Just in case you aren’t nauseated by bubble talk yet, there are a number of key games involving bubble teams on Wednesday. Some have opportunities to pick up signature wins, while others have “can’t lose” road games as they look to solidify their profile heading into their respective conference tournaments.
Here’s a quick look at the nine of these key matchups:
Dayton at Richmond – 7:00 ET
The Flyers are among the last four in or last four out in virtually every set of bracket projections out there after beating Duquesne and UMass last week to move to 8-6 in the Atlantic 10. They have two winnable games remaining, but they can’t slip up here against Richmond. Dayton should have a tremendous advantage on the offensive glass, as they rank first in OReb% in league play while the Spiders allow opponents to grab 36.8% of their misses. The Flyer’s strong FTR should also be a factor on the offensive end. Normally, I would call out Dayton’s defensive struggles in conference play as a reason to worry, but they have improved over the last few games, while Richmond’s offense hasn’t looked prolific enough to take advantage of UD’s shortcomings.
Marquette at Cincinnati – 7:00 ET
The debate on Cincinnati’s profile has been somewhat polarizing, as many value their quality wins over Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, and Notre Dame while others are quick to skewer them over an extremely weak non-conference schedule. Consequently, this game has a chance to move the dial, particularly in light of how well Marquette has played of late. When the Bearcats have the ball, keep an eye on their turnover rate, as UC ranks first in the Big East at just 14.8% while Marquette is second best at forcing turnovers with a 23.5% rate against them. In the first meeting, Cincinnati had success at getting to the free throw line (38.8 FTR), and they grabbed 50% of their misses on their way to 1.10 points per possession. However, the Bearcats surrendered a staggering 1.34 ppp, allowing the Golden Eagles to post a 62.5 eFG% and a 40.0 FTR. Interestingly, that is the only game in the last eight contests where Cincinnati has allowed over 1.00 ppp, so their defense in this game will have to be the difference.
Massachusetts at Temple – 7:00 ET
I’m not sure the Minutemen have much of a shot to earn an at-large, but a road win over Temple would be their third Top 50 victory and would give them a great chance to get to 10-6 in the league. Outside of Saturday’s blowout loss to Dayton, UMass has not allowed an opponent to score over 1.03 ppp in league play. However, that will be a tall order against a Temple team ranked in the Top 20 nationally in offensive efficiency. Perhaps more concerning for the Minutemen is the fact that they are coming off of a dismal offensive performance where they managed just 0.65 ppp and posted a 28.8 eFG% against the Flyers. Temple isn’t a lockdown defensive club, but they have been much better on that end of the floor since the return of Micheal Eric.
Saint Joseph’s at Saint Bonaventure – 7:00 ET
I realize this is starting to look like an A-10-centric post, but I promise to hit some other leagues. Like Dayton, Saint Joe’s is consistently listed among the last four in and last four out. The Hawks suffered a disappointing home loss to Richmond last week but salvaged their at-large hopes with a win over Temple, and if they can win this game they would finish 10-6 in the league. Interestingly enough, the Bonnies have been better in terms of both offensive and defensive efficiency during A-10 play. They rank second on the defense end and are second in both eFG% defense and DReb%. The one area Saint Joe’s may have an advantage is in FTR where they rank fifth compared to Saint Bonaventure’s 11th-ranked opponents’ FTR. On the other end of the floor, the Bonnies have the top FTR and rank third in eFG% and OReb%. However, Saint Joe’s boasts the same rankings on defense, and these two teams have identical rankings in all four factors. Everything indicates this game will be decided by just a few points, so keep an eye on the final outcome.
South Florida at Louisville – 7:00 ET
I am still not sold on the Bulls, but this is a great chance to add some meat to their profile. If USF is going to win on the road here, their defense will likely be the reason. They rank fourth in defensive efficiency in the league and are second in eFG% defense and DReb%, although as I wrote last week they have struggled with more explosive offensive teams. I’m not sure the Cardinals exactly fit that description, but they do have some weapons who can get hot and feed off of the home crowd. If they are aggressive in attacking the basket, they may also be able to capitalize on a relatively poor opponents’ FTR for USF. Despite a schedule light on the conference’s top defensive teams, USF ranks just 10th in offensive efficiency and is dead last in TO%. Louisville’s pressure will be a factor in that regard, and the Cardinal defense ranks third in the league in efficiency. They also boast the Big East’s top two-point defense, which should pose issues for a South Florida squad that gets 58.6% of their points inside the arc.
Mississippi State at South Carolina – 8:00 ET
Considering MSU’s five-game losing streak as well the opponent, this is simply a game the Bulldogs cannot lose. Don’t expect Mississippi State to have trouble scoring against the league’s least efficient defense, as the Gamecocks rank 10th or worse in three of the four factors. On the other end, it will be a battle of futility as the 11th-ranked South Carolina offense will square off against the 11th-ranked MSU defense. In short, don’t expect any instructional videos to come out of this one.
Ohio State at Northwestern – 8:30 ET
The Wildcats need this win to give themselves a shot at a .500 league record, and another marquee win would help move them out of the last four in/last four out crowd. Recent history would indicate this will be a close game as the last two matchups between these teams in Evanston have been decided by a total of four points. Northwestern boasts the top eFG% in league play and has a relatively low TO%, but Ohio State ranks second in defensive efficiency and are in the Top Three in all four factors. While that matchup is one of strength on strength, that won’t be the case at the other end of the floor. The Wildcats have the least efficient defense in league play, and 11 of their last 12 foes have scored at least 1.07 ppp. In fact, eight of those teams have scored at least 1.14 ppp, and OSU had 1.28 ppp in the first meeting between these teams. Offensive rebounding is a huge concern with the Buckeyes grabbing 35.5% of their misses and the Wildcats ranking dead last in DReb%.
Miami (FL) at North Carolina State – 9:00 ET
Following Sunday’s win over Florida State, the Canes are either just in or just out of the field depending on which set of projections you look at, which makes this game one they cannot afford to lose. The Wolfpack won the first matchup between these teams but have faded recently by losing four straight. NC State has struggled defensively in recent games, allowing five of the last six opponents to score at least 1.06 ppp after doing so just twice in their first eight ACC games. Miami ranks third in offensive efficiency during league play, thanks in large part to solid two-point shooting and offensive rebounding. The status of big man Reggie Johnson is unknown, but if he remains suspended, his absence will hurt against a solid NC State frontline. Even with Johnson in the mix, the Hurricanes have struggled to limit opponents’ offensive rebounds, which is an area where the Wolfpack have excelled. Despite the fact that North Carolina State comes in on a losing streak, this won’t be an easy win for Miami, and a loss would hurt their profile due to a lack of quality wins.
UNLV at Colorado State – 10:00 ET
The Rams have solid computer numbers, and a win here would give them a perfect home record in Mountain West play. That said, they have yet to win a league road game, so even a victory here might not be enough. While Colorado State’s overall defensive numbers aren’t great, they have been a different team at home. Only one MWC team (TCU) has scored more than 0.93 ppp against them in Fort Collins, while every team has scored at least 1.06 ppp against them on the road with a number of even uglier performances mixed in. Consequently, I’m not sure how much the fact that UNLV appears superior on that end of the floor even matters. The Rebels also have better defensive numbers, but again, the Rams have been more efficient at home even though they have generally struggled against the tougher defensive teams they have faced. UNLV won the first matchup by 19 when these teams faced off on February 1st, but they have lost their last three road games. In fact, their only two league road victories came in overtime against Boise State and Air Force, so don’t be surprised if the Rebels struggle against a Rams team that is dramatically better on its home floor.
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