Thursday, December 31, 2009

West Virginia Survives Another Scare

#6 West Virginia 63, Marquette 62
On Saturday afternoon it was West Virginia suffering an epic collapse over the final 30 seconds to allow Seton Hall to take them to overtime before the Mountaineers pulled it out in the extra session, but on Tuesday night it was Marquette suffering an awful collapse to allow West Virginia another squeaker of a victory. Over the final 24 seconds Marquette missed the front end of two one-and-ones, and then gave up a miracle Da'Sean Butler shot for the win. West Virginia was better on the boards here, but Marquette did a wonderful job of handling the ball with only 8 turnovers, which is more remarkable when you keep in mind the frenetic attacking pace that Marquette likes to play with. It's not like they're running the Princeton offense. But Lazar Hayward is one of the best players in the Big East, and he will get his points against any opponent (he had 24 on 9-for-20 shooting here), so if you don't score a lot of points against Marquette you're going to be in trouble. These close games against quality opponents will do a lot for West Virginia, both in team cohesion and confidence. Syracuse, UConn and Villanova have all not yet proven that they can win true road games against good teams that are close in the final minute. That's not saying that I think West Virginia is the favorite to win the conference (I still think it's Villanova), but they're going to finish something like 13-5 or 14-4 and will be in the discussion all season. As for Marquette, this is a huge loss when you consider how much a win like this could have helped on Selection Sunday. Darius Johnson-Odom has been a deadly outside shooter all season (he's still hitting 60% from behind the arc on the season), but he has been the only consistent scorer outside of Hayward, and that's a problem. There are several Big East teams who can really run up the score, and I don't think Marquette can hang with them. That said, Pomeroy rates their luck 339th in the nation, which means that they're better than their record (their RPI is 87th). Sagarin agrees, giving them an ELO_CHESS of 74th and a PREDICTOR of 21st. So while they would not be in the Tournament if the season ended now, they should be in the hunt all season long.

BYU 99, Arizona 69

Jimmy Fredette has been a good scorer all season long, leading BYU with over 21 points per game, but he had the game of his life here with 49. While his 9-for-13 shooting behind the arc got the mention on Sportscenter, it's worth noting that he also shot 7-for-10 inside the arc, and 8-for-9 at the line. He wasn't just standing in one place and taking shooting practice, he was unconscious from all corners of the floor. This was the first time all year that Arizona's youth and lack of leadership has really shown, with the way that they totally rolled over and died after taking an early punch from BYU. Despite the 6-6 record, Arizona has not played itself out of the NCAA Tournament because they have no bad losses. But they have zero wins over likely RPI Top 100 teams (the only shot is NC State, who Arizona beat by two last week), and more importantly have just shown no signs that they're any better than their record. Pomeroy rates their luck 70th, and Sagarin rates them worse in the PREDICTOR (129th) than the ELO_CHESS (106th), which means that they actually deserve a worse record than they have. If they can somehow go 11-7 in the Pac-10 then they can get themselves back in serious bubble discussion, but I don't see it happening. I think that streak of Tournament appearances is over. As for BYU, they are now 13-1 with wins over Arizona State, Arizona, Nebraska and Nevada, with a single loss to a quality opponent. Their only remaining tough out-of-conference game is at UTEP on January 9th. If they win that game and go 11-5 or better in the Mountain West then it's hard to see them missing the Tournament. They could actually get in with as poor as a 9-7 Mountain West record, depending on what happens in the rest of the country.

Xavier 89, LSU 65
LSU didn't play well here, but even if they had they would have lost because they couldn't hit anything from the floor. They finished just 1-for-14 behind the arc, and hit only 35% overall from the field. Xavier is not as good as they were last season, but are very deep and have several scorers who can put up points in bunches, which makes it very difficult to beat Xavier if you can't put up 80+ points. The other key is that while Xavier shoots well from the floor, they are in general a fairly weak rebounding team, especially on the offensive end. The fact that they blew away LSU on the boards, even collecting more offensive rebounds (22) than LSU had defensive rebounds (19) means that there was no way they weren't going to win this game even if LSU had shot well from the floor. Xavier got out of the gate slowly this season, but appears to be improving. They are now 8-4 with wins over Cincinnati and LSU, and zero bad losses. They get an opportunity to end up with a pretty darn good out-of-conference resume when they play at Wake Forest on January 3rd. If they lose that one then they'll have some ground to make up in Atlantic Ten play to get into the Tournament. But the conference is very good, so they'll have plenty of chances. As for LSU, they are also 8-4 and also have no bad losses, but unlike Xavier they are without quality wins and have not shown the ability to beat good teams. Of the four good teams they've played they were completely blown out by three of them, and the one close loss was to Washington State, which is unlikely to even make the NCAA tournament. And while the SEC is probably a little bit better than the Atlantic Ten overall, LSU has to play 10 of their 16 games in the bad SEC West. Even if they beat Utah at home on January 2nd (which wouldn't be a particularly good win anyway) LSU will have to go 10-6 or better in the SEC for a good chance at making the Tournament.

No comments: