Sunday, March 03, 2013

UCLA Takes Down Arizona

UCLA 74, #11 Arizona 69
With College Gameday in town, you knew UCLA was going to come to play. Some hot shooting late (Arizona hit 46% of their threes for the game) gave the Wildcats a chance in the final minutes, and UCLA deferred to Shabazz Muhammad to carry them to victory. Muhammad scored every point for UCLA in the final five minutes, and also forced a late steal and had the key defensive rebound to effectively seal the win. Muhammad led all players with 18 points. Larry Drew had 14 points and 9 assists, but struggled badly to hang onto the ball in the final few minutes. Arizona has been doing this to teams late in games all season long, but Muhammad was the one UCLA player with the confidence and composure to carry the baton over the finishing line.

Arizona honestly has not played that poorly the past few weeks, despite losing 4 of their last 7 games. The reality is that Arizona was never as good as the team getting hype as a potential 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They had lucky wins over Florida (the Gators totally collapsed mentally), Colorado (the famous Sabatino Chen blown call) and Utah (a game at home for Arizona that came down to the final possession). Now their luck is evening out.

The Wildcats are still 21st in Pomeroy and 24th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but they have fallen to 11-6 in Pac-12 play, and have to beat Arizona State on Saturday to be sure of avoiding the Pac-12 tournament first round. At only 10-6 against the RPI Top 100, you can make an argument that Arizona would only be a 6 or 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now (though I think they'd be closer to a 5 seed). They will need a strong Pac-12 tournament performance to stabilize their seed. The Selection Committee tends to frown on teams that play their worst basketball heading into Selection Sunday.

UCLA hasn't clinched an at-large bid, but they're getting a lot closer. They are now 12-4 in Pac-12 play 11-6 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that is up to 35th. They will finish the season on the road at the two Washington schools. A sweep of those two games will clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 title and an at-large bid. A split in those two games and they'll still be okay, particularly if they can avoid a one-and-done in the Pac-12 tournament.

#13 Kansas State 64, Baylor 61
This game probably had the wildest finish of the weekend. After Pierre Jackson hit five straight free throws to tie up the game, Shane Southwell missed a jumper and Baylor got the ball back with about 1 second on the clock. But that was where Jacob Neubert committed a terrible gaffe, throwing the out of bounds pass beyond everybody, giving Kansas State the ball back under their own basket without any time coming off the clock. They ran a nice play to get Rodney McGruder an open three-pointer, which he nailed to give the Wildcats a big victory.

Kansas State's run at a Big 12 regular season title is one of the most shocking results of this season. The only reason Bruce Weber isn't getting more Coach of the Year hype is because people still remember his first year at Illinois, juxtaposed with the bad way that his tenure ended there. The Wildcats are now 7-5 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that is up to 15th. They shouldn't have any trouble with TCU on Tuesday, but then have a big game at Oklahoma State on Saturday. A win there would lock up a share of the Big 12 regular season title and would put them in a position to make a run at a 2 seed if they can play well in the Big 12 tournament.

Baylor has lost 7 of 10, and has collapsed worse than any bubble team not named Ole Miss. They are now 8-8 in Big 12 play, with only a 1-8 record against the RPI Top 50. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is still 37th, but their poor RPI (63rd) and the lack of big wins mean that Baylor would almost certainly be an NIT team if the season ended now. They have two tough games upcoming, on the road at Texas on Monday and at home against Kansas on Saturday. They absolutely need to win at least one of those two, and then will need to win a game or two in the Big 12 tournament, to make the Big Dance.

Boise State 78, Colorado State 65
Colorado State's defense has been a problem the past couple of weeks, As great as they are a team at certain things (they're probably the best rebounding team in the country), they lack athleticism on the perimeter, and quick guards can get to the rim at will against them. Derrick Marks, in particular, just torched Colorado State here. He finished with 38 points on 13-for-18 shooting. As a team, Boise State hit 57% of their two-point attempts. Throw in the fact that Colorado State didn't dominate the glass as much as they usually do (a 39.4 OR% compared to a 33.3 OR% for Boise State) and some poor free throw shooting (59%) and the Rams ended up with this tough 13 point loss.

As Wyoming has faded out of the NCAA Tournament picture, Boise State has emerged as the new potential fifth NCAA Tournament team out of the Mountain West. They are now 8-6 in conference play and 7-6 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Creighton, UNLV and Colorado State to go with bad losses to Utah, Nevada and Air Force. Their RPI is 44th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 53rd. They have a very important week coming up, with a road game at UNLV on Tuesday followed by a home game against San Diego State on Saturday. Wins in both of those games would definitely move them into the Field of 68, at least temporarily. With a split, they'll need at least one win, and probably two wins, in the Mountain West tournament to feel good about their at-large chances.

Despite Colorado State's defensive struggles (three of their last five opponents have scored at least 1.2 PPP), Colorado State is still second in the Mountain West in efficiency margin (+0.08 PPP, vs +0.11 for New Mexico and +0.07 for San Diego State). Their offensive rebounding prowess powers the best offense in the Mountain West, and they are still safely in the NCAA Tournament (they'd probably have to lose every remaining game to risk falling into the NIT). Their biggest concern for the short term is their Mountain West tournament seed. They will play on the road at Wyoming on Wednesday, followed by a home game against Nevada on Saturday. New Mexico has the 1 seed locked up, but Colorado State will probably take the 2 seed if they can win those final two games.

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