Friday, January 31, 2014

Morning News: Cincinnati The AAC Favorite? Also, Providence Falls To Marquette, UCLA Escapes, San Diego/St. Mary's, And Much More

In the future, try not having both of your heels over the charge circle line when Norman Powell is coming at you at full speed.

Cincinnati The New AAC Favorite? This was billed as the game of the night, and it definitely lived up. Just a really fun game to watch from start to finish. Cincinnati actually led by 17 points at the under-16 timeout, but a 14-0 Louisville run completely turned the game around. Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell sparked the run, and were both excellent in the second half. But down the stretch run, Louisville weirdly fell apart. In the final five minutes of the game, the only points they scored came on free throws they earned after Cincinnati intentionally fouled while up three with under 10 seconds to go. Russ Smith went several possessions without seeing the ball, which is unacceptable. The weirdest moment came when Cincy was up by 3 with 38 seconds to go and Louisville let 30 seconds run off the clock without fouling (reminiscent of rival Kentucky's bizarre failure to foul in the final 15 seconds the night before).

So is Cincinnati the AAC favorite? It depends what you mean by that question. Cincinnati is the favorite to win at least a share of the AAC regular season title. They're two games clear of Louisville in the loss column and have the road victory for the tiebreaker. But are they actually the best team? That's tough to say. Both Pomeroy and Sagarin still rate Louisville a bit better. In conference play, Louisville still holds the PPP margin advantage (+0.20 vs +0.17). Keep in mind that three-point shooting was a bit fluky here (Louisville is the better 3P% team, but was out-shot 38% to 29%), and you never want to overreact too much to a 40 minute sample size when you have 20 other games to look at.

So is Cincinnati or Louisville "better" and the AAC tournament favorite? At this point, I still lean slightly toward Louisville. I think overall they've been slightly better this season, and they have the higher talent ceiling. But is this a big gap? No. This isn't a Baylor/Kansas situation. It's easy to look at the information available and view Cincy as the better team. I won't argue much with you.

Providence Falls To Marquette If the season ended two days ago, Providence would have been in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. I don't think there's much debate about that. And even after this loss, they'd still probably be in. But the reason they're not in my bracket is because this won't be the last clunker they play this season. It's the problem with only playing six players - it's just so hard to keep up strong play consistently. Providence played some really good basketball during that five game winning streak, but they were never going to keep that level of play up for another six weeks.

This game was not exactly a shooting clinic, as the two teams combined to shoot 5-for-30 behind the arc. In the end, there wasn't much difference between these two teams, honestly. But Marquette needed this game badly, as they'd fallen off the bubble altogether. They're still only 12-9 overall, and at 4-4 in Big East play will realistically need to get to at least 11-7 to have a good shot at an at-large bid. They have a key road game coming up at St. John's on Saturday. They'll be underdogs in Vegas, but really can't afford to lose it.

Providence is 5-3 in Big East play with wins over Creighton, Xavier and Georgetown to go with a bad loss to Seton Hall. They're 48th in RPI and 44th in the Sagarin PURE_ELO. It's probably a Tournament resume at the moment, but they'll need to get to 10-8 in conference play to have a good at-large case.

UCLA Escapes Eugene UCLA got out of Eugene with the win here... somehow. UCLA actually led by 11 points with about six minutes to go, but a 14-0 run by Oregon was sparked by Joseph Young (7 points, 1 steal and 1 offensive rebound during that 14-0 stretch). A Jordan Adams basket and a free throw tied the game up, leading to a bizarre finish. UCLA had a poor possession that led to a missed 20-footer, but on the rebound got a held ball which gave them the ball back on alternate possession. Able to hold for the final possession, Travis Wear scored, but with about five seconds left. Joseph Young immediately grabbed the ball and was screaming down the court against a confused UCLA defense when Dana Altman called a timeout. This allowed a UCLA team with no timeouts to set their defense and prevent Oregon from getting a good final shot.

Oregon has had some bad luck during this 1-6 stretch (three of the losses have come by four points or less), but that just balances out their good luck early in the season (3-0 in overtime games). On net, Oregon is what they are, a bubble quality team that  is at 2-6 in Pac-12 play and desperately in need of a win. If they can hang around the bubble, the season-closing week with home games against the two Arizona teams could be massive.

If UCLA can win at Oregon State or Sunday they'll move into the Top 25 polls, though they still have some very clear holes. They only have one true big man and he's foul prone (Tony Parker, who fouled out of this game). It means that they tend to lose the battle for points in the paint, and they also tend to earn fewer free throws than their opponent. At 6-2 in conference play they are clear of the bubble for now, but nearly every game the rest of the way is one that they can realistically lose. I wouldn't be totally shocked if they regress a bit.

Shooting Disaster For Saint Mary's The St. Mary's Gaels had quietly been putting together a decent at-large resume. They came into this game 16-5 overall and with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that had slid all the way up to 39th. They actually played good defense in this game, holding San Diego to just 4-for-11 shooting on layups and dunks, but this was a Saint Mary's shooting debacle. They finished with a 27.0 eFG%, their worst shooting day in almost 12 years, when they had a 26.6 eFG% on March 3rd, 2002. With 15 offensive rebounds they managed to score 0.74 PPP, but that was still their worst offensive performance since November 26th, 2005. The four starters not named Brad Waldow shot a combined 4-for-31 from the field. Oof.

Now with five losses against teams currently ranked outside the RPI Top 100, Saint Mary's has an uphill battle to get back onto the bubble. They have a remaining home-and-home against BYU along with a home game against Gonzaga, and they probably need to win at least two of those three games.

Nebraska Upsets Indiana The first half went pretty well for Indiana. The second half? Not so much. They were outscored 41-23, and were once again made absolutely impotent by a zone defense. This is not a new thing for Tom Crean's Indiana teams - they are completely confounded by zone defenses and have been for a while now. The leading scorer in the game was Terran Petteway, who is now averaging 18.2 points per game 53.0 eFG%. He's become staggeringly efficiency all of a sudden after being a very poor player for Texas Tech two seasons ago. He has to be on the short list of most improved players in the nation.

If Indiana misses the NCAA Tournament, this loss will be a key reason why. It drops them to 3-5 in Big Ten play and 4-7 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that has slid all the way out to 74th. If the season ended now they would be in the NIT. They're going to have to win at least 6 of their final 10 regular season games to have a plausible at-large case, which makes Sunday's game against Michigan a massive opportunity. They really have to find a way to win that one.

Cold Shooting Does In Louisiana Tech Louisiana Tech had the advantage in the paint in this game, but they couldn't hit a jump shot. In all, Louisiana Tech was 8-for-39 on jump shots, including 8-for-33 behind the arc. UTEP was able to be more aggressive offensively, forcing fouls and getting to the free throw line. Vince Hunter alone earned 16 free throw attempts en route to a game-high 26 points.

This loss is significant in the Conference USA standings, and also deals a significant blow to Louisiana Tech's at-large hopes. In the standings, it drops Louisiana Tech from a tie for first into third, while UTEP replaces them in a tie for first with Southern Miss. If UTEP can somehow steal the win at Southern Miss on February 22nd, they could be the favorite to take the CUSA regular season title.

Louisiana Tech drops to 17-5 overall with a win over Oklahoma to go with bad losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and UTEP. They're 5-5 against the RPI Top 200 with an RPI that has dropped to 74th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO of 49th. Despite the relatively strong PURE_ELO, the Selection Committee will hold the lack of quality wins against them, and if the season ended now they would not be an at-large team. Considering the fact that they don't play another quality team the rest of the way, the Bulldogs might have to win the rest of their regular season games to earn an at-large bid.

UC Irvine Goes Down Big The top of the Big West Conference is tight, and this result just muddies things even further. UC Irvine came into this game leading the league, but this result creates a three-way tie for first place. Alan Williams was the best player for UCSB, scoring 26 points with 9 rebounds. Once UC Irvine fell behind big early, they started launching up tons of threes trying to get back into the game, and ended up a mediocre 9-for-29 behind the arc.

Is UCSB the new favorite in the Big West? You can make the case. With this big win they have moved into first place in efficiency margin in conference play (+0.12 PPP, with UC Irvine second at +0.10 PPP). Both Sagarin and Pomeroy now rate them the best team in the league. And so you don't want to overreact to 40 minute sample sizes, but it's not like it was particularly clear that UC Irvine was the better team before this game tipped off anyway. So at this point, I think the answer is "yes", UC-Santa Barbara is the new favorite in the Big West. And unless things change after Saturday's games, UCSB should expect to be in my bracket projection on Saturday night.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Morning News: Northwestern Stuns Wisconsin, Kansas Handles Iowa St, Bonnes Take Out UMass, Penn St Beats Ohio St, And Much More

DJ Newbill crossed up Aaron Craft before nailing the game winning jumper right over him.

Northwestern Stuns Wisconsin This whole game felt like a glitch in the Matrix. Northwestern shooters who've been brutally bad all year got hot (for example, Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb were both shooting 31% or worse behind the arc but were 5-for-9 here). At the same time, Wisconsin's strong outside shooters went ice cold. Wisconsin's 30.7 eFG% was their worst shooting day since January 21st, 2006 - more than eight years.

