Thursday, February 19, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, Duke Wins A Thriller, Iowa State Wins, Shorthanded Louisville Goes Down, And More

Pasch and Walton are the best.

New Bracket Projection Only one change was made to the Field of 68, with Albany sliding in, replacing Vermont as the America East favorite. Louisville slides a seed line due primarily to the Chris Jones suspension. For the other details, click on the link.

Duke Wins A Thriller Duke shot out of their minds in the first half (7-for-9 on threes with a 69.4 eFG%), and this game looked on its way to being a rout. But they cooled off in the second half, and North Carolina's 19 offensive rebounds allowed them to actually pull out to a ten point lead at one point. But Tyus Jones was huge late in regulation for Duke, scoring their final nine points to tie the game up. North Carolina had a chance to win in regulation, but Marcus Paige missed. North Carolina had two chances in overtime to tie the game, but their offense panicked on their second-to-last possession (Isaiah Hicks looked totally lost while unguarded with the ball in the paint). On their last possession, Nate Britt did a good job of intentionally missing a free throw to set up a tip-in, but it just didn't fall.

This is a moral victory for North Carolina. They were probably the better team, going to overtime despite Duke's vastly superior outside shooting (63% to 20%). Duke also got a slew of dicey referee calls in their favor late in regulation and overtime. But on Selection Sunday, a loss is a loss. They'll get a chance for revenge in Chapel Hill on March 7th. And Tar Heels fans should remember that most likely it'll be them getting all those dicey referee calls down the stretch when they're the home team.

Duke remains in control of their own destiny for a 1 seed, though they're probably going to need to win the ACC tournament. They're very unlikely to catch Virginia for the regular season title, and it's very rare for a team to earn a 1 seed without either a regular season or tournament conference title.

Iowa State Wins At Oklahoma State Oklahoma State had a four point lead with just over two minutes to go, but they failed to score a point on their final four possessions, including some ugly offense down the stretch. Oklahoma State always struggles on the glass, and Jameel McKay destroyed them here. McKay had 9 offensive rebounds (more than twice as many as the entire Oklahoma State team combined) on his way to 17 points and 14 rebounds. Iowa State needed somebody else to step up with Georges Niang hobbled with foul trouble (just 9 points in 25 minutes), and McKay was it.

Iowa State has had some luck in close games (6-2 in Big 12 games decided by six points or fewer), but they're in position now to maybe steal a share of the Big 12 regular season title. A road game at a hungry, desperate Texas squad on Saturday will be very important for both teams.

Oklahoma State is just 7-7 in Big 12 play, though they're 6-6 against the RPI Top 50 and their RPI is still in the Top 30. All they need to do is go 2-2 in their final four games (reasonable considering their schedule) and they'll be safely in the NCAA Tournament.

Shorthanded Louisville Goes Down Louisville announced before this game that Chris Jones is suspended indefinitely. Louisville just went through a two game stretch where only four players scored all of their points (Jones, Terry Rozier, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear), so with one of those four guys down the other three were going to need to step up. Instead, Blackshear had the worst game of his career: he fouled out in 19 minutes with 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks and 2 turnovers. In contrast, Syracuse got a huge game out of their star, Rakeem Christmas (29 points on 9-for-10 shooting, with 8 rebounds and 4 blocks).
Michael Gbinije had a ridiculous block on a fast break.

If Chris Jones is out for an extended period of time, and Pitino certainly sounded postgame like he would, then Louisville could really fade down the stretch. They key will be getting back to full strength in time for the season-closing home games against Notre Dame and Virginia. Wins in those two games would have shot them up to likely a 3 seed in the bracket, but losses in both games could easily drop them into the 5-7 seed range in the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier Holds Off Cincinnati On the same night as Duke/North Carolina, perhaps the most underrated rivalry in college basketball featured Cincinnati nearly pulling off a big second half comeback. They pulled back from a 12 point second halftime deficit to actually grab a late lead. But with under a minute left it was Dee Davis who launched a three that seemed to scrape the ceiling before going in. Farad Cobb had two chances to hit clutch threes for Cincy in the final 30 seconds but neither fell.

Competitive non-conference games this late in the regular season are always a bit odd. Non-conference games never mean quite as much as conference games on Selection Sunday. That said, this loss shrinks Cincinnati's margin of error even further (this is now their third straight loss). Their remaining schedule is manageable, but they've really got to win at least four of their final five games. Anything less and they'll have to win some AAC tourney games to avoid the NIT.

Xavier has won three of four to move themselves firmly into the Field of 68. They're 9-7 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI up to 33rd. They've got a tough remaining schedule, but if they can win two of four that should be enough to safely keep them in the NCAA Tournament. Home games against Butler and Villanova the next two Saturdays are huge opportunities.

Davidson Tops George Washington This game wasn't on television, which is a shame because it was actually an important Bubble Battle. George Washington nearly fought off a six point deficit with a minute to go, but a game-winning attempt by Kethan Savage at the buzzer was off the mark. George Washington struggled with jump shooting all game, hitting just 23%, including 8-for-29 behind the arc.

George Washington's resume has fallen apart. They've lost five of six and are now just 3-8 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is only 85th. Unless they win their final five regular season games they're probably heading to the NIT.

Davidson is moving in the opposite direction, having won four straight to get to 9-4 in Atlantic Ten play, though some poor scheduling still has their RPI stuck at 53rd. They lack a big scalp (Dayton is their best win), so if the season ended now they'd likely be in the NIT. They probably need to win four of their final five regular season games to be in the Field of 68 when the A-10 tourney tips off.

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