Games of Wednesday, March 12
Big East First Round
Matchup: #9 Seed Syracuse (19-12, 9-9) vs. #8 Villanova (19-11, 9-9), 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Syracuse, #37 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 16 in Big East); Villanova, #56 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Syracuse, 77-74 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: This kick-off to the Big East tournament is essentially an elimination game with regards to the NCAA Tournament, as both the Orange and the Wildcats sit squarely on the bubble. Syracuse is likely in better shape despite the lower seed, thanks to two wins to close its schedule, including a big one at home over Marquette in the regular season finale. Villanova also won two straight to end the regular season, but over lesser teams in South Florida and Providence. The Wildcats did beat the Orange in the lone meeting between these teams this year, an 81-71 decision in upstate New York on January 19. Villanova guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher each made 9-of-10 free throws, and the Wildcats got to the line 14 more times than Syracuse. That likely won't be the case in this rematch, as Villanova has been the worst team in the Big East this season at preventing opponents from getting to the line (by free throw rate), while the
Orange rank in the top 50 nationally in that category and in the top 60 in free throw rate on offense. The pace of this game should be especially quick--Syracuse plays at the fastest tempo of any Big East team, and Syracuse the fourth fastest.
Matchup: #12 Seed Providence (15-15, 6-12) vs. #5 West Virginia (22-9, 11-7), 2:00, ESPN
Rankings: Providence, #78 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 16 in Big East); West Virginia, #18 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: West Virginia, 75-66 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 19%
Prospectus: The Friars had lost nine of 10 Big East games before they beat Cincinnati on the road in overtime and Connecticut at home, but then fell at home to Villanova in their last regular season affair. West Virginia closed its season with wins over Pittsburgh and St. John's. The Mountaineers beat the Friars in the two teams' only meeting of the season, 77-65 in Providence. West Virginia senior guard Darris Nichols tied a season high in that one with 23 points, shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range. Nichols leads the team in minutes played and has the squad's lowest turnover rate, although he has used fewer possessions than any of the Mountaineers' top seven in minutes played. West Virginia as a team is excellent at protecting the ball, as the Mountaineers have turned it over on just 15.4 percent of possessions, the third best rate in the nation.
Matchup: #10 Seed Cincinnati (13-17, 8-10) vs. #7 Pittsburgh (22-9, 10-8), 7:00, ESPN
Rankings: Cincinnati, #100 in Pomeroy Ratings (12th of 16 in Big East); Pittsburgh, #30 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Pittsburgh, 70-61 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 19%
Prospectus: These two teams were partners in the unbalanced Big East schedule, playing twice, with the Bearcats winning at home 62-59 and Pittsburgh coming back to win the rematch 73-67. Both of those games played out in a slow 58 possessions. Pittsburgh looks good for a berth in the NCAA Tournament as of now, while Cincinnati will likely have to win the Big East if it wants to earn a bid, and the chances of that happening are not good. If you believe in momentum, the Bearcats certainly don't have it on their side, as they've lost five in a row entering Madison Square Garden, the last of those a 96-51 thumping at the hands of Connecticut. This will be Cincinnati's third Big East tournament since moving to the conference for the 2006 season from Conference USA.
Matchup: #11 Seed Seton Hall (17-14, 7-11) vs. #6 Marquette (22-8, 11-7), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Seton Hall, #103 in Pomeroy Ratings (14th of 16 in Big East); Marquette, #11 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 83-68 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 10%
Prospectus: There was a time when the Pirates were 5-3 in the conference, but since that point they have lost eight of 10 games, including their last three. Seton Hall was really hurt this season by the absence of sophomore guard Paul Gause, who played just 16 games due to injury. Gause racked up a 7.2 steal percentage this season when he played, a figure which would have topped the nation had he garnered enough minutes to qualify. That high rate is no fluke--last year Gause put up a steal rate of 6.9, which did indeed lead Division I. Even without Gause the Pirates live up to their nickname, as Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell, and Larry Davis all rank in the top 500 nationally in steal percentage and Seton Hall ranks ninth as a team. Marquette is third in the nation in steal percentage, led by junior guard Jerel McNeal. The Golden Eagles beat Seton Hall in both their games against the Pirates this season, 61-56 in Milwaukee back on January 8 and 89-64 in New Jersey on February 12.
Atlantic 10 First Round
Matchup: #9 Seed St. Louis (16-14, 7-9) vs. #8 Dayton (20-9, 8-8), 12:00
Rankings: St. Louis, #149 in Pomeroy Ratings (12th of 14 in A-10); Dayton, #71 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Dayton, 60-54 in 56 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
Prospectus: It's tournament time in Atlantic City--will Rick Majerus, in his first year coaching in the Atlantic 10, be able to pull a run of upsets out of his sleeve? Majerus certainly worked some magic during the regular season, as his Billikens came back from an NCAA record-low of 20 points against George Washington in their conference opener to beat Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Saint Joseph's, but St. Louis lost some of that good feeling with losses to St. Bonaventure and Duquesne to close the season. St. Louis plays extremely slowly, at less than 60 possessions per 40 minutes, and has a decent defense and a bad offense, which are the three ingredients you need for some extremely low-scoring games. Dayton also plays very slowly, so possessions will be at a premium in this one.
