Sunday, March 10, 2013

Air Force Stuns New Mexico

Air Force 89, #12 New Mexico 88
On paper, this wasn't a huge upset. New Mexico was only a 4.5 point favorite in Vegas, and Air Force has only lost twice at home all season long. But this was a stunning finish, with New Mexico leading by four points with under 20 seconds to go. Michael Lyons hit a quick three to pull Air Force within a point. After Kendall Williams hit 1-for-2 at the line, Air Force managed to find Todd Fletcher for a three-pointer for the victory, and the Air Force student section rushed the court. An exciting win that is huge for Air Force and a tough reality check for New Mexico.

The issue with New Mexico for the past couple of months has been twofold. First, their RPI is way out of whack with where their resume really is because they only had 1 team outside the RPI Top 200 on their schedule (giving them a very inflated SOS). But even more than that, since New Mexico's true resume is probably good enough for a solid 3 seed, is that they were only 24th in Pomeroy and 31st in the Sagarin PREDICTOR even before this loss. But the reason the computers don't like them is the same reason that the computers won't drop them much for this loss - because results in very close games are mostly luck. Even after this loss, New Mexico is still 11-2 in games decided by six points or less. They could easily have 5 or 6 more losses if their luck had turned just a little bit, which is why they'd be a very soft 3 seed if they do get it.

At 13-3 in Mountain West play, New Mexico will have the 1 seed in the Mountain West tournament. They'll open in the quarterfinals against the winner of Nevada/Wyoming. If they do win the tournament title then they'll have a case for a 2 seed, but most likely they'll be a 3 seed. with a poor tournament performance, they could slip to a 5 or 6 seed.

Air Force probably cannot earn an at-large bid, no matter what happens. They finish the regular season 17-12 overall and 8-8 in Mountain West play, with a 6-10 record against the RPI Top 100 and an RPI that is 68th. They'll play UNLV in the Mountain West quarterfinals. If they somehow pull that upset then they'll face the winner of Colorado State/Fresno State in the semifinals. If they win those two games then they'll get some at-large hype, but it's doubtful. With a strong MWC tournament performance, though, the NIT is very realistic.

Fresno State 61, UNLV 52
This was a putrid offensive performance from UNLV. With a lid on the basket, UNLV finished with a 37.0 eFG% and 0.80 PPP. Both of those are season worst performances. Fresno State's defense isn't nearly as bad as their offense, but that's a terrible performance regardless. Anthony Marshall had the closest thing to a decent day for UNLV, with 11 points on 3-for-8 shooting and 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Fresno State, meanwhile, had a monster 25 points day, his career best in Mountain West play. Kevin Olekaibe had 13 points and 8 assists.

This is the type of loss that can single-handedly drop a team one or two seed lines. The good news is that they're still clear of the bubble with a 10-6 Mountain West record and a 12-6 record against the RPI Top 100. The other good news is that UNLV has a great chance to improve on their seed at the Mountain West tournament, which will be on their home court. They will open in the quarterfinals against Air Force, and if they win will face either Colorado State or Fresno State in the semifinals.

As I just said in the last paragraph, Fresno State will open against Colorado State as the 7 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Don't discount their chances in that game - their Pomeroy rating will move close to the Top 100 with this win, and their efficiency margin has improved to -0.05 PPP in a very strong Mountain West. It's a respectable season for Rodney Terry's young team.

Denver 78, Louisiana Tech 54
While I've been sticking with Denver as my WAC favorite, despite Louisiana Tech's superior record, but I won't take credit for predicting this performance. This type of beat down was shocking. Denver is awfully tough to play at home and at altitude, but nothing went right for Louisiana Tech here. Denver hit a higher percentage of their threes (50%) than Louisiana Tech hit twos (37%). Denver had a 2.0 A/TO ratio, while Louisiana Tech's was reversed (7 assists and 16 turnovers). It was just "one of those days" as far as Louisiana Tech is concerned.

I don't think Louisiana Tech really had a realistic chance of an at-large bid even before this game, so there isn't a big effect from this game. Denver earns a share of the conference title, which is a great accomplishment for Joe Scott, though they'll still be the 2 seed in the WAC tournament. This loss drops Louisiana Tech to 26-5 overall and 3-4 against the RPI Top 100. Denver is 21-8 overall and 3-7 against the RPI Top 100. Should Louisiana Tech win the WAC tournament, they're likely looking at a 12 or 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Denver will struggle to do better than a 13 seed unless they get some help from surprise conference tournament winners.

#3 Duke 69, North Carolina 53
North Carolina, at home on Senior Night, was a trendy pick here against Duke. But a 14-0 start that led to a 38-18 start by Duke basically ended this game before it ever got started. Seth Curry's 8-for-13 day from the field doesn't indicate just how white hot he was as Duke opened that early lead. And against a North Carolina team lacking a true big man, Mason Plumlee broke out for 23 points and 13 rebounds. Believe it or not, that's Plumlee's first 20-10 game in ACC play this season. His last one came against Santa Clara on December 29th.

Obviously North Carolina fans are very unhappy with how this game turned out, but the good news is that it's not a game that they had to have. Their six game winning streak meant that they're still safe for the NCAA Tournament. They finish the season 12-6 in ACC play and 8-8 against the RPI Top 100 (though only 2-7 against the Top 50). Both their RPI and Sagarin ELO_SCORE are Top 20, though if the season ended now I think they'd be closer to a 6 seed because of the lack of quality victories. They'll get a chance to change that in the ACC tournament, where they are on the same side of the bracket as Duke. Before a potential semifinal match-up, North Carolina will play the Florida State/Clemson winner in the quarterfinals.

The match-up that will set up Duke's quarterfinal opponent is not set yet, but that's not the game that matters. A hypothetical semifinal against North Carolina and final against Miami will make up the tests Duke will need to pass to earn a 1 seed. They control their own destiny at this point, so an ACC tournament title will get them a 1 seed.

No comments: