Sunday, January 29, 2012

W-6 BP68

So is everybody ready to spend hours and hours tomorrow discussing Texas?

Okay... that was a joke. I actually wrote a long post about Texas right after their game against Baylor to try to avoid that. There are more than 100 teams listed below, and I won't allow myself to get bogged down in another Texas discussion.

Of more interest this week was that the fact that the bubble got weaker. Saturday was a brutal day for the bubble - nearly every team on it lost. I really struggled to fill in the final spots in the field. I decided to drop Arizona this week, the team that had previously been my pick to win the Pac-12. But with Kevin Parrom getting hurt and now out for the season, I've switched my Pac-12 pick to California. Even before Parrom got hurt I didn't think Arizona had a good chance at an at-large bid, so they're out of the Field of 68 altogether. I put in NC State in their place, but don't feel good about that pick. Honestly, I don't like having Northwestern or Dayton in my bracket either. I just couldn't think of a better option. Yes, I know that Minnesota's resume right now is better than Northwestern's, but look at those teams and look at their remaining schedules and you'll see why I think that Northwestern will be in better shape than Minnesota on Selection Sunday.

Among the auto bids I made two changes. In the America East, as promised, I switched out Vermont for Stony Brook. In the SWAC I switched out Alabama State in favor of Mississippi Valley State.

As far as the Full Bubble, four teams were eliminated from at-large contention this week: Ball State, Boston College, George Washington and Texas Tech. With those four out, that leaves 75 teams not in my current bracket that still have a chance at an at-large bid.

I don't think there were any other major changes from my last bracket, so let me get to my disclaimers:

If I projected your favorite team below where you think it deserves to be, it's because I hate your favorite team. If I projected a team above where you think it deserves to be, it's because I secretly love them and have an incredibly blind bias in their favor.

On a more serious note, this is a projection of the final bracket on Selection Sunday, and not a listing of how I think teams would be seeded if the season ended now. There's a difference.

Here we go:


2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. Duke
2. Florida
2. Georgetown

3. Missouri
3. Michigan State
3. Baylor

4. Texas
4. Marquette
4. Vanderbilt
4. Wisconsin

5. Virginia
5. Indiana
5. UConn

6. San Diego State
6. Michigan
6. Louisville

7. Alabama
7. West Virginia
7. Illinois

8. Gonzaga
8. Saint Louis
8. Florida State
8. Purdue

9. Southern Miss
9. Kansas State
9. Wichita State

10. New Mexico
10. BYU
10. Xavier

11. Cincinnati
11. Mississippi State
11. Iowa State

12. Seton Hall
12. Stanford
12. Northwestern

13. NC State
13. Dayton

14. OHIO (MAC)



Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Virginia Tech, Minnesota, VCU, Marshall, Cleveland State, Arizona

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Miami (Fl), Notre Dame, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, South Florida, Oklahoma, Drexel, Central Florida, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Nevada

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Clemson, Maryland, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Villanova, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Akron, Drake, Illinois State, UCLA, Oregon State

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Charlotte, Duquesne, Fordham, DePaul, Providence, St. John's, Weber State, Penn State, Georgia State, Old Dominion, UTEP, Tulane, Tulsa, Valparaiso, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Loyola-Maryland, Buffalo, Kent State, Indiana State, Air Force, Boise State, TCU, Wagner, Washington State, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, South Dakota State, Denver, Utah State

Saint Mary's Unstoppable In Win At BYU

#20 St. Mary's 80, BYU 66
The St. Mary's offense is gradually getting recognized as one of the best in the land. BYU almost never loses at the Marriott Center (they came into this season having lost only four home games combined the previous five seasons), but St. Mary's just wiped the floor with them. They led by as many as 23 points in the second half. St. Mary's is now scoring an absurd 1.19 PPP in conference play (BYU is second at 1.06). They are 10-0 in conference play, and the only real test left will be if they can beat Gonzaga in Spokane, having already destroyed them by 21 points in Moraga. It's hard to argue with the fact that St. Mary's has played the best basketball of any WCC team so far this season.

There are two questions here. First, are they the favorites to win the WCC auto bid? Second, how safe are they for an at-large bid? Gonzaga had been my pick to take the WCC, but I'm going to be changing that pick now. What St. Mary's did here was just too impressive. Gonzaga doesn't have the perimeter players to hang with the Gaels offense, and I don't think they will have the offensive firepower to keep up. As for the at-large bid? They are now 21-2 overall with wins over Gonzaga and BYU (twce), and only that one bad loss to Denver. Their RPI is up to 20th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be up near 15th. They can actually afford a bad loss or two and still be fine for an at-large bid. They're in with plenty of room to spare right now. Their next game will be on Thursday against San Diego. After that they'll have a week to prepare for that road game at Gonzaga.

This loss drops BYU to 6-3 in conference play, and they're 18-6 overall with a win over Virginia Tech along with bad losses to Loyola-Marymount and Utah State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is around 45th right now, which actually would put them on the Tournament bubble, particularly with the lack of big wins. They have a key game coming up on Thursday at home against Gonzaga. They desperately need a big win to solidify their resume, and this will be their final home game against a quality opponent the rest of the season.

Drake 93, Wichita State 86, 3OT
This seemed like a game that would never end. It ended up taking nearly three full hours. It was just an all-around bad night for Wichita State. They turned the ball over a lot, they struggled on the boards, and the fouls really started to add up as this game went into the extra periods. Two players fouled out (including Tour'e Murray) and three others had four fouls apiece. Drake was able to keep their key players out of foul trouble, including Ben Simons who had 29 points on 11-for-22 shooting in 53 minutes played.

Wichita State came into this game rated in the Top 15 by Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but the problem is that their schedule has been soft and hasn't left them with a large margin of error. The only big win they have came against UNLV, and now they have a bad loss to Drake. Their RPI is now 30th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is going to be right around there as well. That said, they are still 18-4 overall and 9-2 in conference play. Even with only a 5-2 finish (to get to 14-4), their won-loss record should be too good for them to get left out on Selection Sunday. But you never want to take a chance in the Missouri Valley Conference. Because Arch Madness ends a full week before Selection Sunday, the Valley teams tend to get forgotten over the ensuing week. Typically, any MVC team on the bubble at the end of Arch Madness ends up with a ticket to the NIT. Their next game will be Wednesday at Missouri State.

Drake actually moved to 6-5 in Missouri Valley play with this win, and pushed their RPI (and most likely their Sagarin ELO_CHESS) inside the Top 100. They don't have a plausible path to an at-large bid, but if they can get to 9-9 that will have to be considered a successful season. They'll try to move to 7-5 on Wednesday at Indiana State.

Minnesota 77, Illinois 72, OT
This was a heartbreaking loss for Illinois. They were leading by three in the final seconds when Minnesota's Austin Hollins inexplicably attacked the basket instead of going for the game-tying three. But Hollins made a layup and Meyers Leonard was called for a foul. Hollins completed the old fashioned three-point play to send the game to overtime. I thought it was a very soft foul call on Leonard, and if I was reffing I wouldn't have called it, but there's just no way that Leonard can put himself in a situation where he gives the ref a chance to make that call. You've got to get out of the way - let Hollins get the layup. Throw in 3-for-21 three-point shooting for the Illini, and this is clearly a game that they'll feel that they should have won.

This loss drops Illinois to 4-4 in Big Ten play, with wins over Ohio State, Gonzaga, Minnesota and Northwestern, along with a bad loss to Penn State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still stay inside the Top 30, but they're dangerously close to falling onto the bubble. I think they need to get to 9-9 in Big Ten play and then need to win a game in the Big Ten tournament to feel good about their at-large chances. They have a chance to bounce back in a big way on Tuesday when Michigan State comes to Assembly Hall. After that they'll have a key home game against a Northwestern team desperate for a quality road win.

Minnesota opened the season 0-4 in Big Ten play, but they've won four of five and are now 4-5, with wins over Indiana, Virginia Tech, Illinois and Northwestern, and with only one bad loss (Iowa). This win pushes their RPI up to 39th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should move into the Top 40 as well. If the season ended now they'd be in the NCAA Tournament. The concern for them is that their remaining schedule is brutal. They will play Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin (twice). They're going to have to win at least a couple of those games, because they're probably going to have to get to 9-9 to have a good shot at an at-large bid, and they can't expect to win all of their other games (nothing is a "gimme game" in this year's Big Ten). Their next game will be Wednesday at Iowa, a perfect example of a game that they need to win but which definitely will not be a "gimme".

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dayton Falls At Home To Rhode Island

Rhode Island 86, Dayton 81
This has been a bad day for a lot of bubble teams, and Dayton might have had the worst loss of all. Rhode Island hadn't won a single conference game all season long. I was watching an internet stream of a local Dayton broadcast, and I can't recall the last time I heard announcers so depressed after a game. Billy Baron, the Coach's son, scored 25 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Jonathan Holton was all over the floor with 16 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Overall, Rhode Island scored 1.21 PPP, the sixth straight game where Dayton has allowed more than 1 PPP. That's just not good enough to win consistently.

Dayton has a whole bunch of nice wins this season (St. Louis, Temple, Minnesota and Alabama), but this loss drops them to 4-3 in Atlantic Ten play with bad losses to Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, Miami (OH) and now Rhode Island. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should fall out of the Top 60. If the season ended now they'd be NIT-bound. At this point, it's hard to see Dayton earning an at-large bid unless they finish at least 11-5 in conference play, which would mean at least a 7-2 record in their final nine games. They'll begin on Wednesday at home against Duquesne before heading on the road to play St. Louis on Saturday.

This win will likely be the highlight of the Rhode Island season. For the most part, the only good thing about this season for Rhode Island is that they're young and they're playing hard, and so they should be better next season. Their next game will be on Wednesday, against UMass.

