Games of Saturday, March 8
Big South Championship
Matchup: #2 Seed Winthrop (21-11, 10-4) at #1 NC Asheville (23-8, 10-4), 11:30 a.m. EST, ESPN2
Rankings: Winthrop, #115 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in Big South); NC Asheville, #169 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Winthrop, 61-60 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: The top two seeds in the Big South easily dispatched the competition to set up this game for the conference title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. This will be the third time that the Eagles and Bulldogs have played this season, and NC Asheville has won the first two--71-56 at home and 63-50 on the road--but as Ken Pomeroy noted in his log5 analysis, Winthrop has been the better team in all the other games. The Eagles have far-and-away the best defense in the conference, which yields only 0.91 points per possession by defensive efficiency, while the Bulldogs have the best offense, which has a 1.05 PPP adjusted efficiency. Kenny George, Asheville's 7'7 center, played 24 minutes in UNCA's semifinal win over Liberty on Thursday, and notched a double-double, with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 11 rebounds. George did not play in the first meeting between these two teams, and in the second had 10 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes. The Bulldogs were led in the first win by senior guard K.J. Garland, who scored 26 points on 9-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-4 from three-point range (100 eFG%) to go with eight assists, and in the second game by Garland's classmate and backcourt partner Bryan Smithson, who had 25 points on 13-of-13 free throw shooting. No player scored more than 12 points in either game for Winthrop.
Matchup: Louisville (24-6, 14-3) at Georgetown (24-4, 14-3), 12:00 p.m., CBS
Rankings: Louisville, #7 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 16 in Big East); Georgetown, #9 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgetown, 62-59 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: The much-anticipated rematch between the best two teams in the Big East will decide who wins the regular season title and takes the top seed in the conference tournament. The Cardinals won the first game between the two 59-51 in Freedom Hall. That was the third straight win for Louisville, a streak which the Cardinals have stretched to nine in a row entering Washington, D.C. The Hoyas have won four straight, including a big 70-68 overtime victory at Marquette last Saturday. In the first game, Louisville limited Georgetown to 4-of-22 from long range and just four free throw attempts, while the Cardinals got to the line 24 times. Ten of those trips were made by senior center David Padgett, who scored a game-high 18 points. These are two of the best defensive teams in the nation, with Louisville ranking fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency and Georgetown eighth. Georgetown, which runs the Princeton offense under coach John Thompson III, a former Princeton player and coach, plays at the slowest pace of any Big East team (62.2 possessions/40 minutes). The Hoyas' first meeting with Louisville was played in 59 possessions.
Matchup: Marquette (22-7, 11-6) at Syracuse (18-12, 8-9), 4:00, ESPN
Rankings: Marquette, #8 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 16 in Big East); Syracuse, #42 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 76-72 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 34%
Prospectus: The Orange beat Seton Hall on the road Wednesday to end a three-game losing streak and keep alive its chance to finish at .500 in the conference season. Barring a deep run in the Big East Tournament, the Orange will need to come up with a win tonight in their final regular season game to have a shot at earning an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse is currently ranked as the second best team missing the cut by ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi. Marquette would lock up the #5 seed in the Big East Tournament with a win, which would earn it a first round game against the tournament's #12 seed. The Orange play at a faster pace than any other Big East team, averaging 72.6 possessions/40 minutes, and are ninth in the country in the percentage of their points that come from two-point shots (58.6). Marquette's biggest strength is defending the three-point line, as it has allowed a lower percentage of opponents' points from three-point shots than any other Big East squad.
