Games of Monday, March 3
Matchup: Pittsburgh (21-8, 9-7) at West Virginia (20-9, 9-7), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Pittsburgh, #27 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 16 in Big East); West Virginia, #21 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: West Virginia, 69-64 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: This is a rematch of a February 7 game won by Pittsburgh 55-54 on guard Ronald Ramon's three-pointer at the buzzer. That contest was a defensive struggle that played out in 59 possessions, with both teams held well below a point per possession and to less than 46 eFG% shooting. Considering that the Mountaineers and Panthers each have better offenses than defenses--significantly better, in Pittsburgh's case--another low-scoring game is unlikely. The contest could well hinge on the offensive glass; if West Virginia is able to collect a large percentage of its misses, it will stand a great shot at getting the victory. This is because an increase in offensive rebounding percentage has been strongly and significantly correlated to an increase in the Mountaineers' offensive efficiency this season, while inversely, Pittsburgh's defensive efficiency has been notably worsened by increases in opponent offensive rebounding percentage, a relationship that is stronger than it is for most teams. Pittsburgh enters this game tonight having won two in a row, the latest an important road victory over Syracuse that substantially bolstered the Panthers' case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Pittsburgh point guard Levance Fields continued his shooting struggles from the floor, as he hit just 1-of-8 from three-point range and 2-of-9 field goal attempts overall. He is now shooting at a 30 eFG% clip in five games since returning from a broken foot, which forced him out for 12 games, as compared to 51 eFG% shooting in 12 games before his injury. Fields did get to the line eight times against Syracuse and converted on every trip, however, and he dished out five assists against only one turnover. West Virginia lost at Connecticut on Saturday, and will be looking for its first win over a team in the top 40 of the Pomeroy Ratings since a 79-64 victory against Marquette at home on January 6.
Matchup: Virginia (13-13, 3-10) at Georgia Tech (12-15, 5-8), 7:00
Rankings: Virginia, #75 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 12 in ACC); Georgia Tech, #64 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgia Tech, 81-75 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: Virginia has suffered through a rough year, and is currently in last place in the ACC, although bad luck has something to do with the Cavaliers' basement position. Six of Virginia's 10 conference losses have been close games, which are those that are decided by three points or less or in overtime. The Cavaliers' last two losses have been by a combined three points, as they fell 75-74 to North Carolina at home on February 12, and then, after beating Boston College and North Carolina St. by a combined 23 points, dropped a 95-93 decision Saturday at Miami FL. Virginia's appearance in so many close conference games this season has been part of a widespread ACC trend. When Ken Pomeroy wrote about the ACC's
potentially-historic level of parity back on February 6, 22 of 43 conference games had been close. There have been ten close games since then, the latest being Clemson's comeback 73-70 win over Maryland last night, and the close count is therefore now at 32 out of 84 ACC games, 38 percent. To quote from Pomeroy's article:
This puts the ACC on the cusp of historic territory. No conference this decade has had more than a third of its games fall into the nailbiter category. The 2007 MAAC and 2006 Big 12 share the record for close games.
Now, the ACC needs just one of the final 12 conference games to be close to set a new record for the decade. Georgia Tech has actually participated in even more close games than Virginia has, with seven of its 13 coming down to the end, the highest rate of any team in the cardiac conference. The Yellowjackets have lost four of those close ones, with their two wins both coming in overtime, the latest an 87-79 decision over Wake Forest on Saturday. The first game between these teams did not end up as a close game, but rather an 81-70 Georgia Tech home win on January 19.