#21 Virginia 61, NC State 60
NC State trailed by a few points for nearly the entire night. They were 2-for-15 on threes, and just could not get a big shot to fall. Lorenzo Brown had a chance to get a winner on the final possession of the game, but ended up having to take a deep contested jumper that he missed. This is a tough loss for NC State to swallow for a couple of reasons. First of all, they dominated the boards (16 offensive rebounds vs 4 for Virginia) against a Cavaliers team that actually came into this game leading the nation in defensive rebounding percentage (77.1%), and matched them with 11 turnovers. Second of all, on a day where nearly every bubble team seemed to lose, this was a wonderful chance for NC State to thrust themselves into the Tournament bracket.

A win here would have actually pushed NC State to 5-2 in ACC play. Instead they're 4-3 with only that one big win over Texas, along with a bad loss to Georgia Tech. Their RPI is 59th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to that as well. So they're a borderline bubble team, but if the season ended now they'd definitely be left out of the Field of 68. I think they need to get to 10-6 in ACC play to have a good chance at an at-large bid. Their next game will be Wednesday at Boston College.

Virginia moves to 17-3 overall and 4-2 in conference play with this win. They are now 6-2 against the RPI Top 100 and have pushed their Sagarin ELO_CHESS into the Top 25. At this point, even a .500 finish the rest of the year (which would mean a 9-7 regular season record and a win in the ACC tournament) should be sufficient to put them in the NCAA Tournament. Considering their remaining schedule, I think they're more likely to win 10+ games than to win 9, so there's a good chance that by the time March rolls around that Cavaliers fans will only be worried about which seed they'll be earning in the NCAA Tournament. It's quite a turnaround for this team. In my view, it's hard to argue against Tony Bennett as the ACC Coach of the Year. Virginia's next game will be Tuesday against Clemson.

#25 Louisville 60, Seton Hall 51
This was a game between two teams that have been sliding the past couple of weeks... and somebody had to win. It turned out that Louisville won this game fairly easily, leading by double-digits most of the way. This was an underwhelming game from Louisville, though. Their offense was still dreadfully inefficient (23 turnovers), and still being killed by Peyton Siva trying to do too much (4 assists, 7 turnovers). Seton Hall just couldn't handle the Louisville pressure defense at all, finishing with a 30.2 eFG% and 0.71 PPP, their worst offensive performance of the season.

Louisville is still overrated and should not be ranked, but at least they seem to have steadied the ship a bit. They've won three straight now to move to 5-4 in Big East play with wins over Vanderbilt, Memphis, Long Beach State and Seton Hall, along with a bad loss to Providence. I don't think they're out of the woods yet, but it does look like they should make it to March without falling onto the bubble. Their next game will be next Saturday against Rutgers.

Seton Hall has now lost their fourth straight game to fall to 4-5 in Big East play. They have wins over UConn, West Virginia and Dayton, along with a bad loss to USF. Their RPI is still 31st but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely be around 40th. If the season ended now they'd be in the NCAA Tournament, but only barely. They need to turn this slump around soon, and unfortunately they head on the road now to play Marquette (Tuesday) and UConn (Saturday). Their schedule down the stretch is pretty easy, but they don't want to have to dig themselves out of a 4-7 hole.

Oklahoma Beats Kansas State In Manhattan

Oklahoma 63, #24 Kansas State 60
This was a horrible loss for Kansas State. Particularly considering how bad they tend to play on the road, they absolutely could not afford a bad loss like this in Bramlage Coliseum, which is normally a fortress for them. They played extremely sloppy basketball (20 turnovers) and couldn't find anybody that could stop Steven Pledger (30 points on 11-for-17 shooting). Kansas State, because of the turnovers, scored only 0.87 PPP, their second worst offensive performance of the season (the debacle at Kansas was the only game that was worse).

With this loss, Kansas State falls to 4-4 in Big 12 play with road games at Baylor, Missouri, Texas and Iowa State still to go. In other words, it's unlikely that they'll finish better than 10-8. They have wins over Missouri, Texas and Alabama, and just a pair of bad losses to Oklahoma, so even if they finish 9-9 in Big 12 play they should still be a Tournament team. But it's now looking more and more likely that Kansas State will be on the bubble for much of the rest of the season. Their next game will be Tuesday at Iowa State.

Lon Kruger, in his first year at Oklahoma, has definitely figured out Kansas State. But besides his season sweep of the Wildcats, the Sooners don't have any quality wins and are only 13-7 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play with a road game at Kansas up next, on Wednesday. They only need to go .500 the rest of the way to get to 8-10 and to have a shot at the bubble, though I doubt they'll get there. Their remaining schedule is pretty rough.

Rutgers 61, Cincinnati 54
Speaking of bad losses... this was not what Cincinnati needed coming in with a two-game losing streak. Cincinnati has some good shooters, but the problem is that their guards struggle to score in the paint. This has been the case all season long (their 45.2 2P% is worst in the Big East). Yancy Gates hit 7-of-10 here, but his teammates combined to hit just 6-for-26 (23.1%) of their twos. Rutgers was led again by true freshman Eli Carter (17 points, including 4-for-7 on threes).

This is a bad loss for Cincy's resume, but there's no question that Rutgers is playing a lot better now than they were earlier in the season. They've been feisty at home in Big East play so far, beating UConn, Notre Dame and now Cincinnati. They're actually up to 4-5 in Big East play now with a winnable road game coming up on Wednesday at Providence. There's no plausible path to the bubble, but it would be a great achievement if Rutgers could get into the top half of the Big East standings.

Cincinnati falls to 5-4 in Big East play with this loss. They have wins over Georgetown and UConn, along with bad losses to Presbyterian, St. John's and now Rutgers. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will actually fall out of the Top 60 after this loss. Considering the fact that Cincy played so poorly in non-conference play and the fact that the Big East is down this season, even a 10-8 Cincy team probably wouldn't make the NCAA Tournament unless they win a game or two in the Big East tournament. If they fall to 9-9 in Big East play then they're really in trouble. They have a week to get ready for a home game against DePaul, and also will play St. John's and Providence in the next two weeks, but their schedule over the final couple of weeks of the regular season will be very difficult. They can't afford any more bad losses.

Southern Miss 78, Central Florida 65
A week ago, Central Florida was 5-1 in Conference USA, coming off wins over Memphis and UAB. But on Wednesday they lost to Tulsa, and they went down pretty easily here to Southern Miss. Not a good way to back up that early success. Darnell Dodson had an efficient 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting for Southern Miss, and Neil Watson had the game of his life with 23 points, including 4-for-7 behind the arc. It was the second straight poor defensive performance for UCF, after defense had carried them through much of that successful stretch early in Conference USA play. That's a sign of a young team that lacks the proper concentration to win consistently.

UCF is now 5-3 in conference play with wins over UConn and Memphis, along with bad losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulsa. They are 7-6 against the RPI Top 200, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is going to fall into the 70-75 range. Any run at an at-large bid is unlikely. If they make the NCAA Tournament it's more likely going to happen because of a run in the C-USA tournament. This loss drops them to 4th in the conference standings. Their next conference game will be a week from today, at SMU.

With this win, Southern Miss moves to 19-3 overall and in a tie for first in C-USA with a 6-1 conference record. They don't have any great wins, but they don't have any awful losses either (a loss to Denver isn't that great, though). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is inside the Top 20, but the lack of big wins means that their computer rating is tenuous. One or two bad losses is all it will take to bump them back to the Tournament bubble. Considering their remaining schedule, I think they need to get to 11-5 in conference play to feel good about their at-large hopes. That would mean a 5-4 finish, which seems manageable to me. Their next game is a huge one, on Wednesday at home against Memphis. The winner of that game will move into first place alone.

A Little Hope For Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh 72, #10 Georgetown 60
Between the start of December and January 15th, Travon Woodall only played one, ineffective game. He had been sidelined with an abdominal/groin injury. He returned to action a week ago against Louisville, though he was ineffective again. But on Wednesday he played well in Pitt's first win of the season (over Providence), and he looked like his old self here. He didn't score a lot, but he had 10 assists. And suddenly, Pitt's offense looks decent again: in the two games with Woodall back playing well, the Panthers have scored 1.16 PPP. I don't want to put all of Pitt's struggles on one player, because there's no excuse for some of those performances that Pitt has had (such as the 62-39 debacle to Rutgers), but there has to be a lot of hope in Pittsburgh that this team is going to actually play pretty well down the stretch.

Does Pitt still have time to get something out of this season? Do they still have a chance at an at-large bid? I'm sure some Pitt fans are wondering that, but at this point I have to say it's still very unlikely. They are 2-7 in Big East without any big wins out-of-conference and a few bad losses (Wagner, DePaul, Rutgers). They'd have to get to 8-10 to even have a chance heading into the Big East tournament, which would require a 6-3 finish with a whole bunch of tough road games left (UConn, Louisville, Seton Hall and West Virginia), along with some difficult home games. In my view, I need to see them beat more than one quality team before I even give serious thought to any at-large hopes for the Panthers. Their next game will be Monday night at West Virginia. Next Saturday they'll face Villanova at home.

This loss drops Georgetown to 6-3, and probably ends any realistic Big East title hopes. They'll have to win at Syracuse on February 8th to have any chance at all at a share of the title. Before that game they'll head home for a pair of games against UConn and USF. The UConn game is up first, on Wednesday.

