A lot of elite teams went down this weekend, several to marginal bubble teams making one last run at an at-large bid. Let's get it started:
North Carolina State 83, #3 North Carolina 79
The epitome of what I'm talking about. Another hiccup for North Carolina, but no real reason for the Tar Heels to panic. They're only one of three two-loss teams in the ACC, but i don't think anyone considers Boston College or Virginia a serious threat to the regular season crown. UNC is without a doubt the best team in the conference. And on the plus side, Duke fell as well, so it's not like the Blue Devils have a real shot at the title, even if they win out. As for the Wolfpack, this keeps the fans hopeful for an at-large birth, but I wouldn't give them too much of a chance. Their 3-5 conference record isn't horrible, but they're 2-7 against the RPI Top 50, with an RPI of 105. That's not even close to a bid.
Boston College 80, #18 Virginia Tech 59
Clearly there is life after Sean Williams. After a few tough games they're back with a vengeance, and are in a great position for the second half of their conference season. At 7-2 in the ACC they have a good shot to finish in the top three in the conference, which will assure them a good seed. And speaking of teams that don't deserve a top seed, I hope I'm not the only one surprised at Tech coming back to Earth. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon after those two huge upsets, but this team just isn't that great. They still will probably make the Tournament, but don't expect them to seriously contend for the ACC title. They still have an RPI of 33, and remain fourth in the ACC at 6-3. They have enough winnable games to get the 9-7 record they probably need to get in the Tournament. A huge test will be the home-and-home with Virginia, another bubble team and their big rival. Both those teams could see themselves fall out of the Tournament if swept. Should be some good ball.
Georgia Tech 80, #21 Clemson 62
Just like NC State, this win keeps Tech's season alive. After a good start to the year, the Yellow Jackets had really stumbled with four straight losses that dropped them to 2-6 in the ACC and out of everyone's bracket. 3-6 isn't all too impressive either, but atleast it keeps them in contention. They have a surprisingly good RPI of 61 with wins over Duke and Memphis, in addition to this one. They have the resume wins, but just need to stop blowing the easy games. Speaking of a team with big wins and some blown easy games, what has happened to Clemson? Five losses in their last six games, it's like they forget how to win. Without a doubt they've played good teams - their other four losses were against Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. But they're now 4-5 in the ACC with an RPI that has dropped out of the Top 20. Of course, if the season ended now they'd be in the Tourney. But if they finish 8-8 in the ACC, will the Selection Committee be willing to put them in? Tough question. Clemson needs to win five of their last seven conference games to put that issue to bed.
#8 Texas A&M 69, #6 Kansas 66
A gigantic win for a school without much history of basketball success. This team really needs big nights from Acie Law IV to win big games, and they've been getting those a lot this year. In addition, due to the unbalanced schedule, this is the only meeting between these two teams this year. The key will be the two games against Texas, starting with a huge one tonight. They can take one more loss and still win the Big 12 title, but a Texas sweep will do them in. A Big 12 title should give them a #2 seed, a remarkable achievement for Billy Gillespie.
Kansas State 73, #23 Texas 72
A huge win for Bob Huggins that validates the run that this team has been on lately. That's now seven straight wins, moving them to an impressive 17-6 and 6-2 in the Big 12. An RPI of 39 and a decent 6-6 vs. the RPI Top 100 has them in a spot where, if the season ended now, they'd almost definitely be in the Big Dance. Do they have the talent to keep this up? Maybe not. They still have a home-and-home with kansas, and another game at Okie State. I see a final record around 10-6, which will be enough. As for Texas, another huge day out of Kevin Durant, but he needs more support from his teammates if Texas is going to be a real elite team. Getting 32 points is great, but it means more when it's done through the flow of the offense, and not because the team just watches him do his thing.
Brigham Young 90, #25 UNLV 63
I'm not too surprised BYU knocked off the Rebs, but rather the gigantic margin of victory. This game was never close. They are now looking pretty good for March, with an RPI inside the Top 30. More importantly, this moves them ahead of UNLV in the standings. It's not that likely that the Selection Committee wants to give the Mountain West three bids, so it's imperative for these two teams to grab second place from the other. In fact, BYU can still think about winning the conference outright. They already beat Air Force at home, and the sweep would probably do it. As for UNLV, they continue to have a great RPI (11), but they are far from a sure thing. They are only 6-3 in the conference, so can probably only lose two more games. A win over Air Force in a few weeks would probably be enough to get them in, though.
