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.

Bracketbusters Match-Ups

I'll post again later tonight with some game recaps. But in the meanwhile, the Bracketbusters games have been announced, or at least the 11 that will be television by ESPN. That full list is here.

Obviously the Utah State/Saint Mary's game is the premier match-up, but both of those teams are likely to make the Tournament regardless. The best true bubble games will be VCU/Wichita State, Valpo/Missouri State, ODU/Cleveland State, and UNI/George Mason.

The games will be three weekends from now, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (February 18-20).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

W-6 BP68

Selection Sunday is now only six weeks away. All BP68s the rest of the season will have the full bubble.

As always, here is how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Texas

3. Purdue
3. Villanova
3. San Diego State
3. Syracuse

4. Louisville
4. Wisconsin
4. Notre Dame
4. Texas A&M

5. Georgetown
5. UConn
5. North Carolina
5. Vanderbilt

6. Illinois
6. Missouri
6. West Virginia
6. Arizona

7. Florida
7. Cincinnati
7. Tennessee

8. Michigan State

9. Kansas State
9. Marquette
9. Minnesota
9. Florida State

10. Maryland
10. Richmond
10. Baylor

11. Boston College
11. Washington State
11. Virginia Tech

12. Georgia
12. Duquesne
12. Oklahoma State
12. Wichita State
12. Northwestern




16. LIU (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Clemson, Xavier, St. John's, George Mason, UAB, Cleveland State, New Mexico, UCLA, Gonzaga

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Miami (Fl), Dayton, Penn State, Colorado, Nebraska, Drexel, James Madison, VCU, Central Florida, Southern Miss, UTEP, Valparaiso, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, California, Alabama, South Carolina

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
NC State, Rhode Island, Providence, Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa State, Hofstra, Marshall, Creighton, Air Force, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Portland

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Georgia Tech, Virginia, St. Bonaventure, UMass, Seton Hall, South Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Tulsa, Wright State, Princeton, Fairfield, Indiana State, Utah, Arizona State, Stanford, Mississippi State

Saturday, January 29, 2011

St. Mary's, Vandy & Memphis Upset

Portland 85, #24 Saint Mary's 70
It wasn't completely shocking for Saint Mary's to come off of their victory over Gonzaga with a loss here. It had to be emotional for everybody involved in the Saint Mary's program to finally come out of Spokane with a win, and to finally appear to lock up a WCC regular season title. And of course, Portland is the clear third best team in the conference, so a road game at Portland was always going to be the toughest game on the Saint Mary's schedule other than the game at Gonzaga. But what made this game shocking was the way Portland destroyed Saint Mary's without even any production from Luke Sikma. Portland actually led by 27 points midway through the second half. And Sikma, who is leading Portland in points and rebounds, had only 2 points and 8 rebounds. The star for Portland was actually a freshman, Tim Douglas, who had 26 points on 10-for-16 shooting.

For Saint Mary's this actually isn't a dramatic loss. They are still a full two games ahead of the only teams in the conference they are worried about, Portland and Gonzaga, with home games against both still to go (second place in the conference is actually currently held by Santa Clara and San Francisco, and both are only one game back, but both of those teams will obviously fade). And Saint Mary's remains safely in the Tournament for now. Their only RPI Top 50 win was over St. John's, but they also have only four losses, and all were against the RPI Top 60. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be inside the Top 30 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Saint Mary's can easily afford at least one more regular season loss without falling back to the bubble. As for Portland, this is a nice win, but their second best win came against Montana. They also have losses to Santa Clara and San Francisco, and they are barely among the Top 100 teams in the nation according to Sagarin and Pomeroy. They probably will need to go undefeated for the rest of the regular season to get to the bubble.

Arkansas 89, #22 Vanderbilt 78
Say hello to Rotnei Clark, who had 36 points on 12-for-16 shooting (including 6-for-8 behind the arc). Arkansas was on fire with a 63.8 eFG% and only 7 turnovers. They are a feisty team, though, and have given several good teams trouble. They've already beaten Tennessee, Seton Hall and Alabama this season. This win actually moves them to second place in the SEC West at 4-3. But that said, the odds are that the SEC West will not get an NCAA Tournament team, and the Razorbacks are still likely to be outside the Top 80 in the Sagarin ELO_CHESS after this win. They'll need to pull a few more upsets to get close to the bubble.

Vanderbilt now falls to 3-3 in SEC play and has a big road game coming up Tuesday night at Florida. Vandy is 7-4 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over North Carolina, Marquette, Georgia and Saint Mary's, and only one RPI 100+ loss to South Carolina. Their RPI is 25th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely be close to 30th. If the season ended now they'd likely be a 5-7 seed in the Tournament, although they probably can't push up too much higher because there just aren't a lot of good wins to be had in the SEC.