Colorado State 77, #12 San Diego State 60
Colorado State fans didn't really act any different from any other fan base, so I don't mean to pick on them, but some things that fans do just don't make sense to me. When they were winning this game late they started chanting "over-rated, over-rated", and then as soon as the game finished they stormed the court. To me, that's insulting to your own team. Colorado State was only a 1.5 or 2 point dog in Vegas (depending on where you looked), and I expected them to win. San Diego State had won three straight huge games and was overdue for a loss, and CSU was stinging from back-to-back losses. Act like you expected to win this one, not like you're some lower level team that's super excited to win a single game over a quality opponent.

That said, Colorado State has been a team that tends to take care of business against inferior opponents and has always come up just short against elite opponents. CSU was a solid team the past two years, when a Big Four of UNLV, New Mexico, BYU and San Diego State dominated the conference. Including the conference tournament, CSU went 2-16 against those four teams over that stretch, and 14-2 against everybody else in the Mountain West. That's a remarkable dichotomy. BYU is no longer around, but CSU's first game this season against the new Big Three was a loss (a 30 point thumping at New Mexico). They needed to get over the hump and to win at least a pair of games against the Big Three to have a shot at an at-large bid, so getting this one big win really helps.

Colorado State is now 14-8 overall and 3-2 in the Mountain West, with this being their first quality win, although they don't have any really bad losses either. They are 3-6 against the RPI Top 100, but without any losses this season outside the Top 85. This win pushes their RPI up to 18th, though I wouldn't take that too seriously. Their Sagarin ELO-CHESS will be right around 50th. If the season ended now they'd be on the bubble, though I think they'd be left out because of the fact that they only have one Top 50 win. But if they can pick up one more win against the Big Three, get to 8-6 and win a game in the Mountain West tournament? They'll at the very least be on the bubble on Selection Sunday. They have a tough game coming up on Wednesday at UNLV, but then have a relatively easy stretch (vs Air Force, at TCU, at Boise State) before heading home for a key stretch of games against Wyoming and New Mexico. If they beat both Wyoming and New Mexico at home and go at least 4-2 over that six game stretch, I'll probably move them into my bracket.

This was a reality check game for San Diego State, and so not a whole lot to worry about. Their numbers in Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR have risen from around 80th to nearly 40th over the past couple of weeks, and there's no question that their young players are looking a lot better than they were in November and December. They are still in an excellent position at 4-1 in Mountain West play. I still believe UNLV is the team to beat in the Mountain West, but wouldn't be shocked if SDSU proved me wrong. The Aztecs will be at home this week to play Boise State (Wednesday) and TCU (Saturday).

Purdue 58, Northwestern 56
This is one of those games far below the radar (it might not even get mentioned on Sportscenter tomorrow morning) but that has huge ramifications for Selection Sunday. Both of these teams could end up on the bubble, and it's always huge for bubble teams to beat other bubble teams. These two teams were within a couple of points of each other almost the entire game, and the winning bucket was an off-balance jumper on the baseline from Robbie Hummel. It's always a mistake to try to draw too many conclusions from a game that was this close, but Northwestern was very sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers). I think the ball was out of the hands of Dave Sobolewski too much. Sobolewski is a freshman and he's a little goofy looking, but it's gotten increasingly clear that he's a very good point guard who plays beyond his age and experience. I would have run more of the offense through him. Too often it seems like Northwestern sticks to their system and allows other teams to get the ball out of the hands of certain players (like John Shurna). If I were the coach, I'd be willing to shift out of the system a bit to get the ball into the hands of certain players. Particularly when your team (such as Northwestern) has so little depth.

This is another tough loss for Northwestern. They are now 0-3 this season in games decided by four points or less. They haven't lost to a single bad team all season, but they're only 12-8 overall, and just 2-6 in Big Ten play. The Big Ten is the best conference in the land, so if Northwestern can avoid any bad losses and can pick up a big scalp or two (they've already beaten Michigan State, but they need one or two more) and then get to 8-10 in Big Ten play, they'll at least have a chance to earn an at-large bid in the Big Ten conference. But that means going 6-4 the rest of the way. The good news is that they start "the rest of the way" with a home game against Nebraska on Thursday. Needless to say, Northwestern absolutely cannot afford to lose that game.

Purdue's resume is in a better place than Northwestern. They are now 5-4 in Big Ten play with wins over Temple, Illinois, Minnesota and Miami (Fl), and with bad losses to Butler and Penn State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is going to move up close to 40th after this win. If the season ended now they'd definitely be in the NCAA Tournament, but they need to get to at least 9-9 to still be in the Field of 68 when the Big Ten tournament tips off. They have a week off before an important game against an Indiana Hoosiers team that is desperate to beat a quality team on the road, something that they haven't done yet in Tom Crean's four seasons.

Kansas Falls To Iowa State

Iowa State 72, #5 Kansas 64
From a distance, this wasn't that shocking of an upset. Iowa State was only a seven point dog in Vegas. But this is a very important win for the program. Iowa State has won one NCAA Tournament game in the last decade and haven't been to a postseason tournament of any kind since 2005. In the past six seasons heading into this one, the Cyclones were a combined 27-69 in Big 12 play. They did beat Texas at home earlier this season, but this is clearly their biggest win in the (coach) Fred Hoiberg era.

That said, this isn't necessarily a turning point into a sustainable quality program. Three of the top four Iowa State minutes earners are transfers, after all. It's made them better in the short term, but you can't have sustained success in college basketball unless you're getting quality production from your high school recruits. Hoiberg had a fairly strong recruiting class this season and has another one coming in next year. Only time will tell if those guys end up being producers down the line. Royce White, the transfer from Minnesota, actually outplayed Thomas Robinson here. White had 19 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, compared to 13 points, 7 rebounds and 0 assists for Robinson. And with Kansas within three points with five minutes to go, it was White who scored eight straight Iowa State points to help them keep their nose in front.

While the jury is still out on the long-term possibilities of the Iowa State program, this win is huge for their NCAA Tournament hopes. I had already moved Iowa State into the Field of 68 even before this win, but now they're even more firmly in. They are 5-3 in Big 12 play, with wins over Texas and Kansas along with a bad loss to Drake. With the strength of the Big 12, I think that a 10-8 conference record and a win in the Big 12 tournament will probably be sufficient for an NCAA Tournament bid. That means only .500 play the rest of the way. The Cyclones will try to avoid a letdown home loss to Kansas State on Tuesday before heading on the road to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Even after this loss, Kansas is still a game clear in the Big 12. If they win at least a share of the conference title and then win the Big 12 tournament then they will earn a 1 seed. They shouldn't have much trouble bouncing back on Wednesday at home against Oklahoma, but then they'll head on the road to play Missouri and Baylor. If they can somehow win both games then they'll just about lock up the Big 12 regular season title... though the odds of them winning both games are not high.

#13 Florida 69, #16 Mississippi State 57
This was a deceptive final score, and an underwhelming performance by the Gators at home. This game was tight almost the entire way, and Florida led by only four points with under 8 minutes to go before closing on an 18-10 run. They seemed to struggle with Mississippi State's size, and their paint help defense opened up the perimeter for Mississippi State's shooters (the team shot 7-for-16 behind the arc).

But a win's a win, and it's important to take care of business at home when trying to make a run at a conference title. In the loss column, Florida is tied with Vanderbilt and a game back of Kentucky, and they still have a home-and-home to play against both opponents. Those will be the games that likely will decide which team will win the SEC regular season title. The Gators are 17-4 overall and 5-1 in the SEC and are rated in the Top 15 in both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but the concern is that they haven't really beaten anybody. They could really use a win over Kentucky to firm up their resume heading into Selection Sunday. Without a big win they risk ending up with a seed that won't make them happy on Selection Sunday.

Mississippi State is 17-5 overall and 4-3 in SEC play with wins over Alabama, Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Arizona, along with bad losses to Ole Miss, Akron and Arkansas. They are 5-5 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that is likely to be right around 35th after this game. They'd be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but not by much. If they get to 10-6 in SEC play they'll be in good shape for an at-large bid, but if they only go 9-7 then they'll probably need at least one win in the SEC tournament. Their schedule will be tough down the stretch, but it's easy the next couple of weeks. Their next three games will be at home against Auburn, Ole Miss and Georgia. They need to take care of business in all three to stay on pace for the NCAA Tournament.

UMass 72, St. Louis 59
UMass blew this game open late in the first half, going on a 22-5 run in the final 8:10 of the half. St. Louis shot 2-for-11 over that stretch with a pair of turnovers. Things didn't improve much in the second half. This was the worst St. Louis offensive performance of the season... by far. They had a 38.1 eFG% and scored 0.77 PPP. To put that in perspective, their previous worst performances of the season were 42.7% and 0.95 PPP in their loss to Dayton to open A-10 play. UMass is a good defensive team, but I can only give them so much credit for this. Heck, St. Louis only hit 42% of their free throws.

This loss is a major concern for St. Louis. They came into this game ranked as one of the 15 best teams in the nation by both Sagarin and Pomeroy, but they don't have any big wins. Their best win this season came over Xavier, and they slipped up with a bad loss to Loyola-Marymount. The Billikens are 0-3 against the RPI Top 50 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that is going to tumble to around 50th after this loss. In fact, if the season ended now I don't think St. Louis would make the Field of 68. There won't be any more chances for big wins the rest of the way, so they're going to have to earn their at-large bid by winning enough games to put together a nice won-loss record and solid computer numbers. I think they've got to finish at least 10-6 in conference play, and should really get to 11-5 to feel good about their chances. At 4-3 now, they will head home to play St. Bonaventure on Wednesday and Dayton on Saturday.

UMass didn't do anything out-of-conference, losing to Charleston and beating nobody of note. But they are now 5-2 in A-10 play with wins over St. Louis and St. Joe's. Their RPI is up to 56th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should move up to around 65-70th. They're not quite on the Tournament bubble yet, but they're close. If they can get to 11-5 in A-10 play and win a game or two in the A-10 tournament, we'll have to at least consider them seriously on Selection Sunday.

