Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Morning News: Conference Tournaments, NC State Stuns Pittsburgh, Oklahoma St Runs Away From Kansas St, And Xavier Has A Bad Day

March Madness got officially underway last night when Navy and Colgate tipped off.

New Bubble Watch Oklahoma State moved off the bubble with their big win, but they were replaced by Xavier after their bad loss. The net effect is that we still have 17 teams on the bubble fighting for 10 spots. There are still only 16 teams locked into the NCAA Tournament.

Conference Tournament Previews: America East, Colonial, MAAC, Missouri Valley, Southern, Summit, WCC This is the second batch of conference tournament previews. The first conference tournament of the season, the Patriot League tourney, tipped off last night. So we are officially in March Madness. There will be three more batches of conference tournament previews which should be posted at some point over the next week.

NC State Stuns Pittsburgh It's been a rough season for Pitt in close games, and it was TJ Warren who silenced the Oakland Zoo here. Warren became the first player ever to score more than 40 points in the Peterson Events Center, and this is just the latest in a string of dominating performances from him. He's scored at least 20 points in 13 straight games, over which he's poured in an average of 26.8 points per game. Pitt was also dominated on the glass here, getting only two offensive rebounds compared to 13 for NC State.

Pitt is now 4-7 in games decided by six points or less, and has only lost one game all season long that didn't come down to the final seconds. It's why they're still rated 26th by Pomeroy and 22nd the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but are arguably in the bubble discussion. They have wins over Stanford, Maryland (twice) and Clemson, along with this bad loss to NC State. They're only 1-6 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI that has slipped all the way to 52nd, though they're still 37th in the Sagarin PURE_ELO. So they're a Tourney team still, but not with much room to spare. Even if they close the regular season with a win at Clemson, they'll still need a win in the ACC tournament to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday.

This win pushes NC State to 8-9 in ACC play and 4-9 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI up to 62nd, though their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 74th. They don't have a realistic chance for an at-large bid, but they're not totally eliminated quite yet.

Oklahoma State Runs Away From Kansas State Oklahoma State has been playing good basketball since Marcus Smart came back, and they had no trouble dispatching Kansas State here. Smart wasn't shooting the ball great here, but he was able to get to the rim and create for his teammates (5 assists and 9 earned free throw attempts en route to 18 points). Phil Forte led all scorers with 23, including 6-for-11 behind the arc.

Oklahoma State is back to 8-9 in Big 12 play. They won't get a pass for those losses without Smart, but they've got five RPI Top 50 wins and an RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO that are both up around 40th. If the season ended now they'd very likely be a Tournament team. An upset at Iowa State on Saturday might put them in the bracket for good, but even with a loss they'll be in decent shape if they can get a win or two in the Big 12 tournament.

Kansas State is just playing for NCAA Tournament seed at this point. They're 10-7 in Big 12 play and 9-8 against the RPI Top 100 with seven wins against the RPI Top 50. They have to be wary of a desperate Baylor team on Saturday, as they could easily slide a few seed lines if they close the season on a losing streak.

Xavier Has A Bad Day In Multiple Ways Xavier had moved into the Field of 68 with two straight victories, including a big upset of Creighton, but this was a really bad game for them in multiple ways. First, they suffered a bad loss to Seton Hall. Second, Matt Stainbrook suffered a knee injury in the first half and never returned (though it's not clear at this point how severe the injury really is).

A lot now comes down to Xavier's season finale at home against Villanova. Obviously a win there will be huge and will put them firmly in the Field of 68 heading into the Big East tournament. But with a loss they'll drop to 10-8 in a Big East that isn't getting a ton of respect. They'd also still be stuck on 19 wins, which would make their first Big East tournament game a must-win. They're still 44th in RPI and 39th in Sagarin PURE_ELO, but they've clearly still got significant work left to do to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Seton Hall has quietly been solid in Big East play. They're sixth in the league in efficiency margin in conference play, and they're better than their 6-11 record. Don't be shocked if they steal a win or two in the Big East tournament.

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