Games of Friday, March 14
Big Ten Quarterfinals
Matchup: #9 Seed Michigan (10-21, 5-13) vs. #1 Wisconsin (26-4, 16-2), 12:00 P.M. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Michigan, #113 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 11 in Big Ten); Wisconsin, #4 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin, 70-53 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: Michigan beat No. 8 seed Iowa yesterday in the Big Ten opening round, but, as Ken Pomeroy wrote yesterday, the Wolverines are one of the teams in Indianapolis "simply for decoration." Michigan, the only team in the Big Ten to lose to Northwestern this season, actually played the Badgers tough in Madison, losing by just 64-61. Freshman guard Manny Harris scored 26 points on 63 eFG% shooting in that one. The 6'5 rookie leads the Wolverines in percentage of possessions used and minutes played, but has been sup-par offensively, with a 97.5 offensive rating. While Michigan has three freshman among its top six in percentage of minutes played, Wisconsin has none, with the Badgers' only frosh who sees time being 6'10 eighth man Jon Leuer.
Matchup: #5 Seed Ohio St. (19-12, 10-8) vs. #4 Michigan St. (24-7, 12-6), 2:30, ESPN2
Rankings: Ohio St., #29 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 11 in Big Ten); Michigan St., #16 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Michigan St., 64-62 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: This is a rematch of the last game of the regular season, when Ohio St. beat Michigan St. at home, 63-54. The Buckeyes salvaged their season in their last two games, as they took down Purdue in overtime before the win over the Spartans, but might still need one more win in order to make it back to the NCAA tournament. Michigan St. won the first meeting against Ohio St., 66-60 in East Lansing on January 15. Neither of these teams have played well away from home--the Buckeyes are 5-9, while the Spartans are 7-7--so it will be interesting to see how they perform on a neutral court, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Both these squads are quite tall, but while the Spartans leverage that into strong rebounding ability, Ohio St. is a poor rebounding team.
Matchup: #10 Seed Illinois (14-18, 5-13) vs. #2 Purdue (24-7, 15-3), 6:30
Rankings: Illinois, #38 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 11 in Big Ten); Purdue, #23 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Purdue, 62-59 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: Could the luck of Illinois change at just the right time for a run through the Big Ten tourney? The Fighting Illini took down Penn St. 64-63 yesterday in the opening round, which was the team's first win in a close game (less than four points or in overtime) since December 22 against Missouri, and just its third on the season. Overall, Illinois has had the worst luck of any D-I team in the nation, at 5.3 wins below what would be expected from their points scored/allowed. Purdue, however, handled the Illini twice this season without needing to go down to the wire, winning by a combined 15 points. Part of Illinois' struggle this season to finish games is its free throw shooting--the Illini shoot 60.8 percent from the stripe, the 10th worst percentage in the country. Inability to knock down free throws directly cost Illinois an upset win over Indiana on February 7.
Matchup: #6 Seed Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) vs. #3 Indiana (25-6, 14-4), 9:00
Rankings: Minnesota, #52 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 11 in Big Ten); Indiana, #20 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Indiana, 75-67 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Hoosiers have scuffled a bit since the departure of coach Kelvin Sampson. They are 3-2 since their coach was forced out, with two of the wins being close ones, and the losses coming against Michigan St. and Penn St. The one convincing win in that stretch was over Minnesota, a 69-55 decision at Assembly Hall on March 5. That game featured a reversal of roles, as the Hoosiers picked up 11 steals, including four from junior Jamarcus Ellis, to the Golden Gophers' four. Minnesota on the season ranks fifth in the country in steal percentage, and is second in the Big Ten behind Purdue in forcing turnovers on defense. Ellis, who at 6'5 is the Hoosiers' second leading defensive rebounder, also picked up 13 boards in that game to go along with his thefts. Indiana won their first meeting with Minnesota this season as well, a 65-60 road victory on January 17. Ellis shot 0-of-5 from the floor in that game, but had nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals.
Tubby Smith, in his first year as coach in Minnesota, is looking to bring the Golden Gophers to their first-ever Big Ten tournament championship game (the Big Ten tournament began in 1998). Indiana's only appearance came in 2001, when it lost to Iowa by two points.
Atlantic Coast Quarterfinals
Matchup: #9 Seed Florida St. (19-13, 7-9) vs. #1 North Carolina (29-2, 14-2), 12:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Florida St., #61 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 12 in ACC); North Carolina, #6 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 85-71 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 11%
Prospectus: The Tar Heels have won eight in a row, the latest a 76-68 road victory over Duke that gave North Carolina the ACC regular season championship. The Tar Heels are also a remarkable 15-0 this season on the road or at neutral sites. Florida St., which knocked off Wake Forest 70-60 in yesterday's first round to advance, lost twice during the regular season to North Carolina, 84-73 at home in overtime and 90-77 on the road. The overtime game, played on February 3, was the game in which sophomore point guard Ty Lawson sprained his ankle. Junior forward Tyler Hansbrough helped the Heels win without Lawson by collecting a career-high 21 rebounds. Lawson has played three games since sitting out for the rest of February with the injury, but hasn't played more than 23 minutes in any one of them. The three steals he collected in the win over Duke certainly seem like a sign that Lawson is getting close to fully healthy.