Matchup: UAB (22-8, 12-3) at Memphis (29-1, 15-0), 1:00
Rankings: UAB, #52 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in CUSA); Memphis, #4 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 78-63 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 8%
Prospectus: Memphis is one home win over UAB away from finishing off its second straight undefeated Conference USA season. The Tigers have won 38 conference games in a row, with their last loss coming against the Blazers on the road on March 2, 2006. They nearly lost in Birmingham this year too, as Memphis needed a three-point play from Chris Douglas-Roberts with 6.5 seconds left to escape (almost literally) Bartow Arena with a 79-78 win on February 16. That play by Douglas-Roberts finished off one of his finest games of the season--the 6'6 junior scored 32 points on 69 eFG% shooting, grabbed seven rebounds, and committed zero turnovers in 36 minutes. The Blazers were led by their three-point specialist, 6'5 junior Robert Vaden, who poured in 27 points on 71 eFG% shooting from the floor and 7-of-8 from the line. Vaden, who transferred from Indiana to follow head coach Mike Davis to Birmingham, has taken far more shots and converted at a higher percentage from three-point range this season (135-of-314, 43 percent) than from two (65-of-157, 41 percent). Each team shot 22 free throws in the Tigers' one-point win, but while UAB hit 20 of those, Memphis hit only 12, highlighting the Tigers' biggest weakness (59.1 free throw percentage this season, 2nd worst in Division I). An upset win tonight would guarantee the Blazers sole possession of second place in Conference USA (they will share second with Houston if they lose and the Cougars win at UTEP). UAB has already locked up the second seed in the CUSA Tournament thanks to its two-point win over Houston on February 20.
Matchup: Baylor (20-9, 8-7) at Texas Tech (16-13, 7-8), 1:30
Rankings: Baylor, #34 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in Big 12); Texas Tech, #72 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Baylor, 79-78 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 47%
Prospectus: The Bears will finish above .500 in the Big 12 with a victory in Lubbock this afternoon, which would give Baylor its first winning season in conference play since 1988. That was also the last Bears team to win 20 games and go to the NCAA Tournament. This year's edition is on pace to return to the tournament, and a win over the Raiders would solidify that position, and complete the transformation from a 1-15 Big 12 season three years ago. Texas Tech, meanwhile, will be looking to regain some dignity after getting beaten 109-51 by Kansas on Monday, which set the record for the worst loss in Raiders history, which had been previously set just two games earlier in a 44-point loss to Texas A&M. Baylor won the first meeting of the year between these two, 80-74 in Waco. The Bears shot 54.5 eFG% from the floor in the win and beat the Raiders at their own game, getting to the free throw line 40 times against 44 field goal attempts, a rate of 90.9, their highest of the season. Baylor won despite uncharacteristically turning it over on 24 percent of its possessions, as compared to a season average of turnovers on 17.3 percent of possessions, which ranks 12th in the country.
Matchup: Kansas (27-3, 12-3) at Texas A&M (22-8, 8-7), 4:00, CBS
Rankings: Kansas, #1 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in Big 12); Texas A&M, #18 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 69-63 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 24%
Prospectus: A win by the Jayhawks would guarantee them at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title, pending the outcome of Texas's game against Oklahoma St. tomorrow. While Kansas is gunning for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Aggies are still trying to make the Big Dance, but a win here would give them a winning record in the Big 12 and virtually guarantee a place in the field of 64. Kansas displayed why it is the best team in the country per the Pomeroy Ratings on Monday, destroying Texas Tech 109-51. That blowout bumped up Kansas' stats, and now the Jayhawks rank first in the nation in both offensive efficiency (1.24 points per possession) and defensive efficiency (0.82 points per possession allowed). Texas A&M came up with an important 71-57 road victory over Baylor on Wednesday, which followed a 27-point loss to Oklahoma, which followed a 44-point defeat of Texas Tech, which came after a 27-point beating by Texas--as you can see, John Gasaway wasn't lying when he wrote yesterday of how Texas A&M, and especially its offense, has been
historically inconsistent this season. Gasaway writes:
Over the past three seasons, no major-conference team has exhibited as much
inconsistency on offense or defense in-conference as have the offenses of Texas A&M and Michigan State this year.
If the Aggies get one of their good performances, they are certainly capable of hanging with Kansas.
Matchup: Saint Joseph's (18-10, 9-6) at Dayton (19-9, 7-8), 2:00
Rankings: Saint Joseph's, #58 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 14 in A-10); Dayton, #76 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Dayton, 67-66 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: After losing five of seven games to fall out of second place in the Atlantic 10, the Hawks came up with their biggest win of the season on Thursday, as they beat Xavier 71-66 at home to stay in NCAA Tournament at-large consideration. Now, Saint Joseph's can also claim the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament with a win today at Dayton and a Temple loss at La Salle. Dayton, meanwhile, has won two straight to ensure its spot in the field of 12 that play in the A-10 tourney. Its chances in that event probably rest on the return of freshman forward Chris Wright, who led the Flyers in scoring and rebounding through their first 14 games, in which they went 13-1, before injuring his ankle. There is a chance that Wright might be back for the tournament, but it is looking like he could well be out for the season. Dayton has been carried by senior guard Brian Roberts, who is ninth in the nation in offensive rating (121.2) amongst players who have used 24 percent of possessions or more. Roberts has shot 45 percent on nearly seven three-point attempts per game this season, sports a 59.9 eFG%, and also leads the team with assists on 26 percent of his teammates' baskets while on the court.
