Monday, January 31, 2011

Kansas Destroys Kansas State

#6 Kansas 90, Kansas State 66
I don't think anybody was too surprised by this result. Kansas got a wake-up call with their loss to Texas and they've been playing with renewed intensity and energy since that. Kansas State has been playing better since Curtis Kelly got comfortable in the rotation after his suspension, but even at their best they were never going to have a shot against Kansas at Phog Allen. For Kansas, they now head into a pretty easy stretch. They play at Texas Tech tomorrow, then play Nebraska and have a home game against Missouri. I expect them to get on a winning streak and to make a run at a Big 12 title. Even though they don't play Texas again, and as good as Texas is looking right now, the reality is that the Longhorns are going to lose some games. Rick Barnes has a history of inconsistent teams that look like world beaters for a few weeks and then look terrible for a few weeks - there is zero chance that they keep up this level of play for the rest of the season.

For Kansas State, it's amazing how things even out. Last year they were wildly overrated, and were by far the worst 2 seed in the Tournament. I recommended strongly that people pick BYU to upset Kansas State in the second round of the Tournament - I got more e-mail and comments about that pick than any other pick I made. But Jacob Pullen got hot and the team made it all the way to the Elite 8. Before this season I again thought the team was wildly overrated - it was preposterous that they were considered a favorite in the Big 12 and a Final Four contender. But even I overrated them - I at least figured they'd be a 3-5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. So after playing well above their skill level last year, they're playing well below their skill level last year. Suddenly the sloppy play, streak shooting and poor free throw shooting that seemed irrelevant last season are killing them this season. And the hits just keep coming. After this loss they found out that Wally Judge is leaving the program. It's still not completely clear what the problems are behind the scenes at Kansas State, but it's never a good sign when a program has this many suspensions and transfers. And Kansas State now has a real chance of missing the NCAA Tournament. They are 0-6 against the RPI Top 50. Their RPI is 41st but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 52nd. They are 2-5 in the Big 12 and probably need to get to 8-8. Certainly they can't afford to finish worse than 7-9 to keep their at-large hopes alive.

West Virginia 66, Cincinnati 55
This was an impressive victory for West Virginia over another potential bubble contender without the suspended Casey Mitchell. They did a really nice job defensively of keeping the ball out of the paint. They made Yancy Gates irrelevant (7 points, 5 rebounds) and forced Cincy to become a jumpshooting team (Cincy's 48.3 3PA/FGA and 18.3 FTA/FGA were well off of the 35.2% and 38.8%, respectively, that they're averaging). West Virginia has won six of their last eight games and, at least for the time being, are very safely in the Field of 68. They are 8-6 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Purdue, Vanderbilt, Georgetown and now Cincinnati. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is all the way up to 19th. As jumbled as the top of the Big East has become, West Virginia at 5-3 is actually tied for the second fewest losses in the conference (there are a whole bunch of teams at 6-3 or 5-3), but their remaining schedule is really brutal. They will play Seton Hall on Wednesday, but after that they will play seven of their final nine games against Top 25 teams, including road games at Pitt, Syracuse and Villanova.

Cincinnati is 18-4 overall and 5-4 in the Big East with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 16th, but their resume has a soft underbelly. The reality is that their 13-0 non-conference performance came against a cupcake schedule (Xavier, Dayton and Wright State were the best teams they beat), and in Big East play so far they've been beating the bad teams and losing to the good teams. St. John's is the best team they've beaten in conference play. Their schedule begins getting tougher now, beginning with a game at Pittsburgh on Saturday evening. If they end up falling to 8-10 in Big East play, without any Top 25 wins, there's a good chance that they'll fall all the way out of the Tournament. Pomeroy projects a 10-8 finish and I'd project a 9-9 finish, so there isn't a ton of leeway, despite how strong their computer numbers are right now.

Duquesne 82, Dayton 64
It goes without saying that Damian Sanders was the star of this game for Duquesne. Sanders filled the statsheet with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. Duquesne ate up Dayton the way they've been eating up opponents all over the Atlantic Ten this year, with their pressure defense. They are leading the nation in defensive turnover percentage. Missouri, the team you'd think would be first, is actually 15th. If you take into account their breakneck pace and list teams by turnovers forced per game Duquesne is still first, but Mizzou is up to 5th.

At 7-0, Duquesne is tied for the Atlantic Ten lead with Xavier, and they are definitely in the conference driver's seat. They've already beaten Temple, and their one game this season against Xavier will be at home (on February 13th). They are, in my opinion, the favorite to win the Atlantic Ten regular season title. Their overall resume, though, is much weaker. The Dayton and Temple wins are their only against the RPI Top 100, and they have a bad loss to Robert Morris. Their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 35th but their ELO_CHESS is 65th. They have quite the uphill battle to any at-large bid, but if they can sneak into the Field of 68 they'll be a very dangerous opponent. Dayton, as expected, continues to fade. Pomeroy and Sagarin both rate them near the 100th best team in the nation, and with this loss their Sagarin ELO_CHESS finally drops out of the Top 60. George Mason is the only RPI Top 50 team they've beaten, and they have an RPI 100+ loss to East Tennessee State. At 3-4 in A-10 play they can stay on the bubble if they get to 10-6 or 11-5, but I'd bet against it.

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