Sunday, January 31, 2010

W-6 BP65

Six weeks until Selection Sunday. Only about four weeks until conference tournaments begin. The next BP65 will be out a week from now, after next Saturday night's games. But after that I will begin posting new BP65s twice weekly, after Wednesday night's games and after Saturday night's games.

For the time being, here's how I see things ending up:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Texas
2. Syracuse
2. Michigan State

3. West Virginia
3. Georgetown
3. Ohio State

4. Tennessee
4. Kansas State

5. Georgia Tech
5. Missouri
5. North Carolina

6. Pittsburgh
6. Clemson
6. Wisconsin

7. Washington
7. Wake Forest
7. Baylor

8. Vanderbilt
8. BYU
8. Xavier
8. UConn

9. Florida
9. Louisville
9. Mississippi
9. Cincinnati

10. Minnesota
10. Maryland
10. Oklahoma State
10. Mississippi State

11. Texas A&M
11. UNLV
11. Arizona State

12. Illinois
12. Florida State





Other teams considered, but that just missed the cut:
Virginia Tech, Dayton, Richmond, Rhode Island, Notre Dame, Northwestern, UAB, Tulsa, Wichita State, San Diego State, Saint Mary's

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Miami (Fl), Charlotte, Marquette, Seton Hall, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, VCU, UTEP, Arizona, South Carolina, Louisiana Tech

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Boston College, NC State, Virginia, Saint Louis, Providence, St. John's, South Florida, Michigan, Iowa State, George Mason, Northeastern, William & Mary, Marshall, Harvard, Iona, Illinois State, Missouri State, Oregon, Washington State, Alabama, Georgia, Portland, Nevada

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Duquesne, La Salle, St. Bonaventure, George Washington, DePaul, Rutgers, Northern Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Penn State, Colorado, Nebraska, Pacific, Houston, Southern Miss, UW-Green Bay, Wright State, Akron, Bradley, Creighton, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Colorado State, Utah, UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Texas Loses Again

Baylor 80, #6 Texas 77, OT
Anthony Jones hit an impressive, clutch layup as time was expiring in regulation to send this one to overtime. A.J. Jones then hit three free throws in the final fifteen seconds of overtime to end this game. Both teams had a lot of foul trouble, but Baylor had it worse with leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn fouling out with more than four minutes left in regulation. At the time Texas had just fought back from a double-digit second half deficit to tie the game, and it just seemed like they were finally going to put the Bears away. But Texas has lost three of their last four games, and they've done it by just not hitting the big shot, not making the big stop, and losing that confidence that they had when they were 17-0. Texas now falls two full games behind Kansas and will potentially fall all the way out of the Top Ten in the polls on Monday, but the bigger issue is righting the ship with several more tough games coming before they get a breather: at Oklahoma State, at Oklahoma, vs Kansas. As for Baylor, this win only moves them to 3-3 in the Big 12, but they're an impressive 7-3 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Oklahoma State, Xavier and now Texas. Their RPI is up to 27th, and their Sagarin rating will be up around 20th when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning. They certainly look in good position to make only their third NCAA Tournament in more than half a century.

Missouri 95, Oklahoma State 80
When Missouri is playing like this they're almost impossible to beat. They always force a lot of turnovers (Oklahoma had 22 of them in this game), but they also shot 17-for-31 from behind the arc here. When they're scoring efficiently, with the high pace of their games, it's really difficult for their opponents to stay calm. This win moves them to 4-2 in the Big 12 with a relatively easy upcoming schedule, so they're in a good position to really move up the standings. For Oklahoma State this loss drops them to 4-3 with a big home game against reeling Texas coming up next. They are 16-5 overall, including 4-5 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS rating of 31st. At this point they're probably sixth in the Big 12 pecking order (behind Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Missouri and Baylor), but the Big 12 will get at least six Tournament teams this season, and Oklahoma State would definitely be a Tournmament team if the season ended now. If they can finish 4-5 to get to 8-8 in the Big 12 they should earn an at-large bid.

Washington 92, Washington State 64
This game was actually pretty close for the first 25 minutes, but Washington end this game on an insane 56-23 run. Despite the high number of points scored the key was actually Washington's defense, which completely shut down Wazzu's offense. They were particularly impressive in shutting Klay Thompson down with seven points on 2-for-15 shooting, by far his worst game of the season (he was averaging over 22 points per game heading into this one). This was a key game for a Washington team that actually entered this game in a tie for last place in the Pac-10, although it was with a 3-5 record. With as jumbled as the Pac-10 is, a 12-6 record might be enough for a share of the regular season title. Over the next two weeks they will play the two teams that are most likely to challenge them for the Pac-10 title (Arizona State and Cal), so they still have a realistic shot to claw their way back into serious contention. As for Washington State, despite this loss they might still have the third best NCAA Tournament resume of any postseason-eligible Pac-10 team, but that isn't saying a whole lot this season. They are now 14-7 overall, including 7-7 against the RPI Top 200 with a Sagarin rating near 100th in the nation. They will have to win at least six of their final nine Pac-10 games to have any kind of a shot at an at-large bid.

Georgetown Obliterates Duke

#11 Georgetown 89, #7 Duke 77
The final score does not do justice to how big of a blowout this game was. Georgetown led by 23 points with about four minutes to go before Duke went on a little run. Duke actually played fairly well for the first 25-30 minutes of this game, playing their typical solid basketball and dominating the rebounding battle against the more athletic Hoyas (Duke had 12 offensive rebounds versus only one for Georgetown). But Georgetown was shooting out of their minds, and Duke couldn't even get the score particularly close. And with about ten minutes left in the game Duke just began to fall apart, and they played worse than I'd seen all season long. One thing you can almost always count on with Coach K's teams are the lack of stupid mistakes, but they started making them by the bunches. They made stupid passes, took stupid shots, and were back-doored to death on defense. Georgetown shot 72% from the field, although as hot as they were that number wouldn't have been nearly as high without so many layups. For almost two years I've been saying that Georgetown can be a really good team if they can just click as a team, and this is the first time in the past two seasons that they've really clicked like that for an extended stretch. At 6-3 in the Big East Georgetown is a long shot for the Big East regular season crown, but they have a legitimate shot at a 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament even if they don't win the Big East. If they're going to make any run at a conference title then it will have to start next Saturday when Villanova comes to town. As for Duke, the good news about this game is that it doesn't count in the ACC standings, and they remain in a virtual tie atop the ACC at 5-2. They next play Georgia Tech at home, but the game that is really looming is that game in Chapel Hill on February 10th.

Marquette 70, #19 UConn 68
Marquette came into this one 1-7 in games decided by five points or less, even though this is a team that you might expect to be good in close games, with a very guard heavy lineup and with fairly experienced stars. Jimmy Butler hit the game winner here with 2.6 seconds to go and UConn never got another shot off. For UConn, the warning bells really have to be going off as that Texas win is looking more and more like a fluke performance. In the other three games they've played since Jim Calhoun has been on leave they beat St. John's, lost this game and were rocked at Providence. This loss drops them to 3-5 in the Big East and they have a very difficult game upcoming at Louisville on Monday night. They also still have to head to Syracuse, Villanova and Notre Dame this season. I do believe they'll be a Tournament team if they get to 8-10 in Big East and have a respectable performance in the Big East tournament, but that's no sure thing anymore, especially with the upcoming schedule and the uncertainty around Calhoun. Do not be surprised to see UConn still on the Tournament bubble when March rolls around. In fact, I'd be surprised if they aren't. As for Marquette, it's clear that they still think they have a chance at the NCAA Tournament, particularly after taking the redshirt off of true freshman Junior Cadougan and letting him play his first game of the year last week. I still view them as something of a long shot considering how much they are struggling to win close games, and how they don't even seem to be a complete team (the biggest player in their regular rotation is Lazar Haywood, who is 6'6", 225 pounds -it's no surprise they lost the rebounding battle to a huge UConn team here 41-to-18). This win moves Marquette to 4-5 in the Big East with an RPI of 58th, but they're only 7-8 against the RPI Top 200. They now have a few nice wins (over Georgetown, Xavier and now here against UConn), so they can make the Tournament without great computer numbers, but they still have a lot of work to do. They're going to have to get to at least 9-9 in Big East play to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

#9 West Virginia 77, Louisville 74
Louisville has to start thinking that the Big East referees are conspiring against them, as another bad call in the final ten seconds cost them a game - in this case it was an incorrect out-of-bounds call with six seconds to go. Louisville led this game by 12 points with less than seven minutes remaining, but they have continually managed to blow close games while West Virginia has continually pulled out close games, and in the end those trends continued. With the win West Virginia moves to 6-2 in the Big East, and with home games against Pitt and Villanova coming up in the next two weeks they are still positioned to make a run at the Big East title. And if they can win a share of that title and then win the Big East tournament title then they will have to be seriously considered for a 1 seed on Selection Sunday. For Louisville, as good as they've played they remain a bubble team because of these close losses. On the season they are 0-4 in games decided by five points or less, including 0-3 in the Big East, and they are now 4-4 overall in conference play. They are only 4-8 against the RPI Top 100 and do not have a win over the RPI Top 40. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 59th and their PREDICTOR is 29th, so they're clearly a much better team than their record, but it's getting a little bit late in the season for that to be much comfort. At this point any hopes of a top three or four finish in the Big East are over and Louisville has to focus on just locking up an NCAA bid. Their next game is a dangerous home game against a desperate UConn team, but other than a road game at Syracuse they have a fairly easy next three weeks. Despite this tough stretch (four losses in their last five games) I'd still be surprised if Louisville doesn't have that at-large bid sewn up by the first of March.

