Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Questions About Xavier & Gonzaga

Butler 74, #12 Xavier 65
Matt Howard finally showed some of his potential, reminding Butler fans why they expected so much of him after his freshman season. Howard led the way with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a game that was also a bit of a coming out show for 6'8" freshman Gordon Hayward (19 points, 10 rebounds). Despite a strong set of games by Cleveland State (and remember that Butler needed a buzzer beater to defeat the Vikings three weeks ago), this win reaffirms their spot as the clear favorites to take the Horizon. And like Davidson, Butler can actually lose a game or two in conference and still earn an at-large if they get knocked out in their conference tournament. For Xavier, this is all a part of their reality check. It was absurd when they were ranked in the Top 10, and they should return to a more realistic ranking next week. They're a very good team, and they're the favorites to repeat their Atlantic Ten title, but they're not quite as good as they were last season. But they should end up with 23-25 wins by the end of the regular season, and that should be plenty for a return trip to the Tournament.

Portland State 77, #7 Gonzaga 70
This is why they don't play the games on paper, and this is why you don't let a dangerous small conference team hang around long enough to start believing they can win. And Portland State is a dangerous team. They have had some nights where they have looked like a Big Sky team (losses to Cal Poly and Hampton), but they also have wins over Rice and Portland. They have no hope of making the Tournament without winning the Big Sky, but they could be a scary first round opponent for somebody. Gonzaga, meanwhile, learned a lesson. They're not good enough to come out flat, even at home, and expect to just win because their uniforms say "Gonzaga". This loss also more or less ends Gonzaga's chances for a 1 seed, as they'd have to go nearly undefeated the rest of the way to have a chance. But even a 3 seed would give them an excellent chance of getting back to the Elite Eight. People forget now, but Gonzaga has not been back to the Elite Eight since that magical run in 1999 that first made the school a household name nationwide.

Illinois 75, Missouri 57
This game was never even close, as Illinois looked extremely impressive in blowing a good Missouri team off the court. Illinois now moves to 11-1 with their only loss a 2-pointer to Clemson. And remember that they still have Alex Legion, the blue chip transfer who is eligible to play next semester. That said, they do need to beat another good team or two before I'm completely convinced that they're for real. Also note that they have a difficult Big Ten schedule, including home-and-homes with Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and Minnesota. Missouri, meanwhile, drops to 9-2, but their two losses have been against good teams (the other loss came to Xavier). They have wins over USC and California. And speaking of schedules, Missouri only has to play Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor once each. Those are the three Big 12 teams currently ranked, which means that Missouri has a relatively easy route to the 10-6 conference record that would more or less lock up a Tournament bid.

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