Showing posts with label Air Force. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Air Force. Show all posts

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Morning News: Cincinnati Takes Care Of Business, Utah State Loses Their First MWC Game, Temple Loses Dingle

In 1.5 years as head coach at SMU, Larry Brown has yet to topple a Pomeroy Top 100 opponent.

Cincinnati Takes Care Of Business Vs SMU This was a classic "take care of business" game. Cincinnati is a bit better than SMU, and certainly couldn't afford to lose at home to them. So they got through this game, winning by eight. SMU did a reasonably okay job of holding Cincinnati off the offensive glass, which is their primary source of offense, so this game was always going to be a grind. SMU's biggest problem is that while they're solid at pretty much all aspects of the game, they lack a true go-to scorer. Markus Kennedy led all scorers here with 12.

Cincinnati's non-conference performance was fine, collecting a win over Pittsburgh with no bad losses. Just a 10-8 conference record will probably be enough for them to get into the Tournament, though I'd advise getting a win over Louisville, Memphis or UConn in case people are still convincing themselves Pitt isn't a Top 25 team in March.

SMU has played three teams in the Pomeroy Top 100 and played them all tough, but lost all three games. They just can't get over the hump against a quality opponent, which is why they're on the bubble, but not in the Field of 68 at this point. Their next game is a key one, at home against a reeling UConn squad. If they fall there they head to Louisville and will presumably be 0-3 heading into some games against RPI 100+ teams. That will not be good.

Utah State Loses Their First Ever Mountain West Game This is a tough loss for Utah State. They hit one shot from the field in the final 7:20 and had a couple of chances in the final minute to take the lead but didn't. If they were ever going to make a run at an at-large bid, they really couldn't afford to open up Mountain West play losing to a bad Air Force team. They are similar in a sense to in-state rival BYU in that they have some fun, explosive shooters, but they can't play defense. Air Force exploded for 1.13 PPP here.

Utah State isn't totally out of bubble contention, but they're going to need to get to 11-7 in conference to really be in the conversation, particularly since the Mountain West is down this season. And considering how they've been playing since the Jarred Shaw suspension, there's no reason to think they'll achieve that. Their next game is at home against San Jose State. They start playing the top half of the league on January 18th, when they're at Boise State.

Temple's Daniel Dingle Out For The Season This has been a really rough season for Temple, and it gets even worse as sixth man Daniel Dingle is done for the year with a knee injury. Temple had a tight rotation, and the bench is pretty thin after Dingle. Temple went 5-6 in non-conference play and opened up conference play yesterday with a brutal road loss at Rutgers. They can still finish in the middle of the pack in the AAC, but their hopes of getting into a postseason tournament (unless they have a magical run in the AAC tournament) appear to be basically dead.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Air Force Stuns New Mexico

Air Force 89, #12 New Mexico 88
On paper, this wasn't a huge upset. New Mexico was only a 4.5 point favorite in Vegas, and Air Force has only lost twice at home all season long. But this was a stunning finish, with New Mexico leading by four points with under 20 seconds to go. Michael Lyons hit a quick three to pull Air Force within a point. After Kendall Williams hit 1-for-2 at the line, Air Force managed to find Todd Fletcher for a three-pointer for the victory, and the Air Force student section rushed the court. An exciting win that is huge for Air Force and a tough reality check for New Mexico.

The issue with New Mexico for the past couple of months has been twofold. First, their RPI is way out of whack with where their resume really is because they only had 1 team outside the RPI Top 200 on their schedule (giving them a very inflated SOS). But even more than that, since New Mexico's true resume is probably good enough for a solid 3 seed, is that they were only 24th in Pomeroy and 31st in the Sagarin PREDICTOR even before this loss. But the reason the computers don't like them is the same reason that the computers won't drop them much for this loss - because results in very close games are mostly luck. Even after this loss, New Mexico is still 11-2 in games decided by six points or less. They could easily have 5 or 6 more losses if their luck had turned just a little bit, which is why they'd be a very soft 3 seed if they do get it.

At 13-3 in Mountain West play, New Mexico will have the 1 seed in the Mountain West tournament. They'll open in the quarterfinals against the winner of Nevada/Wyoming. If they do win the tournament title then they'll have a case for a 2 seed, but most likely they'll be a 3 seed. with a poor tournament performance, they could slip to a 5 or 6 seed.