How Far They've Fallen, Part I: the Flyers were 14-1 overall and 2-0 in the Atlantic 10 after a 68-57 overtime victory in St. Louis on January 12, but lost eight of their next 11 games to tumble out of the A-10 title and NCAA Tournament hunts. Much of the team's fall can be attributed to the loss of freshman forward Chris Wright, who hurt his ankle the game before Dayton's road win over the Billikens and has been out of action ever since. Dayton did manage to spank St. Louis again without Wright, 63-36 at home on January 30. The Flyers have also won their last three games since the 8-of-11 stretch, including a big victory over Saint Joseph's last Saturday in their final regular season game, so Dayton can't yet be counted out of it.
Matchup: #12 Seed Fordham (12-16, 6-10) vs. #5 Saint Joseph's (18-11, 9-7), 2:30
Rankings: Fordham, #140 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 14 in A-10); Saint Joseph's, #63 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Saint Joseph's, 69-62 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
Prospectus: How Far They've Fallen, Part II: Saint Joseph's was 15-5 overall and 6-1 in conference play on the morning of February 6, but the Hawks proceeded to lose six of their last nine games to tumble into a tie for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 standings. Saint Joseph's appeared to have righted itself with a road win over Rhode Island February 24, but lost the next two at home against St. Louis and Temple. The Hawks looked like they had saved their season last Thursday by giving Xavier just its second conference loss, but then went out and lost at Dayton in their last game of the regular season. Saint Joseph's now has to do serious work on the boardwalk to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks beat Fordham 70-55 at home on February 2, their last conference game before things fell apart. In that game Saint Joseph's, owners of the 25th best adjusted offensive efficiency in the nation, shot 60 eFG% to Fordham's 40 eFG%. The Rams are the most experienced team in the A-10, and play their starters more than all but 11 other Division I teams.
Matchup: #10 Seed Duquesne (17-12, 7-9) vs. #7 La Salle (14-16, 8-8), 6:30
Rankings: Duquesne, #84 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 14 in A-10); La Salle, #142 (11th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duquesne, 88-80 in 79 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: How Far They've Fallen, Part III: the Dukes stood at 16-7 overall and 6-4 in the conference after a two-point road win over Dayton on February 13, but then lost five straight games, before coming up with a blowout of St. Louis in their last regular season game. Duquesne plays a very exciting style of basketball--it averages 75.6 possesions per 40, the sixth fastest pace in Division I, and blocks shots at a higher percentage than every team in the country except Connecticut and Mississippi St. thanks to the presence of 6'10 junior Shawn James, who is third in the nation with a block percentage of 16. One thing that stands out on Duquesne's statistics page is the percentage of minutes played for 6'10 senior Kieron Achara. Achara leads the club in offensive rating and is second in eFG% in the second highest percentage of possessions used on the squad, yet he plays just 19 minutes a night. Foul trouble has a lot to do with that--Achara has fouled out of two games this year, and collected four personals in six others. Overall, he has averaged 2.5 fouls per game. Achara has come on strong of late, however, playing 38 and then 30 minutes the last two games and scoring 24 points in each on blistering 86 eFG% shooting from the floor. Achara also had a strong game in Duquesne's first game against La Salle this season, a 101-84 road win on February 9, scoring 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Achara played just 17 minutes and scored seven points in the Dukes' second game with the Explorers, a 75-72 loss at home.
Matchup: #11 Seed Rhode Island (21-10, 7-9) vs. #6 Charlotte (18-12, 9-7), 9:00
Rankings: Rhode Island, #83 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 14 in A-10); Charlotte, #76 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Charlotte, 78-77 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: How Far They've Fallen, Part IV: Rhode Island has suffered perhaps the steepest and most inexplicable fall of any A-10 team. The Rams were ranked in the national polls after they went 14-1 in non-conference play, which included wins over UAB, Providence, and Syracuse, and then began the A-10 season a respectable 6-3. Everything seemed to be lined up for Rhode Island to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, but then the Rams lost five in a row and six of seven to close the season to finish with a sub-.500 conference record. Now, they are the #10 seed and a first-round underdog in Atlantic City.
The problem for the Rams has been their defense. In six of their past seven games Rhode Island has given up at least 1.17 points per possession, something the team did only once in 24 games before that. The exception in that streak was the last game of the year against Charlotte, but Rhode Island lost that game, too, as the 49ers held the potent Rams' attack to its lowest efficiency of the season, 0.9 points per possession. Charlotte's defense, ranked second in the A-10 in adjusted efficiency behind Xavier's, has helped the 49ers win their last three games to get above .500 in the conference heading into the tournament. In the 74-64 win at Rhode Island last Saturday, Charlotte's best player, 5'11 senior guard Leemire Goldwire, scored 34 points on 62 eFG% from the floor and 8-of-8 from the line, and also grabbed seven rebounds.
