Santa Clara 85, Gonzaga 71
Gonzaga had a very slow start to this season but was really starting to come on over the past few weeks, which makes this loss particularly perplexing. And this loss was no fluke. Santa Clara had three fewer turnovers and three more offensive rebounds, and only received two more free throws. Santa Clara hit 40% behind the arc and Gonzaga hit 31%. So the Broncos had six extra possessions, had no major referee bias, and had no hot outside shooting to drive them. They just played better and, surprisingly, had the best player on the floor. Kevin Foster has been a big contributor since he showed up at Santa Clara, and he is leading the team in points and assists this season, but he blew up for 36 points in this game. The Zags have wins over Xavier, Oklahoma State, Marquette and Baylor, but they're a putrid 6-6 against the RPI Top 200, with this now representing a bad loss. Gonzaga's RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS have all fallen out of the Top 50, and Saint Mary's is now rated ahead of them in every computer rating. It will be very interesting to see how they perform against Saint Mary's at home on Thursday night. Saint Mary's is a team that historically is far better at home than on the road, so an upset at Gonzaga would send shockwaves through the WCC. The return game to Saint Mary's will be on February 24th. This win will likely be by far the highlight of Santa Clara's season. But that said, they do have a very nice young foundation, and could plausibly finish as high as fourth place in the conference. With a player like Kevin Foster to build around they could be a Top 100 team next season.
Virginia Tech 74, Maryland 57
This was a horrendous performance by a Maryland team that didn't even show up for this home game. Figuring that they could sleepwalk through this one they did sleepwalk... to a 12-0 deficit to start the game. They were never in this game, hitting 36% from the field and never pulling back closer than eight points. Now that said, it's not a total shock that Virginia Tech was able to get a win in College Park. For one thing, Virginia Tech is a good team that just had failed to close the deal until this point. They currently have a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 62nd and a PREDICTOR of 26th. Pomeroy actually has Virginia Tech 17th. But being good doesn't get you into the Tournament - beating other good teams does. And Virginia Tech is 1-3 against the RPI Top 50 with an RPI of 68th, and obviously they won't get into the Tournament with an ELO_CHESS of 62nd. They are 3-2 in ACC play, but unless they knock off Duke they are likely going to need to get to 10-6 just to make the Tournament. If they go 9-7 they'll have a lot of work left to do heading into the ACC tournament. Maryland is another team that is far better than their resume, but is running out of time to build that resume. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 90th and their PREDICTOR is 22nd, and Pomeroy has them 18th. They are 0-6 against the RPI Top 50, although they have zero bad losses. They also need to get to at least 9-7 in ACC play to make the Tournament, but are currently 1-3. Both Maryland and Virginia Tech are teams with a ton of work to do just to make the Tournament, but both will be extremely dangerous teams if they can get in. Both are sleeper Sweet 16 teams. But both are really suffering from the weakness of the ACC, and the lack of big wins to be had.
#20 Washington 85, #25 Arizona 68
Washington did a tremendous job in this game of denying Derrick Williams the ball. Williams did score 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting, but that's an off night considering how well he's been playing. He was just coming off a night against Arizona State where he scored 31 points on 12 shots from the field. The star for Washington was Isaiah Thomas, who had 22 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds. Washington is the best team that nobody is paying attention to. Sagarin rates them as the fourth best team in the nation, Pomeroy has them third. The reason? The classic misunderstanding that the mainstream media has about projecting sports. Washington has four close losses, with the four losses by a combined 15 points. In their 14 wins? Only one was by single-digits - a six point victory at USC. Those who don't understand sabermetrics hold this against Washington, saying that they can't win close games. Nonsense. Computer-savvy analysts and gamblers understand that what that really means is that they're better than their resume. They should roll through the Pac-10 with a 15-3 or 16-2 record, and should be in play for a 2 seed in the Tournament. The fact is that the weakness of the Pac-10 and the lack of quality wins to be had there will very likely keep Washington from a 1 seed, no matter how good they are. They would probably need to go undefeated through Selection Sunday to get a 1 seed. Arizona, meanwhile, falls to 4-2 in Pac-10 play and 15-4 overall. They are better than their resume, but their resume still has major holes. They are 0-3 against the RPI Top 60, and their only RPI Top 100 win came against California. With a bad loss to Oregon State they actually would barely be inside the Field of 68 if the season ended now. They will have a home game against Washington on February 19th, but with a loss there they might need an 11-7 conference record just to make the Tournament. I expect them to end up safely in the Field of 68 with something like a 7-9 seed, but a couple of bad losses could easily drop them out of the Tournament altogether.