Sunday, March 09, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, West Virginia Upsets Kansas, Oregon Moves Into The Field, Duke Beats UNC, San Diego State/New Mexico And Much More

The Iowa State student section won the day with this welcome for Marcus Smart.

New Bracket Projection The final 1 seed remains extremely difficult to project, so I basically threw my arms up there. Among the at-large bids, Dayton moved into the field and Providence dropped out (I explain the reasoning in the post). Eastern Kentucky moved into the Field of 68 by winning the OVC tournament. Meanwhile, Winthrop moves in as the new Big South favorite, replacing VMI, while Wright State replaces Green Bay as the Horizon favorite.

Bubble Watch Eastern Kentucky and New Mexico moved into the Field of 68, pushing us up to 25th locks. There are 43 places still to be filled. The bubble thinned out a bit, and is now just 13 teams fighting for 8 spots.

West Virginia Upsets Kansas If Kansas had beaten West Virginia, this game really wouldn't have meant too much. But with the result going the other way, there are all sorts of Tournament implications for both teams. But before we get to that, there are two observations about this game. First, Andrew Wiggins was superb. Not only did he score 41 points on 12-for-18 shooting, but he also had 8 rebounds (4 offensive), 5 steals and 4 blocks. He did everything for Kansas, and continues to make all of those inevitable "Wiggins is disappointing" articles in December and January look stupid.

The problem for Kansas was that Joel Embiid was out and just about everybody else on Kansas played poorly. Kansas has been at their best when Naadir Tharpe has been at his best, and he got benched for much of the second half here, finishing with 0 points and 0 assists. Wayne Selden has been explosive at times this season, but he fouled out after only 24 minutes played. Nobody but Wiggins really did anything. West Virginia, in contrast, had three different players score 20+ points, led by Juwan Staten's 24 point, 9 assist performance. Staten is making a serious case to be first team All-Big 12.

The implications for Kansas are significant in that this probably will cost them a 1 seed. The Selection Committee would have given a 1 seed to Kansas over another team with fewer losses due to the brutal schedule that Kansas has had, but no team has ever earned a 1 seed with eight or more losses, which is where Kansas now is.

For West Virginia, this win gets them right back into the bubble "conversation"... though perhaps not on the bubble itself. They finish the regular season 9-9 in Big 12 play with wins over Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State. But if the season ended now they'd almost certainly be an NIT team because their non-conference performance was brutal (0-4 vs Pomeroy Top 150 opponents) and they just have too many losses. Their RPI (84th) is dumb, but even their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 70th. Realistically, they're going to have to get to at least the Big 12 semifinals to earn an at-large bid, and even that could easily not be enough.

Oregon Moves Safely Into The Field How did Oregon beat Arizona? It's pretty simple. They were 10-for-19 on three-pointers while Arizona was 2-for-10. Oregon's been about 3% better behind the arc this season, though Arizona has been better at defending the three, so this was just Oregon getting hot while Arizona went cold.

There is a lot of talk about how crazy Oregon's season has been with its ups and downs, along with teams like Baylor, Wisconsin and perhaps even Syracuse. The thing is, it really hasn't been. Like most narratives, it's just a post hoc rationalization that we generate to explain something that really can be explained by random chance. When Oregon was 13-0 they were 5-0 in games decided by 7 points or less, with three of the wins coming in overtime. During their 2-8 stretch? They were 0-5. And during their 7-0 run to close the season? They're 4-0 in games decided by five points or less. If you look at their Pomeroy ratings, they reflect that. When Oregon was 13-0 they were ranked 22nd in the nation. After that 2-8 streak they only dropped to 32nd. And after this 7-0 spurt, including this win over Arizona? They're 25th. They've basically been the same team all season long, it's just that their luck in close games flipped.

The same is true for Baylor, Wisconsin and Syracuse, by the way. All have been fairly consistent in the computer ratings while flying up and down the Top 25 polls. Their luck in close games has been the dominant factor, despite all the media analysis about "figuring out how to win" or "getting away from what works for them" or other vague, meaningless narratives.