Matchup: #4 Seed Mount St. Mary's (17-14, 11-7) at #3 Sacred Heart (18-13, 13-5), 7:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Mount St. Mary's, #171 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in NEC); Sacred Heart, #195 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Sacred Heart, 72-70 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: The Mary's have had their day this conference tournament season. Unheralded William & Mary nearly made a run to the Colonial Athletic Association title as a No. 5 seed, winning three games in three days by a total of six points before falling on the fourth day in the final to George Mason on Monday. Mount St. Mary's has a better shot at a title than its Colonial namesake, as Mount was underrated as a four seed, and would be favored over Sacred Heart if not for the Pioneers' homecourt advantage. Mount St. Mary's beat Quinnipiac by 10 in the quarterfinals and then blew away the No. 1 seed Robert Morris, 83-65, to reach the tournament title game. Sacred Heart beat defending NEC champion Central Connecticut by 13 in the first round and then ended Wagner's run of good fortune in the semifinals, 55-49. Despite Mount being the better team by the numbers over the course of the season, Sacred Heart did win at Mount St. Mary's, 67-59, in the two teams' only meeting this season. Mount St. Mary's will be looking for its first NEC tournament title since 1999, while Sacred Heart has never won the tourney since joining the conference in 1999. The Pioneers, in face, are playing for their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Big Sky Championship
Matchup: #2 Seed Northern Arizona (21-10, 11-5) vs. #1 Portland St. (22-9, 14-2), 9:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Northern Arizona, #150 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 9 in Big Sky); Portland St., #130 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Portland St., 76-72 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: A good, honest championship game: the clear #2 vs. the clear #1, with the #1 having a slight advantage in venue thanks to the game being held at the Rose Garden in Portland. Portland St. beat Northern Arizona twice in the regular season, 80-66 at home and 71-68 on the road, games in which the Vikings combined to hit 22-of-44 three-pointers. Both of these teams have better offenses than defenses, which are built upon strong shooting--the Vikings are 12th in the nation with a 55.2 eFG%, and the Lumberjacks 15th with a 54.8. Northern Arizona is looking for its first Big Sky tournament championship since 2000, while Portland St., which joined the conference in 1996, has yet to win the tournament, and in fact this is the team's first appearance in the championship game. The Vikings have never been to the NCAA Tournament, either, a streak they can end with a win tonight.
Pacific 10 Play-In Round
Matchup: #9 Seed California (15-14, 6-12) vs. #8 Washington (16-15, 7-11), 9:00
Rankings: California, #53 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 10 in Pac 10); Washington, #50 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Washington, 81-80 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 49%
Prospectus: The Pacific 10 tournament gets under way at the Staples Center with a game between two evenly matched teams at the bottom of the conference standings. These two squads played nearly to a draw in the regular season, with Cal winning 79-75 in Washington and the Huskies by 87-84 in Berkeley. The Golden Bears have the nation's eighth best efficiency after adjustment, led by sophomore forward Ryan Anderson, who has been the best offensive performer in Division I among those using at least 28 percent of possessions. The 6'10 Anderson, who is dangerous from inside and outside the arc and who shoots 88 percent from the free throw line, leads Cal in every Pomeroy offensive category except for assist rate. Anderson had perhaps his finest game of the year in the Golden Bears' victory over Washington this season, as he scored 33 points on 68 eFG% shooting from the floor and 7-of-7 from the line, and grabbed a season-high-tying 17 rebounds. The Huskies have a standout forward of their own in 6'7 junior Jon Brockman, who is one of the nation's best rebounders, ranking 20th in offensive rebounding percentage and eighth in defensive.
Matchup: #10 Seed Oregon St. (6-24, 0-18) vs. #7 Arizona (18-13, 8-10), 11:30
Rankings: Oregon St., #203 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 10 in Pac 10); Arizona, #23 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arizona, 75-56 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 3%
Prospectus: This is the last chance for the poor Beavers to earn a win in Pacific 10 play. Oregon St. has an offense that ranks 322nd out of 341 Division I teams in raw efficiency, at 0.91 points per possession, and has just one player who rates as above average offensively--6'11 sophomore Roeland Schaftenaar, who uses up a very small proportion of the offense. The Beavers' 41.9 eFG% is fifth worst in the country, and no one on the team has shot even 50 eFG% from the floor on the season. Arizona beat Oregon St. 81-45 on March 6 in the second-to-last game of the regular season. The Wildcats, despite that win, are seriously hurting, having dropped seven of their last 10 games to fall below .500 in conference play. They will need a deep run in the Pac 10 tournament, most likely, in order to earn a berth in the NCAA field, despite the fact that they have played a tougher schedule than any team in the country. Up next for the Wildcats should they avoid a stunning upset is Stanford, a team which beat Arizona twice during the regular season.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.