Matchup: #5 Seed Miami (22-9, 8-8) vs. #4 Virginia Tech (18-12, 9-7), 2:30, ESPN2
Rankings: Miami, #45 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in ACC); Virginia Tech, #44 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Virginia Tech, 69-68 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 50%
Prospectus: As Joe Sheehan wrote last night, this one is certainly an elimination contest for the Hokies. Miami could use it too, however, as the Hurricanes are no sure thing to make it to the Big Dance as an at-large team. Virginia Tech narrowly missed a win that would probably have put it in last Sunday, falling 70-69 at Clemson. Since we last checked in on the ACC's parity, the season ended with three out of the last 12 conference games being close, leaving the final tally at 35 close games out of 96 total, or 36.5 percent. That breaks the record for the highest percentage of close games in-conference this decade, which was previously held by the 2007 MAAC and 2006 Big 12. Will that mean that the ACC tourney will be a particularly wild affair? It very well could, although only one of four games in the opening round was decided by less than 10 points. This matchup has a great potential to live up to the conference's regular season personality, as these teams are basically dead even in the Pomeroy Ratings, and their lone meeting this year resulted in a 74-71 victory for Miami in Blacksburg.
Matchup: #7 Seed Georgia Tech (15-16, 7-9) vs. #2 Duke (26-4, 13-3), 7:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Georgia Tech, #60 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in ACC); Duke, #5 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 89-74 in 77 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 10%
Prospectus: Georgia Tech beat up Virginia last night to advance into this matchup with the Blue Devils, which the Yellowjackets lost to on the road 71-58 in the two teams' only meeting of the season. Georgia Tech has had a minor resurgence since that loss to Duke, winning four of five games, including an 80-75 home defeat of Clemson. The Yellowjackets are led by seniors Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith, who each shoot over 53 eFG% from the floor and turn it over at a low rate. Georgia Tech has another senior, point guard Matt Causey, who uses the largest percentage of possessions on the team while on the floor and who has the ninth highest assist rate in the country. Causey suffered a mild concussion in the loss to Duke on February 27, and sat out the next two games. In three games since returning, Causey has doled out 16 assists against 10 turnovers.
Matchup: #11 Seed Boston College (13-16, 4-12) vs. #3 Clemson (22-8, 10-6), 9:30, ESPN2
Rankings: Boston College, #84 in Pomeroy Ratings (11th of 12 in ACC); Clemson, #18 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Clemson, 75-66 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 17%
Prospectus: The sound of taps could be heard from the Maryland locker room in Charlotte last night, as Boston College came back from 11 points down in the second half to give the Terrapins their third straight loss. With back-to-back losses against two of the bottom three teams in the ACC, in Virginia and the Eagles, Maryland has been essentially eliminated from consideration for the NCAA tournament. The win snapped a six-game losing streak for Boston College, which had dropped 12 of 13 games entering last night. Now the Eagles will face a much tougher task to try to stay alive--beating Clemson, a team which smoked Boston College 78-56 on February 2. The one hope for the Eagles is that Tyrese Rice single-handedly carries them. Rice, who scored 17 second-half points last night and collected five steals to lead Boston College to victory, scored 46 points four games ago in a loss to North Carolina. A 6'1 junior point guard, Rice has the highest offensive rating (111) of any player in the ACC using 28 percent of possessions or more.
Big 12 Quarterfinals
Matchup: #9 Seed Oklahoma St. (17-14, 7-9) vs. #1 Texas (26-5, 13-3), 12:30, ESPNU
Rankings: Oklahoma St., #47 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 12 in Big 12); Texas, #9 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 71-63 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Cowboys beat Texas Tech 76-72 yesterday, fulfilling Raiders coach Pat Knight's prophesy and setting up a rematch of the game last Sunday which Texas won 62-57. Oklahoma St. played the Longhorns very close, and trailed by just two points with two minutes to play in that one. The first game this season between Texas and the Cowboys was also close, won by the Longhorns 63-61 in Stillwater. Texas sophomore forward Damion James, 27th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, had a career-high 18 rebounds in the win on Sunday. James is averaging a double-double on the season, with 12.9 points and 10.7 rebounds. The Longhorns don't have anybody else who crashes the defensive glass, however, and rank 10th in the Big 12 in defensive rebounding, one spot ahead of the Cowboys. Oklahoma St. is the best squad in the conference at forcing turnovers, but Texas has the lowest offensive turnover percentage in Division I. The Longhorns turned it over on a relatively modest 18.4 percent of their possessions against the Cowboys on Sunday, which remarkably was tied for their highest total in conference play this season.
