Thursday, January 15, 2009

Illinois State Reaffirms Position Atop Valley

Illinois State 65, Drake 61
A very nice job by Illinois State, overcoming a pesky Drake team to squeak out a four point victory. They were actually probably outplayed, but won this one on three-pointers (they hit 12 of them). What's more important is that they appear to have steadied the ship after two straight losses. They move to 15-2, including 4-2 in the Valley. A loss here and they would have fallen two games out of first place behind a couple of teams (including Drake). Without any good wins in the out-of-conference, it's essential for Illinois State to win at least a share of the Missouri Valley regular season title in order to earn an at-large bid. For Drake, this is a tough loss that further decreases any chance they have at an at-large bid themselves. They are 12-5, but only 1-5 against the RPI Top 100. No matter what, they have outperformed expectations this season, and definitely can have hope about life after Keno Davis.

Illinois 66, #24 Michigan 51
ESPN was calling this one an upset, even though Illinois was favored by seven points in Vegas. Michigan is overrated and Illinois is underrated, as anybody who follows the Big Ten closely knows that Illinois is probably the better team. And they're always tough to beat at Assembly Hall under any circumstances. Illinois also played this game the right way, which is to sag on defense and not allow a lot of layups. Michigan is often impatient on offense, and they will settle for three-pointers (they went 7-for-26 here). Illinois has a much more consistent offense with a number of steady weapons, including 7-footer Mike Tisdale (24 points on 12 shots from the field here). Illinois moves to 15-2, and though they lack any real big scalps they are an impressive 5-2 against the RPI Top 100. Nobody has a great chance at challenging Michigan State for a Big Ten title, but at 3-1 in conference play you have to say that Illinois has as good of a chance as anybody at second place. Michigan slips to 3-2 with a pretty tough schedule ahead.

Texas A&M 84, #21 Baylor 73
A nice win for a Texas A&M team that is surprising still under the radar. I suppose that while the Big 12 gets a lot of football hype, it's the Big East and ACC that get the lion's share of the attention from the national college basketball media. Part of the reason is that the Aggies lack a star, but it's easy to get away without a star when all of your starters score in double-digits (as they did in this game). They move to 15-2, and avoid slipping to 0-2 in the Big 12 with a brutal stretch coming up (Oklahoma, at Kansas, at Texas). For Baylor, it's never a bad loss to fall to a quality team like Texas A&M on the road. But they missed a chance to put some more distance between them and the bubble. With a win over Arizona State and zero bad losses, it's just about winning enough conference games. I would guess that 10-6 would be plenty for a bid, although things might be iffy if they're only 9-7.

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