Purdue Survives Wisconsin

#12 Purdue 60, #16 Wisconsin 57
Despite this being only the second loss for Wisconsin since the Jon Leuer injury, this is actually the best they've played since the Leuer injury, and the Badgers should be encouraged by their play here. This is the toughest game on their schedule because historically they have almost never won at Purdue, and Purdue's style of play matches up very well against Wisconsin's. Wisconsin did a better job of taking care of the ball and getting better shots, and Purdue only won this game because of their size inside which led to a bunch of tip-ins off of misses. They had 11 offensive rebounds while Wisconsin had 15 defensive rebounds. Since the Leuer injury Wisconsin has mostly gone with a seven man rotation, and none of those seven are really post players, so rebounding is a big issue for them. But this result, even though it's a loss, proves to me that this team won't fall off the face of the Earth as they wait for Leuer to return. For Purdue, they got a great game out of E'Twaun Moore (who had 20 points and was really the only Boilermaker who could consistently create his own shot) and Robbie Hummel (who was shut down by Tim Jarmusz, probably the most underrated defender in the Big Ten, but did a great job of getting second chance points and by creating offense for others, finishing with four offensive rebounds, five assists and 12 points). Purdue now moves to 5-3, which puts them in a tie for third place in the conference. Wisconsin is still in second place, but at 6-3 they also have three losses. Michigan State is far ahead of everybody at 8-0 but they have had a relatively easy schedule and pulled off a bunch of very close wins, and are not as good as many people think they are. If Purdue can sweep their two games with Michigan State then they actually still have a realistic shot of winning the Big Ten regular season title. I certainly give them a better shot than anybody else of taking the title from the Spartans.

Virginia Tech 76, Virginia 71, OT
This result should put together the silly hype about Virginia, which was inexplicably getting a lot of Top 25 media votes and getting put into the field of 65 on other bracketology sites. Tony Bennett is, in my opinion, one of the best young coaches in the country, and he will build up this program. But this is Bennett's first season, and he was just not dealt a very good hand. Other than Sylven Landesberg there isn't anybody who is considered one of the better players in the ACC, and as a thin team they tend to wear out at the end of games (as they did here, where they actually led most of the game before faltering down the stretch and in overtime). They are trying to learn a new system, and it will just take a few years for Bennett to get the players he wants to build a winner. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, does have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament this season. This win pushes Virginia Tech to 3-2 in the ACC and 16-3 overall, with a 3-3 record against the RPI Top 100, but with no big wins or bad losses. Their strength of schedule is very poor, and so since the RPI overvalues strength of schedule it only has the Hokies at 61st, but that number will improve as their strength of schedule improves (Sagarin rates their strength of schedule 193rd, one of only three ACC teams outside the Top 90). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 25th and their PREDICTOR is 45th, and Pomeroy has them 36th. What that all tells me is that if the season ended right now Virginia Tech would almost definitely make the Tournament, but they've got a lot of work left to do. If they can end up 8-8 in the ACC while knocking off at least one elite team then they will more than likely earn an at-large bid.

California 78, Arizona State 70
California's backcourt, probably the best in the Pac-10, had perhaps their best game of the season and led the Bears to a huge victory in terms of at-large positioning. Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher combined for 46 points on 16-for-29 shooting from the field, and they absolutely shut down Derek Glasser, who sometimes struggles against very athletic guards like them. If it wasn't for Eric Boateng's best game of the season (his first double-double since a mid-November game against TCU) and homecourt advantage this game probably wouldn't have even been close. This was the first game in a stretch of four key road games for Cal (at Arizona State, Arizona, USC and UCLA) that could determine whether they win the conference, or whether they even make the NCAA Tournament. This win keeps them in first place in the Pac-10 at 6-2, but the conference is so jumbled that everybody is close behind (the last placed team in the Pac-10 right now is 3-5). With this win Cal now has the best computer numbers in the conference across the board: their RPI is 18th, Sagarin has them 29th and Pomeroy has them 17th. If they can go 5-5 the rest of the way and then have a respectable performance in the Pac-10 tournament then I think they're in very good shape for an at-large bid. For Arizona State, this was a huge missed opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac-10 pack. They are now 4-4 in the Pac-10 and 14-7 overall, but only 7-7 against the RPI Top 200. With an RPI of 90th and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 86th there is no chance they'd make the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. They've got to finish 10-8 or better to have any chance of an at-large bid. But their Sagarin PREDICTOR rating is 28th and Pomeroy has them 30th, even after this loss, so they're good enough to still make a run.

Friday, January 29, 2010

New Mexico Holds Serve

New Mexico 76, #12 BYU 72
This was one of the most important games of the week, and certainly the most underrated, but it actually didn't tell us a whole lot about these two teams. New Mexico and BYU have separated themselves a little bit from the rest of the pack in the Mountain West and both look to be pretty firmly in the NCAA Tournament, and so the question is which team will win the conference. These two teams have two of the best home court advantages in the nation, and so a narrow New Mexico win here suggests a likely narrow win for BYU at the Marriott Center when these teams play again on February 27th. BYU is possibly the best shooting team in the country, rated first nationwide in free throw shooting, eighth in two-point shooting, and 12th in three-point shooting. They also are solid and don't make mistakes, generally winning the turnover battle and not giving up offensive boards. New Mexico didn't win this game by taking advantage of any particular BYU weakness, but simply by fighting to a draw and hoping to hit more clutch shots down the stretch. The two teams tied with 37 rebounds and 11 turnovers, and both hit exactly 24 of exactly 63 shots from the field. Three-point shooting was basically a draw as well (42% for BYU, 41% for New Mexico), so the difference was free throw shooting, and the fact that New Mexico got to the line more and hit more of their shots once they were there. But like I said, this doesn't tell us a lot about what will happen in the Mountain West tournament. I expect BYU to beat New Mexico in the match-up next month, although we'll learn at that game if either team finds some weakness in the other.

#7 Duke 70, Florida State 56
Florida State scored the first basket of this game, and Duke quickly came back and took a lead that they never let go of the entire game. This was a game that they were expected to win, and they took care of business. Duke struggled a bit with Florida State's athleticism defensively, and they were also beaten fairly soundly on the boards, but this game wasn't close because Florida State's offense was dreadful. They turned the ball over 22 times and hit 23 shots from the field for the game. The Seminoles are now 3-3 in the ACC with a tricky road game at Boston College tomorrow afternoon. If they can get to 8-8 in ACC play then they will likely collect an at-large bid. As for Duke, they move again into a virtual tie atop the ACC with a 5-2 record. If they can win at least a share of the regular season title (very likely) and then win the ACC tournament title (much more of an uncertainty) then Duke will be in the 1 seed discussion on Selection Sunday.

#22 Georgia Tech 79, Wake Forest 58
Staying in the ACC, Georgia Tech had maybe their best performance of the season in this annihilation of Wake Forest. Georgia Tech's strength is its frontline while Wake Forest's is its backcourt, so it was essential that the Yellow Jackets dominate the boards and the paint, which they did. Wake Forest had no answer for Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, who combined to shoot 10-for-16 shooting from the field, 18 rebounds and six blocks. True freshman Brian Oliver also deserves a lot of credit for his second consecutive nice game off the bench (13 points with 3-for-4 shooting behind the arc, coming off a 20 point performance on six three-pointers at Florida State). This is an important win for Georgia Tech to get to 4-3 in the ACC with a road game at Duke their next conference battle, followed by several more very difficult games. As for Wake Forest, it's hard to be too negative about this loss coming off two straight quality victories. They are now 4-3 in the ACC with a relatively easy game next at home against Miami. They will get their chance for revenge at home against Georgia Tech in about three weeks.

The SEC Is Being Led By... Vanderbilt?

#23 Vanderbilt 83, #14 Tennessee 76
Kentucky is the team currently ranked #1 in the nation. Tennessee is the team that knocked off #1 ranked Kansas a couple of weeks ago. Yet first place in the SEC is currently held by Vanderbilt, after this very impressive road victory. This is a particularly surprising result when you keep in mind how much better Vanderbilt is at home than on the road. Over the previous two seasons they have been a combined 14-2 at home and 4-12 on the road. A.J. Ogilvy is the best known player on Vandy, and he has had a good year, but Jermaine Beal was the star here with 25 points on only 12 shots from the field and, most impressively, zero turnovers in 38 minutes despite fielding a large piece of the ball handling duties. Next for Vandy it's a road game at Kentucky, which they'll probably lose (Kentucky coming off their first loss of the season, Vandy coming off their biggest win of the season, you have to expect Kentucky to win easily). The question is what happens next, and whether Vanderbilt will make a serious run at being the second best team in this conference. The SEC is much better than it was last season, and being in second place in the SEC pecking order will mean a pretty good Tournament seed. For Tennessee, we're starting to learn more about how good or bad this team really is. That magical run they had after those suspensions was just that: a temporary hot streak which inevitably was going to run into reality. Teams don't get better by kicking their best player out of the program. That said, while this result will have a huge impact on the SEC East standings, I do still think that Tennessee is the better team, and that they remain the second best team in the conference. Their next game is a home game against Florida on Sunday afternoon.

