Saturday, January 27, 2007

Quick Recap

Just a quick run through some of the key Tournament-related games of the last week, before we get to today's games:

Auburn 81, #12 Alabama 57
Another embarassing performance by the Tide. I've talked before about how thin this team is, and I think this is leading to a situation where they're taking plays (or even entire games) easy. In this one, especially, Bama did not want to run with the excited Auburn Tigers, giving up the ball and easy lay ups. Auburn's 12 steals were the cause of their 58% shooting night, not any especially hot shooting hands. Another interesting thing to look at are the minutes. As you can by looking at the box score, Alabama simply doesn't believe in using their bench. Brandon Hollinger got a lot of time off the bench, spelling Richard Hendrix during his foul trouble. But the rest of the bench combined for 6 minutes. All of them combined! There's just no way for a team to have enough energy night in and night out if their starters have to play every minute. This has to be a huge red flag when the Tournament comes around, when you have to wonder how this team will be able to play two games in three days, which they would have to do every week that they survive.

#23 Virginia Tech 92, Miami 85
You have to give Tech credit for hanging in there after their UNC/Duke victory week. This was a team that wasn't a very serious bubble contender, and then went out and won two very close games. You expect a team like that to get a ton of hype and then fade back into mediocrity as soon as the spotlight is off. But they're continuing to win the games you need to win (like this one, over a very mediocre Miami team), and setting up a pretty good ACC record. A 10-6 conference record should be enough to get a bid. They're already 5-1, which means a .500 record the rest of the way should do the trick. They've got a few difficult road games, so it will be important to grab a win tomorrow at Georgia Tech. A loss there won't be devastating, but it will just be a missed opportunity. If they finish out 9-7 in the ACC, you have to wonder if their two big wins will be enough. Remember, their best out-of-conference win was over Appalachian State.

Southern Illinois 56, Northern Iowa 54
Enough of these last-possession wins and they stop becoming a fluke. Southern Illinois has just continued to win, despite a lack of an offensive star, and are now the team to beat in the Valley. Usually a team that wins a lot of games at the buzzer is a team with an offensive star - someone who can hold for one and just beat his man for the score. The Salukis, on the other hand, are a team of defensive stars. They excel at making the big stops at the end of the game, like they did in this one. As usual, they also took care of the ball, giving up only 6 turnovers to 23 for Northern Iowa. Both of these teams are probably Tournament teams, but the conference regular season crown will definitely affect seeding.

Vanderbilt 64, #22 LSU 53
Another bad loss for LSU, a perplexing team because they have so much talent. This is a team that many considered a Championship contender when the year started, and is now considered a Bubble team. I still think this team will end up with a halfway decent seed, but nothing like what most analysts had expected. On the other hand, this is the kind of win that boosts Vandy's resume. Like most teams with inferior talent, Vanderbilt won this one with defense. They forced LSU's big men to kick things out, then forced bad shots on the perimeter. 32% shooting isn't going to beat too many people.

Washington 89, #7 Oregon 77
A game Washington needed to win to stay viable as a bubble team contender. They managed to beat the Ducks by playing their game, beating the ball inside for a lot of easy shots. Oregon was just too small to handle Brockman and Hawes in the paint. They were forced to overcompensate, which also opened up some nice shots on the perimeter. Even with this win, however, Washington's resume is still awful. The win over LSU isn't looking nearly as impressive. And that 2-6 record in conference is just going to be really difficult to overcome. They need to play almost perfect the rest of the year to have a shot at the Tournament.

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