Air Force probably cannot earn an at-large bid, no matter what happens. They finish the regular season 17-12 overall and 8-8 in Mountain West play, with a 6-10 record against the RPI Top 100 and an RPI that is 68th. They'll play UNLV in the Mountain West quarterfinals. If they somehow pull that upset then they'll face the winner of Colorado State/Fresno State in the semifinals. If they win those two games then they'll get some at-large hype, but it's doubtful. With a strong MWC tournament performance, though, the NIT is very realistic.

Fresno State 61, UNLV 52
This was a putrid offensive performance from UNLV. With a lid on the basket, UNLV finished with a 37.0 eFG% and 0.80 PPP. Both of those are season worst performances. Fresno State's defense isn't nearly as bad as their offense, but that's a terrible performance regardless. Anthony Marshall had the closest thing to a decent day for UNLV, with 11 points on 3-for-8 shooting and 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Fresno State, meanwhile, had a monster 25 points day, his career best in Mountain West play. Kevin Olekaibe had 13 points and 8 assists.

This is the type of loss that can single-handedly drop a team one or two seed lines. The good news is that they're still clear of the bubble with a 10-6 Mountain West record and a 12-6 record against the RPI Top 100. The other good news is that UNLV has a great chance to improve on their seed at the Mountain West tournament, which will be on their home court. They will open in the quarterfinals against Air Force, and if they win will face either Colorado State or Fresno State in the semifinals.

As I just said in the last paragraph, Fresno State will open against Colorado State as the 7 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Don't discount their chances in that game - their Pomeroy rating will move close to the Top 100 with this win, and their efficiency margin has improved to -0.05 PPP in a very strong Mountain West. It's a respectable season for Rodney Terry's young team.

Denver 78, Louisiana Tech 54
While I've been sticking with Denver as my WAC favorite, despite Louisiana Tech's superior record, but I won't take credit for predicting this performance. This type of beat down was shocking. Denver is awfully tough to play at home and at altitude, but nothing went right for Louisiana Tech here. Denver hit a higher percentage of their threes (50%) than Louisiana Tech hit twos (37%). Denver had a 2.0 A/TO ratio, while Louisiana Tech's was reversed (7 assists and 16 turnovers). It was just "one of those days" as far as Louisiana Tech is concerned.

I don't think Louisiana Tech really had a realistic chance of an at-large bid even before this game, so there isn't a big effect from this game. Denver earns a share of the conference title, which is a great accomplishment for Joe Scott, though they'll still be the 2 seed in the WAC tournament. This loss drops Louisiana Tech to 26-5 overall and 3-4 against the RPI Top 100. Denver is 21-8 overall and 3-7 against the RPI Top 100. Should Louisiana Tech win the WAC tournament, they're likely looking at a 12 or 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Denver will struggle to do better than a 13 seed unless they get some help from surprise conference tournament winners.

#3 Duke 69, North Carolina 53
North Carolina, at home on Senior Night, was a trendy pick here against Duke. But a 14-0 start that led to a 38-18 start by Duke basically ended this game before it ever got started. Seth Curry's 8-for-13 day from the field doesn't indicate just how white hot he was as Duke opened that early lead. And against a North Carolina team lacking a true big man, Mason Plumlee broke out for 23 points and 13 rebounds. Believe it or not, that's Plumlee's first 20-10 game in ACC play this season. His last one came against Santa Clara on December 29th.

Obviously North Carolina fans are very unhappy with how this game turned out, but the good news is that it's not a game that they had to have. Their six game winning streak meant that they're still safe for the NCAA Tournament. They finish the season 12-6 in ACC play and 8-8 against the RPI Top 100 (though only 2-7 against the Top 50). Both their RPI and Sagarin ELO_SCORE are Top 20, though if the season ended now I think they'd be closer to a 6 seed because of the lack of quality victories. They'll get a chance to change that in the ACC tournament, where they are on the same side of the bracket as Duke. Before a potential semifinal match-up, North Carolina will play the Florida State/Clemson winner in the quarterfinals.

The match-up that will set up Duke's quarterfinal opponent is not set yet, but that's not the game that matters. A hypothetical semifinal against North Carolina and final against Miami will make up the tests Duke will need to pass to earn a 1 seed. They control their own destiny at this point, so an ACC tournament title will get them a 1 seed.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is Creighton A Bubble Team?