Matchup: #12 Seed Colorado (12-19, 3-13) vs. #4 Oklahoma (21-10, 9-7), 3:00, ESPNU
Rankings: Colorado, #106 in Pomeroy Ratings (12th of 12 in Big 12); Oklahoma, #31 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Oklahoma, 64-56 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 18%
Prospectus: The Buffaloes pulled off a shocker last night with a double-overtime defeat of Baylor, which certainly did the Big 12 no favor in its quest to get six teams into the tournament for the first time ever. In that 91-84 win, the Buffaloes became the first No. 12 seed to win a game in the Big 12 tournament. Now Colorado plays Oklahoma, which got its best player, freshman forward Black Griffin, back from knee surgery sooner than expected, as Griffin returned for the team's regular season finale against Missouri after missing only one game, and scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds. After a loss at Nebraska on February 27, Oklahoma stood at 6-7 in the conference and its bid for the NCAA tournament looked very dicey, but the Sooners won three straight to close the season, including a blowout of Texas A&M and a road win over Oklahoma St. without Griffin, to put themselves on solid ground. However, one of Colorado's three regular-season Big 12 victories came at the expense of Oklahoma, a 72-58 home win on February 9.
Matchup: #7 Seed Nebraska (19-11, 7-9) vs. #2 Kansas (28-3, 13-3), 7:00
Rankings: Nebraska, #32 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in Big 12); Kansas, #1 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 72-57 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 6%
Prospectus: Nebraska beat Missouri 61-56 last night to advance to the quarterfinals, where it faces the team the Huskers probably least want to see--the Jayhawks, who destroyed Nebraska twice during the regular season. Kansas won in Lincoln 79-58 on January 12, and then came back on the 26th of the month to post a 35-point shellacking of Nebraska in Lawrence. Winning big is an occupational hazard for a team that ranks first in the nation in both offensive and defensive efficiency--Kansas coach Bill Self was apologetic about the fact that his team kept piling on against Texas Tech in a 109-51 victory March 3 despite the fact that Self had emptied his bench. The Jayhawks won by an average margin of 21.7 points in their 13 conference victories this season, while their three defeats came by a combined total of 13 points. As if it needed any more help, Kansas gets an added bonus here because it has to travel only a short distance across the state border for the Big 12 tournament, which is being played in Kansas City.
Matchup: #6 Seed Texas A&M (23-9, 8-8) vs. #3 Kansas St. (20-10, 10-6), 9:20
Rankings: Texas A&M, #17 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Big 12); Kansas St., #13 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas St., 70-67 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: Kansas St. surprisingly finds itself on the NCAA tournament bubble, thanks to a stretch of play from February 13 to March 1 when the Wildcats lost five of six. This game is a meeting between two teams that the stats love, but which have yet to really prove that they deserve such lofty rankings on the court. Peter Bean did a great job of breaking down this matchup in his Big 12 preview--the Aggies need this one more than Kansas St., but at the same time, a K-State loss could leave Michael Beasley and his mates playing in the NIT. As Bean mentioned, and as John Gasaway outlined last week, Texas A&M has been very inconsistent this season. The Aggies have been the fourth most volatile team in the country per Ken Pomeroy's consistency calculation, and Kansas St. ranks 12th. What exactly does that mean? Here's the explanation:
Consistency is basically the standard deviation of scoring difference by game for a team. Again, itís not included in the ratings calculation. It can be an aid in determining which teams are overrated by my system. Highly rated teams that are inconsistent tend to look beatable more often. As of this writing, Georgia is ranked 329 in consistency and Oklahoma is at 334. Theyíve played their best games against poor teams, and their worst against good ones.
This helps explain why Texas A&M and Kansas St. appear much higher in the Pomeroy Ratings than they do in other systems, and than they probably deserve to be rated--they have definitely tended to look beatable more often due to their inconsistency, while alternately displaying the flashes of domination that bump up their statistics. Can either the Aggies or the Wildcats smooth out their level of play? The answer will determine whether one or the other makes a run in the postseason.
