Thursday, February 06, 2014

Morning News: Xavier Thames Leads SDSU Over Boise St, Wichita St Escapes, West Virginia Closes In On The Bubble, Stanford/California And More

San Diego State's 19 game winning streak is alive primarily because of this guy.

Xavier Thames Leads San Diego State Over Boise State Boise State seemed to have this game in hand. They led nearly the entire game, and by 11 points with only 9 minutes to go. But after that, it turned into the Xavier Thames show. Over the final seven minutes of the game, Thames scored more points (10) than all other players on both teams combined (9). Over the final 11:30, Boise State shot 2-for-12 from the field with 5 turnovers, for a grand total of 0.35 PPP. It was Dwayne Polee's three-pointer with just a few seconds left that delivered the two point victory for San Diego State.

San Diego State is now 8-0 in games decided by seven points or less this season. That's "clutch", I guess, but it's also lucky. The Aztecs are now up to 8th in the Pomeroy Luck ratings, which makes them the luckiest team in the Pomeroy Top 100 (Villanova, at 16th, is second luckiest). History says that luck dominates results in close games rather than clutch play, so San Diego State is a bit overrated right now. It's unlikely that they'll go undefeated the rest of the way, but they could end up something like 31-2 heading into the NCAA Tournament, and that would put them in contention for a 1 seed, though I'd probably bet against it.

This was a game Boise State really needed to have. They're now 15-8 overall and 5-5 in Mountain West play, with a win over Utah to go with a bad loss to Wyoming. They're 0-7 against the RPI Top 100 and 13-1 against teams with an RPI of 101+. That's just not a Tournament resume. They'll have a home game against New Mexico next Wednesday, but even a win there won't get them particularly close. They'll have to basically win out to have a good at-large case.

Wichita State Escapes Terre Haute This was the toughest Missouri Valley game on Wichita State's schedule, a road game at the league's second best team. Indiana State certainly had plenty of chances to win this game, but just went brutally cold down the stretch. They shot 1-for-13 from the field in the final 9 minutes. Throw in 2-for-15 three-point shooting in the second half, and this will go down as a massive missed opportunity in a must-win game for Indiana State.

Debating Wichita State is becoming a bit of a #HOTSPROTSTAKE, and both sides kind of miss the point. Yes, obviously Wichita State is benefiting from a weak league and wouldn't have a real chance of going undefeated if they were in the Big Ten or Big 12. And yes, they're probably a bit overrated (they're around the 10-20th best team in the nation, depending on which computer rating you look at). But at the same time, this is a really good Wichita State team. They'll be a weak 1 seed if they go undefeated and get a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but if they lose a couple of games they'll end up being a very strong 3/4/5 seed.

Indiana State had to have this game. They're 17-6 overall, but are 0-3 against the RPI Top 50 and have three bad losses (Tulsa, Belmont and Southern Illinois). Their PURE_ELO is still in the Top 50, but the Selection Committee wants to see quality wins. Considering the fact that they won't play another Top 100 team the rest of the regular season, they will probably have to win every remaining game to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

West Virginia Closes In On The Bubble This was a non-upset "upset", as West Virginia was favored by 2.5 points in Vegas. Oklahoma clawed their way back from a 13 point second half deficit to actually grab a three point lead late. It took a deep Eron Harris three-pointer to send this game into overtime. Oklahoma only shot 2-for-8 from the field with three turnovers in overtime, though. Eron Harris was the star for West Virginia, going 6-for-13 behind the arc, including the clutch shot late in regulation and another one in overtime. He led all players with 28 points. Juwan Staten nearly had a triple double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.

Oklahoma was overdue for some close losses. During this two game losing streak, their Pomeroy rating has actually increased from 38th to 37th. Their resume is still solid, though. They're 6-4 in Big 12 play and 3-4 against the RPI Top 50. A 4-4 finish to get to 10-8 in Big 12 play will probably be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.