Northern Iowa 61, Creighton 54
At some point a fluke turns into a trend. And Creighton's shooting, which had carried them all season, has now abandoned them in three straight games. Creighton led the nation in 2P% and 3P% for most of the season (though that's no longer the case after this shooting slump), but they are now 1-5 when they have an eFG% under 52% (compared to being 19-1 when having an eFG% over 52%).

Doug McDermott actually shot fine here (6-for-10 from the field, 2-for-4 behind the arc), but the rest of the team was just a little bit off (30% behind the arc as a team). And certainly Creighton is a better shooting team than they've been in this slump. It's not just McDermott - guys like Ethan Wragge and Grant Gibbs (a combined 2-for-9 behind the arc here) are good shooters. They're just in a slump. But this is why it's generally a bad idea to count on sustained success from teams that are so dependent on outside shooting. Every team misses shots from time to time, and you need to be able to win games when the shots aren't falling. Creighton is simply not beating a quality team if they're not having at least a halfway decent shooting night.

Creighton has spent almost the entire season ranked in the Top 15 in the nation (only two Coaches Polls this entire season have had Creighton outside the Top 15), but at this point they're a bubble team. Creighton is now 20-6 overall, with only one really big win (Wisconsin) to go with several iffy losses (Illinois State, Northern Iowa and Drake). They are only 1-2 against the RPI Top 50, and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is going to plummet to around 40th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. They'd still be a Tournament team if the season ended now, but only barely. Unless Creighton wins their Bracketbusters game at St. Mary's, they need to sweep their final four conference games or they're going to enter Arch Madness needing to win at least one game. Their next game will be on Saturday, at Evansville.

Northern Iowa is now 8-6 in Missouri Valley play, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will move inside the Top 70. They're a respectable 3-5 against the RPI Top 50, though only 10-11 against the RPI Top 200. So in despite the strong computer numbers, they basically need to win every remaining regular season game to have a shot at an at-large bid. Their next game will be on Saturday, at Drake.

Texas 89, Iowa State 86, 2OT
This was Myck Kabongo's return from suspension, and interestingly enough he wasn't on the floor when this game was decided. Kabongo had a strong game (13 points and 7 assists), but he fouled out in the first overtime. Sheldon McClellan filled in ably in the second overtime, though, scoring all all ten Texas points (he only scored 8 total points prior to that second overtime). And in the final 45 seconds of this game, Iowa State missed three shots and committed a pair of turnovers. They'll feel that this was a missed opportunity.

In some sense, this was an unfair game for Iowa State. This is a bad loss because Texas has played poorly this year, but a big reason that they have played poorly is because they have been without Myck Kabongo. This isn't as bad of a loss as it seems. Iowa State got a really nice game from Melvin Ejim (20 points and 16 rebounds) and Will Clyburn (20 points).

Iowa State is the prototypical bubble team. They are now 16-8 overall and 6-5 in the Big 12, with wins over Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State and BYU to go with bad losses to Texas Tech and Texas. They are 6-6 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should be just inside the Top 50 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be one of the two or three last teams in or first teams out of the NCAA Tournament. To be in a better position on the bubble they need to get to at least 11-7 in conference play. At 10-6 or 9-7 they're going to have a bunch of work to do in the Big 12 tournament. Their next game will be on Saturday against TCU.

Texas has been to 14 straight NCAA Tournaments, which ties them with Wisconsin and Gonzaga for the fifth longest active streak. Is it possible that Myck Kabongo could somehow allow them to stretch that streak to 15? It's not impossible, but their odds of winning the Big 12 tournament outright are better than their odds of getting an at-large bid. Even after this big win, Texas is only 3-8 in Big 12 play and 11-13 overall, with a 2-11 record against the RPI Top 100. They'd probably have to win every remaining regular season game to get back on the bubble. So what matters more for Texas now is improving their Big 12 tournament seed, and improving their quality of play in the hopes of a miracle run to the Big 12's auto bid. Their next game will be on Saturday, on the road at Kansas.h

Air Force 71, UNLV 56
The road has not been a friendly  place for UNLV. This loss drops them to 1-5 on the road in Mountain West play (compared to 4-0 at home). This game was never close either. Air Force led by as many as 17 points in the first half, and by as many as 24 in the second half. The final time that UNLV was within single digits, there were more than five minutes left in the first half.

