Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cincinnati Beats Louisville, Nears The Bubble

Cincinnati 60, #17 Louisville 56
There are few teams as dependent on three-point shooting as Louisville, though you wouldn't think it from the stats. They are only taking 33.3% of their shots behind the arc, and only scoring 26.0% of their offense behind the arc. Both are close to the national averages (32.9% and 27.6%, respectively). But the three-pointer opens up their dribble-drive offense, and when it's not falling they tend to lose. In Big East play, Louisville has hit fewer than 1/3 of their threes six times: they are 1-5 in those games. They have hit more than 1/3 of their threes six times, and are 6-0 in those games. Their 1-for-14 shooting behind the arc in this game was their single worst performance of the season. Naturally, they lost the game.

Louisville's cold shooting was Cincinnati's gain. The Bearcats have won five of six to move to 10-5 in Big East play. They are 6-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Georgetown, Notre Dame, Louisville, UConn and Seton Hall, along with bad losses to St. John's, Presbyterian and Rutgers. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 43rd. There's no question that they'd be a Tournament team if the season ended now, but unless they go 2-1 or better down the stretch they're going to enter the Big East tournament with work left to do.

Louisville drops to 9-6 in Big East play with this loss, making it unlikely that they'll earn one of the four double-byes in the Big East tournament. They're 8-6 against the RPI Top 100 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 21st, so they're in no real risk of falling near the bubble, but a finish worse than 11-7 in Big East play will harm their Tournament seed. With a road game at Syracuse looming as their regular season finale, it's important that Louisville take care of business at home against Pittsburgh (tomorrow) and USF (Wednesday).

UTEP 76, Southern Miss 68, 2OT
I'm sure that some people are tired of me talking about "luck", but Southern Miss was another one of those teams that had results that didn't match up with how good their team actually is. Despite being rated near 50th in the nation by Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR they've been ranked as high as 28th in the AP Poll, and their RPI has been in the Top 15 for much of the season. The reason? A 9-2 record in games decided by five points or less or in overtime. Well, it was 9-2... it's now 9-4 thanks to a loss to Houston and now this double-overtime loss to UTEP.

Southern Miss has a bunch of excellent scorers. The fact that a talent like Darnell Dodson is coming off the bench is a testament to that. But what I've noticed every time I watch them play is that their perimeter defense is way too aggressive, and they're poor as a team at help defense. The result is that they make it way too easy to beat them and get to the hoop. This is a characteristic that I think will give them particular problems with Memphis in the Conference USA tournament, and it's why they are only 10th in Conference USA in eFG%, and it's why they've allowed 1.00 PPP in conference play (tied for the 9th best defense in the conference). The only teams in Conference USA allowing more points per possession in conference play are East Carolina and Houston, teams that are a combined 7-19 in conference play right now.

The Golden Eagles still have a 9-3 record against the RPI Top 100, which seems super impressive until you break it down. They've only beaten one team that I currently have in the NCAA Tournament - Memphis. Meanwhile, they have bad losses against Denver, Houston, UTEP and UAB. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen to 36th. Having an ELO_CHESS that high is almost always a guarantee of a Tournament bid, but with their lack of big wins it's a bit iffy. I'm pretty confident that Southern Miss would be a Tournament team if the season ended now, but unless they win their final three regular season games they're going to enter the C-USA tournament with work left to do. Their next game will be against Rice. Their toughest game remaining (by far) will be a road game at Marshall on March 3rd.

This win moves UTEP to 7-6, which puts them in a tie for 6th, and only a game out of 4th. It would be huge if they could somehow steal 4th place as the top four teams in Conference USA earn a bye to the quarterfinals. Their next game is their toughest remaining, on the road at UCF.

Iowa 67, #15 Wisconsin 66
I'm not sure I've seen a player all season who's been as hot as Matt Gatens has been the past two games. After scoring 30 points with 7-for-10 shooting behind the arc against Indiana, he repeated that performance here with another 7-for-10 game behind the arc and 34 total points. Considering the fact that Wisconsin is probably the best team defending threes in the nation (even after this game they still lead the nation with only 3.5 made threes allowed per game), and how much effort Wisconsin put into stopping him (switching defenders, doubling, getting physical), it was just remarkable. He was hitting fadeaway threes with hands in his face. At that point, if you're Wisconsin, you just have to applaud that performance and move on.

As for Wisconsin, they managed to lose by only a point despite not only the Gatens performance, but also arguably the worst performance Jordan Taylor has given them all season (9 points, 4 assists, 4 turnovers). I've noticed a whole bunch of people talking about how "disappointing" Taylor has been this season, and how much he has regressed. It seems to me that the people saying this are the same ones that didn't realize Taylor was an elite player last season until the advanced statistical community beat them over the head for a couple of months. Taylor is currently rated the 7th best player in the nation by Pomeroy's KPOY ratings. If being the 7th best player in the nation is a huge disappointment, I don't think any of his opponents would like to see him when he's exceeding expectations.

To be fair, Taylor's 3P% is down this season (34%, compared to 43% last season), but I think that has more to do with not having Jon Leuer around this season. He's had to take a lot of desperation threes at the end of the shot clock this season. His 2P% is basically the same as it was last season (43.2% vs 43.6%), and his A/TO ratio is still an excellent 2.6.

In my view, the criticism of Taylor comes from the same place as the continued effort of the national media to ignore Virginia's Mike Scott. National media types aren't paying attention to efficiency. They're looking for spectacular plays - dunks, blocks, steals. They want to see great athletes running the floor and scoring lots of points. Guys that play on teams with slower tempos get ignored, even though teams get the same number of points if they hit their basket at 10 on the shot clock or 30. Ken Pomeroy likes to jokingly calls the media "pacists" for this. How much more attention has Austin Rivers gotten than Mike Scott? And all this despite the fact that Scott is the star of a Top 25 team, and is unquestionably the best player in the ACC, and a guy who should be a candidate for National POY. But Scott is held back in national perception by the same thing Taylor is held back by - pace.

With a win here, Wisconsin would have just about locked up a top four seed in the Big Ten tournament (and the first round bye in the Big Ten tournament that goes with it). They're now only a game clear of Indiana and Purdue with a road game at Ohio State up next (tomorrow). The good news for Wisconsin is that their final two match-ups will be winnable home games (against Minnesota and Illinois, two teams they've already beaten on the road), and they have the head-to-head tiebreaker against both teams that are a game behind them in the standings (Indiana and Purdue). So even if Wisconsin loses to Ohio State, they'll still clinch that bye if they take care of business at home.

Iowa moves to 7-8 in Big Ten play, starting up the bubble talk, but I'm skeptical. They are 9-13 against the RPI Top 200 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 77th. If the season ended now, not only would Iowa not be in the Tournament, but they wouldn't even be in the Selection Committee discussion. I doubt they'd even get into the NIT. The only way I can see them having a shot will be if they win their final three regular season games, not one of which will be "easy". If they somehow win these next three games, only then will they merit serious bubble consideration. Their next game will be tomorrow at Illinois.

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