Games of Sunday, February 24
Matchup: Louisville (21-6, 11-3 Big East) at Pittsburgh (19-7, 7-6), 12:00 p.m. EST
Rankings: Louisville, #9 in Pomeroy
Ratings (1st of 16 in Big East); Pittsburgh, #28 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville, 65-64 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Cardinals have won six straight, and with Georgetown's win yesterday are a half-game behind the Hoyas for the Big East lead. Pittsburgh is coming off two tough road games at Marquette and Notre Dame, both of which the Panthers lost by double-digits. Point guard Levance Fields played better in the loss to Notre Dame, his second game back from a broken foot, finishing with 10 points and five assists in 25 minutes before fouling out. Louisville's defense has reached another plane in the team's six-game winning streak, having not allowed an opponent to score more than 0.91 points per possession in that stretch. The Cardinals held a high-scoring Syracuse team to only 0.78 in Monday's 61-50 home win. On the season, Louisville's defense has climbed to third in the nation in adjusted efficiency, behind Memphis and Kansas. You can make the case that with senior center David Padgett in the fold and playing well--Padgett missed 10 games earlier in the year with a broken kneecap--the Cardinals are the best defensive team in all of Division I. The Panthers have the third-best offense in the Big East by adjusted efficiency, however, which should give Louisville a strong test. Pittsburgh's offense relies on offensive rebounding (40.4 percentage, 10th best in Division I) and taking good care of the ball for its effectiveness.
Matchup: Syracuse (17-10, 7-7 Big East) at Notre Dame (20-5, 10-3), 2:00
Rankings: Syracuse, #42 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 16 in Big East); Notre Dame, #20 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Notre Dame, 84-75 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 21%
Prospectus: The Fighting Irish are 15-0 at home this season, and have a 35 game winning streak at the Edmund P. Joyce Center in South Bend. The last loss for Notre Dame at home was almost exactly two years ago, on February 25, 2006, when it fell 80-72 to Marquette. The Orange are very much on the NCAA Tournament bubble, so this win would go a long way towards solidifying their at-large position. Syracuse is the fastest-paced team in the Big East by raw tempo, and Notre Dame ranks third, so the contest should be played at a heightened speed. Both the Orange and Fighting Irish are also excellent on the offensive glass, ranking back-to-back at 21/22 in offensive rebounding percentage, and both use their bench very little--Syracuse plays its starters more than any other Big East squad, while Notre Dame is third in the conference in minutes played by starters. The Orange underclass combination of sophomore Paul Harris and freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn are always on the court, as each has played 88 percent of the team's minutes, while for the Fighting Irish it is junior Kyle McAlarney (88 percent of minutes played) and sophomore Tory Jackson (80 percent) that are the on-court fixtures. Besides Connecticut, Syracuse is the Big East squad least-dependent on the three-pointer, while Notre Dame shoots very well from long range (40 percent) and gets 30 percent of its
points from deep.
Matchup: Xavier (23-4, 11-1 Atlantic 10) at Dayton (17-8, 5-7), 2:00
Rankings: Xavier, #15 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 14 in A-10); Dayton, #74
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 68-62 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 26%
Prospectus: Dayton still looks to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble thanks to its strong non-conference season, when the Flyers went 12-1, including wins over Louisville and Miami OH on the road and Pittsburgh and Akron at home. But after beginning 2-0 in the A-10, Dayton has lost seven of its last 10. If the Flyers can finish the season at .500 in conference play, and then comport themselves well in the A-10 Tournament, they might have a strong enough seasonal curriculum vitae to make it to the dance. Dayton has lost three of its last four, but all of those have been close games (decided by three points or less or in OT), and Thursday's road defeat at La Salle went to an extra session, so the Flyers have run into some bad luck of late. Part of Dayton's conference swoon can be explained by the absence of star freshman forward Chris Wright, who put up excellent numbers in the non-conference schedule (112.2 offensive rating while using 24.6 percent of possessions, 61 eFG%) before breaking his ankle in the team's conference-opening game against Rhode Island January 9. Wright could be back in time for the Flyers' last several conference games. Dayton forward Charles Little, the team's second-leading user of possessions and shots and leading offensive rebounder,
also missed time with injury, sitting three games in late January--including the team's 69-43 loss to Xavier--with a broken bone in his foot. Little came back to play well in his first several games after returning, but has clearly been off in his last two, playing only 32 minutes with just three shots (all misses) combined. Xavier, meanwhile, has moved well ahead of the seeming hordes that are fighting for at-large positioning in the murky middle of the conference, thanks to a nine game winning streak, and can clinch its second straight A-10 regular season title with a win today and a Saint Joseph's loss.