Matchup: Texas Tech (16-12, 7-7) at Kansas (26-3, 11-3), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Texas Tech, #57 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 12 in Big 12); Kansas, #1 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 83-62 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: The Red Raiders came up with a huge win on Saturday at home over Texas, an 83-80 decision in which Texas Tech got to the line 43 times, against 49 field goal attempts, an extraordinarily high free throw rate of 87.8. That figure isn't even the highest free throw rate that the Red Raiders have put up this season, or even in conference play--they posted a rate of 108.7 in a January 23 win against Missouri, going to the free throw line 50 times against 46 field goal attempts, and had a 91.3 rate in a January 5 win against UTEP. Texas Tech has the fourth highest free throw rate in Division I, behind Brown, Florida Atlantic and Connecticut. Guard Martin Zeno leads the team with a rate of 66, and his backcourt mate Alan Voskuil is second. That pair combined to make 19 trips to the line in the win over Texas, with Voskuil a perfect 10-of-10. The victory for Texas Tech moved it to 7-7 in the conference, tied for fifth with Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma St. With Oklahoma's best player Blake Griffin out for the final two regular season games and perhaps longer after knee surgery, an opportunity--unfortunate as the circumstances are for the Sooners--seems to have arisen for the Red Raiders to take the at-large berth that might have belonged to Oklahoma as the sixth team out of the Big 12. Beating Kansas on the road, however, will be quite a bit more difficult a task than taking down Texas at home was for Texas Tech. The Jayhawks are coming off their 14-point beating of Kansas St. at home on Saturday, and were helped out by the Red Raiders' upset, which allowed Kansas to move back into a tie with the Longhorns for first in the Big 12. Texas still has the better shot to take first place outright, though, as it finishes with home games against Nebraska and Oklahoma, while the Jayhawks travel to Texas A&M for their final contest.
Matchup: Fresno St. (13-16, 5-9) at Utah St. (20-9, 9-4), 9:05
Rankings: Fresno St., #168 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 9 in WAC); Utah St., #133 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Utah St., 74-66 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Aggies still have destiny in their hands regarding a share of the regular season WAC title, despite the fact that they are currently behind three teams in the standings. Utah St. is even in the loss column with both Nevada and New Mexico St., teams that have played two and one more game(s) than the Aggies, respectively, and it has only one more loss than first-place Boise St., which has also played two more games than the Aggies. If Utah St. can win out over its final three, including at Boise St. next Thursday, then the Aggies would share first place with the Broncos and possibly one or both of Nevada and New Mexico. The Aggies would also then grab the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, thanks to having beaten Boise St. twice and having a better overall record than both Nevada and New Mexico St., each of which Utah St. split with during the season. The Aggies will have to start their potential title run tonight against Fresno St., which they beat 77-72 on the road on February 7. Aggies guard Jaycee Carroll scored a game-high 22 points in that one, shooting 6-of-9 from three-point range, and also grabbed nine rebounds. Carroll is one of the best players in the nation, ranking first in offensive rating among all players using at least 24 percent of their team's possessions. The 6'2" senior is a true triple-threat--he beats teams from deep (91-of-177 from three, 51 percent), from inside the arc (118-of-222, 53 percent), and at the free throw line (108-118, 91.5 percent). Thanks primarily to Carroll, the Aggies have the third highest eFG% (57) in Division I.
Clara (14-14, 6-7) at Gonzaga (23-6, 12-1), 11:30, ESPN2
Rankings: Santa Clara, #149 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 8 in WCC); Gonzaga, #26 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Gonzaga, 71-54 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: As a result of their 88-76 win over St. Mary's on Saturday, the Bulldogs can clinch the West Coast Conference regular season title with a win over the Broncos tonight in their last game of the regular season. Should Santa Clara pull off an upset win, and St. Mary's beat Portland, then Gonzaga and the Gaels would share the league crown. These two teams, which each produced outstanding point guards that went on to star in the NBA--John Stockton played at Gonzaga, and Steve Nash at Santa Clara--played into double overtime in their first meeting of the year, an 87-82 road victory for the Bulldogs on February 2. Forward Austin Daye scored 22 points on 77 eFG% shooting off the bench for Gonzaga, while the Broncos were led by their 5'11" senior point guard Brody Angley, who scored 28 on 63 eFG% from the floor. Santa Clara also got 22 points from 6'10" junior John Bryant, who is one of the most dominant players in college basketball. Bryant ranks in the top five nationally in shot and possession use percentage, and has done a very good job with all those touches, with a 111.3 offensive rating and a 60.5 eFG%. Bryant also collects 31.5 percent of the available defensive rebounds while on the court, the second best figure behind that of Northern Iowa's Eric Coleman, and ranks in the top 30 with a 9.7 block percentage.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.