Saturday, March 03, 2012

West Virginia Wins A Bubble Battle Over South Florida

West Virginia 50, South Florida 44
South Florida's defense keeps them in just about every game, but boy is their offense ugly. Truck Bryant did an excellent job grinding out points in this type of game, attacking the rim and going 12-for-12 at the line - overcoming 2-for-11 shooting from the field. This is USF's fourth consecutive game with 51 or fewer points scored. USF managed to go 12-6 in Big East play despite scoring only 0.97 PPP. Only bottom feeders DePaul, St. John's and Rutgers were more ineffective on offense in the Big East this season.

This game was crucial for South Florida, because it would have been awfully hard for the Selection Committee to keep a 13-5 Big East team out of the Tournament, no matter how weak the rest of USF's resume was. And the rest of their resume is dreadfully weak. They are 2-8 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Louisville and Seton Hall along with bad losses to Penn State, Auburn and Old Dominion. Their RPI is 45th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be right around 50th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. USF will be the 6 seed in the Big East tournament, where they'll play in the second round against either Villanova, Rutgers or St. John's. I think that a loss there will drop them into the NIT. With a win they'll be in okay shape, but still will probably need a win in the Big East quarterfinals to feel good about their chances. Their opponent in the quarterfinals would be Notre Dame.

This win moves West Virginia to 9-9 in Big East play with wins over Georgetown, Kansas State, Cincinnati, Miami (Fl) and South Florida, along with bad losses to Kent State and St. John's. This win pushes their RPI up to 46th, which is near where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be. If the season ended now I think they'd be an NCAA Tournament team, but only narrowly. The announcers calling this game acted like this win would basically lock them into the Field of 68, but that's just not true. They're going to need at least one win in the Big East tournament to have a good chance on Selection Sunday. It's still not certain if they'll be the 8 seed (earning a bye) or if they'll fall to the 9 seed and have to play DePaul in the opening round. If they do get stuck playing DePaul then that win alone won't be enough. They'll need to win their second round game, too.

#22 Florida State 63, Virginia 60
It's hard to think of a team that has had more wild ups and downs this season than Florida State. This was their third buzzer-beating win of the season - the first off the hands of Ian Miller. Virginia has now played four games this season against Duke, North Carolina and Florida State that were each decided by three points or less... and lost all of them. And the whispers that Virginia might be a bubble team have turned into shouts. The reality is that Virginia hasn't beaten a likely NCAA Tournament team since November.

Virginia 21-8 overall, but against a soft schedule. They are only 8-7 in ACC play and only 2-5 against the RPI Top 50. Their RPI has slid to 48th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 34th. Their lack of big wins means that they will be seeded behind some teams with inferior ELO_CHESS ratings. The Selection Committee wants to see wins over quality opponents in February and March, and Virginia doesn't have a single one. They will play at Maryland tomorrow. Even with a win there, I think Virginia will need to win an ACC tournament game to stay in the Field of 68.

Florida State moves to 11-4 in ACC play, with wins over North Carolina, Duke, Virginia (twice), Miami (Fl) and NC State, along with bad losses to Boston College and Princeton. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is sitting at 33rd. If the season ended now they'd most likely be a 7 or 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They'll play Clemson on Sunday, and then will head to the ACC tournament, where they'll be the 3 seed.

UCLA 75, Washington 69
UCLA was a 5 point favorite in Vegas for the this game, but it wasn't because Washington is bad. It's because UCLA is actually a pretty good team that has just had bad luck all season long. They are 1-5 in Pac-12 games decided by five points or less. To put that in perspective, average luck (going 3-3 in those six games) would make them 13-5 instead of 11-7 in Pac-12 play, which would actually have them on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

But of course, UCLA isn't 13-5. They're 11-7, and 0-6 against the RPI Top 50. They have no chance of an at-large bid, and will have to try to steal the Pac-12 auto bid. But don't count them out. UCLA is +0.10 PPP in conference play this season, which is third best. Washington, despite going 14-4, only outscored opponents by 0.06 PPP. Washington went 5-1 in conference games decided by five points or less - the polar opposite in terms of luck.

Washington's overall resume is still very, very soft. They are 3-8 against the RPI Top 100, with their best win coming over Oregon. They have zero wins over likely NCAA Tournament teams. Their RPI is 56th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall into the 55-60 range after this loss. Those raw numbers alone are NIT numbers. But the question is: will the Selection Committee keep a 14-4 Pac-12 team out of the Tournament, which would be unprecedented. Will they treat them like a mid-major team (since the Pac-12 really is a "mid-major" conference this season), or like a major conference team? It's hard to tell. Certainly, Washington can't afford to have a poor Pac-12 tournament. They'll play in the Pac-12 quarterfinals on Thursday.

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