Luck Matters: Syracuse Over West Virginia, Baylor over Texas

#4 Syracuse 63, West Virginia 61
I often talk about the difference between team resume and team quality. The better team doesn't always win, and there is a lot of luck involved in close games. While the media always creates post hoc rationalizations for close wins ("they willed themselves to the win" or "they made all the big plays down the stretch"), the reality is that in the long run luck evens out. Does a ref make an iffy call? Does a shot that rolls around the rim end up rolling in or out? These are all things that add up and matter in a game, though it's rare that one instance of luck is so blatant that nobody can dispute it... such as this game. Down by two points with the clock running out, Deniz Kilicli took a shot near the basket that would have tied up the game and Baye Moussa Keita blocked it, but there was goaltending that wasn't called. That's not an opinion, it's a fact - the ball clearly hit the backboard before it was blocked. This game should have had an overtime. Instead, because of a referee error, Kevin Jones had to take a tough, contested three at the buzzer that missed, and West Virginia lost.

On Selection Sunday, nobody will remember or care that a ref blew this game for West Virginia. Nobody is going to move them into the bracket or up a line because "Hey, remember that loss to Syracuse? That really should have gone to overtime." Their Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR numbers will reflect this strong performance, but their resume won't. It's just a loss. And West Virginia now drops to 5-4 in Big East play and 15-7 overall with wins over Georgetown, Kansas State and Cincinnati, along with bad losses to St. John's and Kent State. They'd be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but not by a wide margin. A win at Syracuse would have changed that. I think they need five more wins to more-likely-than-not make the NCAA Tournament. They've either got to get to 10-8, or they need to go 9-9 and then win at least one Big East tournament game. Their next game will be on Monday against an improving Pittsburgh team.

Syracuse was in danger of falling back to the pack in the Big East. With this win they hang onto first place in the Big East. Either way, though, I still think they're the best team in the Big East and in the driver's seat for a 1 seed in March. They have scuffled in their last three games without Fab Melo, though. They have a week to get ready for their next game, on Saturday at St. John's.

#7 Baylor 76, Texas 71
Unlike the West Virginia/Syracuse game, there was no one play you could credit to "luck" in this game. Baylor got some home-cooking from the refs (two Texas players fouled out and a few more were in foul trouble), but nothing beyond what is typical for college basketball games. Home teams get an extra four points in Vegas, and studies have shown that refereeing is the dominant reason for "home advantage" in basketball, and all other major sports. But that said, Texas is now 0-6 in games decided by six points or less, and their two losses that weren't that close came on the road against Top Ten teams (Missouri and North Carolina). If Texas had gone 6-0 in those games instead of 0-6 they'd be 19-2 instead of 13-8, and they'd be ranked in the Top Ten instead of being considered by most people as an NIT team.

As I already said, all that matters on Selection Sunday are wins and losses, and so the fact that Texas hasn't won these games will affect their seed in a big way, but casual fans and the media are very mistaken in not realizing that Texas is an elite team. The media, and most fans, will rationalize these close losses, as I said above. It would be easy to say that Texas is a young team, and young teams tend to lose close games, but that would be wrong. Read this post I wrote about Memphis for a longer discussion about that. Memphis was super young last year and had incredibly good luck (14-2 in games decided by five points or less), and so they entered this year way overrated, and have actually had bad luck this year despite having every key player back (more experience means better clutch play... right?).

I agree with Ken Pomeroy: Texas is the most underrated team in the country. Even after this loss they will still be rated as a Top 25 team by both Pomeroy and Sagarin, and they're actually playing better now than they were back in November and December. I expect Texas to be one of the 10 or 15 best teams in the country by the time the Tournament comes around. But the big question is: what will their seed be? If the season ended now, they actually wouldn't even be in the NCAA Tournament. They're only 3-5 in Big 12 play. But their schedule will be a lot more manageable the rest of the way. They still have home games against Missouri, Baylor and Kansas State (opportunities for big wins) in addition to a bunch of games against the bottom of the conference (a home-and-home against Texas Tech, for example). I still think they'll finish 10-8 or 11-7 in conference play and then will win a couple of games in the Big 12 tournament. Remembering that the Selection Committee weights the final 10/12 games of the season much more than the rest of the season, Texas still has a good chance at a quality NCAA Tournament seed.

To me, Texas is a test of what people understand about advanced stats. If you think that "the team that wants it more" wins most close games, or that Tim Tebow "willed" his team to any victories this season (read my Tim Tebow post) then you think I'm an idiot and that Texas stinks. But if you understand that all teams in all sports win approximately 50% of their very close games over the long run and that clutch play is wildly overrated, then you understand that Texas is an elite team that is extremely underrated.

The Longhorns have an important game coming up on Monday at home against Missouri. I expect them to win that game, but if they don't then I will start to really drop their seed and start writing my "Pick Texas as a Cinderella team" posts for the NCAA Tournament.

By the way, there was another team in this game. This is an excellent win for Baylor. They are now only one game behind Kansas for the Big 12 lead. They lost at Kansas but will get a chance to get them back in Waco on February 8th. I'd bet against them winning the conference (I think Kansas is the better team), but they've put themselves in a position where they've got a legitimate shot, which is as much as you can ask for in a conference that Kansas has absolutely dominated for the better part of a decade. Baylor will play their next game on Wednesday at Texas A&M.

#18 Marquette 82, Villanova 78
Marquette's had bizarre troubles in the opening minutes of games in Big East play this season. They trailed Louisville 18-2 and came back to win. They trailed Pittsburgh 17-8 and came back to win. They trailed Syracuse 35-12 in the Carrier Dome and actually pulled within five points in the final minute before falling. And here? They trailed 28-10... and came back to win again. Makes you wonder if Buzz Williams needs to mix up his team's pregame routine.

The turning point in this game was a very dicey technical foul called on Maalik Wayns that nobody who was at the game thought he deserved (I wasn't at the game - that was just what I read from folks that were, and the announcers calling the game agreed). Marquette went on a quick 8-0 spurt following that technical foul that turned a four point deficit into a four point lead. With the refs taking over this game (45 fouls, 57 free throws, 3 technical fouls and a regulation game that took more than two and a half hours), Villanova just couldn't find a rhythm down the stretch.

Marquette is only one game behind Syracuse in the loss column. And if Georgetown loses (they're down to Pittsburgh as I'm typing this), the Golden Eagles will move into second place alone in the Big East. A 2 or 3 seed is definitely in play for Marquette, and even a 1 seed is possible if they can defy the odds and win the Big East tournament. They have already lost at Syracuse and will not get a return visit, but it's not inconceivable that they could be favored in every game the rest of the way. They could really build up their resume these next few weeks. They'll play Seton Hall on Tuesday, and then at Notre Dame next Saturday.

Villanova falls to 3-7 in Big East play and 10-12 overall with this loss. They're a better team than their record, but not that much better. They do have eight days now to get ready for their next game, on Sunday at Pitt.

Is Nevada The Favorite In The WAC?

Nevada 68, New Mexico State 60
Home rims are supposed to be kind, but they weren't here for New Mexico State. They had 13 more offensive rebounds, earned 15 more free throw attempts, and committed the same number of turnovers. But they had only a 37.5 eFG% while Nevada had a 64.1 eFG%, and that's how they ended up losing. A bunch of the credit has to go with a good Nevada gameplan defensively. New Mexico State is a team that is strong in the paint, but they can't shoot the ball. Nevada packed the paint with their defense and dared New Mexico State to shoot over the top. Nevada's offense, on the other hand, has an array of excellent shooters, led by Malik Story (3-for-7 on threes), Deonte Burton (4-for-8 on threes) and Olek Czyz (7-for-10 from the field). Nevada's early 18-7 lead came after Burton and Czyz combined to start the game 8-for-8 from the field. New Mexico State just doesn't have the offensive firepower to easily overcome a deficit like that.

This is no embarrassing "bad" loss for New Mexico State, though. Nevada, very quietly, has won 14 consecutive games to move to 17-3 overall and 6-0 in conference play. Their best win in non-conference play was at home (and in overtime) over Washington, but since entering WAC play they've won on the road at both New Mexico State and Utah State and are in the driver's seat for the WAC regular season title. They will try to avoid a letdown game tonight at Louisiana Tech.

New Mexico State beat New Mexico early this season, but then lost to UTEP and have now lost consecutive games in WAC play, at Hawaii and now at home against Nevada. I'm not sure I want to panic about this result, though. The reality is that even with their offensive struggles, they still would have won this game if Nevada hadn't opened up on fire. There's no reason Nevada will repeat that in the WAC tournament. Many of these players were part of this two years ago when they shocked Utah State and earned the WAC's auto bid. They've stumbled the past two games, but I'm not ready to give up on them. I'll be very curious to see what happens when these two teams play again, in Reno, on March 1st. The Aggies will play next tonight, at home against Fresno State.

#25 Wisconsin 57, #17 Indiana 50
Indiana's road woes under Tom Crean continued here. They are 2-30 in road Big Ten games under Crean, with both wins coming against bottom-feeder Penn State. They are 1-4 in road Big Ten games this year, and with a 3-1 home record are 4-5 overall. It seems to me that they have a different emotional attitude on the road, and it leads them to play softer. Wisconsin has a fantastic half court defense (they lead the nation in eFG% against), and they were very physical in the interior here. Cody Zeller was entirely shut down, scoring only 7 points on 2-for-7 shooting - he actually sat for most of the final ten minutes of the game. In their home games, Indiana has showed strong physical play, going after loose balls and fighting back. But on the road it seems like they'd prefer to whine about bad calls rather than match the physicality of their opponents. Yes, I thought more of the bad calls favored Wisconsin than Indiana here, but it was no different from what home teams typically get in college basketball. Everybody else figures out how to win road games, and Indiana's going to have to figure it out as well if they expect to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

The Hoosiers still have those big wins over Ohio State and Kentucky, as well as a quality win over Minnesota, and they only have one bad loss (Nebraska), so their Tournament seed is still good at the moment. They'd be a 4-6 seed if the season ended now. But that will start to drop if they can't beat a quality Big Ten team on the road. They'll play Iowa at home tomorrow, but then will go on the road for a pair of tough games - at Michigan and at Purdue.