Matchup: Stanford (24-5, 13-4) at Southern California (19-10, 10-7), 2:00, CBS
Rankings: Stanford, #12 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Pac 10); Southern California, #25 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Southern California, 63-62 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: Stanford lost in overtime on Thursday night at UCLA, missing its chance to share the Pac 10 title with the Bruins. The Trojans also played into overtime on Thursday, as they needed an extra session to dispatch ninth-place California at home. The USC defense, which gave up 1.10 points per possession against Cal, has been the most inconsistent defense in conference play of any of the power conference teams. In fact, as John Gasaway's Winehouse Factor calculations revealed, USC is "the only major-conference team in the country whose offense and defense both sport Winehouse Factors above 0.17." That inconsistency was in full display in the Trojans' first game against Stanford this season, as USC held the Cardinal to 0.76 points per possession, but scored only 0.67 in the 52-46 loss. Trojans freshman O.J. Mayo led all scorers with 14 points in that game, but he shot only 5-of-19 from the floor and 1-of-6 from three-point range. Stanford shot worse than the Trojans, but took 14 more attempts from the floor than USC, mainly due to the fact that the Cardinal collected 50 percent of its misses, while the Trojans could only grab a quarter of their own. Stanford is in the nation's top 15 in both offensive and defensive rebounding, while USC ranks just seventh in the Pac 10 in offensive boarding and last in defensive.
(18-12, 8-9) at Oregon (17-12, 8-9), 10:30
Rankings: Arizona, #21 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in Pac 10); Oregon, #44 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arizona, 74-73 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 47%
Prospectus: These two teams are fighting to finish at .500 in the Pac 10, which could be an essential qualification for entry into the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have played the toughest schedule of any team in the country, but they have faded down the stretch of the conference season, losing six of their past nine, and might need this win in order to make it to the Big Dance. The Ducks, meanwhile, put themselves back into NCAA consideration with their 67-61 win over Arizona St. on Thursday. Oregon will be trying for the season sweep of Arizona, as the Ducks took the first game 84-74 on the road back at the beginning of the conference schedule. This game is sure to be an offensive showcase--Oregon and Arizona rank six/seven, respectively, in adjusted offensive efficiency, with each averaging over 1.19 points per possession, and both teams struggle on defense, allowing over a point per possession. The Wildcats' offense should get even better now that the team has point guard Nic Wise back. Wise missed the previous seven games with a knee injury, before playing 34 minutes and scoring 15 points on 50 eFG% shooting, dishing out six assists, and committing four turnovers against Oregon St. If the 5'9 sophomore is able to get back to the level that he was at before the injury--Wise is tops on the team in assist rate and steal percentage, and is second in offensive rating--then Arizona could well make a run through the Pac 10 tournament.
Missouri Valley Tournament Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Creighton (21-9, 10-8) vs. #1 Drake (26-4, 15-3), 2:35
Rankings: Creighton, #67 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in MVC); Drake, #29 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Drake, 71-66 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Bluejays beat Bradley 74-70 yesterday, while Drake rolled over Indiana St. 68-46, to set up this Missouri Valley semifinal. The Bulldogs have already beaten Creighton twice this season, in overtime on the road and by 10 points at home.
Drake's point guard Adam Emmenecker won the Missouri Valley MVP award, and while
Emmenecker is a good player, and has an even better story after walking on to the team, as Ken Pomeroy
pointed out in his preview of the Valley tournament, he is an overrated performer. The offensive load for the Bulldogs is toted by Leonard Houston, who leads the team in possessions used and percentage of shots taken and has almost the same offensive rating and eFG% as Emmenecker, and Josh Young, who has a healthy 122.4 offensive rating and 60.7 eFG%. Emmenecker has been outstanding at getting to the free throw line, as he ranks 14th in the nation with a free throw rate of 88, and he also leads the team in steal percentage. You would like to see Emmenecker turn the ball over less frequently, as although he assists on more than one out of three of his teammates' baskets while on the court, much of that precision passing is negated by his high 31.5 turnover rate. Emmenecker will be challenged by Creighton guards Josh Dotzler and P'Allen Stinnett, who both rank in the national top 50 in steal percentage. Stinnett, who leads the team in percentage of possessions used and shots taken, was recently named the Valley's Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year, while Stinnett's backcourt mate Booker Woodfox was named Sixth Man of the Year.
