Sunday, March 03, 2013

Creighton beats Wichita State, Wins Missouri Valley

Creighton 91, Wichita State 79
I know that I sound like a broken record on Creighton, but there really is nothing else to say. When they shoot the ball well they will likely win (no matter who they're playing), but when they shoot the ball poorly they will likely lose (no matter who they are playing). They are 23-1 when finishing with an eFG% over 52%, and 1-6 when under 52%. Here? It was 81.9%, their best shooting of the season. This was also probably the best game of the season for Doug McDermott, who scored an absurd 41 points on 15-for-18 shooting (a 97.2 eFG%), putting his name back in the hat for National Player of the Year. The reason Creighton tends to lose when their shots aren't falling is because their defense is porous, and they did allow 1.20 PPP. But Creighton's own 1.38 PPP made that irrelevant.

It's games like this that are going to make Creighton so hard to project in the NCAA Tournament. When they're shooting like this, they're almost impossible to stop. But how can you pick Creighton to make the Final Four when they can lose any game against any team if they go cold from the field? Recently, the worry has been just making the NCAA Tournament, but this win should allay that concern. Creighton is now 8-5 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Wisconsin, California, Akron and now Wichita State, along with losses to Drake and Indiana State. Their RPI and Sagarin ELO_SCORE are both inside the top 40, and Creighton should be an NCAA Tournament team even if they go one-and-done at Arch Madness.

This loss drops to Wichita State to 12-6 in Missouri Valley play, and 8-4 against the RPI Top 100, with three RPI 100+ losses. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 55th, which is a concern, though they do have a better set of wins than most bubble teams (Creighton, Iowa and VCU). So Wichita State would definitely be an NCAA Tournament team if the season ended now, but they can't afford to fall on their face in Arch Madness. In fact, one of the constant problems that the MVC has is that by having its conference tournament a week early, its bubble teams tend to get forgotten and passed over during "Championship Week". And we know that several at-large spots will be lost to stolen automatic bids and by bubble teams that get hot in their conference tournaments and win a few games. So for all of those reasons, Wichita State just cannot take chances. I think they need to reach the MVC title game to be really sure that they'll make the Tournament.

Arkansas 73, Kentucky 60
Early in this game it was obvious that if Arkansas could ever hit any shots they'd win this game. They dominated the glass, constantly turned over Kentucky, and just won every 50/50 ball. In the end, Arkansas had 12 more offensive rebounds, 11 fewer turnovers, and took 26 more shots from the field (and 2 more free throw attempts) than Kentucky. And when you take that many more shots than the other team, it doesn't even matter if you shoot poorly - it's almost impossible lose. Arkansas did brick their way to only a 13 point win (including 6-for-25 behind the arc), but by early in the second half this game just never seemed in doubt.

The same problems continue to crop up for Kentucky. The Noel injury means that the team has no interior presence when Willie Cauley-Stein is on the bench, and the lack of depth means way too much time on the floor for players like Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood. Turnovers are increasingly becoming a problem, and any foul trouble is a nightmare.

The thing is that Kentucky has probably done enough work to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, if not by a large margin. They are 11-5 in SEC play, with wins over Missouri, Ole Miss and Maryland, and zero RPI 100+ losses (though losses to Texas A&M and Arkansas are iffy at best). Their RPI is 51st, but their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is a healthy 33rd. Thursday's game at Georgia is suddenly an important one, because a loss there would put a ton of pressure on the season finale against Florida. If Kentucky does lose both games then they will need to win at least one game in the SEC tournament to avoid the NIT.

This win brings Arkansas to the periphery of the bubble. They're not on the bubble yet, but they are now 9-7 in the SEC and 6-9 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE up to 56th. The key for them will be Tuesday's game at Missouri. A win there with a season finale win over Texas A&M will put them on the bubble heading into the SEC tournament, where they can earn their way into the Big Dance with a win or two.

Cincinnati 61, UConn 56
This was a very unimpressive home victory for Cincinnati, but it doesn't matter how it looks. It was one that needed to have, and on Selection Sunday nobody will care how it looked or that Shabazz Napier didn't play. With Napier out of the game, a lot of the offensive pressure fell to Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun. Boatright was okay with the extra defensive focus (22 points, though only on 4-for-13 shooting), but Calhoun was shut down (3 points on 1-for-7 shooting), and the UConn offense stagnated. The Huskies finished the game with only 0.85 PPP.

Cincinnati's offensive woes, despite the win here, continue. They have failed to crack 1 PPP in five of their last seven games, and are down to only 0.95 PPP in conference play, which is only tenth best in the Big East. More than anything, shooting has disappeared for the Bearcats. There are six Big East teams that have an effective field goal percentage that averages 51% or better, yet Cincinnati hasn't cracked 51% in a game since January 15th. They're playing a lot of low-scoring, close games, and that's just not the formula for consistent success.

There had been growing concern about Cincinnati potentially being a bubble team, though, and this win stems that tide for now. At 8-8 in Big East play and 8-9 against the RPI Top 100 (with zero losses outside the RPI Top 80), Cincy should be fine if they split their final two regular season games. They will play on the road at Louisville Monday night, and then at home against South Florida on Saturday. A split in those two games plus one win in the Big East tournament should lock up that at-large bid for good.

UConn's season is going to end more successful than just about anybody thought it would be back in October. They are 9-7 in Big East play, and can lock up a +.500 conference record by winning at USF on Wednesday or at home against Providence on Saturday.

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