Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisconsin Breaks Michigan's Heart

#12 Wisconsin 53, Michigan 52
If you know a Michigan fan, give them a hug. That was one of the most heartbreaking losses I've seen all season. In a game that Michigan desperately needed (more on that in a moment), they led nearly the entire way due to poor Wisconsin play both on offense and defense. Wisconsin did hit 7-for-29 behind the arc, but more importantly their defense was horrid. Michigan wasn't playing particularly well, but Wisconsin's play gave Michigan a chance to close the game out. And with a chance to lock up the game, Michigan's final four offensive possessions consisted of two turnovers, a missed layup, and a missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one. That gave Wisconsin a chance for a buzzer-beating three-pointer... which they banked in. That's one of the most heartbreaking losses for any team in the country this season.

That loss is particularly killer because a win would have vaulted Michigan into a lot of brackets on bracketology sites. They were already a bubble team, and a win over Wisconsin would have been huge. Now they are 7-9 in the Big Ten and a brutal 2-9 against the RPI Top 50 (the two wins came against Michigan State and Harvard). Their RPI is 58th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be narrowly out of the Top 50 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Obviously they need to win their final two regular season games to stay in a good position for an at-large bid (at Minnesota on Saturday, and then at home against Michigan State the following Saturday). If they split those two games they won't be completely eliminated but they'll need to win a couple of Big Ten tournament games at a minimum. Certainly they can't afford to lose both or they're done.

This was a bit of a fluky win for Wisconsin after such a poor performance, but in the end it's actually their second best true road victory of the season. It looks very likely that they're heading for a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but with this win tonight a 2 seed is not entirely out of the question. They still will get a chance at Ohio State to really bolster their resume. With the win Wisconsin also clinches a bye to the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, which will help them in their quest for a Big Ten tournament title.

Tennessee 60, #18 Vanderbilt 51
This was Bruce Pearl's 200th game at Tennessee, and it came during a very rocky week off-the-court for him. It was also a rocky game on the court for both of these teams. Both teams hit 39% from the field and under 20% behind the arc. But a poor shooting game like this is what Tennessee wants. They don't have the offensive weapons to score a lot of points, but they have a lot of athleticism on the boards and defensively. They forced 15 steals and collected 11 offensive rebounds (compared to 3 for Vanderbilt), and that led to 13 more shots from the field for the Vols. That was the difference in this very big win.

The reality is that Tennessee was very much on the bubble before this win, and even with this win they are a long way from locking up an at-large bid. They are 7-5 against the RPI Top 50 but a putrid 10-6 against everybody else. They are 7-6 in the SEC and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 46th. If the season ended now they'd be in the Tournament with a seed in the 7-11 range. I think a 2-1 finish to the regular season and a win in the SEC tournament should be sufficient to lock up that at-large bid. They play Mississippi State on Saturday and then will play on the road at South Carolina before getting a home visit from Kentucky. If they can win out they'll probably grab third place in the SEC East which will make their road through the SEC tournament much easier. SEC East teams want to avoid fourth place because that means a quarterfinal match-up with Alabama - the only SEC West team that scares anybody.

#1 Duke 78, #24 Temple 61
I'm not sure how much there really is to say about this game. Temple played well in this one, but they never had a chance on the road at Cameron Indoor. Duke grabbed a small lead early on and expanded on it bit by bit throughout the game. Temple forced 8 steals (and only committed 12 turnovers) while collecting 14 offensive rebounds and shot 42% behind the arc.... and lost by 17 points. There's really nothing else to say.

One thing I will point out is that I've been keeping Duke #1 overall in my BP68 projections not because I think they're the best team in the nation, but because their schedule is so easy. I just view them as the safest pick to earn a 1 seed in the Tournament because they are such heavy, heavy favorites to win the ACC tournament. They might lose at Chapel Hill next week, but that won't cost them if they win the ACC tournament. Duke just doesn't have teams like Purdue, Texas and Georgetown to challenge them.

As for Temple, they won't be penalized for losing to Duke. They are still 11-2 in the Atlantic Ten with a 7-6 record against the RPI Top 100 and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that should stay in the Top 30. They play three RPI 100+ teams to end the regular season, and assuming they take care of business in all three they'll be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. They can even afford to lose one of those games and they should still be okay. But they haven't lost a game all season to a team outside the RPI Top 90 so I like their chances to win out.


Evan Christopher Burke said...

That Michigan game was so sad last night:(

Jeff said...

Evan, I know that you don't want to hear about Luck after a loss like that, but I think as a Michigan fan you should be optimistic about the future with so much youth. Even though the NCAA Tournament is looking like a long shot for this season, at this point they certainly look like a team that will go Dancing in 2012.