Oregon is now looking safe for an at-large bid. They finish the regular season 22-8 overall and 10-8 in conference play, with an 11-8 record vs the RPI Top 100 and an RPI that has slid into the Top 25. Even if they go one-and-done in the Pac-12 tournament, the bubble would have to get significantly stronger to swallow them back up again.

Arizona is still probably a 1 seed if the season ended now, but their margin for error is small. If they fall in the Pac-12 tournament, particularly if they go down early, they can easily fall back to a 2 seed. If they win the Pac-12 tournament, however, they should be a lock for a 1.

Duke Handles North Carolina As much as ESPN wanted to hype this game, the reality is that there wasn't a whole lot here. Duke is the better team and they were at home, and they were basically in control all game long.  It wasn't a blowout, but they led by close to ten points most of the way. The biggest story in this game was rebounding. North Carolina had been the significantly better rebounding team this season, but some foul trouble for North Carolina's front line along with big games from Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson meant that Duke actually controlled the glass here (15 offensive rebounds vs 6 for North Carolina).

With Kansas and Arizona going down, Duke is hanging in the 1 seed discussion. They'll need to win the ACC tournament title, however. No team with 8 losses has ever earned a 1 seed, and Duke won't be the first. Even with the ACC tourney title, however, they'll need significant help.

North Carolina had their 12 game winning streak snapped here, but it's not going to hurt their resume to pick up a loss to Duke. With a 13-5 ACC record and an 11-5 record against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO of 13th, they'd probably be a 4 seed if the season ended now, with a real chance to move up to a 3 seed with a strong ACC tournament.

San Diego State Beats New Mexico, Wins Mountain West New Mexico seemed to have this game in hand,  leading by as many as 16 points in the second half. But San Diego State got going, the crowd got going, and New Mexico started to fall apart, and a 26-4 run by San Diego State that only ended in the closing seconds delivered the Mountain West regular season title to the Aztecs. At one point in that stretch, New Mexico had 1 point over 11 possessions, which featured 6 turnovers. There were some questionable referee calls that went against the Lobos, but that's to be expected on the road, and doesn't explain how poorly New Mexico played down the stretch here.

This ended up an ugly New Mexico game all around, and not just during that one terrible stretch. Their 27.6% turnover rate was a season worst, as were their 0.83 PPP. Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow played well for New Mexico early (a combined 34 points on 13-for-18 shooting), but they disappeared late, particularly after San Diego State switched to a zone. These two teams head into the Mountain West tournament very even. San Diego State won the regular season title and is slightly higher rated in the computers, but New Mexico had the better efficiency margin in conference play, so on net they've been playing better over the last two months. If these two teams meet in the MWC title game, learning from this game could make the difference.

San Diego State finishes the regular season 7th in Sagarin PURE_ELO, but a 3-2 record against the RPI Top 50 means that they'd probably only be a 3 seed if the season ended now. With a Mountain West tourney title they will likely slide up to a 2 seed, and even a 1 seed isn't totally impossible, but they'll need a lot of help. New Mexico is 20th in Sagarin PURE_ELO and 17th in RPI, but the 5-5 record against the RPI Top 100 also will not do them much help. They'd likely be a 5 or 6 seed if the season ended now.

Iowa Loses Another Close One I've rehashed to death the issues with Iowa with close games. Once again, they just can't catch a break, falling on a contested 25-footer by Jon Ekey with under a second to go. They finish 0-5 in Big Ten games decided by six points or less, and their Big Ten PPP differential (+.07 PPP) is not too different from Michigan (+.10 PPP), despite finishing a staggering six games back in the standings. I think the misconception that a lot of people have about what advanced metrics say about results in close games is the idea that they say clutch play doesn't exist. That's not true. Clutch play exists. But what advanced metrics say is that clutch play is such a tiny factor in close games as to be mostly irrelevant. Iowa can be the most un-clutch team in the history of college basketball and their odds of winning their next one-possession game are basically identical to that of every other team.