Marshall 85, Memphis 70
Conference USA is becoming a jumbled mess. Seven of the conference's 12 teams are now within one game of first place. This was a disappointing result for Memphis coming off of their best four game stretch of the season: wins over Marshall, Southern Miss, UAB and UCF - RPI Top 100 teams all. Even after this loss Memphis is 36th in RPI, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is likely going to fall out of the Top 40. More importantly, their Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy rating are close to 90th, so the computers don't have a lot of faith that Memphis will stay on the bubble. Marshall, meanwhile, now has their RPI up to 60th. But they are 7-7 against the RPI Top 200, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is going to be closer to 85th. At 2-4 in CUSA play they would have to finish 11-5 or better to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

BYU Lets Down Against New Mexico

New Mexico 86, #9 BYU 77
It's not abnormal for a team to have a letdown game after a big win, like BYU just had over San Diego State. Jimmer Fredette wasn't the problem - if anything he had a more well-rounded game than he did against SDSU. Fredette had 32 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. But Jackson Emery struggled (2-for-8 shooting and 4 fouls in only 29 minutes played), and the team let down defensively (57.4 eFG% for New Mexico). Besides, if I'd told you before the season that New Mexico beat BYU at home you'd have figured it was just a nice close game. New Mexico was supposed to be keeping up with BYU - in fact, many experts picked New Mexico as the better team. But the Lobos have really struggled, and for them they will hope to use this win as a way to catapult themselves back into bubble contention.

New Mexico is 3-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over BYU and Colorado State, along with bad losses to Wyoming and Utah. Their RPI is 67th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will still very likely be outside the Top 75 after this win. They are 3-4 in Mountain West play, but probably need to get to 10-6 to be in a good position for an at-large bid. If they finish 9-7 they'll have work left to do heading into the MWC tournament. BYU obviously isn't worrying about the bubble. The worry with this loss is the effect on their conference title hopes. They are now tied with San Diego State, but still have to head to SDSU for a game on February 26th. Even with this loss BYU is still in contention for a 1 seed if they can sweep the MWC regular season and tournament titles.

Penn State 56, #15 Wisconsin 52
Wisconsin obviously left this game wishing they could have borrowed some points from their destruction of Northwestern in their previous game. They were beyond ice cold late in this game. With a two point lead and six minutes to go, Wisconsin proceeded to hit 1 of their next 11 shots. And I was watching that part of the game and don't think that a single one of those 11 shots was seriously contested - Wisconsin was just building a home with bricks. This loss is particularly tough for Wisconsin after the troubles that Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota have been going through. The Badgers could have nearly locked up a top three finish in the Big Ten. Now they come home to play Purdue and Michigan State next week. Already a full game back of Purdue in the standings, and with an Ohio State home-and-home and a Purdue road game left to go, Wisconsin really has to beat Purdue this week at home to keep their realistic hopes of a second place Big Ten finish alive.

Penn State, believe it or not, is 5-4 in Big Ten play. They now have wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois, and only one RPI 100+ loss (Maine). Their RPI is 46th, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be in the 65-70th range. If they can somehow get to 10-8 in Big Ten play they'll at least be considered on Selection Sunday. They next head on the road to play Illinois on Tuesday night, and then come home to play Michigan next Sunday.

#1 Ohio State 58, Northwestern 57
This game is why it's wrong to draw too much out of a game like Ohio State's blowout of Purdue. The fact is that the Purdue game represented the best Ohio State can play. This game against Northwestern? About as bad as they can play. They just didn't look to be mentally in this game. Northwestern successfully kept this game at a very slow pace, not only in the number of possessions but also in the deliberate way the possessions were played. The teams combined for only 11 turnovers and 10 offensive rebounds. Ohio State just couldn't pick up the energy at all. And amazingly, Northwestern did this without their best player - John Shurna.

Still, a win is a win and Ohio State moves to 9-0 in Big Ten play. They'll have to really collapse down the stretch to blow the Big Ten regular season title. And a Big Ten regular season title combined with a Big Ten tournament title will be a certain 1 seed for them in the Tournament. As for Northwestern, you have to feel bad for this program that always seems to come up just a little bit short. This loss drops them to 3-7 in Big Ten play, and they are now 0-8 against the RPI Top 50. They are through the toughest part of their schedule and do have a chance to run up some wins now. They now have a week to prepare for a home game against Illinois, and then after that their next five games will be against Iowa, Indiana, Michigan and Penn State (twice).