Southeastern Second Round
Matchup: #5-West Seed South Carolina (14-17, 5-11) vs. #1-East Tennessee (28-3, 14-2), 1:00
Rankings: South Carolina, #95 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 12 in SEC); Tennessee, #12 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 81-67 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 11%
Prospectus: Tennessee blew out the Gamecocks 80-56 early in the season and 89-56 last Sunday, and there's little to suggest that this rematch will be much closer than either of those games. The one thing South Carolina has going for it is an offensive turnover rate that is fifth lowest in the country, which should be tested by Tennessee's defense, 10th in D-I in forcing turnovers. The Gamecocks knocked the Volunteers out of the SEC tournament in the second round in 2006, the year South Carolina won the NIT with Renaldo Balkman. Tennessee had received a first-round bye that year as well, and the Volunteers fell in the first round last year to LSU, so they have gone out in their first tournament game the past two seasons. This year, of course, Tennessee has the strongest team in the history of its program, and is the favorite to win its first SEC tournament since 1979, so a first-game exit would be extremely disappointing.
Matchup: #3-East Seed Vanderbilt (26-6, 10-6) vs. #2-West Arkansas (20-10, 9-7), 3:15
Rankings: Vanderbilt, #48 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in SEC); Arkansas, #37 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arkansas, 73-72 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: Arkansas beat Vanderbilt at home 78-73 on March 1 in these teams' only meeting this season. The Razorbacks could definitely use a repeat victory to cement their NCAA tournament standing, which is far from secure. The Commodores, with 25 wins and a 10-6 conference regular-season record, appear to be a lock for the field of 64 no matter the outcome of this game. Arkansas was not able to shut down Vanderbilt's three-point shooting in their regular season matchup, as the Commodores shot 10-of-20 from long range, but that didn't matter because the Razorbacks put up their highest eFG% of the season, 67.7, with guard Patrick Beverley shooting 5-of-7 on three-pointers. Vanderbilt's defense has had serious issues of late--the Commodores have allowed more than a point per possession in each of their past five games.
Matchup: #5-West Seed Alabama (17-15, 5-11) vs. #1-West Mississippi St. (21-9, 12-4), 7:30
Rankings: Alabama, #81 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 12 in SEC); Mississippi St., #33 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Mississippi St., 74-68 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: Alabama delivered the final blow to the staggering Gators last night, taking out Florida 80-69 in the first round, a loss that will likely send the two-time defending national champions to the NIT. The Crimson Tide led 41-14 at one point in the first half last night, and after the game Billy Donovan had some harsh words for his group of freshmen ("Iím not really excited about seeing this group of guys being sophomores"). In the win for Alabama senior guard Mykal Riley scored 26 points on 8-of-11 from three-point range, the second straight game he has scored 26 points and the sixth time in the past eight games he has nailed four or more three-pointers. On the season, Riley has a 57.3 eFG% and a 116.5 offensive rating, the latter figure second best on the team behind only that of junior forward Richard Hendrix. Mississippi St. beat Alabama twice during the regular season, and Riley shot just 1-of-6 from three in both of those games. The Bulldogs rank third in the country in eFG% percentage defense, and while they are good at stopping perimeter gunners like Riley, they play even better defense inside the arc, having allowed just 39.6 percent shooting on two-pointers, the lowest in the country. Much of that is due to the shot-blocking prowess of sophomore forward Jarvis Varnado and, to a lesser extent, senior Charles Rhodes.
Matchup: #6-East Seed Georgia (14-16, 4-12) vs. #2-East Kentucky (18-11, 12-4), 9:45
Rankings: Georgia, #101 in Pomeroy Ratings (11th of 12 in SEC); Kentucky, #55 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kentucky, 63-60 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: The Bulldogs beat Mississippi in overtime last night, 97-95, on a shot by senior center Dave Bliss with less than a second remaining in the extra session. Junior forward Terrance Woodbury, who has suffered through a down season after playing well in limited time last year, scored 25 points on 87.5 eFG% shooting from the floor to lead Georgia to the win. Now the Bulldogs face Kentucky, a team many thought would miss the NCAA tournament after losing star freshman forward Patrick Patterson to a stress fracture several weeks ago. The Wildcats have rallied, however, and after losing to Tennessee by just three on the road, beat South Carolina and Florida to close their season, lock up a first-round bye in the SEC tourney, and gain a firm hold on an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. Sophomore guard Derrick Jasper continued his improvement in Sunday's 75-70 win over Florida, as he scored a career-high 14 points on 4-of-4 shooting from downtown, and, perhaps most importantly, committed zero turnovers in 31 minutes. Turnovers have been the biggest bugaboo for Jasper this year and throughout his young career, and in fact the entire Wildcats team this season has struggled to protect the ball, with a last place conference ranking in turnover percentage (23.4 percent of possessions).
