Sunday, March 17, 2013

Louisville Storms Back To Take The Big East Title

#4 Louisville 78, #19 Syracuse 61
Is there any team right now which, at its best, looks better than Louisville? For a while here, they did look to be in trouble. Syracuse hit 6-for-12 behind the arc in the first half, continuing the hot shooting they've had for most of the Big East tournament. They pushed their lead to 13 points by halftime. But in the second half, in less than eight minutes of game time, Louisville blew this game open with a remarkable 27-3 run. In all, they outscored Syracuse 56-26 in the second half. Peyton Siva's play is continuing to improve, and he had an efficient 11 points, 8 assists and 4 steals. Montrezl Harrell led Louisville with 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting. Syracuse, meanwhile, did play well in the loss. Michael Carter-Williams stayed with being a distributor-first, dealing as many assists (9) as field goal attempts. CJ Fair scored 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-5 behind the arc.

With this win, Louisville probably seals up a 1 seed. And the question will become where they will land. I think Indiana remains ahead of them and takes the Indianapolis regional, but it's conceivable that Louisville can steal it.

The question for Syracuse heading into the NCAA Tournament is whether this improved quality of play is real or a mirage. The hot outside shooting probably is not sustainable, but Michael Carter-Williams has done a much better job of filling his role as point guard. Their defense remains strong and with the right draw they have the talent to make a run. With a 6-8 record against the RPI Top 50 and an RPI and Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should both be inside the Top 15 tomorrow, they look to be in very good shape for a 4 seed. Worst case scenario for them is a 5 seed.

Northwestern State 68, Stephen F Austin 66
I talked in my Southland tournament preview about just why Northwestern State over Stephen F Austin would not be a particularly shocking upset. Northwestern State is the poor man's VCU. They turned over Southland Conference opponents on 23.2% of possessions this season (easily the best) and also led the conference in tempo. Stephen F Austin has a great half court defense, but their offensive ball handling leaves a bit to be desired. The last time these two teams played, Northwestern State was able to get steals and get out in transition to neutralize the SFA defense.

This time around, Northwestern State was able to force ten steals, which allowed them to hit 58% of their two-pointers against a Stephen F Austin team that had held opponents to 40% two-point shooting in Southland Conference play. It's a heartbreaking loss for a Lumberjacks squad that had only previously lost three times all season and finishes with a remarkable 27-4 overall record.

Stephen F Austin might get a little bit of at-large buzz, but I don't think it will matter. They are plenty good enough to be a Tournament team, but their strength of schedule stinks. They won two games over the RPI Top 100 all season long, and one of those was over Northwestern State (the other was over Oklahoma). And all over their losses are "bad" losses: Southeastern Louisiana, Texas A&M and Northwestern State (twice). Their loss dropped their RPI to 66th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will fall to around 90th tomorrow. They'll be playing in the NIT.

Northwestern State will likely be a 13 or 14 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Oregon 78, #21 UCLA 69
It seemed like Oregon led by 5-10 points for this entire game. It wasn't a blowout, but UCLA never seemed to really be able to grab the lead. And to me, this game tells us a whole lot more about UCLA than it does about Oregon. We know that Oregon is not a particularly good team - spending most of the season in the 40-50 range in Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. They're a bubble quality team. Yet they really had no problem handling this UCLA team that we knew was going to be awfully shorthanded without Jordan Adams.

What makes this loss depressing for UCLA is that they actually played about as well as they could have here. Shabazz Muhammad played pretty well (14 points, 4 offensive rebounds) considering the defensive attention, Larry Drew played efficiently (14 points on 6-for-11 shooting with 6 assists) and the Wear twins were solid on both ends of the floor. But Ben Howland was playing a six man rotation, and a rotation that really only has one scorer who scares anybody. I've already talked about how lucky UCLA was during the regular season and how they were going to be a very soft 6-7 seed, or wherever they end up. But without Jordan Adams that's doubly so. Even without knowing who they're matched up against, I'll be surprised if they win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

This is a very important win for an Oregon team that entered the Pac-12 tournament on the bubble. Just making the Pac-12 title game had probably assured them an NCAA Tournament spot, but now it's certain. More importantly, it will significantly improve their seed. They finish the season 26-8 and 9-7 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Arizona, UNLV, Stanford and UCLA (twice), along with bad losses to UTEP and Utah. Their RPI is 47th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 45th. They will not get worse than a 10 seed, and are probably looking at an 8 or 9.

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