Oklahoma State 76, Texas A&M 69
Oklahoma State's hot shooting (58% from the field, 67% behind the arc) was enough to overcome another game without Ray Penn, and they have quietly moved into a tie with Kansas State for third place in the Big 12. This was actually a mildly unimpressive display by them, as Texas A&M was more efficient rebounding and turned the ball over six less times. If Oklahoma State's outside shooters weren't unconscious they would have lost (and it's not like they're used to this, as even after this game they're only shooting 34.1% behind the arc as a team, which is good for 167th in the nation). But things are going to get very tough very soon for this team, which has an insanely tough final stretch to their regular season. In fact, the only game I'd label as "not too difficult" the remainder of the way is their season finale, at home against Nebraska. Their schedule and resume are good enough that a 4-6 finish to the season will more likely than not be enough for an at-large bid, but that won't be easy. As for Texas A&M, they enter the key stretch of the season. The Derrick Roland injury is far enough in the rear view mirror that things are getting back to normal, and he has supposedly done a great job at providing advice and leadership from the bench and on the practice court, but there's only so much that he can do without playing. And at 3-3 in the Big 12 they now enter a series of games that all be tough, but none will be unwinnable. In three weeks they could be 6-5 and within reach of locking up an at-large bid in February, or they could be 4-7 and desperately trying to get back on the bubble.

Memphis 75, Marshall 72
There are five bubble teams in Conference USA, and it feels like they're each at this point in the season. The key to the conference gaining multiple bids will be two or three teams pulling away from the pack, and a situation where the teams all beat up on each other and fail to differentiate themselves could still lead it to become a one-bid conference yet again. Memphis is probably the best team in the conference, certainly in terms of pure natural talent. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy agree that they've played the best of any of the C-USA teams, although not by much. But as good of a team as they've been, they're inexperienced, they're thin, and they have a very young coach who was hired for his recruiting abilities - not his in-game coaching acumen. They have just been unable to win a close game against a good team, until now. In fact, this is by far their best win of the season. They had two other RPI Top 100 victories, and they came at home against IUPUI and Oakland (yes, both teams are in the Top 100. And no, neither is a particularly impressive win for an at-large resume). Memphis has two more chances for nice wins next week when UAB and Gonzaga come to town, and the following week they get a chance to prove that they can win tough games on the road when they head to Tulsa. As for Marshall, they seem to have been particularly deflated by that close loss to West Virginia, a team that they really should have beaten. They've followed it up with consecutive home losses, to UAB and Memphis. And things don't get any easier, with road games at Houston and Tulsa coming up this week. They are 4-2 in the conference and 15-5 overall, but they're 0-5 against the RPI Top 100 and the computer numbers are really starting to sag. They need to snap out of this slump quickly or any at-large chances they had will be gone.

And Then There Were None

South Carolina 68, #1 Kentucky 62
This game had the feel of one of those games where the big upset is almost inevitable. The South Carolina players were diving all over the floor, the crowd was in a frenzy, and the Kentucky players look scared and tentative. The game wouldn't even have been close without some great play by John Wall down the stretch. I used to think that the best freshman I had seen play was Dwyane Wade (Carmelo Anthony got more attention that season because his team won the title, but he also had better teammates and a better coach - I was more impressed by Wade that year), but I think I'd rather have 2009-10 John Wall than 2002-03 Dwyane Wade. That all said, the star of this game was Devan Downey, who'd be a household name by now if he played for another team. He is practically unguardable one-on-one, and torched Kentucky for 30 points. That said, people are making a bigger deal of this game than it should have been. Kentucky is not the best team in the country, or even one of the best. Pomeroy rates them the 11th best team in the country and Sagarin's PREDICTOR has them 12th. They were the last undefeated team because their schedule was so easy, not because they were the best team. The computers agree with me that Kansas is the best team. Sagarin rates Kentucky's current strength of schedule 120th in the country, and they have yet to play a game against a team in the current RPI Top 25. A loss like this is actually a good thing for Kentucky. The stress of being the last undefeated team really wears a team out, and it's always easier to make a run at a Final Four without that albatross. On top of that, there's a big risk with a very young team that they will get too impressed with themselves. This loss is a reality check, and they'll be better down the road for it. They still remain a favorite for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, if South Carolina makes the NCAA Tournament they will likely have this win to thank. This win moves them to 3-3 in the SEC and 3-7 against the RPI Top 100. They're going to have to go at least 9-7 in the SEC to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid, which means a 6-4 finish. Considering three very difficult road games ahead against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky (you might want to bet your life savings on the Kentucky money line in Vegas for that last game), it's still quite an uphill climb for South Carolina. But this win gives them a realistic shot.

Minnesota 65, Northwestern 61
Northwestern nearly collected another nice victory here. Despite the hostile crowd they enforced their deliberate pace on this game. Northwestern's bench played a combined 19 minutes, which helped completely neutralize the very deep Minnesota bench (they have 11 players averaging over nine minutes per game this season). The Wildcats would have won this game if it wasn't for some hot outside shooting from Minnesota, particularly by Blake Hoffarber (5-for-8 behind the arc). Minnesota had come into this game 0-3 in games decided by three points or less, and even after this win their Pomeroy Luck rating is still 339th in the nation, so they are still better than their record. Their record is that of a bubble team, with a 4-4 Big Ten record, a 3-5 record against the RPI Top 100 and one bad loss (to Indiana). If the season ended now they probably would not be in the Tournament, but I think they'll finish 6-4 to get to 10-8, and that will more than likely be enough for a Tournament bid. Northwestern falls to 3-5 in the Big Ten and 4-6 against the RPI Top 100, although they don't have that bad loss. They also have a big win over Purdue that probably gives them a slightly better resume than Minnesota at the moment, but they now head to a very tough game at Michigan State and will likely fall to 3-6 in the Big Ten. They finish their conference schedule with Iowa, Penn State and Indiana, so they can come back from a sub-.500 record, but they can't fall too far off the pace.

Providence 81, #19 UConn 66
This loss for UConn was not a big surprise when you consider that it was coming off that huge win over Texas. You can avoid that letdown game only with great coaching, but UConn is in a particularly delicate situation with Jim Calhoun sidelined for health reasons. This loss also underscores the fact that despite that big win over Texas, Connecticut has by no means locked up a Tournament bid. This loss drops them to 3-4 in the Big East with road games at Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova and Notre Dame still remaining. I think that an 8-10 Big East record will be sufficient for an at-large bid, but that's not an automatic with the way they've been playing. For Providence, this nice win moves to 4-4 in the Big East, where they remind me a bit of last year's team that was wrongly put into the bubble discussion just because they had a nice Big East record (10-8), even though their overall resume was not that good. This year's team, even after this win, has a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 85th, so they're not even close to getting an at-large bid if the season ends now. The 3-8 record against the RPI Top 100 is the reason the computer numbers are bad. They get a chance to make noise over the next few days with road games at Cincinnati and Syracuse, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Top The Next Few Days

I know that some people get a little frustrated that I don't have a completely predictable posting schedule (unfortunately I don't exactly make a living running a blog that gets 400 hits a day, and have a real job that takes up a lot of my time), so I wanted to give a heads up regarding the posting schedule for the next few days:

I hope to do one more post of game recaps tonight to go over two final games from Tuesday night and one of last night's games. But even if I get it all written it will not be posted until around midnight eastern time. Tomorrow evening I plan to do a few more game recap posts.

On Saturday I expect to be home all afternoon watching games and posting. And of course I'll have another BP65 up whenever Saturday night's games are completed (probably some time between midnight and 1AM eastern time).

North Carolina Bounces Back

North Carolina 77, NC State 63
I'm always amazed at how much the media overreacts to every win or loss by a team. North Carolina loses a few games and suddenly all of the "experts" on television are making them into a bubble team that might miss the NCAA Tournament. Now sure, they've had a few straight bad performances. But if all it takes to be an "expert" is to see a team lose a few straight and extrapolate that to continue for the rest of the season, and ignore what they actually see on the court, then what exactly is the purpose of that? Nobody who watches them and knows anything about basketball thinks they're a bubble team. Now, this one game was easy. After so many losses there was no question that they were going to win this one - I was shocked that they were only favored by 1 point in Vegas (to borrow that old joke, I would have thrown a lot of money on this game if gambling were legal in this country). But after another relatively easy game at home against Virginia things get more difficult quickly, with road games at Virginia Tech and Maryland, and then a home game against Duke. Ed Davis is back in the lineup, but Tyler Zeller is still out, and Marcus Ginyard still is not 100%. Dexter Strickland continues to light up the court whenever he's on it (14 points on 6-for-7 shooting here), but Roy Williams continues not to trust him with extended time. The Tar Heels still have to prove that this win was not a fluke, and that they really are back. As for NC State, they picked the wrong night to get UNC. They might have won this game if it was played a week earlier. They now fall to 2-5 in the ACC with a couple of road games upcoming. They're now 13-8 overall and 3-8 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI nearly out of the Top 100 altogether. They need to finish 7-9 in the ACC to have any hope of an at-large bid, which means that a 5-4 finish is the absolutely minimum.

#13 Kansas State 76, Baylor 74
Baylor actually outplayed Kansas State in this game. They forced a remarkable 14 steals and did a great job of getting to the line (they ended up making seven more free throws than Kansas State attempted). But Kansas State won this game with hot outside shooting: 52% versus 21% for Baylor. Jacob Pullen was a particularly impressive 6-for-7 behind the arc. But a win is a win, and this was a particularly important win for the Wildcats. It was not surprising to see them have a letdown loss after that big win over Texas, and the question was how they'd respond after that letdown game. And to win a game at Baylor, even one where it took unusually sharp outside shooting, is a very impressive way to bounce back. Next comes up a huge home game against Kansas on Saturday night. As for Baylor, this is a tough missed opportunity that drops them to 2-3 in the Big 12 with a road game at Texas upcoming. Despite the rough start to Big 12 play this is still a team with a little bit of breathing space between them and the bubble, including a 6-3 record against the RPI Top 100 and a Sagarin rating of 26th. They'll likely get into the NCAA Tournament with even an 8-8 Big 12 record, so they just have to be sure to not lose too many games over the next few weeks.

UAB 65, Tulsa 55
Conference USA is in a complicated situation with five bubble teams, but no teams safely in the Tournament right now. The conference is improved, but not good enough for more than two or three at-large bids, so some of these teams need to break away from the pack in order to lock up their Tournament bids. If the teams beat up on each other too badly there is still a very realistic chance of the conference getting zero at-large teams. UAB is one of the teams with a chance of breaking away from the pack with a very impressive 18-2 record, including 6-0 in conference and 5-2 against the RPI Top 100. While those numbers are impressive, what's less impressive is that they lack any really notable wins (Butler and Cincinnati being the two best), that their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 50th and their Pomeroy rating is 48th. So while their resume is very good right now, with zero blemishes, their resume is better than they deserve. With a number of very tough games remaining (road games at Memphis and UTEP being the two toughest), UAB has to keep winning. The lack of big wins means that they will only earn an at-large bid by having an overwhelming winning percentage (at least 24 or 25 total wins). Their next test is a Saturday night road game against UTEP. As for Tulsa, they obviously have one of the top players in the nation in Jerome Jordan, but he didn't get a lot of help from his teammates in this game. They combined for 35 points on 31% shooting in this one. Ballhandling is a particular problem, although it was always going to be the weak link of a team with Jordan in the middle. This loss only drops the Golden Hurricanes to 15-4 overall and 5-1 in Conference USA, but they are only 1-3 against the RPI Top 100 (the one win coming over Oklahoma State) and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is only 76th. Like UAB, the lack of big wins means that Tulsa needs to have an overwhelming winning percentage to collect an at-large bid. They now enter a key stretch with five of their next seven games against the other teams they are fighting against for an at-large bid (Marshall, Memphis and UTEP).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Michigan State Escapes Again

#5 Michigan State 57, Michigan 56
Michigan had an excellent chance to win this game on the final play, as John Beilein drew up a great play that gave DeShawn Sims what basically amounted to an off-balance layup to win the game. If anything, the shot might have been too easy, and Sims seemed to be taken off guard and missed a shot he probably makes more than half the time usually. Post game analysis always drives me nuts because it's pure post hoc ergo propter hoc, where every decision by the winning team is praised and every decision by the losing team is criticized, even in a case like this where a single made layup turns this from a Michigan State win to a Michigan win. But in the end, wins and losses matter to the Selection Committee, and Michigan State's last two games will go down as very nice road conference victories - even if both came by a single point. Michigan State now moves to 8-0 and a full two games over a second placed Wisconsin team that will surely lose a couple of games over the next couple of weeks because they haven't been the same since the Jon Leuer wrist injury. If they can win the regular season Big Ten title, which they must be favored to do at this point, they'll likely have a reasonable path to an NCAA Tournament 1 seed heading into the Big Ten tournament. As for Michigan, they are clearly better than their bad record (10-10 overall, 3-5 in the Big Ten), but it's getting late in the season for them to turn around the final moments jitters that seem to keep them from winning a close game. Both Pomeroy and Sagarin believe that they're much better than their record (Pomeroy gives them a Luck rating of 337th), and both view Michigan as somewhere around the 60th best team in the nation, but on Selection Sunday it's about wins and losses, and right now Michigan doesn't have nearly enough wins for an at-large bid. I think they've got to get to 10-8 in the Big Ten to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid, which means that they've got to finish 7-3. But their upcoming schedule is really not that bad, and Michigan is owed some good karma from so many bad losses, so it's not that unlikely for the Wolverines to enter March a serious bubble contender.

Rhode Island 65, Dayton 64

Dayton led for the first 27 minutes of this game or so, and it was quite a battle down the stretch, but Dayton just has not been able to pull out good wins all season long. It's been a disappointing season for a Dayton team that was expected to win the Atlantic Ten, and is instead just hoping to get into the NCAA Tournament at all. The difference in this game was Delroy James (22 points on 11 shots from the field), who really is an excellent athlete. To relate him to a past Rhode Island great, James really does look like the poor man's Lamar Odom, and he's a tough match-up for any Atlantic Ten team. This loss drops the preseason A-10 favorites to 3-3 and a tie for seventh place. They are now 2-5 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 50th. They have a key week coming up with home games against Xavier and Charlotte. As for Rhode Island, they now move to 4-2 in the conference, and are themselves firmly on the bubble. They're now 16-3 with an RPI up to a ridiculous 12th, although Sagarin and Pomeroy both view them as closer to the 60th best team in the nation. They are 7-2 in games decided by five or less points, so they are due for some losses. But as long as they can finish with a strong A-10 record (something around 12-4 or 11-5) then they'll be in excellent shape.

Maryland 81, Miami (Fl) 59

Maryland just torched Miami in this one, and this game was never close. Maryland shot far better than Miami in this game, but the real reason comes from the assist numbers: 19-to-5 in favor of Maryland. They just got easy shots, while Miami was chucking up jumpers. These are two programs moving in opposite directions this season. After a slow start, Maryland is actually temporarily alone in first place in the ACC at 4-1, although I doubt that will survive this coming week when they head to Clemson and Florida State. They are still missing that big win, and are only 3-5 against the RPI Top 100, but they have no bad losses. One stat that really sticks out to me is that they have a Sagarin PREDICTOR of 10th and a Pomeroy rating of 8th. I haven't ever felt like they were that good, but those are certainly impressive. As for Miami, after torching a joke of an at-large schedule (Pomeroy rates their out-of-conference strength of schedule 340th in the nation) they have fallen apart in ACC play, now at 1-5 overall and in dead last place. They next face a near must-win at home against Virginia Tech, with road games at Wake Forest and Florida State coming up next. If they fall to the Hokies then they're going to have to pull a big road upset or their at-large hopes will be basically dashed.

Syracuse Slaughters Georgetown

#4 Syracuse 73, #11 Georgetown 56
Georgetown actually got out to a 14-0 lead, but even then it never seemed like Syracuse had much of a chance of losing this game. The Hoyas made a bunch of jump shots to start the game, but it was clear that jump shots was all that they were going to get all game. Georgetown always struggles to run its offense against zones, and Syracuse is particularly well suited to play Georgetown because they have a couple of big men who can handle Greg Monroe in a box-and-one zone. Monroe fouled out with only eight points scored, along with four rebounds and six turnovers in 28 minutes played. The Georgetown backcourt actually played really well in this game, but Syracuse is just a horrible all-around match-up for them. The Hoyas fall to 6-3 and fifth place in the Big East. Their chances of winning the Big East are very small at this point, but they do still have an opportunity for a very good NCAA Tournament seed, and get their next chance for a nice win Saturday afternoon against Duke. As for Syracuse, they are very much in the thick of the Big East title race. They are in second place, only one loss behind Villanova, and their one match-up with Villanova is at the Carrier Dome (on February 27th). If Syracuse can win a share of the Big East regular season title and combine it with the Big East tournament title then they will probably be a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Florida State 68, #18 Georgia Tech 66
I've been keeping Florida State as a bubble team just outside of the bracket because of how awful their half court offense is. According to Pomeroy their offensive efficiency is currently rated 98th in the nation, which is second worst in the ACC, but even that is deceptive because of how many easy baskets they get. Pomeroy rates them 30th in forcing turnovers, 37th in forcing steals, 20th in collecting offensive rebounds, and 3rd in overall defense. So they're getting a lot of fast breaks, and a lot of easy put-back baskets, and they still are struggling to score efficiently. But that said, their defense is so good that they have managed to win quite a few games this year and their overall resume is getting pretty good. This win moves them to 15-4, including 3-2 in the ACC and 6-4 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS are both 31st, which means that they'd definitely be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. As for Georgia Tech, they fall to 3-3 in ACC play with a fairly brutal upcoming ACC schedule. The Yellow Jackets are going to have to beat some very good teams over the next few weeks or they risk falling onto the bubble.

Seton Hall 64, #11 Pittsburgh 61
The final minute of this game was fairly hectic, the second straight wild finish for a Seton Hall game. More than anything this was just a terrible game played by Pitt, featuring 35% shooting and 20 turnovers. But even though this marks two straight losses for for Pitt, it's unlikely to snowball into a losing streak, with Saint John's and South Florida up next. Their next big test is February 3rd at West Virginia. For Seton Hall, this win pushes them to 3-4 in the Big East, 12-6 overall, and 4-6 against the RPI Top 100. They have this win along with wins over Louisville and Cincinnati, and their worst loss was to Virginia Tech. Their RPI is 54th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 42nd, and it's important to remember how few teams inside the ELO_CHESS Top 50 miss the Tournament each year (usually only about four or five). The key for Seton Hall is having a respectable Big East record, and one more good RPI Top 50 scalp will help as well. I think that they've got to get to 9-9 in the Big East to earn an at-large bid, and unless they get to 10-8 they'll still have a lot of work to do entering the Big East tournament. With road games remaining against West Virginia, Villanova and Pittsburgh (all of which would be huge upsets for Seton Hall), that doesn't leave a lot of room to spare. They really need to take care of business at home and against the bottom half of the Big East from here on out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Duke Bounces Back

#6 Duke 60, #16 Clemson, 47
Clemson fans were fired up for this one, with ESPN College Gameday in town, and a team ready to bounce back from a tough two-point loss to Georgia Tech, but maybe they were too fired up. They committed 16 turnovers and shot 15% behind the arc, so it was a sloppy game. This result should be embarrassing for Clemson's backcourt, which has actually been pretty good this season, but which did nothing against a Duke team that played two guards all game. I'm not sure what's going on with Duke's Andre Dawkins, but his playing time numbers have gone down and down since some great out-of-conference performances. He hasn't had more than three points in an ACC game yet, and didn't even see the floor in this one. Duke kept four players (Scheyer, Smith, Singler, Thomas) on the floor basically the entire game, and Clemson was unable to wear them out or get them into four trouble. The only Clemson player who had a good game was Trevor Booker, who went for 22 points on 10-for-14 shooting against the undersized Duke front line. For Duke, this win moves them to 4-2 in the ACC, which is good enough for a virtual tie for first place. They have some difficult games coming up, but obviously that February 10th game at Chapel Hill is what Duke fans are already turning a lot of their attention to. As well as Clemson has played this season, they're now only 3-3 in ACC play, although their remaining schedule is easier than their schedule thus far. Two of their next three games are on the road, however (Boston College, Virginia Tech).

