Monday, February 08, 2010

Texas A&M Moves Firmly Into Field Of 65

Texas A&M 78, #24 Baylor 71
I've been really impressed with the way that Texas A&M has rallied itself since the Derrick Roland injury. They are just playing smart and playing their hearts out, and they seem to be using Roland as a person to rally around rather than to pity. They've now won five of their last six games, including three straight impressive wins over Texas Tech, Missouri and Baylor. They're now 6-3 in the Big 12, and 6-6 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Clemson and Minnesota to go with the wins I already talked about, and zero bad losses. Their RPI is up to 20th, Sagarin has them 28th and Pomeroy has them 37th. By any measure they would definitely be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. If they can get to 9-7 in the Big 12 then it's hard to see them not making the Tournament. If they finish 8-8 then it could come down to their play in the Big 12 tournament. Considering how brutal their remaining schedule is (every single one is a game they can lose if they don't play well) they have by no means locked up that 9-7 record. As for Baylor, this is not a bad loss and they are still looking like a safe Tournament team, but they do have flaws. I think that their biggest flaw is the total lack of depth at the guard position. Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn are outstanding, and potentially the best backcourt in a conference full of great backcourts, but they have almost no bench production from the position. It means that they really get in trouble if either player gets in foul trouble, and also that both players need to take it easy on the defensive side of the court to stay fresh for 35+ minutes every game. Baylor's perimeter defense is well below average, meaning that they give up a lot of open three-pointers and force very few turnovers. The strong interior defenders (like Ekpe Udoh) do help bail out the guards when any opponent gets into the lane, so as a whole the Baylor team defense is still fairly strong (Pomeroy rates them the fifth best defense in the Big 12), but it's still a flaw that can be exposed by the right team. Baylor is only 4-4 in the Big 12, but have a relatively easy upcoming schedule and will be almost assured of an at-large bid if they can get to 8-8. They might even get in at 7-9, depending on other factors.

Oklahoma 80, #10 Texas 71
This was a pretty convincing win for Oklahoma. They scored the first points of the game and were never even tied after that, opening up an 18 point lead by halftime. They had a few anxious moments when the lead got down to 8 with about four minutes left in the game, but it never close enough that it really seemed like Texas might win. This game really just came down to three-point shooting, as the teams were even in just about every other aspect of the game. But Oklahoma hit 42% behind the arc and Texas hit 28% behind the arc. On the season Oklahoma has been slightly better, but more than anything this was just a day where Texas went ice cold on deep shots. But it seems like Texas has had a lot of those types of days recently, with four losses in their last six games. They could certainly quiet all of the criticism tonight if they beat Kansas. But short of winning that game, I no longer see any realistic path to either a share of the Big 12 title or a 1 seed, even if they win the Big 12 tournament. As for Oklahoma, this is by far their biggest win of the season, and it comes at a critical time as they try to make a run at an at-large bid. They are now up to 4-4 in the Big 12, and 13-9 overall, including 5-6 against the RPI Top 100. Those losses to Houston and San Diego back at the Great Alaska Shootout in November could really come back to haunt them if they come up just short of an NCAA bid. And at the moment, they would certainly be out if the season ended now, even with this nice win over Texas. Their RPI is 71st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 78th. They will have to finish at least 9-7 in the Big 12, in addition to winning at least one game in the Big 12 tournament, to have a good shot at an at-large bid.

Virginia Tech 70, Clemson 59

Clemson is going to have nightmares about Malcolm Delaney. Neither team could get much going offensively, with both squads hitting 31% from the field. Clemson had seven more turnovers, but they also had seven more offensive rebounds, and so those two stats basically cancel out. But with both teams struggling to score Malcolm Delaney just fought his way to the line over and over again, and that was the difference in the game. He went 20-for-23 from the free throw line by himself, and that is not a typo. Delaney hit one less free throw than Clemson attempted. This is a quality win for a Virginia Tech team that is on the fat part of the bubble right now. This win puts them 5-3 in the ACC with a relatively easy upcoming schedule, but the ACC is not regarded as highly this year as they have in recent years and just getting to 9-7 might not be enough for an at-large bid for the Hokies. They are still starving for a big win as this is their only RPI Top 50 win at the moment. As for Clemson, they fall to 4-5 in the ACC but with about as easy of an upcoming schedule as you can have in the ACC (vs Florida State, vs Miami, vs Virginia). They are 6-6 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Butler and Maryland and no bad losses, and should be safely into the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 8-8 in ACC play.

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