Matchup: Alabama (14-12, 3-8 Southeastern) at Auburn (13-11, 3-8), 2:00
Rankings: Alabama, #78 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 11 in SEC); Auburn, #129 (12th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Alabama, 75-74 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: These two teams are fighting to avoid earning a share of the SEC West basement along with Louisiana St., but it should still be a frenzied atmosphere at the Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum in Auburn, Alabama, thanks to the spirited in-state rivalry between these two schools. The Crimson Tide won the first meeting by twenty at home on January 26, so Auburn will be looking to get even. In that game, Alabama scored at its most efficient rate (1.44 points per possession) of the season, as it put up a 62.7 eFG% and turned it over on only 5.9 percent of its possessions, an insanely low figure. That number should be well higher in this one, because Auburn is in the top-20 nationally in steal percentage. Tigers guard Quantez Robertson has played 93.3 percent of his team's minutes, the sixth highest total in the country, but Robertson has a small role on offense, as he has used only 13.3 percent of team possessions and taken only
11.6 percent of the shots, the lowest rate on the squad. Alabama is led by 6'8 forward Richard Hendrix, who is one of the best big men in the country, ranking in the top 50 in both eFG% and defensive rebounding.
Matchup: Wisconsin (22-4, 12-2 Big 10) at Ohio St. (17-9, 8-5), 4:00, CBS
Rankings: Wisconsin, #5 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Big Ten); Ohio St., #29 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin, 60-57 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: The Buckeyes are currently 8-5 in Big 10 play, but they will be challenged to finish with a record above .500. After this game against the Badgers, Ohio St. travels to face Indiana and Minnesota, and then returns home for Purdue and Michigan St. The Buckeyes have lost three of their last five, two of which came on the road against teams near the bottom of the conference, Iowa and Michigan. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has won three straight since losing at home to Purdue February 9, including a big two-point win on the road over Indiana, to move back into a tie for first place with Purdue. One of the key matchups in this game will be down low, between 6'11 Badgers senior Brian Butch and 7'0 Buckeyes freshman Kosta Koufos. Butch has made 100-of-202 two-pointers, while Koufos has made 135-of-260.
Matchup: Saint Joseph's (16-8, 7-4 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (20-7, 6-6), 4:00
Rankings: Saint Joseph's, #57 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 14 in A-10); Rhode Island, #65 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rhode Island, 81-78 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
Prospectus: With Temple and Richmond both losing on Saturday, the Hawks are alone in second place in the A-10, with Rhode Island standing a game and a half behind them. The Rams' potential at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament is looking more and more precarious by the game--Rhode Island has lost four of its last five, the last two coming at home. Saint Joseph's, despite being the second-best team in the conference, is still very much on the tournament bubble, as it had a mediocre non-conference season and lacks a signature win, with no victories over teams in the Pomeroy Top 50. This game, therefore, is very big for both teams. It promises to be an offensive battle, for the Hawks and Rams rank second and third, respectively, in the A-10 in offensive efficiency, and both have defenses that give up more than a point per possession. Saint Joseph's is a better shooting team and is more reliant upon the three-pointer, while Rhode Island is stronger on the offensive glass. With the Hawks' top three in minutes played all being 6'8 or taller (the 6'10 Pat Calathes ranks first on the team in minutes), Saint Joseph's is the tallest team in the A-10, and the seventh tallest in the nation by Average Minutes-Weighted Height. Calathes, however, frequently ventures out away from the basket, as he leads Saint Joseph's in three-point percentage, having hit 56-of-127 triples (44 percent). Rhode Island's 6'8 senior forward Will Daniels is a little more of a classic big man, with 277 two-point attempts to his name against 85 from long range this season.
