Friday, March 08, 2013

Wisconsin Goes Cold Against Michigan State

#10 Michigan State 58, #22 Wisconsin 43
Wisconsin entered this game having missed 17 consecutive three-point attempts. But somehow their shooting was even worse than their Purdue loss. They bricked jump shot after jump shot, despite most of them being open. In all they hit 29% of their shots from the field and had a 33.3 eFG%, which makes this their worst shooting performance since they also had a 33.3 eFG% against Nebraska on January 15th, 2012. To make this game even more incomprehensible, it's worth noting that Ryan Evans was the only Wisconsin player to shoot 40% or better from the field - and he has been their most inefficient offensive regular all season long.

Coming off of three straight losses, this is a great win for Michigan State. I'm not sure that this large winning margin had a whole lot to do with them playing particularly well, though. If Wisconsin could have hit some of those jumpers then this would have been a game. Michigan State's defense still has clear flaws, particularly on the interior. But in this year's Big Ten, every team's flaws tend to get exposed, and that might cause me to be tougher on Michigan State than they deserve. And the Spartans, assuming that they beat Northwestern on Sunday (a pretty safe bet), will have a good chance of a share of the Big Ten regiular season title. At the very least they'll lock up a bye to the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

Speaking of the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, Wisconsin is now going to have to win at Penn State and then get some help to get that bye. Otherwise they might be stuck playing a second straight game against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament first round. The good news for Wisconsin is that bad shooting in one game typically doesn't mean much more than bad shooting in one game. They had some terrible shooting for a few games in late January, but then got hot and blew through the Big Ten for a few weeks, before flailing again with their jump shots the past two games. Their defense is so good this season that their shooting doesn't have to be that good for them to be a dangerous NCAA Tournament.

Colorado 76, #19 Oregon 53
A night of blowouts continued here with, yes, another blowout. This game was never close, with Colorado never leading by fewer than 15 points in the second half. I do feel like the impact of altitude on road games is a bit overdone in the media, and the Buffaloes have lost to UCLA and Arizona State at home this season, but Oregon was a step slow on both ends of the floor in this game. The Ducks finished with only a 39.3 eFG%, though that's only their 4th worst shooting performance in Pac-12 play this season... their offense has struggled pretty badly at times. Xavier Johnson led the way for Colorado with 22 points on 7-for-7 shooting.

Oregon's offensive struggles are a reminder of just how ridiculous it is that the pollsters keep shoving them into the Top 25. They're a borderline bubble team, with an RPI that has slipped to 50th, which is near where their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will be tomorrow. They have wins over UNLV, Arizona and UCLA, along with a bad loss to UTEP. They could definitely slip to the NIT if they're not careful. They'll need to win at Utah on Saturday and then they'll need one win in the Pac-12 tournament to be safe.

Colorado pulls themselves off the bubble with this win. They are 10-7 in Pac-12 play and 10-8 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI up to 24th and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will move close to 40th. That said, they could slip right back onto the bubble if they lose to Oregon State on Saturday. They still have work left to do.

New Mexico State 78, Louisiana Tech 60
The WAC is pretty far below the casual fan radar this year, but I have had several people ask me why Denver continues to be my pick to win the WAC instead of Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech came into this game with a gaudy 25-3 record, including 16-0 in conference play, and a head-to-head win over Denver. The reality is, though, that Louisiana Tech's record is a mixture of a very soft schedule and some luck. They are 8-0 in games decided by 6 points or less, and are only second in the WAC in efficiency margin. And I don't think an 8 point home victory over Denver is proof of their superiority either. Louisiana Tech was way overdue for a loss, and they got it here.

New Mexico State is an awfully fun team to watch play because of Sim Bhullar, though the (very big) big man was quiet here (6 points, 4 rebounds and 5 blocks). Daniel Mullings led the way for the Aggies with 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting. And speaking of efficiency margin, New Mexico State is closing on Louisiana Tech for third place, and is also locked into third place in the standings.

The big game coming up is Louisiana Tech at Denver, on Saturday. With a win, Louisiana Tech will secure the sweep, will lock up the WAC regular season title and will probably enter the WAC tournament as the favorite. With a loss, though, we'll all have to figure out the WAC tiebreaking procedures to see whether Denver or Louisiana Tech gets the 1 seed. Also keep in mind that Louisiana Tech, despite the lack of big wins, is not totally out of the at-large pictures because of their impressive won/loss record. Another win over Denver would really help in that cause.

New Mexico State will close their regular season against Texas-Arlington on Saturday. They are locked into the 3 seed, so the Denver/Louisiana Tech game will determine who they will be on pace to play in the WAC tournament semifinals. I think that they're locked into facing Idaho in the quarterfinals.

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