A Look at Saturday’s Key Games Involving Bubble Teams

This is the final weekend of the regular season for most of the top conferences, and plenty of teams still have work to do.  Here’s a look at some of Saturday’s biggest games involving bubble teams.  

 Pittsburgh at Connecticut – 12:00 ET

The Huskies are now just 5-11 in their last 16 games, and even a win here only gets them to 8-10 in the Big East.  They do have a number of Top 50 wins, but that may not be enough if they can’t find a way to string together a couple victories.  The Panthers have struggled with turnovers in Big East play, but UConn doesn’t have a strong enough TO% to take advantage of that.  Watch the battle on the glass, as Pitt ranks second in league play in OReb%, while the Huskies are in the middle of the pack on the defensive glass.  Overall, UConn has allowed five of their last seven opponents to score 1.08 points per possession, but the Panthers have scored 0.89 ppp or less in four of their last six.  Pitt’s defense has been just a shell of what we have come to expect, but I’m not sure Connecticut’s offense will be able to take advantage.  They are last in the league in three-point shooting and rank in the middle of the pack in terms of eFG%, TO%, and FTR.  Their best attribute is a solid OReb%, but the Panthers’ strength is on the defensive glass.  After one five-game stretch where they failed to break 1.00 ppp, the Huskies have now scored at least 1.03 ppp in five of the last six, which at least gives them some momentum coming in.

West Virginia at South Florida – 12:00 ET

Suddenly, this game may mean more for West Virginia than it does for USF.  It’s shaping up to be strength on strength when the Mountaineer offense squares off against the tough South Florida defense, while it will be weakness on weakness at the other end of the floor.  Don’t expect West Virginia to do much damage from three-point range, as they have made just 29.2% from deep in league play while the Bulls have the second-best three-point defense in the league.  The battle on the glass should be fantastic, because WVU is first in OReb% and USF is second in DReb%.  No matter how ugly South Florida’s offense has looked, they won’t face much resistance from the 11th-ranked West Virginia defense.  The key difference looks to be two-point shooting, where USF ranks third at 49.5% compared to a Mountaineer defense that allows 52.1% on twos.

George Washington at Dayton – 12:00 ET

Look for Dayton’s offense to be the difference here, as the Flyers rank second in offensive efficiency in league play while GW is 11th on defense.  Dayton has the best OReb% in the league, which should pay dividends against the Colonials, who have really struggled to clean the defensive glass.  The Flyers also appear to have a sizeable advantage in terms of FTR, which will serve them well as the best free throw shooting team in A-10 play.

Charlotte at Xavier – 2:00 ET

This is a game the Musketeers simply cannot afford to lose at home, and a victory would get them to 10-6 in the Atlantic 10.  Charlotte’s offense is 13th in the league, and the only area where the 49ers have a statistical advantage is in FTR, which doesn’t necessarily help a team that shoots free throws very poorly.  On the other end of the floor, Xavier has a distinct shooting advantage, which they exploited for a 53.4 eFG% in the first meeting between these two teams. 

Washington at UCLA – 2:00 ET

With a win, the Huskies will clinch the outright Pac-12 Title.  The Bruins are coming off of one of their best offensive performances of the year, scoring 1.32 ppp against Washington State earlier this week.  However, they managed over 1.00 ppp just once in the prior seven contests.  On the defensive end, UCLA has been solid in conference play, allowing over 0.97 ppp just twice in the last 10 games.  Unfortunately for them, one of them came against the Huskies, who managed 1.06 in their first meeting.  Washington continues to be a Jekyll and Hyde story on offense, scoring 1.10 ppp or more in three of their last six games but being held to 0.97 or less in the others.  Offensive rebounding and turnovers should be critical, as the Washington offense and UCLA defense rank in the Top Three in both categories.

Northwestern at Iowa – 2:30 ET

After yet another heart-breaking loss, the Wildcats face a must-win game at Iowa to close out the regular season.  They scored a ridiculous 1.41 ppp in the first matchup with the Hawkeyes, but Iowa has played better defensively of late, holding three of their last five opponents to 1.00 ppp or less.  Meanwhile, the Wildcat defense continues to be abysmal, as 12 of their last 13 foes have scored at least 1.07 ppp, with nine reaching the 1.14 mark.  They have also been allowing offensive rebounds at a staggering rate, and Iowa ranks in the top half of the league in OReb%.  The Hawkeyes should also be able to exploit Northwestern’s 10th-ranked three-point defense, because Iowa has made 38.4% from deep in league play.  I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the Wildcats won, but many of the numbers are not in their favor.

Alabama at Ole Miss – 4:00 ET

The Tide are on a four-game winning streak heading into this game, while Ole Miss is trying to keep their seemingly slim at-large hopes alive.  The Rebels have struggled defensively of late with five of their last seven foes scoring 1.06 ppp or more, but they did hold Alabama to 0.93 ppp in their first matchup.  The Tide’s offensive struggles should keep this one close, but their defense should be the difference.  They rank first in efficiency in SEC play and have allowed just two of their last 10 opponents to score over 0.96 ppp.  The one area where the Rebels have a clear advantage is in FTR, where their 40.0 mark is third in the league.  Alabama has allowed a 38.2 FTR against them in SEC play, but unfortunately, Ole Miss shoots a league-worst 60.3% from the stripe.

Colorado State at Air Force – 4:00 ET

The Rams continued their stellar play at home by beating UNLV earlier this week, but this is their last chance at a conference road win.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, the home/road efficiency splits for CSU are staggering, but I will have serious concerns if they can’t get it done against the Falcons.  Air Force is last in the league in offensive efficiency with eight games of 0.90 ppp or less.  They are a little better on defense, but the Rams have a distinct advantage in FTR, where they are tops in the league.  So long as they can limit turnovers, they should be able to pick up that elusive MWC road victory.

Arkansas at Mississippi State – 5:00 ET

The Bulldogs avoided a crushing loss at South Carolina, but they still need to win this game to finish at .500 in SEC play.  Don’t expect much defense here, as MSU is 10th in defensive efficiency, followed closely by Arkansas at 11th.  The Bulldogs have allowed five of their last six foes to score at least 1.05 ppp, while the Hogs have surrendered at least 1.08 ppp in six of seven.  Turnovers are a potential concern against Arkansas’ second-ranked TO%, but they should have a distinct advantage on the glass even though they rank just 11th in OReb%.  Mississippi State should be able to win this one at home, but there are few teams that are tougher to figure out than the Bulldogs so you just never know.

Texas at Kansas – 9:00 ET

With a win here, the Longhorns could essentially cement a bid, but Pomeroy only gives them a 14% chance to spring the upset.  I think that might actually be too high.  Kansas is first in defensive efficiency in league play, and they hold opponents to a league-best 40.5% from two-point range.  That’s not good news for a Texas team that hits less than 33% from deep.  The Longhorns boast an impressive 45.7 FTR in league play and score 26.4% of their points from the stripe, so as long as KU can avoid whistles, Texas will struggle to score.  On the other end, the Jayhawks are second in the conference in offensive efficiency.  They rank second in eFG% as well at 54.0%, which doesn’t bode well for a Longhorn defense that is eighth in eFG% defense.  Kansas also holds an advantage on the offensive glass, and I just can’t see a young Texas squad stealing a win at The Phog.    

Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball.