Friday, March 09, 2012

Southern Miss Might Be The Worst At-Large Team This Season

Marshall 73, Southern Miss 62
Southern Miss had 13 more offensive rebounds and 13 fewer turnovers than Marshall, meaning 26 extra possessions. It's almost impossible to lose a game like that. But the porous Southern Miss perimeter defense got torched (Marshall had a 64.1 eFG%) and they fell for the third time in their last six games. Damier Pitts was the star for Marshall, hitting 4-for-6 behind the arc and 6-for-6 at the line.

Southern Miss has had an incomprehensibly high RPI all season long. Even after this loss they are still 18th. There are two easy ways an RPI can get inflated, and Southern Miss did both of them. First, don't schedule any really bad teams (they only scheduled one team that has an RPI worse than 255th), and then get lucky with other teams in your schedule ending up with inflated RPIs (such as Colorado State, Ole Miss and New Mexico State, all of whom were on the Southern Miss schedule). In comparison, there's a good chance that neither Sagarin or Pomeroy will rate Southern Miss as one of the 70 best teams in the country when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning.

Southern Miss is still pretty safe for an at-large bid, though. They went 9-5 against the RPI Top 100 with only three mediocre losses (UTEP, UAB and Houston). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be close to 40th. So barring a really crazy turn of events, Southern Miss will make the NCAA Tournament. And some higher ranked team will get a very fortunate Round of 64 draw.

Marshall will play Memphis tomorrow for the Conference USA auto bid. But even if they lose that, they still might be on the bubble. They went 9-7 in C-USA play and 4-5 against the RPI Top 50, with wins over Cincinnati, Belmont and Southern Miss (twice), along with iffy losses to East Carolina and UAB. Their RPI is now 43rd. But that said, their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is still going to be close to 70th, so in my view they are an unlikely team to earn an at-large bid. They really need to win the auto bid.

Cincinnati 71, #2 Syracuse 68
Syracuse started this game playing like a team that didn't really care too much about whether they won or not. They came on late, and perhaps would have pulled this game out if not for a bizarre clock malfunction that I appeared to be only person on Earth who noticed. Cincinnati called a timeout with 2:16 to go, but an addition six seconds ran off the clock before it stopped. I rewound my DVR to double-check, and half of the Cincy players were already in their timeout huddle by the time the clock stopped. For some reason, nobody else noticed. Seeing as how Syracuse had the ball down by three with one second to go, it's possible that those extra six seconds might have helped.

This game really didn't mean anything for Syracuse, though, despite the hardware you get for winning the Big East tournament. They're still a lock for a 1 seed. This loss costs them the #1 overall seed, but that's a meaningless designation. The past two season, the #1 overall seed has gotten the hardest path to the Final Four (by far) of all of the 1 seeds.

This game did matter for Cincinnati's NCAA Tournament seed. This win pushes them to 7-3 against the RPI Top 50, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will push up into the 25-30 range. The Selection Committee has a history of giving a very friendly seed to teams that make the Big East tournament finals or win the tournament outright, and even without that treatment you would still probably give Cincy a 6-8 seed. Right now they're probably a 6 seed, and they could slide up to a 5 (or even a 4) if they win the Big East tournament title game tomorrow.

#19 Florida 66, Alabama 63
Florida did what they typically do - launching three-pointer after three-pointer. 58% of their field goal attempts came from behind the arc here, and they hit one-third of them. But what Florida did a good job of was taking care of the ball. Alabama thrives off of turnovers, but Florida allowed only one steal all game long. It's hard for Alabama's mediocre offense to keep up without those easy buckets.

Florida moves to the SEC semifinals, where they'll face Kentucky. They have wins over Vanderbilt, Alabama (twice) and Florida State, along with bad losses to Georgia and Rutgers. This win should push their Sagarin ELO_CHESS back inside the Top 30. Florida wasn't at risk of falling onto the bubble, but they came into this game with three straight losses. It helps to not head into the NCAA Tournament on a four game losing streak.

Alabama should still be fine for an at-large bid. They went 9-7 in SEC play and are 8-10 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Purdue, Wichita State and Florida, along with bad losses to South Carolina and LSU. Their RPI is 35th, which is around where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be. If the season ended now they'd probably be an 8 or 9 seed, and they could fall to a 10 or 11 seed, but I don't think they can fall to the bubble.

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