Thursday, February 24, 2011

Florida Clinches A Share Of The SEC East Title

Florida 71, Georgia 62
Coming off a road victory at Vanderbilt, Georgia actually led for almost the entire first half in this game, briefly getting the lead up to double-digits. But over time the Gators began to enforce their will, and pulled away down the stretch. The difference in the game was the Florida backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, who combined for 33 points and were uncharacteristically clean with the ball (two turnovers). With this win Florida moves to 11-2 in the SEC, which clinches at least a share of the SEC East title. Alabama is sitting at 10-2, but it really doesn't matter, particularly since Florida's record has come against a much tougher schedule. Florida moves to 22-5 with this win, including an 8-1 record against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee (twice) and Kansas State, along with bad losses to Mississippi State, Jacksonville and South Carolina. Their RPI is 12th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is in the Top 20. If the season ended now they'd be a 4-5 seed and can potentially get as high as a 3 seed. I think that the weakness of the SEC probably precludes a 2 seed, even if they win out, unless they get a lot of help.

With this loss, Georgia remains on the bubble. They are 7-6 in the SEC with a 3-9 record against the RPI Top 50 (and a 15-0 record against everybody else). Those three big wins have come against Kentucky, Tennessee and UAB. Their RPI is 39th, which is approximately where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be in the NCAA Tournament, but with a seed in the 9-11 range. I think that they need to win at least two of their three remaining regular season games to avoid needing to do work in the SEC tournament. With home games up next against South Carolina and LSU, they should be able to take care of business.

Kansas State 61, Nebraska 57
Kansas State has struggled to shoot the ball away from home this year (other than the inexplicable 86 points they put up at Iowa State a few weeks ago), and they struggled again here, particularly in the first half. But the Kansas State defense showed up and forced 17 turnovers and held Nebraska to a 39.8 eFG% themselves. That, along with 20 second half points from Jacob Pullen, was enough for a huge road victory for the Wildcats. With this win they put themselves firmly into the NCAA Tournament, for now. They still only have that one big win over Kansas, but that's a very nice scalp, and other than a season sweep to Colorado they haven't lost to a single team outside the RPI Top 60. They are 7-6 in Big 12 play and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way up to 33rd. They should be favored in two of their three remaining games (vs Missouri, at Texas, vs Iowa State), and if they can go 2-1 that should just about lock up an at-large bid. If they finish 1-2 in their final three games then they'll have some work left to do in the Big 12 tournament.

Nebraska started to get a little bit of bubble hype after that upset of Texas, but if they really did get on the bubble they weren't there very long. They're now 6-7 in the Big 12 and 2-6 against the RPI Top 50 with wins over Texas and Texas A&M along with bad losses to Davidson and Texas Tech. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen all the way to 60th. They can't afford to finish worse than 2-1 to keep their at-large hopes alive, and it won't be easy (at Iowa State, vs Missouri, at Colorado). According to Pomeroy, Nebraska's win probability in those three games varies between 42% and 51%. So they basically have three toss-ups and have to win at least two of them.

UNLV 77, New Mexico 74, OT
New Mexico fought back from a 15 point second half deficit and actually had the ball and a one point lead with under 30 seconds left. But after being fouled, Dairese Gary hit only one-of-two at the line, and then after Oscar Bellfield tied up the game for UNLV it was Gary again that missed a game-winner at the buzzer. UNLV took the lead in overtime and survived a couple of game tying attempts from the Lobos. Tre'Von Willis led the way for UNLV with 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting (including 5-for-6 behind the arc). This is getting disheartening for a New Mexico team that has now lost four straight games, all by single-digits. The Lobos are 2-6 overall this season in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. And that's why their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 48th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 84th. They're now only 5-8 in Mountain West play, and really need to win out to keep their at-large hopes alive. They still have a road game at BYU ahead, so it's something of a long shot at this point.

UNLV, meanwhile, just about locks up an at-large bid with this win. They are 9-5 in Mountain West play and 7-6 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Wisconsin, Kansas State and Colorado State, along with just one bad loss (UC-Santa Barbara). Their RPI is 25th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way up to 21st. I would say that one more win against anybody between now and Selection Sunday will lock up an at-large bid for sure. After that they can begin worrying about their NCAA Tournament seed, which at this point is probably in the 6-8 range. Having the Mountain West tournament on their home floor will give them a great opportunity to do some damage and to build on that seed.

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