Northwestern 73, Illinois 68
Northwestern won this game despite some hot shooting from Illinois (55% from the field as a team). They did it by playing smart, sound basketball, committing only seven turnovers. They also did a good job of getting to the line, getting the entire Illinois front line in foul trouble, which helped keep the rebounding battle even as well. This win helps Northwestern keep pace with the pack in the Big Ten, moving them up to 3-4 and a tie for sixth place. At 15-5 overall, a 4-5 record against the RPI Top 100, and an RPI of 56th, they're the prototypical bubble team. They now head on the road for two tough road games, at Minnesota and Michigan State. At 4-3 in the Big Ten, Illinois is also a bubble team, but they've lost three straight after that quick 4-0 start to their Big Ten season. They now head to the Bryce Jordan center to face a deceptively dangerous Penn State that appears to be playing more relaxed since they've come to the realization that they really haven't got anything to play for this season. That game is also a near must-win for Illinois, along with the following games against Indiana and at Iowa, when you consider how really brutal their final few weeks are. If Illinois heads into February 5-5 in the Big Ten then they're probably headed for the NIT.

Louisville 68, Cincinnati 60
Lance Stephenson was actually outscoring the entire Louisville team for the first ten minutes or so of this game, with Cincinnati actually building a 19-8 lead. But Louisville is just the better team, and along with homecourt advantage and a very motivated squad after three straight tough losses, there was no way that Cincy was going to hold them off for 40 minutes. The Cardinals move into a tie for sixth place in the Big East at 4-3, with a road game at West Virginia coming up on Saturday afternoon. With a bunch of really tough games ahead there is no way that Louisville makes a run at a Big East title, but they look to be safely in the field of 65. It's hard to see them finishing worse than 10-8 in the Big East, which wouldn't even have them on the bubble on Selection Sunday. Cincinnati, meanwhile, needs to figure out a way to win a road game. They are 1-5 in true road games, and that one win was a seven-pointer over last placed Rutgers. Their remaining road games are very difficult (Notre Dame, UConn, South Florida, West Virginia, Georgetown), which means that Cincy really needs to take care of business at home. A big test will be February 7th against Syracuse, and then their home finale on March 2nd against Villanova.

UConn Stuns Texas

#21 Connecticut 88, #1 Texas 74
This was a game that Texas was supposed to win, coming off of their overdue reality check loss against Kansas State. It was not just surprising that UConn won this game, but how they stayed in this game: with three pointers. UConn had barely been attempting three pointers against elite competition, and had hit them at a very poor clip even when given the chance, yet they hit 6-for-15 for this game. The three-point shooting kept the game close, but it was the free throw situation that won it. Texas committed 15 more fouls, and UConn hit 17 more free throws (more than the margin of victory). A little bit of that might have been some home cooking from the refs, but you have to give Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson a lot of credit for diving into the lane and earning those freebies. With their rebounding and defense, it doesn't take a whole lot of offense for UConn to win games. This win also boosts the hopes of a UConn team that might have actually fallen all the way to the bubble with another loss or two. At 3-3 they are still in a tie for 8th place in the Big East, but this win puts them pretty safely into the NCAA bracket for good. As for Texas, the fact that this game doesn't count in the conference standings means that they're still in the driver's seat for the Big 12 regular season title. I think we all tend to go overboard when teams lose a couple of games in a row in January, the same way everybody overreacted about Purdue and is now overreacting about UNC. It's a long season, and this point in the season is like July in a major league baseball season: you're far enough along that you're worn out, but you're not close enough to the end of the regular season to get that second wind. I still think Texas will be a 1 seed.

Oklahoma State 73, #9 Kansas State 69
This wasn't really too big of a surprise, considering that teams rarely don't have hiccups after knocking off a top team (which is why it was so amazing that Tennessee made it about two weeks after the Kansas win before finally losing a game). These are the types of games that always happen after you're out late celebrating a win over a #1 team and a Top Ten ranking: 28% three-point shooting, 58% free throw shooting, 16 turnovers... just an all around bad game. Kansas State has a good home crowd, and they managed to force enough turnovers to make nice runs in the middle of both the first and second halves, but Oklahoma State just looked sharper and won the game. James Anderson is getting the attention for this win because he had 30 points - but Anderson always scores 20+ points. The player I was most impressed with was Nick Sidorakis, who just seemed to be in the middle of every key play. Much of what Sidorakis did is the type of stuff that doesn't show up in the boxscore, but it's the type of stuff that wins big games. And this is a huge win for an Oklahoma State team that is still on the bubble, even with this win (although they'd definitely be in the field of 65 if the season ended today). The Cowboys move to 3-2 in the Big 12, and probably can clinch an at-large bid if they can get to 10-6. At 9-7 their bid will depend on who they beat, how they finish, and how weak or strong the bubble ends up this season. As for Kansas State, there was no question that they'd have a reality check loss - if it didn't come here it would have come tomorrow night against Baylor. The question now is how they respond to this. They have a tough upcoming schedule (at Baylor, vs Kansas, at Nebraska, at Iowa State), and there's a risk of letting a single loss snowball.

#12 West Virginia 71, #25 Ohio State 65
Ohio State looked to be running away with this one, leading by double digits for most of the first half and taking a 12 point lead into the break. But some hot shooting from Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith evened this game back up, and the Buckeyes just couldn't get a big shot to fall down the stretch. More than anything, this is a good win for the confidence of West Virginia coming off a very shaky win against Marshall. At 4-2 they are only in fifth place in the Big East, but with a very easy upcoming stretch they could easily get back in championship hunt. I still think that a 14-4 record will be good enough for a share of the Big East title, so the Mountaineers just have to take care of business over the next couple of weeks, where they'll be favored in every single game. As for the Buckeyes, they lost a chance here to really make some national noise after winning three straight very impressive games (at Purdue, vs Wisconsin, and by 20 over Northwestern) since Evan Turner has gotten back to full strength. I still think that they're one of the Top 15 teams in the country with Turner, but even so it was never going to be easy winning at West Virginia. At 4-3 they are three games out of first place in the Big Ten, but their schedule has been much tougher than Michigan State's and I expect that margin to close. They don't have another particularly difficult game for about three weeks, so the Buckeyes will have a shot at still being in contention when their schedule gets very tough in the second half of February.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

W-7 BP65

Not too many teams were completely eliminated from bubble contention this week, but I do think that the field of likely Tournament teams has shrunk a lot. Teams are really starting to distinguish themselves.

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. Texas

2. Syracuse

3. West Virginia
3. Michigan State
3. Georgetown
3. Ohio State

4. Clemson
4. Tennessee

5. Kansas State
5. North Carolina
5. Missouri

6. Pittsburgh
6. Wisconsin
6. Florida
6. UConn

7. Georgia Tech
7. Washington
7. Wake Forest

8. Arizona State
8. BYU
8. Louisville

9. Baylor
9. Mississippi
9. Xavier
9. Vanderbilt

10. Minnesota
10. Cincinnati
10. Mississippi State
10. UNLV

11. Illinois
11. Texas A&M
11. Maryland
11. Dayton

12. Oklahoma State





Other teams considered, but that just missed the cut:
Florida State, Miami (Fl), Virginia Tech, Richmond, Rhode Island, Notre Dame, Northwestern, UAB, Tulsa, Wichita State, San Diego State, Saint Mary's

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
NC State, Charlotte, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, William & Mary, Marshall, UTEP, Missouri State, Arizona, Washington State, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana Tech

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Boston College, Virginia, La Salle, Saint Louis, Providence, South Florida, Iowa State, Nebraska, Northeastern, VCU, Harvard, Iona, Illinois State, Indiana State, Southern Illinois, Utah, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Georgia, Portland, Nevada

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Duquesne, St. Bonaventure, George Washington, DePaul, Rutgers, Northern Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Penn State, Colorado, Pacific, George Mason, UCF, Houston, Southern Miss, Detroit, UW-Green Bay, Wright State, Fairfield, Akron, Buffalo, Western Michigan, Bradley, Creighton, Colorado State, TCU, Oregon State, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Killer Loss For Minnesota

#7 Michigan State 65, Minnesota 64
This was a brutal loss for Minnesota in a number of different ways. For one, it seemed like they had this in hand, leading by about ten points most of the way and never trailing at all until the final 90 seconds of the game. They allowed Kalin Lucas to get loose, who despite struggling for many of the recent Michigan State games managed to go for a game-high 22 points here. Michigan State constantly hit clutch three-pointers (including the shot by Lucas to give the Spartans their first lead with 1:27 left), combing for 46% as a team for the game. But while I can keep going through the reasons that Michigan State pulled this game out, the real story is that this is a game that Minnesota was supposed to win, and you have to start wondering whether this team will ever get their act together. All season long, Sagarin and Pomeroy have insisted that this team is much better than their ranking, with Pomeroy giving them a Luck rating of 332nd in the nation coming into this game (it will get even worse with this one-point loss). But sometimes teams just never win close games (like Georgetown and Georgia Tech last season) and that is looking more and more like the case for a Minnesota team that has certainly had the type of off-court distractions that can affect teams in this way. They are now 3-4 in the Big Ten play, although the toughest part of their Big Ten schedule is over with already. I'd still be very surprised if they miss the NCAA Tournament, but I don't see any way that Minnesota finishes higher than fifth in the final conference standings. As for Michigan State, they are entering a very tough part of their schedule, but they now have quite a buffer between them and their chief challengers for the Big Ten title. They have a 2 1/2 game lead over second placed Wisconsin, and are at least three games ahead of the two teams that I believe have the best chance to challenge for that regular season title (Ohio State and Purdue). Unless they really fall apart on the road (six of their next nine are on the road) they are solid favorites to win the regular season crown.