Matchup: #6 Seed Northern Iowa (18-13, 9-9) vs. #2 Illinois St. (23-8, 13-5), 5:05
Rankings: Northern Iowa, #113 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 10 in MVC); Illinois St., #53 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Illinois St., 62-56 in 58 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 23%
Prospectus: The Panthers of Northern Iowa upset the tournament's three seed Southern Illinois 54-49 yesterday, which will very likely end the Salukis' string of six straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Illinois St., meanwhile, beat seven seed Missouri St. by five to advance. These teams split their season series, with each winning at home--the Redbirds 51-46, and Northern Iowa 69-61. The first of those games played out in 58 possessions, and the second in 59, not surprising considering that both of these teams play at a very slow pace, as is the custom in the Missouri Valley. The Panthers take the cake, however, as they are dead last in the conference and 13th from the bottom in Division I with a raw tempo of 60.3 possessions/40 minutes. Perhaps related to the fact that they are always locked in such deliberate games, the Panthers' defense forces very few turnovers, instead relying on excellent two-point field goal defense (41.9 percent shooting allowed, 10th best in the country). Northern Iowa is also somewhat unusual in that while it is a strong defensive rebounding team--led by 6'6 Eric Coleman, who despite his lack of exceptional height leads the nation in defensive rebounding percentage--it is very weak on the offensive glass.
Horizon League Tournament
Matchup: #6 Seed Valparaiso (21-12, 9-9) vs. #2 Cleveland St. (20-11, 12-6), 4:30, ESPNU
Rankings: Valparaiso, #125 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in Horizon); Cleveland St., #107 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Cleveland St., 66-65 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: Cleveland St.'s chances are almost certainly higher than is
represented here considering that Valparaiso will be playing on back-to-back days for the first time all season after defeating Wright St. 72-67 yesterday in the second round of the Horizon League tournament. Then again, you could make the argument that this game, played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, should be treated as more of a "semi-home" contest than a neutral one for the Crusaders, who don't have to leave their state, which could give them a bit of an edge. If you believe in "rust" as the concept is applied to sports teams, there's also the issue of the Vikings, who received a pass into the semifinals by grabbing the No. 2 seed, not having played since last Saturday and having played only two games in the previous 16 days. In any event, Cleveland St. had Valparaiso's number in the regular season, no matter the venue or the level of fatigue--the Vikings beat the Crusaders at home 69-63 and on the road 71-58. Cleveland St. has never won the Horizon League since joining in 1994, and this is Valparaiso's first season in the league after transferring from the Mid-Continent (now Summit
League), so these two teams are heading towards uncharted waters.
Matchup: #4 Seed Illinois Chicago (18-14, 9-9) at #1 Butler (27-3, 16-2), 6:30, ESPNU
Rankings: Illinois Chicago, #122 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in Horizon); Butler, #35 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Butler, 69-57 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 10%
Prospectus: The Flames face a real challenge tonight, not only because they are playing at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the home court of the best team in the league, a team they lost to twice in the regular season, but because they also face the same issue that Valparaiso does--having to play two days in a row for the first time, after they beat Loyola Chicago 60-49 yesterday. Illinois Chicago trailed at halftime to the eighth seeded Ramblers, but came back to outscore Loyola by 13 in the latter frame. The Flames have the height advantage on the Bulldogs tonight, thanks to 7'0 junior center Scott VanderMeer, but rank just 220th in the nation as a team in two-point field goal percentage, at 47.3. Butler, which won the regular season Horizon League title for the sixth time in the past nine years, is looking for its fifth Horizon tourney crown, with the last coming in 2001.
