North Carolina 77, NC State 63
I'm always amazed at how much the media overreacts to every win or loss by a team. North Carolina loses a few games and suddenly all of the "experts" on television are making them into a bubble team that might miss the NCAA Tournament. Now sure, they've had a few straight bad performances. But if all it takes to be an "expert" is to see a team lose a few straight and extrapolate that to continue for the rest of the season, and ignore what they actually see on the court, then what exactly is the purpose of that? Nobody who watches them and knows anything about basketball thinks they're a bubble team. Now, this one game was easy. After so many losses there was no question that they were going to win this one - I was shocked that they were only favored by 1 point in Vegas (to borrow that old joke, I would have thrown a lot of money on this game if gambling were legal in this country). But after another relatively easy game at home against Virginia things get more difficult quickly, with road games at Virginia Tech and Maryland, and then a home game against Duke. Ed Davis is back in the lineup, but Tyler Zeller is still out, and Marcus Ginyard still is not 100%. Dexter Strickland continues to light up the court whenever he's on it (14 points on 6-for-7 shooting here), but Roy Williams continues not to trust him with extended time. The Tar Heels still have to prove that this win was not a fluke, and that they really are back. As for NC State, they picked the wrong night to get UNC. They might have won this game if it was played a week earlier. They now fall to 2-5 in the ACC with a couple of road games upcoming. They're now 13-8 overall and 3-8 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI nearly out of the Top 100 altogether. They need to finish 7-9 in the ACC to have any hope of an at-large bid, which means that a 5-4 finish is the absolutely minimum.
#13 Kansas State 76, Baylor 74
Baylor actually outplayed Kansas State in this game. They forced a remarkable 14 steals and did a great job of getting to the line (they ended up making seven more free throws than Kansas State attempted). But Kansas State won this game with hot outside shooting: 52% versus 21% for Baylor. Jacob Pullen was a particularly impressive 6-for-7 behind the arc. But a win is a win, and this was a particularly important win for the Wildcats. It was not surprising to see them have a letdown loss after that big win over Texas, and the question was how they'd respond after that letdown game. And to win a game at Baylor, even one where it took unusually sharp outside shooting, is a very impressive way to bounce back. Next comes up a huge home game against Kansas on Saturday night. As for Baylor, this is a tough missed opportunity that drops them to 2-3 in the Big 12 with a road game at Texas upcoming. Despite the rough start to Big 12 play this is still a team with a little bit of breathing space between them and the bubble, including a 6-3 record against the RPI Top 100 and a Sagarin rating of 26th. They'll likely get into the NCAA Tournament with even an 8-8 Big 12 record, so they just have to be sure to not lose too many games over the next few weeks.
UAB 65, Tulsa 55
Conference USA is in a complicated situation with five bubble teams, but no teams safely in the Tournament right now. The conference is improved, but not good enough for more than two or three at-large bids, so some of these teams need to break away from the pack in order to lock up their Tournament bids. If the teams beat up on each other too badly there is still a very realistic chance of the conference getting zero at-large teams. UAB is one of the teams with a chance of breaking away from the pack with a very impressive 18-2 record, including 6-0 in conference and 5-2 against the RPI Top 100. While those numbers are impressive, what's less impressive is that they lack any really notable wins (Butler and Cincinnati being the two best), that their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 50th and their Pomeroy rating is 48th. So while their resume is very good right now, with zero blemishes, their resume is better than they deserve. With a number of very tough games remaining (road games at Memphis and UTEP being the two toughest), UAB has to keep winning. The lack of big wins means that they will only earn an at-large bid by having an overwhelming winning percentage (at least 24 or 25 total wins). Their next test is a Saturday night road game against UTEP. As for Tulsa, they obviously have one of the top players in the nation in Jerome Jordan, but he didn't get a lot of help from his teammates in this game. They combined for 35 points on 31% shooting in this one. Ballhandling is a particular problem, although it was always going to be the weak link of a team with Jordan in the middle. This loss only drops the Golden Hurricanes to 15-4 overall and 5-1 in Conference USA, but they are only 1-3 against the RPI Top 100 (the one win coming over Oklahoma State) and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is only 76th. Like UAB, the lack of big wins means that Tulsa needs to have an overwhelming winning percentage to collect an at-large bid. They now enter a key stretch with five of their next seven games against the other teams they are fighting against for an at-large bid (Marshall, Memphis and UTEP).