Conference USA Semifinals
Matchup: #5 Seed Southern Mississippi (19-13, 9-7) at #1 Memphis (31-1, 16-0), 4:30
Rankings: Southern Mississippi, #110 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in CUSA); Memphis, #3 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 81-58 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 2%
Prospectus: With a 38-point blowout win over UAB in the regular season finale and yesterday's 75-56 lashing of Tulane in the Conference USA tournament, Memphis has now won 40 straight conference games. Their last CUSA loss came at UAB on March 2, 2006. The Tigers have won seven straight CUSA tournament games and two straight tournament titles since falling in the conference championship game to Louisville by one point in 2005, the year before the Cardinals moved to the Big East. Memphis beat Southern Mississippi by 36 points in tonight's venue, Nashville's FedEx Forum, back on January 19, and then beat the Golden Eagles on the road by a much more modest nine points. Southern Miss has the player with the highest free throw rate in Division I, 6'6 sophomore Sai'Quon Stone. Stone has shot 154 free throws on the season to 144 attempts from the field.
Matchup: #7 Seed Tulsa (19-12, 8-8) vs. #6 Texas El Paso (19-12, 8-8), 4:45
Rankings: Tulsa, #75 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in CUSA); Texas El Paso, #105 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tulsa, 74-71 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: Tulsa has won nine of its past 11 games, including back-to-back Conference USA tournament wins, the latter of which came yesterday in overtime over favored UAB. UTEP has also won two straight in the tournament, beating Houston by three yesterday to advance. These teams split the regular season series, with UTEP winning 65-61 in Texas on January 26, and the Golden Hurricane coming back to post a blowout 73-50 victory in Oklahoma on February 16. Tulsa has the conference's second best defense, which is keyed by 6'11 sophomore Jerome Jordan. Jordan is an excellent rebounder, and ranks fifth in the nation in block percentage, having swatted away 15 percent of the shots opponents have attempted while he is on the court. Jordan had his finest game of the season yesterday against UAB. The Jamaica native played 41 minutes and notched career highs in points (23 on 9-of-16 shooting) and rebounds (17) while also blocking five shots. Jordan has now blocked 28 shots over the past five games. The way Jordan and Tulsa are playing right now, they could prove to be a worthwhile adversary for Memphis in the championship game, assuming they find a way to get through UTEP.
Matchup: #3 Seed Colgate (17-13, 7-7) at #1 American (19-11, 10-4), 4:45, ESPN2
Rankings: Colgate, #210 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 8 in Patriot); American, #165 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: American, 67-60 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: American searches for its first Patriot League tournament title and first trip to the NCAA tournament tonight on its home court in Bender Arena. The Eagles squeezed by Holy Cross 62-60 in the first round, and then beat Army 72-60 last Sunday, setting up what must have seemed like a long wait until today for the squad that won the Patriot League's regular season title. Colgate, which won back-to-back Patriot League tournaments in 1995 and 1996, took down Lafayette 76-74 and then beat Bucknell by 14 to advance to the championship game. American won the season series 2-0, with a 65-57 win in Hamilton, N.Y., and a 68-60 win at home in Washington, D.C. Both of these teams are filled with upperclassmen--among the nine players that see time for American, eight are juniors and one a senior, while Colgate's top three by percentage of minutes played are all seniors, and the next two juniors. The Eagles' 5'9 junior point guard, Derrick Mercer, has played a greater percentage of his team's minutes (94.3) than every player in Division I except Manny Ubilla of Fairleigh Dickinson. Mercer leads American in assist and free throw rate.
Atlantic 10 Semifinals
Matchup: #5 Seed Saint Joseph's (20-11, 9-7) vs. #1 Xavier (27-5, 14-2), 6:30
Rankings: Saint Joseph's, #62 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 14 in A-10); Xavier, #15 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 73-66 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Hawks took down Richmond 61-47 yesterday, while Xavier ended Dayton's run with a nine-point victory, setting up the third meeting of the year between Saint Joseph's and the Musketeers. Xavier beat the Hawks 76-72 in Cincinnati, and then lost eight days ago in Philadelphia, 71-66. A win and Saint Joseph's is essentially into the NCAA tournament; a loss, and the Hawks are flapping their wings along with about twenty other teams, waiting and hoping that the committee will call their name two days from now. Both of these teams, heavily dependent upon seniors, are making one final run before rebuilding. Saint Joseph's is looking to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time with seniors Rob Ferguson and Nick Calathes on the court, and Xavier, in the final season for Stanley Burrell, Drew Lavender, Josh Duncan, and C.J. Anderson, is hoping to improve upon last season's tournament performance, when the Musketeers lost to eventual national title runner-up Ohio St. in the round of 32. Both teams also have highly efficient offenses, but Xavier also possesses the A-10's best defense, while Saint Joseph's ranks ninth in the conference in adjusted defensive efficiency, and is especially poor at three-point field goal percentage defense (37.5 percent shooting allowed from beyond the arc). The Musketeers, who have four players with 40 or more three-point makes this season, shot a combined 23-of-45 from long range in the two regular season games against Saint Joseph's.
