Saturday, December 29, 2012

Arizona Wins Another Squeaker

#3 Arizona 68, #17 San Diego State 67
It's been a slow few days for college basketball, as it always is around Christmas. It's time to catch up on blogging, and it's also time to catch up on the best game from the days around Christmas. This game was on the 25th, of course - the title game of the Diamond Head Classic. It promised to be a good game, and it delivered. The lead went back and forth between the two teams in the final minutes. With his team down by one, Mark Lyons attacked the basket and got to the line with 13 seconds left. After hitting both, San Diego State had a great chance to score on a Xavier Thomas drive, but it was thwarted by a tremendous Nick Johnson block.

With this win, along with that huge one-point upset win of Florida, the Arizona hype is really starting to build. They might get some #1 votes in the AP Poll on Monday, and they are certainly getting Final Four buzz. Now that said, of course Arizona has a real chance to make the Final Four. So do 50 other teams at this point in the season. And the #1 votes are a bit silly when you realize that two shots going the other way would make Arizona 10-2 and only a borderline Top 25 team (human polls, in that way, are always dumb and meaningless). Pomeroy has Arizona 12th and they're 10th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, which sounds about right to me. The other Pac-12 contenders continue to struggle in non-conference play, and Arizona should win the conference relatively easily. The one potential hurdle is UCLA, which is a team that could fall flat on its face and end up in the NIT, but which has the raw talent and potential to perhaps challenge the Wildcats for the conference title. But assuming that Arizona wins the Pac-12, they should earn a Tournament seed in the 2-4 range. And that will come down to how much they dominate the Pac-12 regular season, and how well they finish the season regular season. They will open conference play on Thursday, against Colorado.

This is a tough missed opportunity for San Diego State, particularly since their only other chance for a big non-conference scalp was wasted in that aircraft carrier game against Syracuse when the glare and the wind seemed to really mess up their shooting, particularly in the first half. They do have a win over UCLA, and they'll get chances for quality wins in the Mountain West. Assuming that they beat Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday, a 9-7 conference record should be sufficient for an at-large bid. They should easily surpass that.

Indiana State 57, Miami (Fl) 55, OT
As my regular readers know, I always warn against drawing too many conclusions from early season tournament games. You never know how kids will respond mentally to playing for a week in Hawaii, and on Christmas afternoon no less. Throw in an atrocious 0-for-15 three-point shooting performance from Miami and the fact that they still had plenty of chances to win before falling by only two points in overtime, and it would really be a big mistake to come to any large conclusions about Miami from this game. They're still playing like a Tournament team, and I still expect them to go Dancing.

The problem for Miami is that while this loss doesn't mean anything about their team quality, it means something serious for their Tournament resume. The Selection Committee probably will not give them a pass for that loss to Florida Gulf Coast before Durant Scott started playing in games, which means that they now have two losses to likely RPI 100+ opponents. They did beat Michigan State, but their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is a precarious 35th (any team worse than 40th on Selection Sunday is probably on the bubble, at best). This all makes their Wednesday game against La Salle crucial heading into ACC regular season play. A win would give them a win over a likely RPI 100 team, and at 9-3 overall they'd probably only need to go 10-8 in ACC play to have a good chance at an at-large bid. If they fall to La Salle then they'll need to go 11-7 or better to avoid entering the ACC tournament squarely on the bubble.

Indiana State is becoming a little bit of a giant killer in college basketball. They took down Ole Miss a week ago, and also beat Vanderbilt last season. They also have a bad loss to Morehead State this season, so Indiana State fans shouldn't start concerning themselves with an at-large bid anytime soon, but you can make a good argument that they're now the fourth best team in the Missouri Valley (behind Wichita State, Creighton and Illinois State). They open conference play today against Illinois State - a crucial win for them if they're going to crack the top four in the Valley final standings.

New Mexico 55, #8 Cincinnati 54
This was an interesting game not just because it was close, but because both teams took away what their opponents most wanted to achieve offensively. New Mexico has won all season by attacking the basket and getting to the line, but Cincy held them to only 11 attempts here. Meanwhile, the Bearcats have been annihilating opponents on the offensive glass, but New Mexico held them to a 40.0 OR% (that sounds like a lot of offensive rebounds, but Cincy had done better than that in each of their previous seven games).

Alex Kirk was superb for New Mexico, scoring 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting, and adding 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, including the crucial game sealer on Sean Kilpatrick's final desperation attempt. Speaking of Kilpatrick, he was a terrible 5-for-22 from the field here, which was probably the biggest reason why Cincy lost. New Mexico's offense is not particularly explosive, and against a suffocating Cincy defense there was no way that they were going to put up a lot of points. Had Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright gotten going offensively, there's no way that the Lobos could have kept up. But they didn't, and it meant a loss.

The nature of a team like Cincinnati, which tends to be sloppy on offense and which depends on second opportunities and on a gunner like Sean Kilpatrick, is that they're going to be inconsistent. There's a good chance that they're going to knock off Syracuse and/or Louisville at some point this season, but they're also going to lose a few games to clearly inferior foes. And that's why I only had the Bearcats as a 5 seed in my most recent BP68, despite the fact that they might be the third best team in the Big East.

The Bearcats have a great test upcoming on the road at a very underrated Pitt team, on Monday. Despite Cincy being the much higher rated team in the human polls, expect Pitt to be a very large favorite in Vegas (Pomeroy has them as a 9 point favorite, and Sagarin has it at 7). As for New Mexico, they are now 13-1 with this win and a win over UConn to go with a bad loss to South Dakota State. They will play at St. Louis on Monday. Even if they fail to pull the upset there, they should be NCAA Tournament bound if they get to 9-7 in Mountain West play. They will open conference play on January 9th, against UNLV.

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