Friday, February 18, 2011

Temple Thumps Richmond

#25 Temple 73, Richmond 53
Temple was hot from the field and grabbed an early lead. And they are one of those teams that is just so hard to come back on because they play at a deliberate pace and play tremendous defense near the basket (a 42.7% two-point shooting defense). They can be vulnerable to hot outside shooting, but if you're not hitting your threes (Richmond hit only 33% in this game) it's extremely difficult to come back on them. Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore led the way for Temple offensively, scoring 44 points on 19-for-25 shooting (with zero made free throws combined). They scored nearly as many points on 25 shots as Richmond scored in the entire game.

Temple moves to 10-2 with this win, staying in very close competition for an Atlantic Ten regular season title. They are one game behind Xavier, a team which will have the head-to-head tiebreaker. This win pushed Temple's RPI up to 19th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 24th. They have wins over Georgetown, Maryland, Georgia, Dayton and Richmond, and no RPI 100+ losses. Regardless of who they've beaten, no team with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 24th is going to be denied an at-large bid, but those big wins will help them should they lose a couple of games down the stretch. Temple will head to Duke on Wednesday, but other than that they only will play RPI 100+ teams the rest of the regular season. If they can avoid an upset in any of those RPI 100+ games I can't see any scenario where Temple misses out on the NCAA Tournament, even if they lose to Duke and lose in their first A-10 tournament game.

While Temple and Xavier are both safely in the NCAA Tournament for now, Richmond is the team best positioned to give the A-10 a third NCAA Tournament team, but this loss probably drops them out of the Field of 68 for now. They are 9-3 in A-10 play with wins over Purdue, VCU and Dayton, along with bad losses to Iona and Georgia Tech. Their RPI is 69th, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is still 52nd. They're right on the bubble, and the Purdue win really helps, but right now I think they'd be very narrowly out of the Tournament. That said, they have a good opportunity down the stretch, with three easy opponents followed by a home game against Duquesne. A win in all four of those games will definitely put them into the Tournament heading into the Atlantic Ten tournament. If they lose any of those four games then they'll have to win at least a game or two in the A-10 tournament to get an at-large bid.

#6 San Diego State 68, New Mexico 62
San Diego State has started making their games interesting. Four of their last five games have been decided by seven points or less. But they've won them all, and continue their march to their home game against BYU next Saturday. It's pretty clear at this point that the Mountain West regular season title will come down to that game. It's also pretty clear that either SDSU or BYU will have a chance for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can win out. An interesting question will be if both teams can earn 2 seeds or better, although that could come down to how the Big East and Big Ten perform over the next few weeks more than anything else. It's worthwhile to point out that SDSU's opponent tomorrow is Air Force, and the game will be played in Colorado Springs. That won't be an automatic win for SDSU, particularly when you consider that January 5th was the last time SDSU won a road game by more than ten points.

As for New Mexico, their road woes continue. They have zero road wins this season over teams rated by Sagarin or Pomeroy among the Top 100 in the country. They also have suffered two bad road losses: Wyoming and Utah. At The Pit they've been strong, collecting quality wins over BYU, Colorado State and Colorado, and they haven't lost to a team outside the RPI Top 80. But the Selection Committee wants to see a team win a quality game away from home, and New Mexico's Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 60th is also a big problem. If the season ended now they'd be heading to the NIT. New Mexico is 5-6 in Mountain West play and needs to get to at least 9-7. If they can't win at BYU then they've got to win their remaining regular season games, including a home game against UNLV on Wednesday night. They will play Utah tomorrow.

Penn State 66, Minnesota 63
This was a brutally ugly game. Minnesota committed 18 turnovers and was unable to take advantage of a major size advantage. Meanwhile, Penn State seemed satisfied to pass the ball around the perimeter, shooting three-pointers all game. Talor Battle shot 14 three-pointers alone, and the team as a whole only attempted 20 two-pointers. Both teams shot near 60% from the free throw line, which helped keep Penn State from putting the game away. But on Minnesota's final five possessions they had one made basket and two turnovers, which saved the Nittany Lions and dealt a tough blow to a Minnesota team that has fallen from the Top 25 to the edge of the bubble relatively quickly.

Minnesota is 6-8 in Big Ten play with wins over Purdue, North Carolina and West Virginia, along with bad losses to Virginia and Indiana. Their RPI is 41st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 36th. If the season ended now they would still be in the Tournament, but that 6-8 record is a problem. Minnesota cannot finish worse than 8-10 to keep their at-large hopes realistic (no Big Ten team has ever finished 7-11 and earned an at-large bid). Their remaining schedule has several tough games, including a home game against Michigan State and a road game at Northwestern. If they can go 3-1 over those four games and win their first Big Ten tournament game they'll be in the Field of 68 for sure. Anything less than that and they could end up on the bubble.

Penn State is up to 7-7 in Big Ten play, and now have wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois and Minnesota. That's a Tournament quality performance in conference play. The problem is that out-of-conference they did nothing - actually, worse than nothing. Their only RPI Top 100 win came at home against Duquesne, which is more than balanced out by a loss to Maine. Their overall record is only 14-11, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is still only 63rd. They have a brutal end to their regular season (at Wisconsin, at Northwestern, vs Ohio State, at Minnesota), so if they can even go 2-2 over that stretch they will improve their resume. If they can achieve that and win at least one Big Ten tournament game, they should at least be in the discussion on Selection Sunday. But they'll need to do even more than that to feel good about their Tournament chances.

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