|A lot of fans of bubble teams felt like Marshall Henderson yesterday.|
Bubble Watch Providence and San Diego State became the 34th and 35th Tourney locks. The bubble shrunk to 11 teams fighting for 7 spots.
Baylor Defeats Shorthanded West Virginia The Mountaineers continue to be without the injured Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, Jr, though they continue to play reasonably despite that. They lost this game because they failed defensively, not offensively. They didn't force the turnovers that they normally get (just 10 here), and were actually the ones giving the ball up easily in the final ten minutes to allow Baylor to build up a lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
In the end, both of these teams are safely in the NCAA Tournament and safely going to earn good seeds. It's a myth that the Selection Committee ever really punishes teams for an injured player (It's called "The Kenyon Martin Rule" because nobody can think of a clear instance since Kenyon Martin when a team was penalized for an injured player), so West Virginia will be in line for something like a 5 or 6 seed whether Staten and Browne are healthy. But realistically, they need to be healthy to make a long Tournament run.
Baylor is looking increasingly safe as a 3 seed. Their RPI is up to 9th and only six teams have more RPI Top 50 wins than they do (eight). They could even make a serious case for a 2 seed if they win the Big 12 tournament.
Texas Heartbreak? Texas led this game by ten points with 3:35 to go, but failed to score again. They had some sloppiness, including a ten second violation, but they also missed a slew of open shots. Even after Iowa State tied up the game, Javan Felix (the Texas team leader in threes made this season) got a wide open three that he happened to miss. Felix left enough time on the clock for Monte Morris to do this:
Iowa State is in strong position for a 3 seed, and could have a strong 2 seed case if they can win the Big 12 tournament again. Oklahoma will be up in the semifinals.
Iowa Falls To Penn State This was not what Iowa was expecting, particularly after they opened up an 11 point lead early in the second half. But Penn State carved them up in the second half, hitting 5-for-9 behind the arc and committing just two turnovers, finishing with 1.41 PPP for the half. For the game, Iowa had an atrocious 28.9 eFG%. In fact, that was their worst shooting day in more than 18 years (I can look up efficiency stats going back to 1996-97, and could not find another day where they shot worse).
Iowa had a nightmare game at a really bad time, because the Selection Committee historically frowns on teams that go one-and-done in their conference tournaments, and because Iowa is not yet a Tournament lock. That said, Thursday was a day of bubble carnage all over the place, and in the end Iowa really didn't lose too much ground on the other contenders. Their RPI even rose a couple of spots late in the day to 45th. If it can stick there, with four RPI Top 50 wins, that should get them in.
North Carolina Wins In A Comeback This result was a Louisville collapse as much as a North Carolina comeback. Louisville led by double-digits in the first half, but their offense was brutal in the second half. Louisville shot 8-for-36 (a 26.4 eFG%) in the second half, scoring 0.66 PPP. But this is the problem when they really only have three players who can score (Harrell, Blackshear and Rozier). If more than one of them goes cold, the offense doesn't have a way to generate consistent offense.
Louisville NCAA Tournament seed might slide a line or two (they have just three RPI Top 50 wins), but their defense will keep them in games against any opponent if they can hit some jump shots. North Carolina, meanwhile, is up to 12th in RPI, with six RPI Top 50 wins and a resume looking increasingly like a 3 seed, particularly if they can knock off Virginia.
Ole Miss Loses A Wild Finish This was an ugly game. South Carolina scored just 0.86 PPP in the win, which was close to the lowest PPP by a major conference team in a win over a conference foe this season (Syracuse scored 0.79 PPP in defeating Georgia Tech 46-45). But the ending was incredible. First, up by three with under ten seconds to go, South Carolina had Duane Notice try to commit an intentional foul - and he sure tried, but the refs didn't call it. Then as the play continued, the South Carolina defense collapsed on Stefan Moody, who passed it to Jarvis Summers, who hit a three and was fouled... by Duane Notice. Summers completed the four point play to go up by one with 2.9 seconds left. But then Tyrone Johnson was fouled on his desperation three-pointer, and he hit the three free throws to get the victory. Here's the foul:
With this loss, Ole Miss has to sweat out Selection Sunday. They went 11-7 in SEC play and 9-9 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Cincinnati, Oregon and Arkansas, and an RPI sitting in 56th. They're almost certainly going to be one of the last teams in or one of the first teams out of the NCAA Tournament.