What stood out more than anything in this game was the rebounding. Air Force is a terrible rebounding team - they are dead last in the Mountain West (and 341st in the nation) in offensive rebounding percentage, and second worst in the Mountain West in defensive rebounding percentage. Yet they pulled down 10 offensive rebounds here (a 38.5 OR%) compared to 7 (a 25.9 OR%) for UNLV. Not only was that Air Force's best offensive rebounding performance in conference play, but it's only the second time in conference play all season that they've out-rebounded their opponent. It's also only the second time that they've rebounded more than 22% of their misses against a conference foe all season long. Just a putrid performance from UNLV.

UNLV is fading ever closer to the bubble. They are only 5-5 in conference play, with a 7-6 record against the RPI Top 100 and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will be close to 40th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. I think they need to get to 9-7 in conference play to feel comfortable about their at-large chances. They can earn an at-large bid at 8-8 in conference play, but they'll have to win a game or two in the Mountain West tournament. They have a pair of massive home games coming up over the next week, against San Diego State on Saturday and against Colorado State next Wednesday.

As UNLV fades to fifth place in the Mountain West standings, and as Wyoming fades out of the bubble picture altogether, it's Air Force that has moved into fourth place. They are now 6-4 in conference play, with wins over San Diego State and UNLV to go with bad losses to Nevada and Richmond. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is still not in the Top 75, though, and they're only 6-8 against the RPI Top 200. So they're still an NIT team at the moment. Air Force needs to get to at least 10-6 in conference play to have a good shot at an at-large bid. They have an important home game against Colorado State on Saturday. It'll be awfully hard for them to get to 10-6 if they lose on Saturday.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Underrated Pittsburgh Topples Short-Handed Syracuse

Pittsburgh 65, #6 Syracuse 55
I think a lot of the country learned what some of us already knew: Pittsburgh is a really good team. A few close losses against elite opponents had kept them unranked in the human polls, but that doesn't mean a whole lot about how good they really are. Pomeroy projected a 4 point win for Pitt and Sagarin projected a 3 point win, and Vegas took the middle by setting by a 3.5 point spread. But that line didn't take into the account that James Southerland is out with academic issues and DaJuan Coleman is out with an injury, so as I talked about on twitter before the game, Pitt-3.5 seemed like a pretty obvious bet. Syracuse struggled with defensive rebounding even when they were at full strength, and they really struggled here, particularly in the second half. In all, Pitt had a 51.9 OR%, compared to a 25.8 OR% for Syracuse.

Pitt got extremely balanced production in this game. Seven different players scored at least six points, while none scored more than 13. Talib Zanna's six offensive rebounds were huge, and I thought Steven Adams (8 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks) had a nice breakout game - it's pretty clear that he'll be a really good player in a couple of years. Syracuse got 20 points from CJ Fair, but another confusing game from Michael Carter-Williams. Too often, Carter-Williams seems content to dribble up and launch long jumpers before working the offense. He has tremendous talent and passing ability - he just needs the patience to create for his teammates. He has done it plenty of times this year, but this isn't the first time this season he's showed his young age.

Pitt is now 6-4 in the Big East and 18-5 overall, with wins over Georgetown, UConn and Syracuse, along with a bad loss to Rutgers. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is in the Top 15 in the nation, and they are very much in contention for a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It's not inconceivable that they could be a 2 seed if they finish the season really well. They'll be Seton Hall on Monday, followed by a road game at Cincinnati next Saturday.

Syracuse drops to 6-2 in Big East play with this loss, though their schedule eases up after a really brutal two week stretch. They'll play Notre Dame on Monday, followed by a home game against St. John's the following Sunday.

Air Force 70, #22 San Diego State 67
It's going to be a while before I can get used to this quasi-uptempo Air Force offense under Dave Pilipovich. They run when they see an advantage and they're aggressive and their games are fun to watch, other than their play-by-play announcer, who never goes 30 seconds without screaming his brains out. The Falcons led almost the entire game here, but San Diego State fought back hard and made this a game in the final minute. Air Force hit four consecutive free throws in the final 90 seconds, though San Diego State had one final possession down by three points. Jamaal Franklin and James Rahon both got a three-pointer off, but neither hit, and Air Force hung on for a massive program win.

Air Force is now 12-6 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West, with this being their first big win and without any really bad losses. They are 3-6 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that is still 70th, and with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should be in that vicinity as well when the new numbers come out tomorrow. They're a bubble team right now, though I think it's pretty clear that they'd be in the NIT if the season ended now. One big win isn't enough. If they go 10-6 in Mountain West play then they'll have work to do in the MWC tournament to earn a Tournament bid. If they can get to 11-5 then they'll be in really good shape. Their next game will on Wednesday, at New Mexico.

