Friday, March 14, 2008

Does Anyone Want to Make the NCAA Tournament?

Before I talk about the bubble picture, I have to talk about my team. Let’s get to it.

Georgetown Should Thank Syracuse

This was one of those days where Georgetown could have beaten anyone in the country. The fact that Villanova didn’t lose by 40 should be commended. Georgetown made a Big East tournament record 17 three pointers. But thanks to some tremendous interior defense by Villanova which shut down Roy Hibbert, (0 points, 5 fouls, 4 turnovers), the Wildcats were in this game for most of the day.

Early in the first half, Georgetown built a 15 point lead thanks to that phenomenal three point shooting, and that’s when two things happened that made me exceptionally nervous. First, Georgetown made Scottie Reynolds wear the crimson mask. (He was busted open the hard way folks.) And when you have a big lead, you never want to make the other team mad. Second, Patrick Ewing Jr. made a silly move, throwing the basketball up in the air, over his shoulder, and hitting a Villanova player, earning a technical. Those were two game changing events and you could just feel the momentum start to swing after the technical.

And as Jay Wright said in the locker room, “There’s no way they can shoot this well from the perimeter for the full game.” He wasn’t the only one who thought this. My wife and I both had the same freakish thought. We’re shooting lights out and we only lead by 11! This is not a good sign. But how wrong we all were. The Hoyas followed up the 10 first half threes with 7 second half threes and eventually finished off the Wildcats in emphatic fashion.

I think the key was actually the fact that Georgetown put in time preparing for Syracuse this week. If you watched the first two Syracuse games, Georgetown was very tentative, making too many passes, which eventually led to too many turnovers in the two games. The only time the Hoyas looked good against Syracuse was in the second half of the second game when they just started taking the first available perimeter shot. (It wasn’t very Princeton like, but when you’ve been turning the ball over too much, sometimes you just need to shoot early in the shot clock.)

John Thompson the 3rd confirmed it in his post game press conference, “We told our guys to be ready to shoot.” Jonathon Wallace confirmed it in his post game interview saying, “The coaches said all week we had to be aggressive.”

I thought this perimeter aggression was a great thing to see. I’ve been saying all year that Georgetown has to embrace becoming a perimeter-oriented-team if they want to make a deep run. This is because, besides Hibbert, they just don’t have any legitimate post players who can create a shot.

At the beginning of the year, my hope was that McDonald’s All-American guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright could combine to replace Jeff Green in some capacity. But with Chris Wright injured since December, Austin Freeman could not single-handedly replace the Big East player-of-the-year. Wright finally returned to the lineup on Thursday, and he added a new dimension for the Hoyas. First, since teams constantly use full court pressure against the Hoyas, it was nice to have another point guard to use as a ball-handler. And second, Wright was surprisingly hot offensively, knocking down a pair of threes on his own.

Look, I doubt Wright is going to be this consistent the rest of the way out, and I doubt that Georgetown is going to get this hot from three point range again, but with the team so tentative to take open three pointers in other games, I was glad to see the perimeter aggression here. Eventually when you take open three pointers, you force the other team to stop double-teaming the post. And when that happens, maybe Hibbert can finally be the player everyone believes he can be.

Rhymes with Stubble

On a day where bubble teams everywhere were losing, let’s recap the good, the bad, and the ugly. (My comments are relative to the projections I made on Tuesday.)

The Good

Kent St. gave the bubble a momentary sigh of relief with an easy victory in the MAC quarterfinals.

In case there was any doubt, West Virginia and Pittsburgh made emphatic statements on Thursday.

Miami beat NC State, avoiding the costly upset, and staying comfortably in the field.

Texas A&M had lost 5 of its last 7, so they picked up a critical win against Iowa St.

UNLV won in controversial fashion over TCU to stay just inside the field.

St. Joe’s earns another shot at Xavier. St. Joe’s isn’t in the field yet, but at least they are still alive.

Temple stayed alive. They still need to beat Charlotte in the next round.

Florida St. is trying for their normal last minute surge. (Just for fun, ask an FSU fan what they think about the selection committee.)

Similarly, Oklahoma St. continues to play well in the second half of the season, earning another shot at Texas.

The Bad

Villanova lost, but I still have them in.

Oregon and Arizona lost, but I still have them in. (I may re-evaluate before Sunday, but I truly believe the Pac10 deserves 7 teams. Oregon never gave up in the Washington St. game even after falling behind by 20 points in the first half. Arizona was without Nick Wise for part of the Pac10 season. The arguments for 7 are easy to make.)

Baylor was upset by last place Colorado, and they will have to seriously sweat now. With a 5-7 record in the final 12, they could easily get left out.

Arizona St. also lost and they should be sweating even more than Baylor. With a 5-7 record in the final 12 and a horrible NCSOS, they could easily get left out.

UMass lost to Charlotte and if anyone else was winning, I’d say they were out, but it still isn’t clear.

New Mexico lost to Utah in overtime. I had New Mexico just outside the field, but several experts had them in. I wonder if those experts will re-evaluate.

Maryland is officially done after losing 6 of their final 8.

Florida made it clear they want nothing to do with the NCAA tournament this year, falling behind Alabama by 28 at one point before losing.