Here's a weird stat I found while researching that last paragraph: In the last 10 seasons, Wisconsin is 0-6 in games where their eFG% has been under 33%. That doesn't seem odd, except that four of those six games were in the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament (the '05 Big Ten title game vs Illinois, the famous 39-33 Big Ten tourney game vs Penn State, and their NCAA Tourney exits vs Xavier in '09 and Ole Miss in '13). The other two were this game and their infamous 2006 loss to North Dakota State. Wisconsin fans will hope that they used up their shooting abortion game in a relatively meaningless midseason contest this season, instead of in a tournament game.

Anyway, I'm not going to join the panic over Wisconsin. They're still easily fourth in the Big Ten in scoring differential (+0.09 PPP, compared to +0.13 PPP for 7-0 Michigan), and are still ranked 20th in Pomeroy and 17th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They've probably run themselves out of contention for a share of the Big Ten regular season title, but they're still an awfully good team that will be dangerous in March.

With the defense that Northwestern plays, they're never going to be a pushover. But the question is, what about their offense? They were white hot here, but otherwise have been a horrible offensive team. Even after this huge performance they're still dead last by a wide margin in offensive efficiency in Big Ten play (0.84 PPP). They were only shooting 23% on three-pointers in Big Ten play prior to this game, for example. If they shoot like this they can beat almost anybody. But it would be a mistake to extrapolate from a single game. Northwestern has to do this a few more times to prove that this wasn't a fluke.

Kansas Handles Iowa State This game wasn't a blowout by any means. Iowa State hung tough and kept this game close most of the night. But other than 0-0, this game was never tied and Iowa State never led. Kansas grabbed the early lead and were never out of control. Andrew Wiggins was superb again (29 points on 10-for-16 shooting) and they also got another big game from Naadir Tharpe (12 points and 12 assists). The Jayhawks have a stranglehold on the Big 12 title yet again, and if they can win the Big 12 tournament they should earn a 1 seed.

Iowa State certainly played well this game. They got 20+ from both DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang, and hung tough on the road against a Kansas team playing at an awfully high level right now. Iowa State is only 3-4 in Big 12 play, but the worst of their conference schedule is over. They should still be on their way to something like an 11-7 Big 12 record, and there's no reason to start talking about the Cyclones like a potential bubble team. They're not. The home game against Oklahoma on Saturday is an important one, but expect Iowa State to be favored by more than you'd think - something like 8 points.

Bonnies Take Out UMass UMass has arguably the most explosive point guard in the nation in Chaz Williams, but they can be sloppy and they can be inconsistent. Their three biggest warts all showed up in this game: free throws (53% here), turnovers (17) and defensive rebounding (the Bonnies had a 48.8 OR%). And this St. Bonaventure team is no slouch - after this win they have slid up to 59th in the Pomeroy ratings.

UMass had been due for a bit of a reality check. When they were 16-1 they were also 7-1 in games decided by six points or less, so they weren't as good as their resume said they were (they were actually #1 in RPI for a while). But they had the three point loss to Richmond, and now the biggest loss here. At this point, UMass is still 17-3 overall and still well clear of the bubble, but don't be shocked if they do fall back to the bubble before the end of the season. They're not as far from the bubble as you'd think, particularly with five difficult road games remaining in their regular season.

Despite the strong computer numbers, St. Bonaventure is still a very long way from the bubble. They're only 13-8 overall and 3-4 in conference play, with this win along with bad losses to Siena, Buffalo and Duquesne. They're going to have to get to at least 10-6 in conference play to have a plausible bubble case, and that will require at last 7 wins in their final 9 games. It's an uphill battle, even after this big win.

Penn State Beats Ohio State In Columbus This one won't go in the "Aaron Craft wills his team to victories" highlight reel. It was his turnover late in regulation that was incomprehensibly wiped off the books by video review. And in overtime, he got torched on DJ Newbill's game-winner, and then lost track of time and never got a shot off before the clock ran out. But really, this game was close because Ohio State couldn't hit a jump shot (2-for-14 on two-point jumpers) and because this Penn State team is playing good basketball right now.

Ohio State is an even more extreme version of Wisconsin in the way that they're being viewed as a disaster because of some close losses in the nation's best conference. Ohio State's offense is definitely mediocre, but their defense is great, and they've been unlucky in close games (they're already lost two overtime games in Big Ten play). After this game, Ohio State is 12th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR and 44th in the Sagarin PURE_ELO. That's one of the more staggering differentials I've ever seen - the 12th best team with the 44th best resume. The other numbers aren't quite as extreme (Pomeroy rates them 21st and they're 33rd in RPI), but there's still no question that this Ohio State team is significantly better than their resume.

So their resume has gotten a bit bubbly, but it's unlikely that they'll actually be on the bubble in late February. This Ohio State team is too good for that. That said, they've got a brutal week coming up, with road games at Wisconsin and Iowa. Only after that does their schedule finally ease up.

Valparaiso Crushes Green Bay It's not particularly surprising that Valparaiso beat a Green Bay team missing star 7-footer Alec Brown. But it was pretty surprising to see this turn into a blowout. Perhaps they were motivated by head coach Bryce Drew getting his jersey retired. More realistically, the fact that the Horizon League's leader in blocks per game was out of the game meant that Valpo was able to attack the paint with impunity. Of the 36 two-pointers that they attempted, only 7 went down as "jumpers". It's no surprise that they shot 63.9% on two-pointers.

Green Bay had been putting together a bit of a dark horse at-large resume. This loss deals that a pretty severe blow, however. They are now 17-4 overall with a win over Virginia to go with this loss and a loss to Eastern Michigan. They're 58th in RPI with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 51st. Realistically, they can probably afford no more than one loss the rest of the regular season to have a shot for an at-large bid.

Valparaiso moves into a three-way tie for second place in the Horizon League with this win. Considering the fact that the top two teams get a double-bye in the Horizon League tournament, the Crusaders will be highly motivated to earn that #2 seed.

NC State Upsets Florida State In all the craziness of last night, this game got lost in the shuffle. But this Florida State team is looking more and more like a bubble team, and this could end up being a crucial loss. And really, they had their chances. Florida State failed to hit a single shot from the field in the final 6:20 in a game that they lost by only two points. Okaro White (20 points) was shouldering much of the scoring load, but he's never going to be a huge volume scorer. TJ Warren led NC State with 30 points.

Florida State is now 4-4 in ACC play with wins over VCU and UMass to go with this bad loss to NC State. They're now only 5-7 against the RPI Top 100 and their RPI has slid to 36th, and their Sagarin PURE_ELO has fallen all the way to 40th. If the season ended now they'd likely be a Tournament team, but to stay in they'll need to go at least 10-8 in ACC play. They have a key "taking care of business" game on Saturday at home against Clemson.

NC State isn't a bubble team yet, but if they can knock off North Carolina on Saturday then they'll have to at least be in the discussion. They're also 4-4 in ACC play.

Arizona State Escapes California In Overtime This game is your weekly reminder that overtime games are random coin flips. Arizona State blew a 15 point second half lead, allowing California to go on a huge charge late in the game to send this one into overtime. Yet in overtime, California scored only two points on their first eight possessions, and ended up being outscored 17-6. Arizona State was again driven offensively by Jahii Carson (29 points and 7 assists). The Arizona State offense looks completely different when he's not on the floor.

This was a bubble battle between two bubble teams. Both teams are 5-3 in Pac-12 play and both have several wins over borderline RPI Top 50 teams, but none over really elite teams. The difference in the resumes at this point is that California has worse bad losses (USC, UC Santa Barbara) than Arizona State (Washington and Miami-Florida), and so Arizona State's resume is a bit better. But even after this game, Arizona State and California are right on the bubble. In my opinion, both of these teams will be in decent shape for an at-large bid if they can get to 11-7. If they go 10-8 then they'll need to win a game or two in the Pac-12 tournament. If either of these teams go 9-9 they'll almost certainly be NIT-bound. California has a huge opportunity at home on Saturday against Arizona.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Morning News: Michigan St Wins In Iowa City, Kentucky Falls To LSU, USF Upsets SMU, And Baylor. Sigh.

Dougie McBuckets sends Creighton fans home happy.

Michigan State Wins A Crazy Game In Iowa City This game was fun and tight the entire way. Iowa certainly had plenty of chances to win, including two shots at the rim in the crazy final moments of regulation. In overtime, it was Russell Byrd who seemed to hit the dagger for Michigan State, putting them up by 6 with around 30 seconds left. Iowa did still have a chance at the end, but Mike Gesell couldn't hit it, and Michigan State got the really nice bounce back road victory.

Obviously there's a lot of luck in close games like this, but it's awfully impressive for Michigan State to even fight to a draw on the road at Iowa with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson still out injured. They're managing to tread water in the Big Ten title race despite being so shorthanded. They still have road games remaining against Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State, as well as Iowa's return game in East Lansing, so they'll get their chance to win the Big Ten title if they can play well enough.

Iowa probably will end up with the toughest Big Ten schedule. They have a full home-and-home with Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. If they end up winning the Big Ten title, there's no question that they'll have earned it. More realistically, though, their margin of error has gotten awfully small. They'll play at Illinois on Saturday, and then come home to face Ohio State and Michigan the following week. So a week and a half from now Iowa could be right back in the Big Ten title race, or they could be effectively eliminated.

