Saturday, March 15, 2014

Morning News: Iowa St Topples Kansas, Syracuse Falls To NC State, Pitt Punches Their Ticket, Nebraska Falters Late, And Much More


 New Bracket Projection Among the bubble teams, Providence and Nebraska move in while St. John's and California drop out. The last few teams in the field (including Dayton) need to be very wary of potential bid thiefs.

Bubble Watch We're now up to 40 teams locked into the NCAA Tournament. It doesn't seem like much, but with 14 auto bids on the line on Saturday that number should be over 50 by the end of Saturday. The bubble itself has shrunk to 10 teams for 7 spots.

Because of a crazy number of games with NCAA Tournament implications, I had to limit the length of this Morning News post. I could have written 15,000 words. So I limited discussion just to games with direct bubble or 1 seed implications. Even a game like Cincy/UConn can't get discussed here. Sorry, I was going to get carpal tunnel otherwise. Let's do this:

Iowa State Topples Kansas This might have been the second day in a row that Kansas played in the highest quality game of the day, though this one didn't work out like the Oklahoma State game did. In the end, though, this game simply came down to shooting. Kansas made 19 layups and dunks compared to just 15 for Iowa State, but Kansas was out-shot badly on jump shots (52% vs 29%) and on three-point jump shots in particular (56% vs 27%). Perry Ellis was probably the best player for either team (30 points on 11-for-12 shooting), but Georges Niang was the hero with 25 points and the pint of blood he lost in the final minute after getting elbowed in the head.

This loss will cost Kansas the 1 seed, and they are either going to be a 2 or 3 seed, but I don't believe that the availability of Joel Embiid is a factor. It's hard to think of any case since Kenyon Martin where the Selection Committee clearly punished or rewarded a team due to the status of an injured player.

We know that Iowa State's RPI is a bit inflated, but it's slid up to 8th now, and they're looking like a realistic 3 seed. Certainly they'd be no lower than a 4 seed if the season ended now. Even their Sagarin PURE_ELO is up to 12th.

Syracuse Falls To NC State Let's just put it this way: I don't think anybody is going to show that final Syracuse possession in any coaching clinics. Just total panic from them, launching long fadeaway after long fadeaway while there was still plenty of time on the clock. The Syracuse offense continues to struggle, as they're now at 1.01 PPP over their last eight games, after breaking 1.01 PPP in each of their previous 8 games. They've had an eFG% over 45% just once in their last eight games. For perspective, they had broken 45% in 17 of their previous 20 games. They've been very dependent on jump shooting, and it's gone from white hot to ice cold down the stretch.

Can NC State earn an at-large bid? They went 9-9 in ACC play and their RPI is up to 52nd, though they only have three RPI Top 50 and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 63rd. They're still an NIT team, but if they lose in the ACC title game they might actually find their way into some bubble discussion.

Syracuse obviously has blown their shot at a 1 seed, and probably at a 2 seed as well. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still 5th, but their RPI has fallen to 14th and they now have a pair of RPI 100+ losses. They'll very likely be in the vicinity of a 4 seed.

Pittsburgh Punches Their Ticket This game got a bit stressful for Pittsburgh down the stretch. They led by double digits nearly the entire second half, and by as many as 20 points with just over 7 minutes to go. But North Carolina's defensive pressure started turning Pitt over (7 turnovers on their next 13 possessions) and forced Pitt to actually hit some clutch free throws in the final 30 seconds.

With a few bid stealers still alive, it's hard to say that Pitt is a "lock", but this win should punch their ticket. They went 11-7 in ACC play and are 7-8 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI up to 38th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO all the way up to 29th. Well inside the Top 20 in both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR (they had the same efficiency margin in conference play as North Carolina), Pitt is definitely a team to watch for as an NCAA Tournament sleeper.

North Carolina's season has been skidding to a slow halt. It's only a two game losing streak, but they've been unimpressive for five straight games now (their last three wins all came down to the final 30 seconds and came against teams well out of NCAA contention). They're still on pace for something like a 4 or 5 seed, but they could be vulnerable against the right opponent early in the NCAA Tournament.

Nebraska Falters Late Against Ohio State Nebraska was so close to firming up a spot in the NCAA Tournament that they could taste it, but they faded badly late and are going to have to sit around very nervously through Selection Sunday. They led by as many as 18 points in the second half, They failed to hit a shot in the final four minutes, though (0-for-7), and Ohio State got big shots from Amedeo Della Valle of all people, including four straight free throws in the final 15 seconds to ice the game.

Where does Nebraska sit? The 11-7 Big Ten record is obviously great, but their non-conference performance was brutal. In total they went 15-12 against the RPI Top 200 with five RPI Top 50 wins. Their RPI is 47th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 53rd. If the season ended now I think you have to lean toward Nebraska in the field, but it's really close, and they could easily fall out over the final two days.

Ohio State has finished strong and actually has a pretty nice resume. They went 13-6 against the RPI Top 100 and have pushed their RPI up to 20th (though their Sagarin PURE_ELO is only 30th). They're looking like a 5 or 6 seed right now.

St. Bonaventure Upsets Saint Louis At The Buzzer It was Jordan Gathers, a nephew of the late Hank Gathers, who hit the game winning three-pointer at the buzzer for St. Bonaventure here. The real hero, though, was Charlon Kloof, who had 22 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists, including the assist on that final Gathers shot. And it's a rough loss for a Saint Louis team that heads into Selection Sunday having lost four of five, with their last three games all coming down to the final 30 seconds.

