Saturday, March 06, 2010

Baylor Overwhelms Texas

#22 Baylor 92, #25 Texas 77
It's no secret that Texas has backcourt problems with the injuries to Dogus Balbay and Varez Ward. J'Covan Brown has played very well and has stepped up into the starting point guard role quite capably (he had eight points, six assists and only two turnovers in this game), but there are clearly only two other guards on the roster that Rick Barnes trusts down the stretch here (Avery Bradley and Justin Mason), meaning he is forced to go with really large lineups. And so they end up with situations like this game, where their frontcourt plays really quite well (Gary Johnson and Jordan Hamilton combined 43 points off the bench, and Damion James had his typical 18 as well), but they just got run off the floor by a quicker and deeper Baylor squad. Texas probably missed Balbay's defense more than his offense here, because they could have put him on LaceDarius Dunn, who torched the Texas backcourt for 30 points. It's not news that Baylor is really athletic this season, but you'd have told me five years ago that I was nuts if I thought that within five years Baylor would be more athletic than Texas. Now, obviously this game was just played for Tournament seed, as neither of these teams are going to fall out of the bracket. This win pushes Baylor to 11-5 in the Big 12, which is good enough for the third seed in the Big 12 tournament. They're up to 6-4 against the RPI Top 50 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS rating that will likely move into the Top Ten. If the season ended now they'd be a 3 or a 4 seed, and if they can win the Big 12 tournament title they could very realistically move up as high as a 2 seed. As for Texas, they are just looking more and more mediocre as their injury problems continue to mount (not to mention the mild disappointment that Avery Bradley has been - he's good, but not worthy of being discussed with the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Xavier Henry preseason). They are now just 6-8 over their last 14 games, and their 9-7 Big 12 record gives them the 6th seed in the Big 12 tournament, forcing them to play the opening round. And even should they get past an Iowa State team that proved earlier today that they're no pushover, they would then go up once again versus the Baylor team that swept them during the regular season. Certainly not a good draw for their Tournament seed, which would already be a 5-7 seed if the season ended now, and could fall even further if they play poorly in the Big 12 tournament.

Notre Dame 63, Marquette 60, OT
Both teams entered this game red hot, but it was a Notre Dame team boosted by Luke Harangody's return that pulled out the overtime victory. It was pretty amazing that Notre Dame seemed to get hot right after Harangody got hurt, but I refuse to believe that the team improved with a guy like him on the bench. They'll obviously improve even further if he can expand the number of minutes he can play (he only played 11 here). That said, I've been perplexed by the argument some have made that Notre Dame should get some benefit of the doubt on Selection Sunday because they had to go without Harangody for a few weeks. When he got injured they had all of one win against teams in the current RPI Top 60. They've now won four straight against RPI Top 60 teams. When most of your big wins come with your injured player was out, I don't know what Notre Dame fans could be arguing for. To get the injury benefit of the doubt from the Selection Committee you've got to be able to identify clear games that were lost because of the absence of a key player who will be at full strength during the NCAA Tournament, such as the cases of Evan Turner and Jon Leuer in the Big Ten. That's not the case for the Irish. That said, with these four straight good wins you can make a really good argument that Notre Dame deserves to be in the Field of 65 right now just on their resume alone. The big wins the last two weeks (Pitt, Georgetown, UConn, Marquette) along with the West Virginia win will more than outweigh those bad losses (Loyola-Marymount, Rutgers), and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will move up to around 40th in the nation. The key thing to remember, however, is that as much as analysts are shouting about how week the bubble is this year, the bubble is always weak when we're eight days from Selection Sunday. It always gets stronger over the final week, and that means that even if Notre Dame is in the Field of 65 at the moment they still have a bunch of work left to do. They will receive a bye to the second round of the Big East tournament, where they'll play either Seton Hall or Providence. A win there would put them up against Pittsburgh on Thursday. If they win that first game and lose to Pitt, I think they'll be one of those teams that falls into the NIT as other teams leap over them during the last three days of Championship Week. In my opinion, they will not be Dancing unless they knock out Pitt. As for Marquette, this is a tough loss to swallow on Senior Night, but they are really just playing for NCAA Tournament seed at this point. Even with the loss they still finish 11-7 in the Big East with an 8-8 record against the RPI Top 100. And their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be around 35th when the new numbers come out in the morning. They will play their first Big East tournament game on Wednesday against either UConn or St. John's. Even if they lose that game they will still probably make the Tournament. But a win there should lock up a bid for certain.

Virginia Tech 88, Georgia Tech 82
In terms of bubble implications, it would be difficult to find another game today that had more than this one. Both of these teams entered the day in the bracket, but just barely, and it was likely that the loser would fall out of the bracket for the time being. Virginia Tech got the win on the back of Malcolm Delaney, who has come out of nowhere to perhaps be a favorite for a First Team All-ACC nod, and who torched Georgia Tech here for 32 points and nine assists. The Hokies were sloppy with the ball, and they have nowhere near the rebounders that Georgia Tech has, so they actually ended up with 22 fewer shot attempts from the field (not nearly made up for with only ten more free throw attempts). The reason that they managed to win despite so many fewer shots was because of the way that Delaney opened up easy shots for himself and his teammates. Georgia Tech just had to work so hard for each shot that they were wildly inefficient on offense. Virginia Tech did themselves no favors this season with a joke of an out of conference schedule (Pomeroy rates their OOC strength of schedule an embarrassing 322nd in the nation), but they've benefited from a strong ACC that has bolstered their overall strength of schedule (which is up to around 60th in the nation according to Sagarin and Pomeroy, although it's still near 100th in the RPI). They also have a few nice wins, with victories over RPI Top 50 foes Wake Forest, Clemson and Georgia Tech. They're now 6-6 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS right around 30th. There's no question they're in the Field of 65 right now, and I think that one ACC tournament win should lock it up. As for Georgia Tech, they fall to 7-9 in the ACC, good for only seventh place. They have wins over Duke, Clemson, Wake Forest and Siena, but they also have RPI 100+ losses to Miami, Virginia and Georgia. Their RPI is still 44th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be right around 50th, but I don't think there's much doubt that they'd be out of the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. They'll open the ACC tournament against North Carolina, and a win there would put them against Maryland. I think that to make the NCAA Tournament they'll have to not only beat UNC, they'll have to take out Maryland as well. The Selection Committee is always loathe to put in teams that can't even get to .500 in conference play, even in a conference as good as the ACC.

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