Ohio Valley Championship
Matchup: #6 Seed Tennessee St. (16-16, 10-10) vs. #1 Austin Peay (24-10, 16-4), 5:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Tennessee St., #223 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 11 in Ohio Valley); Austin Peay, #176 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Austin Peay, 77-75 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: The winner of this game will become the third team to clinch an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, after Ivy League winner Cornell and whichever team wins the Big South Tournament final this morning. The Tigers of Tennessee St. are getting a slight "semi-home" boost here for playing in their home city of Nashville, but not in their home gym (this game is at Nashville Municipal Auditorium), a boost which perhaps helped them defeat two seed Murray St. 83-75 yesterday. Top seed Austin Peay barely made it to today's final, as the Governors beat Tennessee Martin 78-77, a game in which the margin of victory was provided by a free throw with 2.2 seconds remaining. Austin Peay beat Tennessee St. by one point earlier in the year, winning at home 79-78, but the Tigers came back and won the rematch on their home floor 73-69. This championship game could feature plenty of steals, as the Governors are first in the nation in steal percentage and Tennessee St. seventh, which might make for an especially fast-paced and enjoyable game to watch.
Atlantic Sun Championship
Matchup: #2 Seed Jacksonville (19-12, 12-4) vs. #1 Belmont (25-8, 14-2), 7:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Jacksonville, #227 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in Atlantic Sun); Belmont, #165 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Belmont, 81-73 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 24%
Prospectus: Belmont beat East Tennessee St. 69-65 yesterday and Jacksonville took down Gardner-Webb 89-80 to set up this final, the third championship game of the day. Belmont, which is in Nashville, gets a "semi-home" bonus for this game being played in Nashville on Lipscomb's home court. The Bruins beat the Dolphins in the only meeting of the year between these two teams, 85-78 in Nashville on February 7. Jacksonville is powered by its ability to get to the free throw line and convert while there, as well as strong offensive rebounding. Sophomore guard Ben Smith is particularly adept at drawing contact, as he shoots 68.6 percent as many free throws as field goal attempts, a rate which ranks in the top 50 nationally. Smith got to the line 17 times yesterday against Gardner-Webb, converting on 13 of those trips, and scored a team-high 27 points on 64 eFG% shooting to lead the Dolphins to the win. Belmont has the conference's best offense, and shoots a ton of three-pointers--47.4 percent of its field goal attempts are from deep--but is a stronger interior than exterior shooting squad, ranking 50th in the land with a 52.3 percentage on two-pointers. The Bruins, who are building something of an Atlantic Sun dynasty, will be looking for their third straight conference tournament championship.
Matchup: North Carolina (28-2, 13-2) at Duke
(26-3, 13-2), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: North Carolina, #6 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in ACC); Duke, #5 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 91-85 in 83 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 31%
Prospectus: This is arguably the game of the year so far in college basketball, a game that has everything that you could ask for, including the regular season ACC title as a prize for the winner. In case anyone's counting, Duke has 18 regular season ACC titles, and North Carolina 25. The first game of the year between these rivals, won by the Blue Devils 89-78 in Chapel Hill, was of course played without North Carolina's sophomore point guard Ty Lawson, who was sitting with a sprained ankle. Lawson has returned and played two games, tallying 21 minutes and five shots against Boston College and 20 minutes and six shots against Florida St. Unless Lawson experiences a setback, you can bet that he will see more minutes tonight. Lawson plays a critical role, because without him Duke's advantage over the Tar Heels on the perimeter becomes crippling for North Carolina--Lawson is the only North Carolina player with an assist rate greater than his turnover rate, and he also leads the team in steal percentage. In the first meeting, Duke scored 1.08 points per possession and shot 55 eFG% from the field against the Tar Heels' defense, which the stats say is the worst that has come out of Chapel Hill in recent memory. Of course, when that worst still ranks in the top 30 nationally, and you have the second best offense in the nation, you've got a pretty good team. What makes this traditional matchup especially exciting to watch this year is the speed at which Duke is playing. Last year the Blue Devils averaged 66 possessions per 40 minutes, but this year they are all the way up 11th in the country with a 74.6 possessions-per-40 average. Combine that with North Carolina's typical rapid tempo--this year the Tar Heels are fourth in the country at 76.1 possessions/40--and you get a very fast (the initial meeting between Duke and North Carolina was played out in 82 possessions), very intense, and sometimes very bloody game.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.