Sunday, January 18, 2009

James Harden Beats UCLA

#15 Arizona State 61, #7 UCLA 58, OT
When Arizona State got rocked by USC a couple of days ago, I spoke about how they were exposed as being really all about James Harden. When Harden isn't playing his best, Arizona State is not an elite team. But when he is playing his best, my goodness is he good. You might not realize how much he dominated this game by just looking at the box score, as Harden had a good-but-not-outstanding 24 points. But he really was the Arizona State offense, especially in the late game and into overtime. One underrated aspect of this Arizona State team is their defense. They held UCLA without a field goal between 8:12 left in the second half and 0:55 in overtime. They actually held UCLA without a point for more than nine crucial minutes of game time. And this might expose a weakness of UCLA which is a lack of elite scorers. If you can keep Darren Collison out of the lane, UCLA really struggles on offense. That all said, this was still just an upset, and UCLA is still the unquestioned team to beat in the Pac-10. There are now zero undefeated teams in Pac-10 regular season play, with six teams having one or two losses. This victory keeps alive Arizona State's slim chances of winning the Pac-10 regular season title. But more importantly, it really helps their resume. They've got a great shot at something like a 4 or a 5 seed in March.

#10 Michigan State 63, Illinois 57
A few days ago I spoke about my huge disappointment regarding the way that Michigan State choked down the stretch at Penn State. They won the game, but only because Penn State choked the game away themselves. I have gotten so used to seeing incredibly savvy play down the stretch from this very experienced team. And I'm happy to report that the Penn State game was a fluke, because Michigan State played tremendous over the final ten minutes of this game. Illinois is a very good team that played a very good game, but just seemed utterly unable to stop Michigan State's run to end the game. The Spartans might be able to put away the Big Ten regular season title over the next three to four weeks, because I don't see how anybody else is going to contend. Despite falling to 3-2 in the Big Ten, I still feel like Illinois has as good of a chance at finishing second in the Big Ten as anybody. I think they have a great combination of scorers, passers, shooters, rebounders and defenders.

Virginia Tech 79, Boston College 71
Boston College continues to be cursed by that North Carolina victory, as they have now followed that up with four straight losses. The computer rankings have similarly collapsed, and their RPI is now 69th overall. They are now only 4-4 against the RPI Top 100, along with two losses to teams outside the RPI Top 150 (Saint Louis and Harvard). At 1-3 in the ACC, they are going to have to go at least 6-6 the rest of the way to even be considered for an at-large bid. In other words, they need to get out of this funk soon. Virginia Tech wouldn't be in the Tournament if the season ended today either, but at least they are moving in the right direction. At 2-1 in ACC and 3-3 against the RPI Top 100, they've got respectable numbers all around. But the lack of a marquee win (zero over the RPI Top 50) means that they probably need an upset somewhere along the line to make the Tournament. They actually have an underrated opportunity coming up on Wednesday night when they head on the road to play a Wake Forest team that is going to spend all week hearing the national media call them the best team in the country. Wake Forest is a far better team than Virginia Tech, but they're primed for an upset with so much hype. Virginia Tech will never make the Tournament if they go 7-9 in the ACC, so they've got to get to at least 8-8 with at least one big win. On the road at Wake Forest would certainly qualify.

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