#11 Syracuse 72, #21 Memphis 65
Syracuse was the higher ranked team heading into this, but it doesn't change the fact that it surprised a lot of people that Syracuse was able to head into Memphis and leave with a win after the suspension of Eric Devendorf. It's still not clear how long Devendorf will have to be out, but it seems clear that he won't be out too long, so the fears of Syracuse fans that he would be out for the academic year appear to be allayed. That said, Syracuse fans need to take this victory with a small grain of salt. They did a great job of getting performances from other players with Devendorf out, including sophomore Rick Jackson (14 points and 7 rebounds here) who is really starting to make a name for himself. But Memphis also just played terribly. People think about last year's Memphis team when they see scores involving the Tigers, but Memphis isn't nearly as good as they were then. Whenever Tyreke Evans learns how to play at this level, they'll be a good team, and I still see something like a 5 seed in their future. But right now, Memphis just isn't a very efficient team. Anytime you miss 26 three-pointers in a game, you're going to have trouble getting the win.
Saint Mary's 65, Southern Illinois 52
Saint Mary's collects its fourth straight impressive victory, and it was enough to power them into today's new BP65. The fear with this year's Saint Mary's team was that they wouldn't have much to support Diamon Simpson, yet in fact it has been the other players on this team who have starred while Simpson has appeared to have plateaued. Simpson only scored 7 points in this big win, as the Gaels were led by Omar Samhan's 17 points and 16 boards. With that performance, Samhan is actually averaging a double-double this season. Patrick Mills has also really stepped up to be the leading ball handler on the team, leading all players with 20 points per game, to go along with 4 assists per game. For Southern Illinois, offensive continues to be a major question. Despite the awful start, it hasn't been the fault of their defense or rebounding. They're still hustling and playing hard. It's just that each basket feels like such an amazing chore. The Salukis just cannot create a basket when they need one. They only had 8 turnovers in this game, but shot an atrocious 27% from the field. For the entire season, they're only averaging 40.6% from the field, despite running that number up against a couple of their really bad opponents. Stats are always inflated early in the season, and we can expect SIU's offensive stats to get even worse as they head into Valley play. If I were head coach Chris Lowery, I would try to run more of my offense through the inside. I don't like the creative abilities of any of their guards (even though freshman Ryan Hare did have a nice game here and might have some potential to lead the team down the road), but Carlton Fay has some nice moves on the inside, and is clearly developing into quite a force down there. With nothing else working on offense, they need to run more through him.
Oklahoma State 86, Rhode Island 82
I love talking about games like these, because they're so important and yet they get absolutely no attention from the national media. No ranked teams? Big 12 vs Atlantic 10? We've got a Tony Romo puff piece we can run! In fact, even in March I doubt you'll see this game listed on Oklahoma State's list of "important wins" when they show their resume during broadcast games. But where you'll see this win will be in the RPI and in the computer rankings, both of which will respond well to this very solid victory. The Cowboys are only 8-3, and this is by far their best win, but they continue to sneak up on the rest of the league. This victory shot their RPI up to 39th in the nation, and Sagarin pushed them into the top 50 in the nation as well. Casual fans have heard of Byron Eaton, but most would be surprised to find out that he's only the fourth leading scorer on the team. The star has probably actually been sophomore James Harris, who led the way with an extremely efficient 33 points in this one (12-for-17 from the field, 5-for-7 from behind the arc, 4-for-4 from the line), although with so many good big men in the Big 12 the most important player may end up being 6'8" Malcoln Kirkland (4 points and 4 rebounds here), who has been thrust into the spotlight since OSU's star big man Ibrahimi Thomas was booted off the team. He'll get some help from Obi Muonelo, who despite being only 6'5" is leading the team with over 9 rebounds per game. The biggest test of this Oklahoma State team, which honestly prefers to play with 5 guards, will be when Oklahoma comes to town on January 26th. It will be very interesting to see what Travis Ford does with the Griffin brothers. For Rhode Island, this was a tough loss, but not a devastating one. Even in the loss, they showed a very solid effort. When you need to win a lot of conference games (as all mid-major teams hoping to earn an at-large bid must) you need depth. It's a problem when you're dependent on one star, and Rhode Island most definitely is not. Five players scored in double-digits here, and Rhode Island remains one of four Atlantic Ten teams with a serious shot at an at-large bid (along with Xavier, Temple and Dayton).
Stanford 65, Northwestern 59
Don't look now, but Stanford is the only undefeated team left in the Pac-10. Despite the fact that this is the best of their seven wins, they have had a series of solid victories. In addition to this win, they also have wins over Colorado, Air Force and Colorado State. Not a ranked team to be found, but it's not like they've beaten seven SWAC teams. In fact, the computers have been pretty impressed, as they now have an RPI of 23rd and a Sagarin of 36th. I need to see them beat a really good team before I'm ready to project them higher than about sixth place in a weak Pac-10, but you certainly can't complain about the start. A pretty big test will actually be their next game, Tuesday night at Santa Clara. This kind of win here over Northwestern is the kind that starts getting people talking on campus, and the Stanford players might start thinking that they're better than they really are. Santa Clara is a decent team that will be fired up to pull an upset on quasi-national television (the game will be on ESPNU). A Tournament team goes into Santa Clara and takes care of business. We'll see if Stanford does. If they can clear that hurdle, as well as a home game against Texas Tech next Sunday, their first really serious test will come in their Pac-10 opener, on January 2nd against Arizona State. For Northwestern, this game will go down as a missed opportunity to really throw themselves into the at-large discussion. They're 7-2 with solid victories over Florida State and DePaul, and without any bad losses. We'll get an early sense of how serious this Northwestern team is when they head to Penn State for their Big Ten opener on New Year's Eve. I need to see a victory there for me to take Northwestern seriously as a Tournament team. And if they're going to win that game, they need to show more depth. Kevin Coble isn't good enough to beat a good team by himself.