Syracuse Loses Their Fourth Straight

Marquette 76, #10 Syracuse 70
Syracuse won their first 18 games of the season, and have now followed that up with four straight losses. What made this game bizarre was that Marquette didn't win this game the way you'd think they would. With streaky three-point shooters, Marquette has the ability to really pour it on against the Syracuse zone, but three-point shooting was actually a draw in this game (both teams were 6-for-13). Instead the Marquette guards were torching Syracuse defenders one-on-one and just getting on an endless march to the free throw line. They earned 33 shots at the line despite only drawing 22 fouls, which is an amazing ratio - a majority of fouls committed by Syracuse were on missed shots.. It was even more dramatic in the first half, which Marquette won 42-31. Marquette was fouled 9 times and earned 15 free throws. So Syracuse was constantly bailing out Marquette drivers.

Syracuse has a lot of questions right now, but they've got to find some answers soon, because their next game is Wednesday night at UConn, and a loss would drop them to 5-5 in Big East play. And they still have road games at Louisville, Georgetown and Villanova to go. If the season ended now Syracuse would still be a 3 or 4 seed, but they could easily tumble further. As for Marquette, winning this game isn't as important as not losing it. What I mean by that is that losing an 11 point second half lead, after losing so many late leads this season (including that still unbelievable collapse against Louisville a couple weeks ago when they had an 18 point lead with under 6 minutes to go and lost). If the season ended now Marquette would be an interesting resume. They are only 14-8 overall, including 5-8 against the RPI Top 100, which seems extremely unimpressive. But then you break it down and see wins over Notre Dame, West Virginia and Syracuse, and the fact that the only team they've lost to outside the RPI Top 30 is Gonzaga on a neutral court, and you realize that they've just been through a brutal schedule. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be well inside the Top 40 with this win, and in my opinion there's no question they'd be in the Field of 68 if the season ended now. In fact, I think they'd be something like an 8 or 9 seed. The Selection Committee has always rewarded teams that beat elite opponents, even if they have a lot of losses, over teams that play soft schedules and beat up on cupcakes. At 5-4 in Big East play I think Marquette will be a near-lock for the Tournament if they can finish 9-9 or better. But that won't be easy. They now head off for three straight road games: at Villanova, USF and Georgetown.

Nebraska 57, #11 Texas A&M 48
Texas A&M just could not hit a shot in the second half of this game. They scored 17 points on 24% shooting from the field. But Nebraska deserves credit, they've been playing great defense all season. They entered this game 9th in the nation in Pomeroy Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Speaking of computer ratings, Texas A&M entered this game rated 29th and 30th by Pomeroy and Sagarin respectively. So they were due for a loss. Texas A&M is now 4-2 in the Big 12, in third place, with a big home game coming up Monday night against Texas. If the season ended now they'd likely be a 4 or 5 seed, but it's going to be hard for them to move up because of their soft schedule. Without a win over Texas, or later in the season on the road at Kansas, it's going to be hard for them to move up any higher. This was a game that Nebraska really needed after losing three of four, including a terrible loss at Texas Tech. Nebraska is now 3-3 in Big 12 play and 15-5 overall, but they have only one RPI Top 50 win (Texas A&M) and two RPI 100+ losses (Davidson, Texas Tech). Their RPI is 81st, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is going to be right around 80th as well. It's hard to see them making the Tournament even after this win, with a path to an at-large bid likely involving a 7-3 finish or better, and then a win or two in the Big 12 tournament. That is going to be a long shot considering the fact that their next three games are at Kansas State, vs Kansas, and at Baylor.

Valparaiso 85, Butler 79, OT
This game was a shooting exhibition. Both teams hit 46% of their three-pointers, with Valparaiso hitting 10-for-22 and Butler hitting 13-for-28. But even though Butler hit at such a high clip, it was a good sign for Valpo that Butler was even taking so many. And the reason was because Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant both fouled out, while Shelvin Mack spent the afternoon bricking jump shots (3-for-12 from the field, including 1-for-7 behind the arc). Valpo just would not let them penetrate. Zach Hahn (5-for-8 behind the arc) was the player keeping Butler in the game. Valparaiso is a good team (they might even end up an RPI Top 50 team before all is said and done), but this is still a bad loss for Butler because they lack big wins to balance all of these losses. Butler's only RPI Top 50 wins are over Florida State and Cleveland State, and they've got three RPI 100+ losses (Evansville and UW-Milwaukee twice). And that doesn't include a loss to Wright State, a team that could end up outside the RPI Top 100. Butler's RPI is still 42nd, but RPI doesn't matter. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is outside the Top 60, and without any big wins there's no chance they'll earn an at-large bid without an ELO_CHESS inside the Top 50. They still have to head to Cleveland State, and should have a Bracketbusters game, and also have a home game against Wright State, but their other six regular season games are against teams outside the RPI Top 140. So unless they go undefeated the rest of the way they are very likely to be outside the Field of 68 when they head into the Horizon League tournament. That means that unless they win their next 9 or 10 games, or benefit from a very weak bubble, they're going to need the Horizon auto bid to get back to the Tournament. Valpo's resume is actually really similar to Butler's right now. They also have two RPI Top 50 wins (Cleveland State and Butler) and three RPI 100+ losses (Ohio, UW-Green Bay and Youngstown State). Their resume is slightly weaker, but not by much. Valpo heads to Cleveland State on Thursday night, and if they can pull the upset there they'll be heavily favored in every regular season they have remaining (other than perhaps a Bracketbusters game). It's plausible that they could enter the Horizon tournament with a better resume than Butler.

