Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Notre Dame Closes In On The Bubble

Notre Dame 50, #19 Connecticut 48
Even the return of Ryan Boatright wasn't enough to stop the bleeding for UConn. Their offense has been struggling in all facets. They're not rebounding, they're not getting to the line, and they're not shooting well. They've now lost three straight and five out of seven and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS rating has fallen all the way to 53rd (in other words, they'd be a bubble team if the season ended now). Meanwhile, the Irish offense is starting to roll. They're one of the best passing teams in the nation, and a ton of credit has to go to Mike Brey, who surely is the favorite for Big East Coach of the Year. They had assists on 13 of 17 made baskets here to raise their season A/FGM ratio to 61.9, which is second best in the Big East.

The Irish are now 6-3 in Big East play, which is starting the at-large hype. In any of the past few years, a 6-3 Big East record would have been a great achievement. But you know another team that is 6-3 in Big East play right now? South Florida. The Big East is down this year. And on top of that, Notre Dame played poorly out-of-conference (bad losses to Georgia and Maryland, along with zero good wins). They do have wins over Syracuse, UConn and Louisville now, driving their Sagarin ELO_CHESS up to 54th. Would that put them in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now? I doubt it. But they're close. If they can get to 11-7 in Big East play (a 5-4 finish) and then win a game in the Big East tournament, they'd be right on the bubble. They have a huge home game coming up on Saturday against Marquette.

UConn did beat Harvard, Florida State and Arkansas out-of-conference, along with West Virginia and Notre Dame in conference play, but they also have bad losses to UCF, Tennessee and Rutgers. Each of their losses in this three-game losing streak has been by three points or less, so they're better than their record and I expect them to improve in February and March, but there's no question that right now they're a bubble team. Their remaining Big East schedule is brutal, so if they can get to 10-8 then they'll be in pretty good shape. They still have to play Syracuse twice and also have several other difficult road games, starting with one at Georgetown.

Pittsburgh 72, West Virginia 66
Speaking of bubble hype, I wasn't ready to talk about Pitt just because they won a couple of home games, but now they've gone on the road and beaten a quality West Virginia team to run their winning streak to three. It's remarkable how much smoother they are offensively with Tray Woodall playing at full strength. And psychologically, the fact that they can score better on offense is helping them focus more defensively, too. At this point, honestly, Pitt is playing as well or better than several teams that I currently have in my bracket.

But here's the problem with Pitt's at-large hopes. The Selection Committee does not select the 37 best available teams for at-large bids, they select the 37 best resumes. The only exception to that rule I can think of from recent memory was last season's USC team, which I complained about at the time. Assuming the Selection Committee sticks to what they've done historically, Pitt will not get a pass for that eight game losing streak. And right now, their resume still stinks - they're only 3-7 in Big East play. They have wins over Georgetown and West Virginia, but also have losses to Wagner, DePaul and Rutgers. They are 10-9 against the RPI Top 200, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 77th. With the Big East being down this season, it's impossible to conceive of any at-large scenario for Pitt where they don't finish at least 8-10. And, honestly, I think they need to get to 9-9 to have a realistic chance. So they have a long, long way to go before they can be taken too seriously as an at-large contender. The good news is that their remaining schedule is very manageable, beginning with a home game against Villanova on Sunday. After that they'll head on the road to face USF.

It's been a brutal week for West Virginia. In a six day stretch they lost three games - one at home, one to St. John's, and one on a blown goaltending call. They are now only 5-5 in Big East play, though their overall resume is still pretty solid (wins over Georgetown, Kansas State and Cincinnati, along with bad losses to St. John's and Kent State). Considering their remaining schedule, they should be in good shape for an at-large bid if they can get to 10-8. They'll head to Providence for a game on Sunday before coming home to face Notre Dame and Louisville.

California 69, Stanford 59
Stanford has struggled with offensive efficiency all season, and they went into a funk at a really bad time in this game. Between the 8:30 and 1:00 mark in the second half they scored a total of 8 points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field and 2-for-6 from the line, along with three turnovers (0.62 PPP). Even against the very disappointing Pac-12 conference, Stanford is only scoring 0.96 PPP. Early in the season Stanford was looking like a clear NCAA Tournament team, and an equal to California, but they are definitely fading. And with this result and with Oregon falling to Oregon State the same day, we are now in a situation where there is only one team in the entire Pac-12 inside the Sagarin ELO_CHESS Top 60 (California). A one-bid Pac-12 does look like a very realistic scenario.

California does look like the one Pac-12 team safely inside the NCAA Tournament field. They are 17-5 overall and 7-2 in conference play, without any really big wins, but with only one bad loss (Washington State). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 30th, and they're actually rated as a Top 20 team by both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. The fact that there are no big wins to be had in the Pac-12 means that as well as they play they're never going to be more than a couple of losses from the bubble, but even a 6-3 finish (to get to 13-5) should be enough to send them to the Big Dance.

If a second Pac-12 team earns an at-large bid it is most likely going to be Stanford, but their offensive futility has really weakened their resume the past couple of weeks. They are now only 5-4 in Pac-12 play. They did beat NC State, but they also have bad losses to Oregon, Butler and Washington State. They are only 6-6 against the RPI Top 200. There's no question that this team would be NIT-bound if the season ended now. If they're going to earn an at-large bid, they have to finish at least 11-7 in conference play, and then will need to do some damage in the Pac-12 tournament. A key opportunity will be their home game against California, though that won't be until Senior Day, on March 4th. This weekend they'll play the two Arizona teams at home. Next week they'll head on the road to play the two southern California teams.


Anonymous said...

Genuinely curious (not trolling, I swear) about your latest thoughts on Texas after their loss to Mizzou on Monday - will you be writing that game up?

Jeff said...

Yes, I'll write that game up. Probably this evening.

I don't want to write something now and then repeat it later, but I do plan on comparing them to teams in the past that have similar bad luck up until this point in the season.

I do plan on dropping Texas a couple of slots in the bracket, though, because I had expected them to have that Missouri win on their resume.