Matchup: #6 Seed Charlotte (20-12, 9-7) vs. #2 Temple (19-12, 11-5), 9:00
Rankings: Charlotte, #77 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 14 in A-10); Temple, #71 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Temple, 70-69 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: The 49ers came up with a massive comeback last night against favored Massachusetts, erasing an 18-point deficit to beat the Minutemen 69-65. Charlotte's senior leader, guard Leemire Goldwire, hit two threes in the last minute plus to put the 49ers ahead for good. Temple, meanwhile, took care of its Big 5 rival La Salle to advance to this semifinal matchup. Charlotte's only path to the NCAA tournament is to walk the length of the boardwalk and claim the A-10 tourney title, while Temple, although in better shape as far as an at-large bid is concerned, likely is still one or two wins away from going to the Dance. These squads split in the regular season. Charlotte won at home 60-58 early in the season, and then lost in Philadelphia 75-61 on February 27. Since that defeat, the 49ers have won five straight, and that victory for the Owls was the start of their own five game winning streak. Charlotte has the better defense, which specializes in takeaways, while Temple has an offense that sports a top-20 eFG% (54.5). The Owls played strong defense in their most recent game against Charlotte, holding the 49ers to 37 eFG%, their second-lowest mark of the season.
Big East Semifinals
Matchup: #5 Seed West Virginia (24-9, 11-7) vs. #1 Georgetown (26-4, 15-3), 7:00, ESPN
Rankings: West Virginia, #18 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 16 in Big East); Georgetown, #7 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgetown, 62-59 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: The Mountaineers showed why they are ranked so highly in the Pomeroy Ratings yesterday afternoon, beating UConn 78-72 in an impressive showing at Madison Square Garden. Up next for Bob Huggins' crew is Georgetown, which dismantled Villanova with a barrage of three-point shots yesterday in its 82-63 defeat of the Wildcats. The Hoyas hit 17-of-28 three-pointers in the game, a Big East tournament record for long range makes, and won easily despite the fact that their centerpiece, 7'2 Roy Hibbert, scored no points--a frightening reality for the nation's other title contenders. Georgetown's Princeton offense under coach John Thompson III is built to a large extent upon the three-point shot. The Hoyas shoot frequently from beyond the arc and convert at a high percentage, and have gotten 33.8 percent of their points from three-pointers, the highest ratio of any team in the Big East. This game is a rematch of the teams' January 26 meeting in Morgantown, which was won by the Hoyas 58-57. Georgetown shot 9-of-21 from three-point range and got a huge block at the buzzer from senior forward Patrick Ewing, Jr., to prevent the potential winning bucket. West Virginia junior forward Joe Alexander took just five shots and scored just seven points in that loss, but he'll likely be a much bigger force in this rematch. Alexander scored 34 yesterday on 12-of-22 from the floor, and has averaged 29.8 points over his last five games on 61 eFG% shooting from the floor. Alexander, who is the Mountaineers' leader in percentage of possessions used and shots taken, has raised his offensive rating from 98.3 last season to 110.3 so far this year.
Matchup: #7 Seed Pittsburgh (24-9, 10-8) vs. #6 Marquette (24-8, 11-7), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Pittsburgh, #28 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 16 in Big East); Marquette, #10 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 71-67 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Golden Eagles helped validate their very high Pomeroy Rating by taking down Notre Dame, which is ahead of Marquette in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN national polls, by 10 last night at the Garden. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, came up with an even more impressive win, over Louisville 76-69 in overtime. Junior forward Sam Young showcased his all-around skills in the victory, as he led all scorers with 21 points on 8-of-19 shooting, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, dished out four assists, and also collected three steals and two blocks. Point guard Levance Fields, although he continues to shoot poorly (just 32 eFG% from the floor in nine games since returning from a broken foot), posted an assist/turnover ratio of 6/1 for the second straight game. Pittsburgh's upset win shouldn't have been much of a surprise, given the team's success in the Big East tournament of late: last year the Panthers won two games as a No. 3 seed to make it to the championship game, where they lost to Georgetown, and two years ago they won three games as a No. 6 seed before falling in the final to Syracuse. The Panthers will be looking for some payback tonight for their February 15 trip to Milwaukee, which ended with a 72-54 loss to Marquette. That was Fields' first game back from missing time with his foot injury, and nothing went right for the Panthers, who shot 38 eFG% from the floor and scored just 0.84 points per possession. Pittsburgh's seasonal adjusted offensive efficiency is 1.18 points per possession, 12th best in the nation, while Marquette ranks seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency, at 0.86 PPP allowed.
