Thursday, March 06, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, Wake Forest Stuns Duke, Louisville Beats SMU, St. Louis Loses Their Third Straight, And Much More

Welp. There goes Duke's 1 seed.

New Bracket Projection The biggest change in my new bracket projection is Kansas moving back to a 1 seed, with Duke dropping to a 2 seed. The top few seeds continue to be very much in flux. The other big story is how much stronger the bubble has gotten, as teams like Georgetown and Minnesota are still stuck on the outside looking in.

Bubble Watch The bubble got so much stronger yesterday that Southern Miss fell off the bubble without even playing. Dayton, Nebraska and Utah did join the bubble, which is now 16 teams for 8 bids. Louisville, Connecticut, Texas and Oklahoma locked up their bids, which means that 21 of the 68 bids have now been taken.

Wake Forest Stuns Duke I was watching this game and couldn't believe it even as I was seeing it. We know that Duke is a team with questionable interior defense, particularly when Jabari Parker is in foul trouble, so it's not a shocker that Wake Forest was able to get to the rim and score. But Duke's offense has been superb this season... and they just stopped scoring. Starting at the 5:30 mark in the second half, Duke failed to score a point on nine consecutive possessions, which included four turnovers. Wake Forest went on a 17-0 run over that stretch, turning a 7 point deficit into a 10 point lead with less than a minute to go.

The battle for the final one or two 1 seeds is as wide open as it's been in years, and all of the other teams in that competition are cheering this result for Duke. The Blue Devils aren't necessarily out of the competition, but it's now out of their control. Even if Duke wins the ACC tournament, they'll still need some help in other leagues to earn that 1 seed. Certainly if they lose another game they'll be out of contention altogether. It would be their 8th loss, and I'm fairly confident (though not 100% certain) that no team has ever earned a 1 seed with 8 losses.

This is a really nice win for a Wake Forest team that has improved every season that Jeff Bzdelik has been there. His fan base despises him, but there's no question that the program is improving from the extreme depths that it was at when he took over. I've said this before, but with a program where nine of the top ten minute earners are freshmen or sophomores, Wake Forest is poised to contend for an at-large bid next season.

Louisville Explodes Past SMU In The Second Half When the Louisville offense gets rolling, they can look incredibly impressive. They scored 52 points in the second half here, including six three-pointers by Russ Smith (one from about 30 feet), who managed to put on this level of performance while also puking in a garbage can during a timeout due to illness. Louisville ended up 13-for-23 behind the arc as a team while also forcing 17 steals. Their defense is always going to be a menace, but that type of shooting just puts their game at another level of ridiculous. In fact, I'm impressed that SMU managed to keep this game competitive despite those two facts.

For most of this season, Louisville was a team with great computer numbers that "hadn't beaten anybody", but they've now swept SMU and also beaten Cincinnati and UConn, and their Sagarin PURE_ELO has slid all the way up to 16th (it was around 40th just a few weeks ago). If the season ended now they'd likely be right around a 5 or 6 seed, and they can definitely move up to around a 4 seed if they win the AAC tourney.

SMU has a tough season finale at Memphis, but even with a loss there would still be a solid 12-6 in AAC play. Their RPI is only 45th, but I've talked before about how their RPI is screwed up due to playing six teams with an RPI worse than 260th. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still 35th, which keeps them well clear of the bubble for now.

Saint Louis Loses Their Third Straight In their first 27 games of the season, St. Louis had allowed just five teams to crack 1.00 PPP. All three teams have cracked 1 PPP during this three game losing streak. It's not that the St. Louis defense has looked bad at all this season, even during this losing streak, but the margin of error for an all-defense/poor-offense team is always going to be small. As soon as the St. Louis defense goes from "dominant" to "pretty good", they suddenly lack the offensive firepower to beat quality teams. And they close with another quality opponent when they head on the road to face UMass.

The Billikens have plummeted down the bracket due to this three game losing streak. They're now just 8-4 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over VCU, Georgetown, Dayton and St. Joe's to go with a bad loss to Duquesne. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is now out of the Top 10 to 12th, and considering the lack of really big wins, it's hard to see how they'd be higher than a 5 seed if the season ended now. They could easily slide another line or two before Selection Sunday.

Dayton had to have this win to stay realistically in the at-large discussion. They've won eight of nine to get to 9-6 in conference play with four RPI Top 50 wins and three RPI 100+ losses. Their RPI is 43rd and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 49th . If the season ended now they'd be right on the bubble. They close the regular season with a home game against Richmond. A win there plus a win or two in the Atlantic Ten tournament will likely be enough to get them into the Tournament.

Colorado Wins At Stanford This wasn't he prettiest basketball game. Both teams shot 4-for-17 behind the arc, both had 13 offensive rebounds, and both two-point shooting and turnovers were very even as well. If there was a difference in this game it was Colorado hitting 68% of their free throws, compared to 59% for Stanford. Still, Chasson Randle got a great look just before the buzzer to send the game to overtime, and it just didn't fall.

With a regular season road finale at California, Colorado desperately to win this game. They're now 10-7 in Pac-12 play and 8-9 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 29th, though that's a bit inflated as their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 40th. Still, their resume is strong enough that they're in the Field of 68 at the moment. The concern is that if they fall to California then they'll still need to win at least one game in the Pac-12 tournament.

Stanford has now dropped three games to fall to 9-8 in Pac-12 play and 6-10 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 47th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 61st . Without a really big scalp (they did beat UCLA and UConn), the Cardinal likely would be NIT-bound if the season ended now. They need to beat Utah on Saturday, and then they'll likely need at least one win in the Pac-12 tournament, to avoid the NIT.

Utah Joins The Bubble Hey, Utah actually won a close game! They came into this game 1-7 in games decided by six points or less, and had far and away the worst luck of any major conference team in the nation (according to Pomeroy's Luck rating). It's why they've been rated right around the 40th best team in the country by both Sagarin and Pomeroy for weeks, yet only in the last week or so have started to get into the bubble discussion at all.

Utah didn't do themselves any favors with their terrible non-conference schedule, but they appear to have finally dragged themselves all the way back to the bubble. They're now 9-8 in Pac-12 play and 6-8 against the RPI Top 100. They played six teams with an RPI worse than 270th, which is RPI death, so their RPI is still a  brutal 75th, but their Sagarin PURE_ELO is a much more bubbly 53rd. To make the Tournament, they'll probably need to win their regular season finale at Stanford, and then probably need a win or two in the Pac-12 tournament.

California has lost three straight games, and has fallen all the way from 5-0 in Pac-12 play to 9-8. They have that big win over Arizona, but they're only 6-10 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that has fallen to 59th, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO of 70th. With the way the bubble has gotten tougher over the last week or so, that's probably an NIT resume. Even if they beat Colorado on Saturday, they'll still need a win or two in the Pac-12 tournament.

George Washington Beats St. Joseph's This was a very under-the-radar Bubble Battle. Both of these teams entered the night in the Field of 68, but both still had work left to do to lock up that bid.  George Washington won this game doing what they seem to do every time they win, which is to hit jump shots. Maurice Creek and Joe McDonald combined to shoot 8-for-14 behind the arc. St. Joe's was an ugly 8-for-26 on threes.

George Washington is 10-5 in Atlantic Ten play with wins over Creighton, VCU and St. Joe's, along with a bad loss to La Salle. They're 9-7 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 28th . They'll get a chance to effectively lock up their at-large bid on Saturday against Fordham.

St. Joe's drops to 11-4 in Atlantic Ten play and 7-7 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is 35th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 34th. It's definitely a Tournament resume, but they need at least one more win to be safely in the Field of 68. A home win over La Salle on Sunday will probably do it.

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