Completing the last of the games from this week, and getting back to the present, I have a few recaps from last night's games:
Xavier 63, Virginia Tech 62
I've got to mention this game because of that crazy buzzer beater, if for nothing else. Dante Jackson had been 0-for-8 from the field before that shot, so logically his mistake was that he had been shooting too closely to the basket. Obviously this win was a bit of a fluke, but how about this start for Xavier? After a romp over an IPFW team that then nearly beat Michigan State, Xavier followed that up with wins over Toledo, Missouri and here against Virginia Tech. That's a heck of a start for a team trying to prove that last year wasn't a fluke. They definitely deserve to be a Top 25 team in the next poll, but they have a tough road ahead. The future out-of-conference schedule includes Memphis, Miami (OH), Auburn, Cincinnati, Duke, Butler and Virginia. That's quite a schedule. If they can reach the A-10 season with a 10-3 out-of-conference record, they're going to be in great shape for an at-large bid. In other words, at 4-0 already and with plenty of opportunities ahead, Xavier has a bit of room for error here. As for Virginia Tech, they have a big game coming up against Seton Hall tomorrow. They also have a huge game when Wisconsin heads to town for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. One loss against a good Xavier team isn't a huge problem, but there's no question that Virginia Tech hasn't played that well so far this season. Too many close losses against mediocre teams. If they lose to Seton Hall tomorrow then that Wisconsin game becomes something of a must win. Without it, the pressure will really be on for a big ACC season. Anything less than 10-6 would probably keep them out of the Tournament.
#2 UConn 89, La Salle 81
So is La Salle better than we thought, is UConn worse, or was this game just a fluke? Well, while UConn might be a bit overranked at #2, they're definitely a very good team. Jeff Adrien is a great team leader, and he led the way in this one. They've also added a great freshman in Kemba Walker, who saved the day with 23 points off the bench here. For La Salle, this was another missed opportunity, on the heels of a tough four point loss to Florida State earlier in the week. They get Villanova in a couple of weeks, but other than that I don't see an opportunity for a big win between now and the Atlantic Ten regular season. With this loss, they remain a long shot Tournament team.
Utah 83, Mississippi 72
Chris Warren did what he's expected to do, and played great (22 points, including 4-for-8 from behind the arc), but it still wasn't enough for Ole Miss here. I'm just not seeing the depth here, as there isn't anybody else who has stepped up to be Warren's sidekick. Utah, on the other hand, had five scorers in double digits, including star freshman Jordan Cypher's 12 points in 16 minutes off the bench. After the shocking upset to start the season against Southwest Baptist, Utah has bounced back with a big win over UW-Green Bay, plus this one. That loss is going to be a big anchor around their necks all season, but they can get back into the at-large discussion if they can win a big one between now and the start of the conference season. They head to Oklahoma and also play Gonzaga, as well as nearly half of the Pac-10, so big wins are out there if Utah can grab them. For Ole Miss, this isn't really that bad of a loss, but the rest of their out-of-conference schedule is just way too easy. I never like when teams schedule an out-of-conference slate with a ton of easy games along with one or two insanely tough games (in this case, a game at Louisville). It means that the team has no margin for error, and will likely end up with a couple of losses but no wins to brag about. In other words, Mississippi needs to avoid any bad losses if they want to stay in the at-large debate.
#1 North Carolina 84, UC-Santa Barbara 67
The story here, of course, was the return of Tyler Hansbrough. None of us have access to his health reports, so we can't know if this was too early of a return, but I certainly was a bit surprised to see Roy Williams play him in this game. And to not only play him, but give him big minutes and then him fly all over the floor. If this injury comes back then they are really going to regret the decision. That said, Hansbrough made a bunch of big plays (including a very important block late in the game when UCSB was going on a little run and had the deficit in single digits), and might have actually prevented the epic upset. But that said, UNC entered this game as the consensus #1 in the nation, and Hansbrough's return did nothing to change that.