Just a quick post that will have to keep you until tomorrow. A few important games went down on Wednesday night, and I spoke about some of the most important results here. And as usual, nothing much of note on Friday night. So that just leaves Thursday evening's games. For the most part, Thursday evening was a Pac 10 showcase, but I'll start with the most important non-Pac 10 game:
#22 Xavier 69, #19 Dayton 43
Xavier's suffocating defense had its best performance of the year so far. A Dayton team that had been shooting the lights out was held to 30% from the field and 11% (2-for-18) from behind the arc. In general, a loss at Xavier would not be embarrassing for any team. But getting creamed this badly will be held against the Flyers. It's hard to tell what to make of their resume. In the out-of-conference part of the schedule Dayton had a slew of upsets. A win at Louisville, and the 25 point whooping of Pitt are both hugely impressive. The RPI is still outstanding (inside the Top 20). But a double-digit home loss to UMass followed by a 26 point demolition by Xavier? In and of themselves, they are outweighed by the Louisville and Pitt wins. Forget the scores - losses to UMass and Xavier aren't embarrassing by any means. If Dayton gets their act together and finishes 11-5 or 12-6 in the A-10, they're still probably getting an at-large bid. But I'm going to argue that I think these losses are indicative of the fact that Dayton was just overrated. The Pitt game involved a serious injury to Levance Fields, and came in the game after Mike Cook's (possibly) season-ending injury. Clearly Pitt struggled horribly dealing with new line-up combinations. And Dayton also has a history beating Louisville, including last season. Those wins still happened and still help the resume, but they make you think that this Dayton team is in for a disappointing second half. The Sagarin Ratings agree: His ELO_CHESS more or less agrees with the RPI (20th in the country) while his PREDICTOR agrees with my predictions (73rd in the Country). The ELO_CHESS and PREDICTOR will rarely end up a season with that kind of disparity, and historically it has been the PREDICTOR which is the better barometer of where the team will end the season. Depending on what happens tomorrow, I will put serious thought into moving Rhode Island into the Tournament while moving Dayton out. I'm sticking with my prediction of two A-10 teams in the Tournament, but I might change my projection of which two teams those are. Xavier's win here, obviously, doesn't change my projection of them as A-10 champions.
Arizona 76, #6 Washington State 64
Washington 72, Arizona State 61
#7 UCLA 80, Oregon 75
I'm just going to tackle the Pac-10 slate all at once. First of all, a key comeback for UCLA last night. I was too tired to stay up for the end of that game, and the Bruins were losing when I called it a night. In fact, UCLA was losing almost the entire second half before grabbing a lead with about 2 1/2 minutes to go. I think most analysts still expect UCLA to beat Washington State for the Pac-10 title, but many had begun projecting Tennessee as a #1 until the Vols went down to Kentucky this past week. By squeezing out a win here, the Bruins will hang onto the perception as an eventual #1 seed. They'll still most likely be ranked 5th, but I expect Duke to lose at least two out of three to the Tar Heels, and that will allow the Bruins to slide into the fourth #1 seed.
As for Washington State, I think they're walking a bit of a tight-rope here. They took a risk by playing a very, very weak out-of-conference schedule. The win over Baylor looks better than it did at the time, but the Gonzaga win looks less so. Their 12-0 start in the out-of-conference was impressive, but their non-conference RPI of 240th is really pathetic for a team hoping for a top seed. If they can roll through the Pac-1o then all will be well. Even a 13-5 record in the Pac-10, followed by a trip to the Pac-10 Tourney finals would make them 27-6 overall, and nobody will care how weak their out-of-conference schedule was. But if they lose a couple games in a row, or maybe get knocked out early in the Pac-10 Tourney, the Cougars could find their Tournament seed tumbling. For now the RPI is 18th, with a Sagarin Rating of 9th, so they're still safe. But they can't have too many of these losses.
As for Arizona, the RPI is up to a very solid 7th in the land. But recall that their RPI of 14th last season only landed them an 8 seed. The fact is that the Selection Committee just isn't that excited about a tough strength of schedule if you keep losing these games (the RPI can actually bias towards teams that play very tough schedules and lose all the games). Last year's Wildcats team had the #2 strength of schedule in the country, and they are #1 so far this season. This year's team has a very unimpressive 12-6 record, but they have no "bad" losses. This win will be good for the resume, but the lesson we learned last year is that you have got to finish with a good record to be considered for a top seed. 20-10 just won't cut it again. The problem is that Arizona's remaining schedule is pretty brutal. They have to play at USC and UCLA in a 48 hour stretch. And they still have games at Wazzu and Oregon. Don't be surprised for a repeat of last season, with an RPI in the teens but a 7 or 8 seed.
The most devastating loss among these three games was probably that of Arizona State. The record is still a very good 14-4, but their strength of schedule is pathetic. They had an out-of-conference RPI of 325th, which you almost wouldn't think was possible for a BCS conference team. Arizona State is the anti-Arizona in a lot of ways - their sterling record only gets them an RPI barely inside the Top 90. Just the increase in strength of schedule should move the RPI up quite a bit, but the Sun Devils can't finish 10-8 in the Pac-10 and expect to get an at-large bid. I understand that James Harden was limping through this one, but the Selection Committee really isn't going to care - all they'll see is a loss at home to Washington.
Finishing up, we come to Washington and Oregon. Oregon remains a likely Tournament team, although the RPI is approaching dangerous levels. Those back-to-back losses to Nebraska and Oakland could come back to haunt the Ducks if they can't finish in the top half of the Pac-10. As for Washington, this win keeps them alive and well on the bubble. The computer numbers are bad, but last year's Stanford team can remind them that a good finish in a good conference will get you in the Tournament regardless of a bad RPI. The Huskies are poised for a run up the conference, with a decent 3-3 record. If they can win a few straight games to get a couple of games over .500 in the Pac-10, they'll certainly be worth some at-large discussion.