Iowa's Tournament seed is plunging hard. They went 9-9 in Big Ten play and 6-11 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that has slipped to 46th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 40th. They're still a Tournament team, but could easily be something like a 10 seed if the season ended now. Considering that both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate Iowa as one of the 20 best teams in the country, we could have a very interesting Vegas line on Iowa's Round of 64 game.

Florida Completes Undefeated SEC Season The SEC obviously hasn't been a great league this season, but if there's one thing we've learned in college basketball over the last few years it's how incredibly difficult it is to go undefeated in any league. Kentucky was always going to be a long shot in Gainesville, and the Gators put this one away early. They grabbed a 22 point lead just 17 minutes into the game. Kentucky made a run midway through the second half, but never really put a scare into Florida.

Kentucky's defense has been inconsistent this season, and they were torched by the Gators offense here. Florida had a 69.1 eFG%, and despite only three offensive rebounds still had 1.22 PPP, their second best offensive performance in SEC play this season (they had 1.24 PPP in their 78-69 win over Alabama). The Gators are now looking pretty safe for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The only way it'll even be a question will be if they go one-and-done in the SEC tournament.

Kentucky's resume remains pretty soft. They're 1-5 against the RPI Top 40. Their RPI is 19th, but only because Calipari did a masterful job with manipulating it with his schedule. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 32nd. They're still very much at risk of falling to something like an 8 or 9 seed.

Baylor Should Be In The Tourney In general, our perception of basketball players being "clutch" is just a matter of overreacting to small sample sizes. But that said, clutch play does exist, and Kenny Cherry is a guy who has just been involved in hitting a lot of big shots late in games this season for Baylor. In this game, he hit a staggering ten straight free throws in the final three minutes, along with a key layup, to help Baylor hang on desperately to a crucial two point victory.

I talked about Baylor above in the Arizona/Oregon recap. Baylor was ranked in the Top 10 in the country in early January, and then dropped to 2-8 in Big 12 play and was basically given up for dead, but now has won 7 of 8 to just about lock themselves into the NCAA Tournament. What's been the cause of these dramatic reversals? Like Oregon above, it's basically just been luck in close games. Even when Baylor was ranked in the top ten in the polls they were only around 40th in the computers, and they've been sitting in the 35-45 range for basically the entire season other than about a week in late January and early February when they had two straight bad losses.

During Baylor's 13-2 start to the season they were 5-0 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. During their 2-8 stretch? They were 0-2 in games decided by five points or less. Since then? They've been 3-1. Their level of play did drop a little during that 2-8 stretch, but not really that much.

Baylor finishes the regular season 8-8 against the RPI Top 50, with computer numbers across the board safely inside the Top 40. It's possible that we have a bunch of bid thieves next week and the bubble gets a lot stronger, but barring that Baylor should be in.

Kansas State finishes the regular season 20-11 overall and 10-8 in conference play, with seven RPI Top 50 wins and those two bad early season losses (Northern Colorado and Charlotte). Their RPI is only 48th, but their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still a fairly safe 35th. They're not a Tournament lock yet, but a single win in the Big 12 tournament should be enough.

Texas Falls To Texas Tech Texas has very quietly been fading down the stretch, losing four of their final six regular season games, with one of those two wins coming over TCU (which doesn't really count). It's not a significant decline in play, but they were surging to the point that they reached 15th in the polls and getting dark horse Final Four team hype. At this point, I think Longhorns fans would be thrilled with a Sweet 16 appearance.

Texas can dominate the glass against just about anybody, but they're a horrible shooting team. They had a 38.6 eFG%. It's the fifth time they've been below 40% in Big 12 play, and they're 1-4 in those games, with the one win coming over TCU (really, no Big 12 stats against TCU should count). They're 11-8 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 28th, so if the season ended now they'd likely be in the 6-8 seed range.

Texas Tech is a very feisty team, despite finishing in 9th in the ten team Big 12. They'll get a chance in the Big 12 tournament first round to severely wound Oklahoma State's at-large hopes.

