"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Go Huggins? WVU win tonight could prove very important to MU

The lone Big East game tonight (Friday) features red hot Villanova traveling to West Virginia, which I would contend could be the most important game of the year that MU is not playing.

Louisville was humbled 57-90 at Notre Dame last night, meaning UConn and MU are STILL the only two teams to win at ND in the past three years. Therefore, MU is now in a three-way tie for second place with Louisville and Pitt (all 9-2), with Villanova (8-3) the only team with a good chance to catch MU from behind. In essence, Marquette has a four game lead over 6th place, because we have the tie-breaker by virtue of wins over the two 5-loss teams (Cincy and Providence) and everyone else has at least 6 losses.

WVU win tonight could give MU crucial bye-bye in the end

In short, barring a collapse by one of the top 5, there is a 5-way race for the four bye-bye spots in the Big East tournament, and my contention is that noone would be helped more by the bye-bye than Marquette for a couple of reasons. First is the fact that our shallow bench would make it very difficult to play 4 games in a row. As one of the top four seeds, Marquette would wait until Night 3 of the Big East Tournament to play a likely fifth seed, and even if MU makes the title game it would only play three times the weekend before the NCAA tournament. Second, I hate to have MU play a first round game against a 12-seed like USF, Seton Hall or Georgetown with nothing to gain and everything to lose – and the USF game and ND’s destruction of Louisville are two more reminders that anything can happen on a given night. A first round loss to a 12-seed could cost MU a couple of seeds in the NCAA, whereas a loss as a 4-seed against a 5-seed would probably have little impact.

If it comes down to securing the 4-seed, then a West Virginia win tonight would actually be worth TWO Marquette wins, believe it or not. To explain why this is, let’s look at the final standings assuming the results at www.kenpom.com played out the rest of the year:

Projected final records and seeds

1.UConn 16-2
2. Louisville 14-4 (beat Pitt to win tie-breaker)
3. Pitt 14-4
4. MARQUETTE 13-5 (if MU matches Nova's win over Pitt, then MUs sweep of WVU and WVUs sweep of Nova would give MU the tie-breaker)
5. Nova 13-5
6. WVU 11-7
7. Syracuse 10-8
8. Providence 9-9 (swept both from Cincy to get tie-breaker)
9. Cincinnati 9-9
10. Notre Dame 8-10 (beat Gtown to win tie-breaker)
11. Gtown 8-10
12. Seton Hall 7-11
13. St. John’s 5-13 (best USF to win tie-breaker)
14. USF 5-13
15. Rutgers 3-15
16. DePaul 1-17

As you can see, most of the tie-breakers would be settled by head-to-head games – Louisville beat Pitt and would get the 2-seed, Providence beat Cincy both times and would get the 8-seed, ND beat Georgetown and would get the 10-seed, and SJU beat USF and would get the 13-seed.

However, Villanova and Marquette split, so if they were to end in a tie for the 4th spot, whether it be at 13-5 or 15-3, then the Big East tie-breaker starts comparing the two teams to the highest ranked team. If MU can beat Pitt, admittedly a big IF but one I have a good feeling about, then the tie-breaker could go through the first three teams and end up going to the next highest seed BEHIND the MU Villanova tie - in this case West Virginia. There is another funny caveat here, which is a team only wins that tie-breaker if they SWEPT the next highest team and the team tied with them WAS SWEPT by that same team. So if West Virginia were to win tonight, and www.kenpom.com has them with a 5-point edge on their home court, then the tie-breaker would go to Marquette because we beat WVU and WVU would have beaten Nova in their only game – advantage MU and we get the extra night off. (note - this paragraph was edited from the original post thanks to a good catch by Scottieduntknow on a scenario mistake.)

So a West Virginia win tonight would not only give us a 1 ½ game lead over Villanova in the standings, but most likely give us the tie-breaker meaning we really had a 2 game lead.

Nova win gets them tie-breaker AND within ½ game of MU

However, if Nova wins tonight, then they pull within a ½ game of Marquette, with an easier schedule the rest of the way AND they would probably own the tie-breaker no matter how the rest of the teams finished from 6th to 16th.

The problem with that scenario is we would no longer have an advantage against Nova with West Virginia as a mutual opponent (both 1-0). The tie-breaker would continue going through the 7th, then 8th, then 9th place team, etc. If Nova loses against Syracuse they would be 1-1 against them, so our game against Syracuse wouldn’t matter for tie-breaking purposes because unless one team SWEEPS the common opponent and the other IS SWEPT, the tie-breaker does not kick in and you go to the next highest team for the same comparison.

It is quite possible MU and Nova will have beaten every team until we get to USF, giving Nova the crucial extra bye day.

There are a couple of other scenarios that give us the tie-breaker over Nova, such as Nova losing at home to Gtown and us completing the sweep at Gtown, or Nova losing at ND and ND finishing higher than Gtown in the standings, but the bottom line is, the most likely determiner of a tie-breaker between MU and Nova will be whether or not Nova beats West Virginia tonight.

Not giving up on beating UConn or Lville either

This is not to indicate I am conceding MU losing at Louisville or at home to UConn. But based on the last few years and matchups, I have a better feel for our chances against Pitt. I actually already have good seats and plane tickets to Pitt, as well as to Milwaukee for UConn, and haven’t ruled out making the 7 hour Sunday drive up to Louisville March 1. But I still remember being mathematically eliminated from a 4-seed last year before our last game, and a West Virginia win tonight could give some nice extra cushion and make sure we have a shot in the Big East tourney, and are rested up for the NCAA run.

After the strange feeling of cheering along with the Fighting Irish last night, I guess I can root for Huggins for one night as well. Go Mountaineers!?


Anonymous said...

Overall a great column; however there is one scenario that hasn't been accounted for. Villanova beat Pitt, so without a win over 1 of the 3 teams ahead of this the tie-breaker never reaches West Virginia.

MU needs to beat UConn or Louisville to own the tiebreaker, or at a minimum beat Pitt to extend it. (Assuming Pitt finishes 3rd in the conference)

JohnPudner said...

Good catch Scottieduntknow. Most of the summaries of the Big East tie-breaking rules simply refer to "next highest seed," being the next tie-breaker, I guess because they are assuming we are talking about a 1-seed. However, I did manage to dig back up the actual rules after seeing your post, and you will note the mistake in that paragraph was fixed with credit to you.

HoopsMalone said...

If we beat Pitt on the road, then where are the other 3 losses. I am assuming you are assuming that we lost to UConn at the BC and Louisville at Freedom Hall for the four losses. But we gotta beat St. John's and Seton Hall. That leaves G-town on the road and Syracuse at home. G-town could not guard us, and even though we never beat Syracuse, it will be senior day at home against a team who is not playing well.

I like our chances to escape the Big East with 4 losses, not 5.

Chris @ IBBW said...

Marquette has a murderer's row down the stretch, so that definitely helps 'Nova.

I still think that Marquette will get the double-bye and the most likely team to slip out is L'Ville.

They looked AWFUL last night against ND and still have 3 tough roadies (Cincy, G'Town, WVU) as well as a home game with you guys.

They technically have the "easiest" schedule down the stretch but I see them dropping a couple more games.

Anonymous said...

Good call on the West Virginia game. Couldn't stand cheering for Huggins, but they stepped up and helped us out.