Xavier Tops Butler In Overtime This game got lost, partially because it was on Fox Sports 1 and partially because it had no bubble implications, but it did come down to an exciting finish. Of course, "exciting" doesn't mean "great offensive execution". Over the final 2:30 of regulation, the two teams combined for 0-for-4 shooting with two turnovers and a missed front end of a one-and-one. Butler's offensive struggles continued into overtime, and Xavier hit enough free throws down the stretch to win. Alex Barlow led all players with 22 points (with Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery fawning over him Dan Dakich/Aaron Craft style), but it came on 5-for-14 three-point shooting. Butler simply wasn't able to get the ball to the rim as much as Xavier was.
Butler is still hanging in the RPI Top 30, with a 6-8 record against the RPI Top 50. They look likely to end up with something in the 6-8 seed range. Xavier's seed is likely just a little bit further back, but they have a chance to move higher. Georgetown is up next.
Providence Routs St. John's This game was a blowout early. Providence led 35-17 at one point, and led by as many as 21 points in the second half. To make it even worse, the only double-digit scorer for St. Joh'ns played much of the game hurt. Rysheed Jordan returned with his injured wrist and scored 18 points, but it definitely looked like it was bothering him, and it might be a problem going forward.
Providence is safely in the NCAA Tournament, though St. John's might be as well. The Johnnies are 42nd in RPI and have five RPI Top 50 wins. At this point, it's hard to see a scenario where St. John's would get left out. Though losing their final two games by 54 combined points doesn't give a lot of confidence for a long NCAA Tournament stay.
Oklahoma Handles Oklahoma State This game was competitive in the first half, but the Sooners dominated the second half by 20 points. Buddy Hield personally nearly outscored Oklahoma State, scoring 16 points to their 23. The Cowboys tried to shoot themselves back in the game, but were an ugly 1-for-11 behind the arc in the second half.
Oklahoma State went only 17-13 overall and 8-10 in conference play, with an RPI that has slipped to 48th. That said, those six RPI Top 50 wins, which included wins over Kansas and Baylor (twice), are arguably more impressive than anything that any other bubble team can muster. They are very likely to end up on the bubble on Selection Sunday, though at this point I think they're still in the Field of 68.
Duke Destroys NC State Duke wasn't messing around here. They led by as many as 29 points in the first half, and basically just cruised through the second half. Anytime Marshall Plumlee goes 6-for-6 from the field, you know that Duke's opponent is over-matched. Duke, of course, lost to NC State earlier in the season, but you wouldn't have known it from this performance.
NC State now goes home to wait. The good news for them is that there was a lot of bubble carnage around the nation on Thursday, and the bubble did not get any stronger. NC State has 13 losses to just ten RPI Top 100 wins, which is not good for a bubble team, but their RPI (40th) and RPI Top 50 wins (four) are impressive, and they have wins over Duke, North Carolina and Louisville. So for now they're still in the Field of 68, in my opinion. The only way they end up in the NIT will be if some Tourney bids are stolen over the next couple of days.
Duke remains very much in the 1 seed fight. If they win the ACC tournament they'll get a 1 seed for sure, but if they lose (either in the semifinals or finals) then they could end up a 2 seed.
Texas A&M Loses A Must-Win Texas A&M couldn't afford a loss to Auburn, but here we are. The Aggies were 5-for-19 on threes, committed 19 turnovers, and scored just 0.83 PPP against a team that allowed an SEC-worst 1.11 PPP in conference play. In fact, this was the first game all season long against an SEC opponent where Auburn held their opponent under 0.90 PPP.
This is, amazingly, the first time Auburn has won multiple games at an SEC tournament since 2000. That's quite a level of futility. For Texas A&M, they fall out of the RPI Top 60. Their two RPI Top 50 wins both came against LSU (who could potentially still fall out of the RPI Top 50). They are just 7-10 against the RPI Top 100. Realistically, they're very likely headed to the NIT.
SWAC Tournament Problem... Again The SWAC has been a mess for years. It's easily the lowest quality conference in terms of basketball, and academic penalties have turned their conference tournament into a farce. Last year, four ineligible teams played in the ten team tournament, including the #1 seed, but luckily they were all taken out before the semifinals. This year we haven't been so lucky. Just two ineligible teams are playing (Alabama State and Southern), but they are playing in a semifinal later today. This means that the winner of the other semifinal (Texas Southern vs Prairie View A&M) will earn the auto bid, no matter what happens in the title game.
Why let ineligible teams into the tournament? Why play a title game that will mean nothing? Nobody knows.