Kentucky Falls To LSU LSU was in control for this entire game. They jumped out to an early 22-6 lead and led by double digits for most of the rest of the way. Kentucky managed to close the final score late with four made three-pointers in the final 70 seconds, though they inexplicably chose to stop trying by foul despite only being down by five points with 15 seconds left.

The story for Kentucky, as it's been for much of the season, has been defensive effort. LSU had 1.15 PPP here, and Kentucky opponents are now 4-0 when breaking 1.1 PPP. The 56.4 eFG% that LSU had here was the best shooting that any team has had all season against the Wildcats. I don't think there's a reason to really panic about Kentucky here. People in the media are starting to drop them out of their Top 25s primarily to rile up Kentucky fans and drive web traffic. This is still a very talented, very good team. But at this point, they don't look like the best team in the SEC and they don't look like a serious Final Four contender.

If LSU gets into the NCAA Tournament, this might be the win that gets them in. They are 4-3 in SEC play and have wins over Kentucky and Missouri, along with a bad loss to Rhode Island. They're 4-5 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is 58th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 57th. That's a very bubbly bubble resume, though at this point they'd be more likely to be one of the first teams out of the Tournament than one of the last teams in. To have a good chance at an at-large bid, they need to get to 11-7 in SEC play.

South Florida Upsets SMU This is quietly one of the worst losses by any potential Tournament team in the last few weeks. SMU hadn't gotten into the Top 25 yet, but they were close. They had actually pulled themselves up to 24th in the Pomeroy ratings. And this South Florida team is bad - even after this win they're still being outscored in AAC play by 0.19 PPP this season. What happened? SMU's defense fell apart. South Florida was shooting only 45% on two-pointers in AAC play, but they shot 59% here. They did that because 28 of their 49 shots from the field were dunks or layups.

The problem for SMU is that as well as they'd been playing, it hasn't really translated in their resume. A very soft schedule is the big problem here. They have only one quality win this season (UConn), and now have this bad loss. Their RPI is 49th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 53rd. The key for them will be remaining home games against Memphis, Cincinnati and Louisville. The Memphis game is up next, on Saturday, and you have to wonder if they were looking ahead of this USF game a bit.

Baylor. Sigh. Baylor's woes continued here, dropping to 1-6 in Big 12 play. It was obvious to me that this Baylor team was wildly overrated in December, with pollsters and the media refusing to pay attention to their bad results against the likes of Northwestern State and Charleston Southern. But their level of play has dipped even further the last two weeks, and this season has spiraled out of control faster than anybody could have predicted.

Now 1-6 in Big 12 play, Baylor has to rapidly start winning games. Their next three games are at Oklahoma State, vs Kansas and at Oklahoma? Oh. That's not good. At this point, Baylor has to be treated as out of the NCAA Tournament until further notice. They'll have to pull some upsets between now and Selection Sunday to get back into the Field of 68.

This is West Virginia's best win of the season, but they're 4-4 in Big 12 play and have some huge opportunities coming up in the next two weeks with home games against Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. They're not a Tournament team at the moment, but they can definitely put themselves on the bubble if they can get to 10-8 or better in conference play.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Morning News: Duke Beats Underrated Pittsburgh, Oklahoma St's Slide Continues, Georgetown Loses Another Close One, And The Keith Frazier Scandal

Georgetown fans are getting just a little too used to these looks this season.

Duke Beats Underrated Pittsburgh The media narrative after this game is what you'd expect: Pittsburgh is a "paper tiger" who was overrated by the computers but "hasn't beaten anybody". Blech. First, let's be clear, Duke was awesome here. It was probably the best Duke has looked all season. They shot a white hot 13-for-25 behind the arc, got a big game from Jabari Parker (21 points and 11 rebounds) and a career night for Andre Dawkins (6-for-7 on threes). Duke looked great.

But the thing to remember is that the idea that teams can beat up a bunch of decent teams to inflate their computer ratings but be "unable" to beat elite teams is a myth. Even after this loss, Pitt still has a very strong +0.13 PPP in ACC play, and they've destroyed borderline Top 50 teams like Stanford, Clemson and Maryland. They are a really good team that is still very much in contention for a share of the ACC title.

Duke has been playing some awfully good basketball over the last five games, collecting wins over Pittsburgh, Virginia and Florida State, moving up to 9-4 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI and Sagarin PURE_ELO that have both ticked inside the Top 10. They're quietly starting to make a case for a 1 seed. They'll probably need a share of the ACC title and the ACC tournament title to get it, though.

Oklahoma State's Slide Continues Oklahoma State initially looked like they were handling the Michael Cobbins injury well. They lost by three at Kansas State, but there's no shame there. They then beat Texas and won at West Virginia. But slowly, steadily, their defense has fallen apart. This shouldn't be a total shock here. Cobbins was the best paint defender on the team, and teams have scored much more efficiently with him out of there. Only four teams broke 0.95 PPP in a game against OSU while Cobbins was playing, while six of seven have without him. The 1.17 PPP allowed to Oklahoma here is a new season worst.

Since Cobbins got hurt, Oklahoma State has faded from third to 19th in the Pomeroy ratings. They're not realistically at risk of falling to the bubble, but their projected Tournament seed is starting to drop, and it's not unreasonable to think that they'll finish Big 12 play with something like a 10-8 record. On Saturday they'll get a home game against similarly reeling Baylor.

Oklahoma has won four straight to push their Big 12 record to 6-2, and their RPI is all the way up to 15th. Sooners fans should prepare themselves for a bit of regression, though. They're 5-1 in games decided by five points or less and only 35th in Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They're not on the bubble now, but in my opinion they're going to end up back in the vicinity of the bubble before this season is out.

Georgetown Loses Another Close One This season for Georgetown has gone from bad to excruciating, and as I joked on twitter last night, Georgetown's roster must lead the nation in deep sighs in the final 60 seconds of games this season. They led for much of this game, but once again were done in down the stretch by sloppy offense. They also had three 50/50 referee calls go against them in the final minute, which is pretty surprising for a home team. But that's just the way things have gone for them this season. James Bell was the best player for Villanova, forcing 4 steals and scoring 16 points, including some clutch plays down the stretch.

Georgetown is going to be without Josh Smith for the rest of the season, which is a massive loss. He was their only quality interior scorer, and their most efficient scorer overall this season. They finally got Jabril Trawick back for this game, but he's not the same level of player. The Hoyas have dropped five straight to fall to 3-6 in the Big East. The Michigan State game coming up isn't really the concern (obviously they'd love the upset, but a loss won't matter). The key will be the few weeks after that, when they pile up games against the likes of DePaul, Butler, St. John's and Seton Hall. They absolutely have to take care of business or they'll be NIT-bound.

Villanova moves to 18-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big East with this win, with an RPI that has slid up to 4th. They have to be careful, though. The Big East is underrated this year and not getting a whole lot of respect, and if Villanova loses a couple of games late in the season and falls in the Big East tournament, their NCAA Tournament seed could easily slip to a 4 or 5. They still have some tricky road games (Providence and Xavier) and also still have their rematch against Ethan Wragge and Creighton.

SMU's Keith Frazier Is In An Academic Scandal You can read the details at the link. This certainly seems very shady, and it seems like SMU at least knew what was going on (though there's no clear proof for the latter assertion). The questions are, will Frazier be suspended and will SMU be punished? I doubt highly that SMU will be punished here. A suspension for Frazier could happen, though it wouldn't be the first time that the NCAA basically decided that it was too much effort to investigate and let a case of academic fraud go away. We'll have to just stay tuned to see how this turns out.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Morning News: Illini Offense Struggles, Clemson Loses 57th Straight, Nebraska Wins Again, UCLA Beats California and Manhattan/Quinnipiac

To all you Illinois fans out there: Indiana fans would like to talk to you about the name of your arena.

Illinois Offense Struggles Again This was a game that Indiana really needed to win to stay firmly in the at-large race, to take care of business at home against an Illinois team that they should beat. In the end, this came down to yet another brutal Illinois offensive performance. The good news for Illinois is that they've won six straight games when scoring at least 1.00 PPP. The bad news for Illinois is that they've lost seven straight games when scoring fewer than 1.00 PPP, leading to their current six game losing streak.

What's been the primary cause of this bad offense? Terrible shooting. They were 5-for-23 on three-pointers here, dropping their season average to 30.5%. Over the last four seasons, Illinois is 1-13 in Big Ten play when finishing with an eFG% under 42.0%. They were at 37.9% here.

Where are Indiana's Tourney hopes? They look like a bubble team. They're 3-4 in Big Ten play with that Wisconsin win to go with bad losses against Northwestern and (maybe) Illinois. One big win isn't enough, but if they get to 9-9 in Big Ten play then they'll have to pick up a few more quality wins along the way. And if they get to 9-9, they'll enter the Big Ten tournament on the bubble.

Clemson Loses Its 57th Straight In Chapel Hill There must be something in the Chapel Hill water. This game should have been close, but it wasn't, and Clemson kept up their remarkable streak of never winning in North Carolina (0-for-57). Clemson lost by 19 here, but it really should have been worse. They had a stretch of more than 18 minutes where they shot a combined 1-for-19 from the field. Midway through the second half they were in serious danger of setting the mark for the worst shooting performance in Division I basketball this season, though they managed to put that away with some cheap baskets in garbage time, which allowed them to drop their deficit from 31 points midway through the second half to 19 by the end of the game.

For North Carolina, this game was arguably better than any performance all season long besides the road win at Michigan State. And it's a win that they had to have, to pull themselves back to 2-4 in ACC play. They have their three big non-conference wins, but they're still going to have trouble making the NCAA Tournament if they don't at least get to 9-9 in ACC play. Without quality non-conference wins, Clemson is going to need to get to at least 10-8 in ACC play to have a good shot for an at-large bid. They're now 4-3 with two very tough road match-ups in their next three games (at Florida State, at Syracuse), so they could really use an upset in one of those two games.

Nebraska Wins Again Nebraska is only 2-5 in Big Ten play, but they've been better than that record. They beat Ohio State and Minnesota and three of their five losses have come by six points or less, including a one point loss to Michigan. And even that 10 point loss at Iowa is nothing to be ashamed of. This Nebraska team is a solid, well-coached team. They play decent defense, and have a few offensive weapons as well. It was Terran Petteway who exploded for 35 points here. So this Nebraska team will very likely finish below .500 in Big Ten play, but this won't be the last Tournament team that they beat this season.

Of course, it's not a lock that Minnesota is a Tournament team. They're 4-4 in Big Ten play and 4-4 against the RPI Top 50, without a single RPI 100+ loss (this loss to Nebraska is their only arguably "bad" loss). It's a Tournament resume at the moment, but without much room to spare. If they get to 9-9 in Big Ten play, that should be sufficient. Their schedule over the next couple of weeks is a lot easier than it will be in late-February, so they need to take advantage of games against teams like Northwestern and Purdue.

UCLA Takes Care Of Business By no means was California really outplayed here. Rebounds, points in the paint, turnovers and fouls were all relatively even. The difference was, California couldn't hit a jump shot. The Cal Bears finished 9-for-39 on jump shots, including 4-for-21 behind the arc. For comparison, UCLA shot 11-for-28 on jump shots, including 5-for-9 behind the arc. David Wear led the way with a career-high 18 points, including 2-for-2 behind the arc.

UCLA is increasingly looking like the second best team in the Pac-12. The problem is that they lost narrowly at home to Arizona and don't get the road match-up, which means it's going to be almost impossible for them to come back to win the Pac-12 regular season title. At 16-4 overall and 5-2 in Pac-12 play, with a 5-3 record against the RPI Top 100, they're definitely clear of the bubble for now. They have enough quality wins that an 11-7 Pac-12 regular should probably be sufficient for an at-large bid.

California is firmly on the bubble. They're 5-2 in Pac-12 play, with wins over Oregon, Stanford and Arkansas, along with bad losses to USC and UCSB. They're 4-4 against the RPI Top 100 along with those two RPI 100+ losses. To make the Tournament they'll need to get to at least 11-7 in Pac-12 play, and unless they get to 12-6 they'll likely need a win or two in the Pac-12 tournament.

Quinnipiac Sweeps Manhattan Manhattan entered this season as the clear MAAC favorite, which makes it pretty surprising that Quinnipiac (not even considered one of the top contenders) completed the season sweep of Manhattan yesterday. It's hard to draw all too many conclusions from these games, I must say. Both were very close (yesterday's game went to overtime), and both featured a whole lot of free throw attempts (Quinnipiac attempted at least 40 free throws in both games), despite the fact that Quinnipiac isn't necessarily the greatest team at drawing free throws (they currently rank 3rd in the MAAC and 69th in the nation in FTRate). Interestingly, Manhattan leads the entire nation in FTRate, but took significantly fewer free throws in both games.

Even after this sweep, it's hard to argue that Quinnipiac is the league's best team. It's one of the four teams within one game of each other in the standings, but Quinnipiac has clearly the worst PPP differential of the bunch:

+0.14 Iona
+0.12 Manhattan
+0.12 Canisius
+0.03 Quinnipiac

Interestingly, Manhattan hasn't played a single game against either Iona or Canisius yet this season. They still have a home-and-home to play against both squads, beginning with the road game at Iona on Friday night. Keep an eye on that one. On a night of the week that's always very light for college basketball, that's a meaningful game for the MAAC.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Morning News: New Bracket, What Does Michigan's Win Mean?, Duke Takes Florida St To The Woodshed, Baylor Falls To Texas, Iowa St Hangs On, And Much More

Coaching is easy, you guys.

New Bracket Projection It's Sunday, so there's a new bracket projection. There wasn't a ton of movement in the bracket this week, though Oregon and Baylor did take tumbles. In the end, only one at-large team changed, with George Washington moving in and replacing Colorado, who just haven't been the same since the Spencer Dinwiddie injury. Two automatic bid projected winners have changed, too. Delaware has replaced Drexel as Colonial favorite and American University has replaced Boston University as Patriot League favorite.

Michigan Beats Michigan State: What Does It Mean? The game of the day was the ESPN College Gameday game, Michigan at Michigan State. What's interesting is that despite Michigan winning, you can argue that the two best players on the court were from Michigan State. Nik Stauskas was 5-for-6 on threes, but otherwise was relatively quiet. Gary Harris, on the other hand, was dominant early en route to a career high 27 points (on 9-for-15 shooting), while Keith Appling had 10 points and 10 assists. The reality was that with two of Michigan State's four best players (Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson) out hurt, those two had to step up, and they did. It just wasn't quite enough.

Does this win put Michigan in control for the Big Ten regular season title? Maybe. They're in first place alone with all the tiebreaks at the moment, but they're also due for a bit of a reality check. They've had three huge wins in the last eight days, but all three came down to the final minute, and this Michigan State win comes with that huge injury asterisk. Michigan is probably not the best team in the conference. In my opinion, the best team is still a fully healthy Michigan State squad.

Michigan's Big Ten regular season title hopes probably come down to their performance in the first six games to start the month of February. Other than the Nebraska game, the other five are all either on the road or against Pomeroy Top 15 opponents. Michigan will go from being the hunter to the hunted, and they'll need to step up. To stay on pace for the regular season title, they need to win at least four of those six games.

Duke Takes Florida State To The Woodshed This Florida State team is underrated. They're arguably one of the 25 best teams in the nation. But they were just annihilated here by Duke. Against a Florida State front line that is one of the biggest in the nation, Duke had a staggering 27 offensive rebounds (61.4 OR%) and earned 43 free throws compared to just 18 for Florida State. And despite not really being able to get a shot to fall around the rim, the Blue Devils cruised to an easy win.

The ACC remains the most underrated conference race. The media has basically handed the title to Syracuse, but the reality is that it's a full four team race, with Duke, Virginia and Pittsburgh all in a tight battle. If Duke is going to win the league, it will likely come because they get a big win next week. They head on the road to play Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and really need to win at least one of those two. A sweep would give them four losses, which would force them to win out to have a reasonable shot at a share of the ACC title.

Florida State is only 4-3 in ACC play thus far, but it's come against a nasty schedule. They're probably the fifth best team in the league, and should improve on that won/loss record as their schedule eases up over the next few weeks. At this point, Florida State is not at serious risk of falling onto the bubble.

Baylor Falls To Texas Baylor was badly overrated for most of this season, but their level of play has decayed even further. And it's hard to even point to one specific thing because they've been mediocre across the board. They had a terrible 34.8 eFG% here, allowed a brutal 62.9 eFG% to Iowa State, gave up 1.34 PPP to Texas Tech, and also got crushed on the glass in that latter game. Not only are they not playing like a Top 25 team, they're not playing like a Tournament team. They've plummeted to 45th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR and 55th in Pomeroy.

Despite Baylor's struggles, it has to be noted that Texas has played really good basketball the last few weeks. They have been efficient and getting good performances from a variety of players. Here it was freshman Isaiah Taylor pouring in a career-high 27 points. Texas is now 5-2 in Big 12 play with wins over Iowa State, Kansas State and North Carolina, and without a real bad loss. It's definitely a Tournament resume, and if they get to 11-7 then they'll be in. At 10-8 or 9-9 they'll probably need a win or two in the Big 12 tournament.

Iowa State Hangs On Late Against Kansas State Iowa State came into this game on a three game losing streak, but there was no reason for significant panic. In a conference as good as the Big 12, there's no shame in losing on the road against NCAA Tournament teams, or to lose to an awfully good Kansas squad. They needed a bounce-back win, though, and they got it here. Melvin Ejim was a physical force for Iowa State, scoring 20 points (including 10-for-11 at the line) with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks.

Iowa State's schedule continues to be brutal for the next three games, where they'll go to Kansas, come home for Oklahoma and go on the road to Oklahoma State. If they can even get to 2-1 in that stretch they should be happy. After that, though, they'll get to start padding that conference record. Five of their following six games will be against TCU, Texas Tech or West Virginia. So in the end, Iowa State should be able to improve on their current 3-3 Big 12 record to get to 11-7 or 12-6.

This loss is a tough missed opportunity for a Kansas State team that probably should end up in the NCAA Tournament, but is far from a lock. They're 4-3 in Big 12 play with wins over Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and George Washington, along with bad losses to Charlotte and Northern Colorado. They are 6-5 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 30th. It's a Tournament resume for now, but to stay in they'll probably need to get to 10-8 in Big 12 play. At 9-9 they'll have to win a game or two in the Big 12 tournament.

Wisconsin Beats Purdue This was a "taking care of business" game for Wisconsin. As I said a few days ago, the panic over Wisconsin's three game losing streak was silly. Their defense was not good against Minnesota, but the losses against Indiana and Michigan both came down to the final 30 seconds, and none of these losses were "bad" losses. Wisconsin was still fourth in the Big Ten in PPP differential heading into this game, and still looked like a Top 10 or 15 team in the nation. After this win they're now tied for third in PPP differential in Big Ten play with Michigan, interestingly enough.

The best news for Wisconsin in this game was that their defense settled down after that crazy 1.40 PPP performance against Minnesota, only allowing 0.91 PPP here. Nobody is going to confuse this Wisconsin defense with last year's defense, but the reality is that it's a myth that Bo Ryan teams always play elite defense. In fact, statistically this Wisconsin team is extremely similar to the team three years ago, which didn't get the "Great O/Bad D" tag simply because they played at a slower tempo and had lower scores in their games. On a PPP basis, though, that team was very similar to this one. Right now, Pomeroy rates Wisconsin the 5th best offense and the 39th best defense. Three years ago they were 3rd and 53rd, respectively.

Purdue is not a bad team, but their offense is very mediocre, particularly when AJ Hammons gets into foul trouble. Hammons isn't a great offensive player, but he's productive and he draws the defense away from his teammates. Purdue just takes a ton of jump shots, particularly early in the shot clock, and that's not conducive to efficient offense. In this game, they took a staggering 45 jump shots, hitting just 8 of them. For comparison, Wisconsin took only 31.

Colorado's At-Large Hopes In Trouble This game was never particularly competitive. Arizona State grabbed a 13 point first half lead that they pushed to 24 midway through the second half. Arizona State didn't really have a player stand-out, though Jahii Carson played well (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists). What really stood out was Colorado's offensive playmaking, which has really been a mess since Spencer Dinwiddie went down with that unfortunate injury.

Colorado finished this game with a brutal 10 assists and 19 turnovers, which hasn't really been abnormal. In Pac-12 play this season they are dead last in assist rate (44.2%) and are second-to-last in assist-to-turnover ratio (their 0.91 ratio is slightly ahead of Washington State's 0.90).

The Selection Committee will not dismiss Colorado's early season wins because they came with Dinwiddie, but Colorado is going to have trouble making the NCAA Tournament without getting to 10-8 or better in conference play. And at this point, it's hard to see them going better than 8-10. Unless there's a turnaround in play over the next few weeks, that Dinwiddie injury is going to cost Colorado an NCAA Tournament berth.

Arizona State is 4-3 in Pac-12 play with wins over Colorado, Utah and Marquette along with bad losses to Washington and the University of Miami. They're 50th in RPI and 3-5 against the RPI Top 100. It's a very bubble-ish resume, though at the moment you'd probably argue that they'd one of the first teams out of the bracket right now. That home game against Arizona in a few weeks will be crucial, and they'll also need to get to at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play to have a good shot at an at-large bid.

Providence Wins Their Fifth Straight Big East Game Don't look now, but Providence has won five straight Big East games. And while some of the performances were a little bit statistically odd (like Creighton's poor shooting day against them), the reality is that only one of the five wins came by fewer than nine points, so it's hard to say that they've been particularly lucky. You'd assume that a six man rotation is eventually going to wear out from the grind of the Big East schedule, but it hasn't happened yet.

Bryce Cotton has been just superb, playing a staggering number of minutes and doing absolutely everything for his team. He's playing 39.4 minutes per game, putting up 20.5 points and 5.9 assists per game with a 3.0 A/TO ratio. Doug McDermott will be the Big East Player of the Year, but it's pretty hard to argue for anybody but Cotton as the second best player. Right now, Providence is 5-2 in the Big East with wins over Creighton and Xavier, along with a bad loss to Seton Hall. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is up to 37th. If the season ended now, that's probably a Tournament resume. But like I said, the risk of them wearing out and slowing down at some point this season are pretty high. Unless they finish 11-7 or better in Big East play, they're going to enter the Big East tournament with work left to do to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier had won 10 of 11 games before losing here. Some of those wins (St. John's, Marquette and Georgetown) don't seem quite as impressive now as they did at the time, though. The wins over Tennessee and Cincinnati are nice, but they're a bubble team. Home games against Creighton, Villanova and Providence will all be very important as they try to collect quality wins.

W-7 BP68

I think if we're being honest with ourselves, that wasn't the most exciting Saturday of basketball we've ever had. I'll never complain about a full Saturday of college basketball, but we've definitely had better.

Probably the most interesting part of the bracket to talk about are the bubble teams. Please remember here that this is a projection, and not a measure of where teams are now. A classic example here is Providence. If the season ended now, there's a greater than 50% chance that they'd get into the Tournament. But the season doesn't end now, and it seems pretty unlikely to me that they're going to keep up this really high level of play for another two months when they're only playing six guys. So for now, they're out of the Field of 68.

Another thing to keep in mind is that I'd put the odds of making the Tournament at below 50% for all of the 12 seeds. If you ask me now do I think Indiana is getting in? Baylor? "Probably not" is my answer. But I like their odds slightly better than teams like Providence and Stanford, so here we are. Every team on the bubble has serious flaws. If they didn't, they wouldn't be on the bubble.

There are always some parts of a bracket that are more compressed than others, and this year it feels like there are a whole lot of teams in competition for 3-6 seeds. It's just very hard to separate out a lot of those teams. At the same time, somewhere around the 9/10 seeds is where the bracket falls off. I'm pretty confident that every team with a 9 seed or better will go Dancing, but those 10, 11 and 12 seeds are all basically bubble teams.

In the end, three changes to the Field of 68 were made this week. George Washington moves in as an at-large, replacing Colorado (sorry, Colorado fans, that Spencer Dinwiddie injury sucks). Delaware moves in as the new Colonial favorite (replacing Drexel). And American University moves in as the new Patriot favorite (replacing Boston University).

Also, we eliminated six teams from at-large contention: Cleveland State, Drake, George Mason, Old Dominion, Pepperdine and William & Mary. That leaves 77 teams not in my bracket that still have a chance at an at-large bid.

Please remember that the following is a projection of Selection Sunday and not a list of where teams would be seeded if the season ended now. There is a difference.

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Syracuse
2. Kentucky

3. Iowa
3. Oklahoma State

4. Creighton
4. Michigan
4. Iowa State
4. Wisconsin

5. Ohio State
5. Pittsburgh

6. St. Louis
6. Virginia
6. Cincinnati

7. UMass
7. Memphis
7. Florida State

8. UConn
8. Minnesota
8. Clemson
8. Xavier

9. North Carolina
9. Tennessee
9. Kansas State
9. SMU

10. Texas
10. California
10. Oklahoma
10. New Mexico

11. Arizona State
11. Oregon
11. George Washington

12. Georgetown
12. Missouri
12. Baylor
12. Indiana





Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Providence, Southern Miss, Indiana State, Boise State, Colorado, Stanford, Arkansas, LSU, Saint Mary's

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Maryland, Dayton, Richmond, Marquette, Illinois, West Virginia, Utah State, Utah, Ole Miss, BYU

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Miami (Fl), NC State, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph's, Butler, St. John's, Seton Hall, Nebraska, Purdue, Texas Tech, UTEP, Princeton, Ohio, Northern Iowa, UNLV, Wyoming, Washington, Alabama, Texas A&M

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
UCF, Houston, Rutgers, USF, Temple, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, La Salle, Rhode Island, DePaul, Northwestern, Penn State, TCU, Hawaii, UC Santa Barbara, Towson, UAB, Charlotte, Middle Tennessee, Canisius, Akron, Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Illinois State, Missouri State, Colorado State, Nevada, Oregon State, USC, Washington State, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, San Francisco

Friday, January 24, 2014

Morning News: Ohio St Ends Their Losing Streak, Oregon Defense Continues To Flounder, And Branden Dawson Hurts Himself

Don't ask this man his opinion on Linda Ronstadt unless you want to be here for a while.

Ohio State Ends Their Losing Streak This game demonstrates the problem with generating narratives around wins and losses in close games. Was Ohio State in a four game tailspin that they turned around with a win here? Well, they lost four games and then won this one, but there has been no big change in level of play. The Nebraska loss was bad, and losing by ten at Minnesota wasn't a great performance either, but there's certainly no shame in a close loss to Iowa or at Michigan State. In fact, an overtime loss at Michigan is a significantly better performance than a five point home win against Illinois.

The good news for the Buckeyes was that their defense looked better, allowing only 0.92 PPP. It wasn't a great defensive performance, but it's an improvement over the last three games. The bad news is that there's no sign that their offense is going to get significantly better. They're just inconsistent on offense, and it means that they're rarely going to run away from teams. It's going to lead to another bad loss or two, and probably prevent them from finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten standings. They should still be in line for a 3-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Keep in mind that Ohio State's Big Ten schedule was very front-loaded, and will get a lot easier as we head into mid-February and March.

