Saturday, March 03, 2012

North Carolina Torches Duke In Cameron

#6 North Carolina 88, #3 Duke 70
All of Duke's flaws reared their ugly heads in the first half of this game. Duke's defense is flat out mediocre, and they just couldn't get a stop. The Tar Heels led 48-24 at the break. Duke's offense is excellent, and they were able to put up a bunch of points in a hurry in the second half, pulling as close as 11 points. But North Carolina scored 40 points in the second half, and Duke was never going to score 64 in a half. Duke's problems go beyond just defense - they also lack the rebounding prowess they had on their last National Title team. North Carolina destroyed them on the boards here.

Too much has been made of a couple of bad performances by North Carolina. The reality is that, as I've said all season long, North Carolina is the best team in the ACC. It's simply impossible for Duke to be the third best team in the country when their defense is this bad, no matter how many offensive weapons they have. To put the numbers in perspective, Duke came into today ranked as a worse team than either St. Louis or Memphis in the Pomeroy ratings. Part of that is the fact that both St. Louis and Memphis are wildly underrated by the media, but still...

With this win, North Carolina earns the ACC regular season title and has a great shot at a 1 seed if they can win the ACC tournament. Their first ACC tournament game will be in the quarterfinals on Friday, against either Maryland or Virginia Tech. The good news is that Florida State will be stuck on the other side of the bracket, so they won't have to get past both the Seminoles and the Blue Devils - just one or the other.

Duke will be the 2 seed in the ACC tournament. A 1 seed isn't impossible if they can win the ACC tournament, but it's unlikely. The bigger concern is that with a poor ACC tournament performance, it's possible that Duke could fall to a 3 seed. I would think that a trip to the ACC tournament finals, win or lose, should lock up a 2 seed.

#2 Syracuse 58, #18 Louisville 49
Syracuse completely shut down Louisville here. They grabbed a 15 point lead early in the second half, and held a double-digit lead continuously until Louisville got a garbage bucket on their final possession of the game. Louisville relies so much on their perimeter players breaking down opposing defenders, and that's just completely nullified by the Syracuse zone. Louisville finished with only 7 assists the entire game, and a 35.5 eFG%. Peyton Siva alone had 6 turnovers.

This is the sixth straight game where Louisville has finished with turnovers on at least 20% of their possessions, and they've gone 2-4 over that stretch. They also lost 5 of 7 during a stretch earlier this season, with a six game Big East winning streak in between. And that's the nature of Louisville's roster. A lot of high-risk/high-reward players. They have a high ceiling, but they also can easily flame out in their first NCAA Tournament game.

Louisville finishes the regular season 10-8 in Big East play with wins over Vanderbilt, Memphis, West Virginia, Seton Hall and UConn, along with a bad loss to Providence. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is sitting in the 20-25 range. If the season ended now they'd probably be a 5-7 seed, though they can move up to a 4 seed if they can win a couple of games in the Big East tournament. As the 7 seed in the Big East tournament, they will play either Seton Hall or Providence on Wednesday. If they win then they'll play Marquette in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Syracuse moves to 30-1 overall and 17-1 in Big East play with this win. Their next game will be Thursday in the Big East quarterfinals against either West Virginia, UConn or DePaul. A win in that game, avoiding a one-and-done flame-out, will secure a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

DePaul 86, Seton Hall 58
A bunch of bubble teams have had bad results this past week to damage their hopes... but I don't think any of them have had a stinker as bad as what Seton Hall did here. DePaul had already clinched last place in the Big East before this game tipped off... and this game was never competitive. Seton Hall hasn't been a great offensive team this season, but their defense has usually been steady. They were diced up badly here, though. DePaul had assists on 23 of 29 made baskets, hitting 67.9% of their two-pointers. A DePaul freshman named Jamee Crockett, who I'd bet that even most Big East fans had never even heard of, scored 21 points off the bench.

The good news for Seton Hall is that the Selection Committee has historically ignored margin of victory, so the 28 point margin won't really burn them. But the loss itself does - they are now only 8-10 in Big East play and 7-8 against the RPI Top 100, with three RPI 100+ losses. Their best wins have come against Georgetown, West Virginia, UConn and VCU. Their worst losses have come against Rutgers, DePaul and Villanova. Their RPI is 60th, which is close to where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be. If the season ended now, they'd probably be an NIT team. They will play Providence in the first round of the Big East tournament, on Tuesday. With a win they'll play Louisville on Wednesday. I think they need to win both of those games at a minimum if they're going to earn an at-large bid.

DePaul, as I said, was already locked into last place in the Big East. They will finish 3-15 in Big East play. But it's actually been a positive season in Year #2 of the Oliver Purnell era. The three Big East wins are their most in four seasons, and they could have had more if not for a couple very close losses in the past few weeks. And with a very young roster, they should be even better next season. But they're still obviously a long, long way from contending for even an NIT appearance. They will play UConn in the Big East tournament first round on Tuesday.

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