Friday, January 09, 2009

The Bounce Back Game

Harvard 82, #24 Boston College 70
Those who read this blog often know that one of my gambling theories is that teams always follow big losses with good performances, and vice versa. Although while my theory would have caused me to take the points (had I been in Vegas) against Boston College here, I don't think anybody saw Tommy Amaker's Harvard team walking into Conte Forum and walking out with a 12 point victory. Tyrese Rice was utterly invisible in this one, nobody on Boston College could hit a shot, and they suffered 16 turnovers, including 9 steals that led to a bunch of Harvard layups. That said, in the world of college basketball a victory over UNC and a loss to Harvard is more valuable than the converse. The Eagles are 13-3 with a 5-1 record against the RPI Top 100. The fact that they're only 4-2 against the RPI 101-200 is unfortunate, and is the reason that their overall computer numbers are not great (48th in the RPI, 59th in Sagarin and 66th in Pomeroy). They still need to win a bunch of ACC games to get into the Tournament, although their schedule is fairly easy as far as the ACC goes. They're done with UNC for the regular season, and their one game against Duke will be at home. A 9-7 ACC record should wrap up a Tournament bid for the Boston College Eagles.

Gonzaga 89, #25 Tennessee 79, OT
Gonzaga has been struggling this season, but their one salvation seems to be these games against Tennessee. In fact, two of their last five victories have been over the Vols. And they have been beating the Vols in the way that I've been saying is the way to beat them: with offensive efficiency. Tennessee is not great at half court offense, and tends to settle for three-pointers rather than attempting to create offense off the dribble. As is typical for Tennessee's bad performances, a majority of their missed shots (22 of 41) came from behind the arc. For a team that struggles on offense, Tennessee's half court defense is also not great. They are a great trapping team, but if you can beat their trap then you are going to find a lot of open layups. The way Tennessee wins is with the full court press, but if you force them into three-pointers then you get a lot of defensive rebounds, and it's impossible to set up the full court press against a defensive rebound. That all said, Gonzaga's defense has typically been pretty weak this season as well, but they played well enough here to end a three-game losing streak. Gonzaga has one more important out-of-conference game (Memphis comes to town on February 7th), but other than that Gonzaga has nothing but WCC games to worry about. There are still chances for good wins in the WCC, but nothing that will get Gonzaga the type of resume for a 1 or 2 seed. I think they're much more likely to end up in the 3-4 seed range. For Tennessee, this loss really drops them into a purgatory created by the fact that the SEC is really bad this season. Even with the awful losing stretch that they're in, and the fact that all of the computers have dropped them out of the Top 25 (as will the voters on Monday, most likely), they still have the best computer numbers of any SEC team. They're still the best team in the conference, and they're still the heavy favorites to take the SEC. But we have the real possibility of a team winning a BCS regular season and tournament conference title while ending up with a 4 seed. Somebody will have to do the research to find out the last time that happened, because I can't possibly recall such a situation.

Providence 87, Cincinnati 79
Providence keeps itself in the bubble discussion here by taking Cincinnati further away from their own at-large bid. Believe it or not, Providence is actually 3-0 in the Big East, although victories over St. John's, DePaul and Cincinnati aren't exactly going to shake the national consciousness. Providence's Big East schedule is really back loaded, although it's not that easy for the near future either. They head to Georgetown tomorrow afternoon, and follow that up with a home game against Marquette. They're 11-4, but only 2-4 against the RPI Top 100. With the weak out-of-conference schedule, even a 9-9 Big East record might not be enough for the Tournament. And I don't see a 9-9 record in this team's future. In fact, despite the 0-2 start, I view Cincinnati as the more likely of these two teams to make the Tournament. They have a clearly better out-of-conference performance, and so despite the 0-2 start in the Big East still have slightly better computer numbers than Providence. They key for them will actually not be the UConn game tomorrow (although obviously a victory would be huge), but the four games immediately afterwards, against Rutgers, DePaul, Providence and St. John's. They need to run up the score there, hopefully collecting wins in all four games. You have got to run up those relatively easy wins in the Big East, because there are always so many elite opponents coming down the road.

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