#19 Michigan State 71, #13 Minnesota 62
Michigan State was getting good shots in the first half of this game, but it was a brickfest. But that will happen to any team from time to time, and in the second half those shots started to fall and the Spartans blew this game open. They did a great job all game of bottling up Al Nolen (4 points, 3 assists, 4 turnovers), who is still finding his way after missing a few games with a foot injury. He and Trevor Mbakwe had been the keys to the victories over North Carolina and West Virginia in Puerto Rico, and Minnesota hasn't been the same since he went out. The Gophers went 11-1 out-of-conference, but they're now 0-2 after beginning Big Ten play at Wisconsin and Michigan State. Tuesday night's game against Indiana is almost a must-win now with a road game against Ohio State and then a home game against Purdue coming next. Michigan State had an up-and-down performance out-of-conference, but they have a history of starting slow and ending strong, and begin Big Ten play relatively easily now with road games at Northwestern and Penn State, and then home games against Wisconsin and Northwestern.
USC 60, Washington State 56
USC was dreadfully young last season, but they're showing a little bit of maturity now. Alex Stephenson played like a fifth year senior in this game with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and the Trojans did a great job of forcing Klay Thompson to be inefficient (6-for-18 from the field). After a tough overtime loss at home to Washington to begin Pac-10 play, this was a nice way for USC to bounce back. I don't think USC is going to make a serious run at the Tournament, but if they've got it in them they've got to make a push now against a really soft schedule. Next they play UCLA at home, and then head for two games in the state of Oregon, and come home for the Northern California duo of Stanford and Cal. I'd like to see them go 4-1 over that stretch if I'm going to take them seriously in February and March. As for Wazzu, they're struggling a little bit with success and have lost three straight games, albeit all against quality opponents. And they get a chance to bounce back with Oregon State at home on Thursday, and then Oregon at home on Saturday. They probably need to go at least 10-8 in Pac-10 play to make the Tournament, so at 0-2 to start they really can't afford a bad loss to fall to 1-3 or worse.
Marquette 79, West Virginia 74
Right now, the Big East has 11 (and arguably even 12, if we want to throw in Providence) teams playing like Tournament teams. But the reason the Big East won't get 11 Tournament teams is because they all have to play each other, and somebody is going to end up with too many conference losses. That's why games like this are so key, and this is a very important win for a Marquette squad that had been struggling. West Virginia actually shot well (9-for-19 behind the arc), but they had no answer for Jae Crowder (29 points on 12-for-14 shooting, plus 8 rebounds and 5 assists). Crowder, a Juco Player of the Year, was a hyped recruit when Marquette signed him, but he had been pretty quiet before this explosion. If he can repeat this performance then Marquette will get a whole lot better, because they're obviously very athletic and deep at the guard position. This win was particularly important for Marquette because of a really brutal conference stretch coming up (they do end the season with a pretty easy stretch). After a game Wednesday at Rutgers they will play Pitt, Notre Dame and then Louisville. Then after a breather against DePaul they'll get this stretch of four games: Notre Dame, UConn, Syracuse, Villanova. If they can come out of that stretch with a .500 Big East record they're almost surely going Dancing. West Virginia is now 0-2 in Big East play and heads to DePaul on Tuesday night before heading to Georgetown on Saturday afternoon. Due to a soft schedule, West Virginia might need to get to 10-8 in Big East play to make the Tournament. They can still get in at 9-9 if they collect a couple of big scalps along the way.