I'm going to talk about the most important games from today. So many games were played that I can't possibly get to all of them, but I want to talk about enough of them that I'm going to break it up into a few different posts. As usual, I'll talk about games in more or less a chronological order:
Notre Dame 90, #18 Villanova 80
A very impressive showing for the Irish in this one. The perception one has watching them play is that they aren't very athletic, but that they have a bunch of good shooters both on the inside and the outside. Villanova did what you'd expect them to do here - they pushed the pace and tried to out-athlete the Irish. And in a lot of ways, they succeeded. They forced 15 turnovers and out-rebounded Notre Dame, leading to nineteen more shots from the field. But Notre Dame's shooting was out of this world - above 50% from the field, including 9 for 19 from behind the arc. This was an imperative win for a Notre Dame team that has been lying in the weeds, below the radar of ESPN and many bracketologists. A loss here would have dropped them to 3-3 in the Big East with an RPI approaching 50th. Instead the RPI is up to 37th, with the 4-2 Big East record. Notre Dame lacks any real stand-out win (this one is their most impressive, actually), but they are the dictionary definition of "overall resume". They have just been a solid team all year, racking up wins against a fairly good schedule. They are 10-0 against teams with an RPI worse than 75, which shows a good job of not taking a night off. Meanwhile, Villanova is slipping out of the Tournament. This loss drops the RPI out of the Top 50, and they need to get that Big East record back over .500. They have been the anti-Notre Dame in a lot of ways, by pulling off a big win or two while also dropping games against a couple of really bad opponents. If Villanova can get to 11-7 in the Big East they're a lock for the Tournament. But this 3-4 start makes it more likely they'll end up at 10-8, which might not be quite enough.
UConn 68, #8 Indiana 63
Probably the most surprising result of the day. UConn was playing without the suspended Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins, yet shut down Eric Gordon (14 points on 5-of-16 shooting) and beat the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall. I will tell you that the effect of the suspensions might be overrated by the media in this case. UConn absolutely oozes talent - in my mind, they have Top Ten talent. We talk all the time about teams whose total value is greater than the sum of its parts, but UConn is a team whose parts sum up to a lot more than the total. At least so far. I can't pretend to know what the specific chemistry problem was, but if kicking out Dyson and Wiggins improved the chemistry then UConn could actually become a better team. The Huskies had a great balanced attack in this one, with five double-digit scorers. They also dominated the boards (41 to 26), which has got to be a bad sign for Indiana as they get ready to face the big bodies of Wisconsin and Michigan State. UConn has great computer numbers, with an RPI inside the Top 25 and a Sagarin Rating most likely to be around there when the numbers come out tomorrow morning. If the season ended now, I think they'd be somewhere around an 8 seed or so. But if you look at their remaining schedule, it's really very easy. No more Marquette or Georgetown, and they only have to play Pitt at home. I would not be at all surprised to see the Huskies end up at 12-6 in the Big East, which could drive their seed even higher. I will probably move them up somewhere around a 6 or 7 seed, depending on what else happens the rest of the day.
Kentucky 78, South Carolina 70
In one way, this game wasn't a huge surprise. The Gamecocks have struggled this year, and are near the point that I'm going to drop them from bubble consideration. They are 1-4 in the SEC, 9-10 overall, and the RPI is well outside the Top 100. But still, you can't help but notice that Kentucky's hot shooting (51% from the field, 62% from behind the arc) has driven them to an SEC record over .500 (3-2), and up to .500 overall (9-9). The RPI is still outside the Top 100, but what happens if Kentucky keeps winning? The real test will be in their next two games, at Georgia and at Auburn. Neither of those teams are very good, but Kentucky is still 0-5 in road and neutral games this season. If they drop one or both of these games we'll know that it's just Kentucky's home crowd driving the Wildcats to victories, and we can forget about them getting bubble consideration. Kentucky has talent, but they lose when they don't show effort. If they show effort on both the offensive and defensive ends, and win those next two games, then what? They play Alabama at home, where Kentucky will probably be favored. You look at their remaining schedule, and you can easily see that a 10-6 SEC record is not all too unlikely. But a 10-6 SEC record won't get a team with Kentucky's out-of-conference disasters into the Tournament. But what if they get to 11-5? I don't know, I can't think of another team in recent years that had such a dichotomy. I suppose the answer is that we'll worry about it when we get there. If Kentucky drops four more games in the regular season, we can just forget about them. Maybe the NIT will take them.
Missouri 66, Colorado 62
A huge comeback for Mike Anderson's boys, in a win that might have saved their Tournament chances. The Tigers had fallen to seventh or eighth in the Big 12 pecking order, which is unacceptable in a conference that might only get four or five Tournament teams. And with under eight minutes to go in this one, they trailed by double-digits to bottom-feeder Colorado. So what did Missouri do? They hustled. Nobody hustles like Missouri, as they harassed Colorado into 16 turnovers. Several of those turnovers came at the key point in this game, with about five to eight minutes left in the game. A loss here would have dropped Missouri's RPI out of the Top 100, but this win moves it into the Top 80. And with a 2-3 record in conference, they are in position to finish with a decent place in the Big 12 standings. You look at their remaining schedule, and it's really not that bad. They're done with Texas and Texas Tech, and only have Kansas once. Barring a huge upset (like a win at Kansas), I don't think that 9-7 will be enough for Missouri to get an at-large bid. In my mind, they've got to get to 10-6. It's a tough task, but it's not impossible. They're worth keeping an eye on.
Oklahoma 77, Baylor 71
Sticking with the Big 12, Baylor clearly had a letdown game in this one. I always remind my readers that teams often follow up huge wins with disappointing performances. It's simply natural to have a letdown. And Baylor stuck with the script, looking mediocre in the early going of this one. By the mid-point of the second half, Oklahoma had opened up a 16 point lead. At that point, Baylor turned it on and made a frantic comeback, actually get a brief one point lead with a little bit under two minutes to go. But in the end, the difference was Blake Griffin. With all of the over-hyping of freshmen this season, it's hard to imagine a freshman not getting enough attention. But the most underrated freshman nationwide has got to be Griffin. He came back from injury in a big way against Baylor, putting up 17 points and 15 boards. This game could possibly have huge ramifications later on in the season. Assuming Texas A&M gets their act together and wraps up a Tournament bid, these two teams could be dueling for the 4th spot in the conference. Depending on how things go, this conference might only get four or five teams in. And room could get even tighter if a team like Kansas State finishes strong.