Friday, March 15, 2013

Utah Stuns California

Utah 79, California 69
One of the unique things about Championship Week is the speed at which a team can experience a dramatic reversal of fortune. The pictures and videos you see of absolutely stunned players and coaches on the bench trying to comprehend what just happened to their season. And we think about the one-bid leagues more than anything, but it happens in the BCS leagues, too. This game might be the greatest example of that all week. At one point here, California was a team sitting just narrowly in the Field of 68 and close to sealing an important win over Utah, looking to really firm up their spot in the NCAA Tournament on Friday... and then...

The shot of this game was (other than Brandon Paul's game winner for Illinois) the shot of the day. Utah's Jarred DuBois nailed a three-pointer in the corner with four seconds left to send this game to overtime. In overtime, Utah opened up on a dramatic 17-4 run. In overtime, the Utes went 13-for-16 at the free throw line and didn't miss a shot from the field. At one point in overtime, Cal missed six straight shots. And this overtime just had the steady drip-drip of realization for California that they were going to be in serious trouble.

The Golden Bears went 12-6 in Pac-12 play, but only 6-10 against the RPI Top 100. They beat Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Oregon (twice), and lost to Harvard, Washington, Utah and Arizona State. Both their RPI and Sagarin ELO_SCORE are narrowly outside the Top 50. They're not a certain NIT team, and in fact they'd probably still be an NCAA Tournament team if the season ended now, but they are in a lot of danger over the next three days. And even if they do sneak into the Tournament, they'll be one of the last teams in, so California fans will have to sweat out the next three days.

I haven't seen a line yet for Utah/Oregon, but I'd expect it to only be 5-6 points. Oregon is a very overrated team, and it really wouldn't be that shocking if Utah knocks them off tonight. Utah would be a big underdog against Arizona or UCLA in the title game, but who would have thought a few days ago that Utah would end up this close to stealing an automatic bid and knocking a bubble team off the ledge?

#18 Arizona 79, Colorado 69
Arizona chucked up a whole bunch of threes (27 out of 62 total shots from the field) and only hit one-third of them, but they still won this game fairly easily. If they had gotten hot behind the arc then this game really would have gotten out of hand. The difference in this game was simple: Arizona's guards were able to get in the lane and create open shots for their teammates, while Colorado's weren't. Arizona finished with 16 assists, and with a 54.3 2P%, while Colorado finished with 6 assists, and only a 43.6 2P%. Keep in mind that Colorado led the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency this season (0.94 PPP allowed in conference play) - they're no Louisville/Florida defense, but this was still very impressive from Arizona. I think everybody realizes that despite being the 4 seed, Arizona is the best team in the Pac-12. I haven't seen any Vegas lines yet for the Arizona/UCLA game, but expect the 4 seed (Arizona) to be a 2-3 point favorite over the 1 seed (UCLA).

Colorado has a decent chance of still being on the bubble on Selection Sunday, but I do think that the win over Oregon State was the one that they had to have. They went 9-9 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Colorado State, Baylor, Arizona, California, Stanford and Oregon (twice), along with bad losses to Wyoming, Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Arizona State. That's a busy resume with a lot going on, but big wins help you more than bad losses hurt you, and for the time being Colorado is an NCAA Tournament team. They just need to root against teams like Utah, Iowa and UMass, and other teams that could strengthen the bubble with big wins.

Arizona, of course, is an NCAA Tournament lock. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is still outside the Top 20 but their RPI is up to 11th. I don't think a 3 seed is possible, but a 4 or 5 is likely if they can win the Pac-12 tournament.

#4 Louisville 74, Villanova 55
For most of the second half of the season, it has seemed to me like Indiana was the best team in the country with Florida second. But boy, Duke and Louisville are really coming on. Louisville has won eight straight games, and is just annihilating quality opponents. Those eight straight wins include victories over Cincinnati, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Villanova, and the only game that wasn't by double-digits was the road game at Syracuse.

All season, Louisville has had spectacular defense along with excellent (and very underrated) play by Russ Smith. Russ had another monster game here (28 points on 7-for-12 shooting). But what's changed is that the rest of the offense is starting to pick up some of the slack. Peyton Siva had another decent game (10 points on 3-for-7 shooting with 4 assists) and Luke Hancock (12 points) continues to be a nice scoring spark off the bench. Louisville has held every opponent below 1 PPP during this eight game winning streak, but that's not new - they allowed only 0.86 PPP in Big East play. The big change is their offense, which had been hovering right around 1 PPP in Big East play - they scored 1.00 PPP or more in seven of these eight games (again, the one exception was the road game at Syracuse). Louisville probably controls their own destiny for a 1 seed - win the Big East tournament and they should be in good shape.

Villanova now has to wait for the Selection Show. They finish 20-13 overall after going 10-8 in Big East play, with an 8-11 record against the RPI Top 100. That, by itself, doesn't sound like a Tournament resume. But as I say over and over again, the Selection Committee prefers teams with big wins and bad losses to teams with neither, and Villanova is the bubble team more than any other (not including Virginia) that embodies this. They beat Louisville, Georgetown and Syracuse this season, and that is why they are still narrowly in the NCAA Tournament. They will have to sweat out the next few days, though, and will join teams like Colorado, Oklahoma and Boise State in sitting home and rooting against teams like Utah, Iowa and UMass.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your analysis and hard work. However, your statement that everybody knows that Arizona is the best team in the pac 12 is ludicrous. Ucla swept Arizona 3-0, finished as pac 12 champs and has been much more impressive the last half of the season. Despite the bruins slow start this season they are probably going to get a 6th seed, not even close to the 9 seed you have been projecting...

Jeff said...

I'm going to move UCLA up in my bracket for pulling this upset, but Arizona has been significantly better in Pac-12 play. UCLA only had an efficiency margin of +0.04 PPP In conference play.

That's why Arizona was a four point favorite today.