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Wednesday, February 1, 2012
'Bag: MSU-Illinois the ugliest game ever?

By Eamonn Brennan

Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)

Thanks to a recent move, my video capabilities are still in a box in my new apartment somewhere. The video portion of the 'Bag will resume next week.

John in Champaign, Ill., writes: I'm an Illinois homer, and I'm happy we got a big résumé over a really good team ... but I can't be proud of that win. I'm asking seriously: Was this the ugliest game you've ever seen?

Eamonn Brennan: On Tuesday night, Illinois beat Michigan State, 42-41, in one of the ugliest games these eyes have ever seen. The Spartans' effective field goal percentage: 26.7. Illinois'? A robust 35.9. MSU turned the ball over on 28.6 percent of its possessions; at 21.4 percent, Illinois wasn't much better. Michigan State scored .73 points per trip; Illinois scored .75. At least two emailers asked the question: Was this the ugliest game of all time? The answer: no. I'll take last year's national championship game, particularly Butler's performance, as the ugliest game I've ever witnessed -- not only because it was incredibly ugly in and of itself, but also because it came on the sport's highest stage. But superlatives aside, I think we can all agree that last night's game was horrendous.

In fact, this game was so bad, that when I auto-tweeted last night's highlights post -- titled "Highlights: Illinois 42, Michigan State 41" -- a miniature Twitter roast ensued. Some of the best comments:
@sahadevsharna: assuming link leads to video of cartoon monkey playing organ grinder

@hickeybuns33: Surprised this video isn't 5 seconds long #slopfest

@johnschlenner: #OxymoronicTweets

@BK_BK_BK: just got back from the bar, where is the second half update? ... oh

@JPCIV: Highlights? None. #itsnotthe30sguys

@tuffyr: 42-41? "Highlights" seems optimistic.

And my personal favorite:
@Patrick16121: page not found

So, yeah. Ugly game, but hey, the Big Ten will do that sometimes. At the end of the day, Illinois recorded a win, and as far as the Big Ten standings and the NCAA tournament selection committee are concerned, the outcome is a thousand times more important than the process. But man, the process was bad, wasn't it?


@Chris_Mackinder writes: If MSU Draymond Green is done for the year, how do you think the committee will view MSU in terms of seeding?

Brennan: And then there's this. First of all, let's hope Draymond isn't out for the season. It appears he's going to be OK, so good news there. (There is no rooting interest here, but it would have been a shame for Green to lose the rest of his final season as a Spartan -- on a team that could very well go to a Final Four -- thanks to injury.) But to answer the question generally: It depends on how well Michigan State would have played the rest of the season without Green. If it showed few noticeable signs of decline, the committee would have to seed it the same way it would have had Green been in the lineup. But if Michigan State fell apart in the final few weeks with Green on the sideline, the committee would have to take into account the fact that the team it would be seeding in March would not be the same one that won all those games in November, December and January. Much like Purdue after Robbie Hummel's late-season injury in 2010, the Spartans' seed would be affected accordingly.


Dustin in D.C. writes: Hey Eamonn. We all know that when a team has a star player or solid glue guy get injured for a chunk of the year, the committee takes that into consideration when seeding and determining the teams in the tournament. But what about when a player is out because of different issues -- like academic or legal issues? For example, Fab Melo has been out of Syracuse's lineup for the past few games, and the team has look pretty unimpressive, although they have gone 2-1. If and Kentucky were to end the season in similar fashion, would the committee view Melo's absence in the same light as they would if he was injured? Would they say: "Oh, well with Melo, Syracuse is an undefeated team, while Kentucky can't really claim that same thing" or will they view his absence as something that was avoidable and therefore not view it in the same light? Verbose, but hopefully I got my question across here. This has always been something I've wondered about.

Brennan: At the end of the day, my guess -- or maybe my hope -- is that the committee treats each of these omission situations the same way whether it's an injury, an academic suspension, a legal issue, whatever.

Of course, each situation is different. For example, it would have been interesting to see (and perhaps it still will be) how the committee will view Xavier's bad home loss to Oral Roberts just days after the Dec. 10 brawl with Cincinnati. Xavier was playing without Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway and Dez Wells, but they were doing so for (incredibly regrettable) reasons of their own making. How does the committee view that loss? I'm not sure, exactly. But at the end of the day, the best the committee can do is to look at each team's situation relative to its performance and gauge it accordingly. If Melo isn't available by March, the committee will have to look at the team Syracuse is then, not the team it was with Melo. Of course, you don't just toss half the season out the window. It's a balance. But the calculus shouldn't change much.


JP in Stockton, Calif., writes: Why does the Pac-12 get their own weekly breakdown feature, and not more deserving conferences like the Mountain West, A-10, WCC, etc? It's absurd that having football dictates basketball coverage.

Brennan: I don't disagree! At least not this year. Here's the thing, though: Most seasons, the Pac-12 isn't anywhere near this bad. It's been bad lately, of course, but not nearly as bad as this. This is an outlier. And even so, there is still large fan support for many of these teams, which are all large, major universities with massive athletics budgets and resources most mid-majors can't touch. The league will be back in years to come.

Really, though, the power-conference power rankings aren't a matter of ranking leagues. There's no superiority or inferiority stated or implied. It's just ... kind of the way it is. If we ranked every league but the Pac-12, everyone would accuse us of East Coast bias, or something similar, and the complaints would hail down from all sides. Hopefully, we give you enough good A-10, MWC, WCC and MVC coverage throughout the week to balance it out. Either way, I empathize. Believe that. (As the guy charged with actually ranking that mess of a league every week, boy, do I ever empathize.)


@JamesGurland writes: Will the Seton Hall Pirates ever win a game? And if so, will they dance?

Brennan: The wheels appear to be coming off the Seton Hall bandwagon. It was a great story early in the year, and it'd be nice to see the Pirates -- with Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore, two guys with great and almost even inspiring stories -- get to the tournament in 2012. But it's not looking good. Seton Hall's nonconference schedule was very weak, and it lost the only game it played against even decent nonconference competition (Northwestern). The wins over West Virginia and Connecticut are nice, but with UConn struggling like it is, they don't look nearly as good as they once did. What's worse, the Pirates have now lost five in a row, with two more games on the road coming up; there's a legitimate possibility this team will lose seven in a row. If it does so, it will have to recover down the stretch in Big East play to keep their tournament bid alive.

In short: If Seton Hall was a stock, it'd be plummeting.


@kerrancejames writes: How in the world does Colorado State have the No. 3-ranked strength of schedule? The 5th-best team they've played is either Denver or Stanford.

Brennan: As yours truly plunged into the first edition of the Bubble Watch this week, I quickly realized that Colorado State might be the biggest RPI outlier in the system. No. 17? Really? It's strange.

Don't get me wrong: The Rams played a solid nonconference schedule. But it wasn't a Long Beach State-level buzzsaw. My guess: The Rams' SOS is helped in huge ways by its game at Duke, and Southern Miss -- which CSU played at home -- has a better-than-you'd-think RPI of 11, which certainly doesn't hurt. Plus, games at Stanford and Northern Iowa are solid road tests. But really, Colorado State's strength of schedule may have as much to do with what it doesn't have as what it does. Namely, lots of cupcake wins. The Rams played (and won) just seven games against foes ranked in below the RPI top 150 threshold, and the decent-to-great RPIs their conference foes (Air Force is the only Mountain West team ranked below the top 150, and the Rams play them twice down the stretch) have helped keep quote-unquote "bad" wins from weighing down an otherwise decent if unspectacular nonconference performance.

Every year, we get three or four good anecdotal reasons to hate the RPI. Or, rather, to hate its continued overuse by the NCAA. This, it would appear, is one of them.


Eduardo in Indianapolis writes: Read your blog entry on Damian Lillard, definitely enjoyed it. If for some reason he falls to a second-round draft prospect, do you think he'd consider the graduate transfer route, to a bigger program? He's a redshirt junior, so if he graduates this year, it's a possibility. What do you think?

Brennan: I don't know, and neither does Lillard, probably, but I'd be surprised if he fell out of the first round in this year's NBA draft. The class is hardly stocked with guard prospects, and teams that need a scoring point guard type will look to Lillard before nearly every other prospect on the board. Given that, it will be difficult for him to fall too far. Besides, he's having an amazing season. Concerns over his level of competition are already being brushed aside, and they should subside even further if/when Lillard plays well in pre-draft workouts the minute I'm not sure a transfer to a large, unfamiliar program -- where his talents could get lost in the fray -- would put Lillard in any better position that he is in right now. Maybe? But I tend to doubt it.


@T_Dwyer writes: What does Iowa State have to do the rest of the way to be a tourney team?

Brennan: In the immortal words of that one fish from "Finding Nemo," the Cyclones merely need to just keep swimming. Right now, given the soft bubble and the large number of bids that will likely be available to teams from demonstrably good power-six conferences -- the Big 12, Big Ten, Big East and SEC come specifically to mind -- Iowa State is in excellent position going forward.

But that doesn't mean that position is unimpeachable. The Cyclones still have to play Baylor twice, once in Waco. They still have Missouri on the road. In the next week, they'll play at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in consecutive games; it'd be good to at least split those contests. If so, Iowa State would be 17-7 and 7-4 in conference facing the following conference stretch run: Texas A&M, @Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, @Kansas State, @Missouri, Baylor. Let's be less than generous and say Iowa State beats A&M, Oklahoma and Texas Tech and loses to the three away games and the final home game to Baylor. That would make them 20-11 overall, 10-8 in the Big 12, with wins over Kansas and Kansas State, a presumably good RPI, and no losses outside the RPI top 100 to speak of. That's a solid NCAA tournament resume, in my opinion, but as you can see, it's not all that far away from the bubble.

Of course, anything can happen. Iowa State could lose both upcoming road games; A&M is playing better; Oklahoma is a decent road team; things could get ugly at Missouri or Baylor, and so on and so forth. There are plenty of possibilities here. But this team is good. Royce White is a beast. The Cyclones will make the tournament provided they don't suffer a drastic collapse, and with White playing the way he is, that possibility seems far less likely than any of the other, more middle-of-the-road scenarios.

I don't know where Hilton Magic fits into all this, but Iowa State doesn't need magic now. Mere solidity should do the trick.