Monday, March 9, 2009

The end of the beginning

Northwestern came up just short against Ohio State, 52-47 in a 52 possession game yesterday, effectively ending their at-large bid hopes. The Buckeye offense stalled about halfway into the second half, allowing the Wildcats to get back into the game. Then came Thad Matta's "Aha!" moment when he realized he had a 7-0 lottery pick at his disposal. Thereafter, the Buckeyes ran several lob plays for the big man to get the offense going again. Still, Northwestern was able to hang around with the help of several long range bombs from Craig Moore. That's when Evan Turner had his own "Aha!" moment when he realized he was the best player on the floor, and scored on clearout after clearout. Turner finished with 17 points on 11 shots, while Moore led the Wildcats with 18 points on 15 shots. Box score.

After their win against Purdue, it seemed like Northwestern's fan base doubled in size as an at large birth seemed like a possibility. Now, the Wildcats likely have to win the conference tournament in order to go dancing. But that shouldn't diminish the work the Wildcats have done this season. The 17 wins by Bill Carmody's team represents the most, well, ever (at least as far as I can tell). Not bad for a squad coming off an 8-22 campaign. So a hearty congrats to Northwestern for that. But they're not done yet, and hopefully this loss isn't too deflating for the Wildcats.

Ohio State finishes this season just as it finished last - at 10-8 in conference play. That's probably good enough for an at large bid, but it was probably good enough last year. The good news is that the Buckeyes won't be playing the Spartans in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament this year, and instead will take on Wisconsin.

Iowa and Penn State needed 50 minutes of basketball to sort out their differences before the Hawkeyes prevailed 75-67 in the 67 possession contest. Todd Lickliter has gone all Thad Matta and installed sophomore wing Jake Kelly as the team's point guard out of necessity. Despite that, Iowa's turnovers have gone into hiding over the past 3 games. The Hawkeyes only had 11 in this one, which was a big reason for the victory. Sure, Penn State's defense can hardly be categorized as "tenacious," but this is nonetheless a good sign for Lickliter's squad. Iowa has struggled with turnovers despite running the ex-Butler coach's system, maybe this is a sign that those days are over. Kelly led the Hawkeyes with 22 points on 16 shots and dished 11 assists. Talor Battle poured in 26 points on 20 shots, and also pulled down 10 rebounds before fouling out in the second extra period. Box score.

The loss by Penn State killed their chances at a #2 or #3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Maybe that's for the best, given their efficiency margin. It just doesn't seem right to hand out such a high seed to a team that's actually been outscored by its opponents in conference play. But the Nittany Lions still have 10 wins in conference play and enough quality victories that should get them to the Dance no matter what happens in the conference tournament. But I'm not on the Selection Committee - start the letter-writing campaign, Penn State fans - so I'm sure there will be some sweating in State College over the next week.

Michigan State finished off the season with an ugly win over Purdue, 62-51 in a 68 possession game. The Spartans were sloppy, turning it over 19 times, but they made up for it by grabbing 46% of their misses. And neither team could throw it in the ocean. But Michigan State, as is their style, pounded the ball inside and received 15 more free throws than the Boilers. That was largely the difference in this one. JaJuan Johnson had 12 points on 9 shots for Purdue, and Kalin Lucas had 21 points on 14 shots (six turnovers though). Box score.

So despite not playing a game over the weekend, Illinois had a pretty good couple of days. With Penn State and Purdue losing, the Illini move into the #2 seed on the conference tournament, while Purdue takes the #3 spot.

Michigan put itself back on the bubble (in a good way) by beating Minnesota at the Barn on Saturday, 67-64 in a 57 possession game. In a way, the Wolverines were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E, in that as soon as a shot went up for either team, Michigan figured the possession was over. John Beilein's team grabbed just thirteen rebounds against the much taller Gophers, but still found a way to win. Sure, both teams shot very well (especially from the FT line, as they combined to go 32-34 from the stripe), but that's still a really low total. But Minnesota's second opportunities were equalized by their sloppiness with the ball, as they coughed it up 18 times. Lawrence Westbrook led Minnesota with 16 points on 6 shots, while DeShawn Sims put up 24 on 15 shots. Box score.

Both of these teams sit at 9-9, and each has a very good non-conference win as well. Minnesota's RPI is 41, Michigan's is 42. You gotta figure that if one of them is in, then the other is as well. Of course, the corollary is that if one is out, then the other is also likely headed to the NIT (how Joe Lunardi figures all of this out is beyond me). Bottom line - a win or two in the conference tournament could go a long way, for both teams.

Wisconsin finished off their season with a trouncing of Indiana, 85-61 in a 61 possession game. It was a typical ball control offense for the Badgers, as they turned it over just 5 times. Compare that to Indiana, who coughed it up on 26% of their possessions. In addition to valuing the basketball, Wisconsin also shot lights out (59.0 eFG), grabbed 42% of their misses, and attempted 32 free throws. It was the best offensive performance of the season for the Badgers. Joe Krabbenhoft led Wisconsin with 19 points on 10 shots, and also grabbed 9 rebounds. Verdell Jones spearheaded the Hoosier attack with 23 points on 10 shots. Box score.

Despite the win, Wisconsin's status as an at large team is up in the air. The 10-8 conference record is good enough, but the best win on the resume is a home victory against Illinois. Their best road win is at Penn State. If I was on the committee, they'd be in (start the letter writing campaign, Badger fans!), but I'm sure Bo Ryan will feel a lot better with a win in the conference tournament.

Ok, for those keeping score, here are your tournament seeds:

#1: Michigan State
#2: Illinois
#3: Purdue
#4: Wisconsin
#5: Ohio State
#6: Penn State
#7: Michigan
#8: Minnesota
#9: Northwestern
#10: Iowa
#11: Indiana

Of course, the efficiency margins tell us there isn't much difference between #5 and #9. Before the season started, everyone knew that Purdue and Michigan State were the teams to beat. Well, true to form, those teams did finish atop the conference standings and efficiency margin.

But, I think everyone expected Purdue to finish at least a bit closer to the Spartans, who ended up winning the whole thing by four games. That isn't dominance in the Memphis/Conference USA kind of way, but it was nonetheless dominance for the amount of parity we saw this year. Congrats to Tom Izzo's team for a fine season.


Anonymous said...

That MSU ran away with the conference title (relatively) is not good news for B10 teams that want to go dancing. I think we get five or six teams in (sorry Michigan, Minnesota, and maybe Wisconsin).

Anonymous said...

If the Big Ten only manages five or six teams, why would Wisconsin be worried? They have the 4th best resume in the league. What five or six teams get in ahead of them?

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind Wisconsin was 5-0 against the 5, 6 and 7 seeds. So it's doubtful all or any of them leapfrog the Badgers in the committee's eyes. How are the Badgers in any trouble? Especially considering everyone is saying the Big Ten is about a 7 bid conference at this point.
Obviously I'm a Badger fan, but I get a little upset when poeple post stuff on the 'net without knowing what they are talking about.

6:25 said...

I assume Wisconsin is in if we get six teams. But if only five?

Well for starters:
1. MSU
2. Illinois
3. Purdue

Leaving two spots for OSU, PSU, and Wisconsin. What big wins does Wisconsin have? Home against Illinois? PSU beat Purdue and Illinois at home, and MSU and Illinois away. OSU beat Purdue at home and Notre Dame on a neutral court. Sure its a close call but Wisconsin draws the short straw. All three teams will have the chance to make their case this weekend. Given that Wisconsin and OSU are facing off on Friday, the loser of that affair may knock themselves out of the NCAA.

Poop Bandit said...

I don't see why everyone is assuming Penn State is in. I agree that 8 teams will be hard to get in and I really think PSU might be the ones left out. Not only am I pretty sure that they are the worst of the 8, but their rating on Pomeroy and RPI confirm my thoughts. I would be happy with 7 teams in the dance. As an Ohio State fan, I'm kind of hoping Penn State loses to Indiana, which would make me less nervous about the Buckeyes getting in. Their non conference schedule was a joke and they happened to catch MSU and Purdue on off nights. They also have a ton of close wins and are high up in the "luck" factor on Pomeroy. Great job (as usual) of pointing out that Penn State was outscored in conference play. That statistic is extremely telling.

Anonymous said...

Wisconsin is 3-0 against PSU and OSU comibined. That's the best possible reason to give them the nod right there. On top of that computer rankings favor Wisconsin, especially over PSU, more even with OSU. At the very worst Wisconsin is the 5th team out of the Big Ten. Not that it matters because the Big Ten is getting between 6 and 8 teams in. Find me one bracket out right now that has only 5 Big Ten teams getting in. Just one bracket, that's all I ask. That's where I think the original poster is totally misguided.

Anonymous said...

Both OSU and UW are in no matter what happens Friday. They are not going to drop 3 seed lines by losing a game against the other team. Not going to happen. Get your facts straight and stop showing a bias. Do some research.

Anonymous said...

Wow, talk about selling your own conference short. Who is crazy enough to believe the Big Ten is getting fewer than 6 bids?

I mean, if you don't take at least 6 Big Ten teams, who would you take? One of the ACC/Big East teams with a losing conference record? A 4th SEC team? A 4th Mountain west team? Utah State? Creighton? Davidson? I mean seriously, the Big Ten has far and away the best bubble teams by a very large margin.

Binge Thinking said...

Northwestern tied its record for regular-season wins with 17. According to Wikipedia, that's the most since '82-'83.

Josh said...

I saw the same Wiki entry, but that record reflects overturned results due to NCAA sanctions. Additionally, shows only 16 wins for that season. I'm not sure what the violations were, and whether it resulted in forfeitures or simply vacated the wins for the other teams, but I think as far as on-court results go, this Wildcat team has the most wins. Of course, the discussion gets more interesting if it turns out that Craig Moore received money as a recruit and less interesting if Northwestern wins another game or two.