Friday, March 02, 2012

Vanderbilt Beats Florida, Will Go Dancing

Vanderbilt 77, #13 Florida 67
All season up to this point, Vanderbilt had been undone by untimely poor shooting against good opponents in SEC play. Their eFG% had been under 50% in both of their games against Kentucky, and their prior games against Florida and Alabama. They don't need to hit shots to beat South Carolina... but they need to hit shots to beat Florida. And that's what they finally did here, hitting 12-for-24 behind the arc and finishing with a 65.9 eFG%. Florida's backcourt finished 7-for-23 on threes. Florida tends not to win when they're getting out-shot from deep. If was a great Senior Day for Jeffery Taylor, who has been such a weapon for four years, and who hit 4-for-8 behind the arc and also had 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Taylor has scored double-digit points per game in all four of his seasons at Vanderbilt. Reaching 2000 career points isn't likely, but it's possible if Vanderbilt can win a few NCAA Tournament games.

Vanderbilt was certainly sitting in the Field of 68 when this game tipped off, but I wouldn't have said they were a "lock". If they had lost this game and fell at Tennessee (no easy opponent) and lost their first SEC tournament game, they could have fallen into the NIT. But this big win (their first against a Top 25 opponent since December) ends that concern. Vanderbilt is now 10-5 in SEC play and 11-7 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that is up to 28th. They'll be Dancing in March.

Florida is good team. They're rated the 17th best team in the nation by both Sagarin and Pomeroy. But it seems like they were playing much better basketball earlier in the season, and that's not a good sign at this time of the year. Their streak outside shooting means that they're always a bit up-and-down, but their defense is just "down" right now. Prior to February 5th, the only team all season to score 1.10 PPP against Florida was Ohio State. Since February 5th? They've given up 1.10 or more PPP in four of seven games. Yes, Vanderbilt just shot the lights out here, but Florida's also not turning opponents over as much, they're struggling to rebound, and just in general they're not getting stops. They could turn this all around by beating Kentucky on Sunday. But if not, they're going to have to win a potentially tough SEC tournament quarterfinals game or they're really going to enter the NCAA Tournament on a sour note.

#20 Indiana 70, #5 Michigan State 55
I don't think many people were too surprised by this result. Michigan State was looking ahead to their season finale against Ohio State, and Indiana has been far better at home than on the road all season long. Indiana is now 7-1 in home Big Ten games, and 3-6 on the road. And the difference? Offense. Their defense is allowing 1.06 PPP in home Big Ten games and 1.07 PPP on the road. Their offense, though, is scoring 1.19 PPP in home Big Ten games and 1.03 PPP on the road. They're just so much more aggressive and physical at home.

This win pushes Indiana to 10-7 in Big Ten play, assuring them a +.500 season in conference play for the first time since Kelvin Sampson was roaming the sidelines four seasons ago. This will also be Indiana's first trip to the NCAA Tournament since that season, although they had already locked that up before this game tipped off. I don't think Indiana really cares if they're the 5 seed or the 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament, but this win does push them to 10-5 against the RPI Top 100. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 11th, and I'm pretty sure that they'd be a 4 seed if the season ended now. With a win over Purdue on Sunday and then a win or two in the Big Ten tournament, they will likely push up to a 3 seed.

This loss means that the Big Ten regular season title will come down to Sunday's game between Michigan State and Ohio State in East Lansing. Due to the tiebreakers, Michigan State will have the 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament no matter what, but a loss at home to the Buckeyes would mean that they would have to share the Big Ten regular season title. If Michigan State wins that game on Sunday and then wins the Big Ten tournament then they'll certainly be a 1 seed. If they fail in either of those endeavors then they'll need some help from other conferences to get that 1 seed.

Saint Louis 70, Xavier 59
St. Louis wasn't hitting shots here like they normally do, finishing only 29% behind the arc (they're averaging 40%), but they were able to get some easy baskets off of Xavier turnovers and they hit their free throws. Honestly, free throws were the difference in this game. St. Louis hit 83%, including 13 of their final 14. Brian Conklin alone hit 9-for-10 at the line, leading all players with 23 points. But struggling to stop opponents getting to the basket has been a consistent theme in Xavier's four game road losing streak. And it's that four game road losing streak that has severely damaged Xavier's at-large chances.

Xavier is 18-11 overall and 9-6 against the Atlantic Ten, with wins over Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinnati along with a bad loss to Hawaii (along with iffy losses to Oral Roberts and UMass). They are only 2-7 against the RPI Top 50 and 7-10 against the RPI Top 100, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 63rd. There's no question that they'd be an NIT team if the season ended now, but with a win over Charlotte tomorrow and then a couple of wins in the A-10 tournament, it's still possible for Xavier to get back onto the bubble.

St. Louis is 23-6 overall and 11-4 in the A-10, but their soft schedule means that they are a long way from locking up a Tournament bid. They are only 1-2 against the RPI Top 50 (with the win coming over Washington, a bubble team) and have two RPI 100+ losses (Rhode Island and Loyola-Marymount). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is still only 38th. They're one of the 25 best teams in the country and they'll be a Sweet 16 contender if they can get into the Tournament, but they still have work to do. They need to win at Duquesne on Saturday and then win at least one game in the A-10 tournament. If they lose to Duquesne then I think they'll need a pair of wins in the A-10 tournament or they're likely going to have to sweat out Selection Sunday.


Anonymous said...

Xavier is awful. All of the 3 wins you mentioned I believe were pretty early in the season. The win at Vandy was nice, but I wouldnt consider Purdue and Cincy high quality wins. Both games were at home and they were getting beaten down by Purdue until PU choked in the last few minutes.

Jeff said...

Yes, all three of those wins were back before A-10 play started. And you're right, Xavier hasn't played at all like an NCAA Tournament team for a while now.

David Mann said...

I really enjoyed your analysis as always, but there is one thing that kind of stands out to me. You said that if Michigan State beats Ohio State and wins the Big 10 Tournament, they'll be a lock for a 1 seed. I'm not so sure. Here's how I see it....We all know that barring something really unforeseen, Kentucky and Syracuse will be 1 seeds. And I also think that it's extremely likely, though not certain, that either Duke or North Carolina will get a one seed, depending on what happens tomorrow and in the ACC tournament. Finally, I think that assuming either Kansas or Missouri wins the Big 12 tournament, it will be pretty certain that one of those two teams will snag a 1 seed. Michigan State is a really good team, and so is Ohio State, but they are both sitting on six losses. I realize that doesn't disqualify a team from a 1 seed, especially in a conference as tough as this year's Big 10. But it's looking pretty likely that you're going to have several other major conference teams from major conferences that are going to end up with 4-5 losses, and especially for those teams in the Big 12, some of them have had almost as hard a road as Michigan State. I could be wrong, but I think even if Michigan State beats Ohio State, and goes on to win the Big 10 tournament, they're still going to need a bit of help from Duke/North Carolina or Kansas/Missouri to get elevated to a 1 seed. The Big 10 is certainly a great conference, but I'm really starting to think they don't snag a 1 seed this year.

Your thoughts?

Jeff said...

If Michigan State sweeps the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, I just can't see how they'd be behind either Duke or UNC. The Big Ten is just so much better than the ACC this season.

If Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas, Michigan State and Duke all sweep their conference titles, I think Duke will be the odd team out.

David Mann said...

Alright, thanks!