Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wake Forest Grinds Out Win Over Virginia

Wake Forest 64, Virginia 61, OT
I'm a big fan of Tony Bennett, the first year coach of Virginia. He coaches the same grinding style that he used at Washington State, and that he learned from his father. It's clear that Bennett just doesn't have the horses to have an NCAA Tournament team this season, but he'll eventually get the kids that he wants, and he's done a great job this season of making far more talented teams work really, really hard to beat him. Wake Forest also did them a favor in this game by hitting only 11-of-23 at the line. Virginia also got a big time performance here from the one legitimate ACC star that they have: Sylven Landesberg, who scored 28 points on 8-for-19 shooting from the field. But the other Virginia players really struggled with the athleticism and length of the Wake Forest defense, which Pomeroy rated as the 9th best defense in the nation coming into this game. Wake Forest appears to be pulling themselves off of the Tournament bubble for good, as they're now 6-3 in the ACC with a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way. In fact, I'd still throw them into the discussion as a potential ACC regular season champion. Virginia, meanwhile, falls to 5-3 with a much more difficult upcoming schedule. Five of their final eight games are on the road, and the three home games won't be much easier (against Florida State, Duke and Maryland). Virginia can make the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 9-7 in ACC play, but I don't see it happening. I see 7-9 as a much more likely result, which would still be an impressive year considering how little talent Tony Bennett has to work with.

Florida 69, Mississippi State 62
This was a very tight game for the first 30 minutes, with neither team getting a lead of more than three or four points, but Floida began to pull away over those final ten minutes and this game was not particularly close over the final moments. Jarvis Varnado is a vacuum cleaner down low, and so it's always a key for teams to hit outside shots to beat Mississippi State, and so Florida relied on their best shooter: Chandler Parsons. Parsons scored an efficient 18 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field, and also had 12 rebounds and six assists. Vernon Macklin also played well with 20 points. Even though Varnado didn't have a lot to swat at (he only had one block here, despite averaging more than five per game on the season) he did play well with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but he's just not much of an offensive force, and Mississippi State as a team just doesn't have somebody that they can rely on to get big baskets. It's why they struggle to win close games (they're 3-5 in games decided by less than five points, and 13-2 in all other games). At 4-4 in the SEC they now head into an essential home game against rival Ole Miss on Thursday evening. They are a solid 3-3 against the RPI Top 100, but their best win is over either Old Dominion or Ole Miss, and they are an atrocious 6-4 against teams in the RPI 101-200. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall out of the Top 70 when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning. Considering how weak their remaining schedule is they will have to go 9-7 in the SEC to have any real shot at an at-large bid heading into the SEC tournament. One advantage of being in the awful SEC West is that they could go 9-7 and still end up first place in the SEC West, meaning a much easier path through the SEC tournament than a 9-7 SEC team probably deserves. As for Florida, they move to 6-3 with a very difficult remaining schedule by SEC standards (the SEC is much better than it was last year, but it's still not all that good compared to the other BCS conferences - not counting the awful Pac-10, of course). They have a much better resume than Mississippi State with a 4-5 record against the RPI Top 100 including wins over Michigan State and Florida State, and with only one bad loss (to South Alabama). Unlike Mississippi State they'd have a shot at an at-large bid even if they only finish 8-8 in the SEC, but I really think they've got to get to 9-7.

Richmond 71, #17 Temple 54
Richmond hasn't been getting any attention out of the Atlantic Ten this season. Temple has probably gotten the most, because they've been ranked, but Xavier also gets a lot of attention because of the success they've had in recent years. And as for the other teams fighting for NCAA at-large bids, most of the attention has fallen on Dayton and Rhode Island. Richmond also suffers because they don't have any obvious stars: they're not explosive offensively, and they're not particularly big either. But they play very suffocating team defense. It's not glamorous, but it wins games. In addition to this win they also have nice wins over Missouri, Florida, Mississippi State and Old Dominion, leading to a 6-5 record against the RPI Top 100 and an RPI that is all the way up to 31st. They'd be right on the bubble if the season ended now, and I think they'd actually be one of the last at-large bids awarded, getting in ahead of Dayton (As solid as the A-10 has been this season, I can't see them getting five Tournament bids). The key for them the rest of the way will be road games at Rhode Island, Xavier and Dayton. They can afford to lose two games the rest of the season, not even including a loss in the A-10 tournament, while still being in good position for an at-large bid. But they might not be able to afford three more regular season conference losses. So they've got to win one of those big road games. As for Temple, they remain in a good position even after this loss, at 7-2 in the A-10 and 7-5 against the RPI Top 100. With a fairly easy remaining schedule it's very unlikely that Temple will fall all the way out of the NCAA Tournament, but it's possible. The key for the Owls is to not let one bad loss snowball into a losing streak.

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