Matchup: #3 Seed Akron (22-9, 11-5) vs. #2 Western Michigan (20-11, 12-4), 7:00
Rankings: Akron, #89 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in MAC); Western Michigan, #100 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Akron, 67-64 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: The Zips will be looking for some revenge in this MAC semifinal matchup for the 86-66 beating the Broncos gave them in Michigan on February 6, which was the sole regular season meeting between these two squads. Akron is favored, thanks in part to a partial homecourt advantage from playing in Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena, so the Zips very well may have the last laugh. Western Michigan's defining characteristic is its ability to get to the free throw line--the Broncos are third in the country in free throw rate, having shot 35 free throws for every 100 field goals attempted, and the team converts at a very healthy 75 percent clip from the stripe. Those two factors have helped Western Michigan get 26.1 percent of its points at the line, which is the highest ratio of any Division I team. Western Michigan shot 28 free throws against 53 field goals attempts in its first game against Akron, while the Zips got to the line 23 times against 50 field goal attempts. Senior forward Joe Reitz leads the Broncos with a free throw rate of 99.6, which is the third best in the nation.
Matchup: #5 Seed Miami OH (17-14, 9-7) vs. #1 Kent St. (26-6, 13-3), 9:30
Rankings: Miami OH, #92 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in MAC), Kent St., #76 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kent St., 61-58 in 59 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: Kent St., like Akron, gets the semi-home boost for this game being less than an hour away in Cleveland, while Miami fans have to drive over three hours to see their team play in the semifinal. The RedHawks took down No. 4 seed Ohio 74-61 yesterday, while the Golden Flashes beat Toledo by 20. Kent St. beat Miami twice this season, 74-62 on the road and 50-39 at home, the latter an ugly 55-possession affair in which Kent St. held the RedHawks to less than 0.7 points per possession. These two teams, the two most successful MAC programs in recent years, have won the last two MAC tournament championships, with Miami taking the crown last year and Kent St. in 2006.
Your latest update on Haminn Quaintance, Kent St.'s 6'8 senior dubbed by Ken Pomeroy as Renaldo Balkman, Jr.:
It's been an up-and-down last couple of days for Quaintance. He came up with four steals and four blocks in Kent's defensive battering of Miami in the second-to-last regular season game of the year, but shot just 1-of-9 from the floor. Quaintance scored 13 points on 5-of-6 from the floor in the season finale, a 20-point win over Akron, while collecting two steals and two blocks. Yesterday against Toledo, he tallied two steals, three blocks, six rebounds, and three assists, but also committed six turnovers. On the season, Quaintance is 39th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, 43rd in block percentage, and 54th in steal percentage.
Western Athletic Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Boise St. (23-8, 12-4) vs. #1 Utah St. (24-9, 12-4), 8:00
Rankings: Boise St., #140 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in WAC); Utah St., #118 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Utah St., 80-77 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: The WAC--or as I like to call it, the MAAC West--had four teams finish with 12-4 records at the top of the standings. Utah St. and Boise St., the third and fourth best of that group by the Pomeroy Ratings, square off in this semifinal game. The Aggies had the Broncos' number this year, beating them twice, including by 88-69 in Boise on March 6. These two teams do plenty of scoring, as Utah St. is first in eFG% in the country and Boise St. third, and neither plays much defense, but the Aggies managed to hold the Broncos to under a point per possession in their most recent meeting. The first game in Utah was more of an offensive slugfest, won by the Aggies 82-78 in 69 possessions.
These two teams have been the WAC's second sisters the last several years. The Aggies, who joined the conference in 2005, got to the tournament title game both last year and in 2006, and lost both times, to New Mexico St. in 2007 and Nevada the year before, so they will definitely have a chance to avenge one or the other of those defeats if they win tonight. Boise St., which entered the WAC in 2001, lost in the title game in 2005 to UTEP.
Matchup: #2 Seed Nevada (21-10, 12-4) at #3 New Mexico St. (20-13, 12-4), 10:30
Rankings: Nevada, #109 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 9 in WAC), New Mexico St., #91 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: New Mexico St., 80-74 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: New Mexico St. has been the conference's best team by the stats, and although the Aggies are the three seed, they get the advantage of hosting the tournament. New Mexico St. will need that edge against Nevada, which beat the Aggies twice this season, including 87-78 in Las Cruces on January 24. The Wolf Pack shot over 63 eFG% from the floor in both of those wins, while holding New Mexico St. below 50 eFG% shooting each time, and also did a better job of getting to the free throw line. Brandon Fields, Nevada's 6'4 sophomore, ripped apart the Aggies this season. In the two games, Fields scored a combined 50 points on 76 eFG% shooting from the floor, and 15-of-17 from the line. Wolf Pack senior Marcellus Kemp, who leads the club in offensive rating, percentage of possessions used and shots taken, and assist/turnover rates, also had a great game in the team's most recent win over the Aggies, 98-85 at home, as he scored 27 points on 62 eFG% shooting and handed out eight assists.
