Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Arizona, California Fall

Arizona State 87, Arizona 80
It's been a tough season for Arizona State. The future was going to be built around superfrosh Jahii Carson, with Herb Sendek even changing his quasi-Princeton system into something more uptempo to fit his athletic players. But Carson was ruled academically ineligible for the season, and things went downhill from there. Even as bad as the Pac-12 has been this year, Arizona State managed to go through a stretch where they lost 9 of 11, including one to Utah, probably the worst BCS conference team in the modern era. But at the end of the season, with nothing to play for, you knew that they'd treat this game like their Super Bowl. A chance to ruin the season of their in-state rival. Arizona entered this game right on the Tournament bubble. After this game? They're off the bubble... for now.

Carrick Felix, who has emerged as Arizona State's most athletic player (if not their most consistent player), starred here with 23 points on 7-for-12 shooting, along with 3 steals. Chris Colvin, who has helped Arizona State settle down after a turnover-filled first half of the season, was steady with nine assists to only two turnovers. If nothing else, Arizona State proved here that they're not awful when they can mentally focus and have put in maximum effort. With everybody back next season, and hopefully with Jahii Carson running the show, this team might not be half bad.

Arizona needed this game to stretch their Pac-12 record to 13-5. The difference between 13-5 and 12-6 does matter, because that conference won/loss record is really all that Arizona has going for it in front of the Selection Committee. They are 5-8 against the RPI Top 100, with their best non-conference win coming against either Valparaiso or New Mexico State. They have a couple of bad losses, with none worse than this one. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS sits 66th. It's rare for a team outside the ELO_CHESS Top 60 to get a bid (even with the field expanded to 68, I wouldn't expect more than two or three getting an at-large bid), and Arizona has no extenuating circumstances. No players joined midseason, and they don't have a bunch of big wins to offset the bad losses. If Arizona makes a run to the Pac-12 tournament finals and loses a close game to California, then they might be able to make an at-large case. But it's going to be difficult. It's hard to see them earning a bid over Cal or Washington. They need to focus on winning the Pac-12 tournament outright.

Arizona will play in the Pac-12 quarterfinals on Thursday against either USC or UCLA. Arizona State will play in the opening round on Wednesday against Stanford. The winner of that game will play California.

Stanford 75, California 70
As bad as the rest of the Pac-12 has been this year, California has actually been a pretty good team. Despite not winning the Pac-12 regular season title, they were the best team, and even after this loss they are still rated the 20th best team in the country by Sagarin, and 22nd by Pomeroy. To put that in perspective, the computers feel that California is clearly better than Iowa State, UNLV or Louisville, or several other teams that are considered safe NCAA Tournament teams. The problem for Cal is the same problem that faced Middle Tennessee, Oral Roberts, Iona and Drexel this season - their conference isn't good. Iowa State, UNLV and Louisville all had the chance to collect quality wins in conference play, and were able to lose a few games without any serious harm. Cal, on the other hand, had no chance to earn quality wins in conference play, and nearly every loss was a "bad" loss.

Cal did go 7-6 against the RPI Top 100 this season, but their best win came over Oregon, and they have bad losses to Washington State and Colorado. And with this loss they finish only 13-5 in the Pac-12, without a share of the Pac-12 title and with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that has fallen to 45th. A couple weeks ago they looked like a safe NCAA Tournament team, but now they're on the bubble, and will need a win or two in the Pac-12 tournament to stay an at-large team.

California will play their next game in the Pac-12 quarterfinals on Thursday, against either Arizona State or Stanford. That is a must-win for them. After that they'll play the winner of Oregon/Colorado/Utah in the Pac-12 semis, which may (depending on how the other conference tournaments go) be an elimination game for the two teams playing.

Stanford has a unique achievement in the Pac-12 this season: they are the only team in the entire conference to win a non-conference game against an RPI Top 50 team. By my calculation, the Pac-12 as a whole went 1-30 against RPI Top 50 teams out of conference play. The one win was Stanford taking down Colorado State. It's not exactly a win over Kentucky... but it's the best any Pac-12 team has to share. Overall, though, Stanford is only 5-6 against the RPI Top 100, with four RPI 100+ losses and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that is 82nd. It's hard to fathom any at-large possibilities for them. They need to win the Pac-12 tournament. They'll play Arizona State on Wednesday. If they win then they'll California again, this time in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.

#1 Kentucky 74, #13 Florida 59
There's no question that Kentucky is rolling right now. In the last six weeks, they've played 11 games, and only one was decided by fewer than nine points. It's been a total destruction of the SEC. For the season they've outscored their conference by 0.27 PPP, compared to 0.19 for Syracuse, 0.17 for Kansas, 0.15 for North Carolina and 0.16 for Ohio State & Michigan State. The only real question is, what does the softer conference mean. Kentucky hasn't had to play teams like Missouri or Michigan State or Wisconsin. The only SEC team that is close to keeping up with Kentucky's offense is Alabama, and their own offense stinks. I'll be really curious to see what happens the first time they have to play an elite defense in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida is a team that the computers like (18th in Pomeroy), but they've been underwhelming the past few weeks, to say the least. Since Christmas, they have gone against seven teams playing Tournament-quality basketball (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Tennessee). They are 2-5 in those games. They've lost their last three games, including a brutal 14 point loss at Georgia. I want to see them show some life in the SEC tournament or it's going to be hard to pick Florida too far in my bracket. They should be tested right away. If Alabama beats South Carolina on Thursday then the Tide will be Florida's opponent in the quarterfinals. A desperate Alabama team (still potentially concerned about locking up an at-large bid) wouldn't be an easy team to play, even if Florida wasn't in a slump.

Kentucky will play their next game on Friday, when they'll play the winner of LSU/Arkansas. I don't think any team other than Vanderbilt poses much of a threat to them at the moment. That would be an interesting SEC title game should it come to pass.

No comments: