Memphis resume is still soft, which is why they needed this win. This win is arguably their best of the season, though they also have a quality win over Southern Miss, along with a loss to UCF. They are only 1-6 against the RPI Top 50. But that said, their RPI is 19th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely move into the Top 30. So despite the lack of big wins, their overall computer numbers would have them in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. At 6-2 in conference play, I think that an 11-5 finish and a win or two in the Conference USA tournament will likely be enough to keep them in the Field of 68. Their next game will be Wednesday at East Carolina.

Xavier has never totally recovered their level of play from November, and when you throw in that awful stretch of games after the Cincinnati brawl, the fact is that their at-large hopes are dwindling. They have wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinnati, but all of those wins came before mid-December. Since then they have no big wins, and bad losses to Hawaii and Oral Roberts. They are 6-7 against the RPI Top 100, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has slid out to around 60th. At 6-3 in conference play, I think they need to get to 11-5 or they're going to enter the Atlantic Ten tournament on the outside of the Tournament field looking in. Their next game will be Wednesday against Rhode Island.

#24 Florida State 58, #18 Virginia 55
You had to admire Virginia's fight in this game. They repeatedly fell behind and fought back, despite the fact that their offense was way over-matched against the Florida State defense. A key stretch came halfway through the second half when Virginia went around five and a half minutes without scoring a point, and then bounced back immediately with a 16-2 run to take the lead back. But in the end, they just struggled to get any steady offense. Mike Scott, their superstar, was held under control by FSU's defense (16 points on 6-for-8 shooting). The Seminoles didn't need to score a whole lot to Virginia, and they got just enough.

This result has NCAA Tournament seeding implications, but both of these teams are probably going to earn an at-large bid, so I don't think there were many bubble implications. While North Carolina and Duke are clearly the two best teams in the ACC, the reality is that FSU is a serious player for the ACC title. North Carolina and FSU are both at 7-1 and Duke should move to 7-1 tomorrow (they play Miami at home), and those three teams will be two games clear of the rest of the conference. FSU, meanwhile, has already beaten both North Carolina and Duke. Not only that, but they beat Duke on the road (so their remaining game against Duke will be at home), and they don't have to travel to Chapel Hill this year. I wouldn't say yet that FSU is the favorite to win the conference regular season title, but they have a great shot.

The Seminoles have a very manageable stretch coming up and just need to be careful not to stub their toe against an inferior opponent. They'll play at Boston College on Wednesday before coming home to face Miami and Virginia Tech.

This loss drops Virginia to 5-4 in the ACC, but they're still 18-4 overall with wins over Michigan, Miami (Fl) and NC State, along with an early season bad loss to TCU. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be in the Top 30 even after this loss. I think that finishing 5-3 down the stretch (to finish at 10-6 in conference play) will likely be sufficient to earn them an at-large bid.

St. Joseph's 70, La Salle 66
It's like nobody in the Atlantic Ten wants to earn an at-large bid. There are a whole bunch of quality teams, but each of them has been streaky. With teams like Dayton and Xavier struggling, it was La Salle that won 10 of their previous 12 games and had actually grabbed the lead in the Atlantic Ten standings. I thought that their early season play meant that they weren't as close to the at-large bubble as a lot of other bracketologists seemed to think, but they would have had to have been taken seriously if they had beaten St. Joe's here.

And while winning at St. Joe's is never easy, it's rare that any team will lose a game when they hit 44% of their threes and their opponent hits 10% of theirs. But La Salle managed to lose theirs because of 26.8% shooting inside the arc (compared to 52.2% for St. Joe's). But to be fair, the Hawks have been doing this to every team in the A-10. CJ Aiken and Halil Kanacevic are two of the premier interior defensive players in the nation. They're the main reason that St. Joe's is leading the A-10 in 2P% defense (40.7%) and blocks per game (6.2) in conference play.

La Salle is still 6-3 in A-10 play and they did beat Xavier, but their non-conference losses (Robert Morris and Delaware) really make their bubble case weak. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is out of the Top 80. Their key down the stretch will be the home games against St. Louis and Temple. Getting a quality win or two will be the key to building an at-large resume. They'll play at Richmond on Wednesday, and then will have the St. Louis game next Saturday.

St. Joe's has wins over Creighton, Drexel, Villanova and Dayton, along with bad losses to American, Pennsylvania and Charlotte. Their RPI is 43rd and they are 6-6 against the RPI Top 100, but that set of wins and losses is just too poor for an at-large bid at this stage. Unless they go 5-2 (to get to 10-6) or better down the stretch, they're going to enter the A-10 tournament with a lot of work left to do.

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