Thursday, February 20, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Boston College Stuns Syracuse, UCLA Smokes California, Illinois/Minnesota and Colorado/Arizona State

They were going to lose soon anyway.... but to Boston College???

New Bracket Projection It's a Thursday morning, which means that a new bracket projection was posted earlier this morning. I talk about teams like Syracuse, Michigan State and Arizona in more detail there, so click on the link to read it. In short, there were four changes to the Field of 68: Colorado, St. John's, Boston University and Alabama State came in, while Florida State, Oklahoma State, American University and Southern dropped out.

Boston College Stuns Undefeated Syracuse Well, Syracuse had been playing with fire for a while now. Three of their last five wins had come down to the final seconds, and a full 6 of their 12 ACC wins had come by six points or less. And as I say all the time, results in these final-possession games are basically luck - in the long run you're going to lose approximately half of them. Syracuse had been awfully lucky to stay undefeated as long as they did.

Still... how did Boston College even make this a close game? They were going to need a big shooting differential, and that's what they got. The Eagles shot 50% behind the arc while Syracuse was at 17%. And BC was 9-for-10 at the line, including four straight in the final 30 seconds of overtime.

What does this loss mean for Syracuse? It will cost them the #1 ranking in the polls, but otherwise not a whole lot by itself. Syracuse can afford a loss or two, or even three if they win the ACC tournament. But I've been saying for a couple of weeks now that Virginia is the favorite for the ACC regular season title, and now that seems even more clear. Syracuse is going to have to find a way to pull the upset in Charlottesville to win an ACC regular season title. And without it, I think they're going to have to win the ACC tournament to earn a 1 seed.

Boston College has arguably been the most disappointing team in the country this season. Their defense showed some life here, but only after being absolutely atrocious all season long. They entered this game ranked the 324th best defense in the country by Pomeroy, which is far and away the worst of any major conference team. So they have their season highlight, but now they need to figure out how to consistently play better defense.

UCLA Smokes California UCLA controlled this game from the tip. They jumped out to a 14-5 lead and never led by fewer than 9 points in the second half. They actually stretched the lead as large as 26 points briefly before easing off down the stretch. Jordan Adams, who has had a bit of a quiet year this season because of the prominent NBA prospects around him (though he's actually been a better basketball player than last season), dominated here. He finished with 28 points on 12-for-19 shooting, with 5 assists, 5 steals and 6 rebounds.

UCLA has won seven of eight and has now beaten every quality team in the Pac-12 except for Arizona. They're now 10-3 overall in Pac-12 play and 9-5 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI all the way up to 12th, though their Sagarin PURE_ELO is a bit back from that at 19th. The fact that they don't have any huge scalps means that they'd be a 5 or 6 seed if the season ended now, but they could potentially make a run at a 3 or 4 seed if they finish strong.

A win here would have really firmed up California's place in the Field of 68. Instead, they drop to 8-5 in Pac-12 play and 7-8 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Arizona, Oregon and Stanford to go with bad losses to USC and UCSB. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is a very bubbly 48th. If they can go 3-2 in their final five games then a win in the Pac-12 tourney should get them into the NCAA Tournament. If they go only 2-3 then they'll likely need to win at least a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament.

Minnesota Loses A Crucial Game To Illinois This is just a bad, bad loss for Minnesota. If they can get to 9-9 in conference play then they should go Dancing, and at 8-10 they'll be in contention, but at 6-7 they just could not afford a bad loss to the last placed team in the Big Ten standings. But this was one of those days where a team can't get a shot to fall. The Gophers were 21% on jump shots, including 16% behind the arc. The 41.2 eFG% is their second worst shooting game of the season, and the 0.84 PPP are a season low.

Unless Minnesota wins at Ohio State or Michigan, the home games against Iowa and Penn State are must wins. At 8-10 in Big Ten play, Minnesota can still earn an at-large bid, but they'll probably need to win a couple of games in the Big Ten tournament. Their tough schedule means that their computers numbers are still decent. Their RPI is 45th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 62nd. But they need to get to at least 8-10 in Big Ten play to have a shot.

Colorado Holds Off Arizona State I presume that most Colorado fans don't know or care, but the Buffaloes were teetering on the edge of my bracket projection last night. I was planning on moving them into the Field of 68, but they had to win this game to do it. As some of their fans had pointed out to me, they probably had a Tournament resume already. And that was true, but I'm just a bit skeptical about Colorado's level of play the past few weeks and whether it's sustainable with a killer road trip to finish the season. But despite looking early in the second half like they might lose this one, Askia Booker took over down the stretch, scoring 8 of Colorado's final 12 points and helping to deliver an important victory.

Colorado is 10-7 against the RPI Top 100, but that might be a bit deceptive. They have those wins over Kansas and Harvard, but in conference play just have this win and a win over Oregon. So while their RPI is 23rd, their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still only 40th, even after this win. They'll get a key chance on Saturday with Arizona on their homecourt to grab a victory to put themselves firmly in the Field of 68. With a loss, however, they're going to have to find a way to get one or two wins out of a brutal three game road stretch to finish the regular season.

The good news for Arizona State is that their six wins in seven games (including the big upset of Arizona) put some space between them and the bubble. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still 27th and their RPI is 31st, and with computer numbers like that there's no chance that they'd be an NIT team if the season ended now. With a tough final five games (every single game is losable), Arizona State isn't locked into the Field of 68 yet, but a 3-2 finish should be sufficient.

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