This was a solid performance by Illinois, but they're not good enough that they can let chances like this go. They are now 2-5 in Big Ten play and 13-7 overall with wins over Missouri and Indiana to go with bad losses to Northwestern and Georgia Tech. It's a solid resume, but not a Tournament resume. They will need to go at least 8-10 in Big Ten play to be in at-large contention. They have a key stretch coming up with a road game at Indiana and a home game against Iowa. The Iowa game in particular is a huge chance to collect a big scalp.

Oregon's Defense Continues To Flounder While it's certainly good advice not to overreact to losing streaks, the reality is that Oregon really has had significant problems during this five game losing streak. Those problems: all related to defense. During this losing streak, all five opponents have cleared a 52.0 eFG% and 1.07 PPP. Four of Oregon's five worst defensive efficiency performances have come during this stretch, including 1.19 against Washington here (the best offensive efficiency the Huskies have had in a conference game since February 23, 2013.

Oregon has the second worst defensive efficiency in Pac-12 games (1.13 PPP) and have a -0.10 PPP scoring differential in conference games. And with their computer ratings tanking, they are now firmly on the bubble. As I've said before, I find it impossible to believe that Oregon is really this bad. They should play better than this the rest of the way. But they're going to have to get to at least 10-8 in Pac-12 play to avoid being on the bubble heading into the Pac-12 tournament. At this point, that will be a difficult task.

Washington is quietly 4-3 in Pac-12 play, though the league is not great this season and they had a bad non-conference performance, so there's still a significant gap between them and the bubble. They'll need to win at least 11 Pac-12 games to be in contention for an at-large bid.

Branden Dawson Out 4-5 Weeks Believe the story for this injury if you want (Bill Walton certainly didn't believe the story, as he made clear during last night's Arizona/Colorado broadcast), and it wouldn't be the first time that a team lied about the reason for a player's injury, but Dawson has a broken hand regardless. This Michigan State team has been struggling with injuries as much as any team in the country, and if Adreian Payne can't get on the court soon they're going to be awfully thin in the front court.

The good news for Michigan State is that Michigan has been taking out their top rivals, and with a home win over Michigan they'll take firm command of the league. But with a home loss they'll be staring at a road game at Iowa, and the possibility that the Wolverines could become the Big Ten favorite. The good news for Sparty is that Michigan is not a strong offensive rebounding team. Dawson is the best rebounder on Michigan State, and they will be vulnerable against teams that get after the glass (like, say, Iowa).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Morning News: Minnesota Upsets Wisconsin, Michigan Holds Serve, Richmond "Upsets" UMass, VCU Whips Dayton, Plus Cal/USC and American/Boston U

Tekele Cotton almost got his entire arm above the rim. Goodness.

Minnesota Upsets Wisconsin This game got off to a rough start for Minnesota with Andre Hollins rolling his ankle on the first possession of the game, but otherwise this was basically a perfect game for them. They were just on top of their game offensively, finishing with a 62.5 eFG%, the best shooting performance against Wisconsin since November 14th, 2012. With Frank Kaminsky saddled with foul trouble, Maurice Walker (18 points and 9 rebounds) dominated the paint for Minnesota.

This result wouldn't be a big deal for Wisconsin (everybody is allowed a bad game every once in a while) except that it comes after two very tight losses (on the road vs Indiana and at home against Michigan, both of which came down to the final 30 seconds). So it naturally generates a "Wisconsin is falling apart" narrative. I don't see how the stats back that up, though. The Big Ten is the best league in the country this year, and you just can't freak out about competitive losses on the road against Tournament teams.

I know that I sometimes get redundant about this, but don't overreact to results of close games. If you think that teams get dramatically awesome and then dramatically terrible week after week, it means that you are bad at judging teams and overreact to random statistical quirks and luck in close games. This Wisconsin team is not significantly different from the one that was 16-0. Even when Wisconsin was 16-0 I had them 8th overall (the last 2 seed) in my bracket, and assuming that they beat Purdue on Saturday they'll be either a 3 or 4 seed in my next bracket. They were overrated at 16-0, but underrated now.

As for Minnesota, this is certainly a big win for their Tournament hopes. They're now 4-3 in Big Ten play with wins over Wisconsin, Ohio State and Florida State, without any bad losses. That's a Tournament resume at the moment, and if they get to 9-9 or better in Big Ten play then they'll probably get in. That said, I feel like we're rushing a bit too much to build up Richard Pitino as a great coach. Certainly there's no evidence yet that he's not a great coach, but right now he's coaching Tubby Smith's players and the team is basically a carbon copy of last year's team in terms of style. He's just driving this team in cruise control. He might end up being as great of a head coach as his father, but Pitino wouldn't be the first coach to look good with a successful team in Year 1 and then end up unable to repeat the success.

Michigan Holds Serve Against Iowa This game falls in the same category as the Wisconsin/Minnesota game. It certainly matters a lot for the resumes of these two teams, but does it really change how we feel about how good either of these teams are? Michigan was expected to win a close game at home, which is precisely what happened. The one thing that stood out was Nik Stauskas, who continues to be the best player in the Big Ten. He was dominant here with 28 points on 8-for-14 shooting, along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

Michigan heads to East Lansing for a game Saturday, and obviously an upset there would be massive. But assuming that they lose a competitive game, that won't really tell us much about them either. The true judgment of this Michigan team will come the next few weeks when they play Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State on the road, as well as Wisconsin and Michigan State at home. That's when we'll find out if Michigan is truly Michigan State's top Big Ten competition.

Iowa remains firmly in contention for the Big Ten title. They've got a huge game coming up on Tuesday at home against Michigan State. That's a game that they really need to win if they're going to take the title in March.

Richmond "Upsets" Massachusetts UMass had one of the weirder sets of computer numbers coming into this game. They came into this game ranked 8th in the Sagarin PURE_ELO but only 34th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. How does the 34th best team have the 8th best resume? A 7-1 record decided by six points or less. They were overdue for a close loss, and they got that here, as Chaz Williams had a chance to tie the game with a few second left but missed. Richmond was favored by 3.5 points when this game tipped off, so despite all the "upset" headlines, UMass actually covered the spread.

The concern with UMass is that as good as their resume is, they don't really have a "name brand" win that stands out. Things like neutral court wins over New Mexico and Clemson and road wins over Ohio will all impress the Sagarin PURE_ELO, but the Selection Committee is not really going to care too much. Which means it's not implausible for UMass to fall back to the bubble. But I'd bet against it. UMass should finish somewhere between 10-6 and 12-4 in A-10 play, and that should be enough to keep them clear of the bubble.

This win puts Richmond back in the bubble conversation. They're 13-6 overall and 3-1 in A-10 play, with wins over UMass and Dayton to go with losses to Wake Forest, Hawaii and St. Bonaventure. They're going to need more quality wins to earn an at-large bid. At minimum they need a win or two more over VCU/St. Louis/George Washington and at least a 10-6 A-10 record.

VCU Whips Dayton VCU has, in a lot of ways, the opposite resume to UMass. They're a very good team that just hasn't been able to translate it into a quality resume. They have only one RPI Top 50 win (Virginia) and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 36th. So they're in the Field of 68 right now, but only barely. The top of the A-10 is strong enough, however, for VCU to build a resume in conference play. Starting in the second week of February they will start getting their shot against teams like St. Louis and UMass.

Dayton has really been floundering of late. They started the season with wins over Gonzaga and California, but haven't had a quality victory since. Instead they've had bad losses to USC and Illinois State, and they're now 1-3 in Atlantic Ten play. They'll have to get to at least 9-7 to be in bubble contention, and realistically need to be even better than that, which means that the margin of error for them is getting pretty small.

California Goes Down To USC Welp. California had been playing really good basketball for three weeks, running up a 5-0 Pac-12 record, so they were probably overdue for a reality check loss. The story for California this season has been defensive inconsistency. When they were struggling around Thanksgiving and early December they allowed more than 1.2 PPP in four of six games. During their six game winning streak heading into this game, they had held four of six opponents to 0.95 PPP or fewer, including a game where they held Washington to a 31.8 eFG%. But here? USC sprung for a 56.5 eFG% and 1.17 PPP.

That 5-0 start to Pac-12 play built California a buffer between them and the bubble, so this one bad loss doesn't drop them out of the Field of 68. But considering their mediocre non-conference performance, they will need to finish at least 11-7 in Pac-12 play to earn an at-large bid, and probably need to get to 12-6 or better. Meanwhile, this is USC's first Pac-12 win of the season, and it's not like they could blame bad luck in close games. Their closest loss this season to a Pac-12 opponent was by 19. So this is a nice win for Andy Enfield, but his team is a long way from contending near the middle of the pack.

American University Smokes Boston University With the two 6-0 teams in the Patriot League going at it, you had to expect a competitive game. And even though Boston University came in as the team that I projected as the champ and which was higher ranked in the computers, it wouldn't have been surprising to see American hold serve on their home floor. But a 30 point win? That's nuts. And what makes that score crazier is that rebounding was even, American University committed 8 more turnovers and BU took more free throws. What happened was that American University shot the lights out, hitting 68% of two-pointers and 79% of 3-pointers (11-for-14). That adds up to an 84.5 eFG%, which is the second best by any Division I team in any game this season (Mt. St. Mary's had an 86.3 eFG% performance against Norfolk State). If we restrict ourselves just to intra-conference games, only three teams in the last decade have had better shooting days, led by Creighton's staggering 92.5 eFG% against Southern Illinois on February 14th, 2012.

