It's the last weekend before conference tournaments start, and it has not disappointed. So many great games. Let's just jump in to the earliest results of the day:
#16 UConn 79, West Virginia 71
UConn stays in the hunt for a share of the Big East title with this very nice home win. With the RPI up to 13th, a 6-4 record against the RPI Top 50, and the way they've been playing as of late, you have got to consider UConn as a team looking at a #3 or 4 seed right now - With an outside shot of even a #2 seed, if they can take the Big East Tournament. As for West Virginia, they obviously would have loved this game, but you can't feel too bad about losing on the road to a team like UConn. The Mountaineers are still in decent shape, even with this loss. The Big East record slips to 9-7, and they finish up with Pitt and then a game at St. John's. They really only need a split there, although it would certainly firm things up if they could take care of Pitt. You never want to enter Championship Week on the bubble, because your blood pressure will rise as the bubble shrinks. It's better to take care of business now. If they win those final two regular season games, it's really hard to see an 11-7 Big East team getting cut, especially in a year where the bubble has been so fluid and there has been so much parity.
Pittsburgh 82, Syracuse 77
A nice win for a Pitt team that is dueling with West Virginia for sixth place in the Big East. This is Pitt's fifth straight win in the Carrier Dome, which is pretty remarkable until you remember how crappy that place is. It is so cavernous that even with a sold-out crowd it's deathly silent. It's just not intimidating to veteran Big East schools at all. I don't think anybody really thinks Pitt is going to miss the Tournament, but it's good for them to take care of business in games like this to keep from making things interesting. Recall what I said about West Virginia - you want to go into Championship Week knowing that you've already locked up your at-large bid. I don't think Pitt is a lock quite yet, but even if they lose at West Virginia they'll still be in good shape if they can take care of business at home against Depaul. As for Syracuse, they're now in a hole. I'd say that if the season ended now, they'd probably get left out. Here is the overall resume: 17-12, 7-9 in the Big East, RPI of 63, Sagarin of 49, 1-8 against the RPI Top 50. That last stat is the killer. They close the season at Seton Hall and then at home versus Marquette. The Orangemen absolutely need to win both. If they drop one, then they're going to need a run in the Big East Tournament to get in. Even if they win both, it still doesn't assure an at-large. But it would help keep them firmly in the discussion. Really, doesn't it seem like Syracuse is in the same position every season? I can't imagine what's in like being a Syracuse fan since 'Melo left.
Bowling Green 89, #24 Kent State 83
Speaking of letdown games, Kent State follows up the win at Saint Mary's with a loss here against a decent Bowling Green team. I think Kent State can survive this loss, because I think they're a team that people want to see in the Tournament. The resume is still pretty nice, with an RPI in the 30s and an 8-3 record against the RPI Top 100. But they've got to survive a tricky end to the regular season: vs. Miami (OH), at Akron. If they can survive those two games, and then win a game or two in the MAC Tournament, I think Kent State should earn a spot into the Tournament whether they get the auto bid or not.
Oklahoma 64, Texas A&M 37
A nice bounce-back win for a Sooners team that had some question-marks after two straight losses. They are still only 19-10, and 7-7 in the Big 12, but the computer numbers are great because the schedule has been so hard. If they can win their last two, at Oklahoma State and at home vs. Missouri, they'll have to be a near-lock to get into the Tournament. On the other hand, things have now gotten just a bit too interesting in College Station. At 21-8 and 7-7 in the Big 12, you'd think they'd be in pretty good shape. But in a lot of ways they're the anti-Oklahoma, in the way that they played an atrocious schedule. The best out-of-conference win was over Ohio State, which is a nice win but nothing special. The win over Texas is very nice, but it's not enough to get an at-large bid without the rest of the resume. The Sagarin is still 27th, but the RPI has tumbled to 46th. If the season ended now, they'd still get in the Tournament. But with four losses in their last five games, they've got to turn this around before the season ends. They end up with games at Baylor, and at home vs. Kansas. If they lose both, I think they miss the Tournament. I don't think anybody has ever gotten an at-large bid with a 7-9 record out of the Big 12. So this means that all emphasis needs to be on the game at Baylor - which brings up the memory of the last time these two teams played. That's right, the game with 5 overtimes, and Baylor down to seven active players due to all of the players fouling out. And Texas A&M now needs to get revenge, or else they might find themselves absolutely needing a win over Kansas - a position that nobody ever wants to be in.
Rhode Island 91, La Salle 85
With their backs against the wall, Rhode Island escape with a win here and broke a five game losing streak. Even with this win, their Atlantic Ten record is still only 7-8, meaning that the closer against Charlotte is an absolute must-win. I'm doubtful that anybody will escape the A-10 with an 8-8 record, and it's not questionable that nobody will escape with a 7-9 record. So if they can win the closer, how is the rest of the resume? Well, the 21-9 overall record looks very nice, but it's been against a very weak schedule. The RPI is 60th, and the Sagarin will probably be in the low-50s when it comes out tomorrow morning. They are now 4-7 against the RPI Top 100, to go along with a sub-.500 road record. All of that adds up to a very mediocre resume, even with the wins over Syracuse and UAB. With the fact that they were swept by UMass, that they lost their only games against St. Joseph's and Xavier, and that Syracuse is closing poorly, it's very possible that Rhode Island will end up with zero wins over Tournament teams. As a bare minimum for getting at-large consideration on Selection Sunday, Rhode Island needs to win their regular season finale and then get to at least the Atlantic Ten Semifinals. If there are more than one or two bad teams that steal automatic bids to the Tournament, it's possible that Rhode Island will need to get the A-10's automatic bid to get into the Tournament.