Clemson Upsets FSU, MSU Takes Down Florida

Clemson 62, Florida State 44
Florida State's offense hasn't been good all season, and they really have no offensive weapons other than Chris Singleton. So when he only scores 8 points you know it's going to be a long day offensively. But really, this was just a terribly sloppy game. These two teams combined for 23 steals and 20 assists - I can't recall the last game I saw with more steals than assists. Florida State will be disappointed to lose this game, but they were due to lose eventually. They came in here having won four straight, pushing themselves into the AP Top 25. Even with this loss they are 5-2 in the ACC, which puts them in third place. FSU is now 6-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Duke and Boston College along with a bad loss to Auburn. Their RPI is 49th, which is close to where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be. If the season ended now they'd be in the Tournament narrowly because of that Duke win, but I think they've got to get to 10-6 in ACC play to stay in the Tournament. If they finish 9-7 they'll enter the ACC tournament with work still left to do. This win pushes Clemson to 4-3 in ACC play, although this is their first win all season against the RPI Top 60. Their RPI is 66th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 55th. To make the Tournament they probably need to get to 10-6 in ACC play while taking down a big scalp (other than a road game at Duke their best chance is February 12th at home against North Carolina).

Mississippi State 71, #23 Florida 64
Mississippi State fans are finally beginning to see what they had expected to see all year long. Dee Bost is back playing as well as he did last season, and Renardo Sidney is finally finding his game. The two combined for 40 points on 13-for-24 shooting in this game. The problem is that they pretty much already blew any chance of a successful season, with losses early on to Hawaii, East Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic. They are 5-9 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that should still be outside the Top 150 when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Currently 3-3 in SEC play they would have to finish at least 11-5 to have even a remote chance at at-large consideration. Instead, Mississippi State will likely be doing more of this, which is weakening the Tournament resume of another SEC team.

For Florida, a slower pace in this game kept the turnovers down, but they got another poor game from Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, who combined for 8-for-28 shooting, 4 assists and 4 turnovers. Florida has more success when they slow things down and work the ball through their frontcourt. Too often they are impatient offensively. Even with this loss Florida remains in first place in the SEC East, and they now have a huge week coming up with home games against Vanderbilt (on Tuesday) and Kentucky (Saturday). They still have to head on the road to both Vanderbilt and Kentucky later in the season, but a win in both of those games next week will put them in firm control of the SEC East. If they can somehow win the conference regular season title it will mean a fairly easy trip to the SEC tournament championship, and a real shot at a 3 or 4 seed. It is more likely, however, that they're going to finish in the 5-9 seed range.

#12 Purdue 73, #18 Minnesota 61
Minnesota kept this game closer than I thought they would, actually leading for parts of the first half before Purdue pulled away midway through the second half. Minnesota again went with their one guard lineup, and they did have relatively good ball movement and offense, but more impressively they played well defensively against Purdue's backcourt. E'Twaun Moore had an off day (3-for-13 shooting), and so it was Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith that had to lead the way offensively in the second half. It will be interesting to see whether this had more to do with just a poor offensive day from Purdue, or whether Minnesota is able to play team defense well enough to use their length against quicker opponents. They will have an interesting test next when they head to Indiana on Tuesday night. The Hoosiers have quick guards that are smaller than the long backcourt that Purdue has. If Minnesota can handle them defensively then it will bode well for home games up next against Ohio State and Illinois.

The Gophers are 5-4 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Purdue, North Carolina and West Virginia, and only one loss to a team outside the RPI Top 50 (Virginia). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will stay close to 20th after this loss, so they do have a big buffer between them and the bubble. And with Illinois and Michigan State struggling, Minnesota could still realistically finish as high as fourth in the Big Ten. For Purdue this game represents a quality win, and a solid way to bounce back after being blown away in Columbus. At 7-2 in the Big Ten they are in second place, and have a chance to grab control of that position on Tuesday night at Wisconsin. If they can win that game they can also stay within two games of Ohio State. With a home game against the Buckeyes on February 20th, Purdue still has a real chance of grabbing a share of the Big Ten title.