San Diego State drops to 4-3 in the Mountain West and 16-5 overall. They have an easier week coming up, with home games against Boise State (Wednesday) and Fresno State (Saturday). They should be safe for an at-large bid if they finish 10-6 or better.

Utah 58, Colorado 55
Utah almost had a horrific collapse in this game. They led by 22 points with 12 minutes left, but completely lost their composure in the final minutes. A steal and layup under the basket by Andre Roberson cut the lead to one with 1:45 to go, the third straight Utah possession to end in a turnover, and it seemed inevitable that Utah was going to blow this game. But they managed to get the ball across midcourt on their next possession, where Jarred DuBois was fouled and hit both free throws. Glen Dean hit a pair of free throws later, and Utah managed to win this game, despite the fact that they had 5 turnovers and 0 made field goals in the final 10:30 of the game.

On January 3rd, when Colorado lost that heartbreaker to Arizona (on a call that most people believe was blown on the Sabatino Chen buzzer beater) they had only lost to quality opponents, and had already taken out Baylor and Colorado State. Their RPI was sitting at 4th in the nation. And while that RPI rating seemed pretty clearly inflated, Colorado certainly looked like a pretty safe NCAA Tournament team. But they have now fallen to 4-5 in Pac-12 play, without a single quality conference win to go with bad losses to Washington, Arizona State and Utah.

Colorado is now 5-6 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is still an inflated 24th, but their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is going to tumble to near 45th. They're a bubble team, and probably need to win six of their final nine games (to get to 10-8) to be in good shape for an at-large bid heading into the Pac-12 tournament. Their remaining schedule, unfortunately, is pretty tough (by Pac-12 standards, at least). And that difficult schedule begins with a road game at Oregon on Thursday.

It would be hard to find a team more owed of a win like this. Utah came into this game a brutal 0-7 in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. This win only moves them to 2-7 in conference play, but they're better than their record. Don't be shocked if they do some more work as a conference spoiler before this season ends. Next week they'll be on the road to face the two Oregon schools.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Indiana Escapes Michigan State

#7 Indiana 75, #13 Michigan State 70
Michigan State gets the loss in the standings here, and I don't think that they outplayed Indiana, but they looked really good and should be happy with this performance. What stood out more than anything was their front court, which has a ton of raw talent but hasn't lived up to expectations for most of this season. Adreian Payne showed his range, hitting 3-for-4 behind the arc. Derrick Nix had 4 offensive rebounds and 6 assists. Meanwhile, Branden Dawson was good all over the place, scoring 12 points (on 6-for-12 shooting), bringing down 3 offensive boards and forcing 4 steals.

In the final 5-6 minutes, though, it seemed like Indiana got all of the 50-50 calls from the refs. Keith Appling had a pretty soft foul out, the Derrick Nix travel seemed like a bad call (he was fouled before the travel), and then the charging call on Adreian Payne (which effectively iced the game) was iffy at best. But that is what home court advantage is. I'm sure the refs will have a different opinion on all of those calls on February 19th when Indiana comes to the Breslin Center.

This loss snapped Michigan State's six game winning streak, but doesn't change the fact that they're probably trending up more than any other Big Ten team. I don't think they can win the Big Ten, but they could finish as high as second. Obviously they'll need to win the Indiana rematch for that. Next week will be light for them, with only a home game against Illinois on Thursday.

Victor Oladipo had a monster game for Indiana (8-for-12 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 steals), though a big development is the confidence of Yogi Ferrell (11 points on 4-for-9 shooting). Teams have been giving him the Rajon Rondo treatment and leaving him alone at the top of the key, knowing he had no confidence in his jumper, but he showed much more confidence here. That's a key development for Indiana since that sagging defender is often used to help deny Cody Zeller. Indiana remains firmly in the Big Ten title race, and will have an important battle next week. They will have to get past a road game at Purdue on Wednesday, but then will have a home game against Michigan on Saturday.

Air Force 57, Wyoming 48
After two consecutive games with 90+ points, Air Force's offense finally cooled off here against Wyoming. But Wyoming's offense has just been such a disaster since Luke Martinez was suspended. Wyoming has lost 4 of 7 games without him, and has now also failed to break 1 PPP in 6 of those 7 games. This game also featured their worst three-point shooting of the season (17.9%).

