Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunday & Monday Results

A quick look at the most important results from the past two days. The regular season is actually starting to wind down in many of the mid-major conferences, and conference tournaments are just around the corner. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I think Conference Championship Week is the most exciting sports week of the year. I enjoy it more than the NCAA Tournament itself. For one thing, I enjoy being able to flip back and forth between all sorts of different games. But more importantly, the games are just higher quality. The games are played between rivals who know each other well. UNC/Duke is always going to be higher quality than UNC/Kansas because the two teams know each other. You also get to experience home crowds and student sections (not in all conferences, of course) that can't be matched by any neutral court experience. But that's still a while off. For now, getting down to business:

Michigan 80, Ohio State 70
The top five teams in the Big Ten had done a great job of beating up on the lower-tier teams in the conference. I suppose an eventual slip-up was inevitable. This game was all about the young guys. Kosta Koufos continues to be a dynamic scorer. I've also become more and more impressed with Evan Turner - he's not yet All-Big Ten caliber, but he shows a lot of potential for next season. But the real star here was Manny Harris. If he returns next season he'll be a preseason All-Big Ten player for sure. He led the way for both teams with 27 points in this one. Like I said, it was inevitable for one of the top five Big Ten teams to drop a game to a lesser opponent. But of all of the top five teams, Ohio State is the one that can least afford a speed bump. Their RPI is now way into the danger territory, at 45th overall. The Sagarin rating of 35th (and Pomeroy of 30th) are both better, but are also in the danger zone. The 8-5 Big Ten record, and 17-9 overall record are decent. But when you look at their remaining schedule, it is high-risk, high-reward. They get Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State at home, and Indiana and Minnesota on the road. The good thing is that all five of those games would qualify as "quality" wins. The bad thing is that they could easily lose all five. I'd say that Ohio State is pretty safe for the Tournament if they get to 11-7. What's more likely, however, is that they'll finish 10-8. If that happens then they will absolutely have to win their first Big Ten Tournament game. A loss would drop them to 19-12 overall, and 5-7 in their final twelve games. With the way the other bubble teams have been falling on their face, Ohio State could still sneak in with that resume. But it would be pretty doubtful. So I think it's safe to say that Ohio State can control its own destiny if it can win three of its next six games (the final five regular season games, and the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals). A 3-3 record would make them a near-lock, and it would be hard to see them missing out without a totally disastrous turn of events in other conference tournaments.

Wake Forest 86, #2 Duke 73
I warned you. Duke is just too reliant on the three-pointer to win every single game. The thing is that Duke has a slew of outstanding outside shooters, so it takes a lot for all of them to get cold. They are very comfortable at home, so don't expect them to lose another home game (with the possible exeption of UNC looking for revenge). But when they're on the road or a neutral court, with an unfriendly crowd, it's not unthinkable for Duke to go cold. They were only 8-for-28 in this one (the fact that they continued to take 28 three-pointers in a game where they clearly weren't falling is a testament to how reliant the Blue Devils are on the shot). When the outside shots weren't falling, Duke suddenly became exposed. Wake Forest was more athletic, and far bigger on the inside. Wake out-rebounded Duke by eight, and forced 21 turnovers. We all know that Duke will still earn the #1 seed if they can wrap up the ACC regular season and tournament titles. The real question is what this win does for Wake Forest. I'd say that this win clearly puts Wake in the top six in the ACC pecking order, possibly even fifth. Being above .500 in the ACC is great, and this win will be a huge thing to brag about on Selection Sunday. A real worry has to be that the overall resume just is pretty mediocre. None of the computer rankings (including the RPI) have Wake inside the Top 50. You can still get in with numbers in the 50s, but only with a good record out of an elite conference. I'd say that Wake absolutely has to make it to 9-7 to even get serious consideration for an at-large bid. So what are the chances? Well the odds of following up a win over Duke with a win at UNC are slim to none. The games at home against Maryland and NC State are wins that they will need to have. If they can take those two then it's all about the road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. They need one of those two. A 9-7 record, plus a win in their first ACC Tournament game should really do it. A big part will be seeing how the computer numbers move up as Wake's weak strength of schedule improves.

#20 Saint Mary's 100, Pepperdine 64
Saint Mary's has been a strong team at home for several years. But the difference this season is the way they've taken care of their road games, like this one. Diamon Simpson is quickly becoming a household name, and the way he draws defenses allows things to get opened up for their sterling perimeter players. They're not a truly elite squad, of course. Don't pencil them into the Sweet Sixteen or anything like that. But they are looking incredibly safe for an at-large bid right now. The RPI of 26th, Sagarin of 22nd and Pomeroy of 32nd are all nice. And at 22-3 with a 7-2 record against the RPI Top 100, they'd be a lock for the Tournament if the season ended now. I think they'll lose their road game at Gonzaga, but otherwise only have two relatively easy games to go. Unless they lose all three of these games, it's hard to see them missing the Tournament. Once they get to 25 wins (they have 22 at the moment) it will be a total lock.

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