Sunday, February 22, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, West Virginia Runs Past Oklahoma St, Iowa St Holds Off Texas, Louisville Comes Back, And More

In a competitive game with an at-large bid on the line? Damn.

New Bracket Projection It was a slow Saturday of games, and so there weren't too many changes to the bracket. I talk in the bracket projection about the 1 seed debate. In addition, there was one change to the Field of 68, with Texas A&M moving in and BYU dropping out.

West Virginia Runs Past Oklahoma State In a weird scheduling quirk, this was actually the only game between two ranked team yesterday. But it was an ugly one for Oklahoma State fans. In a lot of ways, West Virginia is a nightmare opponent for them. The Mountaineers lead the nation in defensive turnover rate and are 6th in offensive rebounding rate, but their offense gets ugly if they don't get easy transition baskets and second-chance points. Oklahoma State is a team that plays right into their hands, with a small front court that struggles to rebound and only one real point guard (Anthony Hickey). Oklahoma State committed 15 turnovers and allowed West Virginia to rebound 53% of their misses. West Virginia had 39 points that either came off turnovers or were second chance points, compared to just 18 for Oklahoma State.

A week ago, West Virginia was looking like a potential bubble team, but a win over Kansas and a road win over Oklahoma State have put all of that to bed. They're 9-5 in Big 12 play, and unless they lose every game between now and Selection Sunday they should be safe.

Oklahoma State is just 7-8 in Big 12 play, but they have a road game at Texas Tech up next, followed by a home game against TCU, and they have 6 wins against the RPI Top 50. If they can take care of business in those Texas Tech and TCU games, they should be safe.

Iowa State Holds Off Texas In general, teams wait far too long to start fouling when they're down by six to twelve points late in a game. The goal should be to use all of the one-and-ones by fouling guys who shoot poorly, increase the number of possessions, and give yourself a chance. And despite the ESPN2 announcers dumping on the Texas strategy of starting to foul down by ten points with four minutes to go, Texas did give themselves a real shot down the stretch here. They pulled within four points with around a minute to go, but ended up missing their last four three-point attempts. They put themselves in a position to win, they just couldn't hit the jump shots.

Iowa State was powered by hot 12-for-21 three-point shooting here, which allowed them to overcome the 34-24 scoring advantage Texas had in the paint. And they're now hanging in just one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings with an easier closing schedule. They could still steal a share of the regular season title.

Texas is now 6-8 in Big 12 play with a brutal road trip up for next week, at West Virginia and Kansas. The Longhorns are also just 1-9 against the RPI Top 50, though that Iowa win could sneak into the Top 50 as well. If Texas drops those two road games next week, they're likely going to have to win those final two home games to avoid falling into the NIT. Texas could potentially go 7-11 in Big 12 play while still earning an at-large bid, but they'll need to go on a run in the Big 12 tournament and they'll need some help.

Louisville Comes Back To Beat Miami A peculiar play happened in the first half here, when Montrezl Harrell launched a rebound off the face of Tonye Jekiri, picking up a technical foul, but sending Jekiri to the locker room where he ended up missing the first few minutes of the second half. You can watch the play below. And while Jekiri came back, the undersized Miami front line coughed up a ten point lead. Louisville locked down defensively in that second half, holding Miami to 0.80 PPP. The Hurricanes had two chances in the final 30 seconds to get a game winner, but both possessions were poorly executed.
This game is a relief to Louisville fans after losing three of four. I actually saw some talk on social media about them falling to the bubble. But with Chris Jones back, they should be in a good position to finish the season strong at home against Notre Dame and Virginia. They should win at least one of those two games, and I'd be pretty surprised if they end up lower than a 5 seed.

This was a huge missed opportunity for Miami. They have that win over Duke, but it's their only big win and they're just 11-10 against the RPI Top 200, with an RPI that has slipped to 67th. If the season ended now they'd very likely be in the NIT. To get into the NCAA Tournament, they probably need to win three of their final four regular season games plus a game or two in the ACC tournament. The home game against North Carolina next Saturday will be a key opportunity for a second big win.