Wisconsin has won five straight games now to move to 6-3 in Big Ten play. A couple of weeks ago there were media folks that didn't know about advanced stats that talked about Wisconsin as a bubble team, but that has gone away. It would take a remarkable collapse now for the Badgers to fall onto the bubble. They'll play at Penn State on Tuesday, and if they win there will have a huge game next Saturday at home against Ohio State. There's a chance that first place in the Big Ten could be on the line there.

Stony Brook 66, Boston University 59
This was the only game going on late on Friday night and I ended up watching a bit of it. The Stony Brook crowd was great, as crowds tend to be in important conference games in tiny arenas. The difference in this game was the play of Stony Brook inside. They don't have very much height, but their front court is strong and physical, and they scored 26 points in the paint and won the rebounding battle (a 35.7 OR% versus a 24.0 OR% for BU).

It seems to me that a concern for BU is Darryl Partin, who is asked to do everything and tries to make every play, but who isn't quite good enough to pull it off. He takes 37.2% of his team's shots when he's on the floor, which is fifth most of any player in the nation. He's got some good teammates, though, and the team would be better off passing the ball around more. He only has a 47.3 eFG%. When you've got a player like Patrick Hazel who has had success at a higher level (he played for Marquette before transferring) and shooters like Travis Robinson and point guard DJ Irving, you've got other weapons. And on the final chance for BU here, down by 4 with around 30 seconds to go, that the team tried to force the ball to Partin in corner while he was being tightly defended, and he couldn't handle the pass for a turnover.

The America East has a tight three team race. With this win, Stony Brook grabs a one game lead over BU. Vermont is another half game back, though even with BU in the loss column. Stony Brook has now beaten both teams at home, and lost at BU. BU lost at Vermont as well, and will have the return game at home on Wednesday. In other words, all three teams have held serve at home thus far. The regular season title means more in the America East than in other conferences - while the early rounds of the America East tournament rotate (they'll be at Hartford this year), the highest remaining seed gets the tournament title game at home. So if the seeds hold, the second and third placed teams will have to play each other in the semifinals just for the right to play the regular season winner in the finals on their home floor. The home team has won the last four America East tournament title games.

I'm a little hesitant to pick Stony Brook here because of history. The America East has been dominated by BU and Vermont the past few years, with those two teams combining to win six of the last ten tournament titles. But these are not the same programs. Both BU and Vermont have new head coaches. Former Columbia head coach Joe Jones took over at BU after Patrick Chambers took the Penn State job. John Becker took over Vermont after Mike Lonergan took the George Washington job, though Becker had been an assistant at Vermont for five years, so there was less of a transition. But the fact that Stony Brook has already won their home games against Vermont and Boston University, have not lost to anybody else in conference play, are perfect at home this year and are playing as well as any of them means that they are now my pick to win the America East.

Stony Brook's next game will be Wednesday against Binghamton. BU will play Vermont at home on Wednesday.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Alabama Falls Onto The Bubble

South Carolina 56, Alabama 54
This game was no fluke. If anything, South Carolina should have won by more. The Gamecocks had five more offensive rebounds and six fewer turnovers, and this game was only so close because they shot an atrocious 5-for-31 on threes. Alabama has excellent perimeter defense, and South Carolina is not a good outside shooting team, but still... 5-for-31. I think that rebounding was key, though. Alabama has struggled to rebound the ball all year (they are 10th in the SEC with a 66.6 DR%). Their offense has struggled all year and they don't get a lot of easy baskets. They are spectacular perimeter defenders (their 41.2 eFG% against is third best in the nation), but if they don't get defensive rebounds then it can become very mentally frustrating.

It's not that Alabama is a bad team. In fact, they're rated 22nd in Pomeroy. But they're 0-4 in games decided by six points or less and are now 2-4 in SEC play with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that's slipped to 46th. The Tide are only 1-6 against the RPI Top 50 (the one win came over Wichita State) and now have a bad loss to go with that. Considering that they're playing an "SEC West schedule", a 9-7 SEC record without any really big scalps would not look impressive on Selection Sunday. Even if Alabama finishes 8-2 and gets to 10-6, they'll still enter the SEC tournament without having assured themselves a place in the NCAA Tournament. The good news for them in the short term is that their upcoming schedule is soft, beginning with a game tomorrow at home against Arkansas.

This is the best win South Carolina has had this season by far and they're only 1-4 in SEC play. That said, they've been playing better the past couple of weeks, and I think that Bruce Ellington is a big part of it. He missed the first month of the season while he was playing on the football team, and even after joining the basketball team was struggling to find his way in the rotation after having missed so many practices and games. But the past couple of weeks he's been playing much better. He was only 5-for-14 from the field here, but he's a good ball handler and offensive creator. The Gamecocks will try to win their second straight tomorrow at Ole Miss.

#13 Florida 64, Ole Miss 60
Ole Miss jumped out to a quick 20-4 lead in this game. They have a lot of big bodies and were able to neutralize the Florida bigs for most of the game. But the problem in the second half was that their guards just couldn't keep up with the Gators' backcourt trio of Ervin Walker, Kenny Boynton and Brad Beal. A pair of threes by Kenny Boynton on back-to-back possessions with under five minutes to go were the key baskets that opened this game up.

This would have been a bad loss for Florida. With the comeback win they avoid dropping in the bracket, and they also keep their SEC title hopes alive. They're only one game behind Kentucky in the loss column with a home-and-home remaining. The one concern for Florida isn't so much a concern but an uncertainty: They haven't played Kentucky or Vanderbilt yet (they'll have a home-and-home against each), and their one game this season against Alabama will be on the road. They'll play Mississippi State at home tomorrow, which will mark their toughest game in SEC play so far. They did beat Florida State and Arizona, and they hung close in losses to Syracuse and Ohio State, but we won't know if they can beat an elite team until they actually do it.

Ole Miss came into this game with lovely RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS numbers, but with a 5-1 record in games decided by three points or less or in overtime. Their Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings were outside the Top 100. In other words, they are due for some close losses. For the time being they are still 3-3 in SEC play with wins over Mississippi State and Miami (Fl) along with bad losses to Auburn and LSU. They will be at least a bubble team if they can get to 9-7 in SEC play, though I'd bet against it. Their next game will be tomorrow against South Carolina.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee 53, Butler 42
Butler has had a shocking number of horrific offensive efficiency games so far this season. They had a 28.9 eFG% and scored 0.67 PPP. It's the fourth time this year they've had an eFG% under 35%, and the sixth time they've scored less than 0.85 PPP. To put that in perspective, they only hit either of those low marks twice all of last season, with one being the National Title game. The problem continues to be backcourt play, which has been so inconsistent without anybody able to hit a shot. They have four guards that play regular minutes (Nored, Stigall, Hopkins and Aldridge), and they're shooting a combined 28.2% on threes. I give Brad Stevens credit for mixing up his lineup and trying new players, but if you don't have anybody on the perimeter that can hit a shot then there's not a whole lot that the coach can do.

The Butler frontcourt is still scoring efficiently. Even here, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith combined for 20 points on 9-for-21 shooting, with 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 3 turnovers... not that bad. And Wisconsin-Milwaukee deserves some credit here. They are third in the nation in 3P% against (25.2%). Butler's offense actually has been (other than here) playing better over the past month than they were back in November and early December.

This loss drops Butler to 6-4 and, with a home loss to Cleveland State, basically out of the Horizon regular season race. The key the rest of the season is going to be trying to figure out their offensive issues. They're running out of time before the Horizon League tournament. Butler's next game will be tomorrow at Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee moves only a half game behind Cleveland State with this win. They lost to CSU in Cleveland but will have a return visit on February 14th. With a soft upcoming schedule, it's really not so unlikely that Milwaukee could win a second straight surprise Horizon League regular season title. They'll play Valparaiso at home tomorrow before games against Youngstown State and Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Oklahoma State Takes Down Missouri

Oklahoma State 79, #2 Missouri 72
Oklahoma State is 5-1 in the past ten years against teams ranked in the Top 5 in the Coaches Poll, and they have won six straight times against a ranked Missouri team. Neither of those stats have anything to do with a game in the 2011-12 season, of course - it's just an interesting stat. In retrospect, though, Oklahoma State is a team that matches up well with this Missouri roster. The Cowboys are a good defense team and have a couple of guys that can shoot the ball. What's killed them all year is the fact that they have a very small front line (particularly with J-P Olukemi out for the season) and are probably the worst rebounding team in the entire Big 12. But Missouri is one of the only Big 12 teams that can't take advantage of that - they play four guards most of the game and aren't great at rebounding the ball either.

Ssuper-frosh Le'Bryan Nash scored 27 points on 12-for-18 shooting, but the difference-maker for Oklahoma State was redshirt freshman Brian Williams, who scored a career-high 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Ricardo Ratliffe led Missouri with 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting and 12 rebounds.

