Sorry about being delinquent with the posting. I've been a bit busy today. Not too busy to keep me from getting to watch a bunch of the action... but busy enough to keep me from putting these long posts together. Anyway, I'm going to start with the early games and I'll work my way back to the present:
USC 72, #4 UCLA 63
I've gotten a lot of grief for keeping USC in my bracket. But then you see games like this, and it's remarkable how much talent this team has. Davon Jefferson and OJ Mayo are not the only future-NBA players on the squad, but they led the charge today. USC was able to get to the basket at will, and even made their shots from distance when they came up (4-for-8 from behind the arc). Meanwhile, UCLA seemed absolutely flummoxed by the USC zone. They settled for far too many outside shots, including 27 three-pointers. All in all, UCLA just seemed to be looking past this game, or just unprepared in a more general sense. Very surprising for a Ben Howland squad. In the all-important Mayo/Love match-up, Love did have a good game (18 points and 8 offensive rebounds). But nobody else on UCLA showed up for this one, on the offensive or defensive end. I'm not taking away UCLA's #1 seed, but the Bruins are clearly the most likely to fall out if a team like Tennessee steals a top seed.
Purdue 74, Illinois 67
Purdue hasn't gotten a lot of attention this year. Most analysts (myself included) thought that this team would take a step back without Carl Landry, but Matt Painter is really establishing himself as one of the best coaches in the Big Ten. As usual, Purdue won with hustle. They were undersized against Illinois, and were badly out-rebounded, but managed to get extra possessions and free points with 21 forced turnovers. It also helps that Keaton Grant has really blossomed in his second season, after a mediocre freshman year. Still, the Boilermakers have to explain away the back-to-back losses to Wofford and Iowa State. The RPI is still suffering, as Purdue is still outside the top 70 despite a 4-1 Big Ten record. Because of the poor computer numbers and out-of-conference resume, I'm thinking that an 11-7 season probably won't be enough for the Boilermakers. They probably need to get to 12-6.
Maryland 82, #1 North Carolina 80
And then there were two. I hope Memphis has some kind words to say as they slip past the Tar Heels to the #1 spot in this coming Monday's poll. Honestly, nobody could have been too surprised about this result. Not that North Carolina would lose this particular game - but just that they were due to lose a game in general. Just like Vanderbilt, UNC has won a lot of very close games in a row. It doesn't matter how good or clutch you are - if you play enough close games you're going to end up losing some. It's just a matter of probability. Honestly, I think that all of these close games are going to make Carolina a very, very tough team to beat in March. What happens when a squad like Memphis ends up in a close finish in a Tournament game? Most of their experience this season will be beating up on inferior competition. North Carolina is a relatively experienced team that will be very battle-tested. These close games are going to give them great late-game experience for their March run. Despite this loss, they are obviously still the favorites in the ACC, and they are still looking pretty good for a #1 seed.
Cincinnati 62, #16 Pittsburgh 59
Mick Cronin is really building a very, very dangerous squad at Cincinnati. He still has a pretty low name recognition nationwide, but I think that's going to start to change as he builds a real power at Cincy. Of course, let's remember that Rome wasn't built in a day. This team went 2-14 in the Big East last year (11-19 overall), so just making the Big East Tournament would make this a fairly successful season. And losses to Belmont and Bowling Green probably destroyed any chances this team had at a miracle run to the Tournament. But I don't think anybody in the Big East is happy about playing the Bearcats right now. Especially a Pitt team that has had serious injuries which are finally starting to catch up to them.
Kansas State 75, Texas A&M 54
It seemed like Texas A&M was starting to take control of this game late in the first half, and then again in the early second half. But then someone put a lid on the rim. Between about 19 minutes and 4 1/2 minutes left in the second half, the Aggies hit a grand total of one shot from the field. They were a total of 1-for-16 from the field over that stretch. It's not that Kansas State didn't play good defense, but you need some help for a team to shoot that poorly. And this is two straight games that this has happened to Texas A&M, leading to two straight blow-out losses to Big 12 opponents. And it's not just the score differential, as Texas A&M's RPI has dropped out of the Top 40. I still think that they will cruise to an at-large bid, but Mark Turgeon had better come up with some good shooting drills pretty soon. Doesn't matter how good your offense executes if you can't hit the open shot. Kansas State fans should also note that this win pushes their RPI back inside the Top 50. If the season ended now, they probably would still be short of an at-large bid. But I've been keeping them in my bracket because I'm expecting their young talent to learn to play together and make a good final push (much like USC). With Kansas on the horizon, it's important for the Wildcats to take care of business in their winnable match-ups. Their next two games are against Colorado and Iowa State, two games which these guys need to win if they're going to continue to build on this solid win.