Saturday, March 14, 2015

Morning News: Notre Dame Knocks Off Duke, Oregon Stuns Utah, Virginia Loses Their 1 Seed?, And Much More

Some teams suffered brutal losses yesterday, perhaps none worse than La Salle.
New Bracket Projection Virginia drops off the 1 line, replaced by Wisconsin. Three one-bid league favorites change. Click the link for all the details.

Bubble Watch Texas Southern, Michigan State, VCU and Xavier all locked up their NCAA Tournament bids yesterday, bringing us to 39 locks. At least a dozen more spots will likely be taken today.

Notre Dame Knocks Off Duke Duke's offense was a mess in the first half, where they scored just 0.79 PPP. Justise Winslow in particular was not himself (just 11 points on 8 shots). But Jahlil Okafor took over down the stretch and dragged Duke back into this game, scoring 28 points on 13-for-18 shooting. The Irish were able to hit their free throws down the stretch, however, finishing 22-for-25 for the game. Bonzie Colson was the star off the bench, pouring in 17 points.

It's going to be very hard to justify a 1 seed for Duke now. It has probably happened, and it's a difficult thing to look up easily, but I can't personally recall a team earning a 1 seed after failing to win either their conference's regular season or tournament title. Head-to-head records don't matter to the Selection Committee, so that won't be relevant to debating Duke vs Virginia. Obviously what happens to Arizona, Villanova and Wisconsin will play a factor, though.

The Irish push their RPI into the Top 20 with this win. With six RPI Top 50 wins that include a couple of wins over Duke, they're likely looking at a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they can knock off North Carolina tonight, they'll have a case for a 3 seed.

Oregon Stuns Utah This was a treat for those who stayed up late to watch it. Brandon Taylor was the star for Utah, pouring in 29 points on 6-for-9 three-point shooting. Delon Wright, who was perhaps snubbed for Pac-12 Player of the Year, was held to just 16 points, and was outplayed head-to-head with the guy who actually won the award: Joseph Young. Young scored 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting. And after a poor offensive foul on Young was called and Utah was able to tie the game up on an equally mystifying defensive foul on Oregon, Joe Young took things into his hands for this game winner:
Joseph Young's Mighty Game-Winning 3

Utah has ended the season poorly, with four losses in their last seven games after suffering just four losses all season long before that. There's no big reason to panic, though. The losses are going to cost their seed, which will likely be a 4 or a 5 now, but there hasn't been a dramatic reduction in quality of play. All but one loss came away from home, all but one came against NCAA Tournament teams, and they were all competitive. They are still a team well-positioned to make a Sweet 16 run.

This win should seal Oregon into the Field of 68. They've won seven in a row to push their RPI from around 60th into the Top 30, and they have a couple of victories over Utah. Realistically, they're just playing for a Pac-12 tournament title and NCAA Tournament seed at this point.

Virginia Loses Their 1 Seed? Virginia struggled here, on both ends of the court. Offensively, Justin Anderson clearly wasn't himself, scoring zero points with zero assists in 14 minutes. Defensively, they were torched by North Carolina. The Tar Heels had a 63.1 eFG%, which was the best shooting day by any team against Virginia since November 22nd, 2010. They shot 7-for-14 on threes, but also hit 57% of their two-pointers. But despite those defensive lapses, Virginia crawled back into this game on the back of Malcolm Brogdon. In the final 10:30 of the game, Brogdon hit eight straight shots from the field, at one point scoring 12 straight Cavaliers points. Still, the Tar Heels hit six straight free throws in the final seconds to seal the win.

Virginia would still be a 1 seed if the season ended now, but they're very much at danger of dropping to the 2 seed line if Arizona, Wisconsin and Villanova all win their conference tournaments. North Carolina, meanwhile, is looking increasingly strong as a 3 seed. If they can win the ACC tournament and get some help then even a 2 seed is possible.

Oklahoma Loses On A Bunny I've talked about it a million times, but you can't draw conclusions from one-possession games.  This game was a perfect example, because Iowa State had a bad breakdown on their final defensive possession, and all Ryan Spangler had to do was hit a wide open layup to send the game to overtime. Instead, he did this:
Iowa State will get a chance tonight for a second straight Big 12 tournament title. With a win, they'll lock in at least a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and will potentially  have a case for a 2 seed. Oklahoma, on the other hand, looks like they're heading for either a 3 or 4 seed.

