Sunday, March 08, 2015

Morning News: Bubble Watch, Louisville Knocks Off Virginia, Duke Tops UNC, Wichita St Goes Down, And Much More

Indiana lost the game, but they did have this.

New Bracket Projection Three new teams moved into the projected bracket: NC State, Belmont and Coastal Carolina. They replace Texas A&M, Murray State and High Point. For all the details and all of the other changes, click the link.

Bubble Watch Five teams moved into the field as locks, pushing the number of locks to 23. The bubble remains 14 teams for 9 spots, though the teams on the bubble changed.

Louisville Knocks Off Virginia This was a fantastic game, despite the slow tempo (just 55 possessions). Virginia is still without Justin Anderson and Louisville will be without Chris Jones, but neither of those losses seemed to matter here. After Virginia got the ball back down by two points with around 30 seconds to go they didn't bother with a timeout, getting a great look for Malcolm Brogdon, who nailed the three. Louisville's play out of the ensuing timeout was blown up by Virginia's defense, forcing Louisville to settle for a 17 foot jumps hot from Mangok Mathiang... which he hit:
That shot goes to the point I often make about why you don't draw narrative conclusions out of one possession games. You simply can't say that Virginia did anything but execute fantastically well down the stretch. They got that three for Brogdon and then forced Louisville into a terrible shot - a long jump shot for a guy who can't hit jump shots. Don't believe me? This is his shot chart this season:
Even after this loss, Virginia would still probably be a 1 seed if the season ended now. But if they go down in the ACC tournament, they could definitely end up slipping to a 2 seed. Louisville, with this win, clinches a double-bye to the ACC quarterfinals. That said, their path to an ACC tournament title could potentially be North Carolina/Virginia/Duke, so anything but a cakewalk.

Duke Tops North Carolina Again Duke's short bench almost became a significant problem here with Justise Winslow in serious foul trouble and Tyus Jones briefly leaving the game with a back injury. But Jones came back and was Duke's best player, pouring in 24 points and 7 assists. Jahlil Okafor was quiet for big stretches, but was efficient with 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting. North Carolina got 23 points from Marcus Paige, including 5-for-9 behind the arc, but he didn't get much help from his teammates. Duke was the better team and deserved the win.

Duke will probably earn a 1 seed if they win the ACC tournament, but what happens if they lose? Even if the loss comes in a competitive ACC title game to Virginia, I think a 1 seed is going to be difficult. History says that teams very rarely earn 1 seeds without either a regular season or conference tournament title. Duke could get a 1 seed without either, but they'll need help in other tournaments, with teams like Wisconsin and Arizona losing.

North Carolina is stuck as the ACC 5 seed, playing in the second round of the ACC tournament. That first game likely won't be difficult, but they'll get Louisville in the quarterfinals if they get there. They are likely looking at a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but could slide anywhere between a 2 and a 5 seed depending on how they do in the ACC tournament.

Wichita State Goes Down Arch Madness never disappoints. This was a close, fun game for the entire second half. After blowing a lead, Wichita State had a furious comeback in the final 30 seconds to get within a point. But Daishon Knight hit a pair of free throws and Fred VanVleet's shot at the buzzer went awry. And now bubble teams around the nation are nervous about Illinois State stealing the Missouri Valley's auto bid later today against Northern Iowa.

If any team was going to ruin a Wichita State/Northern Iowa rubber match, it was going to be Illinois State. The Redbirds were only 11-7 in conference play, but that was due to a 2-5 record in games decided by six points or fewer. Their +0.08 PPP in conference play was easily third best, and both Sagarin and Pomeroy had them far and away the third best team in the league. If Northern Iowa doesn't play well, they will lose.

Wichita State is going to slide down likely to a 5 or 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which is going to make them a team you don't want in your region. The 0.26 PPP that they outscored the Valley by this season is actually better than the 0.24 PPP last season. You can make a case that they're actually better than the undefeated team a year ago. Last year they were a soft 1 seed, but this year they're going to be a very dangerous and tough 5 or 6 seed.