With this loss, Wyoming is now 15-4 overall, with an RPI that is 54th and wins over San Diego State and Colorado, along with just one real bad loss (Fresno State). You can probably make an argument that if the season ended now they'd still be an at-large team (though I'd argue against you). But they are trending downward, and are now 2-4 in Mountain West play despite actually having gone through a relatively soft part of their schedule. Things will just get tougher, and they'll have to play significantly better just to crawl back to 8-8 in conference play. And despite how good the Mountain West is this season, that's just not going to be enough. They're an NIT team unless things turn around.

Air Force moves up to 3-2 in Mountain West play with this win, with a Pomeroy rating that has slid all the way up to 88th. I don't think they can make a run at an at-large bid, but an 8-8 or 9-7 overall record is definitely within reach. Keep in mind that it's been six seasons since Air Force finished better than .500 in the Mountain West, and this season is probably the strongest that the league has ever been.

Wyoming's next game will be on Wednesday against New Mexico. Air Force will also play on Wednesday, against Fresno State.

Purdue 65, Iowa 62, OT
Purdue tried really hard to blow this game, it seemed. Their offense fell apart after they grabbed a 12 point lead with eight minutes to go. They hit only three shots from the field in those final eight minutes, though one was a driving layup by Ronnie Johnson out of a timeout with 33 seconds left to send the game to overtime. Purdue was lucky that Iowa completely botched the final possession of regulation, with Roy Devyn Marble taking the clock all the way down to four seconds and then going one-on-three and taking a terrible shot just before the buzzer.

In all, Purdue hit only 60% of their free throws, including several key misses late in the game and in overtime, though free throw shooting has been a big problem for them all season long. All of Purdue's top seven minutes-per-game players other than DJ Byrd are shooting 64% or worse at the line. Wisconsin's own free throw shooting woes mean that Purdue is only second worst at the line in the Big Ten, but it's still far and away the worst Matt Painter has ever had as a head coach. All in all, this is probably the sloppiest offense Painter has had at Purdue. But it's a very young team, so you have to assume that a guy like Ronnie Johnson will be a lot better in a year or two.

This loss drops Iowa to 2-5 in Big Ten play. They have wins over Wisconsin and Iowa State, along with bad losses to Virginia Tech and now Purdue. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will drop to near 50th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. It's a resume that puts them right on the fat part of the bubble. They need to get to at least 8-10 in Big Ten play to have a chance for an at-large, and probably need to get to 9-9 to have a good chance. They do get a little breather with a home game against Penn State on Thursday, but after that they go right back on the road to face Minnesota and Wisconsin.

As this game was finishing up, the Big Ten Network announcers tried to break down Purdue's resume and at-large chances. They concluded that at this point they're probably narrowly out of the Field of 68. That was, to say the least, a bit of an understatement. Purdue is 11-9 overall 6-8 against the RPI Top 200. They have wins over Illinois and Iowa, but also bad losses to Oregon State, Eastern Michigan and Xavier. Even if they go 10-8 in Big Ten play, as good as the league is, they'll still be an at-large long shot. And considering how tough their schedule gets in late February into March, even 9-9 is a bit of a stretch. They'll play Indiana on Wednesday, followed by a road game at Northwestern on Saturday.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

San Diego State's Luck Is Evening Out

Air Force 58, #15 San Diego State 56
One thing I talked about yesterday with regards to New Mexico was the fact that over time, team resumes will tend toward team quality. If a team has a Sagarin ELO_CHESS (i.e. their won-loss resume) and a Sagarin PREDICTOR (i.e. the team quality) that are way out of whack early in the season, they will get closer to each. And much more often than not, it's the ELO_CHESS that catches up to the PREDICTOR. Luck will only carry a team so far. And while New Mexico was a team that the computer loved but that just didn't have the results to back it up, San Diego State was the opposite. They had a slew of tremendous wins that put them into the Top 15 in the polls, even though the computer hated them.

To be fair, I feel like Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR somewhat underrate San Diego State. The Aztecs are a young team that has improved throughout the season, and the computer ratings don't really have a way to take that into account. But there's no question that it was ridiculous for them to be ranked as high as 12th. At one point this season they were 8-1 in games decided by five points or less, which meant that they were tremendously lucky in close games. And as I always say, luck evens out - there is almost no correlation between past and future performance in tight games. And lo and behold, San Diego State has lost their last two games decided by five points or less, including this one.

