Friday, March 15, 2013

Notre Dame Puts Away Marquette

#24 Notre Dame 73, #12 Marquette 65
Those Notre Dame uniforms... good grief. It was like they were trying to match one of those neon green Digger Phelps highlighters. But apparently the uniforms blinded the Marquette defense, which kept losing Pat Connaughton, who went nuts for 6-for-10 behind the arc. Jerian Grant also played really well, despite a cold day from the field (4-for-15 from the field). He got the line enough times to score 17 points, and set up the offense with 6 assists and 0 turnovers. Jack Cooley also played very well despite not filling up the stat sheet. He neutralized the Marquette bigs both on the glass and on the offensive end. Jamil Wilson led Marquette with 15 points on 7-for-15 shooting.

This win pushes Notre Dame's RPI inside the Top 40 and also makes them 9-8 against the RPI Top 100. Right now they're sitting in the 6-8 NCAA Tournament seed range, and will slide up another line or two if they can somehow knock off Louisville tonight.

Meanwhile, Marquette remains an interesting case for the NCAA Tournament. Even after this loss, they're still looking at a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but I think they're going to be a soft one. Here was the regular season efficiency margin in Big East play for the top of the conference:

+0.18 PPP Louisville
+0.13 PPP Georgetown
+0.12 PPP Pittsburgh
+0.07 PPP Marquette
+0.07 PPP Syracuse
+0.05 PPP Villanova
+0.03 PPP Notre Dame
+0.03 PPP UConn

In other words, Marquette was lucky to earn a share of the Big East regular season title. They went 6-2 in Big East games decided by six points or less or in overtime. So we'll see who they end up seeded against, but put Marquette on upset watch. They're particularly vulnerable against teams that, like Notre Dame here, can push them out of the paint and limit second chances and easy baskets.

#14 Oklahoma State 74, Baylor 72
This was a valiant effort by Baylor. They somehow fought back from a 20 point deficit to tie the game on a four-point play by Gary Franklin with around 19 seconds left. On the final possession, they were undone by what probably was a bad call - Phil Forte took a runner in the lane and was given a foul call and two free throws even though there didn't seem to be any contact. Baylor had enough time for Pierre Jackson to streak down the court to take a contested three, which missed.

It seemed to me as if Baylor started playing a lot better once the deficit got large and both teams lost focus. Baylor, as always, is immensely talented but poorly prepared. Once the game devolved into a pick-up game, they looked just fine. That said, they want back to too many Pierre Jackson shots (8-for-21 from the field with only 3 assists) and too few Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin shots (7 and 6, respectively). I know I'm a broken record for that, but it's startling how much better they are when Jackson takes fewer shots than Jefferson takes more. Oklahoma State certainly was not at their sharpest, as Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart were inefficient (a combined 10-for-27 shooting with 2 assists and 6 turnovers) and Markel Brown was invisible (11 points on 3-for-7 shooting). But a win's a win, and they move on.

Baylor is definitely in a lot of trouble. They went 3-11 against the RPI Top 50 and, perhaps even worse, only 10-14 against the RPI Top 200. Their RPI is 66th. I just can't realistically see them earning an at-large bid like that. They should be headed to the NIT.

Oklahoma State, now 9-6 against the RPI Top 100, should have sealed no worse than a 5 seed with this win, and probably more like a 4 seed. With a win over Kansas State in the Big 12 semifinals they will have a strong case for a 3 seed.

#3 Indiana 80, Illinois 64
Illinois came out of the gate totally confused on offense. Their offensive efficiency was under 0.5 PPP for most of the first half. In the second half they settled down and manged to close within single digits a few times, but just when it felt like they might make this a game it was the Hoosiers that got hot and put the game away. Cody Zeller was superb (24 points on 9-for-11 shooting). At the same time, the Illinois offense was typified by what you often see - a lot of rushed, one-on-one basketball from Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson and Tracy Abrams (a combined 9-for-38 from the field).

Indiana obviously would like to win the Big Ten tournament for the sake of winning the Big Ten tournament. We all know how Tom Crean feels about cutting down nets. But I do think that they still have NCAA Tournament implications to play for. At this point they'll be a 1 seed, but it's not inconceivable if they drop in the Big Ten semifinals and some other results go the wrong way that they could get shipped out of the Midwest Region. Remember that the Midwest Region will be in Indianapolis, so the Hoosiers want the pseudo-homecourt advantage almost more than they want the 1 seed. Their next game will be tomorrow, against the Wisconsin/Michigan winner.

As for Illinois, the loss here means that they're not a Tournament lock yet, but I still think they're in decent shape. They finish 22-12, including 9-10 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI and Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will both end up close to 40th. If the season ended now, they'd probably be looking at something like a 10 or 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they could end up sliding one more line up or down, depending on what happens around the rest of the country.

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