Louisville Smokes UConn This game wasn't remotely competitive. Louisville got some good offensive performances (10-for-22 behind the arc, including 4-for-7 from Luke Hancock), but their defense was what turned this game into a blowout. UConn had a 32.4 eFG% and committed 22 turnovers, which added up to a season-low 0.71 PPP. It's their worst offensive performance in more than two years, since their ugly 58-44 loss to Georgetown on February 1st, 2012.

Louisville did themselves no favors with their non-conference schedule. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as one of the two best teams in the country, but with only a 7-5 record against the RPI Top 100 and an RPI that is still only 21st, they wouldn't be higher than a 4 seed if the season ended now. With an AAC tournament title they should move up to a 3, but they'll need a whole lot of help to move up to a 2 seed. A 1 seed isn't really possible.

UConn finishes the regular season 12-6 in AAC play and 9-6 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is 28th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 25th. If the season ended now they'd be somewhere in the 6-8 seed range, with a chance to slide up or down a couple of lines in the AAC tourney.

Green Bay Falls This is a painful loss for Green Bay fans. They'll play in the NIT, but this was a team with a real chance to make an NCAA Tournament run during their final season with 7'1" Alec Brown. He and Kiefer Sykes were a really nice inside-outside combo. The question is: Should Green Bay earn an at-large bid? The answer is "yes they do", but they won't. Green Bay is 44th Sagarin PURE_ELO, but only 60th in RPI with almost as many RPI 100+ losses (3) and RPI Top 100 wins (4). They have the big win over Virginia, and I think we'd all prefer to see them in the Tournament over another 8-10 major conference team, but the reality is that teams in this situation get left out 99% of the time.

Memphis Beats SMU SMU got off to a good start here, leading most of the first half, but their defense began to fall apart in the second half. And after Memphis grabbed the lead, Chris Crawford hit threes on three consecutive possessions to blow the game open. Those were the only three shots Crawford hit all game (he was 0-for-9 from the field otherwise), but it was all his team needed on this day.

This win should put to bed the risk of Memphis falling to the bubble. They finish the regular season 12-6 in conference play and 6-7 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI up to 29th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO of 36th. They'd be somewhere in the 6-7 seed range, most likely, if the season ended now.

SMU also finishes 12-6 in AAC play, though only 4-6 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI all the way down to 44th. Their RPI is a bit out of whack, though, and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is a safer 39th. So they should be fine for the NCAA Tournament, but they'll want to avoid losing to Houston in the AAC quarterfinals just in case.

Arizona State Still Has Work To Do It seemed like Arizona State had pulled off an amazing comeback here. They trailed by 14 points with under 10 minutes to go, and fought all the way back. They hit a pair of threes in the final 35 seconds, the second one (from Jermaine Marshall) sending the game to overtime. But Arizona State went cold in overtime, missing four straight shots, and a five minute sample size just long enough to overcome something like that.

This is a tough loss for an Arizona State team that is in the Field of 68, but still far from securing an at-large bid. They went 10-8 in Pac-12 play and 9-9 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, Colorado and California (twice), along with bad losses to Washington, Oregon State and Miami. Their RPI is 38th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 42nd. A single win in the Pac-12 tournament will likely be enough to get them in the Tournament, but the way the bubble is toughening I wouldn't feel comfortable as an Arizona State fan if they go one-and-done.

UCLA Has A Terrible Game Against Washington State To say the least, UCLA couldn't hit a shot in this game. They were 5-for-23 behind the arc, with a 38.0 eFG%. That marks their worst 3P% and worst eFG% of the entire season. Sometimes there's nothing to say beyond that. It was just one of those days. UCLA fans will hope they got this out of their system now.

The good news for UCLA is that all this loss will do is cost them a seed line or two. They finish 12-6 in Pac-12 play and 11-7 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is 26th. They'd be somewhere in the 6-8 seed range if the season ended now, with a chance to perhaps slide as high as a 4 seed if they can win the Pac-12 tourney.

No comments: