Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Morning News: Maryland Knocks Off Wisconsin, NC State Earns A Massive Win, Texas Falls To West Virginia, And More

Nothing like the fun of a court storming.
The anti-court storming School Marms can shove it.

Maryland Knocks Off Wisconsin Wisconsin dug themselves a hole here with some awful first half shooting. They hit just 3-for-20 on jump shots in the first half, falling behind by 11 points. They shot 9-for-18 on jump shots in the second half, pulling within 3 points in the final minute, but couldn't get over the hump. The Badgers got just 2 points in 22 minutes played by their bench, which is going to get a lot better when starting point guard Traevon Jackson comes back. Maryland was powered by Dez Wells, who scored 26 points on 9-for-17 and seemed like a match-up nightmare no matter who Wisconsin put on him.

Maryland is now 11-4 in Big Ten play with an RPI all the way up to 9th, which is starting the hype machine. Yet their Pomeroy rating is still 35th, and their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 34th. Why are the computer ratings so out of whack with public perception? Because Maryland is now 9-0 in games decided by six points or fewer. Via the Pomeroy ratings, they are the second luckiest team in the entire nation, behind only High Point. They are just 7th in the Big Ten in efficiency margin, at +0.01 PPP. In other words, Maryland could earn themselves a 4 or 5 seed (or even a 3, maybe) on Selection Sunday, but they're the perfect candidate for an early upset.

Wisconsin was inevitably going to lose a game with this killer closing stretch. They still control their own destiny for a 1 seed if they win out, but winning out is unlikely. Unless they get significant help, it will be difficult for the Badgers to earn a 1 seed without a Big Ten tournament title.

NC State Earns A Massive Win North Carolina has had some bad shooting days this year, and their half court offense can get very stagnant, but this was the worst they've been plugged up all season. NC State held them to a season low in possessions (60) and in offensive efficiency (0.77 PPP). The Tar Heels had just a 37.3 eFG%. The 46 points North Carolina scored were their lowest ever in the Dean Dome.
NC State fans, uh, celebrated their win last night.

This was obviously a nightmare game that North Carolina will want to forget. They're not going to score 46 points in a game again this season. But a direct impact of this game, besides just the hit to their Tournament resume, is that it drops them a game behind Louisville for 4th place in the ACC with a tough finishing schedule. Remember that the top four teams in the ACC standings will earn double-byes to the quarterfinals.

For NC State, this is the type of win that could put them into the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. They also have that win over Duke and are 8-7 in ACC play and 8-10 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has moved into the Top 40. If the season ended now they'd certainly be a Tournament team. If they can win two of their final three ACC games and then one game in the ACC tournament, that really should make them fairly safe.

Texas Falls To West Virginia Texas started fouling early and aggressively to try to overcome a significant deficit, just as they had done against Iowa State on Saturday. It's a smart strategy to increase the number of possessions and random variance. But West Virginia wouldn't play along, hitting 11 of 12 at the free throw line over the final 3 minutes, despite only being a 66% free throw shooting team for the season. Texas unsurprisingly found themselves in trouble due to turnovers (17) against West Virginia's aggressive press and trap.

Texas is now just 6-9 in Big 12 play and 1-10 against the RPI Top 50, with an RPI that is only 43rd. If they can't get to 8-10 in Big 12 play (not easy considering that their next game is on the road at Kansas) then they're going to need to win at least a game or two in the Big 12 tournament to avoid the NIT. But that said, this Texas team will be awfully scary if they can sneak into the NCAA Tournament. They're 22nd in Pomeroy and 18th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They'd be favored by 2-3 points on a neutral court against a Maryland team many think will earn a 3 seed. So if they earn an 11 seed, they'd be comparable to the Tennessee team last season that had similar computer numbers and made an Elite 8 run. Definitely not a team you'd want in your region.

West Virginia is no longer worried about bubble concerns. They are 10-5 in Big 12 play and playing for NCAA Tournament seed only. If the season ended now they'd be right around a 6 seed, but they could potentially play their way into a 4 seed with a strong finish.

Notre Dame Falls To Syracuse The Irish had their worst outside shooting day of the season here. They hit just 14% of their three-pointers, which was easily a season low. Their 37.8 eFG% was also their first game this season with an eFG% under 40%. Jerian Grant, for one, was just 2-for-9 from the field. Syracuse has, interestingly enough, been playing their best basketball of the season since announcing that they were forgoing their postseason eligibility. They've now beaten Louisville and Notre Dame in two of their last three games. Their Pomeroy rating has risen from 78th to 58th over the last two weeks.

Notre Dame has an interesting road game up next Wednesday on the road at a shorthanded Louisville team that is going to be easier to defeat than they looked a few days ago. If they can steal that one, they will keep alive their hope of a share of the ACC regular season title. Syracuse gets a chance to play spoiler for both Duke and Virginia over the next week. The way they're playing, don't be surprised if they win at least one of those two games.

Villanova Routs Providence This game was briefly competitive around halftime, but Villanova pushed their lead up to 25 points by midway through the second half, and the rout was on. Darrun Hilliard (6-for-11 behind the arc) had another big shooting day for Villanova, while Kris Dunn was totally shut down (2-for-10 from the field with 7 assists and 6 turnovers). Villanova as a team hit 52% behind the arc. This was pretty much the Villanova Wildcats at their best.

The momentum is growing for Villanova as a 1 seed. They lack really big scalps (VCU, Providence, Georgetown or Butler is their best win), but their RPI is up to 4th and they're going to be really hard to keep off the 1 line if they reach Selection Sunday with only 2 losses. They've got a long way to go, though. A road game at a surging Xavier on Saturday will be tough, and the Big East tournament will have multiple pitfalls.

Providence's RPI (22nd) is inflated, but they're still safely in the NCAA Tournament after this loss. One more win will probably be enough to keep them safe for Selection Sunday. But that said, they're just sixth in the Big East in efficiency margin (+0.01 PPP), so the computers don't think they're likely to make an NCAA Tourney run.

Arkansas Holds Off Texas A&M Texas A&M could not control the ball in the first half, committing a staggering 16 turnovers (a 44% turnover rate) and trailing by 23 points. Yet in the second half, they attacked the Arkansas press as well as the glass, scoring 1.49 PPP. But it all added up to coming up just barely short in the final minute. It turns out it's tough to dig out of a 23 point halftime hole. Texas A&M actually rebounded 63% of their missed shots for the game, which is the most by a major conference team this season against another major conference team (the most in any D1 vs D1 game was 69% by New Mexico State against Stetson). But Arkansas parlayed 12 steals into 27 points off turnovers, and that made the difference.

Texas A&M needed this win much more than Arkansas. They are 10-5 in SEC play, but 0-6 against the RPI Top 50. Their RPI (31st) is obviously inflated. History says that major conference teams inside the RPI Top 40 almost always get in, so that is the mark the Aggies have to aim for. They can get there by winning their final three regular season games, but if they lose one more game then they'll have to win a game or two in the SEC tournament.

Arkansas is up to 23-5 overall with an RPI that is all the way up to 16th. The lack of big wins (SMU is their best) means that they'd be a 5 or 6 seed if the season ended now, but they could work their way up to a 4 seed with a strong finish. If they can somehow pull the massive upset at Rupp Arena on Saturday that will completely transform expectations for their NCAA Tournament potential.

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