Villanova Escapes Providence Madison Square Garden is always electric for good Big East tournament games, and that was certainly the case here. Providence was over-matched in terms of scoring talent, but they out-hustled Villanova and played more physical. They dominated the glass (a 47.0 OR% compared to a 28.1 OR% for Villanova), creating a 19-to-6 advantage in second chance points. And down the stretch they nearly stole this game. After pulling with two points with under 20 seconds to go, Ben Bentil forced a steal in a trap and got the ball to Kris Dunn to tie the game. Villanova's last chance to win in regulation was a Ryan Arcidiacono drive where he drew a foul call and hit the game-winning free throws. It certainly didn't look like a foul to me, but ref uncertainty is always going to be a big factor in a one-possession game.

If Villanova can win the Big East tourney title game, they should be a near-lock for a 1 seed, though a loss probably drops them to a 2 seed. Providence is safely in the NCAA Tournament, but this loss costs them a chance to move up from the 6-7 seed or so where they currently sit.

Kansas Handles Baylor Perry Ellis played in this game,but his 11 points weren't the difference in this game. The difference was Baylor hitting a putrid 4-for-22 behind the arc. They hit 40.3% in Big 12 play, but just couldn't get jump shots to fall here. Taurean Prince, personally, was 0-for-7 on threes. For Kansas, Wayne Selden looks like he's finally healthy again, and he led the Jayhawks with 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

Kansas is looking very likely at a 2 seed, though the door for a 1 seed has cracked open just a little bit with Virginia and Duke losing. They'd need more help, though, to pass Villanova, Arizona and Wisconsin. Baylor is likely looking at a 3 or 4 seed.

Davidson Steals A Crucial Win La Salle was unstoppable early, taking an early 18 point lead and scoring 1.35 PPP in the first half. But things were very different in the second half, where they committed as many turnovers (8) as made field goals, and blew a 9 point lead with 4:30 to go. They failed to score a single point on their final six possessions, and Davidson finished on a 10-0 run, including this game-winner at the buzzer by Tyler Kalinoski
La Salle certainly didn't enjoy the reffing down the stretch, in particular a held ball that the refs ruled a timeout for Davidson instead. John Giannini audibly screamed that the refs were protecting the #1 seed. And certainly referee calls can be a huge factor in one-possession games, but in the end you're judged by your wins and losses, and this win is crucial for Davidson. I think they would have made the NCAA Tournament even with a loss here, but they'd have had to sweat out Selection Sunday and to root against bid stealers. With this win, they should now be safe.

Indiana Goes Cold Against Maryland Indiana is a team that relies heavily on three-pointers. This  season, against Pomeroy Top 200 opponents, they are 7-3 when shooting better than 40% on threes while just 4-10 when shooting 40% or worse on threes. They were just 29% here, including a stretch of ten straight misses that only ended with a meaningless three after the game was already decided.

The Hoosiers slip to 58th in RPI and just 8-12 against the RPI Top 100, though they do have wins over Butler, Maryland, SMU and Ohio State. It's a very bubbly resume, though with as many losses as bubble teams have picked up this week, I think at this point that they're probably still in the Field of 68.

Maryland moves to 11-0 in games decided by six points or fewer. Obviously this wasn't a game that came down to the final possession, but that is not relevant to what analytics-literate folks means when they say that Maryland has been very lucky. We're not saying that a team would be expected to win exactly 50% of all games decided by six points or fewer. A six point win is more impressive than a two point win. But a 20 point win would be more impressive than a six point win. If Indiana had hit a few more threes earlier in the game, Maryland would have lost. So that is what we mean about "luck", not what you often see the concept strawman'd as in the media.

UConn Starting Another Run? With the AAC tournament taking place at the XL Center, a whole lot of people were calling yet another miracle UConn tournament run. The South Florida win wasn't a surprise, but Cincinnati gave them a fight here. Ryan Boatright tried his hardest to do his Kemba Walker/Shabazz Napier impression here, even though his shots weren't falling (4-for-12 on threes). But he had some pretty assists and led all players with 18 points, and with the game tied in the closing seconds hit this game-winner:
UConn realistically needs to win the auto bid to avoid the NIT. They will play Tulsa in the semifinals. Cincinnati goes home, but they're safe for the NCAA Tournament. With six RPI Top 50 wins and an RPI still hanging in at 38th, they're likely looking at something like an 8 or 9 seed.

