Friday, March 15, 2013

Pitt Can't Overcome Hot Syracuse Shooting

#19 Syracuse 62, #17 Pittsburgh 59
This is the type of game where the postgame analysis always drives me nuts. I saw a lot of people talking about how Pitt struggled in this game, how they couldn't close the deal against a struggling Syracuse team, etc. The reality is that Pitt played awfully well here. And the mistake that is made is assuming that the winning team executed better and played better while the losing team was worse. Sometimes the better team loses because the other team just shot out of their minds, and that's what happened here. Pitt earned 9 more shots from the field and 9 more at the line, and hit a higher percentage of their two-point attempts. But Syracuse hit 63% of their three-pointers and Pitt hit 32% of theirs.

Defense probably has a tiny effect on 3P%, but very little. And over the course of this season, not only did Pitt shoot three-pointers better than Syracuse, but they had a significantly better three-point defense anyway (this is not a surprise, as the Syracuse zone is always vulnerable to three-point shooting teams). So if these two teams shot their expected three-point percentage in this game, Pitt's dominance comes through and they win this game by 15+. But because Syracuse shot the lights out, Pitt lost and is getting criticism. And my argument here is not that Syracuse did not play well - they did, and they deserved to win. But Pitt played really well, too, and it would be false to use this game as proof that they're soft. They are going to be under-seeded in the NCAA Tournament, and unless they end up with an unfortunate draw you should look for them to make a little run.

With a loss here, Syracuse was at risk of falling to around a 6 seed. This win stabilizes things, and should keep them no worse than a 5 seed. Next they will get a chance to knock off Georgetown and maybe move back into the 3-4 seed discussion.

Iowa State 73, Oklahoma 66
Oklahoma led most of this game. They led by as many as 14 points in the first half, and still led by 12 with 7:30 to go in the game. But they failed to hit a single shot from the field in the final 8 minutes of the game (0-for-8 from the field), and Iowa State ran by them so quickly that the final minute of the game wasn't even particularly competitive. Oklahoma tends not to win when Romero Osby gets outplayed, which is what happened here. Osby had a respectable 18 points (on 6-for-19 shooting) and 9 rebounds, but Melvin Ejim had 23 points (on 8-for-13 shooting) and 12 rebounds. Will Clyburn provided a nice scoring spark (17 points) and Korie Lucious did his poor man's Phil Pressey impression (0-for-8 shooting, 9 assists).

This was a classic bubble battle. So with this win, Iowa State is in pretty good shape, while Oklahoma is in trouble. Both teams went 11-7 in Big 12 play, but the rest of Iowa State's resume is just slightly stronger right now. The Cyclones went 8-8 against the RPI Top 100, with big wins against Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma (twice) and Baylor (twice), along with bad losses to Texas and Texas Tech. The Sooners went 8-9 against the RPI Top 100, with wins against Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor (twice), along with bad losses to Texas, TCU and Stephen F Austin.

The most important difference between the two teams is that Oklahoma finished the season on a two-game losing streak, including an embarrassing loss to TCU. Iowa State has now won three straight, and will get to play Kansas later today. The Cyclones would obviously be NCAA Tournament locks if they beat Kansas, but I think they're still fine even if they lose. Oklahoma, on the other hand, remains in the Field of 68 at the moment but is definitely at risk. They could fall out if the bubble gets significantly stronger over the next three days.

#21 UCLA 80, Arizona State 75
Arizona State came into this game knowing that they needed a win to make the NCAA Tournament, and for a while there it really looked like they were going to do it. They grabbed the lead early, and pushed it up as high as 13 points late in the first half, and by 15 in the second half. But in the final ten minutes, Shabazz Muhammad was absolutely spectacular. Muhammad had had ten points on 5-for-6 shooting with 2 offensive rebounds during a 19-6 run that turned a 12 point deficit into a 1 point lead. Three minutes later, Travis Wear hit a jumper to put UCLA back in the lead for good. For the game, Muhammad finished with 16 points and a startling 6 offensive rebounds.

One of the most bizarre things about this college basketball season is the fact that Shabazz Muhammad is actually underrated. With all of the hype he got preseason and then during his suspension, you'd have figured he would be getting the Marcus Smart treatment from the mainstream media. And he plays for UCLA - it's not like he's not on a glamor team. What Muhammad does for the UCLA offense is remarkable for a true freshman - they wouldn't even be sniffing the NCAA Tournament without him. He's going to be an awfully good NBA player.

This loss is a killer for Arizona State. They went 9-9 in Pac-12 play and 6-9 against the RPI Top 100, along with three RPI 100+  losses. Their RPI is 86th, which is close to where their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will be. They're an NIT team. UCLA, on the other hand, is now 12-5 against the RPI Top 100 and would likely get something like a 7 or 8 seed if the NCAA Tournament started now. They could climb another seed line or two if they keep winning in the Pac-12 tournament. Their big game is up next, against Arizona. I give the slight edge to Arizona, but whichever team wins will be the favorite in the Pac-12 title game.

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