Mississippi State 70, Arkansas 56
As I said after Arkansas beat their second Top Ten team of the season, I really don't think this team is all that good. They pulled two fluke wins, and while those wins will be great on Selection Sunday they only come into play if they can take care of business in the SEC. And in the SEC West, a 9-7 record still might not be enough to make the Tournament even with those two huge wins. Losing this badly at home to a mediocre Mississippi State team is a terrible way to open the SEC regular season. Even though they're 12-2, the computer numbers are weak. And with a front-loaded SEC schedule, they have to be careful about not getting demoralized by a bunch of January losses. If they lose confidence then they could easily go on a three or four-game losing streak that will destroy their Tournament hopes before they get a chance to run up wins late in the season over the likes of Alabama and Georgia. For Mississippi State, even this nice road victory doesn't get them all that close to getting back in the at-large debate, with an RPI still outside the Top 100. And it's no surprise, since the 11-5 record is actually inflated by the easy schedule they've played. They are a terrible 4-5 against the RPI Top 200. This early in the season anything is possible, but I'd be shocked if Mississippi State makes a real Tournament push.
South Carolina 68, Auburn 56
Speaking of the SEC, this is a nice win to open the conference regular season for an underrated South Carolina squad. They are now 12-2 with a win over Baylor, although that is mostly balanced out by a loss to Charleston. The out-of-conference schedule was weak, and so the computer numbers are not good, but it's easy for a team to run up a gaudy SEC record with solid play. The key will be surviving the upcoming stretch of games, as they head on a road trip next week to LSU and Tennessee, followed by a home game against Florida. Right now I would say that South Carolina is dueling with Kentucky for third place in the SEC pecking order, but even third place might not assure a Tournament bid. It's unlikely, but it's possible for this conference to only have two Tournament bids. The fact is that with such strong play out of the Mountain West, Atlantic Ten and Missouri Valley, as well as other mid-majors, the SEC picked a bad year to play so poorly.
Houston 75, UAB 56
A very solid performance from an underrated Houston team. If this team does sneak into the Tournament, casual fans are going to get to learn about junior college transfer Aubrey Coleman, who is just a wonderful all-around player. He is a dynamic scorer who led all players with 25 points in this game, but he's also a wonderful defender who is averaging a full three steals a game. In one of the most peculiar stat lines I've seen from a college player all season, Coleman put up 15 points, 13 rebounds, 7 steals and 8 turnovers in a big win over Toledo a few weeks back. He's just a very fun player to watch. That said, this win is only one victory in their battle to get back in the at-large discussion. The RPI is still outside the Top 100, although the other computers like them more than that. They have no ranked teams left on the schedule (although Memphis might end up ranked, and they have a home-and-home against the Tigers), so there is no magic bullet to throw Houston back into the at-large picture. They just need to grind these wins out while avoiding more than a couple of losses. UAB, meanwhile, still has the second best RPI in Conference USA, but I think that's deceptive. They are only 1-5 against the RPI Top 100, and my guess is that they have inflated their RPI by only playing three teams with an RPI higher than 220. But that will work its way out unless UAB gets back to their winning ways, because a 9-6 overall record is not going to cut it in the conference ranked tenth overall by both the RPI and Sagarin.