In the end, I think this was just a brutal defensive performance from Missouri. They haven't been a terrific defense all season long (their offense has been spectacularly efficient, which is why they're playing so well), but considering the quality of their opponent this was their worst defensive performance of the season. And that's why I wouldn't overreact about this game. Every team is going to have a few clunkers every year, and this was one of those for Missouri. One game is not a trend. Missouri is still 5-2 in Big 12 play with wins over Baylor, Texas, Illinois, California and Iowa State, along with this bad loss. With a home-and-home remaining with Kansas, even the Big 12 title is still a possibility. They will play next tomorrow against Texas Tech before heading to Austin to play the Longhorns on Monday.

This is an important win for the Oklahoma State program and will give them some hope for the future, but I don't think it will mean much for any postseason hopes. They are still 3-4 in Big 12 play and 10-10 overall with an iffy loss to Pittsburgh and no big win other than this one. They are 3-10 against the RPI Top 100 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 104th. They will play at Texas A&M tomorrow and then at Texas Tech on Tuesday.

St. John's 78, West Virginia 62
Much was made of the fact that St. John's started this game with five freshmen. And yes, it is a good sign for the future that the St. John's freshmen played so well, but this really isn't a new story. St. John's returned one scholarship player from last season (Malik Stith) and he hasn't been starting. All five starters have been new players, four of whom are true freshmen (the fifth, God's Gift Achiuwa) is a Juco transfer. And besides, Achiuwa played 28 minutes in this game, more than two of the "starters". There's nothing more overrated in sports than "starters" - what matters is who plays the most minutes.

Yes, St. John's is an extremely young team that has a bright future, but they're too young to be consistently competitive this year. They'll win a few games in Big East play, but that's the extent of the damage that they'll do. Their other big upset this season came over Cincinnati and they're now 3-6 in conference play (they also beat Providence at home). They'll play at Duke tomorrow before getting back to conference play on Wednesday at DePaul.

This was a putrid performance from West Virginia. They had a 39.2 eFG% and allowed 1.15 PPP to St. John's. To put that in perspective, that's the second most efficient offensive performance from St. John's all season long, even including all of their games against cupcakes. It's also the second most PPP allowed by West Virginia this year, outdone just barely by 1.16 PPP in their loss to Baylor. This was just one of those "clunker" games, like I talked about above with regards to Missouri. The problem is, Missouri can afford a clunker a whole lot more than West Virginia can.

The Mountaineers are now 5-3 in Big East play with wins over Georgetown, Kansas State and Cincinnati along with bad losses to Kent State and St. John's. Their RPI is 16th, though their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is back at 29th. I think they need to win at least four of their final ten regular season games (to get to 9-9) and then win a game in the Big East tournament to earn their spot in the NCAA Tournament. They have to play at Syracuse on Saturday before coming home on Monday to play Pittsburgh.

Notre Dame 55, Seton Hall 42
This was an ugly, ugly game, particularly in the first half. The Irish led 19-18 at halftime, with the two teams combining to shoot 13-for-49 from the field with 16 turnovers. Seton Hall finished this game with only 0.70 PPP, one of the first worst offensive performances by any team in Big East play so far this season (Pitt's 0.56 PPP in that embarrassing 62-39 debacle at Rutgers was the most futile performance so far). Herb Pope, to pick out one player, shot 2-for-16 from the field.

Seton Hall was flying high a couple of weeks ago when they were 4-1 in Big East play, but they've now lost three straight. They are 5-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over UConn, West Virginia and Dayton, along with a bad loss to USF. Their RPI is 19th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 36th. If the season ended now they'd be an NCAA Tournament team, but only narrowly. Unless they get a big scalp or two, they're going to need at least a 9-9 record and a win in the Big East tournament to lock up a Tournament bid. They'll try to bounce back to 5-4 tomorrow at home against Louisville. After that they'll head on the road to play Marquette and UConn.

The Irish, for all their struggles early this season, find themselves 5-3 and in a tie for fourth place in the Big East. They have wins over Syracuse and Louisville to go with this win, along with bad losses to Georgia, Rutgers and Maryland. Their RPI is 82nd and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 68th, but it's hard to ignore that 5-3 record and the win over Syracuse. If they can go just 5-5 the rest of the way and get to 10-8, it will earn them a spot on the Tournament bubble. Their upcoming schedule is pretty rough, though. They'll play at UConn on Sunday followed by a home game against Marquette a week from Saturday.

The Atlantic Ten Tightens Up: 11 Teams Within 1 Game

Saint Louis 73, Xavier 68
For whatever reason, the Atlantic Ten has been widely ignored this season. Other than Xavier and their brawl, nobody nationally seems to be paying any attention. The A-10 is strong this year - the conference could plausibly get four teams into the Tournament... even five isn't impossible. Not only that, but the fight for the conference regular season title is remarkably tight. Right now, 11 of the 14 teams in the conference are within one game of each other - somewhere between 4-2 and 3-3.

Xavier came into this game looking to bounce back from a loss to Dayton, but they just couldn't find a rhythm. The refs were extremely whistle-happy, putting the players to line for 60 free throws (a FTA/FGA ratio of 0.65). Tu Holloway hit only 4-for-11 from the field, but scored 22 points because he got to the line 14 times and never missed. On the other end of the floor it was Brian Conklin who abused the undersized Xavier front line for 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

With this win, Saint Louis is one of the teams tied atop the A-10 with a 4-2 record. They are 16-4 overall with only one bad loss (Loyola-Marymount), though this is probably their best win of the season. Their soft schedule is why despite being ranked in the Top 15 in the country by Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, their RPI is 41st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 43rd. If the season ended now they'd be an NCAA Tournament team, but only barely. They don't have any big scalps left on their schedule, but seven of their final ten games will be against the RPI Top 100. So if they can finish strong and finish with something like an 11-5 conference record then, despite the lack of big wins, their computer numbers will be too good for them to get left out on Selection Sunday. Their next game will be Saturday at UMass.

This loss drops them to 4-3 in conference play and 13-7 overall with a 6-6 record against the RPI Top 100, along with that bad loss to Hawaii. Xavier's Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 65th. Remember, they won't get a pass for the games that they lost when they had players suspended. A key opportunity for them to strengthen their resume will come on February 4th when they play at Memphis. Memphis isn't a top team this year, but a win at the Fed Ex Forum would look very nice on a resume (Memphis is 10-1 at home this year, losing to Murray State). Before the Memphis game, Xavier will need to go on the road to play Charlotte and George Washington.

St. Joseph's 77, Dayton 63
This was a tight game most of the night, but a 21-3 run by St. Joe's in the second half blew this game open. Dayton's offense hit a wall during the stretch, going 1-11 from the field with 4 turnovers. The surprise star was Ronald Roberts, who scored the final 15 points for St. Joe's on the way to a career-high 27 points on 10-for-11 shooting. And this was a win that St. Joe's needed, coming off a brutal three-game losing streak that included a bad loss to Pennsylvania.

This win bounced St. Joe's back to 3-3 in conference play and 13-8 overall. That three game losing streak really damaged their resume, however. They were on the bubble two weeks ago, and now even after this win their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 77th. If they can somehow win seven of their final ten games to get to 10-6 and then win a game or two in the A-10 tournament then they will have a shot at the NCAA Tournament, but it's a steeper hill to climb than it was before that three game losing streak.

Dayton is still in pretty good shape after this loss. In the past few weeks, after all, they'd taken out St. Louis, Temple, Xavier and La Salle. They also have a win over Alabama along with bad losses to Buffalo, Miami (OH) and St. Bonaventure. The Flyers need to be careful not to stumble in two relatively easy games (against Rhode Island on Saturday and then against Duquesne on Wednesday) before a big road game at St. Louis. If they could pull the upset there then they'd arguably be in the driver's seat for the A-10 regular season title.

Texas 62, Iowa State 55
Texas looked to have this game in hand, and then nearly blew it all in the final minutes. Iowa State went on a 24-12 run to pull within three points with under 30 seconds to go before J'Covan Brown hit a pair of free throws to pull the Texas lead out of reach for good. Despite those free throws, it was a tough day for Brown. He hit only 3-for-16 from the field with 5 turnovers. Overall, the Longhorns only scored 0.93 PPP.

But the story for Texas all season long has been defense - either good or bad. Their length stifled Iowa State in the paint - the Cyclones finished with only a 37.5 eFG% and 0.82 PPP. This season, Texas has three wins in Big 12 play, and in all three have theld their opponent to under 0.85 PPP. In their four losses? They've allows more than 1.08 PPP in every single one. That's a remarkable dichotomy. The stats are pretty strong in non-conference play as well. In their three non-conference losses they allowed more than 1.1 PPP. In their ten non-conference wins they held all but two to under 0.95 PPP.

The Longhorns enter a key stretch now. They head on the road to play Baylor on Saturday, and then will come home to play Missouri on Monday. It's not likely that they'll lose both, but if they do then they'll drop to 3-6 in conference play and there will be a real risk of this young team melting down mentally and ending up in the NIT. If they can win one game or both? Then I expect them to continue improving as we continue toward Selection Sunday.

This game was a missed opportunity for Iowa State to complete the season sweep of Texas. They are 14-6 and 4-3 in conference play, but that one win over Texas is their only real quality win this year and they have a bad loss to Drake. They will forget about this loss in an instant, however, if they can somehow knock off Kansas on Saturday. An upset there plus nine conference wins and a win in the Big 12 tournament would more likely than not be sufficient for an at-large bid.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

San Diego State With An Impressive Win At Wyoming

#12 San Diego State 52, Wyoming 42
Had Wyoming won this game, the media would have told us this was a shocking "upset". Of course, in reality it was Wyoming that was favored by a couple of points in Vegas, and Wyoming that was picked as the favorite by both Sagarin and Pomeroy. And that's before it's pointed out that San Diego State was coming off of two gigantic wins and was overdue for a reality check, and that San Diego State had major travel problems getting to Wyoming, ending up with a 17 hour delay and then a very turbulent flight that got them to Wyoming on the afternoon of the game. I thought Wyoming was an easy pick here, and was shocked at the way San Diego State played as well as they did, particularly in the first half.

