Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thursday Tournament Previews

Wow what a disastrous loss for LSU.  They dropped one at home against LSU (RPI #106) in a game that would have gotten pretty close to getting them in with a win.  Granted that win might bump Tennessee up into the Top 100, which will help, but with just a road game at Arkansas left and then the SEC Tournament this team is basically guaranteed a nervous Selection Sunday unless they win that roadie against the Razorbacks or do some damage in the SEC Tournament.

Really good night for Bubble Teams in general outside LSU as Ohio State probably locked itself in by not losing at Penn State and Miami picked up a really big win at Pitt, particularly on the road, in a game where a loss might have sunk them.  Michigan State held off Purdue in a game that was definitely more important for the Spartans, and probably puts them in the tournament.  The Boilers are likely still fine and this loss does nothing, other than losing out on a basically ticket punching win.  Oklahoma State righted it's collapse with a win over TCU, Cincy picked up a huge win at Tulsa (an equally bad loss for the Golden Hurricane who are desperate for quality wins), and St. Johns road win at Marquette probably guaranteed them a bid.  On the West coast Oregon, UCLA, and Colorado State all avoided dangerous games they absolutely could not lose (and Colorado State and Oregon were on the road).

Finally, Notre Dame gave themselves a nice boost by waxing Louisville on the road (and that's a yucky loss for Louisville's seeding, and not a ringing endorsement of the post-Chris Jones era).  Two more conference tournaments kick off today, and I guess the Gophers play Wisconsin which always matters, at least a little.  I just wish it mattered more this year.

This used to be my favorite conference.  You see, in season there's a pretty big void on Friday nights when it comes to college basketball and traditionally only the Ivy League and the MAAC played thos evenings.  Back in my pre-blog days my betting partner, Bogart, and I were even more degenerate than I am now and absolutely had to bet every night, and close to every game.  For about a three year span we were absolute experts in the MAAC.  Luis Flores?  One of our favorite players of all time.  Keydren Clark?  Never bet against him.  Now, sadly, life has gotten in the way and I barely know anything about this conference.  I mean, Iona's good now?

FAVORITE:  Iona.  The Gaels are a total offensive beast with two players averaging about 20 points per game in David Laury (20.1) and A.J. English (19.5) and two more in double figures with Schadrac Casimir (15.3) and Isaiah Williams (13.5) - man that is a lot of points - and an offensive efficiency rating in the top 40.  Williams is really the key here as he's just returning from a foot injury.  Iona went 17-3 in the MAAC this year, but one of those losses came in a game Williams missed, the second came in his second game back where he shot just 1-6 with just two rebounds.  That was also the last game Iona played before the tournament, and it was a bad loss.

SLEEPER:  Manhattan.  First off, I love the Jaspers from the old Flores days, and I once stole a Jaspers T-shirt from Bogart that he actually then cared enough to make me send it back to him.  But really, to stand out against a team like Iona you need to have some kind of special skill.  I almost went with Quinnipiac and their insane 41.6% offensive rebounding rate (2nd in nation) but they truly suck at everything else.  There are four factors that greatly influence who wins a basketball game according to Dean Oliver (whose awesome book Basketball on Paper is not to be missed if you're a basketball nerd) and they are shooting, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws.  The Jaspers are #1 in the MAAC at both forcing turnovers and getting to the free throw line - either could swing the Championship game if they can get there.

THE PICK:  Iona.  I mean this is a really good team that really stands out amongst the rest of the conference.  They rank 40th in the country in offensive efficiency and only one other MAAC team is in the top 200, and though their defense is suspect they generally score enough points (along with the efficiency they also play fast, ranking 6th in the country in points scored per game) that it doesn't matter.  This is a legitimately good team, one that is slated as a 13 seed according to ESPN's bracketology.

This is one of those conferences Bubble teams are going to be watching super closely, given that there are two teams, Wichita State and Northern Iowa, who are absolute locks to get an at-large bid if they don't win the championship and absolutely zero teams remotely close to a bid if they don't win it.  This takes on a bit less importance this year than in year's past since there aren't that many locks among the smaller conferences, but every bid taken is one less bubble team in the tournament.

FAVORITE:  Wichita State.  Not really sure what's left to say about the Shockers.  After beating UNI by double digits last weekend they wrapped up another MVC season, this time at 17-1.  This after going 18-0 last year, running Wichita's four year MVC record to 63-9.  I'd love it if they had more than one marquee non-conference match-up (an OT loss at Utah), but last year's NCAA run proved to me that this team isn't some kind of pretender.  The neutral court loss against George Washington is a bit troubling, but nobody's perfect.  Except Kentucky.

SLEEPER:  Illinois State.  Wichita and Northern Iowa have dominated the conference, but for the most part there's not much in the way of good teams here outside those two.  Illinois State beat bubble team Old Dominion and nearly knocked off VCU.  Those wins, and a slew of wins against mediocre mid-majors, give the Redbirds the only other kenpom top 100 rating in the conference.  Unfortunately it didn't carry over into conference play as ISU went just 11-7, but of their four games vs. Wichita and UNI they kept three of them to single digits.  High praise in the Valley this year.

THE PICK:  Wichita State.  You could just as easily go with UNI here as the team's have had nearly identical seasons in terms of results.  Wichita has the better conference record by a game, but the overall record is the same and Northern Iowa's win over Iowa is better than anything the Shockers managed this year.  The Panthers play that slow, efficient, don't take mistakes but don't take chances style that team's like Wisconsin and Virginia like, which probably means they're ripe for an upset.  Or at least I hope so because boring.

A preview of all the weekend action coming tomorrow.

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