Alabama 62, Mississippi State 57
Give a lot of credit to Alabama's perimeter defense, which completely shut down Mississippi State's three-point shooting game. They came into this one hitting 40.2% as a team from behind the arc, good for 22nd best in the nation, and shot only 2-for-18 here. As good as Jarvis Varnado is defensively, he's not a potent offensive force, so when Mississippi State isn't hitting their threes they just are not a good scoring team. The Bulldogs backcourt did a good job of getting to the hoop and to the line, which kept this game close, but in the end it was not enough. This is a really tough loss for a Mississippi State team firmly on the bubble. They are still leading the SEC West, but at 3-1 their lead has shrunk. They're 15-4 overall, but against a soft schedule. Their best win of the season is over Ole Miss, they have a bad loss to Rider, and this loss drops their RPI out of the Top 50. Sagarin and Pomeroy are more positive about their chances, and I agree that they'll more likely than not be a Tournament team, but they no longer have a lot of room to spare. If the season ended now they'd be one of the last teams in the field. Alabama, meanwhile, is starting to make a little bit of at-large noise, but they're still pretty far away from being a serious contender. Their RPI has finally moved inside the Top 100, but the only win they've had all year better than this was over Baylor, but they're an awful 5-7 against the RPI Top 200. I can't see them even being in contention for an at-large bid on Selection Sunday unless they finish at least 10-6 in the SEC. This win moves them to 2-3.

Virginia Tech 63, Boston College 62
This was the type of game that Virginia Tech kept losing last season. Last season they went 0-5 in games decided by two points or less. This year they're 2-0. And that is the reason why they went to the NIT last season, yet might just sneak into the NCAA Tournament field this season. They've played a very soft schedule so far (Pomeroy rates their out-of-conference schedule at 328th in the nation, and their ACC schedule so far has been pretty soft by ACC standards), but a 15-3 record is still very impressive. Their RPI is still outside the Top 75, but that will rise naturally as their schedule strength improves. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be around 35th when it comes out tomorrow, which means that they'd be in the NCAA Tournament field if the season ended now (the ELO_CHESS is a much better projector of NCAA bid status than the RPI). But they have to prove that they can keep winning as their schedule toughens, and they get two tough road tests next week: Virginia and Miami. As for Boston College, they came into this game off a quality win at Miami, and could potentially have clawed their way into the at-large discussion with a win here, but this just is not their season. They are 2-4 in the ACC with a brutal next few weeks, so they're going to have to pull several upsets to make any noise at all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

UNC And Duke Both Lose

North Carolina State 88, #6 Duke 74
It's been nearly seven full years since both North Carolina and Duke lost a conference game on the same night. And while North Carolina has real problems right now (I'll get to those in a moment), this Duke game was more of a fluke than anything else. There are never free games in the ACC, and no team can expect to always win if they can't hit their shots, and Duke was just ice cold while NC State was red hot. Duke hit 39% from the field for the game, while NC State was better than that just on three-pointers (41%) en route to 58% overall shooting from the field. Duke's good rebounding actually continued here, dominating the boards by winning 16 of 34 rebounds on their missed shots, and only give up 5 of 27 rebounds off of NC State missed shots. I don't think there's much point in taking too much out of this game. The worry for Duke is just that they lose a chance to really start to separate themselves from the pack in the ACC. Virginia is leading the conference at 3-0, but nobody takes them seriously. Duke is now tied for the lead in conference record among teams with a realistic chance of winning the conference. This game meant a lot more for an NC State team still hoping to play their way into the Tournament. They move to 2-3 in the ACC and 13-6 overall, but this is their first really good win (a win over Florida State is also worth noting) and their RPI is 84th. Sagarin and Pomeroy have them closer to 60-65th in the nation, and their RPI will improve as their strength of schedule improves, but they still have a bunch of ground to make up to become a serious at-large contender, even with this win.

Wake Forest 82, #23 North Carolina 69
What bothers me about this slide for North Carolina more than anything is that it seems like even Roy Williams doesn't know what to do about this. His team is struggling, but a lot of it seems out of their hands. Injuries have killed them, with Ed Davis missing this game in addition to Tyler Zeller, who will still be out for another month or so. Williams chose to go with Travis Wear as a starter (how many UNC fans thought that with the likes of Tyler Zeller and John Henson on the bench to start the season that Travis Wear would end up starting ACC games?). I continue to argue for Dexter Strickland as a starter because of his explosiveness and energy, and because the team's poor ball handling situation suggests the need for a three guard lineup. This actually wasn't a bad loss if you look at it in isolation. Wake Forest is a very good team that is on pace to easily crack the final field of 65, and they just shot the lights out in this one (50% from the field, 56% behind the arc). North Carolina actually won the rebounding battle (they had four fewer rebounds, but when you control for the number of missed shots UNC was actually much more efficient), and amazingly won the turnover battle, and also had many more assists per made shot. By every statistic other than shooting percentage, the Tar Heels won this game. But this what happens when a team as talented as the Tar Heels loses this many games in this short of a time period. North Carolina now falls to 1-3 in ACC play, which actually puts them alone in 11th place, although they really need to not focus on the standings at this point. They need to get their confidence back by winning a few games, and only then should they worry about where they're sitting in the ACC standings. As for Wake Forest, this is their best win, and they also have a quality win over Xavier. They're up close to 25th in all of the computer polls, and at 3-2 in ACC play are in a four-way tie in the standings with Duke, Georgia Tech and Clemson. Considering how far back UNC has fallen in the standings, and the fact that nobody takes Virginia and Maryland seriously (the two teams with better ACC records than those four teams), it looks extremely likely that one of those four teams will win the ACC regular season title. The Demon Deacons next need to avoid a letdown when they play Virginia at home, and then play at Georgia Tech.

#14 Georgetown 74, #11 Pittsburgh 66
This was probably a reality check loss for Pittsburgh more than anything else. Although you wouldn't have thought they were going to have that reality check at home, where they had won 31 straight, the second longest active streak in the nation, behind only Kansas. This was just one of those days for Pitt, where they played well but constantly could not hit that big shot, including a total of 4-for-18 behind the arc. Breakout star Ashton Gibbs particularly struggled from the floor, and Brad Wannamaker didn't have a good game either. It was just a bad game, but Pitt was due for one of those after so many close wins, and they now fall to 5-1 in Big East play. They have a tricky game Sunday at Seton Hall, but otherwise have a pretty easy schedule until they head to West Virginia on February 3rd. They remain a dark horse for the Big East title. For Georgetown, obviously this win had more to do with a bad shooting night from Pitt than anything else, but they also got a very nice 27 points on 11-for-17 shooting from the field from Chris Wright. It's encouraging to see different players step up every night for this team, and they could be scary good if they pull everything together at some point. At 5-2 in Big East play they remain in contention for the Big East title, but have a very tough game coming up at Syracuse on Monday night. I think that 14-4 will be good enough to grab a share of the Big East title, but a loss for the Hoyas on Monday night will make it extremely difficult for them to get there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Will The Valley Get A Second Bid?

Wichita State 60, #22 Northern Iowa 51
In the middle of the last decade it looked like the Missouri Valley was going to establish itself as the best of the mid-major conferences, peaking with the 2006 NCAA Tournament when they had four teams make it, and two of them made it to the Sweet Sixteen. But that quickly fell apart, and the 2008 and 2009 Tournaments were the first two consecutive single bid Tournaments for the Valley in more than a decade. There are two ways that they might avoid a third consecutive season. One would be Northern Iowa dominating the league, earning a high ranking and then falling in the conference tournament, the way that the Horizon League earned multiple bids in 2007 and 2009 (when Butler was by far the best team in the conference). But if the Missouri Valley is on the rise again then they will need to prove that they have two legitimate at-large contenders, and Wichita State is making a legitimate bid to be that second team. This win pushes them to 6-2 in Valley play, and 16-3 overall. It's been against a soft schedule and this was their first good win, but their RPI is up to 46th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 33rd. They'd probably be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but not with a lot of room to spare. Their at-large hopes will depend a lot on what happens around the rest of the nation, but I'd be surprised if they get an at-large bid with less than a 13-5 Valley record. As for Northern Iowa, they remain the Valley favorites and still get a chance to split this season series against Wichita State at home on January 19th. The Panthers fall to 7-1 in Valley play, and 16-2 overall, but their RPI remains 18th. As long as they don't allow this loss to snowball, they remain in good shape for that at-large bid.

