#11 Marquette 79, Washington 77
Washington gave Marquette a battle here in Madison Square Garden. This game was tight almost the entire way. The biggest flaw Marquette has is on the defensive boards, where they still don't have a ton of size and sometimes struggle to box out. Those issues were exacerbated when Chris Otule injured his knee two minutes into this game. Marquette fans are still waiting to hear if he'll be out for longer - the team hasn't announced anything yet. Washington finished with a 45.9 OR%. Terrence Ross put Washington ahead in the final 30 seconds, and it took a Jae Crowder three to win the game. Despite Crowder's size, he's actually a pretty good outside shooter (he's 14-for-33 behind the arc this season).
Marquette is now 8-0 with wins over Wisconsin, Washington and Ole Miss, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is #1 in the nation. But that said, they've been a bit fortunate in close games. They have won a pair of games by two points each, and only beat Wisconsin by seven. That tends to balance out in the long run. And that's one reason why, despite Marquette's hot start, Syracuse is still my pick to win the Big East. Their next game will be Saturday against Wisconsin-Green Bay. They open Big East play on December 29th against Villanova.
This tight loss for Washington comes right off of an overtime loss to Nevada. They're still looking for a quality win this season, which is a problem when you consider how bad the Pac-12 is this season. Their only real chance for a quality non-conference win will be on Saturday against Duke. While you would normally consider Washington a big underdog against Duke, their desperation has to be taken into account. They absolutely need to beat Duke or it's going to be tough for them just to make the NCAA Tournament (12-6 in Pac-12 play or better).
#13 Kansas 88, Long Beach State 80
I was very impressed with the fortitude of Long Beach State in this game. Down by double digits at halftime they just kept hanging around. Kansas just couldn't pull away. And Long Beach State did this without a monster game from Casper Ware. Instead they got some 4-for-5 three-point shooting from James Ennis while TJ Robinson (19 points, 7 rebounds) played well also. For Kansas, while Thomas Robinson was the star, Jeff Withey looked really good as well, nearly tallying a triple-double. (13 points, 13 rebounds and 9 blocks). My personal observation is that Withey is a lot more solidly built than he was when he started his college career. He's always been tall, but he's now a real physical force in the paint.
Obviously Kansas has higher ambitions than to treat Long Beach State as a quality win, but this is the type of win that will help their computer numbers. It's actually the second best win they've had so far this season. They'll hope to change that on Saturday when they have their big game against a Ohio State team that might be without a healthy Jared Sullinger.
Long Beach State falls to 4-4, but they have wins over Pittsburgh and Boise State, and only one bad loss (Montana). They head to North Carolina for a game on Saturday. Their next Division I game after that will be December 22nd against Xavier.
Northern Iowa 80, Iowa 60
It's been a tough start to the year for Iowa, and their struggles continued here. Honestly, the score differential makes this game seem like more of a blowout than it really was. This game was tight for the first 30 minutes, after which Northern Iowa's lead was still only one point. On top of that, Iowa couldn't hit a shot (1-for-12 behind the arc) while Northern Iowa was white hot (11-for-21 behind the arc).
Iowa falls to 5-4 with a loss to Campbell, and zero quality wins. They have a game at Iowa State on Friday, and then also will play Drake and Boise State before beginning conference play. Though honestly, they're NCAA Tournament long shots at this point. They just need to focus on being in the best position to win as many Big Ten games as possible. Their resume doesn't matter a whole lot right now.
Northern Iowa, on the other hand, does look to be a real NCAA Tournament contender. I had them narrowly in the Field of 68 even before this win. They're now 8-1, with wins over Iowa State, Old Dominion and Iowa, and zero bad losses. They will play Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday, and also will face Ohio before starting Missouri Valley play on December 29th at Illinois State. Right now I think that Northern Iowa is one of the three best teams atop the Missouri Valley, along with Creighton and Wichita State.