Saturday, February 27, 2010

Texas Gaining Momentum Despite Losing Balbay

#21 Texas 69, Oklahoma State 59
Fears that Texas was turning into North Carolina and falling apart seem to have been greatly exaggerated. While both Texas and UNC have a ton of talent, Texas has a lot more in the way of senior leadership. Damion James won't let the Horns fall apart mentally like the Tar Heels have. Since losing six of nine games Texas has bounced back with two straight quality victories, and get another chance for another quality win this afternoon at Texas A&M. The question mark I have for them now is Dogus Balbay, who was injured during their previous game, and is out for the season with an ACL tear. Obviously they won this game without him, but there's no question that they'll feel his absence seriously at some point this season. Way back in November, when Varez Ward was knocked out for the season, I talked about the Texas situation at guard. Obviously Avery Bradley and J'Covan Brown have really taken off, and both are legimately explosive scorers. Justin Mason is a quality guard as well, and Jai Lucas has emerged as a minutes eater off of the bench. So Texas will still have four quality guards moving forward. But Dogus Balbay was my favorite guard on the team for two reasons. First, he was their best on-ball defender, and the Texas perimeter defense will struggle in his absence. More importantly, he was the primary ball handler who led the team in assists and never seemed to make any mistakes. While Jai Lucas can play the point, J'Covan Brown will be the one expected to take over as the starting point guard. Brown hasn't shown anywhere near the point guard ability of Balbay, and also is more raw and inexperienced. That big drop-off could really hurt the Texas offensive efficiency. And when you consider how key point guards are to NCAA Tournament success, the loss of Balbay could be crippling to any Final Four hopes that they still had. As for Oklahoma State, this is not a bad loss by any means, but it does drop them to 7-6 in Big 12 play with two very difficult games upcoming (vs Kansas, at Texas A&M). If they lose both of those games then they cannot finish better than 8-8, which would mean a real possibility of falling out of the NCAA tournament. A win against Kansas today would probably lock up that at-large bid for good.

Baylor 70, #23 Texas A&M 66
While Kansas State has moved firmly into second place in the Big 12, the battle for third place continues to be wide open, and after this result these two teams are in a tie for fourth place, only one game back of third placed Missouri. Both of these teams are safely in the bracket for the time being and would have to completely fall apart to end up back on the bubble again, but there are still a wide range of seeds available for both of these teams. Baylor is 21-6 with a 9-4 record against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Missouri, Oklahoma State and Xavier to go with this one, and only one bad loss (to Colorado). Their RPI is 12th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 15th. Texas A&M is 19-8 with a 7-8 record against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Clemson, Baylor and Missouri and no bad losses. Their RPI is 18th and their ELO_CHESS is 19th. Obviously Baylor has moved slightly ahead in terms of resume, but that could easily change. Baylor plays at Oklahoma this afteronoon, while Texas A&M will play simultaneously at home against Texas.

Notre Dame 78, #13 Georgetown 64
Notre Dame was looked to be off the bubble just about a week ago, and suddenly they're right back in the mix with two straight huge wins over Pittsburgh and Georgetown. What is even more amazing about these two games is the fact that Luke Harangody hasn't played a single minute in either, sitting out with an injury. Tim Abromaitis has been doing his best Luke Harangody impression all season long, but he was playing very well even before Harangody went out. Ben Hansbrough has continued to improve all season long and is clearly the floor leader when Harangody is out, but the real difference has been Carleton Scott, who really flourished today in extended minutes. The win pushes Notre Dame up to 8-8 in Big East play with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will be very close to the magical Top 50 when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning. Their final two regular season games will be against two other bubbles teams: at home vs UConn, then on the road at Marquette. If the Irish can split those two and then win a Big East tournament game then they will at the very least be a part of the discussion on Selection Sunday. As for Georgetown, that #13 ranking hides the fact that they're now only 9-7 in the Big East, with two difficult games upcoming (at West Virginia, vs Cincinnati). Of course, when Georgetown is playing at their best they can beat just about anybody, so there's no reason that they can't win at West Virginia. But they've so rarely played at their best this season, and I can't explain why they've been so up and down. Even if Georgetown loses out I still can't see them being on the bubble on Selection Sunday unless something really crazy happens because of all of the quality wins that they have, but their NCAA Tournament seed could really plummet. It would already be in the 5-7 range if the season ended now, and it could fall even further if they don't turn this around quickly.

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