Thursday, February 24, 2011

Marquette Finally Wins a Close Game

Marquette 74, #15 UConn 67, OT
Marquette grabbed an 11 point lead at halftime of this game, which they proceeded to squander in mere minutes. UConn went on 20-4 run to start the second half, and with Marquette blowing through timeout after timeout to try to stay in the game, it just seemed like deja vu all over again. I can't think of another team that has blown more second half leads than Marquette this season, and they came into this one only 3-7 in games decided by five points or less. But UConn was determined to blow this game, and they achieved that by throwing the ball away with 11 seconds left and a 2 point lead. That led to a Darius Johnson-Odom layup, a missed Kemba Walker buzzer beater, and overtime. In overtime it was never really that close, and Marquette collected by far their best road win of the season (previous to this their only RPI Top 100 victory away from home came at Rutgers).

Marquette was right on the bubble coming into this game, but in my opinion they're clearly in the Field of 68 after this win, despite that 17-11 overall record. They are 8-7 in the Big East and have wins over Notre Dame, Syracuse, UConn and West Virginia, and that loss at Rutgers is their only outside the RPI Top 50. Their RPI is only 54th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be up near 30th. With a relatively weak remaining schedule (vs Providence, vs Cincinnati, at Seton Hall), I'd like to see Marquette win two of three to stay firmly in the Tournament. Two wins there plus one in the Big East tournament will get them to 20 wins and should lock up an at-large bid. Anything less than that and they could find themselves left out in the cold on Selection Sunday. UConn falls to 8-7 with this loss, which actually drops them out of the top half of the Big East. They're certainly not going to want to need to play in the first round of the Big East tournament. They'll probably need to go 2-1 down the stretch against a difficult schedule (at Cincy, at WVU, vs Notre Dame) to avoid that fate.

Old Dominion 75, James Madison 59
At this point, it's a news story when Old Dominion doesn't blow away a Colonial opponent on the boards. And honestly, they didn't blow James Madison away on the boards here. Their 37.9% offensive rebounding percentage was actually down from the 45.1% they were averaging coming in. That 45.1% was #1 in the entire nation. ODU dominated this game by playing very deliberate offensive, and working the ball patiently into the paint. They committed only six turnovers, which led to 13 more shots from the field and 9 more at the line. It's hard to lose a game when you get that many more shots than your opponent.

ODU moves to 13-4 in CAA play with this win, and they will close the regular season on Saturday at home against William & Mary. Assuming they don't fall in that game (they'll be at least 15 point favorites) they'll be locked into the NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens in the Colonial tournament. But ODU has a strong enough resume this year that they could earn a nice Tournament seed, potentially putting them in position for a Sweet 16 run. With a win in the Colonial tournament they could realistically earn as high as a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UW-Milwaukee 87, Cleveland State 83
UW-Milwaukee has been a giant killer in the Horizon League this season. They beat Butler twice, and also beat Valparaiso and now Cleveland State. They also came within three points of knocking off Marquette. Of course, they also have horrid losses to Western Michigan, Buffalo, DePaul and Loyola-Chicago, so they're a long shot to even make the NIT. But they've done their damage to Butler's at-large hopes, and now they've damaged Cleveland State. The Vikings are still 23-7, but they're 0-4 against the RPI Top 50 and have a bad loss to Detroit. Their RPI is 40th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall to around 50th, and the lack of big wins have them definitely out of the Field of 68 for now. They have a home game on Saturday against UW-Green Bay, and if they can win that and then make it to the Horizon League finals then they'll at least have a shot on Selection Sunday, but I don't like their odds. This loss also puts into risk a first or second place finish in the Horizon standings - either position would net them a bye to the Horizon tournament semifinals. Right now there's a possibility of a four-way tie atop the standings, and somebody else is going to have to figure out how they'd sort that out.

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