Louisville, Georgetown Win Thrillers

#19 Louisville 79, #5 Connecticut 78, 2OT
The law of averages tends to catch up to teams, and it caught up to UConn here, a team that came in 5-1 in games decided by five points or less. Kemba Walker was kept completely out of this game, and he finished 7-for-23 from the field. It was a strong game from Jeremy Lamb (21 points on 9-for-17 shooting) and another hot shooting night from Shabazz Napier (5-for-11 shooting behind the arc) that kept the game close. The star of the game was Peyton Siva, who is starting to get a reputation for clutch play. After that spectacular game-winner Wednesday against West Virginia he again hit an array of clutch shots to close this one. He is one of those really slippery guards who seems to be able to penetrate against any defender.

If there is a sleeper team in the over-hyped Big East it's Louisville, a team that will move very close to the Top Ten in both the Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings and is now in second place in the Big East at 6-2. Not only that but their remaining games against Pitt, Syracuse and UConn are all at home. But they can't start thinking too far ahead - they've got to play at Georgetown on Monday night. UConn slides to 5-3, but after a game against Syracuse on Wednesday night they head into a pretty easy schedule for a while. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should stay in the Top Ten even after this loss, so while they probably still have more ground to fall they would still likely be a 2 seed in the Tournament if the season ended now.

#20 Georgetown 69, #7 Villanova 66
Georgetown has looked shaky at times this year, but this is the best they've looked. Their ball handling has been a huge problem all season (they've actually committed more turnovers than they've forced), and they will be very happy to nearly break even today against that intense full court trapping defense that Villanova runs (Georgetown had 13 turnovers, Villanova had 9). The Hoyas also had 19 assists on 24 made baskets, and hit 16-of-17 at the line. Meanwhile, while I often talk about how many teams often rely on too many three-point attempts, Villanova actually shot far too few in the first half. They attempted only three in the first half, and missed all of them, perhaps still recovering from that putrid shooting performance against Providence. But in the second half they hit 5-for-8 behind the arc (not counting two desperation misses in the final seconds). They can get streaky behind the arc, but that outside shooting opens up not only driving lanes but also offensive rebounding. The Nova big men are undersized but strong and athletic, and they do well at chasing down long offensive rebounds. But clutch play down the stretch made this a huge win for Georgetown, particularly in a game where they got nothing from Chris Wright (0 points, 6 assists, 4 turnovers).

With this win Georgetown moves back above .500 in the Big East at 5-4, and now they head home to play Louisville and then Providence. Despite all of those conference losses Georgetown is still 10-5 against the RPI Top 100, including 6-5 against the RPI Top 50, with wins over Missouri, Utah State, Old Dominion, St. John's and now Villanova. Their RPI is 5th, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be closer to 10th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be a 3-4 seed in the Tournament, and could potentially climb as high as a 2 if they finish strong. Villanova falls to 5-3 in conference play and also now has two keep home conference games, against Marquette and West Virginia. They are 8-4 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati and Temple, although they also have a questionable loss to Providence. Their RPI is 13th, which is close to where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will move to. They'd most likely be a 4 seed if the season ended now, and I don't see them moving too far in one direction or the other. They're likely looking at a 3-5 seed when the season ends.

Xavier 85, Richmond 62
No team has played better in the A-10 since conference play began than Xavier. They entered this game 6-0 in A-10 play and proceeded to destroy a good Richmond team in their own building. The star for Xavier, as per usual, was Tu Holloway, a scoring machine who had 33 points here to raise his season average up to 21 per game. As a whole the team hit 29-for-30 free throws, and at a strong 73% for the season (along with a low offensive turnover rate) they are very tough to come back on. While the computers aren't too impressed with Xavier yet (Pomeroy and Sagarin will likely rate them close to 60th when the new numbers come out tomorrow) they are now 7-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Butler, Temple, Dayton and Richmond, and only one questionable loss against Miami-Ohio. Their RPI is 21st and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should slide just narrowly inside the Top 40. So if the season ended now they would be in the Field of 68, but only narrowly. They will have to finish at least 12-4 in conference play to stay in a good position for an at-large bid. Their next game is Wednesday night at Charlotte. Richmond is now 6-4 against the RPI Top 100, but their upset of Purdue over Thanksgiving weekend remains their only Top 50 win, and they have bad losses against Iona and Georgia Tech. Their RPI is 55th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely fall out of the Top 50. If the season ended now they'd be one of the last teams in or out of the Field of 68. They are 5-2 in A-10 play and need to get to 11-5 or better to be in a good position for an at-large bid heading into the A-10 tournament. They have a stretch of four games coming up against weak opponents (St. Joe's, Fordham, George Washington and Saint Louis), and cannot afford to lose any of them.

