Friday, March 14, 2014

Morning News: Seton Hall Stuns Villanova, Is SMU In Trouble?, Northwestern Upsets Iowa, Baylor Locks Up A Bid, And Much More


Bubble Watch The bubble itself didn't shrink much on Thursday, but the periphery did. There are significantly fewer teams with a real chance of ending up on the bubble on Selection Sunday. In addition, two teams (Ohio State and Baylor) clinched a spot in the Tournament to increase that number to 38 teams. 30 spots are still to be handed out over the final three days.

Seton Hall Stuns Villanova You've probably seen the Sterling Gibbs shot by now, but it was a Kemba Walker step-back move to keep Seton Hall's NCAA Tournament hopes alive for one more day. Obviously they're not going to earn an at-large bid, but Providence is the only team that stands between them and the Big East title game. It was a bit hard to understand how Seton Hall was even in this game, honestly. They were clearly out-classed in terms of athletic ability and talent. But Villanova struggled to shoot (4-for-19 behind the arc) and took just a little bit too long to pick up the defensive intensity.

This loss probably costs Villanova a 1 seed. They had been in the driver's seat for a 1 seed coming into Championship Week, but history says that teams that go one-and-done in their conference tournaments don't earn 1 seeds unless they're the overwhelming #1 team in the nation coming in. And that's obviously not the case for Villanova. They'll be a 2 or a 3 seed.

Is SMU In Trouble? SMU's offense has been in the doldrums lately, finishing under 1 PPP for the third straight game in a bad loss to Houston. SMU was 1-for-15 on two-point jumpers. It was just an ugly brick fest at a bad time.

Is SMU in trouble for an at-large bid? Maybe. Larry Brown did a poor job of managing their RPI and their resume is better than their RPI suggests, but the computer numbers are still iffy. They went 4-6 against the RPI Top 100 with three RPI 100+ losses. Their RPI is 53rd, and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 52nd. If the season ended now they'd still definitely be a Tournament team, but if we get some bids stolen in the final few days of the season, SMU might have sweat out Selection Sunday.

Northwestern Upsets Iowa Iowa picked a bad time for their worst performance of the season. Iowa is a team that takes a lot of jump shots, including two-point jump shots, and they just couldn't hit a shot here. In all they hit 28% of their jump shots, including 27% behind the arc. Adam Woodbury, Melsahn Basabe, Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby combined to shoot 0-for-18 from the field.

Iowa's brutal luck in close games continued here, as they drop to 0-6 in games decided by six points or less in Big Ten play. Their level of play has declined late in the season, but they're still pretty universally rated in the Top 25 of the computers (though they've dropped to 26th in Pomeroy). But with those close losses they are only 6-11 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has slid out of the Top 50, and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 53rd. They're still in the Field of 68, but if a few Tourney bids get stolen over the next few days, they might have to sweat out Selection Sunday a bit.

Baylor Locks Up A Bid Baylor has been on a roll down the stretch, winning 9 of their last 10 games and easing by Oklahoma here (Baylor actually led by double digits for nearly the entire second half before a late Oklahoma run force the Bears to sweat out the final minute). All five Baylor starters finished in double-digits, led by 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting by Isaiah Austin.

Baylor's Tourney hopes looked bleak when they were 2-8 in Big 12 play, but with this win they finally move into the Field of 68 for good. They are 23-10 overall with 9 wins over the RPI Top 50 and an RPI up to 32nd. If the season ended now they'd likely be an 8 seed, and possibly even a 7 seed.

Oklahoma finishes up 23-9 after going 12-6 in Big 12 play, with an 11-8 record against the RPI Top 100 and both an RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO safely inside the Top 30. They'd likely be a 5 or 6 seed if the season ended now.

St. John's Goes Down To Providence St. John's had things just where they wanted them, with a home game against Providence knowing that win would probably get them into the NCAA Tournament. But even with Bryce Cotton in foul trouble (he only played 34 minutes here after averaging 41.9 minutes per game in Big East play), St. John's was just too incompetent offensively to get the win. The Johnnies hit 33% of their jump shots, including just 29% behind the arc. St. John's actually outscored Providence in the paint (34-to-30), but cold jump shooting did them in.

The Johnnies finish 20-12 with wins over Creighton, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette (twice), along with bad losses to DePaul and Penn State. They went only 1-7 against the RPI Top 50, with an RPI that is 64th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 60th. It's nearly a certainty that they'll be off to the NIT.

Providence still has work left to do. They are only 7-10 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is still outside the Top 50 (though their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 40th). I don't think they can afford a bad loss, so they'll probably need to beat Seton Hall in the Big East tourney semifinals to feel good about their chances.

Xavier Wins A Bubble Battle Over Marquette Xavier came into this game with a better resume than Marquette, but both teams were in the vicinity of the bubble. Marquette actually shot the ball significantly better (a 63.3 eFG% vs a 52.0 eFG%), but they were unable to stop dribble drive penetration which gave Xavier the free throws (a 17-to-8 advantage in FTs made) that they needed to win the game.

This win gets Xavier to 9-8 against the RPI Top 100, though they also have 3 losses to RPI 100+ opponents. Their RPI is 45th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 42nd. For now that's a Tournament resume, but they're far from being a lock. If they lose to Creighton, they might have a stressful next two days.

Marquette finishes 17-15 overall and a brutal 4-15 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that has slid all the way to 90th. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is better (70th), but there's still no way that's a Tournament resume. They should be headed to the NIT.

