Saturday, February 02, 2008

Thursday Review

As usual, not much to speak about regarding Friday night's games. One slight change to the BP65 will probably be caused by Columbia having their best shooting night of the season and taking out Yale on the road. This will probably change my projected Ivy champion from Yale to Cornell, unless Yale completely crushes the Big Red in New Haven later today. Regardless, there was a lot of important basketball played on Thursday. So let's get to it:

Notre Dame 81, Providence 74, OT
A heart-breaking loss for the Friars, who overcame a large deficit on the road but couldn't close the deal. In the end, the Friars just did not have the inside presence to hold off Luke Harangody, who added 14 rebounds to a career-high 31 points. This win moves Notre Dame one win closer to an at-large bid. The RPI looks bubblicious in the high 30s, but all of their other numbers are good. 5-2 in the Big East, a Sagarin Rating of 22nd, 6-4 against the RPI Top 100, no bad losses. If the season ended now, the Irish would definitely be in the Tournament. And the schedule the rest of the way is about as easy as it gets as far as the Big East goes. I would be surprised if they finish worse than 11-7, which would indeed make them a lock. The only way they're missing the Tournament is if they really collapse down the stretch. Providence, however, missed a real opportunity here. Especially since one of their worst resume stats is that 1-5 road record. The RPI is 54th, but that will improve if Providence starts winning some Big East games. And they need to, because they're only 3-5 right now. The fact is that Providence will get a shot to earn a big - they get Georgetown, Louisville, UConn and Marquette at home. They will probably need to win two of those to earn an at-large bid.

#13 Wisconsin 62, #11 Indiana 49
The media made this game out to be more important than it really was. The fact is that Wisconsin basically never loses at home. They got upset by Marquette back in the out-of-conference slate, which is Bo Ryan's quota for the season. If Indiana had somehow pulled this game out, it would have ended any of Wisconsin's hopes at winning the Big Ten. But with the win here, all the Badgers did was hold serve. I was fairly appalled at ESPN, though, while watching Sportscenter the next day. It was just a set of Eric Gordon highlights, even though the real star in this one was Wisconsin fundamentals. I was talking to my father online during this game, and he told me "Joe Krabbenhoft had the best 6-point game in Division I this year", which I couldn't disagree with. But "glue" guys rarely get their due in the national media. Regardless, like I said, this game doesn't settle anything. Both of these teams are still in the mix for the Big Ten crown, which will probably get parlayed into a #2 seed. These two play again in less than two weeks, so we'll see if the Hoosiers can hold serve on their own home floor (where they beat the #1 ranked Badgers last season).

Minnesota 77, Michigan 65
This was an absolutely essential win for the Gophers. Not because they'll get any credit for beating Michigan - the Wolverines are 1-8 in the Big Ten and 5-16 overall. But because they couldn't afford a loss if they wanted to keep their Tournament hopes alive. The Gophers still have an atrocious RPI (outside the Top 80), but that's mostly due to a very weak out-of-conference schedule (Kenpom ranks it 284th in strength). They are in position to finish well in the Big Ten with a 3-4 record. And they don't have any bad losses to feel embarrassed about, so all they need is a big win or two (right now they're 0-5 against the RPI
Top 50). If I had to project the Minnesota finish, I'd say 9-9 in the Big Ten. And that obviously won't be enough. I'd say that if Minnesota wants to be taken seriously, they really need to beat their arch-rivals tomorrow at The Barn.

California 69, #9 Washington State 64

Like Minnesota, Cal's RPI has been held back by a weak schedule. But unlike the Gophers, the Golden Bears now have a glamor win. And it came on the back of a real glamor player, Ryan Anderson. He killed the Cougars with 5-for-7 from behind the arc, driving his season average over 46%. Cal's RPI is still in the 70s, but their other computer numbers are kinder. Sagarin has them 50th and Pomeroy actually has them 33rd (although I think Pomeroy is over-ranking all of the Pac-10 teams). So they're in a position to make a Tournament run. The real problem is that their schedule is just impossible the rest of the way. They need to turn that 3-5 into a 10-8, and I just don't see how that's possible. This win was a great start, but they need to play like this every night. And I don't see that happening. As for Wazzu, they are falling further and further out of the Pac-10 title. In fact, they've now slipped into a tie for third with Arizona. They're still on pace for a good seed, but they're getting perilously close to dropping back. The schedule is still pretty weak, and the computer numbers might start to drop. The RPI has already fallen to 18th. If the season ended now they'd probably be a #3 seed, but I could see them dropping all the way back to a #5 or 6 seed if they keep losing games like this.

#5 UCLA 84, Arizona State 51
Another day, another win for the Bruins. I still think they're solid favorites for the Pac-10 title and a #1 seed in the Tournament. The team I want to talk about is Arizona State, which garnered quite a bit of attention with their 14-2 start. It turns out that some combination of two things occurred. First of all, the record was inflated by an easy schedule. Second of all, this is a very young Sun Devils team, and they just couldn't take the pressure. The real story of this four game losing streak is James Harden, who has been more or less shut down in three of the past four games. I know that he's battling an injury, but he must be fairly healthy if he was able to put 25 points on Wazzu last Saturday. I think it's a combination of teams learning how to guard him, and perhaps he is wearing down from the long season. Surely, a Pac-10 season is more exhausting than high school basketball. Still, things are not impossibly bleak for Arizona State, despite the atrocious RPI. The good thing is that they're in the Pac-10, which is chock full of big potential wins. The bad thing is that they're in the Pac-10, and it's a difficult road to the 11-7 record that the Sun Devils probably will need to get to in order to wrap up an at-large bid.

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