Monday, January 11, 2010

Notre Dame Hangs On... Barely

Notre Dame 70, #8 West Virginia 68
I think most Notre Dame fans aged about five years during this game. The Irish played out of their minds to open the game, actually building a 25-4 lead at one point. They shot 75% from the field in the first half and led by 20 points at the break. And this is a Notre Dame team that came into the game 13-3, but with their best win coming over Providence, so they were starving for a big win. And as the second half went along that lead just began to bleed away. The Irish shot 26% from the field in the second half, while West Virginia hit nearly 50% from behind the arc. With four minutes left in the game the lead had been drawn down to three points, and Notre Dame scored one point the rest of the game. Yet somehow, someway, West Virginia only scored two points over the final four minutes, and Notre Dame hung on. Barely. Now, Notre Dame has a big win for their resume, and their RPI is up to 52nd. More importantly, their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 48th, which is important when you keep in mind that only five-to-seven teams in the ELO_CHESS Top 50 miss the Tournament each season, and that it's very rare for a team outside the ELO_CHESS Top 50 to get an at-large bid. They are now 3-1 in the Big East, and head next into a tough game at a Cincinnati team looking for a big win of their own. As for West Virginia, this loss isn't a killer for their Big East title chances because I don't think anybody is going to go better than 14-4 in this year's Big East. The conference is much less top heavy than it was last year, and so it will be much more difficult for a team to do what Louisville did last season, where they weren't even one of the two or three best teams in the conference (in my opinion... the Selection Committee obviously disagreed with me, although I got my revenge in the bracket contests I entered) yet went 16-2 because they got a cakewalk of a schedule. Teams 8-through-16 are a lot better this season, and the top teams are going to lose a game or two to the lower tier teams, as West Virginia did here.

Seton Hall 83, Cincinnati 76
Speaking of the middle-of-the-pack Big East teams, here are two of them. Both of these squads entered the game on the bubble, although Seton Hall was much more in need of a win. The Pirates came into this game 0-3 in the Big East, and have a road game at Georgetown on deck. Their out-of-conference performance was okay (9-2 against a schedule Pomeroy ranks 340th, but with no bad losses), but they have to get to 9-9 in Big East play to get an at-large bid. It would have been very, very difficult to crawl back from an 0-5 start. They still have a hill to climb, but their schedule is very front-heavy, so I expect them to finish strong. If they can get out of a game at Pitt on February 6th with a 3-7 record then I think they will still have a decent shot to get to 9-9, and if they're 4-6 then they're really going to be in good shape. But to get to 4-6 they're going to have to knock off at least one ranked team over the next few weeks. For Cincinnati, this is a game that they probably would have won if you played it five more times. After cutting a 14 point lead down to four in the second half, Seton Hall hung on by hitting free throw after free throw, actually going 21-for-24 for the game. Fans of the Big East know that Seton Hall is normally atrocious from the line. Even after this performance they're only at 64.8% for the season, good for 277th best in the nation. The Bearcats also missed an opportunity to really get off to a good start in Big East. Their schedule is the opposite of Seton Hall's: it's back-loaded. They won't play another team ranked in the current Top 25 until February 6th, and with a win here would have been in a really good position to get out to something like a 7-2 start. Instead they are 2-2, and are now under a lot of pressure to take care of business over the next few weeks to try to lock up that at-large bid before things get really tough in late February and into March.

Miami (Fl) 67, Wake Forest 66
This was a surprising result from my perspective. Not only is Wake Forest the better team, but Miami entered this game 14-1 against a very weak schedule (even after this game, Sagarin still rates their overall season schedule at 317th toughest in the nation, the only ACC team outside the Top 300), and they were due for a reality check. They remind me a lot of those Clemson teams of 2005-2007 that ran up great early season records against weak competition, and got a lot of hype only to fall apart in ACC play. Wake Forest was the better team on the floor, forcing 15 turnovers and collecting four extra shots from the field and eight more free throw attempts. Teams don't usually lose when they get that many more shot attempts than their opponents, but Wake Forest was just ice cold, hitting 36% from the field, including 27% from behind the arc. Miami ended up just hitting more shots down the stretch, and survived with a quality victory. Miami is now a very soft 15-1, but 15-1 nonetheless. The ACC schedule-makers also did them a huge favor, drawing them only once each against North Carolina, Duke, Clemson and Georgia Tech. It's safe to say that they'll end up with the softest schedule in the ACC at year's end, but if they can get to 8-8 overall, and 22-8 for the entire regular season, it's unlikely that they won't make the NCAA Tournament. As for Wake Forest, this loss drops them to 1-1, and after a Maryland home game they head off to the gauntlet, with consecutive road games against Duke and North Carolina, with a road game at Georgia Tech only a week later. They are probably going to have to win one of those three big road games, or they will fall way back in the ACC standings.

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