Sunday, January 21, 2007

Status Quo Saturday

Analysts love to use phrases like "Upset Saturday" and "Surprise Saturday" as lead-ins, to excite the fan. Well, this Saturday was clearly "Status Quo Saturday." The teams that have done well so far... continued to do well. Just look at a game like UW vs. Wazzu. It would have been a surprise to someone who hadn't watched college basketball in the last 3 months, but at this point in the season that kind of result is pretty expected. The fact is that Washington just isn't a Tournament team, and Washington State is. So, moving on to the games:

#21 Washington State 75, Washington 47
We'll start with this one. Offense has really plagued the Huskies lately, and this was about as bad as it's gotten. They have several good spot shooters, like Ryan Appleby, but they have a lot of trouble getting open shots. With Brandon Roy gone they don't anyone who can slice into the lane and draw the defense. They were hurt by not having Spencer Hawes at their disposal, but that alone doesn't excuse 28% shooting. Of course, some credit has to be given for the stifling defense of Wazzu. They play very sound, solid defense. No open lay-ups or short jumpers. The exact kind of defense that will frustrate a team like Washington. Washington State should move into the Top 25 tomorrow, and they're looking great. As for Washington, I just don't see how they can make the NCAA Tournament at this point. Even if they play great the rest of way, they're already 1-6 in conference and have a slew of tough games the rest of the way. Even if they play great basketball, 9-9 would be a miracle finish. And this slump has gone on too long to just be entirely a slump. I think the lack of scorers and exciting players off the dribble just makes this a mediocre Washington team. I see them finishing 7-11 or 6-12, and barely over .500 overall. That won't even get them close.

#9 Alabama 78, Georgia 76
An important comeback for a Tide team that has not played too well lately. They had struggled in conference, including two losses by very bad margins, and needed this win to keep their SEC record at 2-2. You look at this Bama team, and you see the talent that makes a lot of people see a Top 10 team, but they just really struggle with depth. But on any given night, when they can just let their starters go wild, they have some great ability. Ronald Steele, especially, has been an All-SEC player showing NBA talent. He wasn't the leading scorer in this one, but he came up big at the end with that ridiculous shot to win the game. The comeback in this one was impressive, but they can't use this much energy night in and night out. They now have two winnable games before a battle for the SEC West in Baton Rouge.

#3 Wisconsin 71, Illinois 64
Speaking of Alabama, the opposite elite team is probably Wisconsin, a team that goes solid ten guys deep. The reason they continue to win and win and win (a nation-leading 15-straight) is because they can take a struggling player out and plug in another player who's just as good. As you go through a BCS conference schedule, you can't expect your stars to have good games every night. Alando Tucker may be the Player of the Year so far, but one player does not a National contender make. In this one, they were playing at an Illinois team that almost never loses at home. And historically, Wisconsin has struggled on the road (last season they went 14-2 at home, and 2-8 on the road). And with Sports Illustrated Cover Mates Tucker and Brian Butch struggling with 22 points on 8-25 shooting, this is the kind of game you'd expect the Badgers to lose. But off the bench comes Greg Stiemsma with 12 points on 5-6 shooting after only average 1.6 on the year. In comes freshman Trevon Hughes with a burst of energy. And more great tough defense and rebounding off the bench by Marcus Landry, brother of Purdue's Carl. Just a great all-around effort to pull out the tough win.

Indiana 77, Connecticut 73
An important survival win by the Hoosiers, and a good game for them to build on. They were outplayed for the most part, but shot out of their minds from the line (20-for-21) and behind the arc (9-for-18). It's the kind of win that will likely come in handy as they try to make their case to the selection committee in 7 weeks. As for Connecticut, I think we saw signs of a talented team that's finally showing signs of life. They really beat up the Hoosiers inside, outrebounding they 37 to 20. Jeff Adrien went for a double-double (15 and 12) while Stanley Robinson almost had one of his own (21 and 9). They also did a better job of holding the ball, with only 13 turnovers. If they play like this every night, they're going to make the Tournament. They won't suffer a team shooting over 95% from the line and 50% from behind the arc too often. As long as they continue to own the paint, they'll compete near the top of the Big East.

Southern Illinois 58, Creighton 57
A huge battle in the Missouri Valley, and a huge road win for the Salukis. Nothing spectacular out of their offense, as per usual, but they've proven that their tough defense can take the crowd out of any game. Because they lack a recognizable scorer, or an elite slasher, Southern Illinois will never be an elite team. They arne't going to run through the Missouri Valley. But they are such a solid and consistent team that they clearly have the capability of putting together the 13-5 record it will probably take to win the conference. It goes without saying that this last-second victory could be the difference at the end of the year, as Creighton is one of the four real contenders to win the Valley. Missouri State and Northern Iowa, the other two teams with a legitimate shot at the title, are also probably the other two teams that will make the Tournament out of the Valley.

Appalachian State 81, Davidson 74
It's not often that I write reviews of Southern Conference games, but this was a huge battle between two teams with remarkably high RPIs. Both teams have kept their RPIs up by running through the rest of the conference, but their RPIs will drop as their strength of schedule plummets throughout conference play. With this impressive win at Davidson, Appalachian State has to be considered the conference favorite now. They've taken the conference bid from Davidson in the newest BP65. And the conference bid will be essential for these two teams, since I really can't see either of them getting an at-large bid, despite ESPN and other websites listing them as bubble teams. Appalachian State is a very senior-heavy team, and they should have the maturity to continue rolling through the conference. And they will not be an easy out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by any means. Davidson, on the other hand, is still very young. They don't have any seniors getting anything but garbage minutes. Expect them to be a really good team next year. I hope they schedule some more real BCS opponents.

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