West Virginia has won three straight games to get to 6-4 in Big 12 play. The problem has been that they haven't been able to get quality wins. Even after this victory, they're still only 3-7 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is only 74th. So the 6-4 conference record gets them into the at-large discussion, but if the season ended now they'd definitely be an NIT team. They've got an awfully difficult schedule down the stretch, though, and if they can even go 4-4 they'll pick up some quality victories and put themselves right onto the bubble heading into the Big 12 tournament. There's no question that Bob Huggins has done a really good job getting improved level of play out of this team since the beginning of the season.

Stanford Smokes California I suppose California was due for a letdown game after their big upset of Arizona, but they were just smoked here. Stanford grabbed an 18 point first half lead, and were never seriously threatened the rest of the way. Stanford was simply able to get to the rim a lot more than their opponents. Despite being on the road, they had a 35-to-21 advantage in free throws attempted, and hit 80% of their shots at the line.

Stanford has a short bench, but they've won six of eight to get themselves right back onto the bubble. They have wins over UConn, Arizona State, California and Oregon to go with a bad loss to Oregon State. They're 6-7 against the RPI Top 100 and are up near 40th in the RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO. The lack of glamor wins is a problem, but if they can get to 11-7 in Pac-12 play and win at least one Pac-12 tournament game, that will probably be enough to get them in.

California has that glamor win, having taken out Arizona. But with four losses in five, they've slid to 6-4 in Pac-12 play know that they need to get to at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play to have a decent at-large chance. As I've said before, I think Cal needs to get to 11-7 to have a good at-large chance. And they head into a terrible week, facing the two Washington teams on the road. It will be tough to get a sweep, yet neither win would be a "quality" win and either loss would be a "bad" loss.

Vanderbilt Knocks Off Tennessee Vanderbilt is always a tough team to play at home, and they managed to escape despite being annihilated on the glass (the Vols had a 51.3 OR% compared to a 25.0 OR% for Vanderbilt). Vanderbilt was carried by Rod Odom, who had 26 points that included a three-point dagger in the final minute. Tennessee just took too many long two-point jumpers (they attempted 23 two-point jumpers, compared to just 11 for Vanderbilt), and it led to a poor 42.1 2P%.

The SEC is still very likely to get three teams into the NCAA Tournament, but Tennessee's struggles in close games have put them on the bubble and made a two-bid SEC a possibility. They are now only 5-4 in SEC play and just 6-7 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO that have almost fallen out of the Top 50. If they can go 6-3 down the stretch, that will get them to 20 regular season wins, and will probably be enough to keep them in. Their most important remaining game will be on Tuesday at home against Florida, a great chance to collect a big scalp.

Vanderbilt moves to 5-4 in SEC play. They're not a realistic at-large team, but it's impressive how well they've hung around since booting Eric McClellan off the team. Coach of the Year awards are dumb and never make any sense, but Kevin Stallings probably deserves it in the SEC.

Purdue. Minnesota. Sigh. This game was just not good. It went three overtimes, and nobody wanted to watch three overtimes of this game. This game never should have gone to any overtimes, honestly. It took a pair of Terone Johnson missed free throws followed by a defensive rebound and terrible Purdue transition defense to allow Minnesota to force overtime. Missed free throws were a common theme for a Purdue team that has struggled at the line all season (their 65.4 FT% in Big Ten play is worst in the conference). They were a staggeringly bad 9-for-23 at the line here. But... somehow... they won.

This loss drops Minnesota to 4-6 in conference play and opens up the possibility of the best league in the country (which the Big Ten probably is) only getting five NCAA Tournament teams. That's what this level of parity does - there are just too many losses to go around. The Gophers do have a lot of quality victories, though, and are still 4-4 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI that is 44th. So if the season ended now, they'd probably still get into the NCAA Tournament. If they can get to 9-9 in Big Ten play, that should be enough. At 8-10 they'll likely need to win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament.

This win gets Purdue to 4-6 in the Big Ten, but their remaining schedule is ridiculously difficult. It's hard to see a realistic path for them to even reach 8-10.

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