So is American now the favorite in the Patriot League? It's easy to say yes, of course, They have this big win and are now leading in efficiency differential in conference play (+0.12 PPP to +0.08 PPP) and in the computers. It's not obvious, though. This shooting performance was quite obviously a fluke, and it would be a mistake to expect anything like it again. So depending on how these two teams play on Saturday, it's possible that I'll keep BU the favorite. Both head on the road for a game on Saturday.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Morning News: Jonathan Holmes Buzzer Beater, New Mexico Over Boise St, Pitt Destroys Clemson, Harvard Falls to Florida Atlantic

Jonathan Holmes sends the fans home happy

Texas Tops Kansas State On A Jonathan Holmes Buzzer Beater In a battle between two potential at-large teams, this game was tight the entire way. These are two very similar teams, and neither team had a significant advantage in any facet of the game. And so it was inevitable that this game would come down to the final seconds, and despite some pretty poor execution leading up to the final play, it was Texas that got the win on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jonathan Holmes.

I had moved both Oklahoma and Texas into my most recent bracket projection, even though I didn't feel good about. The reason was that this would give the Big 12 seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, and I just don't think that's realistic. Somebody has to lose every game, and it's hard to imagine that seven different teams will finish with a strong enough Big 12 record. With this win, though, Texas is consolidating their position in the Field of 68. At 4-2 in conference play, Texas will be in good shape if they can go 6-6 down the stretch and get to 10-8. They do have a very tough schedule ahead, though.

Kansas State has those bad early season losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte, but with wins over Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and George Washington (as well as 12 more games against the Big 12), the Wildcats will have all the quality wins that they need for an at-large bid. Just a 9-9 Big 12 finish should be enough for them unless they go one-and-done in the Big 12 tournament.

New Mexico Takes Care Of Business Against Boise State New Mexico grabbed an early 17-4 lead and basically led by around 10 points the rest of the night. They were in control the entire game, but Boise State kept fighting and wouldn't go away. Ryan Watkins was a monster for Boise State, pulling down 11 offensive rebounds (22 total rebounds). New Mexico was led by Kendall Williams, who had a stat-stuffing 18 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.

It's hard to tell whether New Mexico or Boise State is the top challenger to San Diego State in the Mountain West, but New Mexico held serve here. The return game in Boise will be on February 12th. New Mexico is currently 5-1 in Mountain West play, but with only one other quality win (Cincinnati), they don't have a large margin of error between them and the NIT. They have a key stretch over the next week with road games against Colorado State and Utah State. The odds are very much against winning both games, but either loss will probably go down as a "bad" loss.

Boise State is 3-3 in Mountain West play and their best win came over Utah State, but their Mountain West schedule eases up over the next two weeks and they still have home games left against New Mexico and San Diego State. So they'll get their chances to earn their way back into the Field of 68.

Pittsburgh Destroys Clemson This was a game that went very much under the radar. The reality is, however, that this was an extremely impressive victory for Pitt. Clemson is a good team, coming into this game ranked in the Top 35 of both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, and Pittsburgh just destroyed them. Pitt grabbed a 19 point first half lead that they pushed up to 30 less than halfway through the second half.

With this win, Pitt moves up to 3rd in the Pomeroy ratings (as I type this, the Sagarin ratings haven't updated with the results of this game), meaning that a serious argument can be made that they're the best team in the ACC. When I suggested this on twitter last night, I was bombarded with furious Syracuse fans. And yes, I know, I know, Pitt hasn't been as good in the NCAA Tournament over the last 80 years and "they haven't beaten anybody"... whatever. I'm not arguing that Pitt is the best team in the ACC, but I do think that the argument can be made. Syracuse beat them by five points at home, which is yet more evidence that these are two awfully even teams. Despite the perception that Syracuse is dominating the ACC, the reality is that there are still five teams (Syracuse, Pitt, Virginia, Duke and Florida State) with a plausible chance to win the regular season title.

Clemson is, as I said, good enough to be a Tournament team. Their resume is living on nothing but that Duke win so far, though. They're going to need a few more quality victories, and at least a 10-8 ACC record to have a good shot for an at-large bid. They head into a tough stretch, with four of five games on the road (against North Carolina, Florida State, Syracuse and Notre Dame). To stay on pace for an at-large bid they really need to at least get a split in those four games.

Harvard's At-Large Hopes Effectively End In Loss To Florida Atlantic There's nothing to say about this game from Harvard's perspective other than that it was a clunker. They were just awful, particularly on offense. Their 24.6 eFG% is their worst shooting performance in at least 15 years (I could only find stats back to the 1996-97 season, and their second-worst eFG% in that stretch was 28.2%). Their previous worst this season was 42.7% against Colorado. So just a debacle.

Harvard is still 49th in RPI, but they're only 2-2 against the RPI Top 100 with their best win coming over Green Bay, and in order to fail to get the Ivy League's automatic bid they're going to have to lose at least twice in conference play. So realistically, Harvard's at-large chances are over. They're going to have to win the auto bid. The good news for Harvard is that they're probably going to win the auto bid.

LSU Wins A Bubble Battle Over Missouri It's getting to that time of year. Bubble Battles are going to become more frequent, particularly in the SEC, where it feels like half the league is on or near the bubble. The difference in this game was the paint, where the LSU bigs were forcing the Missouri drivers to take a whole lot of off-balance shots. LSU finished with 9 blocks, and Missouri finished 11-for-25 on layups (compared to LSU, who were 9-for-10). Missouri just struggled to get good, open shots.

With this win, LSU moves to 12-5 overall and 3-2 in SEC play, though this is their best win and they have bad losses to Rhode Island and (arguably) Ole Miss. Considering where the SEC is as a league, LSU probably needs to get to at least 11-7 in conference play to have a good shot at an at-large bid.

Missouri drops to 14-4 overall and 2-3 in SEC play, with a win over UCLA to go with bad losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt. They'll have a better shot of an at-large bid at 10-8 than LSU (due to the UCLA win), but realistically they need to get to 11-7 to have a good chance. A home game against Kentucky on February 1st looms as a huge opportunity to grab another quality victory.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Morning News: Creighton Goes Nuts, Nebraska Stuns Ohio St, Virgina Crushes UNC, Kansas Takes Care Of Business Vs Baylor

The Man. The Myth. The Legend.

Creighton Goes Nuts There's nothing much to say about this game besides just listing some of the insane stats. Ethan Wragge was personally 7-for-7 on threes in the first seven minutes of the game. The 21 three-pointers that Creighton hit as a team were the most by any team ever in a Big East game. Their 1.48 PPP (and it was 1.58 PPP when Doug McDermott got pulled and they cleared their bench) were the most by a team in a "major" conference game since Syracuse scored 1.50 PPP against DePaul on March 5, 2011. And needless to say, a Villanova team that came into this game ranked the 8th best defense in the country by Pomeroy isn't the same level of opponent as that DePaul team that went 1-17 in Big East play.

Obviously Creighton was underrated. They weren't ranked despite the fact that basically every computer rating you ever heard of had them in the Top 15 before last night's game. The thing is, I wonder if a lot of pollsters had processed the fact that Creighton is now in the Big East. It just seems impossible to believe that a "traditional" Big East team like St. John's or Georgetown or Villanova would be unranked if they were 15-3 overall and 5-1 in Big East play, regardless of strength of schedule. Creighton will definitely be ranked next week.

The biggest question coming out of this game is how overrated Villanova is. Really, though, it's a bit unfair to judge them on this. Creighton is one of those teams where your level of play doesn't matter a whole lot. When they go nuts on threes they're almost impossible for anybody to beat, but when they're cold behind the arc they can lose to basically anybody. They were just coming off that clunker against Providence (4-for-19 on threes), and the odds are that they'll have one or two more of those this season. Villanova still plays very good defense (on average) and they're a Top 10 or 15 team in the country.

Nebraska stuns Ohio State The Buckeyes tailspin continues, and they have now dropped four straight after starting the season 15-0. What's gone wrong in this streak? Everything, basically. Three of their four worst offensive efficiency games have come in this streak, as have four of their six worst defensive efficiency games. The stat that sticks out most, though, is that the only four games all season where an opponent has had an eFG% over 50% against Ohio State have been the four games in this losing streak. Their defense just hasn't been there.

The Buckeyes played well in that Michigan State game and were only done in by hot Spartans outside shooting and late-game luck, but that isn't true of the other three games. Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska all shot better than 50% on two-pointers against the Buckeyes, with Nebraska pouring in a staggering 64% of their two-pointers here. And so the question you have to ask is: what is the real Ohio State team? Throughout their 15 game winning streak (as well as the Michigan State game) they played like one of the five best teams in the country. But over these last three games they haven't even played like a Top 25 team.

My answer is what it usually is, which is to trust the larger sample size. There's no question that Ohio State has blown their shot at the Big Ten title and has some real problems that need fixing, but at the same time those performances over 16 games really happened and it's not like they've suffered a bad injury or suspension. More likely than not, Ohio State is going to play like a Top 10 or 15 team the rest of the season.

