Sunday, March 01, 2015

Morning News: New Bracket, BYU A Tourney Team?, Arizona Takes Out Utah, Wichita St Wins The MVC, And Much More


New Bracket Projection The BYU/Gonzaga game created two significant changes. First, Gonzaga is no longer a projected 1 seed, replaced by Villanova. Second, BYU moves into the projected Field of 68, along with Boise State, replacing Miami and NC State. Valparaiso also moves in, replacing Cleveland State. Click the link for all the details.

BYU A Tourney Team? BYU is a Tournament quality team, they have a strong won-loss record and pretty good computer numbers. What they didn't have was a big time win, until last night.  Though they almost blew this one, despite leading by double digits for most of the second half, including a ten point lead with under six minutes to go. Finally heading to the line up by 3 with under 10 seconds to go and a chance to ice the game, 88% free throw shooter Tyler Haws inexplicably missed both free throws. BYU then chose to foul rather than allow a three to tie, but after Eric McClellan hit the first, he tried to miss the second but accidentally made it. After Ryan Andrus made two free throws for BYU, Kyle Wiltjer actually got a reasonable look for the tie from midcourt, clanking off the rim.

BYU still has just this as their only RPI Top 50 win, but they're up to 35th in RPI. If they can avoid a bad loss in the WCC tourney, their computer numbers should be enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament. If they fall on their face in the WCC tourney, though, they'll be in trouble.

The media was mostly clamoring for Gonzaga to not be a 1 seed, and now they have their excuse. Gonzaga probably doesn't have a 1 seed resume at the moment anyway, but it's hard to see how anything they do in the WCC tournament is going to convince anybody to move them back to the 1 seed line.

Arizona Takes Out Utah This was an "upset", believe it or not. Utah was a 2.5 point favorite. The Utes were at home and looking for revenge for an embarrassing loss in Tucson. And Utah led early, but Arizona locked down defensively in the second half, just as they had in Tucscon. Arizona blocked five shots in the second half alone, where Utah also shot just 2-for-11 behind the arc. For the game, Utah only had a 37.3 eFG% and scored just 0.93 PPP. Still, Utah led in the final two minutes, before they missed their final five shots of the game and came up short.

Arizona is still just 7th in RPI, but they have clinched the 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament and will almost certainly earn a 1 seed to the NCAA Tournament if they win out. If Utah finally gets revenge in the Pac-12 tournament, though, they could potentially drop to a 2 seed.

Utah probably blew whatever chances they had at a 2 seed by losing here, though they'll have a case to make if they win the Pac-12 tournament. Still, it would be a mistake to draw too many conclusions from their sweep at the hands of Arizona. They're still going to be something in the 3-5 seed range with a real chance to make an Elite 8 or Final 4 run in the NCAA Tournament.

Wichita State Wins The Missouri Valley Title This was the most hyped game in the Missouri Valley in years, and it delivered. The Wichita State crowd was great, and all of the best players on both teams showed up to produce a high quality basketball game. Seth Tuttle (16 points on 6-for-8 shooting with 6 assists and 7 rebounds) had a big game despite constant double and triple teams. Wichita State had all five starters in double-figures, but none was better than Fred VanVleet. VanVleet finished with 13 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and this killer crossover:
Wichita State's resume has lacked big wins, but this win pushes their RPI up to 11th. A 1 or 2 seed in March will not be available to them, but if they win Arch Madness they'll have a strong case for a 3 seed. Northern Iowa's RPI is still 14th, but they have an even larger dearth of quality wins than the Shockers. They beat Wichita State, and their best non-conference win came over Iowa. If they fail to win Arch Madness, their fans could be pretty disappointed by their Tourney seed. Something like a 7-9 seed is not out of the question.

Kansas State Knocks Off Iowa State We all borrow Rasheed Wallace's "Ball don't lie" after foul calls we don't with, but this game had the first "Inbounds pass don't lie" I can recall seeing. What happened was that Naz Long fell on a loose ball and called timeout as he was skidding across the court, even as replays showed he never had control of the ball. Bruce Weber nearly lost his mind with the refs. But on the ensuing inbounds pass, this happened:
On the following possession, Nino Williams did a good job of using the foul to give. Iowa State then botched the final play, ended with a bad shot, and missed.

I feel like most of my Big 12 game recaps involves me pointing out that the conference is really good from top to bottom and the fans of losing teams should not panic. These two straight losses for Iowa State severely damage their chances of earning a 3 seed in March, but with nine RPI Top 50 wins they're still in good shape for a 4 or 5 seed, and there's no reason to panic about two close losses in difficult games. Any chances of share of the Big 12 title are effectively over, but the Cyclones are still a very good team

VCU Loses Another Heartbreaker VCU had two great chances in the final ten seconds here. Down by two points, Treveon Graham (a 39% three-point shooter) had a great look at the three but missed. Mo Alie-Cox muscled for the offensive rebound, somehow ending up with a wide open layup for the tie that was almost too open - he missed it. Jordan Sibert got the defensive rebound and then hit two free throws on the other end. Coming on the back of that insane double overtime loss to Richmond, it's been yet another brutal week for VCU basketball.

