Games of Thursday, March 6
Big South Tournament
Matchup: #3 Seed High Point (17-13, 8-6) vs. #2 Winthrop (20-11, 10-4), 6:00, ESPNU
Rankings: High Point, #204 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in Big South); Winthrop, #117 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Winthrop, 60-53 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 21%
Prospectus: High Point eked out a three-point win over Coastal Carolina to reach the Big South Tournament Semis, while Winthrop crushed Radford by 31. These two teams split the season series, with each squad winning at home: High Point 62-61, and Winthrop 62-54. The first game played out in 59 possessions, and the second in 61, as these two teams bring up the rear in the Big South in terms of pace. Winthrop is the conference's best team by the stats, thanks to a defense that is the most dominant unit in the Big South, on either side of the ball, but the Eagles are a bad offensive team, which makes them the most
defense-dependent team in the nation. The winner of this game will play the winner of the NC Asheville/Liberty game on Sunday night to determine which Big South squad advances to the NCAA Tournament.
(16-15, 7-7) at NC Asheville (22-8, 10-4), 8:00, ESPNU
Rankings: Liberty, #217 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 8 in Big South); NC Asheville, #180 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: NC Asheville, 72-65 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: NC Asheville, the Big South's No. 1 seed, has the added bonus of playing at home throughout the conference tournament. The Bulldogs smoked Charleston Southern 87-63 to advance to the Semis, while Liberty beat VMI 103-88. Each of these teams beat the other at home this season, with NC Asheville winning 74-70 and the Flames notching a surprising blowout win, 83-54. Asheville's 7'7 center Kenny George, who is limited by knee troubles, played just 14 minutes on Tuesday night, so he should be able to see action against Liberty. Asheville is unique in that it has held its opponents to the lowest free throw rate in Division I (22.2 free throw shots per 100 field goal attempts), while Liberty is ninth best in the land with a 54.4 two-point field goal percentage. If George sees significant time, however, that figure is sure to topple significantly. George has a block percentage of 20.2, which would rate first in the country if he had played enough minutes to qualify.
Matchup: Arizona St. (18-10, 8-8) at Oregon (16-12, 7-9), 8:30 p.m. EST
Rankings: Arizona St., #39 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in Pac 10); Oregon, #46 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Oregon, 71-68 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: The Sun Devils picked up a critical win over USC at home on Saturday, and now have a chance to finish above .500 in the league if they can sweep the Oregon road trip. Arizona St. looks to be in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, but this game is an essential one for Oregon. If the Ducks can beat both Arizona St. and Arizona, they will finish ahead of the Wildcats and in sixth place in the Pac 10 standings, and get back onto the NCAA selection committee's radar. The Sun Devils won the first meeting between these two teams 62-54 in Tempe. That game marked the second-lowest points per possession output of the season for Oregon's offense, next to the team's loss at Stanford; the Ducks rank sixth in the nation and second in the Pac 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Oregon has the conference's most prodigious three-point attack, but was held to just 2-of-17 shooting from downtown by the Sun Devils. Arizona St. on the season has allowed a 35 percent conversion rate on three-pointers, and has given up a three-point attempt/field goal attempt proportion (41.3) that ranks in the bottom 20 of the 341 Division I teams, so you can expect Oregon's long range attack to produce much better results tonight. Where the Sun Devils should maintain their advantage from the first game is at the free throw line, thanks mainly to the presence of freshman James Harden, who had as many makes from the stripe (8) in the first game as Oregon's entire team. Arizona St. will likely also be able to handle the ball with ease, as Oregon's opponents this season have turned it over at a lower percentage than those of any other team in the country next to Colorado St. and Grambling.
Matchup: Stanford (24-4, 13-3) at UCLA (26-3, 14-2), 11:00
Rankings: Stanford, #12 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Pac 10); UCLA, #2 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 66-58 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 18%
Prospectus: These two teams played in the first game of the Pac 10 season, and now they play again for first place in the conference. A win by the Bruins would give them the Pac 10 regular season title, their third in a row and 30th overall, while Stanford with a victory would move into a tie for the top spot. Even if the Cardinal wins, it will have to win again at USC Saturday in order to claim a share of the title, assuming that UCLA takes care of ninth-place Cal at home in its final game. The Bruins have won five in a row since losing at Washington, while Stanford enters with a four game winning streak begun after an overtime loss at Arizona St. The Cardinal beat Washington St. for the second time this season last Saturday, coming back from an 11-point halftime deficit.
In the first meeting between UCLA and Stanford, a 76-67 Bruins win at Maples Pavilion, UCLA shot 58.3 eFG% from the field, a performance that included 9-of-16 shooting from downtown, as junior Josh Shipp made a season high five threes. The Bruins are second-to-last in the conference in three-point shooting percentage on the season, and have gotten a lower percentage of their points from beyond the arc than all but 11 other D-I teams. Add to that Stanford's three-point percentage defense, second best in the Pac 10, and the fact that the Cardinal have given up a lower ratio of points scored against them on three-pointers than any other Pac 10 team, and it is clear that the Bruins will not have the same success from three-point range this time around. Instead, the game will be won or lost in the paint by the two big men--UCLA freshman Kevin Love and Stanford sophomore Brook Lopez. Love has shot 62.4 percent on his two-pointers this season, but Stanford's defense has allowed opponents to convert at just 41.6 percent on shots inside the arc.
