Welcome to the college basketball season! With the college football regular season complete, casual college sports fans will begin to redirect their gaze toward the hardwood. Today gets a bit of a slow start, with only the Illinois-Arizona matchup worth paying attention to right now. But a few good matchups start up soon, at 2pm eastern time, followed by a bunch of good games later in the day. Before I get to the things to watch for today, a quick review of some important games over the last few days that I haven't talked about yet:
#4 Georgetown 70, Alabama 60
A decent win for a Georgetown team that has been a bit of a question mark so far this season. Sure, they're ranked fourth in the country, but they still have yet to beat a ranked team. This is the best opponent they've played, and the Hoyas showed a lot of poise and maturity in hanging in while Bama went on a few runs and got the crowd going in the second half. Mykal Riley, especially, got the crowd going with a run of three-pointers. For the game he hit 4-of-7, moving to 44% for the season. I think Alabama is still trying to define their game without Ronald Steele, but they should be pretty good as the season goes on. I still think they will be a Tournament team, although they'll obviously have to pull out some of these close games eventually. They get three good opportunities at home before the conference season starts, against Missouri State, George Washington and Clemson. If they can win at least two of those, then the out-of-conference resume will be good enough for an at-large bid.
Drake 79, Iowa State 44
I want to take a moment to point out how great the start of the season has been for Drake. I didn't think they would be a good team in the preseason, and I still don't think they're going to make the Tournament in the end, but it's hard to not be impressed with what the Bulldogs have done so far. This is their biggest win so far, but they also have six other wins including a good one over Duquesne. They have one loss, but ask a fan of Oregon how easy it is to play at St. Mary's. They get one more chance at a good out-of-conference win when they head to Iowa City on Friday to play the Hawkeyes. After that it becomes all about the conference schedule, as Drake probably needs to finish in 4th place or better in the Valley to get an at-large bid. As for Iowa State, the return of Wes Johnson is a welcome development. They now have a whole lot of size, and should be able to rebound with anybody. But they lack a single real playmaker on the outside, and they simply can't create a lot of good shooting opportunities. I think this team is going to really struggle to score all season, and they'll be lucky to make the NIT.
#6 Washington State 51, #19 Gonzaga 47
A very important game not only for pride in the state of Washington, but because of the national implications. For one thing, Washington State's ranking was completely undeserved up until this point. Their best win before this one was a three-pointer at Baylor. A win at Gonzaga really establishes the Cougars as an elite team yet again. Although one worry has got to be ballhandling. They couldn't handle Gonzaga's tight defense, turning the ball over 16 times while creating only eight assists. It would have cost them the game if the Zags hadn't done them a favor by shooting 26% from the field. I'm still not sold on this being a Top Ten team, but they will certainly contend for a top spot in the Pac-10. As for Gonzaga, they have to be frustrated at the missed opportunity. Poor shooting cost them a game that they should have won. They took ten more shots from the field and three more free throws, and it's not as if Washington State shot the lights out either (only 25% from behind the arc). Regardless, Gonzaga will yet again end up with a pretty good out-of-conference resume. But yet again, they'll have to basically run through the WCC if they want to be the higher seed in Round one of the Tournament.
#21 Villanova 68, LSU 67
A heartbreaking loss for an LSU team that really needed a win. They led by 21 points with eight and a half minutes to go, but let Villanova come all the way back and win on a Dante Cunningham layup with under ten seconds to go. LSU still seems to be suffering from a Final Four hangover, in addition to the fact that this team is not really any more talented than the team that finished with an RPI of 89 last year. If I had to pick one thing to pick on, it's a lack of an interior presence, but there isn't really any one obvious fix that needs to be made. LSU is now 0-3 this season against teams from BCS conferences, and desperately needs to finish December strong if they want to remain in the bubble discussion. As for Nova, certainly a very impressive comeback. They have established themselves as a Top 25 team and a real contender in the Big East. Unlike the Big 12, Pac 10 and ACC, there is no real great team in the Big East. Louisville, Georgetown and Pitt are all ranked high, but all still have major question marks. At this point, anybody talking potential Big East champions has got to mention the Wildcats. Nova doesn't have any real tough teams to play before the conference season, but they open up with a big matchup against Pitt on January 6th. Home games against elite teams are essential if you want to win a BCS conference, so keep an eye on that one.