Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Syracuse Upsets Villanova

#20 Syracuse 69, #14 Villanova 64
This was one of the more surprising results of the past week. Villanova got Corey Stokes back after he had missed three games, and Villanova was celebrating senior night (they actually have one more home game, but it will be over Villanova's spring break, so they decided to celebrate while all of the students were around). Also, you'd figure that the fact that Villanova's offensive strength is its guards, and that they can hit shots from outside, would make them a tough match-up for the Syracuse zone. Well, what happened was that Villanova hit 5-for-26 behind the arc. In fact, if you take out the 5-for-10 shooting behind the arc for Corey Stokes, Villanova as a team hit 0-for-16 behind the arc. Villanova just kept chucking, and kept bricking.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this game didn't really matter a whole lot. Both of these teams are making the Tournament, and neither is contending for a Big East title. They're jockeying for a 3, 4 or 5 seed in the Tournament, and that's about it. Syracuse moves to 10-6 in the Big East and 7-4 against the RPI Top 50. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 12th, and will likely move that into the Top Ten if they can win their next game, on Saturday at Georgetown. They'd be a 3 or 4 seed in the Tournament if the season ended now, and could potentially rise as high as a 2 if they win the Big East tournament.

Villanova falls to 9-6 in the Big East and 6-5 against the RPI Top 50. Their RPI has fallen to 29th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen to 20th. Their strong set of wins mean that they wouldn't get worse than a 5 seed if the season ended now, but their remaining schedule will not ease up. They will play St. John's on Saturday, and then will head on the road to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Also, now that they've fallen to seventh place in the Big East, they are in a risk of falling out of the top half of the conference, which would force them to have to win five games to win the Big East tournament. No team has ever done that in the modern Big East tournament format.

#3 Ohio State 89, Illinois 70

Believe it or not, Illinois actually has a pretty good defense. It was a testament to the Ohio State offense that they absolutely blitzed the Illinois defense for 40 minutes in this game. Illinois hit 8 of their first 9 three-pointers and still were losing, and ended up losing this game by 19 points despite hitting 11-for-21 behind the arc, with an overall 62.0 eFG%. After very sloppy play against Purdue, Ohio State came back with only three turnovers in this game. Throw in a 38.7 offensive rebounding percentage and a 58.3 eFG% and Ohio State's offense was nearly unstoppable. The Buckeyes move to 13-2 in the Big Ten with this win, and closer to a Big Ten regular season title. Their next game will be Sunday afternoon against Indiana.

A win in this game would have done wonders for the Illini's resume. With the loss they fall to 7-8 in the Big Ten and 10-9 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan State, along with bad losses to Illinois and Illinois-Chicago. Their RPI is 39th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 35th. There's no question that they'd be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but they'll be at risk if they can't get to 9-9 in Big Ten play. That would require a 2-1 finish, and they will be favored in two of their remaining three games (home games against Indiana and Iowa). Their Iowa home game is next, on Saturday evening.

Michigan State 53, Minnesota 48
Compared to the Ohio State/Illinois game, this game seemed to be out of the 1950s. The early parts of the game were particularly brutal offensively. Ten minutes into the game the score was 9-9. Minnesota's struggles offensively were because of personnel. Without Al Nolen they start four forwards and typically have only one player on the floor at a time that can hit an outside shot, so Michigan State smartly kept all of their defenders (other than whoever was chasing around any outside shooters) near the paint, clogging things up for Minnesota's forwards. I don't know how many times I saw a Minnesota big man catch a pass 23 feet from the basket who then proceeded to stand there looking around helplessly for somebody to pass the ball to, with an MSU defender sagging 8 feet off. Michigan State's offensive struggles, on the other hand, were just poor outside shooting (6-for-24 behind the arc). They couldn't hit anything early in the game, but managed to hit enough late to carry them through to a big win.

Michigan State moves to 8-7 in the Big Ten, which is good for fourth place. Their RPI is 35th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should even be slightly better. I think Michigan State can lock up their NCAA Tournament bid with two more wins, either in the regular season or in the Big Ten tournament. They'll get a chance to really firm things up on Saturday when Purdue comes to town. With a win there they'll almost be home free.

Minnesota now falls to a brutal 6-9 record in the Big Ten. They are 5-8 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over North Carolina, West Virginia and Purdue, along with bad losses to Indiana and Virginia. Their RPI is 49th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should be narrowly outside the Top 40. That's a good crop of wins and those computer numbers are good, but it's hard to see the Selection Committee taking a team that finishes 7-11 or worse in the Big Ten. So the way I see it, Minnesota needs to finish 2-1 or 3-0 down the stretch. Their final three games are all winnable (vs Michigan, at Northwestern, vs Penn State), but they've got to take care of business. The Michigan game will be first, on Saturday afternoon.

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