Saturday, February 05, 2011

Butler Still Team To Beat In Horizon

Butler 73, Cleveland State 61
All season long Butler has been playing to their competition. They have played their best against their toughest opponents, and looked awful against weak opponents. Early in the season they beat Florida State and Washington State, and almost knocked off Duke before destroying Valparaiso and Cleveland State. But then they proceeded to lose to Wisconsin-Milwaukee (twice!) and just came through their worst five game stretch in years. They lost four of five coming in here, including a truly embarrassing loss to Youngstown State. And those losses have crippled Butler's at-large chances. They have four RPI 100+ losses, and only the wins listed above. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS fell to 82nd coming into this game. They'll have to get that ELO_CHESS inside the Top 50 to have a chance at an at-large bid, and I don't see any way they can get it there. I've felt all along that Butler is clearly the most talented team in the league. But mentally it can really be tough for a team like Butler to go from a Final Four season to a season like this. They just can't find the meaning in a February game against Youngstown State. With the at-large bid basically gone, all they're playing for is seeding in the Horizon tournament. Meanwhile their opponents see Butler as the biggest opponent on their schedule - a chance to get back at the Bulldogs for their dominance over the past few seasons.

I've had some discussion about Butler in the comments to the W-6 BP68, and I said that I was willing to name Cleveland State the team to beat in the Horizon tournament if they took care of business at home here against Butler. But I said that I expected Butler to either win or take this game down to the final seconds because watching Butler's destruction of Cleveland State a few weeks ago convinced me that Butler's talent is just on another level. And after watching this game I'm even more convinced. Butler is still the team to beat. That said, if the Horizon is going to be a multi-bid league it's very likely to be because Cleveland State earns an at-large spot. This is not a bad loss, and their resume is still strong. They are 21-4 with no losses to teams with an RPI worse than 60. The problem for them is the lack of big wins. Their only RPI Top 80 win was at home against Valparaiso. Their RPI is 36th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely be close to that when the new numbers come out tomorrow, and they'd be on the bubble if the season ended now. Without any big wins Cleveland State will struggle to get into the Tournament if their ELO_CHESS falls out of the Top 40. Cleveland State does have a chance for a big win during Bracketbusters, at Old Dominion on February 20th. But without a win there I'd really like to see them win their final five Horizon League regular season games to feel good about their at-large chances should they fall in the Horizon tournament. The only game that should give them a lot of trouble is a road game at Wright State on February 16th.

#12 Villanova 66, West Virginia 50
This game was close throughout the first half, but a really brutal elbow to the face knocked Truck Bryant out early in the second, and the game got away from the Mountaineers after that. Villanova went on a 19-3 run sparked by big plays and big shots by all three of their outstanding guards (the Two Coreys and Maalik Wayns). It's been rare this season that all three of those have been on their game at the same time, but when they are they are extremely difficult to guard. And that job became impossible with Truck Bryant out of the game. The three Nova guards combined for 7-for-12 shooting behind the arc for the game. That spurt should remind people that Pitt is probably the only team that can beat a Villanova team playing at their best. Inconsistency has been Villanova's problem, and not much else.

Villanova moves to 7-3 in Big East play with this win, which puts them in a tie for second, and two games back in the loss column behind Pittsburgh. They still have a home-and-home against Pitt, beginning with the home game next Saturday. If Villanova is going to make a run at a Big East title and an NCAA Tournament 1 seed, they have to win that game. West Virginia falls to 6-4 in the Big East with this loss, with wins over Georgetown, Purdue, Vanderbilt and Cincinnati, and no RPI 100+ losses. Their RPI is 15th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be right around 20th. So for the time being they are safely into the NCAA Tournament, and I think a 9-9 finish should be sufficient to keep them in. Their next game is Monday night against Pitt.

Boston College 58, Virginia Tech 56
Boston College is a really solid team in all aspects. They take care of the ball, they shoot well and they hit their free throws. But to win regularly in the ACC you occasionally need a star who can get you a basket when you need one, and BC has a star in Reggie Jackson. Jackson scored ten points down the stretch, including a jumper with about a minute to go that was BC's last score of the game, and the eventual margin of victory. Look at Jackson's stats for the season: he plays 34 minutes per game and uses 27.1% of possessions when on the floor. He has a sick 59.9 eFG% and a 2.1 A/TO ratio. He came into this game with a 124.3 ORtg% from Pomeroy, which makes him tops among all ACC players that use at least 24% of their team's possessions. In my opinion, the ACC Player of the Year battle is down to Jackson, Nolan Smith and Jordan Williams. I just don't see any other serious contender.

This win pushes Boston College to 5-4 in ACC play with a 7-7 record against the RPI Top 100. They have wins over Texas A&M, California, and on the road at Maryland. They have only one bad loss (Yale). Their RPI is 40th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be right aorund 45th. I think that BC will make the NCAA Tournament if they get to 9-7 and win a game in the ACC tournament. Anything less than that and they'll likely need a little help from the bubble. They will play at Clemson on Tuesday, and follow that up against Maryland and then on the road against North Carolina. After that they have an easy finish, with only a road game at Virginia Tech likely to give them a lot of trouble. Virginia Tech is also 5-4 in the ACC and .500 (5-5) against the RPI Top 100, but their overall resume is a little bit softer. They've got quality wins over Oklahoma State, Florida State and Penn State, but also bad losses to Virginia and Georgia Tech. Their RPI is 64th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely be just outside the Top 50 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. They should be in good shape, just like BC, if they can get to 9-7 in ACC play with a win in the ACC tournament. But they've got a slightly harder route, with only two easy games the rest of the way. One of those easy games is up next: a home game against Wake Forest a week from tomorrow.

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