The media is driving a "VCU is falling apart" narrative over two straight losses, but the reality is that VCU has been playing just fine since Treveon Graham came back. They lost two bad games when both Graham and Briante Weber were out, but since Graham has been back they are just a couple of shots away from winning five straight against a very tough schedule. Don't overreact to luck in close games.

That said, this loss means that VCU no longer controls their own destiny in the Atlantic Ten. Dayton is tied for first with Rhode Island, with Rhody coming to town for a game on Tuesday. If Dayton can win that game and take care of La Salle to secure the A-10 title, they will be safe on Selection Sunday. VCU should be safe also, but these late losses are causing their projected seed to slide.

Texas Loses Another Heartbreaker It was something of a controversial finish in Lawrence, though Texas has to expect to have at least some referee calls go against them when they're on the road. It happens to every team everywhere. In this one, Isaiah Taylor drove with Texas down by two points in the final seconds when he appeared to get fouled hard but with no call. You make the call:
As a lot of Kansas fans pointed out, you can make a good case that Frank Mason was fouled on the previous possession. And of course, there were plenty of other referee mistakes and lucky bounces throughout the game. This is why you don't draw meaningful narratives from a single game.

The problem for Texas is that they've had more than their share of bad luck in close games, and despite being 22nd in Pomeroy, they are in trouble. They're now just 6-10 in Big 12 play, with just two RPI Top 50 wins. If they get to 8-10 in Big 12 play they'll make the NCAA Tournament most likely, but if they finish 7-11 they're in trouble. It's awfully rare for a team four games under .500 in conference play to earn an at-large bid, even from the nation's best conference. So they close with home games against Baylor and Kansas State, and really need to win both.

Kansas will now win the Big 12 regular season title unless they lose out, and are likely headed to a 2 seed on Selection Sunday, though a 1 seed is possible if they win out. Cliff Alexander's suspension is a problem, though, if it lasts into the Big 12 tournament or beyond. That needs to be figured out quickly.

St. Johns Crushes Georgetown The Johnnies are playing very good basketball right now, and they were in no danger at all here in running through Georgetown. They led by as many as 15 points in the first half, and by around 15 points for most of the second half. The final score makes this game seem closer than it really was. Sir'Dominic Pointer (24 points on 8-for-13 shooting) was again great, and he got assistance from Phil Greene IV going 6-for-7 behind the arc. Mikael Hopkins had 12 offensive rebounds for Georgetown, but aside from those offensive rebounds the Hoyas struggled to create offense against the St. John's defense.

St. John's looked to be heading to the NIT a month ago, but they've won 6 of 7 to really firm up their position in the Field of 68. They're now 9-7 in Big East play and 10-7 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that has slid up to almost 30th. If they beat Marquette and win at least one Big East tournament game, that should be enough to lock them in as an at-large team.

Georgetown doesn't have a single RPI 50+ loss this season, but they've struggled to close the deal against quality opponents, and they're just 4-9 against the RPI Top 50. And that's why, if the season ended now, they'd probably just be something like a 7 or 8 seed. They still have plenty of chances to improve their resume, though.

Villanova Wins At Xavier Villanova was outscored in the paint, and was forced to hit jump shots in this game, but they're used to chucking a lot of threes. They finished 13-for-29 behind the arc, and it was enough to win relatively comfortably. Kris Jenkins was a spark off the bench, shooting 4-for-7 with all of his attempts coming from behind the arc.

Villanova is slowly moving up the bracket as the teams above them lose. They've still got a bunch of tricky games to go, but if they can get to Selection Sunday with only two losses and both the Big East regular season and tournament titles, it's going to be very difficult to keep them from a 1 seed.

Xavier drops to 8-9 in Big East play, which means they need to take care of business next Saturday at Creighton. They have five RPI Top 50 wins and their RPI is still 35th, so if they can avoid a sub-.500 conference record they should be safe on Selection Sunday.

Oklahoma State Falls To Texas Tech Outside shooting put Oklahoma State into a significant hole here. Texas Tech hit 6-for-10 behind the arc in the first half while Oklahoma State was 1-for-8. The Cowboys trailed by 14 points at halftime. Oklahoma State came in strong in the second half, scoring 1.55 PPP, but after Jeffrey Carroll hit a three-pointer to put them ahead, Devaugntah Williams replied with this game-winner:
With four straight losses, Oklahoma State is suddenly in bubble trouble again. They have six RPI Top 50 wins and their RPI is in the Top 40, both of which are firmly "In the Tourney" stats, but they're just 7-9 in conference play. Anytime you're under .500 in conference play, things get dicey. If the Cowboys split their final two games and then win at least one Big 12 tourney game, they should be fine.

Kentucky Annihilates Arkansas This game was a complete destruction. Kentucky led by 30 points with 7:15 to go, and it was only a huge run by Arkansas in garbage time that allowed them to almost pull off the backdoor cover of the year (Arkansas was a 15.5 point underdog in Vegas). It's a very impressive result against a team that is arguably one of the 25 best in the nation.

