Thursday, February 27, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Nebraska Falls, Texas Escapes, And Arizona State Handles Stanford

Glenn Robinson III hit a basket that more or less seals the 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament for Michigan

New Bracket Projection A new bracket projection has been posted. The two most significant changes are Oklahoma State moving into the Field of 68 (knocking out Clemson) and Arizona moving back up to a 1 seed (replacing Michigan State, who dropped to a 2 seed). Other changes are discussed in the post itself.

Nebraska Falls At Illinois This falls under the category of a non-upset "upset". Illinois was actually favored by 2.5 points in Vegas. This Nebraska team, and Terran Petteway in particular, have gone from underrated to overrated so quickly that it's given me whiplash. Petteway is actually getting consideration (in the media at least) for Big Ten Player of the Year, which is pretty absurd. Petteway scores a lot of points, but it's because he takes a ton of shots. He's not a great shooter (35% on threes, along with a 50.0 eFG%). Petteway struggled here with 3-for-16 shooting, while Nebraska had a teamwide letdown game after their five game winning streak.

Nebraska is 8-7 in Big Ten play and 6-8 against the RPI Top 100, but with three RPI 100+ losses. Their RPI is 52nd, but that's inflated by the fact that they only played three teams outside the RPI Top 200. The better measure of their resume is the Sagarin PURE_ELO, which is 65th. So what do they need to do to get into the Field of 68? They need to win at least two of their final three Big Ten games, and they're going to have to do some damage in the Big Ten tournament.

Illinois is more evidence of just how ridiculously deep the Big Ten is. Illinois entered this game tied for last place in the Big Ten standings and second worst in PPP differential (Northwestern was worst), but they're 67th in the Pomeroy ratings and 64th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. In other words, they're good enough that if they were in a different conference and had a little luck in close games they'd be a bubble team. They're just not that bad of a team. There are no bad teams in the Big Ten.

Texas Escapes A Late Baylor Run Texas seemed to have this game in hand, leading by as many as 18 points. Baylor got hot in the second half, though, hitting five consecutive three-pointers at one stage, and they pulled within a single point in the final two minutes. After that, though, Baylor missed their final four shots, and ended up with a tough missed opportunity. Kenny Cherry led the way for Baylor with 27 points, including 5-for-7 shooting behind the arc. Cameron Ridley had a double-double for Texas, while Javan Felix shot 7-for-9 behind the arc.

In a game between two elite offensive rebounding teams (Texas leads the Big 12 in OR% while Baylor is 3rd in the nation) and two "meh" defensive rebounding teams, you expect there to be a lot of volleyball on the court, and that's what happened. Baylor rebounded 45% of their own misses while Texas rebounded 46% of theirs. Effectively, each missed shot was a 50-50 loose ball. The concept of "boxing out" does not exist to these two teams.

This loss drops Baylor to 6-9 in Big 12 play, knowing that they need to get to 8-10 to have a realistic at-large chance. Their computer numbers are strong, as they're 5-8 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI that is 45th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 43rd, but it's very rare for a team four games under .500 in conference play to earn an at-large bid. The good news is that one would expect a 2-1 record over their final three games (vs Texas Tech, vs Iowa State, at Kansas State). So if they can go 2-1 and then win a game in the Big 12 tournament, that will be good enough to put them one of the last few teams in or out of the Field of 68. They might need a second Big 12 tourney win to push them finally into the Tournament for good.

This win pushes Texas to 10-5 in Big 12 play, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 21st. They have seven wins against the RPI Top 50, though only one really premier scalp (Kansas), so if the season ended now they could be a 5 seed, but they'd most likely be a 6. It's hard to see them sliding more than 1 or 2 seed lines in either direction from there over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Arizona State Handles Stanford The final score of this game probably suggests a more competitive game than it really was. Arizona State led by double digits for almost three-quarters of the game, and Stanford never was really within shouting distance. Arizona State was actually saddled with really bad foul trouble all night, as they certainly weren't getting the money's worth on their homecourt advantage. Eric Jacobsen fouled out, and Jordan Bachynski was reduced to only 15 minutes because of serious foul trouble as well. But Stanford doesn't have the big men to exploit that sort of situation (they have a lot of taller players, but they're not traditional scorers on the block). Arizona State's 10-for-19 three-point shooting was enough to put this game away.

Arizona State moves to 9-6 in Pac-12 play and 7-7 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO up to 31st. If they go 2-1 down the stretch, that should seal up their at-large bid. Stanford is also 9-6 in conference play, but they're much more precariously on the bubble due to fewer big scalps. Their RPI is 41st and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 42nd. So they'd be a Tournament team if the season ended now, but without much room to spare. A 2-1 finish and a win in the Pac-12 tournament should get them Dancing, but anything less than that and they'll have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

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