Villanova 57, Louisville 53
This game was much more important for Nova than Louisville. The Cardinals are still in good shape in the Big East, but a loss here would have dropped Nova to 3-6 and with a possibility of dropping out of the Big East Tournament, let alone the other Tournament. With their good strength of schedule, and several good resume wins, they should have enough to get in with a 9-7 record. Their schedule gets easier, but not that much easier. It won't be that trivial to finish 5-2. Louisville, meanwhile, remains at 6-3 and in contention for one of the four byes in the first round of the Big East Tourney. In a lot of ways, they're the anti-Virginia Tech, with no big wins (an awful 0-5 versus the RPI Top 50) but without a lot of bad losses. Their RPI remains weak (62nd), but that should improve due to an increasing schedule alone. Besides, they still have South Florida, St. John's and Seton Hall at home. One more win brings them to 10-6, and it's hard to see the Big East getting denied a 10-6 team.
#22 Arizona 84, Washington 54
I don't know how many people noticed this, but entering this game the Wildcats had lost six of their last eight games and still had an RPI of 8th in the country. That has to be unprecedented. They've had a ridiculously tough schedule, so losing some games shouldn't be held against them. It's ridiculous that some people have dropped Zona to a ten seed, or worse. No way does this team get anything worse than a six seed. If they can finish strong and get something like 11 wins in the Pac-10, they could get as high as a three seed. They're still in sixth in the conference, but there's a real logjam ahead of them. A few wins and they'll scoot right back up near the top of the conference. As for Washington, they're now 4-7 and 8th in the conference. Add that to a 1-7 road record and an RPI of 75, and this team is pretty much done. Their last gasp will be this week against California, currently holding down 7th in the conference. A loss there will end the season officially.
Southern Illinois 54, Wichita State 46
Another big win over a tough opponent for the Salukis. I know that a lot of analysts still consider Creighton the class of the Valley, but no one has been more consistenly good than SIU. They don't have many marquee wins, but you can't ignore their RPI of 9. The longer they keep winning, the further they'll climb up everyone's bracket. As for the Shockers, another missed opportunity to establish the good conference record they need to stay in the Tournament. Their recent struggles have been compounded by the fact that those wins over LSU and Syracuse aren't looking as hot as they did a couple months ago. The RPI has creeped back up to 54th, and will continue to rise if they can improve their conference record to something over .500, which is what they need to make the Tournament anyway. I can't see a 9-9 team getting out of the Valley. That means the Shockers need four of their last five conference games. The good thing is that three of them are at home, where they've only lost twice this season. And one of their two road games is against Drake, which is very winnable. If they do blow one of those games, however, the season could come down to the season finale at Creighton. That could be a monumental game - for both teams, if Creighton is still in the running for the conference title. The key will be getting the end of their season started on a good note, by taking care of their next two games at home against Illinois State and Indiana State. They have the experience necessary to win the winnable games, with their top seven minuter-grabbers, scorers and rebounders as seniors or juniors.
Florida State 68, #10 Duke 67
A massive win for an FSU team hoping to avoid another #1 seed in the NIT. At 17-6 and 5-4 in the ACC, along with an outstanding RPI of 18th in the country, they have the numbers. But this gives them another marquee win, to prove that the early win over Florida wasn't a fluke. Even better, they are done playing ranked teams, knowing that four wins in their last seven games will get them in the Tournament for sure. As for Duke, this is the first time in years that they've lost this many home games in one season. They're still probably looking at a three seed in the Tourney, maybe a four, but this loss probably ends any hope at the ACC title. It's really possible that both Duke and UNC lost this weekend because they were looking ahead to their big matchup this week in Durham. Add that to the motivation both those teams will have coming off bad losses and we might have an outstanding game. Actually, UNC/Duke is always great basketball. I, for one, can't wait.