What The St. Mary's Win Over Gonzaga Means

#24 Saint Mary's 73, Gonzaga 71
A lot of people have been talking about how this win means that St. Mary's is in control of the WCC regular season title, but the reality is that the losses to Santa Clara and San Francisco meant that Gonzaga's odds would have been very long even with a win here. They needed to sweep the season series with St. Mary's to have any realistic shot at a share of the WCC title, so just winning the game at home wouldn't have gotten them too far. A lot of people have also been talking about how this hurts Gonzaga's bubble chances, but realistically they weren't getting an at-large bid without a road win over St. Mary's anyway. Even with a win here and a loss at St. Mary's made their best case at-large scenario (beating Memphis, winning every other regular season game, and then losing in the WCC tournament finals to St. Mary's) a 23-9 finish with something like an 11-8 record against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Marquette, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Xavier and St. Mary's, along with losses to Santa Clara and San Francisco. That would have put their RPI probably just outside the Top 50, with their Sagarin ELO_CHESS possibly getting just inside the Top 50. That would put them right on the bubble... and again, that's their best case scenario.

So realistically, Gonzaga needed the automatic bid. But that's what changed with this game. Prior to this game I was picking Saint Mary's to win the regular season title but for Gonzaga to win the tournament title. That's why in the W-7 BP68 I have Saint Mary's with the higher seed even though I'm giving Gonzaga the WCC tournament championship. I just wasn't yet willing to bet against Gonzaga in a big moment away from the strong St. Mary's homecourt advantage. They've always found a way to come through, always had the superior end-of-game players. But that viewpoint changed during this game. Elias Harris had a remarkably quiet 17 points, and Steven Gray struggled to get a good shot when he needed one. In college basketball you need at least one perimeter player that can get a basket when you really need a basket, and the two best players at that from this game were Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova from St. Mary's. McConnell, in particular, was dominant toward the end of the game against the porous Gonzaga defense. St. Mary's obviously is the overwhelming favorite to win the WCC regular season title, but now they are also my pick to win the WCC tournament title. And Gonzaga is staring at their first NIT appearance since 1998. Note that St. Mary's does have a tough game tonight at Portland, the third best team in the conference.

Indiana 52, #21 Illinois 49
I simultaneously enjoyed and was bothered by Indiana's reaction to this win. I have enjoyed how positive and supportive the Indiana fan base has been as Tom Crean rebuilds the Indiana program. They continue to pack Assembly Hall and to provide a great homecourt advantage. I remember loving how in the 2008-09 season, when the team was at its worst and they managed to pull just a single win all season in Big Ten play (against Iowa), the crowd was absolutely rocking during that one win. They won a single game at home over a conference bottom-feeder, and you'd have thought they were trying to beat a Top 5 ranked team the way they were making noise. And the gym was again rocking during this game. What was a little bizarre to me this time, however, was the way everybody celebrated afterwards. Tom Crean going to celebrate with his family before shaking hands with Bruce Weber, the fans celebrating beyond a typical court storming (somebody sent me this video of the fans celebrating with Tom Crean in the lobby of Assembly Hall after the game).... it all just seemed like a bit much for a team that entered this season with hopes of maybe getting to the Tournament bubble and that had merely knocked off a marginal Top 25 team.

Personally, I've been a little disappointed with how the team has played as a whole this year - I thought they'd be better. Even after this win Indiana is 2-6 in Big Ten play, and with a brutal schedule down the stretch they'll be lucky to get to 6-12. But that will still be better than last year, and they'll be even better next year with a very good recruiting class coming in. So things are going in the right direction. I just think the fans should hold the team to a slightly higher standard. As for Illinois, they just completed the toughest part of their schedule and didn't exactly rise to the challenge. They've lost four of five to fall to 4-4 in Big Ten play, and still have road games at Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota left to go. They should be a near-lock to get into the Tournament if they finish 9-9 because of wins over Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan State, Maryland and Gonzaga, but it's disappointing for Illinois fans that we're even still discussing their bubble chances as we head into February. Their next game is Tuesday night against Penn State, and then they head on the road to play Northwestern and Minnesota.