Pacific 10 Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed Southern California (21-10, 11-7) vs. #1 UCLA (29-3, 16-2), 9:00
Rankings: Southern California, #24 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in Pac 10); UCLA, #2 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 69-62 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 21%
Prospectus: The two L.A. Pac 10 powers battle it out in the Staples Center, a fitting venue for this game. Both squads are already locks for at-large berths should they not win the conference tournament title, so this one is for pride and positioning. It is also the rubber match of the season series--USC won at Pauley Pavilion 72-63 on January 19, and UCLA returned the favor at the Galen Center, 56-46 on February 17. The Bruins committed fewer turnovers and dominated the boards in both games, but shot for a lower eFG% than the Trojans in each, which fits in with the teams' seasonal trends: USC is good at shooting the ball and lowering opponents' shooting percentage, but not much else, while UCLA controls the backboards and scores efficiently inside, but struggles from three-point range. Trojans' freshman guard O.J. Mayo has been on fire from downtown lately--he has shot 28-of-48 (58 percent) over the last seven games, and his eFG% and offensive rating have been consequently climbing.
Matchup: #3 Seed Washington St. (24-7, 11-7) vs. #2 Stanford (25-6, 13-5), 11:30
Rankings: Washington St., #10 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in Pac 10); Stanford, #14 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Washington St., 57-56 in 57 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: This is the third matchup of the year between these two, and Stanford has won the first two, 67-65 on the road in overtime and 60-53 in Palo Alto on March 1. In the more recent game, the Cardinal came back from 10 points down in the second half to win, helped along by a 25 point, 69 eFG%, four block performance from 7'0 sophomore Brook Lopez. The Cougars knocked off Oregon 75-70 yesterday, and Stanford beat Arizona 75-64, which might have been the death knell for both of those teams with regards to the possibility of an NCAA tournament at-large berth (although there is a good chance that one of either Oregon or Arizona makes its way into the field). Stanofrd and Washington St. had identical +0.08 efficiency margins in conference play. Washington St. had the better offensive performance (1.09 points per possession to Stanford's 1.05), and the Cardinal the better defensive (0.97 PPP to 1.01). The Cougars' defense seems better than it is because the team plays at such a slow pace--an average of 59 possessions per 40 minutes, the 5th fewest of any team in Division I--and therefore Washington St. often plays games with point totals in the 50's and 60's.
Mountain West Semifinals
Matchup: #4 Seed San Diego St. (20-11, 9-7) vs. #1 Brigham Young (26-6, 14-2), 9:30
Rankings: San Diego St., #87 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 9 in Mountain West); Brigham Young, #41 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Brigham Young, 68-63 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 29%
Prospectus: These two teams played each other very close in the regular season--BYU won in Provo 59-56 January 23, and the Aztecs won at home 69-65 February 23. Now they play on a neutral court in Las Vegas. Both the Cougars and San Diego st. make hay with their defense, and specifically their defensive rebounding. BYU ranks fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, and the Aztecs seventh, despite not having anyone taller than 6'8 among their top eight in percentage of minutes played. The Cougars also are fourth in the country in eFG% defense, which has helped them attain the sixth lowest raw defensive efficiency (0.89 points per possession allowed). San Diego St. won the Mountain West tournament two years ago, and again in 2002, while the Cougars last won it in 2001. The winner of this game will take on either UNLV or Utah for the title tomorrow.
Matchup: #6 Seed Utah (17-13, 7-9) at #2 Nevada Las Vegas (24-7, 12-4), 12:00 A.M.
Rankings: Utah, #66 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in Mountain West); Nevada Las Vegas, #63 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Nevada Las Vegas, 66-62 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Runnin' Rebels' chances in this semifinal are boosted as a result of their hosting the tournament, which also made them the narrow favorite over BYU at the start of tournament play. UNLV barely survived to this round, however, as it just barely beat TCU 89-88 yesterday. The Runnin' Rebels got a three-point play from junior guard Wink Adams in the final seconds, and somehow managed to survive a 17-of-23 shooting performance from beyond the arc by the Horned Frogs. Utah played a thrilling game of its own yesterday, advancing with an 82-80 overtime win against New Mexico, a loss for the Lobos that might keep them out of the NCAA tournament. Junior 7'1 center Luke Nevill scored 26 points on 11-of-20 shooting for the Utes in the win. Utah and UNLV split their regular season series, with each picking up the victory at home. Utah, which has shot 39.5 percent from three-point range on the season, was held to 9-of-31 from deep in the two games (29 percent) by a Rebels team that has the seventh-ranked three-point field goal percentage defense in the country. UNLV is in the running for its second straight Mountain West tournament title, while Utah last won in 2004.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.