Matchup: Xavier (25-4, 13-1) at Saint Joseph's (17-10, 8-6), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Xavier, #14 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 14 in A-10); Saint Joseph's, #63 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 71-66 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Hawk might not never die, but at this point, it's clearly gasping for life. After a critical win at Rhode
Island three games ago appeared to put Saint Joseph's back on track to finish second in the conference and gain an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, the Hawks have proceeded to lose two straight at home against St. Louis and Temple, both teams below them in the Pomeroy Ratings. The defeat to Temple at the Palestra in a Big 5 rivalry game was especially excruciating, as Saint Joseph's lost a lead in the final minute to fall 57-56. Now, the Hawks have to face the toughest team in the A-10, and the best non-BCS conference team in the country besides Memphis. Saint Joseph's also lost a lead in its first meeting with Xavier, as the Hawks had a four point advantage with under two minutes to play before they allowed the Musketeers to score the final eight points and grab a 76-72 victory. Saint Joseph's defense has been the team's problem all season, and the Hawks let Xavier shoot 69.6 eFG% from the floor, the worst figure they've given up all year. Three-point percentage defense has been the biggest trouble area for Saint Joseph's this season, as the team ranks last in the A-10 in that category and is also towards the bottom in 3PA/FGA, and that weakness was exposed by Xavier's 12-of-20 performance from beyond the arc. If you like offense, you'll want to tune in to this one tonight, as both of these squads rank in the top 15 in raw offensive efficiency and have an adjusted efficiency of over 1.15 points per possession.
Matchup: Utah St. (21-9, 10-4) at Boise St. (21-7, 12-3), 9:00
Rankings: Utah St., #128 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 9 in WAC); Boise St., #135 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Boise St., 81-77 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: The WAC is the Western version of the MAAC (or is the MAAC the Eastern version of the WAC?), in that it has a cluster of teams at the top of the standings. Boise St. is currently in first place, and will win the regular season title outright if it beats the Aggies tonight. But if Utah St. is victorious, then that will leave four teams with four losses, and allow the Aggies to share first place with Boise St. if they can beat Idaho on the road on Saturday. New Mexico St. and Nevada, the other four loss teams, would also be able to garner a portion of first in that scenario; New Mexico St. by beating San Jose St. tonight and Hawaii Saturday, both games being at home, and Nevada by beating Fresno St. on the road Saturday. In terms of seeding, with the next two victories the Aggies would hold the tiebreakers over the other three teams and would earn the top spot in the conference tournament bracket. Seeding for these four teams is crucial, since only the tournament champion will head to the Big Dance. Utah St. has already beaten Boise St. once this year, 82-78 at home, a game in which Aggies star senior guard Jaycee Carroll scored 29 points on 82 eFG% shooting. Both of these teams are outstanding shooting squads, with Boise St. ranking second in the country in eFG% and Utah St. third. The Aggies have a significantly better offense overall, however, thanks to a strong free throw rate and excellent free throw shooting, but a weaker defense than Boise St. has. Utah St. allows 37.3 percent shooting from three-point range, second from the bottom in the WAC, and the Broncos took advantage of that to hit 12-of-26 threes in the first game.
Matchup: UC Santa Barbara (21-7, 10-4) at Cal St. Northridge (19-7, 11-3), 10:05
Rankings: UC Santa Barbara, #133 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 9 in Big West); Cal St. Northridge, #132 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Cal St. Northridge, 72-67 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 34%
Prospectus: UC Santa Barbara stands one game behind Northridge for first place in the Big West with two to play. If the Gauchos win tonight and again on Saturday at Long Beach St., they will claim first place, which they would share with Cal St. Fullerton and Northridge if both those teams win Saturday. Even if it does have to share the top spot, however, two wins by UC Santa Barbara would grant it tiebreakers over both of the other first place schools and give it the top seed in the conference tournament. In the first meeting between Northridge and the Gauchos, the Matadors pulled out an 88-84 win in Santa Barbara. Northridge shot 11-of-21 from deep in that game and its defense, which is 11th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage allowed at 30.1, held the Gauchos to 4-of-15 from long range. That was surprising, because Santa Barbara shoots 41.4 percent from three as a team, which is fourth best in the country, and has also held opponents to 30.9 percent three-point shooting. Guard Deon Tresvant, who leads Northridge in eFG% (58.7) and percentage of shots taken, put up career highs of seven three-pointers and 31 points for the Matadors. Santa Barbara was paced by the 25 points on 55 eFG% shooting of senior Alex Harris, who has used 30.5 percent of possessions and taken 32.6 percent of the shots for the Gauchos this year.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.