Arizona 85, UCLA 74
In my opinion, Derrick Williams is the clear Player of the Year in the Pac-10, and it's not his fault that the Pac-10 is down this year so nobody nationally is paying attention to Arizona's games. In this game he poured in 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting (including 2-for-4 behind the arc), but his biggest impact was drawing fouls on UCLA's bigs (Reeves Nelson fouled out while Joshua Smith picked up four fouls in only 19 minutes played) and drawing the defense to him to open things up for Arizona's outside shooters. The ability to draw fouls is so important in the college game, where the five-foul rule means that each foul has a dramatic impact. Williams is drawing an insane 9.1 fouls per 40 minutes played, which is by far the most of any player on any major conference team (he is second in all of Division I, behind a player from Northwestern State).

With this win Arizona moves to 6-2 in Pac-10 play, grabbing firm control of second place. They are the only team that can realistically steal at least a share of the Pac-10 regular season title away from Washington. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 25th, and their PREDICTOR is 14th (Pomeroy rates them 21st), so they are firmly in the Field of 68 and look to stay there. Their next game is tonight against USC, and then they head on the road to play the two northern California teams. UCLA falls to 5-3 and third place in the Pac-10, but their overall resume is much weaker than Arizona's. They are a horrid 6-7 against the RPI Top 200, and that upset win over BYU is their only against the RPI Top 50. They also have a bad loss to Montana. Their RPI is 50th, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 71st. I don't see a path to an at-large bid that doesn't involve at least an 11-7 Pac-10 record, and realistically they've probably got to get to at least 12-6. They play at Arizona State later this afternoon and then come home for USC and St. John's.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

BYU Beats SDSU: What Did We Learn?

#9 BYU 71, #4 San Diego State 58
On first glance, this game didn't reveal anything we didn't know. I have thought all season long that BYU was slightly better than San Diego State, and throw in a very good homecourt advantage and an ill Kwahli Leonard (Leonard did have 22 points and 15 rebounds, so either he wasn't that sick or he had a tremendous B12 shot) and I would have expected a 7-10 point BYU win. So they pretty much hit expectations. But we did learn a few things (besides the fact that Jimmer-Mania is getting out of control). First of all, Jimmer by himself is not going to beat good teams. In the first half of this game he had 20 of BYU's 30 points, and they still trailed by a point. They need big games by Jackson Emery and Brandon Davies to be at their best. Emery had a poor game here offensively (1-for-7 shooting), but he did play well defensively and helped BYU get out into their transition offense. And Davies was quiet in the first half but had 10 big second half points. Another thing we learned in this game was just how important tempo is to these two teams. BYU is 24th in the nation in adjusted tempo, and SDSU is 315th. There is a reason for this. BYU is weak inside - their strength is in the backcourt. They want to get out and run, particularly since it prevents opposing defenses from having a coherent defensive strategy against Fredette. SDSU, on the other hand, has a weak backcourt but a tremendous frontcourt. They rely on not only attacking the paint offensively but also grabbing a ton of offensive rebounds. They need their big men in the paint to have success, and don't want to run. BYU needs to get out on the break against San Diego State. One reason they struggled early in this one was because they really didn't get out into fast breaks much. The game only had 63 possessions, which is well under the 72 that BYU is averaging. These teams will play at San Diego State on February 26th, and a key will be if San Diego State is again able to enforce a deliberate pace. BYU very likely won't be able to win a 63 possession game on the road at San Diego State.

#18 Minnesota 81, Northwestern 70
This was Minnesota's first game since losing Al Nolen to injury, and if anything this was a good opponent for them to start with. The Gophers were able to go with a lineup of four forwards and Blake Hoffarber, and Hoffarber is much more of a spot-up shooter than a primary ball handler. But the fact is that Northwestern doesn't have the backcourt athleticism to take advantage of this, and they lack the frontcourt depth to handle all of Minnesota's size. And Minnesota did get everybody but the Northwestern team managers in foul trouble in this game. The Gophers committed 13 fouls and drew 31. Eight different Northwestern players had three or more fouls, with two fouling out. Minnesota also earned 46 shots from the line while only allowing 11. But that said, all is not well for Minnesota. For one, they won't get such a foul disparity in a road game anywhere, and they also will eventually face teams that will be able to exploit this lack of backcourt play. In fact, they will as early as Saturday afternoon, when they head to Purdue. It's hard to see how Minnesota will handle the athleticism of Purdue's backcourt. But for now they are 5-3 in Big Ten play with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that is all the way up to 18th. They have built enough of a buffer between them and the bubble that they can lose quite a few games down the stretch without falling out of the Field of 68. Northwestern, on the other hand, is now 0-7 against the RPI Top 50 and 13-0 against everybody else. They are also 3-6 in Big Ten play. They will need to get to 9-9 in Big Ten play and they'll need at least one big scalp to make the Tournament. They will play Ohio State at home on Saturday, and then will have a week to prepare for a home game against Illinois.

