Saturday, February 05, 2011

George Mason Wins Their 9th Straight

George Mason 62, Old Dominion 45
There are few teams in the country as red hot as George Mason, and they won their ninth in a row here by slaughtering a very good Old Dominion team. George Mason's strength has been a very efficient offense, but they've also played strong perimeter defense, which paid off with 1-for-15 outside shooting for Old Dominion. Also, there are only a couple of teams in the nation that rebound as well as Old Dominion, so George Mason gets a lot of credit by fighting to a draw on the boards (George Mason had an offensive rebounding percentage of 31.5%, Old Dominion had one of 35%). Perhaps the most bizarre stat in the Top 25 polls this past week was George Mason receiving zero votes. Even Coastal Carolina picked up 14 votes combined between the two polls. That's a joke. Anybody that voted for Coastal Carolina over George Mason should have their voting privileges revoked.

I do think George Mason's shutout in the polls should end this week. They are now 19-5 with wins over Duquesne, Harvard, Drexel and Old Dominion. Questionable losses were against Hofstra, NC State and Wofford. George Mason should get credit for the fact that the NC State and Wofford losses were before Thanksgiving, and the team right now is far better than it was back then. George Mason's RPI is 24th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 30th. Not only would they earn an at-large bid if the season ended now, but I'm very confident that they can absorb one more regular season loss without falling out of the Field of 68. They have two very difficult games remaining: at VCU (February 15th) and at Northern Iowa (February 19th). Old Dominion has a good resume as well. They've got wins over Xavier, Clemson, Richmond, Dayton and George Mason. Delaware is their only RPI 60+ loss. Their RPI is 29th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should stay inside the Top 35. I think ODU can also afford one regular season loss without falling out of the bracket, although they've got a tougher schedule. ODU still has road games at VCU and James Madison, as well as a home game against Cleveland State.

UCLA 66, St. John's 59
This was a bizarre game statistically. Dwight Hardy hit nearly as many shots from the field (13) as the entire UCLA team (18). Meanwhile, there were three different UCLA players that attempted more free throws than the entire St. John's team. The Johnnies attempted seven free throws all game, but their 23 fouls committed led to an insane 41 free throw attempts for UCLA. In other words, almost every time UCLA attacked the basket they ended up getting fouled and heading to the line for two. Certainly that will frustrate Steve Lavin in his return to Pauley Pavilion. And this loss adds emphasis to the fact that despite the win over Duke the Johnnies still have a lot of work to do to get themselves into the NCAA Tournament. St. John's has an RPI of 23rd, but their RPI is inflated because of their strength of schedule. They are 5-5 in the Big East and 6-7 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Duke, Georgetown, Notre Dame and West Virginia, along with losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be near 35th after this loss, and their Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings will both be outside the Top 50. So they are in the Field of 68 for now, but not by a lot, and the computers expect them to fade. If they can get to 9-9 in Big East play they'll certainly have the computer numbers to get in the Tournament, but the Selection Committee will be scared by that won-loss record. A 9-9 finish and a loss in their first Big East tournament game will make them 17-14 overall. Regardless of schedule strength, that's a lot to ask of the Selection Committee. So I think St. John's really needs to get to 10-8, or they've got to do some work in the Big East tournament. Their next game is Thursday night against UConn.

UCLA collects their second RPI Top 50 victory of the season with this win (BYU is the other). A loss to Montana is their only really bad loss (a loss at USC is questionable, but I wouldn't categorize it as a "bad" loss). UCLA is 7-3 in the Pac-10 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should move to somewhere around 50-55th with this win. In my opinion that resume leaves them narrowly outside the Field of 68 if the season ended now, but they're definitely on the bubble. I think the path to an at-large bid is a 12-6 or better finish with a win over Washington or Arizona, and then at least one win in the Pac-10 tournament.

#9 BYU 78, UNLV 64
UNLV played really well in this game. They kept Jimmer Fredette under control with only 6-for-14 shooting from the field (16-for-16 at the free throw line, though), and won the possession battle with ten more offensive rebounds and only one more turnover. But 6-for-23 three-point shooting held them back (UNLV has been streaky all season, and honestly they've been cold more than they've been hot). And really, it was going to take a perfect game to knock off this BYU team in Provo. But this game should give UNLV confidence, and assuming they get by a road game at TCU on Thursday they'll be ready for a big home game next Saturday against San Diego State. UNLV is 5-4 in Mountain West play and 5-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Wisconsin, Kansas State and New Mexico, and only one bad loss to UCSB. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should stay very close to 30th even after this loss. If they can get to 10-6 in conference play they should lock themselves into the NCAA Tournament.

BYU move to 8-1 in MWC play, and shouldn't be too tested again in the regular season other than that road game at San Diego State on February 26th. They don't have to play UNLV again, and their remaining games against Colorado State and New Mexico will be at home. If they can pull the upset of SDSU and win out, and then win the Mountain West tournament, I do think that will be the formula for a 1 seed at the NCAA Tournament. Even with a loss at SDSU, wins in all of their other games along with a win in the Mountain West tournament should lock them into a 2 seed. And I don't see any way at this point that they finish worse than a 3 seed, barring something like a catastrophic Jimmer Fredette injury.

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