Thursday, March 08, 2012

Washington Losing = One-Bid Pac-12?

Oregon State 86, Washington 84
All of the blame for this bad loss is being put on freshman Tony Wroten, but the reality is that he's the only reason Washington was in this game. Yes, Wroten missed four straight free throws down the stretch, but he also hit six straight before that (all within the final three minutes of the game). For the day, Wroten hit 9-for-15 at the line while his teammates combined to go 3-for-11. Wroten also led all players with 29 points. But more than anything, Washington's team defense was just awful. They couldn't get a stop when they needed one.

There are two things that have never happened in the modern era (the 64/65/68 team bracket) that could happen this season. First, it's never happened that a regular season champion from one of the six major conferences has earned an NIT automatic bid. Second, it's never happened that one of the six major conference has earned only one NCAA Tournament bid. That's really in play for the Pac-12 now, though. Arizona and Oregon have outside chances at at-large bids, but Washington was clearly the best chance the conference had of a second team alongside California.

I think the best way to look at Washington's at-large chances are to compare them to Drexel, since both teams won the regular season title of a decent conference. Washington went 14-4 while Drexel went 16-2, though Washington was in a better league. Washington finished 1-7 against the RPI Top 50, and that one win came over Oregon. They also have bad losses to UCLA and Oregon State. Drexel went 1-2 against the RPI Top 50, with that one win coming over VCU. They also have bad losses to Georgia State, Delaware and Norfolk State. Washington's Sagarin ELO_CHESS is going to be near 65th, while Drexel's is 54th. Overall, you can make the argument that Washington's resume is ever so slightly better overall, because of their wins in a better conference. But Drexel is being held back just by bad non-conference performances. They won 25 of their final 27 games, while Washington finished with consecutive bad losses. And Drexel is a media darling right now, while nobody is sticking up for Washington. So given those two factors, I think you'd have to say that Drexel's slightly more likely to earn an at-large bid. Though honestly, I don't like the chances of either team.

Oregon State cannot earn an at-large bid, but they're just two wins from an automatic bid. They'll play Arizona tomorrow.

Minnesota 75, Northwestern 68, OT
Unless you are a die-hard Minnesota fan, your heart had to break at what happened to Northwestern here. They have had so many chances all season long for big wins, and just have always had the close breaks go against them. Here, it was Northwestern's last real shot in regulation, which was taken by JerShon Cobb and seemed to hang on the rim forever before falling out. By the time overtime started, you could see the Northwestern players and coaches feeling the same way that everybody else was - that they weren't going to win. The players looked downright scared in the overtime - nobody wanted to attack or shoot.

Northwestern played seven games this season against Big Ten teams that were decided by three points or less or in overtime. They went 1-6 in those games. That's remarkably brutal luck. And while psychology played a role here, Northwestern usually looks just fine late in games. They just never made the big shot. Northwestern went 8-10 in Big Ten play and 1-10 in games against the RPI Top 50. For now they're still on the bubble, but it's just really hard to see any way that they end up avoiding the NIT again.

Minnesota isn't in contention for an at-large bid. But if they play this way tomorrow, they'll have a chance to beat an overrated Michigan team. If they win that game then they'll play either Ohio State or Purdue in the Big Ten semis.

Louisville 84, #9 Marquette 71
Marquette's slow starts have become something of a running joke. And here they were again, trailing 21-6 early on. They fought back, but just couldn't stop turning the ball over. That's a particularly bad problem against Louisville, since the Cardinals offense relies so heavily on those turnovers. Louisville struggles to score when they get dragged into a half court battle. Jae Crowder was made fairly invisible by the up-and-down pace (10 points on 4-for-13 shooting). This game had 86 possessions, which tied it for the fastest game played between Big East teams this season (the Villanova vs St. John's game on January 21st was the other).

Marquette went 14-4 in Big East play and 11-7 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Wisconsin, Georgetown, Louisville, Seton Hall (twice), UConn and West Virginia, along with a bad loss to LSU. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 15th. I don't think they can end up with worse than a 4 seed, but this loss harms their chances of a 3 seed. They definitely can't get a 2 seed now.

Louisville only went 10-8 in Big East play, but they are now 11-8 against the RPI Top 100, and this win will likely push their Sagarin ELO_CHESS inside the Top 20. This win should assure them nothing worse than a 5 seed. They could get a 4 seed, and could even move up to a 3 if they win the Big East tournament.


Anonymous said...

Here's a stat for you: since the field expanded to 64, no outright champion of a Top 10 conference has EVER not made the NCAA tournament. Guess who won the Pac 12 outright? Washington.

Last year UAB had absolutely nothing on their resume except being the regular season champs of CUSA, which was a top 10 league. They got in despite most brackets having them out.

As bad as the Pac 12 has been this year, it's still rated as one of the Top 10 leagues.

Would I put Washington in the field if I were on the committee? Probably not. But I'm not willing to bet against 27 years of history.

Jeff said...

Well, the operative word is "outright". There have been champions of major conferences who shared their titles who missed out, including teams who were 1 seeds in their conference tournament. Would Washington's resume really be that much worse if Cal had won another game?

I do agree that the outright title is compelling, and it's why Washington has a decent chance to get in, but I still think they're going to need a lot of help in the next three days to do so.