Saturday, March 06, 2010

Richmond Punches Their Ticket, Louisville On The Brink

Louisville 78, #1 Syracuse 68
Louisville has played Syracuse twice this season, and both times they've won using the identical game plan. They've attacked the suffocating Syracuse zone with the pass, and they've been careful not to give up any free baskets. The key to beating Syracuse is to force them to score in the half court, where they're not efficient. Against poorly coached teams Syracuse can just turn games into layup lines, and it doesn't matter what their offense does. Andy Rautins has the ability to carry the offense on his own with hot outside shooting, but he was ice cold here (1-for-9 from the field). I'm always very cautious about calling a team a "lock" to make or miss the NCAA Tournament, but it's hard to come up with a scenario that would knock Louisville out of the NCAA Tournament now. They're 11-7 in the Big East with the two wins over Syracuse, and only one bad loss (to Western Carolina), and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be up near 35th tomorrow morning. To me, their first Big East tournament game (against either Cincinnati or Rutgers) will be about seeding position only for Louisville. As for Syracuse, despite this loss they remain a favorite for a 1 seed. But as much as the talking heads on television will still call them a "lock" for a 1 seed, they've still got to win some Big East tournament games to wrap it up. The worst case scenario for them would probably be Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Purdue all winning their conference tournaments. Although Kansas State and Ohio State also have some chance of passing up Syracuse if they can win their conference tournaments and if Syracuse loses one of their first two games in the Big East tournament. They will open up against either Georgetown, South Florida or DePaul, on Thursday afternoon.

Richmond 89, Charlotte 84
As I said earlier in this post, and as my regular readers know, I use the word "lock" differently than just about everybody else in this business. When somebody on ESPN says something is a "lock", what they really mean is "it's unlikely this won't happen", but they think that using a stronger word will get a better audience response. All the time we see something that was a "lock" one week not even happening the next. But when I say something is a "lock" then it happens - the word means what I say it means. So some Richmond fans weren't happy when I said that they weren't a lock after their last game, because I wasn't certain that no scenarios existed where Richmond lost their regular season finale and their first A-10 tournament game and then missed the NCAA Tournament. Well, now it does not matter, because Richmond is a lock. This win puts them in the field for certain. As for Charlotte, this loss makes six of their last seven games, and their at-large chances are effectively dashed. Their Sagarin PREDICTOR is right around 100th, so it's not like they deserved an at-large bid anyway, but now they know that they will have to win the A-10 tournament.

South Florida 75, UConn 68
It's really perplexing to see the way that UConn's defense has fallen apart. Jim Calhoun always has good defenses, and he's got a bunch of excellent individual defenders, but they've had too many games this season where they've just played horrendous team defense. South Florida had all sorts of open shots here, and their frontcourt of Jarrid Famous and Augustus Gilchrist just torched the Huskies. This win also pushes South Florida, the forgotten bubble team in the Big East, right on the edge of the Field of 65. They finish 9-9 in the Big East with a 6-10 record against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Pittsburgh and Georgetown that outweigh their bad loss (Central Michigan). Their RPI is still 61st, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be extremely close to the Top 50 tomorrow morning. They open the Big East tournament on Tuesday against DePaul, and if they win that they will get Georgetown in the second round on Wednesday, with the winner getting Syracuse on Thursday. There's no question that South Florida has to win those first two games to make the NCAA Tournament. And unless the bubble is very weak this season, they will probably need to pull off the upset of Syracuse, too. But the fact that South Florida will enter the Big East tournament with a shot at an at-large bid alone makes this a successful season for a program that had not been relevant since moving to the Big East. As for UConn, this loss drops them to 7-11 in the Big East and will cause a lot of people to declare their at-large chances over. I won't go that far, because to say that would be to say that if UConn goes into the Big East tournament and beats St. John's, Marquette and Villanova that they would not enter that Big East semifinal game with people listing them as a plausible at-large team. And of course they would. But there's no question that UConn will have to get to at least the Big East tournament semifinals to have a shot.

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