Thursday, March 14, 2013

Brandon Paul Leads Illinois Over Minnesota At The Buzzer

Illinois 51, Minnesota 49
Neither team was particularly impressive here. Illinois, in particular, tried to give this game away in the second half. The game wasn't quite as offensively impotent as the score might suggest - there were only 54 possessions - but it was not a clinic either. At one point, Illinois went nearly 8 minutes of the second half with a grand total of two points. But Minnesota matched that and then some by failing to hit a single shot from the field in the final six minutes of the game. Minnesota's defensive rebounding fell apart late, and eventually Illinois  missed four consecutive three pointers but kept getting the ball back before DJ Richardson nailed one to tie the game. At that point, it seemed like Minnesota could basically hold for the last shot, but Austin Hollins stepped on the sideline to turn the ball back over to Illinois. The Illini let Brandon Paul go one-on-one and hit the fadeaway at the buzzer to simultaneously win the game and finally kill off Gus Johnson, whose head exploded.

This was a classic bubble battle. It's possible that both of these teams will end up in the NCAA Tournament, but this result has several major effects. First, Illinois passes Minnesota in the S-Curve, and is in the Field of 68 (for the moment, at least... they could still fall out). Minnesota remains in the Tournament for the moment, but they are definitely at risk of falling out if Championship Week goes a little crazy. The interesting thing is that Minnesota falls to a 12 seed, which is conceivable, then they'd be the perfect definition of the type of 12 seed that can make a Sweet 16. I always love to pick underrated major conference 12 seeds against mid-major 5 seeds, so if Minnesota draws an opponent like Butler or Memphis then watch out.

As for Illinois, they will get a great opportunity against Indiana tomorrow. Lose and they're still probably in the NCAA Tournament, but with a win they will be safely in the Field of 68 and will probably slide up to something like an 8 or 9 seed.

San Diego State 73, Boise State 67
I wanted to talk about one final game from last night... or, rather, super early this morning. The reason my bubble watch was so late last night was because this game went well past 2 AM eastern time. And honestly, it was probably good for the league that nobody watched it, because these players all looked like they were in the same mental state that I was sitting on my couch that late at night. Just totally ugly, sluggish basketball from two teams that otherwise have played a lot of good basketball this season. San Diego State managed to win despite turning the ball over on 25% of possessions, including an absurd ten steals by Boise State. It's not like Boise State plays a particularly aggressive defense - the Aztecs were just giving the ball away on unforced errors.

San Diego State did manage to build up enough of an early lead that they weren't able to completely blow it late, though. The fact that this score was more competitive will help Boise State. I've talked before about how the one game all season where the final score matters to the Selection Committee is the final game of the season, and you don't want to go out embarrassed if you're a bubble team, which Boise State is.

With this loss, the Broncos end up 21-10 overall and 8-8 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Creighton, UNLV, San Diego State and Colorado State, along with bad losses to Nevada, Utah and Air Force. Their RPI is 45th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 55th. At this point, they might be in the Field of 68, but I'd err on them being just on the outside. And historically, the bubble tends to get stronger over the final few days, which means that Boise is in trouble. They need to get a lot of help these next three days to avoid the NIT.

San Diego State should be pretty safe with this win. They are 8-9 against the RPI Top 100, but with zero RPI 100+ losses and big wins over UCLA, Colorado State, New Mexico and Boise State (twice). Their RPI is 26th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 28th. I'm not going to call them a "lock" yet, but they're safe. They'll be in the NCAA Tournament. A win over New Mexico tomorrow would not only move them to a lock, but would also probably move them in a seed line or two.

#5 Georgetown 62, Cincinnati 45
This result probably wasn't the biggest surprise. Cincinnati's offense has been poor all season except when Sean Kilpatrick has gone nuts. Unfortunately for them, Georgetown's defense is even better than their defense, and Georgetown did a great job of never giving Kilpatrick any space to work. He finished with 4 points on 2-for-12 shooting. Cashmere Wright did hit 4-for-5 behind the arc, but they still ended up with only 0.80 PPP. Otto Porter struggled at times, but scored 18 points, and Markel Starks added 14.

Cincinnati's offensive futility here shouldn't exactly have been a shock. They have come up short of 0.90 PPP in five of their last ten games. Georgetown, meanwhile, has held five of their last eight opponents below 0.90 PPP. I do think Cincinnati has still done enough, though. Despite limping in down the stretch, the Bearcats did go 9-9 in the Big East and 9-11 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is 47th and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will remain near 35th. They're still at risk if the bubble gets a lot stronger, but for now I think they're safe.

Georgetown would love to win the Big East tournament as an end in itself, but they're also playing for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A win over Louisville in the Big East title game would give them an excellent case. To get there, they'll need to beat Syracuse tomorrow.

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