Friday, February 04, 2011

Duke Impresses At Maryland

#6 Duke 80, Maryland 62
Duke proved in their first game since the St. John's debacle how much of a fluke that game was. We can argue whether Maryland is the second best team in the ACC (both Pomeroy and Sagarin rate UNC as narrowly the second best team, with Maryland third), but I feel that Maryland is the toughest ACC opponent for Duke. The Blue Devils have struggled most against dominant offensive big men, which is precisely what Maryland has in Jordan Williams. In addition, UNC's poor ball handling is likely to get eaten up by Duke's tremendous perimeter defense. I just think that Duke is a bad match-up for North Carolina this season. And that's what makes an 18 point road victory at Maryland win so impressive for Duke. The two biggest problems for Duke against St. John's were turnovers and three-point shooting. It was no surprise that those were two strengths for them in this game - they committed 8 turnovers and shot 43.5% behind the arc. Individually, the highlight for Duke was Mason Plumlee hitting 6-for-7 from the field and coming down with 11 rebounds. Anytime they're getting quality production inside it really opens things up outside for their array of outside shooters.

I still think Duke is in a very strong position for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament because they should easily win the ACC regular season title, and they are the heavy favorites to win the ACC tournament title. If they do collect both of those they'll be a 1 seed. Maryland remains among the Top 25 teams according to Sagarin and Pomeroy, but as good as they are they still have to get into the NCAA Tournament, and a 1-7 record against the RPI Top 50 isn't going to cut it, particularly when that one win was only against Penn State. Their RPI is 75th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 67th. No team with an ELO_CHESS of 67th will make the Tournament. Particularly with a lack of big wins (and with no regular season games left against Duke, they're unlikely to end up with one), the Terps need to get their ELO_CHESS inside the Top 50 to go Dancing. They play Wake Forest at home on Saturday. Their next key game will be the following Saturday at Boston College.

#6 San Diego State 56, Colorado State 54
DJ Gay hit a dagger with less than two seconds left to kill what might end up being Colorado State's best chance to earn their way onto the bubble. Colorado State is a team known for their offense, but it was their defense that came to play in this game. San Diego's froncourt tends to dominate basically everybody, but CSU held SDSU's starting frontcourt to 12-for-30 shooting, and SDSU as a team only had four offensive rebounds. But with a 38.4 eFG%, CSU couldn't hit a shot. A 14-for-22 performance at the free throw line was also a killer.

Colorado State really could have used this victory, as they still only have one RPI Top 50 victory (UNLV) along with two bad losses (Hampton and Sam Houston State). Their RPI is 48th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 50th, but they just don't have enough big wins yet. I think they'd be considered for an at-large bid if the season ended now, but I don't see any way they'd actually be selected. A win here would have changed that. Colorado State does still have road games to play against BYU and SDSU, and they've also got home games with UNLV and New Mexico. At 5-3 in the Mountain West, they'd be considered on Selection Sunday if they can win at least one of those four games to get to 10-6. But they really need to win a second to get to 11-5 to have a good shot of actually making it. SDSU, of course, is not worrying about getting into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, they were getting some 1 seed buzz before the loss to BYU. And if they win out through the regular season and Mountain West tournament I do think they'll have an excellent shot at a 1 seed. But I don't think that will happen. I still view BYU as the slightly better team. SDSU's next tough test will be February 12th at UNLV.

Belmont 76, Jacksonville 70
Belmont is a team that deserves more attention (or if we're talking about the mainstream national media it would be nice if they got any attention). The fact that they couldn't close the deal at Tennessee back in late December (they lost by one point) means that they don't have a quality win, but they have probably been more dominant in conference play than any other team in the nation. They've played 14 games in conference, and this is only the third that was decided by single digits. They did lose one of those three games, but they also had a remarkable stretch in early-to-mid January where they won four straight games by 25+ points, with three of those wins coming against teams in the top five of the Atlantic Sun standings. While it has gotten them exactly zero at-large buzz it does have the computers impressed. Pomeroy rates them 33rd and their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 30th. If Belmont goes undefeated the rest of the way but loses in the A-Sun tournament finals they'll end up 29-5, and they would be on the bubble. They'd be a tough case because of the fact that they haven't beaten anybody good (once again, that one point loss to Tennessee looms), but I doubt it comes to that. The way Belmont has destroyed the conference this season I don't expect them to fall in the A-Sun tournament. They're likely to end up with a 12 or 13 seed, and they're going to be a very, very dangerous first round opponent.

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