Matchup: Wright St. (20-6, 12-4 Horizon League) at Illinois St. (19-8, 11-5 Missouri Valley), 6:30, ESPNU
Rankings: Wright St., #120 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Horizon); Illinois St., #66 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Illinois St., 62-53 in 59 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 15%
Prospectus: After the top team in the Horizon League played the best in the Missouri Valley Conference yesterday--Drake represented the MVC by knocking off Butler--the second place squads in each circuit square off today. Neither has a chance of finishing in first place, although Wright St. is still mathematically alive. The Raiders are two behind Butler in the Horizon with two to play, and play the Bulldogs next Thursday. Even if Wright St. somehow wins that road game, however, all Butler would need to do to clinch would be beat last-place Detroit at home in the final game of the year. The Raiders still have the Horizon League tournament as a potential road to reaching the NCAA Tournament, and with 11 wins in a row and counting certainly will have to be reckoned with in their conference postseason. Illinois St. will be the best team Wright St. has played since it beat Butler on December 8. The Redbirds' only home loss this season was to Drake by three points, and they have a well-balanced team which ranks second in the Missouri Valley in defensive efficiency and fourth in offensive. The Redbirds' best player is 6'3 Osiris Eldridge, who leads Illinois St. in minutes played, offensive rating, possessions used and shots taken, eFG%, turnover rate, and steal percentage.
Forest (16-8, 6-5 Atlantic Coast) at North Carolina
(25-2, 10-2), 6:30
Rankings: Wake Forest, #54 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in ACC); North Carolina, #6 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 90-74 in 79 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 9%
Prospectus: It looks as if the ACC will get only five teams into the NCAA Tournament--with Clemson, Miami, and Maryland being the three others besides Duke and UNC--but the Demon Deacons might still be able to sneak their way in with a strong finish to their conference season. That's because Wake Forest has won three straight games, the last of which being a convincing 13-point victory over Duke at home. It is unclear whether sophomore point guard Ty Lawson will return from a sprained right ankle to play against Wake Forest, but the Tar Heels have been just fine without him the past two games, beating Virginia Tech by 39 points at home and then North Carolina St. by 14 on the road. Junior forward Tyler Hansbrough has averaged 29 points on 59.5 eFG% shooting in the five games that Lawson has missed. The job of slowing down Hansbrough will likely fall to 6'8 Demon Deacons freshman forward James Johnson. Johnson has already proven himself to be an excellent defender, with a block percentage of 5.2 and steal percentage of 2.9 to go along with strong rebounding figures, and he also leads Wake Forest in possessions used, shots taken, and eFG%. With Johnson and fellow freshman Jeff Teague geting the second and third most minutes, and four sophomores seeing significant time, the Demon Deacons are the least experienced team in the ACC and the 11th-youngest squad in the nation.
Matchup: California (15-9, 6-7 Pacific 10) at Stanford (21-4, 10-3), 9:00
Rankings: California, #50 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 10 in Big East); Stanford, #14 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Stanford, 76-64 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: This rivalry game features the 10th-best offense in the nation by adjusted efficiency (but only the fourth best in the Pac 10) against the sixth best defense (and second best in the Pac 10). The team boasting that defense, Stanford, won the first meeting between the two teams in Berkeley, 82-77. The Golden Bears shot better from the floor in that game, but the Cardinal out-rebounded California on the offensive glass and got to the line 19 more times. While that free throw advantage is not likely to hold up, Stanford, which has the second-tallest frontcourt in the nation by Effective Height, should again be able to dominate the boards. On offense, Stanford's most efficient player is senior forward Taj Finger, who has an offensive rating of 121.5 and an eFG% of 53.5, but Finger doesn't shoot much, taking just 16 percent of his team's attempts while on the floor, and plays less than 20 minutes per game. California is powered by its terrific sophomore trio, Patrick Christopher, Ryan Anderson, and Jerome Randle, who rank 1-2-3 on the squad in minutes played. A case can be made for the 6'10 Anderson being the best offensive player in the country this year, as he ranks second in offensive rating among players using at least 28 percent of possessions, and plays in perhaps the nation's best conference. Anderson is a threat from inside the arc (55 percent on 234 two-point attempts) and outside (52-of-114 from three), is an outstanding rebounder, and doesn't turn the ball over.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.