#18 Georgia Tech 66, #16 Clemson 64
Neither of these teams are good at shooting free throws, and both were 50% for the game, so the end of this game was a bit of a mess. But two made free throws by Zachery Peacock ended up being the winning margin, and Georgia Tech moves into a tie for fourth in the ACC at 3-2 overall. Their overall resume is deceptively strong, with a 6-4 record against the RPI Top 100, including a win over Duke, and zero bad losses. They have an uphill climb to seriously contending for an ACC regular season title, but they do look to be in the discussion for a 3-5 Tournament seed. For Clemson, this is a missed opportunity for a huge road victory, and a chance to seriously contend for the ACC title. They now fall one behind Duke in the loss column, although they have a chance to get it back Saturday at Littlejohn Coliseum. Other than that game they have a relatively easy upcoming ACC schedule, and should separate themselves a bit from the pack. Like Georgia Tech, they are in the discussion for a 3-5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

#15 Purdue 84, Illinois 78
To steal a Bill Simmons joke, I would have bet a lot of money on the Purdue moneyline for this game, if gambling were legal in this country. There was no way that Purdue was going to lose four straight. Although Illinois put up a fight here. Purdue still doesn't look to totally have their mojo back, shooting only 3-for-18 behind the arc, turning the ball over 14 times, and getting a couple of key players in foul trouble (Chris Kramer fouled out). But that's how good Purdue is: even when they can't hit a shot and are having an off night, they still controlled a road game over a team that has a great homecourt advantage. The Boilermakers have time now to get their house back in order with a relatively easy upcoming schedule. Other than a home game against Wisconsin, their next difficult game is not until February 9th at Michigan State. Purdue is three losses behind Michigan State atop the Big Ten, but they still have a home-and-home against the Spartans, and a sweep will put them right back in the thick of the Big Ten title race. As for Illinois, not many people realized that they were actually alone in second place in the Big Ten before this loss. But it was against a soft schedule, and the final few weeks of the regular season for them are brutal. That means that taking care of the likes of Indiana and Iowa over the next few weeks will be key to Illinois locking up an at-large bid.

And Then There Was One

#9 Kansas State 71, #1 Texas 62
There are a number of college basketball coaches that I love watching on television for a variety of reasons. I love watching Jim Boeheim look like a blood vessel in his head is about to pop. I love watching Tom Izzo jump three feet in air when a bad call happens. I love watching Bo Ryan's "I can't believe that just happened" face. And I love watching Frank Martin yell at his players during timeouts. Sometimes television producers will skip commercials and just linger on a camera showing Martin yelling at some Kansas State player and I'm always just spellbound. He has a great combination of facial intensity and intimidation. In all seriousness, by knocking Texas from the land of the unbeatens (where only Kentucky now lies), Kansas State immediately puts themselves in the "are they for real?" conversation. Every computer ranking currently has them in the Top Ten, and by no means has their resume so far been out of whack with their performance (their Pomeroy Luck rating is 160th, and the Sagarin ELO_CHESS and POMEROY ratings are identical: 8th), so they have definitely been one of the ten best teams thus far. The question is: how will they deal with the pressure now that they have expectations? The only time they have had expectations in the past 20 years or so has been the Michael Beasley year, and in my opinion that year turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Their upcoming schedule is full of potential upsets (vs Oklahoma State, at Baylor, at Nebraska and at Iowa State), with a home game against Kansas on the 30th of January. Over the next two weeks we'll learn a lot about how this team is going to deal with the pressure. For Texas, this isn't really that bad of a loss. They weren't going to go undefeated for the full season, and they still are in the driver's seat for the Big 12 title since their one game against Kansas will be at home. They next play at a reeling UConn team before a relatively easy Big 12 stretch leading up to that big game against Kansas, on February 8th.

#7 Duke 90, Wake Forest 70
This was an impressive win for Duke that came on the back of the Plumlee brothers. Coach K has sent Brian Zoubek way down on the bench, and it was the Plumlee brothers that combined for 30 points (on 10-for-15 shooting from the field) and 21 rebounds. Wake Forest is a team that relies on its backcourt, and is not a good rebounding team in general, but it was impressive that Duke dominated the boards 46-to-38. Pomeroy actually ranks Duke's offensive rebounding efficiency 13th in the nation, which is pretty surprising when you consider that they're not a very large team at all. Other than Zoubek (who plays short minutes), the Plumlee brothers are statistically the best rebounders, both offensively and defensively, so their play has been the key to this Duke season, even more than Andre Dawkins. I'm still doubtful that they can keep up that play against a huge frontcourt like North Carolina brings to the floor in an ACC tournament setting, but Duke is obviously the favorite for the ACC regular season title right now. As for Wake Forest, their inside defense and rebounding has to learn from this game. Their perimeter defense is outstanding, but you can't give up 90 points if you expect to win games consistently. They're 2-2 and now head to North Carolina (tip off in a about two hours as I type this post), and also have a road game at Georgia Tech next Thursday, but otherwise have a relatively winnable ACC schedule over the next few weeks. I think this is a team that will have their Tournament bid sewn up by the beginning of March.

#5 Syracuse 84, Notre Dame 71
The final score here was deceptively large. Syracuse led almost the entire way and was always in control, but the game was within a few points the entire way until the final few minutes. For Syracuse, they are firmly in what continues to be a wide open Big East title race. There are still four, or maybe even five teams (if we count Georgetown) right now that have a realistic path to that championship. Syracuse has a chance to pretty much knock Georgetown out of the race at the Carrier Dome on Monday night. They also benefit from getting Villanova (the team I believe is the best team in the Big East) at home in their only match-up. As for Notre Dame, the silver lining to this loss was the game by Tim Abromaitis, who continues to get better and better. He forms a great duo with Luke Harangody because both players can score in the paint and also have good outside shots, which makes them difficult to gameplan against. Abromaitis was 5-for-11 behind the arc in this game (and is 49% for the season), including huge back-to-back threes with about four minutes left in the game that took the deficit down to five points and really made this one a game. The Irish are now 3-3 in the Big East knowing that they probably need to get to 9-9 to earn an at-large bid. Their upcoming schedule is pretty easy (other than a road game at Villanova), but their final five games are really brutal, so they need to put together a little winning streak over the next few weeks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Under The Radar, Villanova Keeps Winning

#4 Villanova 82, #11 Georgetown 77
Last season, Georgetown seemed to find a way to lose every single close game they were in. They finished with a Pomeroy Luck rating of 340th, and ended up not even being in the discussion on Selection Sunday, even though they were clearly better than a number of teams that did earn at-large bids. They're doing better this season (their Luck rating is currently 212th), but they still seem to have a bad habit of letting small droughts turn into big droughts. They continually put themselves into huge first half holes and try to grind their way out of them. They crawled out of a 16 point second half deficit here and actually tied things up before eventually falling in the final minute. The Hoyas are now 4-2 in Big East play and have road games at Pittsburgh and Syracuse among their next three games. Unless they can pull an upset in one of those games their Big East title hopes are over. As for Villanova, it's amazing that any team could go under-hyped in the always over-hyped Big East, but Villanova has gotten significantly less press attention and love than Syracuse, and even less than West Virginia, even though they are the highest ranked team in the conference, and are tied for the lead in the standings, at 5-0. Jay Wright deserves a lot of credit for making this more than a three-point shooting team, and doing a good job of spreading the floor and getting his players to the line. The fact that they have won games over good teams when their three-point shooting hasn't been good is why they've been so consistent. Their next four games are relatively easy, but six of their nine final Big East games will come against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25, so they've got a long way to go to actually win this conference.

Virginia 75, Miami (Fl) 57
Virginia jumped out to a 12-1 lead early in this game, and then kept the lead in the 8-to-12 point range for nearly the entire game before opening things up over the final few minutes. This is an impressive win in and of itself, but the story of this game is that Virginia is actually 3-0 and alone in first place in the ACC. This is a team that lost to Auburn, Stanford and South Florida in the early going this season, and despite this 3-0 ACC start still has an RPI of 101st in the nation. But that RPI is deceptively bad, and has more to do with Virginia's weak schedule than anything else. As they play more ACC games their strength-of-schedule will improve and their RPI will grow. Sagarin's PREDICTOR has them 59th and Pomeroy has them 48th, which means that they might actually be a lot better than we think they are. But they still have a really long way to go to make any kind of a run at an at-large bid. Their ACC schedule quickly gets more difficult, with road games at Wake Forest and North Carolina among their next three games. Let's see Virginia win a few more games before we really take them seriously. As for Miami, they are looking dangerously like one of those teams that we see every season that runs off an 11-0 or 15-1 start against a weak schedule, gets hyped up into the Top 25, and then wilts when conference play begins. They are 15-3, but only 1-3 in the ACC, despite a fairly soft ACC schedule so far. The schedule-makers did them a favor by giving them only one game each against North Carolina, Duke, Clemson and Georgia Tech, but those four games are still yet to come. They will be in the at-large discussion if they can get to 7-9, but they're going to have to knock off one of those ranked teams. Miami's schedule is currently ranked 264th by Sagarin, 258th by Pomeroy, and 258th by the RPI. The Selection Committee is always more impressed by teams that win a few and lose a few against a tough schedule than a team that runs through cupcakes.