By the way, I noted on twitter last night that according to the Sagarin ratings Nebraska would be favored at home against 9 of their 14 SEC teams. With this big win that number might be ten (as of this morning, Sagarin has Nebraska as a 0.1 point favorite at home over Missouri, which probably rounds down to a PK line. They're going to finish below .500 in Big Ten play, but that's only because the conference is so good. Tim Miles has this team playing better basketball, and they're going to be tough for any team to beat in Lincoln this season. Considering how young the team is (only one senior in the regular rotation) they could very much make a run at an at-large bid next season.

Virginia Crushes North Carolina This game was competitive in the first half, but Virginia jumped out to a 14 point lead early in the second half and the Tar Heels were never within single digits again. This wasn't a surprise, of course, as UVA was a bigger favorite in Vegas than Villanova was. They have simply been the better team this season. The Cavaliers at 5-1 are very much in contention for the ACC title, and like Creighton it's a bit absurd that they're not ranked. Though Virginia being a team that is defensive minded and that plays a slow tempo is bound to always be underrated by the media.

The reputation North Carolina has is one of a crazy up-and-down team, but at this point I just don't see how that's true anymore. Yes, they beat Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, but otherwise they have been mostly mediocre. Their only win over a Pomeroy Top 150 team other than those three was an early season win over Richmond. So yes, North Carolina is 4-7 against the Pomeroy Top 150 this season. And even if you break down those three big wins, they're not as crazy as they seem. Beating Kentucky at home seemed more surprising at the time because we were just recently removed from all of that 40-0 talk... but now it seems reasonable for a bubble team to beat them at home. And that Louisville performance was atrocious - it was their first game all season against a team with a pulse and they stunk (the transition defense was the laziest I've ever seen from a Rick Pitino team). The only real big time performance UNC had this year was over Michigan State, and every team is allowed one big upset and elite performance per season.

The Tar Heels aren't a bubble team yet, but they could be. They need to get to 9-9 in ACC play to be in good shape for an at-large bid, and they're 1-4 now. They have an easy schedule the next few weeks before it gets tough in late February, so they need to take care of business in the games they're supposed to win over the next few weeks.

Kansas Takes Care Of Business Against Baylor Baylor was 8-for-10 on three-pointers in the first half and still trailed by two points at halftime, which was a bad sign. In the end, there were no surprises in this game. Kansas nailed the Vegas spread perfectly. Those that follow me on twitter have heard me talk about Kansas/Baylor a lot, but those without twitter probably missed most of this. Kansas/Baylor is just the latest example of the pollsters and the mainstream media not understanding how to judge teams. If all you are going to do is rank teams by wins and losses and assume that an overtime win against a crap team is better than a close loss on the road against a Top 10 team, why do we need to pay you for your expertise?

Baylor was ranked ahead of Kansas for most of the season, because they had the better W/L record. Meanwhile, Baylor had gotten there with five very tight wins, including three that came down to the final minute against crap teams (Northwestern State, Charleston Southern and South Carolina). The four Kansas losses, on the other hand, were by an average of 4.3 points, all against Tournament teams, and 3 of 4 were on the road. I got in an argument on twitter a few days ago with Jeff Goodman and Rob Dauster, who both continued to insist that Baylor was better than Kansas a month ago. No, Baylor was never better than Kansas, and even a month ago would have been an underdog in Vegas at home against the Jayhawks. Don't overreact to luck in close games, or you're going to rank a bubble team ahead of one of the ten best teams in the country and you're going to look dumb in a few weeks.

Georgetown's Season Of Horrors Continues It's hard to think of a team other than maybe Penn State or Boston College that has had it worse this season than Georgetown. Between injuries, suspensions and gut punch losses, there is just nothing that has gone right for them. In the final 30 seconds here, Reggie Cameron missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and then another missed free throw by Markel Starks gave Todd Mayo the opening to hit a three-pointer to send this game to overtime. Marquette got a quick start in overtime, leading to several minutes of shots of shell-shocked Georgetown fans.

The Hoyas have tumbled from 18th to 69th in the Pomeroy ratings over the last six weeks, and it's hard to see a major turnaround unless they can get healthy again. Josh Smith, in particular, is crucial to this Georgetown team. Without him, they don't have an interior scorer. And like all things with Georgetown this season, the Smith suspension has been designed for maximum pain, as it's a vague "academic" suspension with no hint of length. He could be back tomorrow and he could be done for the season - nobody is saying.

Marquette is firmly on the bubble. They are 11-8 overall and 3-3 in the Big East, with wins over Georgetown and George Washington along with an iffy loss to Butler. Their RPI is 89th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 71st, so if the season ended now they'd almost certainly be an NIT team, but they're very much in contention. Realistically, they need to get to at least 10-8 in Big East play make the Tournament, and need to get to 11-7 to have a good chance. They have a key stretch upcoming with home games against Villanova and Providence. They really need to find a way to get a sweep, because after mid-February their schedule strength really starts to pick up.

Syracuse's DaJuan Coleman Done For The Season This isn't shocking news, as Coleman had been out injured for basically the last three weeks (he tried to play in a game two weeks ago but only lasted three minutes). Coleman isn't a big scorer, but he's a good rebounder and an interior defensive presence on a team that has depth issues. Syracuse only has a seven man rotation now. The thing to keep in mind with Syracuse is that their schedule this season is very back-loaded. Starting with the road game at Pittsburgh, their final four games are staggeringly difficult. They could easily be underdogs in all four games, and I'll be surprised if they win more than five of the eight. If a lack of depth crops up as a big problem, it's most likely to crop up there.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Morning News: Oregon Loses Their 4th Straight, Southern Miss Takes the C-USA Lead, Iowa Takes Care Of Business

It's been a tough two weeks for these guys.

Oregon Loses Their Fourth Straight Oregon trailed for essentially the entire game here (Oregon State grabbed the lead less than three minutes in and never gave it up again), and actually trailed by double-digits for much of it. Their defense had been falling apart during this losing streak, and it didn't get much better here. Their only three games allowing 1.18 PPP or more this season were the first three games of this losing streak. They held Oregon State to only 1.07 PPP here (not that that's particularly impressive), but squandered even that by shooting 4-for-19 behind the arc.

I think we all knew that Oregon was overrated when they were 13-0. But with Dominic Artis back in the lineup, it seemed like the worst case scenario was a borderline Top 25 team. This slump seems inexplicable - there's no way they can be this bad, can they? And really, they probably aren't. When a pendulum swings this hard from one direction to the other for a basketball team, it usually regresses closer to the mean over time. In my opinion, the real Oregon is somewhere between these two streaks. They're better than this. That said, they're now 1-4 in Pac-12 play and have an at-large bid to worry about. They need to get to at least 9-9, which means that they can't afford a loss on the road against the two Washington teams this coming week.

Oregon State has now beaten Pomeroy Top 50 teams in two of their last three games. They're playing better basketball, and might be able to sneak into the NIT if they can continue to improve. Could that save Craig Robinson's job?

Southern Miss Takes The C-USA Lead Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech have run away from the rest of the field in the Conference USA race. Both teams are also in contention for an at-large bid should they fall short in the C-USA tournament. So if you wanted to tune in for some Conference USA action, this was the game. The problem is, these teams only get to play once in the regular season. Playing at home, Southern Miss had the advantage, and they capitalized. Southern Miss managed to win despite 2-for-18 three-point shooting, and they did it by dominating the glass (a 47.5 OR% vs a 14.7 OR% for Louisiana Tech).

So what does this mean for who is the favorite to take the league's auto bid? That's a hard question that I'm not sure I can answer at this point. Louisiana Tech got outplayed here, but it's a one game sample and they were on the road, so you don't want to overreact to that. Certainly this is a nice win for the Southern Miss resume. The Golden Eagles are now 16-3 with this win to go with bad losses to Western Kentucky and Tulsa. The fact that they're not going to have any big scalps on Selection Sunday means that they probably can only afford one more regular season loss to have a real chance for an at-large bid. They're going to need a very gaudy record.

Iowa Takes Care Of Business Against Minnesota This final score was deceptive. Minnesota led by ten points late in the first half and this game was competitive for most of the second half. Iowa finished the game on a 16-2 run in the final five minutes, which turned a 7 point lead into a 21 point lead and made this game look like a blowout. Iowa deserved to win the game, of course, but I don't think anybody who watched this game felt like they were viewing a 20 point blowout.

In this year's Big Ten, where basically every game is tough, taking care of business is always a good result. Iowa continues to chug along, but they head into a crucial part of their schedule. They have a tough game at Michigan on Wednesday, but the real test will be the two weeks after that. Three of their next four games after Wednesday will be at home, against Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. If Iowa is going to win the Big Ten regular season title, those are the games they need to take care of business in. They certainly don't need a sweep, of course, but they need to go 2-1 to feel good about their chances.

Minnesota is back to 3-3 in Big Ten play. As I've been saying for a while, they really just need to get to 9-9 in Big Ten play to be in pretty good shape for an at-large bid. They don't have any bad losses yet and they have wins over Ohio State and Florida State, and there's no way to get to 9-9 without picking up a few more RPI Top 50 wins. So they'll have the scalps they need - they just need to avoid a sub-.500 conference record.