It took overtime, but Ole Miss finally lost enough SEC games to eliminate themselves from the discussion.

Dayton is done, officially blowing one of the greatest non-conference seasons by an A10 team.

And UAB and Houston bowed out early in the CUSA tournament, rather than risk facing Memphis one more time. They weren’t really in the discussion before and they certainly aren’t now.

The Ugly

Three Big Ten games occurred. This impacted nothing. Two of them had dramatic endings. But as Brent Musburger and Steve Lavin pointed out, watching Northwestern’s offense can put anyone to sleep.

Also, Brent Musburger, please don’t compare the offense Northwestern runs with the one Georgetown runs. Thanks.

Twenty Eight Games

Here’s a preview of a fun Friday afternoon and a sensational Friday night.

12pm – North Carolina vs Florida St. – This is the part of the show where Florida St. fans get their hopes up only to have them crushed one more time.

12pm – Wisconsin vs Michigan – It is hard to say what seed Wisconsin will get since the anti-Big Ten sentiment is so high this year.

12:30pm – Oklahoma St. vs Texas – Texas wants a one seed in the NCAA tournament, and the run has to start here.

1pm – Tennessee vs South Carolina – A lot of people would like to say that Tennessee doesn’t deserve a number one seed. A loss here would give them that ammunition.

2:30pm – Miami vs Virginia Tech – Will Virginia Tech finally get a top 50 win or will Virginia Tech go quietly into the NIT?

2:30pm – Michigan St. vs Ohio St. – Even with the other bubble teams falling on Thursday, Ohio St. still needs this win.

3:00pm – Oklahoma vs Colorado – It isn’t that Oklahoma is out with a loss here, but what kind of seed do you get if you lose 6 of your final 12 games?

3:30pm – Vanderbilt vs Arkansas – After Thursday, I’m starting to think Arkansas might be safe, but a loss here would give them 6 losses in the final 12. The SEC bashers could have fun with this.

4:30pm – Memphis vs Southern Miss – Memphis needs a win here to hold onto a one seed in the NCAA tourn…, Oh, who am I kidding?

6:30pm – Xavier vs St. Joe’s – If St. Joe’s can beat Xavier for the second time in the final month, they are in the field.

6:30pm – Purdue vs Illinois – I think Purdue is the best team in the Big Ten, but they have slid a bit in the last few weeks. They don’t want an early tournament exit.

7pm – Georgetown vs West Virginia – The Hoya controversy tour continues. I just wish that for every time they showed Ewing’s block that they would also show Jesse Sapp’s 3 pointer to take a one point lead in the game at West Virginia. If West Virginia wins, we are guaranteed that the Big East tournament winner will have played 4 games in 4 days.

7pm – Duke vs Georgia Tech – Duke wants a one seed in the NCAA tournament and the run starts here.

7pm – Kansas vs Nebraska – Kansas wants a one seed in the NCAA tournament and the run starts here. Nebraska lost to Kansas by 21 and 35 in the regular season, so I don’t expect much of a game here, but I guess Nebraska has been playing better lately.

7pm – Western Michigan vs Akron – Bubble teams everywhere hope this game goes to triple OT and the winner is really tired on Saturday, because either of these teams could knock Kent St. out.

7pm – Tulsa vs UTEP – Who wants all the bubble teams to hate them on Saturday morning? Who wants to get crushed by Memphis on national TV?

7:30pm – Mississippi St. vs Alabama – What in the world kind of seed is Mississippi St. going to get? I have no idea what this game means.

9pm – UCLA vs USC – UCLA probably needs to keep winning to hold onto a one seed in the NCAA tournament.

9pm – Indiana vs Minnesota – Indiana has been disappointing since Dan Dakich took over. Minnesota barely got past Northwestern. Feel the excitement.

9pm – Temple vs Charlotte – If no one gives Temple credit for a second place finish in the A10, why not just ride that seed to a conference tournament title?

9:30pm – Marquette vs Pittsburgh – We were snickering Wednesday when Jay Bilas said Marquette could become the first ever team to win four games in four days. Who is snickering now?

9:30pm – Kansas St. vs Texas A&M – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The overall profile for Kansas St. is not as good as a lot of people think. If Kansas State loses this game, they’ll be 5-7 in the last 12, 5-9 in Road/Neutral games, and they did very little in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Public sentiment has them in, (and that matters a lot), but they could still use a win here.

9:30pm – Clemson vs Boston College – For once Clemson can’t blow its NCAA chances by losing its first game in the ACC tournament. Hooray!

9:30pm – BYU vs San Diego St. – The Aztecs fell apart down the stretch, but they played well enough early in the season to give BYU a scare.

9:30pm – Kent St. vs Miami (OH) – Miami (OH) has enough marquee wins to believe they could end Kent St.’s tournament run and shrink the bubble by one slot.

10pm – Kentucky vs Georgia – Kentucky catches a break as the Georgia game went to overtime Thursday. I think the 12 SEC wins are enough, but the overall numbers still say a Kentucky loss would be costly.

11:30pm – Stanford vs Washington St. – How good are the Pac10 quarterfinals?

12pm – UNLV vs Utah – With New Mexico out of the equation, UNLV’s road to the NCAA tournament looks a lot easier.