And to be fair, Wyoming didn't actually play badly here. They had 8 more offensive rebounds, 4 fewer turnovers and 4 more blocks. The problem was that they had an atrocious 35.7 eFG%, their worst shooting of the season. But it wasn't all shooting. San Diego State's athletic perimeter players just slashed past the Wyoming defense at will. Wyoming is forcing turnovers on 26.7% on defensive possessions in Mountain West play (that's best in the conference) and they continued that here (a 32.8% rate), but if they didn't get a turnover they generally gave up an easy shot. Here's a stat that stands out to me: Wyoming is 37th in the nation with a 44.7 eFG% against, but there's a dichotomy. The three best teams they've played (New Mexico, Colorado State and Denver) have all had an eFG% over 55% Every other team they've played has had an eFG% under 55%. Makes you wonder whether quality perimeter scorers are going to give them trouble all season long.

San Diego State surely is far overdue for a "reality check" loss. They've played great the past couple of weeks, but reality has to catch up to them eventually. They'll play at Colorado State on Saturday, and I'd make the Rams the favorite in that one. But even if they do lose, SDSU will still be in a far better position than they were a couple of weeks ago. Their Pomeroy rating has jumped from 71st to 44th in about two weeks and they now have six quality wins (New Mexico, UNLV, California, Arizona, Wyoming and Long Beach State) and zero bad losses. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS right now is actually 6th in the nation. UNLV is still the favorite in the Mountain West in my opinion, but San Diego State is very much in play for a 4-6 seed on Selection Sunday.

Wyoming is still a very nice 16-4 after this loss, but it's come against a very soft schedule. Their problems against quality teams mean that the only quality win that they have came against Colorado State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 72nd and their RPI is 90th. If the season ended now they wouldn't even be in the bubble discussion. At 2-2 in Mountain West play, I think they've got to get to at least 8-6, and will need at least two wins over the conference's Big Three (including any games played in the conference tournament) to have a real shot on Selection Sunday. Though it's been years since Wyoming has been even close to an at-large bid (the 2002-03 season... maybe longer?), so the fact that we even have to discuss this tells you how good this season has been for them. Their next game will be Saturday at Boise State.

#4 Syracuse 60, Cincinnati 53
Cincinnati had an opportunity here to push Syracuse to a second straight loss, but they were just too inconsistent on offense. Every once in a while Cashmere Wright or Sean Kilpatrick would break down the zone and make things look easy, but more often than not the team would have to settle for long jumpers. The long shots led to long rebounds (13 offensive boards), but 34.4% field goal shooting isn't going to cut it against any quality opponent. Fab Melo was out again with his academic issues, but Jim Boeheim got a nice performance from Rakeem Christmas (9 rebounds, 3 blocks), and by James Southerland off the bench (7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks). Fab Melo is an excellent defender, but it's clear that they aren't going to drop off a cliff without him like they did two years ago when Arinze Onuaku went down. They have far more front court depth now than they did then.

This was a missed opportunity for Cincinnati. They are now 15-6 overall and 5-3 in the Big East with wins over Georgetown and UConn along with bad losses to Presbyterian and St. John's. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 57th. If the season ended now they'd be right on the Tournament bubble. In my opinion, Cincy needs to get to 10-8 in Big East play and then will need a win in the Big East tournament to have a good chance of an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. The good news is that their upcoming schedule is pretty soft. Their next three games will be against Rutgers, DePaul and St. John's. The Rutgers game is up first, on Saturday.

Syracuse moves to 8-1 in Big East play with this win, a full game clear in the loss column in the conference standings. They'll play West Virginia on Saturday, but the most important game they have coming up will be February 8th against Georgetown. A win there will go a long way toward locking up the Big East regular season title.

#22 Michigan 66, Purdue 64

Mackey Arena has typically been a house of horrors for opposing Big Ten teams, but Purdue has been surprisingly vulnerable there this season. Tim Hardaway, Jr, who's been a streaky shooter all season, got hot here with 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Trey Burke did a good job being more of a facilitator for most of the game (6 assists) before attacking the rim to score two huge baskets late in the game. Purdue did have a chance in the final minutes, but they shot 0-for-6 from the field in the final 3:30. It was a frustrating loss for them to be sure.

Purdue has lost four of six to fall to 4-4 in Big Ten play with wins over Temple, Minnesota, Illinois and Miami (Fl), along with bad losses to Butler and Penn State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen to 39th. If the season ended now they'd be right on the Tournament bubble. If they can go 5-5 the rest of the way to get to 9-9 then they'll probably be in a good position for an at-large bid. They have an important game coming up on Saturday at a Northwestern team that also is desperate for a big win. After that they'll have a week off before a home game against Indiana.

At 6-2, Michigan is still leading the Big Ten. That said, their +0.07 PPP scoring differential in conference play is only in a tie for third place in the Big Ten, so they're unlikely to stay at the top of the standings for long. In fact, I think their lead will end on Sunday after they play at Ohio State. A week after that they'll have to face a revenge game at Michigan State (the Spartans lost by one point in Ann Arbor last week).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Virginia Tech Bounces Back, Wins At Virginia

Virginia Tech 47, #17 Virginia 45
Every Seth Greenberg season at Virginia Tech has felt the same. They have a bunch of bad losses, but then manage to get a huge scalp or two in ACC play and put themselves on the Tournament bubble. And the past few years, of course, they've come up just short of an NCAA Tournament bid. But this season, they were digging themselves a deeper hole than usual. After losing their first three games in ACC play I thought that a home game against North Carolina would have been the perfect place for a classic Seth Greenberg upset. The problem was, UNC was coming off that 33 point loss to Florida State and several days of miserable practices, and the Tar Heels came out fired up and escaped with the win. That dropped Virginia Tech to 0-4 before they pulled this one out over in-state rivals Virginia.

This was an ugly offensive performance from Virginia. The Cavaliers don't really have any weapons other than Mike Scott, and the Hokies did an excellent job of containing him (only 10 points scored). Virginia finished with only a 33.7 eFG%, which was their worst shooting performance of the entire season. The 0.82 PPP they scored also marked a season low.

Virginia is still 15-3 after this loss, and they're still in the Top 25 in the human polls, but they only have one quality win (Michigan) and are only 2-2 in ACC play. Their putrid strength of schedule, along with the fact that the ACC is down, means that there isn't that much of a gap between Virginia and the Tournament bubble. Unless they get to 10-6 in ACC play they're going to open the ACC tournament with work left to do to seal their place in the Field of 68. Their next game should be fairly easy, at home on Thursday against Boston College. On Saturday they'll head on the road to play NC State.

This is a very nice win for Virginia Tech, even without the in-state bragging rights, but they're going to need a couple more of these to get back to the Tournament bubble. It's their first quality win of the season and they have bad losses to Wake Forest and Boston College. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is way back in 74th. They are rated as a Top 50 team by both Sagarin and Pomeroy, so they're good enough to make a run at the bubble, but the dynamics of the ACC will make that difficult. There just aren't a lot of opportunities for big wins, and far too many chances for bad losses (particularly for a team as inconsistent as the Hokies). They have a very important game tomorrow against BYU.

Wisconsin 67, #25 Illinois 63
Yes, Illinois was ranked and at home while Wisconsin was neither, but Wisconsin was actually favored in this game in Vegas. This was an interesting battle between two Big Ten stars who never actually guarded each other. Meyers Leonard dominated the paint against an undersized Wisconsin team, scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and putting the entire Wisconsin front court in foul trouble. For Wisconsin, Jordan Taylor (though he struggled shooting) took over late in the second half. It was the first time all season that I've seen him look like he played last season. He also hit 5-for-6 at the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to put the game away (which was impressive when you consider that the Badgers as a team were a putrid 5-for-12 at the free throw line prior to that).

I didn't understand why so many people were so quick to bury Wisconsin after that three-game losing streak. Their defense is so strong, and did anybody really believe that a team with this many shooters would continue hitting 10-15% of their threes for the rest of the season? Too many people confuse bad shooting with bad offense. They've now won four straight games and are 5-3 in Big Ten play with a big home game against Indiana coming up Wednesday. They will only need to reach 9-9 in conference play to basically lock up an NCAA Tournament bid.

A week ago Illinois had just beaten Ohio State to move to 4-1 in Big Ten play. But now they've lost two straight and have fallen right back to the bubble. They have wins this season over Gonzaga, Minnesota and Northwestern to go with that win over Ohio State, along with a bad loss to Penn State. Getting to 9-9 in conference play will probably be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. They'll try to move to 5-3 on Saturday at Minnesota.

Minnesota 75, Northwestern 52
Northwestern has struggled recently with depth. That was allayed a bit with Alex Marcotullio back in the lineup, but it didn't matter here. This game was over in the first half. Minnesota scored the first 11 points and was up at 30-9 at one point. Northwestern actually missed their first 14 shots from the field. Julian Welch was the offensive star for Minnesota, hitting 7-for-8 from the field with 6 rebounds and 5 assists.

The issue for Northwestern has been that their defense has really been decimated by Big Ten offenses this season. They have allowed 1.18 PPP the past three games and 1.08 this season in Big Ten play. Adjusting for strength of schedule, Pomeroy rates their defensive efficiency worst in conference play among all Big Ten teams. It's worth noting that they played three Top 100 teams in non-conference play (Baylor, Seton Hall and LSU), and they allowed 1.13 PPP in those games as well. Their defense just seems to struggle with staying in front of athletic teams. Bill Carmody doesn't get elite athletes at Northwestern, and so defense has historically been a problem there, but this year seems worse than normal.