Xavier Routs Butler Xavier was in a tight battle for weeks with Florida for the title of the best team to miss the NCAA Tournament, but Florida seems to have that locked up now. Xavier has won 4 of 5 to pull themselves firmly into the NCAA Tournament and clear of the bubble. Xavier dominated inside here, blocking 9 shots and holding Butler to just 36.6% two-point shooting.

Xavier is now 9-6 against the RPI Top 100 (though with four RPI 100+ losses), and their RPI is up to 28th. If they can win two of their final three regular season games that should lock them into the NCAA Tournament. A home game against Villanova next Saturday is a big chance to improve their seed. Butler, meanwhile, has been struggling a big since losing Andrew Chrabascz, though they hope to have him back as early as the final week of the regular season.

Gonzaga Holds Off Saint Mary's This was a really fun late night game, for those of you who went to bed early. Saint Mary's is always tough to beat at McKeon Pavilion, and they gave Gonzaga their best shot. They led by 17 points at one stage, and still led by two points with under three minutes to go. But the Zags closed on a 12-0 run, with Przemek Karnowski in particular coming up big defensively. Brad Waldow had led St. Mary's all night with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but he was stopped twice in that final closing stretch.

I've been banging this point all season long, but this is a game that is a perfect demonstration of why Gonzaga's resume is underrated. Road games in a conference as good as the WCC need to be equated to home games in other conferences, to put them in perspective. In this case, if you use the Sagarin ratings, a road game at St. Mary's is approximately equal to a home game against Iowa State or Notre Dame. A home win over Iowa State would be seen by the media as proof that Gonzaga had justified their 1 seed by knocking off a premier opponent. Yet because St. Mary's probably won't finish in the RPI Top 50 (they'll likely be just outside, somewhere in the mid-50s), this game won't even be a "quality win". Gonzaga's schedule hasn't been as good as the schedule faced by Virginia or Wisconsin, of course. But what they've done by going 28-1 is really impressive.

What about Saint Mary's? Well this loss just about does them in for the NIT. It's not impossible for them to be in contention on Selection Sunday if they win out to the WCC title game and lose a close game to Gonzaga there, but realistically they're going to have to win the WCC auto-bid.

Dayton Falls To Duquesne Dayton hadn't really suffered a "bad" loss all season long. Their worst loss was to UConn. But this is truly a "bad" loss, coming to a 9-16 Duquesne team that will likely finish the season outside the RPI Top 200. Dayton was an ugly 9-for-18 on layups while Duquesne's Micah Mason nearly had a triple-double with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists.

Dayton is still 35th in RPI and 44th in Sagarin ELO_SCORE, and they're a strong 5-5 against the RPI Top 100, though without a real premier scalp. If the season ended now that would be enough for an at-large bid, but only barely. If they can go 3-1 down the stretch to get to 13-5 in Atlantic Ten play then that should be enough, but they do have two difficult road games ahead, at VCU and at La Salle, not to mention a home game against Rhode Island.

Old Dominion Routs Louisiana Tech Conference USA is very unlikely to earn an at-large bid, but the top of the league has been impossible to figure out. Louisiana Tech had pulled a game clear in the loss column and led the conference in efficiency margin, while Old Dominion had been falling apart with four losses in their last eight games, yet it was Old Dominion absolutely dominating here. Louisiana Tech was done in by awful shooting. They hit 3-for-26 behind the arc, finishing with a 34.2 eFG% and 0.85 PPP. That marks both their worst shooting day and worst scoring day of the season.

Louisiana Tech still remains, in my opinion, the Conference USA favorite. They're tied in the loss column with UTEP and they get UTEP on their home court on Thursday (they already won at UTEP by 13 points back on January 8th). But they could potentially be on pace to face Old Dominion in the Conference USA semifinals (ODU is likely to finish in fourth or fifth place in the standings). The Conference USA tournament is going to be wild and wide open. Any of five different teams will have a great shot.

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