Wyoming, Bid Stealer? Wyoming is a different team with Larry Nance, Jr. He scored 20 points here, while Wyoming's entire bench combined for six. Boise State star Derrick Marks had 17 points, though it took 6-for-21 shooting. Still, either team could have won this game. The big shot for Boise State, with them only up by a single point and with under 45 seconds to go in overtime, was as lucky as it gets:
Wyoming now looks to steal an auto-bid in the Mountain West title game tonight. What about Boise State? Their RPI is still 40th. Despite only having four RPI Top 100 wins, they beat San Diego State twice, as well as Colorado State. Also, their games with a fully healthy Derrick Marks came later in the season, where the games matter more than the Marks-less games back in non-conference play (as much as the Selection Committee insists that all games are equal, it simply isn't true). So at this point, I do think Boise State probably sneaks in. But they'll be rooting for Wyoming to lose tonight, for sure.

Michigan State Stifles Ohio State This game was a little closer down the stretch than it could have been. Michigan State led by 17 with six minutes to go, but a 10-0 spurt by the Buckeyes forced the Spartans to hit some free throws and execute down the stretch to seal the win. Michigan State won this game defensively, blocking 8 shots and holding Ohio State to just 41% shooting on two-pointers. Michigan State had a 40-to-26 advantage in points in the point.

Ohio State finishes the season with just a single RPI Top 50 win and an RPI that has slipped to 40th. They should be safe for the NCAA Tournament, but are at risk of something like a 10, or even an 11 seed. They're better than their resume, though, so they'll be a tough out wherever they're seeded. Michigan State will try to grow their own resume against Maryland.

LSU Collapses Against Auburn The end of this game could not have gone worse for LSU against a totally over-matched Auburn squad. First, Tim Quarterman fouled out by twice fouling KT Harrell on shots behind the arc. Then, LSU got the ball back and had the ball knocked out of bounds with six seconds on the shot clock. But after the timeout, they inexplicably had no idea that there were still just six seconds left on the clock and had the clock run out without anybody even looking for a shot. After an Auburn miss and two LSU free throws, with the lead back up to three, LSU allowed Auburn to take a wide-open three, and this happened:
LSU proceeded to lose in overtime, and now they have to sweat out Selection Sunday. Their RPI is 57th and they have five RPI 100+ losses, including two RPI 200+ losses. That said, they do have three RPI Top 50 wins (including West Virginia and Arkansas), and thirteen RPI Top 100 wins. History says that with all else equal the Selection Committee prefers teams with big wins and ugly losses to teams with neither. So for the time being, I think LSU is hanging on barely to spot within the Field of 68. But they're far from secure.

Xavier Holds Off Georgetown The Hoyas trailed by 20 points with eight minutes to go in this game. But Villanova scored on just two of their next eight possessions, and a furious 19-4 run got Georgetown right back into this game. On their final possession, down by three points, Jabril Trawick was intentionally fouled. He hit the first free throw and tried to miss the second... but it went in by accident. Xavier escaped.

Xavier only went 9-9 in Big East play, but they're up to eight RPI Top 50 wins, and their RPI is up into the Top 30. They have a strong case for something like a 5 or 6 seed now, particularly if they can knock off Villanova. Georgetown's RPI is 24th, but their resume is in a lot of ways the opposite of Xavier. They have no RPI 100+ losses but are only 8-10 against the RPI Top 100. They could realistically slide as low as a 7 seed.

Arizona Escapes UCLA UCLA made a game of this one. They took the lead in parts of the second half, and pulled within two points in the final 30 seconds, forcing Arizona to hit their free throws and avoid turnovers to escape. And with both Duke and Virginia losing, the door is wide open for a 1 seed for Arizona now if they can take the Pac-12 tournament.

UCLA really needed to have this win. Their RPI is still 48th, but they are just 5-11 against the RPI Top 100, with only two RPI Top 50 wins (Utah and Oregon). If they do sneak into the NCAA Tournament they'll be one of the last one or two teams in, which means they have to be particularly wary of potential bid-stealers like UConn and Wyoming.

San Diego State Shuts Down Colorado State San Diego State's defense is awfully nasty at its best, and they held Colorado State to just a 37.7 eFG% and 0.80 PPP, both lows for the Rams since February 4th. Colorado State was held to just 18 points on the paint, and with only a 33% two-point shooting percentage.

Fans of bubble teams everywhere will be rooting for San Diego State tonight, when they try to prevent Wyoming from stealing the Mountain West auto bid. San Diego State is safely in the NCAA Tournament regardless of the result. Colorado State is safe also, though their seed is in flux. Their RPI is 28th, though they have just five RPI Top 100 wins, and their best win came over San Diego State. They could be looking at a seed anywhere in the 7-10 range, I think.

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