I apologize again for being a little bit behind on blogging. I've been traveling a lot, and won't be home again until soon after New Year's. Here are the last recaps from games on Christmas and before Christmas:
Florida State 68, #15 Baylor 61
This is always the most important game of an eight-team early season tournament - the third place game. The loser of this game is going to go home with two losses, and it's usually a good team that really can't afford consecutive losses. In this case, that loser was Baylor. This was always going to be a fun game because these teams are mirror images - both are extremely long and athletic, outstanding defensively, and good rebounders. With that in mind, I was actually surprised to see how few offensive rebounds (18 combined) and blocks (6 combined) there were. But both of these teams are flawed offensively, which meant that the winner would be whicever team got the ball into the paint. Quincy Acy did do well for Baylor (16 points on 6-for-16 shooting), but none of the Baylor post players did anything offensively. FSU on the other hand got Derwin Kitchen going along with star Chris Singleton (both reached 15+ points). They will likely be without Xavier Gibson until mid-February, so it was nice to collect a quality out-of-conference win before heading back into ACC play (they played and beat Clemson in their ACC opener a few weeks ago). They still have to play Auburn before playing at Virginia Tech on January 8th, but Auburn has been so putrid this season that it would take a shockingly poor performance for FSU to lose. As for Baylor, don't look now but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 106th in the nation. Remembering that it's extremely rare for a team with an ELO_CHESS worse than 50 to make the Tournament, that's shocking. Of course, their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 26th and their Pomeroy rating is 15th, so I wouldn't panic and put Baylor on the bubble. But they need to start winning basketball games. Their first big test in Big 12 play will be January 15th at home against Kansas.
Colorado State 63, Southern Miss 58
Colorado State appears to have clearly claimed the mantle as the fifth best team in the Mountain West with this well-played victory. Travis Franklin has emerged as a star this season, and what I like about him is that he's saved his best performances for the best opponents. A day after scoring 21 points against Ole Miss he had 25 points here, and earlier this season he shot 7-for-11 from the field at in-state rival Colorado. Colorado State now has their RPI up to 86th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 67th. If they could somehow get to something like 11-5 in the Mountain West, they might actually be a real bubble team. They open conference play January 4th against Wyoming. This was a letdown game for Southern Miss - their final quality opponent before conference play after a nice run where they beat Cal and Saint Louis. Southern Miss has an uphill battle to the bubble, but they should be considered a contender to win Conference USA outright. Memphis has shown a lot of flaws, and there's no question that UCF or Southern Miss can knock them off.
Butler 84, Washington State 66
Everything was clicking here for Butler, and they had a Merry Christmas, collecting another quality win as they get ready to begin Horizon League play on Saturday. Shelvin Mack and Zach Hahn shot the lights out (12-for-22 overall, 6-for-12 behind the arc), but the real highlight was Andrew Smith, who had 6 boards and shot 5-for-5 from the field. Brad Stevens is trying to go big with Smith and Matt Howard in at the same time, and even if he wasn't there's an important need at Butler for a second quality big because Howard came out of the womb in foul trouble (5.5 fouls committed per 40 minutes so far this season). After a really slow start to the season, Butler felt the urgency and has responded with four consecutive good wins (Stanford, Utah, Florida State, Washington State). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has flown all the way up to 42nd, meaning that a good record in Horizon League play (15-3 or better) should assure them an at-large Tournament bid. Washington State won't be happy about losing a game, but they should be satisfied with what came out of their trip to Hawaii. They beat Mississippi State and Baylor, and established a legitimate claim to being the second best team in the Pac-10. They haven't lost to a bad team all season and are 10-2, and both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as one of the 30 best teams in the nation. They should make the Tournament with an 11-7 or better Pac-10 record.