Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Ohio State Beats Michigan State

#11 Ohio State 72, #5 Michigan State 70
Ohio State had the ball with the game tied and 25 seconds to go. They called timeout to set up the final shot. I was sitting with my twitter account open, and I mused about how many media narratives would grow out of what happened on that one final play. Michigan State played great defense on that final possession, absolutely shutting down Aaron Craft, and forcing William Buford into a difficult, fadeaway jumper. If it had missed and the Spartans had won in overtime, the story would have been how Ohio State was fading, how Ohio State couldn't win close games, etc. But since the shot went in? I saw at least half a dozen different writers put out their "Watch out: Ohio State is still a Final Four contender!" article. Each of these teams have played more than 1200 minutes of basketball this season, yet we're going to come to these great conclusions because of one single play? Really? And you wonder why I constantly hammer home "luck" and randomness...

Anyway, the reality is that Ohio State has been one of the two best teams in the country all season long. They're ranked the second best team in the country by both Sagarin and Pomeroy, and those ratings wouldn't have changed if Ohio State had lost by two here instead of winning by two. The reality is that Ohio State lost four of their first five Big Ten games decided by five points or less. And now they've won two straight, to bring their season long record in tight games to 3-4. In other words, all that's changed is that their bad luck stretch evened out.

With this result, there is now a three team tie atop the Big Ten, with tiebreakers giving Michigan State the 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and Ohio State the 3. Michigan gets the 2 seed. The bigger news for Michigan State, though, is that Branden Dawson twisted his knee late in the game. It didn't look like much at the time, but it was a torn ACL. He's done for this season, and these types of injuries can affect a player into the future. It's a major concern. I doubt the Spartans will struggle in the Big Ten quarterfinals against Iowa or Illinois, but they'll get a fight in the semifinals against (presumably) Wisconsin or Indiana. It will be the first real test of Michigan State's reduced front court depth. The Spartans can still earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they win the Big Ten tournament, though they might need some help.

Ohio State will play on Friday against either Purdue or Nebraska. Purdue is a very good team that will be difficult to beat, but if they can get past that game then I don't think they'll struggle too much with their semifinal foe (Michigan, Northwestern or Minnesota). Michigan is not as good as either Wisconsin or Indiana.

#20 Indiana 85, Purdue 74
This game was a battle for state pride, as well as for the 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. It turned out that this game was never close, with the Hoosiers grabbing an 18 point lead late in the first half and cruising from then on out. It turned out that the game was closer than the score, though. Rebounding and turnovers were even, as was 2P% shooting (51.4 for Indiana vs 46.5 for Purdue). The difference was 10-for-18 three-point shooting for the Hoosiers. Although as I've talked about recently, the reality is that Indiana has played great offense at home all season long. The question is if they can play as well away from Assembly Hall now that we're entering tournament season.

You'd figure that Indiana won't struggle with Penn State on Thursday. If they get past that game, though, they'll face a Wisconsin that beat them this season at the Kohl Center. If Indiana can win that game, though, they'll firm up a 4 seed for the NCAA Tournament, and could make a run at a 3 seed.

Purdue finishes the season 10-8 in Big Ten play, with only two wins against teams firmly in the NCAA Tournament (Michigan and Temple) along with a couple of bad losses (Butler and Penn State). They're 9-9 against the RPI Top 100 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is sitting 27th. It's not the greatest resume, but it's hard to see them falling to the bubble, even if they were to lose their Big Ten tournament opener against Nebraska. If they do win that game then they'll play Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. An upset win there might single-handedly push their NCAA Tournament seed up a couple of lines.

Arkansas State 64, Middle Tennessee 61
Obviously this game happened a couple of days ago, and we already know that Arkansas State ended up losing as well. Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt tournament a couple of hours ago. But the question coming out of this game is: is there any way that Middle Tennessee could earn an at-large bid?

Middle Tennessee finished 25-6 overall, with wins over Belmont and UCLA, along with bad losses to Western Kentucky, UAB and Arkansas State. They went 3-3 against the RPI Top 100, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 53rd. Sadly, I just don't see how that's enough. If your ELO_CHESS is outside the Top 50, you really need big wins to balance it out. A 25-6 record is good, but it's not mind-blowing enough for a team from a small conference. It was sad to see so many teams from smaller conferences that would have had a great chance to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament go down (Middle Tennessee, Iona, Oral Roberts, etc), but the reality is that Middle Tennessee just doesn't have enough quality wins.

This is also a blow for the Sun Belt as a whole. Not only would Middle Tennessee have been a formidable NCAA Tournament team, but Denver would have been feisty as well. Even Florida Atlantic could have caused some trouble for a top team. But instead, they get a Western Kentucky team that could end up as a 16 seed. It's a great story for Western Kentucky, and I wish them well, but it's not good for the conference as a whole.

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