It's always seemed so silly to me that pollsters and media analysts will move teams up in their ratings for narrow wins over bad teams, but drop them like a rock for losing close games to elite opponents. You have to play much better to narrowly lose to a good team than to narrowly beat a bad team. San Diego State is a perfect demonstration. Three weeks ago they beat Boise State by two points and beat TCU by ten. The pollsters moved them up by inertia - they moved from 17th to 13th in the AP Poll. The Pomeroy ratings, however, dropped them from 53rd to 59th. But now that San Diego State has lost by two points to a bad Air Force team? They'll plummet in the human polls. Pomeroy only dropped them from 57th to 61st. Pomeroy simply didn't see a big difference between losing by two to Air Force and beating Boise State by two.

It's been a tremendous week for Air Force, knocking off both Wyoming and San Diego State. They play a slow, defensive style that grinds on teams. And with two straight wins they have pulled themselves out of the Mountain West cellar and into a tie with Boise State. They'll play TCU on Wednesday. San Diego State will play Wyoming and Colorado State at home next week. They should at least split those games, but if they don't then it's not inconceivable that San Diego State bubble talk could start up.

Nebraska 80, Illinois 57
It's been a brutal two weeks for Illinois basketball, and it bottomed out with this debacle against Nebraska. Nebraska's Bo Spencer, who is quietly one of the better guards in the Big Ten, had 27 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Nebraska as a team had a 64.8 eFG%, their best shooting in Big Ten play this year. Illinois was an ice cold 6-for-23 behind the arc, finishing with 0.83 PPP. To put that offensive futility in perspective, the only teams this season to score worse than 0.83 PPP against Nebraska are Alcorn State and South Dakota.

Illinois is now 5-9 in Big Ten play with a road game at Ohio State looming (they also will have to close the regular season at Wisconsin). They've lost five straight, and things are not looking good. But my one word of calm to panicking Illinois fans is that we all tend to overrate teams when they're hot and underrate teams when they're cold. Every team goes through streaks (though it seems like Illinois has been an awfully streaky program throughout the entire Bruce Weber era). I think they'll improve and play some better basketball in their next two outings. But the question will be if it's too late. If they fall below 8-10 then they're going to need multiple wins in the Big Ten tournament as well as a lot of help from a very weak bubble. And remember that at this point in the year the conference tournament seedings are starting to take shape. Illinois is looking very likely to be stuck, should they win a Big Ten tournament game, playing either Ohio State or Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

Nebraska is now 4-10 in Big Ten play. And to be fair, they're not as bad as most people think. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS moved up to 104th with this win, which means that their resume rates as stronger than either Villanova or Butler, among others. They have a brutal finishing stretch to the regular season, though, so it's almost impossible to see them finishing higher than 11th in Big Ten play. Either Iowa or Nebraska will end up in last place in the Big Ten. Their next game will be on Wednesday at Purdue.

Cincinnati 62, Seton Hall 57
Seton Hall has struggled to shoot the ball all season long, and it ended up costing them this battle of bubble teams. They had a 37.8 eFG%, the sixth time in 15 Big East games that they've had an eFG% of 41.0 or worse. They're dead last in the Big East in 2P% shooting in conference play (42%). Cincinnati is not a spectacular offensive team, but they take care of the ball and have enough weapons to score a decent amount. Cincinnati had 1.01 PPP here, and their 1.03 PPP average in Big East play is tied for fourth best.

Cincinnati is 9-5 in Big East play, which in many other years would mean that they'd already clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament. But this year, they still have plenty of work left to do. They are only 5-5 against the RPI Top 100, with three RPI 100+ losses (including that awful loss to Presbyterian). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 54th. If the season ended now, I think Cincinnati would be a Tournament team, but they'd be one of the last teams in the field. In my opinion, they will need at least two more wins before Selection Sunday, and probably three, to earn their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Their next game will be Thursday night against Lousiville.

Seton Hall is much more popular with the computers than Cincinnati is. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 40th and their RPI is 34th. The problem is that they're only 7-8 in the Big East, and only 6-8 against the RPI Top 100. I think they need to get to 9-9 in conference play, and then need to win at least one game in the Big East tournament to earn an at-large bid. They will play Georgetown on Tuesday, which will be a great chance for a big scalp. But even if they can't close the deal there, they'll get to finish the regular season against Rutgers and DePaul.