Saturday, March 03, 2012

Tennessee Is A Bubble Team Now

Tennessee 68, Vanderbilt 61
Vanderbilt fans will probably feel like they were victims of some home cooking from the refs, but Tennessee deserves credit for how physical they played. They attacked the boards (a 42.3 OR% compared to a 30.0 OR% for Vanderbilt). And they earned 29 free throw attempts, compared to just 16 for Vanderbilt. Jarnell Stokes was a monster inside, finishing with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks. While Stokes doesn't have a lot of good offensive moves yet, he's arguably the best rebounder and interior defender that Tennessee has, despite his young age.

Jarnell Stokes is the reason why Tennessee is suddenly in the bubble mix. He joined the team early in SEC play, and has helped lead them to a 10-6 SEC record and a bye in the SEC tournament. More importantly, he makes Tennessee an interesting case on Selection Sunday. Tennessee reminds me a lot of last season's USC team, which had a mediocre resume but was given a pass for their early season failures because they came before Jio Fontan became eligible midseason. USC had, in my opinion, the worst overall resume to ever earn an at-large bid, but the Selection Committee chose to give them a pass for the games prior to Fontan's appearances. It wasn't right, and it clashed with the normal philosophy of the Selection Committee, but Tennessee fans will be hoping for a repeat.

The fact is that despite the 10-6 SEC record, the overall Tennessee resume is still very soft. They are only 13-13 against the RPI Top 200, with an RPI that is 76th and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will be around 70th. It would be very hard to see Tennessee getting into to the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but they'd at least be in the discussion. And if they can win a game or two in the SEC tournament? An at-large bid is definitely realistic. We won't know until tomorrow who Tennessee will potentially be matched up against in the SEC tournament.

Vanderbilt has been a surprisingly mediocre 5-5 in their last ten games. They did beat Florida over that stretch, but that's their only Top 25 win and they have a bad loss to Indiana State. They are 11-9 against the RPI Top 100 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 30th. If they season ended now they'd probably have a 7 or 8 seed in the Tournament, but they could fall to a 9 or 10 seed if they go one-and-done in the SEC tournament. They'll have a bye into the SEC quarterfinals, but we won't know their exact seed until tomorrow.

Northwestern 70, Iowa 66
If there's one team that's overdue for a break late in a game it's Northwestern. They got it with around 25 seconds to go here when they had the ball and a two point lead with the shot clock running out. Dave Sobolewski took a shot underneath the basket that didn't seem to hit anything, which would have meant a shot clock violation despite the Northwestern rebound. But closer referee review showed that while the ball didn't hit the top of the rim, it glanced off the base of the rim where the rim attaches to the backboard. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that. But it gave Northwestern the ball and sent Sobolewski to the free throw line, where he hit a pair. It was the difference in the game.

Even after this win, Northwestern is only 3-6 in Big Ten games decided by five points or less or in overtime. But this was a game that they absolutely had to have. A loss would have dropped them to 7-11 in Big Ten play. With the win they are 8-10, with wins over Michigan State, Seton Hall and Minnesota, and no bad losses. They are only 1-10 against the RPI Top 50, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is inside the Top 40. If the season ended now I'm pretty sure that they'd be a Tournament team, despite that bad Top 50 record. But to stay in the Tournament, they're going to need to win at least one Big Ten tournament win, and probably two. They'll be the 7 seed and will open against Minnesota on Thursday. If they win then they'll play either Ohio State or Michigan on Friday. It'll be tough to knock off either of those teams, but if they don't then I think that they'll end up with another disappointing trip to the NIT.

This loss should finally put to bed that Iowa at-large talk, which never made much sense to me. They finish the regular season 8-10 in Big Ten play with a 10-14 record against the RPI Top 200. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is sitting around 70th. For all intents and purposes, Iowa is going to need to win the Big Ten tournament to go Dancing. They'll be the 8 seed, where they'll play Illinois on Thursday. If they win then they'll play Michigan State in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Mississippi 60, Alabama 51
Alabama never wins because of their offense... but they do have to occasionally hit some shots or their defensive effort will be wasted. But they finished with only a 39.1 eFG% (the third time this season they've finished below 40%), and even hit only 57% at the line. Ole Miss was able to win this game by marching to the free throw line repeatedly: 34 total attempts. The best player on the floor for either team was Alabama's JaMychal Green (5-for-8 shooting, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks).

Alabama had won four straight games coming in here, putting themselves back into the Field of 68... but this is not a good loss. They will finish the season only 9-7 in the SEC with only a 2-5 record against the RPI Top 50. They did win 20 games, but the lack of big wins and the fact that their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will probably drop out of the Top 40 tomorrow means that they're back on the Tournament bubble. They will be the 5 seed in the SEC tournament, where they'll open against South Carolina on Thursday. I think that they need to win that game to stay in the Field of 68. Even with a win over South Carolina they won't be a "lock", but they'll be in pretty good shape.

Ole Miss finishes the regular season 8-8 in SEC play with an RPI up to 56th (their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be in the 55-60 range as well). But they're only 1-7 against the RPI Top 50, which means that they'll need at least a pair of wins in the SEC tournament to have a chance on Selection Sunday. They'll be the 7 seed and will play Auburn on Thursday. With a win they'll face either Florida or Tennessee in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.

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