Friday, February 06, 2015

Morning News: UCLA Gets In The At-Large Conversation, Cincinnati Beats SMU, Tyrone Wallace Beats The Buzzer, And More

What the hell is this, Syracuse?
UCLA Gets Into The At-Large Conversation UCLA maybe actually got into the at-large conversation a little early here, actually, as social media was talking about UCLA being on the bubble before they had actually finished off this game, and the ending here was a lot more exciting than it seemed it would be midway through the second half. UCLA led by 21 points with around 8:30 to go, but a 27-7 run pulled Stanford within 1 point in the final 10 seconds. The final real chance for Stanford, however, came on the previous possession. There, down by 3 points with around 18 seconds to go, Chasson Randle committee a sloppy turnover that doomed Stanford.

UCLA is making an at-large push. They've won 6 of 8 and are now 6-4 in Pac-12 play and 3-5 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI that has slid all the way into the Top 50 (their Sagarin ELO_SCORE also is up to 44th). If they can get to 11-7 in Pac-12 play then a win or two in the Pac-12 tournament could earn them an at-large bid.

Stanford's problem is that their only quality win (Texas) came an awfully long time ago, and they have a couple of bad losses to balance it out (Washington State and DePaul). Now 6-4 in Pac-12 play, they should be pretty safe if they can get to 11-7. but with road games at Utah and Arizona still remaining that's going to be difficult.

Cincinnati Beats SMU In a game between what are probably the two best teams in the AAC, and between two teams known for slow, low scoring games, Cincinnati surprisingly won this one with hot shooting. The Bearcats hit 7-for-12 behind the arc, just their second game in AAC play over 50%. SMU, in contrast, got a nothing 1-for-8 day from the field from star Nic Moore.

Tulsa has run clear of the field in the AAC standings, though there are rightfully doubters about what they've done. They did nothing in non-conference play, have played a relatively soft conference schedule, and have had good luck in close games. If we look at the AAC by efficiency margin in conference play we get:

+0.19 PPP SMU
+0.16 PPP Cincinnati
+0.15 PPP Tulsa

So in other words, it's too close to say which team is best. That aside, SMU remains in reasonably good shape for an at-large bid. Their RPI is 27th and they have no bad losses, though they have only a single RPI Top 50 win. The key for them down the stretch will be their home-and-home with Tulsa, beginning with the road game on Saturday.

Cincinnati is now 7-3 in AAC play with wins over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, along with bad losses to East Carolina, Nebraska and Memphis. It's a busy resume, but the Selection Committee prefers teams with big wins and bad losses to teams with neither, and if the season ended now Cincinnati would be in the NCAA Tournament. Just a 5-3 finish in their final eight regular season games should basically lock up an at-large bid.

Tyrone Wallace Beats The Buzzer Both USC and California had multiple chances down the stretch of this game, and in the end it was Tyrone Wallace basically doing a repeat of NC State's Trevor Lacey a week ago. You can watch the final sequence below:

That was a fun way to finish a game with no at-large implications, but I have to say, you simply can't rush the court for beating a team that is 1-9 in conference play. You just can't. Come on, Cal fans.

Pepperdine Knocks Off BYU BYU is a fun team to watch, but they're never going to play good defense, so if their shots aren't falling then they'll be in trouble. You can get away with that in a major conference where you play enough quality opponents that it can cancel out your bad losses (like, say, Indiana), but in the WCC it's a problem. 4-for-17 three-point shooting doomed BYU here, allowing Pepperdine to pick up the season sweep.

Can BYU earn an at-large bid without winning their road finale at Gonzaga? It's possible. If they win every other game (and they'll be favored in each) and then lose to Gonzaga their RPI will likely be inside the Top 50, though with a lack of quality wins it will be tough to avoid the NIT on Selection Sunday. So realistically, if they want to make the NCAA Tournament, they're going to have to beat Gonzaga at some point.

The WCC is the best it's been in a long time, and Pepperdine is one of those middle-of-the-pack teams playing very well. They're actually up into third place in the standings for now, ahead of BYU. They won't earn an at-large bid, but it wouldn't be the craziest thing to ever happen if they won the WCC tournament. And without a senior in their regular rotation, Pepperdine is a team that legitimately could contend for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament next season.

Iowa Eviscerates Michigan's Defense Clocking in at 52 possessions, this was the slowest game played in the Big Ten all season long. And that's why Iowa's offensive performance isn't getting the praise it deserves. 72 points doesn't seem like a lot of points. But in 52 possessions, that's 1.38 PPP, which makes it the third best offensive performance in Big Ten play this season (the two better were by Wisconsin, though Wisconsin's offense is a cheat code so that shouldn't count). Iowa had a staggering 18-to-3 advantage in made layups/dunks, and they had a ridiculous 42-to-16 advantage in points in the paint. Michigan simply doesn't have the shooters this season to win a game purely by hitting threes.

Iowa heads into a crucial week. They're 5-4 in Big Ten play knowing that 10-8 will put them on the Tournament bubble and 11-7 probably gets in. They play a pair of home games against quality opponents: Maryland and Minnesota. They'll be narrow favorites in both games, and if they can take care of business in both then they're really be on their way to a stress-free Selection Sunday.

Michigan was starting to make a compelling bubble case when they were winning late at Michigan State, but the dam appears to have broken. They're just too shorthanded in terms of talent. Now 6-5 in Big Ten play, they'd have to get to 11-7 and win a couple of Big Ten tournament games to even be in the discussion on Selection Sunday (and even that probably wouldn't be enough).

UAB Shuts Down Louisiana Tech The top of Conference USA got a whole lot murkier after UAB shut down the league's best offense. Louisiana Tech hadn't scored fewer than 0.97 PPP in a game since before Thanksgiving, but UAB held them to 0.88 PPP here. Tosin Mehinti led the way with 5 blocks as Louisiana Tech shot just 34.6% on two-pointers. The Bulldogs scored just 14 points in the paint.

Western Kentucky is back in first place in Conference USA, with Louisiana Tech and UAB now one game back. Trying to separate these teams by efficiency margin in conference play is basically impossible. Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, UAB, UTEP and Old Dominion are all somewhere between +0.13 PPP and +0.09 PPP.

UAB has a very favorable schedule the rest of the way if they can keep up this level of play. Louisiana Tech's schedule will be much tougher, starting with a road game at Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

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