Friday, March 07, 2014

Morning News: Cincinnati Crushes Memphis, Michigan State Beats Iowa, And Xavier Falls Short

Arch Madness, baby. 

Bubble Watch There wasn't much action on the bubble itself on Thursday night. The biggest news is UCLA grabbing the 22nd NCAA Tournament bid. That leaves 46 spots still available. The 23rd bid could go tonight to Harvard (it would also be the first auto bid of the season handed out) if the Crimson can win at Yale. The bubble is still 16 teams fighting for 8 bids.

Cincinnati Crushes Memphis Cincinnati's offense hasn't been great this year by any means, but they absolutely exploded on Senior Night for 97 points against Memphis here. The Bearcats actually scored 102 points earlier this season against Chicago State, but the 97 points are the most they've scored in a conference game since they had 101 against Louisville on February 22nd, 2003. Sean Kilpatrick continued to pad his All-America resume with 34 points on 11-for-18 shooting, while the Bearcats took 38 free throws as a team.

With a win at Rutgers on Saturday, Cincinnati will clinch at least a share of the AAC regular season title. They only have 9 wins against the RPI Top 100, but all five of their losses have come against RPI Top 50 opponents and their RPI is up to 15th. It's hard to see a path to a 2 seed for Cincinnati, but they'd be a 4 or 5 seed if the season ended now and could definitely move up to a 3 seed if they win the AAC tournament.

Memphis is a lot closer to the bubble than just about anybody realize. It's their bizarre Top 25 ranking in the human polls that is confusing people. They're just 5-7 against the RPI Top 100, with only one road win against RPI Top 100 opponents. Their RPI is 32nd, but it's inflated. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 42nd. A win over SMU on Saturday should put finally lock them into the Field of 68, but with a loss they'll need to avoid a one-and-done performance in the AAC tournament or they might actually have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Michigan State Runs Away From Iowa Michigan State fans have been waiting for a performance like this for many weeks. Their whole roster is back together, and while Keith Appling and Branden Dawson still don't look their best, they both played fairly well. All you need to know about this game is that Michigan State shot 56% on threes (10-for-17) while Iowa hit 46% on layups (12-for-26).

Iowa fans can take cold comfort that at least this one doesn't get chalked up under the "Iowa can't win close games" narrative. This is actually their first loss by double digits all season long (they're a brutal 1-6 in games decided by six points or less). The Hawkeyes are in danger of really dropping in the bracket if they somehow fall at home on Senior Night against Illinois, but assuming that they don't drop too far they should still be in good shape for a Sweet 16 run with the right draw. If they end up something like a 7, 8 or 9 seed, they're going to make a 1 or 2 seed very unhappy.

Michigan State moves to 12-5 in Big Ten play and 7-5 against the RPI Top 50. Their RPI is only 22nd, but their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 13th. Considering the quality wins, they'd very likely be no lower than a 4 seed if the season ended now. With a strong finish (such as a Big Ten tourney title) they're still in contention for as high as a 2 seed. I think the ship has sailed on a 1 seed, though. They just have too many losses.

Xavier Falls Short Against Villanova Villanova seemed to have this game totally locked up, up by 12 points with under 1:30 to go. Dee Davis hit a three to to pull Xavier within 9, but Villanova was quickly out in a pseudo-fast break again... that JayVaughn Pinkston blew. Villanova then turned the ball over on two of their next three possessions, and Xavier managed to pull as close as three points before Villanova finally put the game away at the line. Xavier was basically done in by 6-for-24 three-point shooting.

This is a huge missed opportunity for Xavier, who would have moved clearly into the Field of 68 with a win here. Instead they remain buried in the thick part of the bubble. They finish the regular season 20-11 overall and 10-8 in Big East play, with an 8-8 record against the RPI Top 100 and 3 RPI 100+ losses. Their RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO are both still 45th, but those numbers are pretty bubbly. Xavier still does not know who their opponent will be in the Big East quarterfinals, but they need to win that game to make the Tournament. Even a win won't be a clincher, and they might need a win in the Big East semifinals just to be sure.

That said, the media is starting to talk about the possibility of the Big East only getting two NCAA Tournament teams, and that's just an absurd suggestion. There's no Big East team (not including Creighton and Villanova, of course) that will feel good about their Tourney chances if they go one-and-done in the Big East tournament, but somebody has to win every game. They can't all lose. So somebody will get a win to put themselves into the NCAA Tournament. The Big East will not get only two Tournament teams.

Villanova is drawing more and more attention as a plausible 1 seed. They're 27-3 overall and 14-3 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 4th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 5th . Despite those numbers, the Big East isn't getting a lot of respect this year (see my previous paragraph as an example), and Villanova has just one win over an RPI Top 25 opponent. So to earn that 1 seed they'll need to win the Big East tournament and they'll need a little bit of help. Arizona, Kansas, Wichita State and Florida are all ahead of them in the pecking order if they win out.

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