Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wisconsin Continues To Roll

#16 Wisconsin 62, Michigan 44
You'd be hard pressed to find any team in the nation that has played better than Wisconsin over the last week or so. After slaughtering Michigan State at home, they just toyed with Michigan in Ann Arbor here. They always do such a great job of working the shot clock on offense, and they did a good job of scrambling for long rebounds here (8 offensive rebounds, compared to 13 defensive rebounds for Michigan). It's so devastating to play defense for 35 seconds and then realize you have to do with it again, and you could see it affect Michigan psychologically. There were a total of 80 shots taken in this game - by both teams combined. It was impossible for Michigan to come back in the second half because it seemed like they only got a shot once every two minutes. The only reason the score was so high (yes, I know there were only 106 points scored) was because both teams shot well (Wisconsin hit 54% from the field, Michigan hit 44%). The Badgers are now in a great position at 8-3 in the Big Ten, with all of their toughest games behind them. Their two toughest games the rest of the way are road games at Minnesota and Illinois. We can pretty much pencil them in for at least 13 wins, and if they can get to 14 then they'll have an excellent shot at earning at least a share of the Big Ten title. If they can do that then they'll be in serious consideration for a 2 seed on Selection Sunday. As for Michigan, they only have one game left in what has been a brutal eight game schedule. But as tough as that schedule has been, they've needed big wins and just haven't gotten them (they're now 2-5 through the first seven of those eight games). The Wolverines are now 4-7 in the Big Ten, and 11-12 overall. They have to get to win at least five of their final seven regular season games to have any shot at an at-large bid heading into the Big Ten tournament. Their next game, on the road at Minnesota on Thursday night, is practically a must-win at this point.

UNLV 88, #12 BYU 74
Tre'Von Willis was the star of this game with 33 points, but the real story for me was BYU's shooting. BYU is, in my opinion, the best shooting team in the nation. They entered this game ranked 2nd in the nation in free throw shooting, 6th in 3-point shooting, and 31st in 2-point shooting, and that's not controlling for their difficulty of schedule. They shot well at the free thrown line here (86%, which isn't that surprising when you consider that they're over 77% as a team this season), but they were only 38% from the field and 7-for-27 behind the arc. This game wasn't on any television channel that I get, so I don't know if this had to do more with great UNLV defense, or just a bad shooting night for BYU. Although the fact that BYU attempted so many threes despite shooting poorly, and the fact that nobody other Jimmer Fredette could get to the free throw line, suggests that UNLV just did a really good shot of forcing long, contested shots. Either way, this is a huge win for a UNLV team that has separated itself from San Diego State and seems to be the clear third best team in the Mountain West. They're 7-2 in the Mountain West, and 8-3 against the RPI Top 100, including wins over Louisville, Arizona, New Mexico, San Diego State and BYU. There's no doubt that they'd be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, and they could really get a good seed if they play like this more often. As for BYU, this loss drops them to 7-2 and a three-way tie atop the Mountain West with UNLV and New Mexico, but they have a very easy upcoming schedule that should help them get back to their winning ways. They'd have to completely fall apart to have any chance of missing the NCAA Tournament.

#13 Gonzaga 66, Memphis 58
I enjoy the annual Gonzaga-Memphis games, but they've definitely had better games in their series than this one. It hurts that Memphis is nowhere near as good as they've been in recent years, but neither of these teams played well here even by this year's standards. Both teams shot right around 40%, and the two teams combined to only hit 60% from the line. I give Mark Few credit for focusing his defense on Elliot Williams. It's become clear this season that Memphis plays well when Williams plays well, and he's been the star in every single one of their big wins. Gonzaga held him to 11 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds here, which wasn't nearly enough. Wesley Witherspoon got loose for 26 points, but that's okay. If you can contain Elliot Williams then you can allow the other Memphis players to score their points, because they just are not experienced enough or good enough to win that way. For Gonzaga, they needed this win to emphasize that they are still an elite team, since it's so hard to find quality opponents in the WCC. Their next game is against Saint Mary's - a quality opponent - but otherwise they will not play another good team until the WCC tournament at the earliest. If Gonzaga wins out then they will be in the discussion for a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the argument against them will be the lack of big wins. Their win over Wisconsin looks really good right now, but otherwise their best wins are over Cincinnati and Saint Mary's, which will be a very weak collection of scalps compared to the other teams vying for 2 seeds. As for Memphis, their at-large chances are not looking very good right now. They are 16-7 overall, including 3-5 against the RPI Top 100, but their win over UAB is their only win against the RPI Top 60. They also have bad losses to SMU and UMass. Their RPI has fallen all the way to 76th in the nation. With two games left against Tulsa, as well as a road game against UAB, Memphis can still build a decent resume. But their best chance will be winning the C-USA tournament, which I still think they will. They have the most pure talent in the conference, have the confidence and experience from their dominance in recent years, and despite their struggles against elite teams out-of-conference they have still looked very good against the best that the C-USA has to offer.

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