Utah 60, #21 Illinois 58
This is a particularly damaging loss for Illinois when you consider the fact that they had a 16 point halftime lead, and that Utah was coming off a recent loss to Seattle. These are the types of losses that kill a team's computer numbers. But that said, Illinois was overrated to me. All season I've had them as a team that I think will narrowly sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Demetri McCamey is a very good player, but he hasn't developed into a player in the class of Evan Turner or Manny Harris, and there isn't an obvious sidekick. Also, while Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale are both big, neither is a great individual rebounder, and Illinois often struggles to rebound as a team (Pomeroy rated their offense rebounding last season as 266th in the nation). As for Utah, this win helps after a slow start to the season, but it's still a slow start to the season nonetheless. Losses to Idaho and Seattle will be hard to explain in March. Of course, Utah fans will point out, the Utes lost to Idaho State and Division II Southwest Baptist last season and still earned a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And that's all true, but that Utah team also won a share of the Mountain West regular season title, won the conference tournament, and went 5-6 against the RPI Top 50. If Utah does all of that again, and avoids any bad losses, then they can definitely get back to the NCAA Tournament. But that's a lot to ask from the team two years in a row.
Portland 61, #16 Minnesota 56
Unlike Illinois, I don't think Minnesota is overrated where they are. I think that with their great athleticism and depth that they're one of the 20 best teams in the country, which is what makes this loss much more damaging to the Big Ten than the reality check for Illinois. But if this result tells us one thing, it's how good this Portland team is. I was with my dad for Thanksgiving and the way I tried to explain this to him was "Pretend that Portland is actually called Gonzaga", and I think that's the way to think about it. They even have a Raivio family member on their team as part of a great backcourt. The one worry that I have for this Portland team is that they haven't been in this position before. When Gonzaga fell down by 15+ points to Colorado last week they stayed calm and slowly worked their way back because they'd been in those situations before and knew how to win those games. What happens when Portland falls down double-digits to some team - will they have the poise and confidence to come back? It remains to be seen. But it's hard to see how they aren't thrilled with a season that begins 5-0 with wins over Minnesota, UCLA, Oregon and Seattle (looking at how well Seattle has been playing, that 17 point victory over them is no longer something to sniff at, trust me), even if they don't find a way to topple West Virginia later today.
#10 Butler 69, UCLA 67
Imagine trying to explain to somebody ten years ago that they were a decade away from a game where UCLA would come into it believe that if they could hit all of their shots and if everything went right that could go right that maybe, just maybe, they could pull off an upset of Butler? UCLA shot 47% from the field here, which I believe is their best performance of the season, and held Butler's excellent outside shooters to under 40%, including 29% from behind the arc. Yet they still fell short, with Butler's Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack leading the charge to hold back the Bruins. If I'm going to criticize this Butler team it's on the development of Matt Howard. During his freshman season I thought he was going to become the next Butler star, and now he's just struggling to stay on the floor. He has now fouled out in four of the five games they've played this season, and only made it 16 minutes before fouling out of this one. And while you'll struggle to find more than four or five teams in the nation with better perimeter play than Butler, their inside play is really pretty mediocre when Howard is not on the floor. He will have to stay on the floor for Butler to beat good teams. For UCLA, the 76 Classic will be a bust as their final game will be against Long Beach State. Right now they don't look remotely like a Tournament team, but I do think that they'll improve as young players like Drew Gordon and Malcolm Lee start to realize that they've got to be the leaders of this team. Michael Roll cannot be the focal point of the offense. After Long Beach State they head home to get slaughtered by Kansas, but I'm looking towards games against Mississippi State, New Mexico State and at Notre Dame, all in December before Pac-10 regular season play begins. If UCLA is going to get back to the NCAA Tournament they've got to win at least two of those three games.