Thursday, January 17, 2008

Whatever-It-Was-Called Tuesday/Wednesday

Maybe I've lost perspective here, but it seems like we have far more great games being played during the week this season. ESPN now advertises its Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night games, each with a different cute name and each with a different sponsor. Really great stuff - college football just can't match this kind of day-after-day excitement. But before I get to tonight's games, let's talk a bit about some action from earlier this week:

#11 Michigan State 66, Ohio State 60
Can't be too encouraged by this performance if you're a Spartans fan. They got off to a great start and then basically went to sleep for about an hour. Lucky for them, Ohio State struggled with the three all-night (6 for 22 for the game) and ran out of time before they could complete the comeback. I still think the Spartans are the favorites to win the Big Ten, but they need to continue to fight through these games. Michigan State doesn't have overwhelming athletic talent. They win with strength and toughness. As for the Buckeyes, you can't feel too bad about losing on the road to the best team in the conference (as my readers all know, the Top 25 doesn't rank teams by how good they, because most analysts recognize that Michigan State is a better team than Indiana). Ohio State's overall record won't blow you away (12-5 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten), but they've played through a very tough schedule (and it doesn't get any easier this weekend when they head to Tennessee). So the computer numbers are going to be strong. In my mind, this team is basically a lock for the Tournament. I'd be shocked if they don't get the 11-7 Big Ten record that would make them an absolute guarantee. Even 10-8 might do it with their strong out-of-conference schedule.

#23 Clemson 70, NC State 54
Friendly rims can go a long way, as Clemson found out with a surprising 10-for-25 performance from beyond the arc. As NC State falls further and further off the bubble, Clemson moves closer to wrapping up a bid. Last year's Clemson team felt a little bit like a car crash. The stellar start seemed a bit out of control, and as soon as they lost that first game it was like the floor dropped out. This year's team is much more under control, much more mature. They opened up 10-0, but they were able to move on from the Ole Miss loss without any big emotional after-effects. To make the Tournament out of the ACC, you don't need to beat UNC or Duke. You just have to take care of business, which is what the Tigers have done by beating Florida State and NC State at home in their last two games. The out-of-conference schedule was pretty weak, so they're going to have to earn their at-large bid with conference wins. But RPI numbers are always good in the ACC. Clemson's RPI is currently 28th, which puts them third highest in the ACC. Clemson fans lived through a nightmare last season, but they should be in for a much more pleasant March experience this season.

Boston College 76, #24 Miami (Fl) 66

The final score is deceptive as this game just wasn't that close. The dust is still settling from everyone jumping off the Canes bandwagon. Back in December I tried to put some needles in the Miami balloon here and here. This just isn't that good of a team, and the computer numbers are finally recognizing it. Miami kept beating up on a lot of halfway decent teams. They did a great job of not scheduling any elite teams (since they'd lose) or any really bad teams (which kill the RPI). So for a while there, this was the team with the #1 RPI in the country. But now, despite still have a record of 13-2, the RPI has plummeted out of the Top 40. I think this team will stick around as a bubble team, but they're going to need to fight hard to make the Tournament. With such an atrocious out-of-conference schedule, they lack any resume-building wins. The ACC schedule makers are giving the Canes lots of chances, with all of the top teams at home (UNC, Duke, Virginia, Clemson, BC, et cetera). They'll need one or two of those, because this team could easily go 22-8 and still miss the Tournament.

Mississippi State 69, Kentucky 64
The Bulldogs did the SEC a favor by hanging on to a win here. After Kentucky's atrocious losses in the out-of-conference, it would be pretty embarrassing if they started winning all of their games in conference. Now, Mississippi State's resume isn't all too strong yet. The losses to Miami of Ohio and South Alabama knocked them off a lot of radar screens. Well don't look now, but the Bulldogs are now leading the SEC West with a 3-0 record. I'll admit that I've missed the boat on this team as well. As I try to keep emphasizing, schedule-makers can have a big effect in conferences that aren't complete round-robins. Mississippi State, for example, should have received their schedule with gift wrapping on it. They only have to play Florida, Tennessee and Vandy the minimum of once each. I don't think these guys have the talent to run with a very impressive Ole Miss squad, but I see no reason why the Bulldogs can't finish second in the SEC West. I'd also like to give respect to Mississippi State's Justin Varnado, who put up a Stephane Lasme special with 10 blocks to go along with 10 points and 12 boards.

Texas Tech 68, #9 Texas A&M 53

Amazingly, the final score was deceptively close. Bobby Knight's boys led by more than 20 points for much of the second half. Watching a lot of this game, though, I was constantly surprised by the score. Texas Tech played well, but they didn't really look any better than A&M. The Aggies simply couldn't hit a shot for their life. They hit 34% from the field, and even bricked their way to 57% from the foul line for good measure. If you're an A&M fan you just write this game off and move on. They won't play like this often. More importantly, this game jumbles up the Big 12 even more. Texas, Kansas and Texas A&M are all pretty safe bets for the Tournament. But after that, I don't think anybody really knows where to put these teams. Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas State... any of these teams could get in the Tournament or miss it altogether. It's going to come down to who can win the head-to-head match-ups, who can avoid slip-ups, and who can steal a game or two against the big boys (like Tech did in this one). Texas Tech is still a mediocre 9-6 with an RPI out near 60, so there's no way they'd make the Tournament if the season ended now. But this win puts them right back in the discussion. As an aside, did anyone else find it kind of silly that any discussion of Bob Knight's 900th win had to include the fact that Pat Summitt has more than 900 wins? She coached a different sport! It's comparing apples to oranges. Why not point out that he's nearly 3000 wins behind Connie Mack? The record was Dean Smith's and Knight broke it. And now he's keeping the record warm until Coach K comes through on his unstoppable march to 1000 wins. Pat Summitt's win total is irrelevant.

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