Kansas Outlasts Oklahoma State In Overtime This was probably the highest quality game of the day. Andrew Wiggins had a monster 30 points on 9-for-17 shooting, and took nearly all the big shots down the stretch. Oklahoma State gave a yeoman's effort themselves, with a couple different players fighting through rolled ankles, and all four of their key starters scoring in double-digits. In overtime, however, their offense just looked confused and out of sorts. They just stopped attacking the rim, and Marcus Smart took too many long jumpers.

Oklahoma State should still be fine for an at-large bid. They only went 8-10 in conference play, but they beat Kansas, Texas and Memphis, with an RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO still safely inside the Top 50. They're better than their resume, but they seem to be transitioning from underrated to overrated pretty quickly. Since the Michael Cobbins injury, Oklahoma State is 3-8 away from home, and all three wins have come against non-NCAA Tournament teams. They are still very thin, with significant struggles scoring. I don't think they'll deserve as much "Cinderella" hype as they're going to get over the next week.

Kansas is still on the periphery of the 1 seed debate, though more likely they're heading for a 2 seed. To have a 1 seed case they'll need to win the Big 12 tournament.

Stanford Rolls Arizona State This game was mildly competitive in the first half, but Stanford blew the doors off the game in the second half. It was a dominant performance on both ends of the court. The 1.22 PPP were the fifth most they scored in Pac-12 play this season, while the 0.89 PPP they allowed were the third lowest. More than anything, they were able to bottle up Jahii Carson (just 10 points and 4 assists in 40 minutes played) and to force the other Arizona State players to make plays.

Stanford was sitting right on the bubble before this game, and needed this win. They went 10-8 in Pac-12 play and are now 8-11 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is 38th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 46th. If the season ended now that's probably a Tournament resume, but it's still iffy. They need one more win to feel comfortable about their chances.

Arizona State looked safely in the Field of 68 a couple of weeks ago, but ended the season with a three game skid. They have that big win over Arizona, but went only 10-8 in Pac-12 play with a 9-10 record against the RPI Top 100 and an RPI 100+ loss (Miami). Their RPI is 42nd and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 51st. They're going to be a bubble team on Selection Sunday.

UCLA Crushes Oregon Oregon came into this game having won 9 straight, including victories over Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, but they just got smoked here. Though as I talked about recently, Oregon hasn't really been playing that much better down the stretch, it's just that their luck in close games has flipped around. UCLA was on fire here, hitting 50% of their threes and finishing with a 64.2 eFG%. It's their second best shooting performance in Pac-12 play this season, behind only a 65.5 eFG% in their 107-73 demolition of USC.

Oregon should still be safe for an at-large bid. They went 10-8 in Pac-12 play and finished 23-9, with a 12-9 record against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 27th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 35th. They should end up Dancing with something close to an 8 seed.

UCLA moves to 24-8, with 6 wins over the RPI Top 50. Their RPI is 21st and their Sagarin PURE_ELO has slid up to 30th as well. They can still get into contention for a 4 or 5 seed if they can win the Pac-12 tournament.

Iowa State Survives Kansas State Kansas State's offense was sharp, finishing with a 61.8 eFG%. It's the first time in Bruce Weber's two seasons with Kansas State that his team had an eFG% over 60% and lost. How did Iowa State do it? More than anything they dominated the glass, finishing with 15 offensive rebounds to 6 for Kansas State. They were also sharp offensively themselves, shooting nearly as well as Kansas State (a 56.1 eFG%) and piling up 21 assists to only 12 turnovers.

Kansas State would have locked themselves into the NCAA Tournament with a win here, though they still should be fine. Their RPI is only 51st, but they have seven wins against the RPI Top 50 and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 38th. Their RPI is being dragged down by poor scheduling by Bruce Weber.

Iowa State's RPI slid into the Top 10 with this win. Their resume isn't quite that good, but they're 13-7 against the RPI Top 100 and would be a 4 or 5 seed if the season ended now. If they can knock off Kansas they'll put themselves in the discussion for a 3 seed.

UConn Smokes Memphis Memphis has been in the Top 25 for the entire season, primarily due to inertia. Whether you're rating teams by how good they are or how good their resume is, there's no way to justify Memphis as a Top 25 team. Their defense has been poor at times this season, and they were clueless here. They left Niels Giffey open to go 6-for-8 behind the arc, and allowed UConn to shoot 55% on two-pointers with a 62.7 eFG%.

Memphis should still be safely in the Tournament, despite only a 6-8 record vs the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is still 35th, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 44th. UConn, meanwhile, is playing their best basketball of the season (that Louisville game aside). They've won 11 of 14, and both their RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO have slid into the Top 25. No matter what happens, it's hard to see how they end up with worse than a 6 seed, and they could slide up to a 5 or 4 seed.

California Has To Wait California had their chances late in this game. Justin Cobbs himself missed three different shots in the final two minutes that would have either tied up the game or given California the lead. Throw in some brutal shooting (23% behind the arc) and you can't say California deserved to lose this game. But in a close game it's always going to come down to a little bit of luck, and the problem is that California just didn't leave themselves the margin of error on this season to afford a loss like this.

How does California's resume look? They went 10-8 in Pac-12 play with wins over Arizona, Oregon and Stanford to go with bad losses to USC and UC-Santa Barbara. They went 6-11 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is 57th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 71st . Honestly, that seems like an NIT resume, particularly those Sagarin numbers (only one or two teams have ever gotten in with numbers that bad). They're still on the bubble, but at this point I think they're headed to the NIT.

Colorado was in the Field of 68 prior to this game, but needed a win to keep some breathing room between them and the bubble. They're now 9-9 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI all the way up to 31, and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 39th. They're not a "lock" because they could still get in trouble if we have a bunch of bids stolen in the next few days, but they should be safe.

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