With Thanksgiving Break over, I'll be back to regular blog posts. So without further ado, a rather long recap of the best action since Turkey Day:
George Mason 87, #20 Kansas State 77
#19 Villanova 84, George Mason 76
A good set of tests for Jim Larranaga's boys. The Kansas State win is certainly a resume builder, although K-State was probably over-ranked at #20. The Villanova matchup was a very close one the entire way (the final score was actually deceptively large), although I'm still not sure what to make of Jay Wright's team. They could be a Top 15 team, but they could also end up as a bubble team. Either way, the fact is that Mason is for real this year. Will Thomas has been a monster on the inside (averaging 17 and 11) and they are oozing with experienced talent. The only real longterm question I have with this team is its depth. Larranaga starts 3 seniors and 2 juniors, and doesn't use much else. His bench is averaging a combined 10.4 points per game. The problem with a lack of depth is that the team eventually wears out. Plus, any injury is really a killer. Remember last year's Alabama team which had an outstanding starting five and almost nothing else, and ended up missing the Tournament. If George Mason can find a little bit more depth then they will be in great shape for a Tournament bid. But don't write them in your bracket with ink quite yet.
#18 Southern Illinois 63, Mississippi State 49
The Salukis have had a very quiet start to their season. They were one of the last teams in the nation to play their first game, and they haven't had much in the way of national tv exposure yet. There haven't been many opportunities, with only three games in the bank so far. But this lack of exposure means that a lot of people are sleeping on this team. You may not believe this, but these guys are almost definitely better than the 18th best team in the country. I still only have them as 5-seed in the BP65 simply because the Missouri Valley is a little bit down this year, which means that the Salukis can only get a 3 or 4 seed if they completely run through the conference. And I just don't see that as a likely scenario. But, make sure you get a chance to watch these guys play. Their defense is, as always, absolutely ferocious. And they have a very experienced trio of Randal Falker, Bryan Mullins and Matt Shaw that can put up points on the offensive end. Most people will be in their homes tonight, and you probably have cable or satellite, so pop onto ESPN2 at 11pm ET tonight. SIU plays USC in what could be a coming-out game for this team.
#15 Texas A&M 70, Ohio State 47
A final score that is a big mind-boggling, to say the least. A&M has been playing well, but nothing too special. And Ohio State had looked good. With Michigan State struggling, Indiana with question marks and Wisconsin still unproven, Ohio State was looking like a possible favorite in the Big Ten. Of course, I wouldn't necessarily consider this a sign of things to come. This Ohio State team is actually better offensively than they were last year (although obviously, without Oden, inferior on the defensive end and in the rebounding game). They simply couldn't shoot if their life depended on it in this one. The final count was 25% shooting and 4-21 from behind the arc. So was this a superior defensive effort on the part of the Aggies, or was this just an aberration by the Buckeyes? I'm leaning more towards the latter. Even if you didn't see the game, you can check out the box score: A&M only forced five turnovers the entire game. The defense did a great job, for sure, but this result was a fluke. I think these teams are still comparable in overall talent, and I wouldn't count Ohio State out of the Big Ten race yet. I'd say that this result says more about A&M, which has proved that they can win big games in the post-Billy Gillespie era. I doubted this team after Gillespie jumped ship, but I'm becoming a believer.
Texas Tech 73, #14 Gonzaga 63
Again, something of a fluky score. Texas Tech hasn't looked too good this season, other than this game, so I wouldn't jump on their bandwagon quite yet. But I'm highlighting this game because of the emergence of talented junior Alan Voskuil. After coming off the bench his first two years, he has exploded for 15 points per game this year on 61% shooting. In this game he put up 28 points, 7 boards, 4 assists and 4 steals while playing great perimeter defense. Hardly anybody outside of the state of Texas has heard of this kid yet, but don't be surprised to see him make a cameo on the All-Big 12 team.
#16 Texas 97, #7 Tennessee 78
Everyone thought that the Longhorns were all about Kevin Durant last year, but he was just one of the many talented players that Rick Barnes has brought into Austin. Witness DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams, who torched the Vols for 44 points on 16-29 shooting. The only question mark with the Horns is on the inside, where I'm not completely sold on sophomore center Connor Atchley yet. Rick Barnes has two tall freshmen to work with as well, in Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman. Expect to see one or both of them get some extended time as Barnes tries to put together the team with the best shot to win the Big 12. Kansas is still the more talented team, but Texas has the more impressive wins so far.