I still have a few games left from before Christmas to recap. Here we go:
#19 Washington 73, Texas A&M 64
It's hard to think of a worse scenario for Texas A&M. They entered this game ranked 23rd in the nation in the AP Poll, and were fighting even for the entire game until one of the most gruesome leg injuries any of us had seen on a basketball court felled Derrick Roland. Not only does the injury end Roland's Texas A&M career, but you didn't need to see his teammates crying to see how shell-shocked they looked the rest of this game. Not that the Washington players weren't affected either (they looked pretty tentative for the first few minutes after the injury), but it wasn't the same for them. Texas A&M had been playing well above expectations this season, but this missed opportunity and the loss of probably their toughest player potentially drops them all the way to being a bubble team. It's almost impossible to project how a team reacts to something like that, either by rallying around their fallen teammate, or by losing their intensity and focus. On the plus side, they get two cream puffs next before opening the Big 12 season in about as easy a fashion as possible: at home against Nebraska. But after that game they head to Kansas State and then to Texas, where we'll learn just how well this team is coping. As for Washington, they easily could have lost this game without the Roland injury, and questions still abound. They are 9-2, but this is their only win against a likely RPI Top 100 team. They have lost to the only good teams they've played who haven't had their floor leader felled by a gruesome broken leg mid-game (Texas Tech and Georgetown). Their RPI is currently 8th, but RPI doesn't mean a whole lot at this time of the year. Their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 24th and Pomeroy puts them 27th, which is closer to where they probably deserve to be this early in the year. I've been projecting them as a 2 seed in the Tournament, but that was because I thought they'd roll their conference with something like a 15-3 record, and not because I thought they were one of the eight best teams. But several Pac-10 teams have showed life these past two weeks, most notably Arizona, California and USC, but even something like a road game at UCLA will not be as easy as people might think. They are now done with out-of-conference play and open up Pac-10 play on New Year's Eve against Oregon State. They will need to go at least 14-4 in the Pac-10 to get a 2 seed or better.
#6 West Virginia 76, #21 Mississippi 66, OT
Ole Miss kept this game fairly close, but there was never much doubt who was going to win this game. West Virginia is deep and has an outstanding starting lineup, and Ole Miss is not the 21st best team in the country. This was West Virginia's last out-of-conference game, and they ended on a positive note. They are clearly one of the contenders to win the Big East, and a serious contender for a 1 seed as well. As for Ole Miss, they are now 10-2, but it's a weak 10-2. They have a victory over Kansas State from more than a month ago, but that's not the same Kansas State team that we've seen the last few weeks, and other than that their best win is over UTEP. They have played two top Big East teams and been handled fairly easily each time. They have one more quality opponent before beginning SEC play, UCF on January 5th. The fact that the SEC West is so bad provides some opportunities, but also some pitfalls. They have the ability to run up a good record, and have an excellent shot at 20 wins. But they also won't get a lot of credit for those wins, and quite possibly will have to 11-5 just to make the Tournament. They also didn't get any favors from the schedule makers, having to play on the road in their only games against both Kentucky and Tennessee. They open with an important home game against in-state rival Mississippi State on January 9th, which they really have got to win or they put themselves in a bad situation on Day One of SEC play.
Washington State 72, LSU 70, OT
This game was close the whole way, and in the end the difference was Washington State's star (Klay Thompson) playing better than LSU's star (Bo Spencer) down the stretch. Spencer had a three-point attempt to win with a few seconds to go and it clanged off the rim, meaning a tough loss for an LSU team that is good but has zero good wins. They are 8-3, but their three losses have come to the only three good teams they've played (UConn, Arizona State and Washington State). Their best win was probably an 11 point win over Western Kentucky back in early November. They have two final chances for quality wins before SEC play begins, at Xavier and vs Utah. Unless they beat Xavier it's hard to see the making the NCAA Tournament out of the SEC West without an 11-5 record or better. As for Washington State, they are part of that big logjam in the upper-middle of the Pac-10. They don't have the horses to finish better than Washington or Cal in the conference, but they've arguably played as well as anybody else in the conference. They are 10-2 with no bad losses, but this is their only quality win. None of the computer rankings think that they're a Tournament team, but we'll get a better sense of where they are during the first two weeks of Pac-10 play. They open at home against Oregon and Oregon State, and then go on the road to Arizona and Arizona State. If they can take care of business at home and then split on the road against the two Arizona teams then they'll be on a path to an at-large bid. The early part of their Pac-10 schedule is easier than the back end, so they've got to get off to a good start.