Ohio State 70, #6 Purdue 66
This was a great duel between Evan Turner and Robbie Hummel. Hummel went for six threes just in the final six minutes of the first half. Turner did more of his damage in the second half, and in the end his 32 points ended up leading to the victory over Hummel's 35. There are no questions that Turner is back to the player that he was before his back injury. Things aren't all roses for Ohio State, because I do think that Evan Turner's insane game overshadowed some imperfections. One thing that stuck out to me was that Dallas Lauderdale only took one shot from the field all game, despite being on the floor for 24 minutes. The whole rest of the team took a back seat and basically watched Turner win this game by himself. It's a great win, but Turner won't play like this every night, and it's important for Thad Matta to keep his other players aggressive so that they'll be able to lead the team to victories when Turner isn't playing like this. But that's a problem for another day. When it was believed that Turner would be out of the lineup until February the question was whether Ohio State might fall out of the Tournament altogether, and that issue is obviously moot now. In fact, this win actually keeps their Big Ten championship hopes alive. It also really helps Michigan State and Wisconsin, moving this to what is now looking like a four-way race for the Big Ten title. I do still think Purdue is going to win this conference, although I'm a little bit less confident than I was a week ago.
North Carolina State 88, #25 Florida State 81
I have been saying that I don't think Florida State will be a Tournament team because their half-court offense is so bad. They struggle to create open shots for themselves, they turn the ball over a lot, and they don't shoot well even when they get shots. They have run up a good record over inferior competition because they are really athletic (and their defense is very good as well) and were just able to out-athlete inferior opponents. And don't be fooled by the score of this game: Florida State's half-court offense still wasn't all that good, even against a mediocre NC State team. This was a high tempo game with a lot of possessions, and Florida State forced a lot of turnovers and got a lot of easy layups. They shot poorly when you cancel out those layups, and had a poor assist-to-FGM ratio. Pomeroy rates NC State as having the worst defense in the ACC, so things won't get any easier. They now have a very important home game against Virginia Tech, because the schedule quickly gets more difficult after that, and they're already 1-2 and in danger of falling near the bottom of the conference. For NC State, this was a must-win if they were going to have a realistic path to an at-large bid. They entered this game 0-2 in ACC play, and their next four games are vs Clemson, vs Duke, at Maryland, vs UNC. I'll be surprised if they go better than 1-3 over that stretch. The odds are still long for NC State because they probably need to get to 8-8 in the ACC for a realistic shot at an at-large bid, but it's possible. Their Sagarin rating is up to 80th, so they're not too far from being a realistic bubble team.
#20 Pittsburgh 67, #15 Connecticut 57
Ashton Gibbs has started getting attention as one of the better players in the Big East, but he was actually overshadowed here by Brad Wannamaker. The two tied for a game-high 19 points, but Wannamaker was more efficient, collecting his on only ten shots from the field. Pitt has been winning with the same formula they've been using for years: rebounding and defense. UConn is also a great match-up for them, because Pomeroy says that Pitt is best at three-point defense (7th in the nation), which fits well against UConn's atrocious three-point shooting. Pomeroy says that UConn is 134th in the nation in three-point efficiency, but that's deceptive because they barely ever shoot any. They went 1-for-5 for this game. As I've said many times, this is a fundamental weakness because it's so hard for UConn to come back from a medium sized deficit. Pitt went a very quiet 10-2 out-of-conference against a fairly weak schedule, but they're suddenly 4-0 and tied for the lead in the Big East. And their upcoming schedule really isn't that bad. They have home games coming up against Louisville and Georgetown, and then have three straight against Seton Hall, St. John's and South Florida. I think they'll lose at least one of those next two games, but they do have to be considered at least a dark horse candidate to win the Big East. That's probably more than we can say for a UConn team that is 2-3 in the Big East. They would almost have to go undefeated the rest of the way to get even a share of the Big East title. Their conference schedule eases up over the next few weeks (although they do have a big out-of-conference opponent coming up, with Texas coming to town on January 23rd), so they should improve that conference record. But at 2-3 it's unrealistic to think that they can pass up all of the teams ahead of them in the Big East regular season standings.