Sunday, January 20, 2013

Butler Beats Gonzaga In A Thriller

#13 Butler 64, #8 Gonzaga 63
Has any team had more miracle wins, particularly on buzzer beaters, over the past four seasons than Butler? They have incredible fortune, although obviously a ton of credit has to go to Brad Stevens for having his team always ready to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. With 3.5 seconds left, it actually looked like a heartbreaking loss, after Alex Barlow had committed a travel to turn the ball back over to Gonzaga, who were up by one. But a miscommunication on the inbounds pass between David Stockton and Kelly Olynyk allowed Roosevelt Jones to steal the pass and dribble down the floor to hit the game winning basket. The ball left his hand with approximately one-tenth of a second left on the clock.

This was always going to be a difficult game without Rotnei Clarke, though Kellen Dunham filled in just fine with 14 points, including 4-for-8 behind the arc. Roosevelt Jones was a monster. He scored 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, and also had five rebounds and four assists. Kelly Olynyk had a surprisingly poor game for Gonzaga considering his recent form (14 points on 5-for-12 shooting), though Sam Dower filled in ably with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting.

Butler continues to play to their competition. They have beaten Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette and North Carolina this season, while they were also spanked by Illinois and Xavier, and had trouble getting past teams like Pennsylvania and Evansville. Even after this big win they will still be rated around 30th in Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR, and considering their struggles against bad teams I expect them to suffer a bad loss or two before this season is done. And as I've said before, I do think that VCU matches up very well with Butler's struggles against the press. So at this point I think Butler is most likely going to be an at-large team in the range of a 4-6 Tournament seed, despite what will probably be a Top Ten ranking in the human polls on Monday. Their next game will be on Wednesday, at La Salle.

The fact that the WCC doesn't have another premier team this season means that Gonzaga really needed this win. They are now 17-2 overall, with wins over Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and St. Mary's. They are 7-2 against the RPI Top 100 and will likely have a Sagarin ELO_SCORE around 15th in the nation when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Even if they win every game the rest of the way, I don't think a 1 seed in the Tournament is possible. They could get a 2 seed, though. And assuming that they lose at least one more game, a more realistic Tournament seed is probably a 3. They will play BYU on Thursday, followed by a game against San Francisco next Saturday.

Cincinnati 71, #25 Marquette 69, OT
This was a classic non-upset "upset", as I talk about often on twitter. Despite Marquette being ranked and Cincinnati being unranked, the Bearcats were 7.5 point favorites in Vegas. Marquette was ranked because they were 4-0 in Big East play. But they won two of those games in overtime, won the third by a single point, and the fourth was an underwhelming seven point home victory over Seton Hall. They were overdue for a tough loss, and they had one here. Davante Gardner did hit two very clutch free throws in the final seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime, and then he hit another free throw as part of a three-point play to tie the game up with around 15 seconds left in overtime, but it was Sean Kilpatrick who hit the game winner on the other end of the court.

With Cashmere Wright missing this game with a sprained knee, Kilpatrick had to step up big. Wright and Kilpatrick are the only two offensive weapons Cincinnati has, and with Wright out it was Kilpatrick and not much else. And he stepped up, scoring 36 points on 11-for-23 shooting. To put his play in perspective, Cincinnati's second leading scorer in this game (Titus Rubles) shot 1-for-8 from the field. As a team, all Cincinnati players not named Sean Kilpatrick combined to shoot 9-for-35 (25.7%) from the field.

Even after this loss, Marquette still has a very strong resume. They have wins over Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, UConn and Georgetown, and only one bad loss (Wisconsin-Green Bay). But luck tends to even out over the season, and I'd expect Marquette to end up trending closer to the bubble as the season goes along. I think they'll stay off the bubble itself, but wouldn't be shocked if they have to sweat out Selection Sunday. Marquette now has a week to get ready for a home game against Providence.

Cincinnati moves to 4-2 in Big East play with this win. They have victories over Oregon, Iowa State, Marquette and Pittsburgh, along with a bad loss to St. John's. In my opinion, they're still very much in contention for that wide open third place spot in the Big East. And unlike Marquette, I'd be shocked if Cincy found themselves anywhere near the bubble the rest of the season.

Wyoming 58, #15 San Diego State 45
After a 13-0 start to the season, Wyoming had lost two of their last three games, including a terrible 49-36 loss to Fresno State. But they bounced back in a big way by absolutely suffocating San Diego State. The Aztecs scored nine points in the first half on horrific 4-for-24 shooting (a 16.7 eFG%). San Diego State hit some shots in the second half, but still finished with a 30.5 eFG% and 0.67 PPP. Believe it or not that's not their worst offensive performance of the season. Struggling with glare during their aircraft carrier game against Syracuse they had a 27.8 eFG% and 0.64 PPP.

Wyoming fans had better get used to these ugly, low-scoring games. They played a slow tempo and were a defense-first team even before losing Luke Martinez to suspension. In the five games without Martinez they are averaging 54.6 points per game and 0.92 PPP.

After this win, Wyoming is 15-2 overall and 2-2 in conference play, with wins over Colorado and San Diego State, along with that bad loss to Fresno State. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should slide into the Top 40 with this win, so they'd be a Tournament team if the season ended now. I think a 9-7 record will put them in serious consideration on Selection Sunday. A 10-6 finish would probably put them in.

San Diego State is now 2-2 in conference play and is actually being outscored in conference play thus far (by 0.04 PPP). The schedule has been rough, but there's no question that the Mountain West looks much more wide open than it did a few weeks ago. I have a new bracket projection coming out late tonight, and I'll have to decide whether San Diego State is still the favorite or if I'll switch over to New Mexico, UNLV or even Colorado State. I don't think you can really go too wrong with any of those four teams.

Wyoming's next game will be on Thursday at UNLV. San Diego State's next game will be on Wednesday at Nevada.

Iowa 70, Wisconsin 66
Throughout the first half this seemed like a "one of those games" kind of nights for Wisconsin. They couldn't hit a shot to save their life, and they trailed by a score of 30-10 at one point. And with backup big man Frank Kaminsky out with injury and every other front court player in foul trouble (Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz both fouled out), it seemed Wisconsin didn't have a chance. Zach Bohannon, who had played a grand total of one minute in Wisconsin's other four Big Ten games, had to play five key minutes here. Yet redshirt freshman George Marshall (20 points on 7-for-10 shooting) almost led Wisconsin to victory. Down by three with 22 seconds to go, it actually looked like Traevon Jackson tied up Roy Marble, but the refs called a foul and Marble hit a pair of free throws to more or less ice the game.

But while this result might have been a moral victory for Wisconsin, it was a real world victory for Iowa. A week ago the Hawkeyes were 0-3 in Big Ten play, knowing that they probably needed to get to 9-9 in conference play to earn an at-large bid. They're now 2-3, with road games at Ohio State and Purdue coming up next week. The Ohio State game is next, on Tuesday.

This result did emphasize that people reacted a bit too much to Wisconsin's upset of Indiana. Wisconsin went from a supposed NIT team to a Big Ten title contender, and that's just ridiculous. As usual, the truth is in the middle. They were never at serious risk of missing the NCAA Tournament, but they're also not a Big Ten title contender. Their lack of depth was exposed here, for sure. They should finish somewhere between third and seventh in the final Big Ten standings. At this point it's just hard to separate teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State. At 4-1 now, they have a couple of important home games coming up next week. They'll take on Michigan State on Tuesday, followed by Minnesota on Saturday.

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