UNLV 63, #11 Kansas State 59
I titled this post the way I did for a reason. I forget who was announcing this game, but they kept harping on two reasons for Kansas State losing this game: poor free throw shooting, and the fact that Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended. The reality is, Kansas State has many more problems than that. Their free throw shooting has been awful for the past couple of years - this year their offense as a whole has been bad. They are sloppy with the ball and they are completely dependent on outside shooting, which more often than not has not been good. Even though they've spent most of the season ranked in the Top Ten, both Sagarin & Pomeroy rated Kansas State as closer to the 25-30th best team in the nation before Pullen & Kelly were suspended. Even with a full roster I think UNLV is nearly equal in quality to Kansas State, and would have just made the Wildcats the narrow favorites in this game because of homecourt advantage. But with Pullen & Kelly gone? Their two best scorers? I thought this game was going to be a romp. And honestly, Kansas State played really well in this game. They dominated the boards and played very good defense on UNLV's shooters, who have the ability to get white hot behind the arc but only hit 2-for-13 in this game. And so Kansas State almost pulled the upset... but came up short. The good news for Kansas State is that Pullen's suspension is only three games, so he'll just miss two more games against cupcakes. But Kelly's suspension (last I heard) was still for an indetermined stretch, and he could end up missing some of the Big 12 regular season. I view Kansas and Texas as superior to even a full strength Kansas State squad, but Kansas State won't even have a chance if they're going without Kelly. UNLV moves to 11-2 with several quality wins (Wisconsin, Kansas State, Virginia Tech) and only that one inexplicable loss to UC-Santa Barbara. But the Selection Committee has proven over and over again that they'll overlook an awful loss if it's balanced with a bunch of quality wins. UNLV remains in a position to earn a 3-5 seed in the Tournament if they can win the Mountain West.
St. John's 85, Northwestern 69
Northwestern's soft schedule really bit them here. They are a very skilled team with the ball and the team is full of great shooters, but they just didn't have the same intensity that St. John's brought to the second half of this game. The Johnnies looked better in the second half than they have in any game all season. St. John's hit 65% on two-pointers for the game, and had assists on 71% of their made baskets - they were getting a lot of fast break points. And maybe this is the type of game that will finally wake this Johnnies team up after a really disappointing and sluggish start (losses to Fordham and St. Bonaventure). And this performance comes just in time, with their Big East regular season scheduled to begin next Wednesday night at West Virginia. For Northwestern, the bright spot was John Shurna (28 points on 10-for-17 shooting). He was a very good shooter and scorer last season, but he was constantly getting his way to the basket off of the dribble in this game in a way I hadn't seen before. He's not the most athletic player, but he's so lanky and takes such weird angles that he's just really awkward to defend. This is still just Northwestern's first loss of the season, and we'll learn a lot more about them when they open Big Ten play, because they begin with a truly brutal stretch (at Purdue, vs Michigan State, at Illinois). I do think that this is the year that Northwestern will finally break through and make the Tournament, but they really need to win one of those three games to stay on track.
Washington State 83, Mississippi State 57
Mississippi State actually led this game by one point at the half, but they seemed to really wear out in the latter stages of this game. They've played a lot of games and done a lot of traveling lately, and I think it's catching up to them. Meanwhile, the Renardo Sidney Era continues to be a mess - he was suspended for this game for a confrontation he had at practice. At this point I don't see how Mississippi State fans can count on anything from him for the rest of the season - any positive play and/or attitude improvement has to be seen as a luxury at this point. Mississippi State falls to 7-4 on the season now, and with a couple of bad losses (East Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic) is nowhere near the bubble. With a couple more tough games ahead before they finally get Dee Bost back, Mississippi State could be playing itself out of the Tournament before we even turn to a new calendar year. For Washington State, the bright spot (other than Klay Thompson, of course) is Faisal Adams, who has given them a real offensive spark off the bench. The problem last season was that Thompson was the only player scoring, and the improved depth is why this team is so much better. Washington State overall is still something of a question mark, with zero big wins and zero bad losses. They'll get a chance to prove themselves tomorrow when they play Baylor. Regardless of their result in that game they will likely have a quality opponent in their final game at the Diamond Head Classic. They open Pac-10 play on a Southern California road trip at UCLA and at USC.