Friday, December 23, 2011

Xavier, Still Not At Full Strength, Falls To Long Beach St

Long Beach State 68, #15 Xavier 58
Tu Holloway returned for Xavier, but they were still without Mark Lyons and Dez Wells. Holloway is Xavier's superstar and potential All-American, of course, but without Lyons and Wells the Xavier perimeter attack is very thin. Long Beach State focused their defense on keeping Holloway from harming them, and they succeeded (only 17 points and 4 assists). Xavier just doesn't have enough weapons with Lyons and Wells suspended to keep up with Long Beach State's attack. Keep in mind that this game was no "upset" - Long Beach State was actually favored in Vegas by two points.

I know that Xavier fans want these games with suspended players to be ignored, thinking that it's not fair to judge the team without so many players. But besides the fact that a suspension isn't a punishment if the games don't count, it's just a fact that the Selection Committee never takes injuries/suspensions into account on Selection Sunday. Your resume is what your resume is - you don't get a pass because players are missing, even if it's because of an injury and the player is back and fully healthy for the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier will be back at full strength for the Atlantic Ten regular season, and they are clearly one of the three teams with a plausible shot at winning the conference (Temple and Saint Louis being the other two). These two losses without the suspended players (to Long Beach State and Oral Roberts) will hurt their seed in March a little bit, but not too much. They're still very much in contention for something like a 3 or 4 seed if they can win the A-10 regular season and tournament titles. They'll play Hawaii tonight, and then either Clemson or Southern Illinois or Sunday.

Long Beach State has handled their brutal non-conference schedule about as well as could have been expected. They have wins over Xavier and Pittsburgh, and only one bad loss (Montana). They'll play Auburn tonight, and then either Kansas State or UTEP on Sunday. It's still not impossible for Long Beach State to contend for an at-large bid, but they'd have to win their final two games in Hawaii and then basically go undefeated the rest of the way. I wouldn't bet on it. They'll need to earn the Big West's auto bid.

#7 Baylor 72, Saint Mary's 59
Saint Mary's is one of the few real unknown teams left in Division I. They've been blowing away cupcakes, and the computers like them, but they only have one win against anything close to a quality opponent (Northern Iowa) along with a potentially iffy loss against Denver. What's worrying about this loss is that their defense had been their strength in their games against cupcakes, but their defense was torn up by a very mediocre Baylor offense, despite Baylor not shooting well behind the arc (36% on threes, 55% on twos). Baylor finished with 1.14 PPP here, which is their best offensive performance against a Division I team (not including games against SWAC teams, which might as well be non-Division I).

On offense, Saint Mary's doesn't have any bigs that have a chance of challenging the long Baylor interior defenders, so they were reduced to chucking up threes, but couldn't hit any (5-for-20). That's why they failed to put up too much of a fight in this game. I don't think there's reason to get too down on Saint Mary's, though. This is just a single game performance, after all. They'll play better against smaller front lines, too. The addition of BYU to the WCC also makes it a lot easier for a team like Saint Mary's to build an at-large resume in conference play. They'll get a chance for a quality win against Missouri State tonight, and then will open WCC play against BYU on Thursday.

Baylor moves to 11-0 with wins over Saint Mary's, BYU, San Diego State and Northwestern. There's no question it's been impressive, and better than just about anybody thought they'd see. In years past, Baylor has been plagued with inconsistency (particularly on offense and on the defensive boards), so we'll have to see if they catch that bug again as they get ready for Big 12 play. They'll play West Virginia tonight, and also will face Mississippi State before opening Big 12 play on January 2nd against Texas A&M.

West Virginia 70, Missouri State 68, OT
West Virginia needed overtime to win this game, but they played well and showed guts in key moments. They probably would have won this game more easily if they could have hit some shots (they had an incredibly 16-to-2 offensive rebounding advantage), but they didn't and needed some clutch play from Gary Browne (including a miracle three-pointer with under two seconds to go to send the game into overtime). Kevin Jones was a monster, with 17 points and 13 rebounds (7 offensive).

This was a win West Virginia needed. They came into this game with losses to Kent State and Mississippi State, and victories over Kansas State and Miami (Fl). Their resume would have started looking bubbly if they'd fallen here. Instead they'll have a chance to collect a really nice scalp tonight if they can knock off Baylor. They'll open Big East play on Wednesday against Villanova.

I know there's a lot of talk about the Missouri Valley earning three or four teams to the NCAA Tournament, but I'm not seeing it right now. Creighton and Wichita State both look like solid Tournament teams, but Northern Iowa's resume is looking dicey (they'll need to go 13-5 or better in conference play to have a serious at-large shot), and I'm most likely going to drop them from my bracket tomorrow night. And Missouri State is behind even UNI. The Bears have only one win close to a "quality" win (over Nevada), and a mediocre loss to Oral Roberts. Overall, Missouri State is only 7-4 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that has slipped to 100th. They'll get a chance to get much closer to the bubble if they can beat Saint Mary's tonight. Otherwise they'll be 7-5 when they open Missouri Valley play on Wednesday at Creighton. Without a win over Saint Mary's, even a 13-5 conference record probably won't earn them an at-large bid (they'd need to make the finals of Arch Madness, and would need a weak bubble).

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