Northwestern is now only 12-7 overall and 2-5 in Big Ten play with wins over Michigan State and Seton Hall and no particularly bad losses. Their computer numbers are still fine (their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 33rd), but those won-loss records are a problem. It's just hard to imagine Northwestern earning an at-large bid if they can't at least get to 8-10 in conference play. To not fall too far behind that pace, their game on Saturday against Purdue will be a near-must win.

Minnesota lost their first four Big Ten games, but have now won three straight, including this win and a win over Indiana. They also beat Virginia Tech earlier this season, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 38th. If the season ended now, honestly, they'd probably make the NCAA Tournament. The problem for them is that their remaining schedule is downright brutal, beginning with a game Saturday at Michigan State. If they can get to 9-9 in conference play that will probably be sufficient for an at-large bid. But looking at their schedule, I just find it unlikely that they'll get there.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

W-7 BP68

It's been a busy week at the top of the bracket. I've had the same four teams as 1 seeds since April, and I talked this week for the first time about switching it up by dropping North Carolina out due to the Dexter Strickland injury. But I decided to keep them there because Duke hasn't impressed lately either, and I'm not going to become convinced that Duke is going to win the ACC until I see UNC struggle without Strickland. The core of their team is still the front court and Kendall Marshall.

You might ask why I think North Carolina is better than Kansas, and the answer is that I don't. I think Kansas is better. The problem is that Kansas has much, much more competition than UNC does. They have to get past Missouri, Baylor and Texas. The odds of Kansas failing to win their conference's regular season and/or tournament title are higher than for UNC, despite Kansas being the better team. That's why I still have Kansas on the second line.

I really struggled filling in those 12 seeds. Once again there is a clear dichotomy. All the teams I have seeded as a 10 or better seem like legitimate Tournament teams, and I feel confident having all of them in the field. But the at-large teams on the 12 line? Not good. And the collection of the best teams outside the Tournament? Putrid. I had to drop Northern Iowa out, and so I decided to put in Iowa State in their place. But I thought this evening that I'd be dropping Stanford out as well, and just couldn't find anybody to put in their place. NC State? Minnesota? Marshall? Eh. I'm leaving Stanford there for now.

But as I said last week, this is the thinnest bubble I can ever recall at this point in the season. I honestly think that if the season ended now, the Selection Committee would only have serious debate on filling the final four or five spots, and they'd only have around 10-12 teams to choose from. Normally the bubble is two or three times that size at this early stage. I think that's just a random quirk more than anything else.

Among the automatic bids, I switched my pick in the MEAC, putting in Norfolk State for Morgan State.

I started the Full Bubble last week, and so I will be eliminating teams each new bracket the rest of the way. This bracket? I only eliminated four teams: Rice, Lehigh, College of Charleston and North Dakota State. There are a couple dozen teams that are almost assuredly going to be eliminated in the next two or three weeks. Once they collect the losses that I expect them to get, they'll be out. Last week I started the Full Bubble with 83 teams not in the Field of 68 that had a chance at an at-large bid. With four teams eliminated that's down to 79. It will be down to around 8-10 on Selection Sunday.

Below are my disclaimers:

If I projected your favorite team below where you think it deserves to be, it's because I hate your favorite team. If I projected a team above where you think it deserves to be, it's because I secretly love them and have an incredibly blind bias in their favor.

On a more serious note, this is a projection of the final bracket on Selection Sunday, and not a listing of how I think teams would be seeded if the season ended now. There's a difference.

Here we go:


2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. Duke
2. Florida
2. Georgetown

3. Texas
3. Missouri
3. Michigan State

4. Baylor
4. Indiana
4. Marquette
4. Vanderbilt

5. UConn
5. Alabama
5. Wisconsin

6. Virginia
6. Saint Louis
6. Michigan

7. Louisville
7. San Diego State
7. West Virginia

8. St. Mary's
8. Purdue
8. Kansas State
8. Illinois

9. Wichita State
9. Florida State
9. New Mexico
9. Seton Hall

10. BYU
10. Cincinnati
10. Dayton
10. Xavier

11. Southern Miss
11. California
11. ARIZONA (PAC-12)

12. Northwestern
12. Mississippi State
12. Stanford
12. Iowa State

13. OHIO (MAC)




Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
NC State, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Marshall, Cleveland State, Northern Iowa

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Miami (Fl), Notre Dame, La Salle, UMass, St. Joseph's, South Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Drexel, VCU, Central Florida, Missouri State, Colorado State, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, Nevada

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Clemson, Maryland, Duquesne, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rutgers, Villanova, Weber State, Nebraska, Penn State, Oklahoma State, Georgia State, UW-Milwaukee, Akron, Drake, Illinois State, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, Auburn, Tennessee

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Charlotte, Fordham, George Washington, DePaul, St. John's, Texas Tech, Old Dominion, UTEP, Tulane, Tulsa, Valparaiso, Loyola-Maryland, Ball State, Buffalo, Kent State, Indiana State, Air Force, Boise State, TCU, Wagner, Georgia, South Carolina, South Dakota State, Denver, Utah State

UNLV Blows Out New Mexico

#20 UNLV 80, New Mexico 63
This match-up was an absolute blowout in the second half. This was a sloppy game (the teams combined for 33 offensive rebounds to only 30 defensive rebounds, as well as 35 turnovers), but UNLV had 11 steals and 6 blocks, both of which allowed to get out on fast breaks for easy baskets. With the crowd behind them, New Mexico seemed to just get demoralized. Their defense has been picked apart in consecutive games now by San Diego State (1.26 PPP) and UNLV (1.21 PPP). It's the first time New Mexico has allowed greater than 1.2 PPP in consecutive games since February of 2007, part of a season where they went only 4-12 in Mountain West play.

I don't want to overreact too much to just two games. They had held opponents to under 1 PPP in 14 of 17 games this season prior to this two-game performance. 17 games is a much larger sample size than two. New Mexico is still 15-4 with wins over St. Louis, Wyoming and Missouri State, along with bad losses to Santa Clara and New Mexico State. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is stuck around 40th, but their Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings are going to stay near 30th. They're not a Tournament lock by any means, but I still think that they'll be safely in the Field of 68 on Selection Sunday. They will try to bounce back on Wednesday against Colorado State.

UNLV has, in my opinion, really firmed up their spot atop the Mountain West. In the actual standings they're a game back of San Diego State, but their remaining game against the Aztecs will be at the Thomas & Mack Center, and overall I just think they're a much better team. If you buy the mainstream media's argument that San Diego State is better because they won head-to-head, please read my post about that game here. The Runnin' Rebs have a very manageable schedule over the next week as well. They head on the road to play Boise State on Wednesday and Air Force on Saturday.

#15 Mississippi State 78, Vanderbilt 77, OT
This was a pretty surprising upset, particularly after Vanderbilt opened a double-digit first half lead. Both teams shot over 50% behind the arc, and Renardo Sidney probably had his best game at Mississippi State, despite scoring only 9 points. Sidney was very active on both sides of the floor. He was working so hard that Rick Stansbury called a couple of timeouts that looked to me like a chance to give Sidney a rest so he wouldn't have to be subbed out (Sidney is too out-of-shape to play more than few minutes in a row without wearing out). The fact that MSU was able to hit all of those outside shots was a big advantage as well. Festus Ezeli is looking close to 100%, and he would have made it hard for MSU to get easy shots around the basket. That outside shooting meant that the Bulldogs only had to get 43.6% of their points on two-point shots, well under their 54.6% season average.

This is perhaps a reality-check loss for Vanderbilt. They came in here on an eight game winning streak, and only two days ago earned a very nice road win at Alabama. I suppose they were overdue for a loss. I still think that Vanderbilt has proven that with Ezeli back close to full strength they're back to being an elite team. They got upset here, but I still do believe that they and Florida are the top two contenders to Kentucky in the SEC. They are 4-1 in SEC play now, and will play next on Tuesday against Tennessee.

This is a huge upset victory for Mississippi State. It moves them to 3-2, knowing that they still have several tough road games ahead and will need to get to 9-7 to be in a good position for an at-large bid heading into the SEC tournament. They will play LSU on Wednesday and then at Florida next Saturday.

#21 Louisville 73, Pittsburgh 62
You had to figure that if Pittsburgh was going to get out of their slump it would come here. Travon Woodall was back in the lineup (though he was fairly ineffective), Pitt has been playing better the few games (even though it hasn't translated into wins), they had College Gameday in town, and they were playing a reeling Louisville team that had lost five of seven and beaten just one team in the Pomeroy Top 125 since December 2nd (how they've continued to stay ranked is mind-boggling to me). But instead they were just... eh. Their offense was still mediocre (having a 100% effective Woodall would've changed that) and their defense allowed way too many easy baskets against a Louisville team that has struggled badly on offense against the rest of the Big East.

This is Pitt's 8th straight loss, and they fall to 0-7 in Big East play. This is just a lost season for them. Everything that could go wrong is going wrong. Mathematically, Pitt could go and win 9 of their next 11 Big East games and get on the bubble, which is I'm not going to eliminate them from at-large contention when I publish my next bracket in an hour or two, but realistically that's not going to happen. At this point, all they can concern themselves with is trying to get that first win on Wednesday when they get Providence at home. Providence has lost their last 18 Big East road games, so even Pitt should find a way to win that one... you'd think. Their next game after that will be next Saturday at home against Georgetown.

This is a big win for Louisville because of those stats I listed two paragraphs above. Despite that #21 next to their name, a loss here would have dropped them perilously close to the Tournament bubble. Instead they're back to 3-4 in Big East play with a home game against Villanova coming up on Wednesday. A 9-9 Big East record and a win in the Big East tournament should be enough to send them to the NCAA Tournament.