There are some games like this, where Kentucky comes out quickly and blows teams off the court like they don't belong, and others where they struggle for a half or more before taking control late. But I'm not sure I believe the narrative that this is proof that Kentucky "flips a switch" when it's a big opponent and just struggles to focus with lesser opponents. It creates a game of special pleading fallacies, where people pick out certain games and pronounce those the "big games". Kentucky played the College Gameday game at Florida, arguably their biggest game in SEC play this season, and it came down to the final minute. So they don't blow out their opponent in every big game. In other words, the Wildcats are the nation's best team, but I totally disagree with this sentiment:

No Juwan Staten, No Win On Selection Sunday, nobody on the Selection Committee is going to know or care that Juwan Staten didn't play in this game due to injury. On top of that, Gary Browne, Jr (Staten's replacement as starting point guard) was knocked out with his own injury after just three minutes. Throw in hot 8-for-15 three-point shooting from Baylor and West Virginia never had a chance in this game.

Baylor is absolutely rolling right now, and they're now 10-6 in Big 12 play, with a home game against Texas Tech still to come on Senior Day. If they can also win that game at Texas they will start to really make a case for a 3 seed on Selection Sunday. At worst they will be a 4 or 5.

West Virginia is also 10-6 in Big 12 play, though with two more difficult games remaining than Baylor does, and also with a significantly weaker non-conference schedule. This means that they're not going to be in the mix for something like a 3 seed, but they are still very safely in the NCAA Tournament.

Boise State Shuts Down San Diego State You can make the case that no team has "come out of nowhere" like Boise State has this season. At one point in mid-January they were 10-6 overall and 0-3 in Mountain West play with three bad losses and zero quality wins. But they've won 12 of 13 now, are suddenly in first place in the Mountain West, and in strong position to earn a potential at-large bid.

Boise St is just 11-7 against the RPI Top 200, which isn't great, but they have a sweep of San Diego St and a win over Colorado St, and their RPI is up to 28th. If they lose one of their two remaining games their RPI will pop right back out into the 40-45th range and they'll be in trouble, but if they can sweep those two games and then perform competitively in the Mountain West tourney, they really should get into the NCAA Tournament.

San Diego State scored just 0.78 PPP here, the fourth time in Mountain West play that they've been held below 0.90 PPP. Offense has and will remain a problem for them. They've also lost control of the Mountain West. If they win out they'll earn a share of the title, but unless Boise State loses the Broncos will take the 1 seed in the MWC tourney. San Diego State is not realistically going to end up in bubble trouble, but their seed will slide a few lines if they don't win the Mountain West tournament.

North Carolina Handles Undermanned Miami Angel Rodriguez tried to give it a go for Miami in this game, but he ended up giving up after just 3 minutes of zero-impact playing. Without their star point guard, Miami struggled to get good shots, and they finished with just 0.90 PPP, tying their worst offensive performance of the month of February (they also scored 0.90 PPP against Louisville). Brice Johnson was the star for North Carolina, pouring in 22 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) with 11 rebounds.

A loss to North Carolina isn't a bad loss, of course, but it's a huge missed opportunity. Miami drops to 8-8 in ACC play with just road games ahead, at Pitt and Virginia Tech. They still have just a single RPI Top 50 win, are 10-11 against the RPI Top 200, and their RPI has dropped out of the Top 70. If the season ended now they'd be in the NIT. Unless they win those final two ACC games they're going to need to go on a run in the ACC tournament, to at least the semifinals, to earn an at-large bid.

UNC broke a streak of 5 losses in 7 games here. They're still a game back of Louisville for fourth place in the ACC (top four teams get a bye to the ACC tourney quarterfinals), but they'll get a chance to move up, and also to collect a huge scalp, against Duke next Saturday.

LSU Beats Ole Miss In a battle between two bubble teams, LSU got three big second half three-pointers from Keith Hornsby to power to victory. Hornsby's teammates combined to hit just 1-for-10 behind the arc in the game. Ole Miss played sloppy, committing 17 turnovers and getting just 3-for-16 shooting from star Stefan Moody.

This win pushes LSU to 10-6 in SEC play with an RPI inside the Top 40. They're 11-5 against the RPI Top 100, though with three RPI 100+ losses. If the season ended now, that's definitely a Tournament resume. If they can win those final two regular season games they should be in good shape, but with a loss they'll have work to do in the SEC tournament. Ole Miss is also 10-6 in SEC play, but they're just 7-7 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has slid close to 50th. To be safe for the NCAA Tournament they might have to win a pair of SEC tournament games.

NC State Goes Down To Boston College It feels like NC State does this every season. They have beaten Duke, North Carolina and Louisville, but also lost to Wofford, Wake Forest and now Boston College. So they have five RPI Top 50 wins, but also are just 17-12 overall with an RPI that has slid out of the Top 50.

If the computer numbers are all equal on Selection Sunday, the Selection Committee always prefers teams with big wins and bad losses over teams with neither, so the Wolfpack will get the benefit of the doubt, but they're probably going to need at least two more wins between now and Selection Sunday to be in good shape.

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