Sunday, March 10, 2013

Creighton Beats Wichita St To Win Arch Madness

Creighton 68, Wichita State 65
Before I get to these two teams, I want to start by repeating what I said on twitter - the end of this game was an epic fail by CBS. With about three minutes left in this game and with it obviously being a close, competitive game, CBS switched a large portion of the country (including where I am) to the start of Indiana/Michigan. Not only that, but CBS Sports Network stuck with the opening minutes of a women's basketball game, and the CBS App on my phone would only let me watch Indiana/Michigan. This is just a terrible, terrible job. I couldn't find an illegal internet video livestream and ended up listening to the end of the game on an online radio livestream. As CBS, Fox and NBC all launch their challenges to ESPN, they need to understand how to produce games in the modern age. As bad as ESPN's analysts are, they are the best at cutting to games that are interesting, at making sure you can always see every game on one of their platforms, etc. That, more than anything, is why ESPN continues to dominate the sports landscape.

Anyway, enough ranting. Let's talk about this game. Creighton shot the ball fairly well here (45.8% behind the arc), but the reason this game was so close was Carl Hall, who completely locked down the paint for Wichita State. Hall had 4 blocks and redirected a bunch of other shots, and held Creighton to only 37.9% on twos. Keep in mind that Creighton hit 57.6% of their two-pointers in Valley play this season. Hall was also a big reason why Doug McDermott was fairly well contained (14 points on 5-for-13 shooting). The biggest offensive spark for Creighton came from Ethan Wragge, who basically never dribbles inside the perimeter but is a sharpshooter from deep. He hit 5-for-9 behind the arc here.

Wichita State will be frustrated by their offensive performance. They could do nothing at all on offense for the first ten minutes of the game, and even after their big comeback they finished with only a 39.6 eFG%. To put that in perspective, Creighton has only held five teams all season long to worse shooting (including early season cupcake North Texas). It's also Wichita State's third worst shooting performance of the season.

It's a win that was very much within reach for Wichita State, but now that they've come up short they are going to have to sweat out the rest of Championship Week. They are 26-9 overall and 8-5 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over VCU, Iowa and Creighton, along with bad losses to Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa and Evansville (twice). Their RPI is 39th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is narrowly inside the Top 50. If the season ended now they'd be an NCAA Tournament team, but there really isn't a lot of breathing room between them and the bubble. If we have a wild Championship Week where multiple automatic bids are stolen by teams that would otherwise not earn at-large bids, Wichita State could wake up on Selection Sunday sitting on the bubble. They are suddenly big fans of teams like Memphis, and whoever is playing bubble teams like Iowa, Tennessee and Baylor.

Creighton would have been safe for the NCAA Tournament even if they'd lost here, but this win certainly helps their NCAA Tournament seed. They are 27-7 overall and 10-5 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will be close to 20th overall. I could see them getting as high as a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, though a 6 or 7 seed is more likely. A lot depends on what happens around the nation.

Temple 84, #21 VCU 76
This performance by Temple was one of the most mentally tough I've seen from any team all season, and is a testament to what a great (and eternally underrated) coach Fran Dunphy is. VCU jumped out to a quick 36-20, feeding off of 6 turnovers. And turnovers are always the key for VCU. They lead the nation with turnovers on an absurd 29.1% of possessions, but if they don't get turnovers then they tend to give up easy baskets (they are 15th in the Atlantic Ten in eFG% against in conference play). In the final 28 minutes of this game, Temple committed only 8 turnovers and chipped away at the VCU lead. When VCU gets going in transition and opens up an early lead, most opponents tend to quit mentally, but Temple did a tremendous job in winning this game.

Khalif Wyatt has been the man all year for Temple, and he had a monster game here. He led the successful fight against the VCU press, and scored 30 points with 4 assists and 4 steals. Juvonte Reddic led VCU with 20 points on 10-for-18 shooting, with 5 offensive rebounds. Melvin Johnson also had three big three-pointers off the bench for VCU.

Even after this loss, I don't think VCU is really at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament. They still went 12-4 in a strong Atlantic Ten 9-7 against the RPI Top 100, with victories over Butler, Memphis and Belmont. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should remain very close to 30th tomorrow. A win in the Atlantic Ten quarterfinals against either Xavier or St. Joseph's should be the clincher. A run in the A-10 tournament could also go a long way toward improving their NCAA Tournament seed. Although seeing as how they just recently made the Final Four as an 11 seed, I'm not sure that Shaka is too concerned about the number next to his team's name a week from today.

Temple is in a much more precarious situation, and absolutely needed this win. They are 11-5 in A-10 play and 10-5 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should move into the Top 50 tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be a Tournament team, but they can drop right back out if they lose to UMass or George Washington in the A-10 quarterfinals.

#14 Ohio State 68, Illinois 55
This was a "taking care of business" win for Ohio State. They were supposed to win, and were never too seriously contested. Aaron Craft was under control and efficient (4-for-7 shooting, 6 assists and 3 turnovers). DeShaun Thomas was sharp (7-for-13 shooting). The Illini really struggled to find open shots (a 41.7 eFG%). Myke Henry gave the Illini a spark off the bench (6 offensive rebounds, 2 steals), but the Illini offense devolved into what it often is against elite defenses: a series of perimeter players attempting to take their men one-on-one off the dribble.

The Buckeyes kept their hopes for a share of the Big Ten title alive with this win, though it was dashed by Indiana's miracle comeback against Michigan. The Buckeyes will be the 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, with a quarterfinal match-up against the Purdue/Nebraska winner. A win there would likely set up a semifinal match-up against Michigan State. Ohio State's Sagarin ELO_SCORE was 7th heading into today, though a surprisingly mediocre 8-7 record against the RPI Top 100 will probably keep them from a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, even if they win the Big Ten tournament. With a B1G tourney title, they certainly would get no worse than a 2 seed. And even with a mediocre Big Ten tournament performance, I still like Ohio State's chances for a 3 seed.

The Illini finish the regular season 8-10, though with a bunch of nice wins: Indiana, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Butler and Minnesota. With their tough schedule and the fact that their RPI and Sagarin ELO_SCORE should both be inside the Top 50 tomorrow, Illinois would probably be an NCAA Tournament team if the season ended now. But their Big Ten tournament game against Minnesota is a huge match-up for both teams. The loser will have to sweat out Selection Sunday with an 8-10 conference record and sitting on a three-game losing streak.

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