Thursday, February 16, 2012

George Mason Beats VCU In A Thrilling Finish

George Mason 62, VCU 61
The two programs with the most miraculous Final Four runs in the past decade are also among the three teams fighting a great battle for the Colonial title, and they ended this game with a spectacular finish. Vetrail Jenkins hit a three to pull George Mason within a point with 4.2 seconds to go. George Mason quickly fouled Briante Weber, who missed the first and made the second. In this context, making the second was probably actually worse than missing both. Because George Mason was able to take the ball out of bounds, Sherrod Wright was able to get a running start and was able to get close enough to launch a 25 footer that miraculously went in for the win. The star of the game for George Mason was Ryan Pearson, who led all players with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

With this win, George Mason stays tied with Drexel atop the Colonial while VCU falls a game back. Drexel beat both George Mason and VCU head-to-head, but both of those games were at home, so I'm not sure how much that tells us for the conference tournament. It does tell us, though, that Drexel is the favorite to earn the 1 seed in the CAA tournament. George Mason is far from locking up the 2 seed, though. They will have to play at VCU on February 25th.

George Mason is now 22-6 and 14-2 in conference play, but this is their best win and they have losses to Delaware, Duquesne, FAU and FIU. They're only 2-3 against the RPI Top 100, and have three RPI 100+ losses. In other words, despite their gaudy record they aren't really that close to the bubble. They'll have to win the CAA tournament to go Dancing. They will play Lamar and Northeastern before that regular season finale at VCU.

VCU has the strongest at-large resume of any CAA team, but the problem is that the conference just isn't good enough for a team to earn an at-large bid without some big non-conference wins, which VCU doesn't have. They have zero RPI Top 50 wins, and a pair of RPI 100+ losses. For comparison, last year's VCU team had four RPI Top 50 wins on Selection Sunday. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 59th, which is high enough to get them bubble consideration, but it's just hard to see them earning an at-large bid at this point. They will play Northern Iowa on Friday as part of Bracketbusters before closing the regular season against UNC-Wilmington and George Mason.

LSU 69, #23 Mississippi State 67, OT
Mississippi State led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but their offense bogged down in the second half and allowed LSU to get back into the game. There was a bit of a chaotic finish to regulation. After LSU tied the game up, Mississippi State had the chance to basically hold for one (five seconds between the game clock and shot clock), but Arnett Moultrie rushed things and ran into a charge just outside the paint. This gave LSU a chance for the win, but with 30 seconds to work with ended up with a terrible shot and we headed to overtime. In overtime it got even wilder. After Mississippi State went up by four points late, Renardo Sidney took a desperation three-pointer that went in, and Ralston Turner then committed a horrible turnover on the out-of-bounds pass that Brian Bryant stole. Bryant was fouled and hit one-of-two at the line. Anthony Hickey then won the game on a terrific floater in the lane.

Mississippi State won their first five games in SEC play that were decided by five points or less. It got them highly ranked and earned 5 and 6 seeds in mock brackets, but people who understood advanced stats knew that they were overrated. They may have "just known how to win" and other meaningless cliches, but their luck has caught up to them and they've lost two straight overtime games to fall to 6-5 in SEC play with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that has tumbled to 46th. They do have wins over Arizona, West Virginia, Vanderbilt and Alabama, but also have bad losses to Georgia, Akron and Arkansas. If the season ended now they'd still be an NCAA Tournament team, but only narrowly. As I've said all season long, I think Mississippi State needs to get to 9-7 in SEC play and then win a game in the SEC tournament. They should be favored in three of their final five games, so 9-7 is looking like a likely finish. Their next game will be Saturday at Auburn.

LSU has won two straight games to push to 5-6 in SEC play. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way up to a respectable 67th, though they're only 5-8 against the RPI Top 100 and aren't too close to the bubble. With a very manageable final schedule, though, they could get to a 9-7 finish, which would force people to at least consider their bubble chances heading into the SEC tournament. Nobody is paying attention, but it really is a remarkable turnaround for LSU considering how awful they were last season. Their next game will be Saturday at South Carolina.

#6 Ohio State 78, Minnesota 68
This was an impressive thumping by Ohio State. They actually led by as many as 21 points in the first half. Minnesota went on a little run in the final ten minutes of the game, but never got it close enough that the outcome was ever really in doubt. Ralph Sampson III got eaten alive by Jared Sullinger, and ended up spending most of the game on the bench with foul trouble. With Colton Iverson transferred out, Minnesota actually is short on front line depth now. They just had nobody that could stop Sullinger from getting 23 points and earning 12 free throw attempts. William Buford (24 points on 10-for-17 shooting) also had a big day.

A week ago, Minnesota was 5-6 in Big Ten play with excellent computer numbers (wins over Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern, with only a pair of bad losses to Iowa), but as weak as the bubble was at that point I still didn't put Minnesota into my bracket. The reason? Their remaining schedule. They have now lost back-to-back games to Wisconsin and Ohio State, and now head to Northwestern, then come home for Michigan State and Indiana, and then head to Wisconsin. They'll have to somehow split those four games to have a chance of reaching 8-10 in conference play. If they fall to 7-11 then it's extremely difficult to see them earning an at-large bid, no matter how strong their computer numbers end up.

Ohio State is tied with Michigan State atop the Big Ten. They will play some difficult games the rest of the way, including a road game at Michigan on Saturday, but their Big Ten title hopes will end up coming down to that game against Michigan State in East Lansing on March 4th. Ohio State doesn't need the Big Ten regular season title to earn a 1 seed, but it would help.

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