Oklahoma Escapes Kansas This game shouldn't have been so close. Oklahoma was at home for Senior Day while Kansas was without Perry Ellis, Cliff Alexander and Brannen Greene. And for good measure, Wayne Selden was not 100% physically healthy, and he finished with zero points in 18 minutes. Yet despite having to play a guy like Hunter Mickelson for half the game and in crunch time, Kansas managed to hang around and nearly pulled this one to overtime. Down by three, Frank Mason was fouled attempting a three (there wasn't much contact, but a defender can't put themselves in a position where that foul can even be called), and Mason hit all three to tie up the game. But Kansas then did nothing to slow down Jordan Woodard as he drove the length of the court. Woodard missed, but Buddy Hield had a free path to tip the ball in just before the buzzer.
This was an impressive performance from Kansas playing so short-handed, but they can't expect to win the Big 12 tournament if they don't get some of these key players back. Cliff Alexander might be gone for good with eligibility issues, but Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden definitely need to get healthy.

Oklahoma has ten RPI Top 50 wins and an RPI that is up to 12th. They'd be either a 3 or 4 seed if the season ended now, but might have a case for a 2 seed if they can win the Big 12 tournament.

Utah Loses To Washington Utah hasn't looked worse all season than they did here. They were just completely lifeless against a Washington team coming off a 17 point home loss to Colorado, and which had lost nine of ten without Robert Upshaw. Washington had a 59.2 eFG% and scored 1.22 PPP, both marking season worsts for a Utah defense that had been outstanding.

Utah has lost three of five, and they're definitely not playing as well as they had been before this stretch. Their NCAA Tournament seed is also in danger of dropping into the 4 or 5 range. It will be interesting to see whether they show some life in the Pac-12 tournament or continue to fade.

Indiana Is In Trouble The ending of this game was pure chaos. Some poor Michigan State foul shooting allowed Indiana to close an eight point deficit in the final two minutes, pulling to within a single point with around five seconds to go. Travis Trice was fouled and hit the first free throw but missed the second. Without any timeouts, Yogi Ferrell had to rush down the court and was going to launch a 45-50 footer when Denzel Valentine inexplicably fouled him on purpose, not realizing that the lead was two instead of three. Ferrell went to the line with a chance to tie and hit the first... but missed the second. Marvin Clark, Jr got the rebound and was fouled with under a second to go, and so after missing the first he was told to miss the second... which he accidentally made. But there wasn't enough time left and Michigan State escaped. To summarize, let's ask Tom Izzo his thoughts:
The good news for Michigan State is that they somehow escaped with the win despite being without Branden Dawson, and they're now very close to securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They have only two RPI Top 50 wins, but their RPI is up into the Top 30. Even if they go one-and-done in the Big Ten tournament they should still earn an at-large bid, but they'll want to grab a win to be safe.

Indiana has lost three straight and eight of twelve to finish 9-9 in Big Ten play. They have four RPI Top 50 wins, which is more than just about any other bubble team, but their RPI has slipped all the way to 57th. If it's still around 60th on Selection Sunday, they're very likely heading to the NIT. This means that a single Big Ten tournament win probably won't be enough. They probably need to win twice, to get to the Big Ten semifinals. That said, they got a big break with Illinois losing, which pushes them to a 7 seed in the Big Ten tournament and will give them Maryland rather than Wisconsin if they reach the quarterfinals.

Keith Hornsby Is The Hero For LSU With a chance for a huge road victory, LSU found themselves in a tie game in the final 30 seconds. And after an incredibly athletic block by Jarell Martin they got the ball back with a chance to win. And that set up Keith Hornsby for this:
2H LSU K. Hornsby made Three Point Jumper. Assisted by J. Gray.
LSU is just 11-7 in SEC play with an RPI only narrowly inside the Top 50, but with five RPI Top 50 wins they'd almost certainly be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. If they can avoid a one-and-done in the SEC tournament they should be okay.