Saint Louis finishes 9-5 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI that has slid from borderline-Top 10 to 27th over the last few weeks. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is still 9th, but it's hard to see how they could end up with higher than a 5 seed, and they're most likely heading to a 6 or 7 seed. Saint Bonaventure isn't an at-large contender, but they definitely are a team that can steal an auto bid. They are better than their record (they actually had a better efficiency margin in conference play than Dayton), and St. Joe's is all that stands between them and the A-10 title game.

Dayton Suffers A Crushing Loss To St. Joseph's Dayton fans are going to argue that Langston Galloway pushed off on that game-winning three-pointer. And he did. But it doesn't matter now, because the Selection Committee will not know or care. And that's what makes this a devastating loss for a Dayton team that had been coming on so strong down the stretch, having won 10 of 11 coming into this game.

This win puts St. Joe's in good shape. They went 11-5 in A-10 play and are now 8-8 against the RPI Top 100 with an RPI all the way up to 39th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO up to 34th. They're not a Tournament lock, but they're definitely in the Field of 68 right now, and only really will have to worry if they lose to St. Bonaventure and then we see a few bid thiefs over the next two days.

Dayton finishes 23-10 with a 10-7 record against the RPI Top 100 and four RPI Top 50 wins. They beat Gonzaga, Saint Louis, George Washington and UMass, along with bad losses to USC, Illinois State, Rhode Island and Richmond. Their RPI is 44th and their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 48th. That's a very bubbly resume, and they'll be one of the last teams in or first teams out on Selection Sunday.

Wisconsin Smokes Minnesota When Wisconsin gets going offensively, they look awfully good, and they wiped the court with Minnesota here. Ben Brust led all scorers with 29 points, and Wisconsin got big performances from freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig (a combined 29 points on 11-for-14 shooting). Minnesota shot a brutal 29.7% on two-pointers.

In general, scores of games don't matter to the Selection Committee. Wins and losses are all that matter, and it doesn't matter how good your team is. But it's always a problem if you go into Selection Sunday on a blowout loss, particularly when your resume is already pretty iffy. Minnesota is now just 6-11 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is still 48th, but their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 59th. That's a bubbly resume, but at this point Minnesota is more likely to end up in the NIT than the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin will play Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals. With a win they should lock up at least a 2 seed. If they can win the Big Ten tournament they'll be in the discussion for a 1 seed.

What About Florida State? By the end of Friday night, this game felt like a million years ago. This game was forgettable because of how meekly Florida State went down, with Virginia just squeezing the life out of this game by early in the second half. With all the carnage at the top of the bracket, Virginia is back in the 1 seed discussion. If they can win the ACC tournament, they'll likely be one of the three contenders, along with the Big Ten champ (assuming it's Michigan or Wisconsin) and Villanova.

Florida State needed one more win. They went 9-9 in ACC play and 6-12 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI that is 55th and a Sagarin PURE_ELO that is 54th. With only one RPI Top 25 win (VCU) it's hard to see how Florida State can earn an at-large bid, though they're not totally out of the discussion.

Does Southern Miss Have A Shot? Conference USA quietly had two very solid semifinal match-ups. Any of those four teams would have likely ended up as a 13 seed with a real chance to win a game or two. Somebody had to lose here, though, and Southern Miss went down fairly easily here. Louisiana Tech hit 12-for-25 behind the arc, had 7 more offensive rebounds and 8 fewer turnovers... pretty hard to lose with those three stats.

Southern Miss was getting some at-large buzz coming into this game, and definitely had the strongest resume of any team in the conference. They finish 25-6 and with an RPI that is 33rd, though they only have one RPI Top 50 win and it's North Dakota State. Their Sagarin PURE_ELO is 44th, though without a strong non-conference strength of schedule, they're unlikely to get the benefit of the doubt that a team like Middle Tennessee got last season. They merit at-large debate, but I would bet on an NIT bid for them.

Louisiana Tech is 5-3 against the RPI Top 100 and 26-6 overall, but this is their second best win of the season (their best came over Oklahoma) and they're only 56th in RPI. If they lose the Conference USA title game, the odds are that they're going to the NIT. They need to beat Tulsa.

Stanford Is Crushed By UCLA Just like Minnesota above, it's a bad idea to have your last game before Selection Sunday be a destruction like this.  UCLA grabbed a 20 point first half lead that they pushed as high as 27 in the second half. UCLA was able to get to the rim at will, hitting 82% on two-pointers (including 40 points in the paint) and also earning 30 free throw attempts.

How is Stanford looking? Their RPI is 40th, but it's inflated due to only playing one team with an RPI worse than 250th. They were only 8-12 against the RPI Top 100 and their Sagarin PURE_ELO has slid to 50th. If the season ended now I think that sneaks them in as one of the last teams in the Field of 68, but it's an awfully small margin of error. Stanford fans need to become big fans of VCU, Duke and every other team trying to stop stolen bids.

UCLA's RPI slid into the Top 20 with this win, though their Sagarin PURE_ELO is just 27th. They are 12-7 against the RPI Top 100 and would likely be right around 6 seed if the season ended now. They can make a case for a 4 or 5 seed if they win the Pac-12 tournament.

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