Sunday, March 10, 2013

Indiana Beats Michigan By A Millimeter

#2 Indiana 72, #7 Michigan 71
This game was yet another example of how little clutch play can correlate with wins. And I know what you're thinking - uh, didn't the choking team lose? Yes, Michigan stunk it up in the final 30 seconds, missing the front end of a pair of one-and-ones to give Indiana a chance after they were down by 5 points with under 50 seconds to go. But after Cody Zeller put Indiana ahead by a point, Trey Burke attacked the length of the floor and got a really good shot that missed, and then Jordan Morgan's put back rolled around the entire rim, eventually rolling out for the Indiana win. If the ball was a millimeter in the other direction then, despite Michigan's choke job, they would have won a "clutch" victory. And don't forget Christian Watford's hard foul of Glenn Robinson III, which by rule should have been a flagrant foul. If the refs had made the correct call there, again, Michigan's choke job would have resulted in a "clutch" victory.

However this game ended, it was chock full of implications across half of the Big Ten. A Michigan win would have given us a chaotic four-way tie for first place in the Big Ten, and would have left Wisconsin as the odd man out of the byes with a 5 seed. Because of Indiana's miracle win, the Hoosiers win the outright Big Ten regular season title. Ohio State and Michigan State finish a game back, and Michigan ends up stuck as the 5 seed. Wisconsin gets bumped up the 4 seed, and will get a bye.

This result also has major implications for the Tournament seeds of both teams. Indiana is now in very good shape for a 1 seed and quasi-home court advantage in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. They should be able to wrap that up with one win the Big Ten tournament (the Selection Committee tends not to give 1 seeds to teams that go one-and-done in their conference tournaments, even if their overall resume deserves it). Michigan, meanwhile, probably cannot earn higher than a 2 seed, even if they win the Big Ten tournament.

The Wolverines will now play a Penn State team that just beat them, and if they win will face Wisconsin in the quarterfinals. Considering their late season slide, they'd probably be a 3 seed if the season ended now, and will likely slide anywhere between a 2 or 4 seed, depending on how they do in Chicago.

Virginia 61, Maryland 58, OT
This was a game that both teams desperately needed to avoid starting the ACC tournament on the outside looking in. Virginia came out asleep, though, trailing 25-8 at one point. Joe Harris was completely shut down, finishing only 4-for-18 from the field. But Virginia's defense is so good that they were able to slowly chip away at the lead. Maryland hit a total of 8 shots from the field in the second half and overtime combined. Down by two with under 10 seconds to go, Mike Tobey was able to hit a 10-15 footer to tie the game up. Pe'Shon Howard tried to attack quickly to get Maryland a game winner before the end of regulation, but his attempted shot was sent into the crowd by Justin Anderson, sending the game to overtime. In overtime, Mike Tobey hit a tip in to put Virginia ahead to stay, and two Maryland turnovers in the final minute clinched it.

In the end, 0.87 PPP were enough for Virginia here. The Cavaliers finish the season by holding 13 of 18 ACC opponents below 1 PPP, The ACC isn't as fearsome in the past, so I wouldn't include Virginia with truly elite defenses like Louisville, Florida or Wisconsin, but they're still good enough to steal a game or two in the NCAA Tournament if they get the right draw.

With this win, Virginia finishes 11-7 in ACC play with wins over Wisconsin, North Carolina, Duke and NC State, along with bad losses to Old Dominion, Delaware, George Mason, Wake Forest, Clemson, Boston College, Florida State and Georgia Tech. And yes, that's a really long list of bad losses, but big wins matter more than bad losses. Virginia Sagarin ELO_SCORE will be near 30th tomorrow, and if the season ended now they'd most likely be a Tournament team. But they'll need to win at least one game, and probably two, in the ACC tournament to really feel good about their chances. They will play either NC State or Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals. If they advance then they will likely play Miami in the semifinals.

Maryland, now 8-10 in ACC play and 3-9 against the RPI Top 100, would definitely be headed to the NIT if the season ended now. To get back in the bubble discussion they have to win at least two games in the ACC tournament. And realistically, Maryland needs to get to the ACC title game. They will face Wake Forest in the first round, and if they win will get Duke.

Florida International 61, Middle Tennessee 57
I wanted to bring up this game just so I could give a longer response to the active debate going on in the media right now about Middle Tennessee. The question is: Can Middle Tennessee earn an at-large bid? They are 28-5 and have an RPI that will likely end up in the low-30s on Selection Sunday, yet they have only one win against the RPI Top 100 (Ole Miss) and a pair of bad losses (Arkansas State and FIU).

Let me first say that talking about the "eye test" or their high Pomeroy rating is irrelevant. Teams are not judged on how they look or how good they are - the Selection Committee has never put together brackets that way. Teams are judged on resumes. As for the "Iona" argument, there's certainly a good case to be made that the Selection Committee gave an unprecedented at-large bid to a low-major team without big wins last season, so why not again. The problem is, Iona also had five RPI Top 100 wins. No team has ever earned an at-large bid with fewer than three RPI Top 100 wins and, as I said, Middle Tennessee has 1.

I'm not saying that Middle Tennessee can't get an at-large bid. On Selection Sunday I will list 8-10 teams not in my bracket that still might get an at-large bid if I guessed wrong, and I expect to list Middle Tennessee. The Selection Committee might choose to throw a bone to low-majors and take Middle Tennessee because they are good enough to win a game or two. But we need to be clear that as good as Middle Tennessee is as a basketball team, them earning an at-large bid would be significantly crazier than even Iona last season, and would be a total change from previous Selection Committee philosophy.

No comments: