|"We covered the spread! Woo!"|
In the end, this game doesn't matter as much as the media thinks it does. "#1 GOES DOWN!" is a sexy headline, but the fact is that Iowa State was a 2 point Vegas favorite. It's hard to win on the road against Top 20 opponents, even if you're the best team in the country. Coming into this game, the Pomeroy ratings had Oklahoma as the best team in the Big 12, had them favored in every remaining game but one, and still projected them to lose three more times. Why? When you play a bunch of 60/40 games, you're going to lose sometimes. However good you think Oklahoma is, a five point loss on the road at Iowa State should not change that projection in any meaningful way.
This result means a lot more for Iowa State. The Cyclones had started just 2-3 in Big 12 play, and needed to get back on the winning path before their Tournament seed started to slide. This win doesn't get them back into the Big 12 title race (that ship has probably sailed), but they're back to looking like a potential 3-4 seed on Selection Sunday. The big question for them as they go through a Big 12 schedule with no easy games is their total lack of depth. Foul trouble will be a significant problem, particularly on the road, and any potential injury will be killer.
How Far Will Duke Fall? Duke's slide without Amile Jefferson continued with their third consecutive loss. This game had some ref controversy, too, and despite the usual perception it was Duke that felt like they got a raw deal at the end of the game. First, Grayson Allen had a great chance to score with Duke down by a point and around ten seconds to go. Syracuse had a foul to give and looked to be trying to give it. Coach K felt that a foul came on the shot. The refs called neither. Then, after Malachi Richardson hit one of two at the free throw line, Matt Jones had one final chance for a 50+ foot buzzer beater on which there was a ton of contact, though realistically a team has to commit felony assault to get called for a foul on a desperation heave like that. Judge for yourself:
Regardless, the biggest difference in this game was fluky shooting in the favor of Syracuse. The Orange were 11-for-23 behind the arc while Duke was only 10-for-37. Duke allowed the Syracuse zone to force them into a lot of long jumpers, but if they hit their season average on three-pointers (38%) they'd have won the game. Still, there is no question that the team has dropped off since they've lost Amile Jefferson, and if Jefferson does not come back soon they could be at risk for something like a 10-8 ACC record. Instead of being in the mix for a 1 seed on Selection Sunday, they might be looking at something like a 6 or 7 seed. We're still at least a month before Jefferson realistically can return.
As for Syracuse, this win gets them right back in the thick of the at-large debate. They are still just 3-4 in ACC play, but they have only one bad loss (St. John's) and they have nice wins over UConn, Texas A&M, and Duke. Their RPI has slid up to 51st, and it should move into the Top 50 if they can get to 10-8 in ACC play. At 10-8, they probably are in good shape on Selection Sunday.
Arkansas-Little Rock Goes Down I've talked many times before about the inherent unfairness of the RPI and the current Selection system toward teams from low-major conferences. It is awfully hard to win on the road repeatedly against teams in the 100s and low 200s in the RPI, yet the Selection Committee and the RPI give you no credit for those wins, and every loss is a "bad loss". You have to go, effectively, perfect in conference play. UALR had one of those types of games here, on the road at Arkansas State. They fought back from 17 points down with 7:30 to go and managed to get a clean look at the buzzer only down by three-points... but Marcus Johnson missed it.
Arkansas-Little Rock is probably a better team than some squads that will earn at-large bids, but their margin for error is now zero. We can project their RPI using RPIForecast, and if they go undefeated the rest of the way and only lose to Texas-Arlington in the Sun Belt title game (the best case scenario) they'd be 28-3 with an RPI that was 27th. They'd have a good chance to get in with that resume. But the odds of going undefeated the rest of the way are so low as to be almost irrelevant. It's a shame, because the Sun Belt has two very dangerous teams in UALR and Texas-Arlington, but realistically only one is going to make the Big Dance.