Saturday, January 22, 2011

Texas A&M Bounces Back, Dumps K-State to 1-4

#10 Texas A&M 64, #24 Kansas State 56
Texas A&M was coming off an embarrassing dismantling at the hands of Texas, and honestly this wasn't the most impressive performance. Kansas State actually tied up the game with a little more than five minutes to go, but they could never grab a lead and finally fell by eight points. What I did like from Texas A&M here was their toughness. They couldn't hit a shot in this game, and even star Khris Middleton was a terrible 3-for-10 from the field. But Middleton made up for that shooting by attacking the rim and getting to the line, where he hit 11-for-12. For Kansas State the highlight was Curtis Kelly finally having a big night in just his third game back from suspension. In fact, this was Kelly's first double-double of the season. And this performance comes just in time, because Kansas State has only two days until what is nearly a must-win game for them at home against Baylor now that they're 1-4. Their next game after that will be on the road at Kansas, so a loss to Baylor will put them in a position where they'll likely be 1-6 in conference play, with an uphill battle just to make the NCAA Tournament. They will probably make the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 8-8 in Big 12 play, but they won't want to be a position where they need a 7-2 finish just to get there. Texas A&M is now 17-2 with wins over Missouri, Washington and Temple, and zero bad losses. They now have a week to prepare for Nebraska, and just have to be careful of looking ahead to a home game the following Monday against Texas.

Vanderbilt 89, #21 Saint Mary's 70
This game was always going to be an uphill battle for Saint Mary's. Both of these teams are much stronger at home than on the road, and Vandy had an extra advantage because none of the Saint Mary's players were familiar with the goofy court and gym that Vandy plays in. An 11-0 run to end the first half blew this game open and it was never particularly close after that. For Vandy this helps strengthen their resume, and they now appear to be very safely into the NCAA Tournament. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as the clear second best team in the SEC, although they are only 2-2 and have a deceptively dangerous game up next at Mississippi State on Thursday night. The Bulldogs have had a horrible season, but have played a lot better since Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney have gotten on a roll. As for Saint Mary's, this is a missed opportunity, but they are also in good shape for an at-large bid. They still have to play Gonzaga twice more in the regular season, and likely will play them again in the WCC tournament, but even losses in all of those games won't knock them out of the Tournament if they can beat the rest of their schedule. They have a win over Saint John's, and zero losses outside the RPI Top 20. Their first game of the season against Gonzaga is actually their next game, and will be played in Spokane on Thursday night. A win will put them in the driver's seat for the WCC regular season title.

Xavier 88, Temple 77
Xavier is developing a really nice homecourt advantage. They have won 33 of their last 34 at the Cintas Center, part of a 35 game winning streak at home against conference opponents. Temple had two more offensive rebounds and one fewer turnover, and they shot 44% from the arc. Normally that's a winning formula. But Xavier was white hot from the field, hitting 8-for-13 behind the arc, and that was the difference. This game raises real questions about a Temple team that was by far the best A-10 team during non-conference play. The Owls beat Georgetown, Georgia and Maryland, and their only losses were away from home against Villanova and Texas A&M. But they've now lost two of three in conference play and are a full two games behind first place. The two teams in first (Duquesne and Xavier) have already beaten them, and neither has to play a return game against Temple. This loss drops Temple to 3-5 against the RPI Top 100, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall into the mid-30s. They are in the Tournament for now, but can't afford worse than a 10-6 finish in conference play. As for Xavier, they have a win over Butler to go with this win and have zero RPI 100+ losses (although a loss to Miami-Ohio could turn into one). Their RPI is 24th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should move into the Top 40. They will very likely need to finish at least 11-5 in A-10 play to have a good shot at an at-large bid. They also have a road game at Georgia on February 8th, an opportunity to build that resume.

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