Sunday, March 03, 2013

Michigan Escapes Michigan State In Ann Arbor

#4 Michigan 58, #9 Michigan State 57
Coming in off that terrible loss to Penn State and with four losses in their past seven games, Michigan desperately needed a win here to change the momentum of their season. But while Michigan's strength for most of the season was its depth, the reality was that nobody here played well but Trey Burke. Mitch McGarry (11 points) was the only other player to break double-digits scoring, and Tim Hardaway was only 3-for-12 from the field. Burke had 21 points, 7 assists and 5 steals, including the 2 crucial steals that sealed the game late.

With the game tied with just over 20 seconds remaining, Burke stripped Keith Appling and took the ball the other way to put Michigan up by 2. Then, after Derrick Nix got to the line and hit 1-for-2, and Mitch McGarry was fouled and he went to the line, where he missed the front end of the 1-and-1. Michigan State starting attacking  off the reboundto try to get a quick basket for the win, but as coaches tend to do in this situation, Tom Izzo stopped the fast break to set up his own play. And as often happens in that situation, the play went nowhere. Gary Harris dribbled toward the sideline with nowhere to go, and he was eventually stripped by Burke, who was untouched before the clock could run out.

This win pushes Michigan to 11-5 in Big Ten play, which helps in two ways. First, even though Michigan's resume probably deserves a 2 seed, the Selection Committee is going to be loathe to give a 2 seed to a team with too many losses in conference play. The odds are that they'll lose one of their two remaining games (at Purdue, vs Indiana), and an 11-7 finish just would not have looked good, and likely would have dropped them to a 3 or even a 4 seed. Now, with a split in those final two games, a strong Big Ten tournament performance should be able to earn them a 2 seed.

With this result, Michigan and Michigan State are part of a massive four-way tie (along with Ohio State and Wisconsin) for second place in the Big Ten. That matters, because one of those teams is going to finish in fifth place and is going to be stuck playing in the Big Ten tournament first round. For Michigan State, that makes Thursday's game against Wisconsin crucial. A win there would seal their bye, even if they somehow lost to Northwestern next Sunday (and the way Northwestern is playing right now, that's a 1-in-100 result anyway). Michigan State is still alive for a 1 seed, but they'll need to win the Big Ten tournament to have a chance. More likely they're headed to a 2 or 3 seed.

#23 Pittsburgh 73, Villanova 64, OT
This would have been a massive victory for Villanova, and they absolutely had their chances. They led for most of the game, and still had a four point lead with just over a minute to go. With the lead down to three, Pitt ran a beautiful play to set up James Robinson in the corner for a game-tying three pointer with 33 seconds left. Villanova then had two chances to get the game winner, and both were putrid. First, Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled the clock down and tried to go 1-on-4, which ended badly as Dante Taylor blocked his shot out of bounds. Jay Wright called a timeout to set up a play that then went nowhere. Darrun Hilliard dribbled into traffic, where Talib Zanna broke up the play before anybody on Villanova could take a shot. Zanna was then the star in overtime, single-handedly outscoring Villanova 9-to-7.

Zanna was the star of the game for Pitt. Not just for his scoring in overtime, but also for his 7 offensive boards (Villanova as a team only had 7) and 19 total rebounds. Ryan Arcidiacono, despite executing poorly that final possession of regulation, was the best player for Villanova. He led all players with 23 points.

A win here would not have guaranteed Villanova anything, but for the first time this season it would have put them firmly in the Field of 68. Instead, they will continue to teeter on the bubble with a 9-8 Big East record and a 6-10 record against the RPI Top 100 and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will likely be just inside the Top 50 tomorrow. Wednesday's game against Georgetown is a massive opportunity to grab another big win. With a loss, they'll have to win at least two games (and probably more) in the Big East tournament to avoid the NIT. With a win over Georgetown then they might be able to get away with just one Big East tournament win.

Purdue 69, #17 Wisconsin 56
This is a classic example of a game where almost any analysis is over-analysis.  Purdue (and DJ Byrd in particular) shot out of their minds, while Wisconsin was ice cold. Wisconsin has the best three-point defense in the nation. They lead all BCS conference teams in three-pointers allowed per game (4.1), and lead the Big Ten in 3P%, 2P%, 3PA/FGA and PPP against in conference play. But Purdue hit 6-for-12 behind the arc... and by that I mean DJ Byrd was 6-for-9. The play that stood out for me to represent just how good Byrd was in this game, and how there really was nothing Wisconsin could do about it, was a play where Purdue ran Byrd through a double-screen that still only ended up with a Byrd fadeaway from nearly 25 feet with two hands in his face... which he swished. At the same time, the Badgers missed their final 17 three-point attempts, finishing 21% behind the arc for the game.

Take out that crazy shooting and this game was awfully close. Purdue out-rebounded Wisconsin by a little bit, while the Badgers shot better inside the arc and at the free throw line. There really is nothing to say here about anything but the shooting. But while this game doesn't really impact how I feel about these two teams, it does basically end Wisconsin's chances of a share of the Big Ten title, and puts their Big Ten tournament bye in a lot of trouble. They will have to win at Michigan State on Thursday and at Penn State on Sunday, or else they will need some help to avoid dropping into fifth place.

This win moves Purdue to 7-8 in Big Ten play, and they really are playing much better later in the year than they were earlier. But despite a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will move up close to 60th after this win, they are not in at-large contention. A 14-15 overall record and 3-12 record against the RPI Top 100 assures that. They have two more good chances to cause havoc in the Big Ten regular season, against Michigan and Minnesota. They will end up somewhere between a 6 and 9 seed in the Big Ten tournament.

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