Arkansas finishes the regular season 13-5 in the SEC and 9-6 against the RPI Top 100. This loss drops their RPI out of the Top 20, but they're still in position for something like a 6 seed on Selection Sunday.

Belmont Beats Murray State In A Thriller This game was fantastic. Both teams traded blows nonstop for the entire second half.  Murray State star Cam Payne had 10 assists and 20 points, 15 of which he scored in the second half. Payne hit two three-pointers late, including one to tie up the game with just over a minute to go. He then hit a pair of free throws to put Murray State up by two. But Belmont's Taylor Barnette hit three three-pointers in the second half, including this one:
This is a heartbreaker for a Murray State team that came in with a 25 game winning streak. Yet while we'd all love to see Murray State earn an at-large bid, the reality is that they won't. They have just a single win against the RPI Top 100, and it came against Illinois State. I suggested on twitter perhaps reserving one spot in the "first four" games for a regular season conference champ that didn't get one of the first 67 spots, to allow the Selection Committee to sneak in a team like Murray State this season or Green Bay last season in place of a team like Miami or Tulsa this season. But for now, that's not how it works. Murray State will almost certainly be off to the NIT.

Oklahoma State Loses To Short-Handed West Virginia West Virginia had to play on Senior Day without any of their seniors, as Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, Jr were both ruled out. But despite 11-for-21 three-point shooting, Oklahoma State still lost, primarily because they allowed the Mountaineers to rebound 52% of their missed shots. Jeff Newberry (23 points) was the breakout star for Oklahoma State while West Virginia got a 22 point, 13 rebound performance from Devin Williams.

Oklahoma State drops to 8-10 in the Big 12, which makes them a bubble team at best. That said, with six RPI Top 50 wins and an RPI that is still 45th, the Cowboys would very likely be an NCAA Tournament team if the season ended now. But unless they win a Big 12 tournament game they'll be in a lot of danger of dropping out.

West Virginia is going to earn something like a 4-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but you should be wary of picking them to go far in the NCAA Tournament. They've been outscored by 0.03 PPP in Big 12 play, which is worse than Texas, Oklahoma State or any of the other Big 12 teams heading to the NCAA Tournament. Their 7-3 record in games decided by seven points or fewer suggests they're not quite as good as their resume.

Butler Holds Off Providence This wasn't a pretty performance by Butler. They were outscored 38-to-20 in the paint, but survived because Providence couldn't hit a jump shot. The Friars finished 4-for-18 behind the arc. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton combined to shoot just 11-for-30. Providence did fight back from an 18 point deficit with 16 minutes to go, but couldn't ever quite tie up the game, and came up short in the final minute.

With this win, Butler takes the 3 seed in the Big East while Providence gets the 4, meaning that Butler avoid Villanova until the title game, if they can get that far. But getting there won't be easy, as Butler will take on Xavier in the quarterfinals while Providence will get St. John's.

Yale Loses All Yale had to do to earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1962 was to win at Dartmouth. But this game was never going to be a gimme. Vegas had the line at 3.5, but Pomeroy had the line at only one. After Dartmouth scored five straight points in the final 25 seconds to tie up the game, Javier Duran got to the line for Yale, where he hit one of two. After a deflection got Dartmouth the ball under the Yale basket with one final chance, they drew up this:
Yale and Harvard will now play a single game playoff for the Ivy League title at the Palestra.

Villanova Annihilates St. John's The Johnnies led this game 16-5 at one point, but it was all downhill after that. They were outscored by an embarrassing 55-22 margin in the second half. The 1.54 PPP Villanova scored were the most by a team in any major conference game this season, topping the 1.52 PPP that Wisconsin had against Iowa.
Things were going good for St. John's early on.

With only two losses, Villanova will very likely earn a 1 seed if they can win out and take the Big East tournament. If they lose, though, they'll be at the mercy of what happens in other conference tournaments. The Big East is not getting a ton of respect nationwide.