Michigan 68, #15 UConn 63
I know that I'm not the only person to point this out, but it was pretty jarring to see Michigan's fans rush the floor after this win. This was a nice win that means a ton for their at-large resume, but I viewed this game as pretty much a toss-up. UConn came into this game 11-5 and 2-3 in the Big East after all. Still, as I said, this was an important win for a Michigan team desperate to salvage something from their out-of-conference performance. I give them credit for putting together a tough schedule (Pomeroy rates their out-of-conference strength of schedule at 80th), but they didn't win enough of the games. They finish 7-5 with this being the best win by far. Their RPI is 122nd and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 115th, so they wouldn't even be in the at-large debate if the season ended now. They could finish 10-8 in the Big Ten and still not make the Tournament, and even that will be difficult as they now head into road games at Wisconsin and Purdue, followed by a home game against Michigan State. They've got to pull an upset in one of those three games or they need a really long winning streak just to be in the discussion on Selection Sunday. As for UConn, their utter inability to his three-pointers continues to kill them. Michigan did a great job of collapsing their zone any time the ball went inside, making it difficult for UConn's big men to get open shots, and basically begging them to launch threes. UConn's players got a ton of open looks behind the arc, but passed a bunch of them up and bricked most of the rest, finishing the game 1-for-11. I can't recall another elite team in recent years that was this awful at shooting three-pointers, and it's why I think UConn is overrated. They're still probably a Tournament team, but they could easily end up on the bubble before all is said and done. They got some help from the Big East schedule makers: Big East teams only have to play three teams twice, and the three teams UConn is doubled up with are Notre Dame, Louisville and Cincinnati, which might make them the only Big East team to not be doubled up with any other ranked team. But they might need a 10-8 Big East record just to lock up that at-large bid, which is not a joke after the 2-3 start.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Texas Stays Undefeated... Barely

#1 Texas 72, Texas A&M 67, OT
Like Kentucky, Texas has just managed to eke out win after win, and continues to be undefeated. Texas A&M actually led almost this entire game, including a double-digit second half lead, but Texas made a furious comeback and actually probably should have won on their final possession of regulation (they missed a tip-in just before the buzzer) before pulling away in overtime. Texas A&M deserves a lot of credit for how well they played in this game - I don't know how they could really play much better. Also, they seem to finally be getting their groove back after that gruesome Derrick Roland injury that would have scarred any team in the nation. The best win they've had since that injury was over Nebraska last week, but I think they'll improve on that Tuesday night against Oklahoma. Texas A&M was given a break by the Big 12 schedule makers, and their easy schedule will allow them to win a lot of games this season if they keep playing like this. But one game is not a trend. As for Texas, they were also given a gift by the schedule makers, as they don't have to go to Phog Allen to play Kansas. If they can beat Kansas at home then they will be in the clear driver's seat to win the Big 12 regular season title. I still think that Kansas is the better team, and I think that Kansas will win the Big 12 tournament to wrap up the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but Texas is in a great position to get a 1 seed of their own. If those two teams can continue mowing down the opposition, the Big 12 is in the best position of any conference to earn multiple 1 seeds in March.

Vanderbilt 89, South Carolina 79
Vanderbilt's players loved the Colonial Center rims during this game, shooting a scorching 61% from the field, including 46% behind the arc. In addition to the great outside shooting, A.J. Ogilvy just represented an immovable force for South Carolina. He scored 22 points on 7-for-8 shooting. Vanderbilt's play put to waste another stellar game from Devan Downey, who led all players with 35 points, and also had six steals. All in all just a good game, with the best players from both teams putting on great performances. But the win goes to Vanderbilt, and they continue to put together solid at-large numbers. They are off to a quick 3-0 start to SEC play, and while they don't have any chance of winning the SEC East, they could potentially finish as high as second. More likely I see them in a battle for third place with Florida. They don't play again until a home game against Auburn next Saturday, but the following week go on a brutal road trip to Tennessee and Kentucky that will tell us a lot about whether Vandy can really make a run at second place in the SEC East. South Carolina, meanwhile, seems to be the clear fifth best team in the SEC East (they are fourth in the standings, but that has more to do about schedule strength at these early stages than anything else), and that's not a good sign for their at-large chances when the SEC might only get four or five teams total. Their RPI has fallen to 80th, and they're a poor 7-6 against the RPI Top 200. Sagarin and Pomeroy both see them as somewhere around the 75th-80th best team in the nation as well. Devan Downey is one of the best players in the SEC, but he's not getting a lot of help.

Ohio State 60, #16 Wisconsin 51

A couple of weeks ago in Wisconsin it was the Badgers rocking a Buckeyes team by 22 points that was missing Evan Turner. Yesterday, with Turner back, it was Ohio State controlling the game against a Wisconsin team lacking Jon Leuer. It would only seem fitting if these two teams meet again in the Big Ten tournament, with both teams at full strength. Ohio State shot well in this game (52% from the field), but more than anything else that had to do with uncharacteristically poor perimeter defense from Wisconsin. Jon Leuer is a very tough loss, but Wisconsin's bench proved that they were up to the task earlier this week with a solid win at Northwestern, and it was a bit surprising to see how poorly they played here. But this is a very good Ohio State team. They're unranked because of the Evan Turner injury, but with him healthy this is probably one of the 15-20 best teams in the country. And that three game losing streak by Purdue means that Ohio State actually still has a small chance of winning the Big Ten title. They have three more losses than Big Ten leaders Michigan State, but Michigan State still has to play two games with Purdue and could easily get swept. Wisconsin, too, is still alive in the Big Ten title race. But assuming Jon Leuer is out another month or more (which is what it's looking like), it's very hard to see them pulling it out. I see them finishing in fourth in the Big Ten unless Leuer makes a shockingly quick return from his injury.

What Is Wrong With Purdue?

Northwestern 72, #6 Purdue 64
Purdue actually played a good game against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center last week, and just loss a narrow game to a really good Wisconsin team that is nearly impossible to beat at home. They followed that game up by playing really well in the first half at home against Ohio State, but they allowed Evan Turner to go wild in the second half and suffered their second straight loss against a really good opponent. But then this happened, a completely clunker at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where absolutely nothing went right. Northwestern is a tough team to beat on their home arena in any condition, but Purdue lost this game more than Northwestern won it. They shot 36% from the field, including 23% behind the arc, and actually got fairly solidly beaten on the boards. Purdue isn't a very big team, but they usually win the rebounding battle because they're athletic and do a great job of hustling. And suddenly the team that seemed to be obviously the best team in the Big Ten has lost three straight and is in a three-way tie for seventh in the conference standings. Of course, they still have a shot to win the Big Ten regular season title. Michigan State is undefeated, but still has to play a home-and-home against Purdue. And the other key Big Ten contenders (Wisconsin and Ohio State) both have at least two losses each already. And because Purdue is (in my opinion) still the best team in the Big Ten, I still view them as the favorite to win the automatic bid and contend for a 1 seed in the Tournament. But they've absolutely got to turn this around in their next game. Four straight losses has to be unacceptable. As for Northwestern, they are again making a really good run at that first ever NCAA Tournament bid. They deserve a lot of credit for how they've managed to steal a few big wins (Notre Dame, Iowa State, Purdue) while grinding out games and avoiding any bad losses. Their RPI is up to 58th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 47th, so they'd more likely than not be in the NCAA Tournament if things ended now. But their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 71st, and Pomeroy puts them 65th, which means that the computers don't think that they're good enough to keep up this pace. They enter a brutal stretch now, at Ohio State before getting Illinois at home, then playing road games at Minnesota and Michigan State. As well as they've played, Northwestern is only 2-3 in the Big Ten, and they've got to split those next four or they're going to have ground to make up to earn that at-large bid in February and March.

#24 Baylor 83, Oklahoma State 70
LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter both just had great games here. Dunn's 25 points, including 4-for-9 from behind the arc, got most of the media attention, but Carter's eight assists and very efficient nine points (3-for-4 from the field) deserve a lot of the credit as well. Baylor's defense also deserves credit for forcing Oklahoma State to be inefficient on offense. James Anderson got his 20 points, like he always does, but it took him 17 shots to get there. This was an important win for a Baylor team coming off a disappointing loss to Colorado that has raised questions about whether they're a legitimate Top 25 team. They move to 14-2 with a number of solid wins (Xavier, Arizona State, Oklahoma State), but nothing that really will set them apart on Selection Sunday. They get a chance for that big win on Wednesday night when they head to Kansas. As for Oklahoma State, they fall to 1-2 in Big 12 play and face a near must-win home game against Colorado. They follow that up with a road game at Kansas State, and need to get off to a good start in Big 12 play. Beginning February 17th they have a really brutal final few weeks of Big 12 play, and you have to figure that Travis Ford wants that at-large bid to be locked up before then. But their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has fallen to 55th, so there's no guarantee that they're good enough to grab that at-large bid.

Cincinnati 60, Notre Dame 58

This was an extraordinarily close game. There were only a few possessions in the entire game where one team was beating the other by more than three or four points. In the end, Yancy Gates made the winning basket with about two seconds left, but this game clearly could have gone either way. For Cincinnati, this win gets them back to 3-3 in the Big East, with a fairly easy stretch coming up. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 41st, so they'd almost definitely be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they've got to take care of business when they have the chance over the next few weeks. Notre Dame, on the other hand, would definitely not be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they are on the bubble and only one or two big wins from being right back in the bracket. They are now 3-2 in the Big East with a couple of tough upcoming opponents (Syracuse and Villanova are among their next three opponents) but then have a very easy stretch over the next three weeks. If they can pull off one upset over a highly ranked team and get to 9-9 in the Big East then they'll be in the discussion on Selection Sunday.