The good news for St. John's is that on Selection Sunday nobody is going to care how badly they lost this game. At 10-8 in Big East play with five RPI Top 50 wins and an RPI well inside the Top 40, they'd certainly be a Tournament team if the season ended now. If they can beat Providence in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, that should lock them in.

Purdue Holds Off Illinois The final minute of this game took forever, in large part because Purdue allowed it to. They led by 10 and had a fast break with 50 seconds to go, where the game should have ended. But they missed that shot, and then committed three more turnovers and committed two dumb fouls, allowing Illinois to actually get the ball back down by five with a little under ten seconds to go. But Rayvonte Rice missed a three and the game mercifully ended.

Purdue finishes the regular season 12-6 in Big Ten play with four RPI Top 50 wins and a 9-8 record against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is still 56th, but if the season ended now that would almost surely be an at-large resume. One win in the Big Ten tournament should be enough to keep them in the Field of 68.

Illinois, on the other hand, is in big trouble. They finish 9-9 in Big Ten play and 5-11 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has slid out of the Top 60. There's no realistic at-large scenario that doesn't involve them beating Michigan and then Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan can be beaten, but Wisconsin is a long shot.

Texas A&M Suffers A Bad Loss Texas A&M keeps yo-yoing between having zero and two RPI Top 50 wins as LSU moves in and out of the Top 50 (a reason why hard red lines like "Top 50" are dumb), but they came into this game knowing that they couldn't afford a bad loss. Yet they went ahead and blew a 14 point second half lead anyway. Down by one point with 90 seconds to go, Texas A&M had three chances to get a win and missed all of them.

The Aggies have no terrible losses, but they're just 6-10 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is 55th. They'd very likely be an NIT team if the season ended now. They probably need to reach the SEC tournament semifinals to earn an at-large bid.

Mississippi Loses Lost in everything else that happened yesterday, Ole Miss moved closer to falling out of the NCAA Tournament with this home loss to Vanderbilt. I will say that this loss isn't as bad of a performance as it seems. Vanderbilt has had horrible luck in close games and is significantly better than their record. Their efficiency margin in SEC play (+0.03 PPP) is better than Georgia or Florida. They also hit a ridiculous 13-for-23 on three-pointers here.

But in the end, this is a loss for Ole Miss, dropping their RPI out of the Top 50. They have three RPI Top 50 wins, with the most impressive coming over Arkansas, and so their resume would be right on the bubble if the season ended now. The 6 seed in the SEC tournament, they'll play either Missouri or South Carolina in the second round, and then (if they win) Georgia in the quarterfinals. To earn an at-large bid they probably need to win that first game, and might need the second as well.

Dayton Loses To La Salle Dayton just didn't play well here. They had a 47.7 eFG%, committed 14 turnovers and were badly out-rebounded. And this loss has severe implications. First, it cost them a share of the Atlantic Ten title, dropping them to a 2 seed in the A-10 tourney. Second, it dropped their RPI out of the Top 30, with as many losses (7) as RPI Top 100 wins. They'd still definitely be an NCAA Tournament team if the season ended now, but now there's pressure on them to win a game in the A-10 tourney to stay in good shape for an at-large bid.


DMoore said...

I really don't understand the "Duke's short bench" narrative that is getting repeated constantly.

Duke has 8 players in the rotation, all McDonald's All Americans. In a lot of seasons his rotation only goes 7 deep (e.g. in 2010 when Duke won it all). Over 30+ years, Coach K only uses more than 8 players in blowouts and early non-conference games when he's still evaluating his team.

By Duke standards, Coach K is using his bench pretty liberally this year.

Jeff said...

Eight players is fine for a rotation. The problem is that they have nobody who can fill in if there are problems. So last night, when Jones got hurt and Winslow sat for a long time with foul trouble, Coach K had only 6 guys he could use.