Michigan 61, Michigan State 57
This game proved why the loss of Korie Lucious is so important for Michigan State. I know that some of the APBRmetricians were scoffing at the Lucious loss because of his 40.4 eFG%. But what that discounts is the value of having a guy who can create and open the defense up, even if it doesn't result in an assist in the stat column. Last year, when Kalin Lucas got hurt, Chris Allen initially took over the ball handling duties and was terrible. The team only got back on track when Lucious got comfortable being the main ball handler, and he was tremendous down the stretch and in the Tournament. Now the team has no Lucious or Allen. Lucas was spectacular in this game (27 points on 10-for-18 shooting), but is Michigan State going to expect him to play at that level for 37 minutes for every game the rest of the season? The rest of the Michigan State's backcourt players combined for 2 assists and 6 turnovers. That said, the mainstream media is going to go the other way and is going to draw too many conclusions from this loss. The Spartans are still 4-4 in the Big Ten with wins over Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and this is their first loss against a team outside the RPI Top 55. Their RPI is 36th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be near 30th when the new numbers come out in the morning. Even if they finish 8-10 in the Big Ten they will still likely make the Tournament if they win a game in the Big Ten tournament. And if they can get to 9-9 they'll be a near lock for an at-large bid no matter what happens. So I just don't see why anybody thinks Michigan State is going to fall all the way out of the Tournament. Have they seen the teams on the bubble right now? As for Michigan, this win moves them to 2-6 with a home game against Iowa up next on Sunday. But they would need to pull a couple more big upsets to get all the way back to the bubble.

Providence Pulls Another Upset

Providence 83, #7 Villanova 68
Providence opened the season 0-6 in the Big East, but they were one of the best 0-6 teams I had ever seen. They are young and improving, but just struggled to finish off close games. And now they've bounced back by winning two straight over ranked teams: Louisville and Villanova. They will now move up to about 70-75th in the Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings. But that said, they are still 7-8 against the RPI Top 200, and are not remotely close to an at-large bid. And in fact, with a road game next at Seton Hall and then a home game against USF, they have to be very wary of dropping a game to a weak opponent if they get too pleased with themselves for these two wins. For Villanova this is a missed opportunity to make up ground on teams like Syracuse. They are now drawn into the big tie at 5-2 in the Big East, with a huge home game on Saturday afternoon against Georgetown. Remember that they still have a home-and-home to play against Pitt. Heading into this game tonight Villanova was rated by both Sagarin and Pomeroy as the second best team in the Big East, so it's not preposterous to think that they might sweep the series with Pitt to earn the Big East title. Certainly their strong offensive rebounding in this game, despite the loss, should give them confidence against Pitt's big front line.

#8 Texas 61, Oklahoma State 46
It wasn't too surprising to see Texas struggle early in this game, suffering from a hangover after their big win over Kansas, but they opened up a lead late in the first half and expanded it to a pretty impresive 15 point win in Stillwater. Oklahoma State did have four more offensive rebounds and four fewer turnovers, but that was mostly because they were settling for long jumpers while Texas was attacking the rim. OSU hit only 32% from the field for the game. Texas is now 5-0 in Big 12 play, although their tough schedule continues, with a home game against Missouri on Saturday followed by a road game at Texas A&M on Monday. All of their computer ratings are now in the Top Ten, other than their RPI (which is 12th). If the season ended now they'd probably be a 2 seed, and they can move up to a 1 seed if they win the Big 12 regular season or tournament title. As for Oklahoma State, this is yet another thumping in Big 12 play, coming off a 19 point loss to Baylor and only two weeks after a 13 point loss to Texas A&M. Their Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings have plumeted out of the Top 75, although their RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS remain near 50th. They are 2-6 against the RPI Top 100 and 12-0 against everybody else, with those wins coming against Missouri State and Kansas State. If the season ended now they'd probably be narrowly out of the Field of 68. They are 2-4 in Big 12 play and likely need to get to 8-8 to go Dancing. Right now Pomeroy projects a 7-9 finish, so it will be close.

Memphis 77, UCF 61
The wheels are falling off UCF right now. After a 14-0 start they've now lost five straight. Offensively they've been putrid, and that continued here with a horrendous 36.3% eFG% and 22 turnovers. Memphis is spotty offensively and tends to devolve into one-on-one offense, but with super-athletes like Joe Jackson and Will Barton they're going to score enough points to beat teams that can't score at all. Central Florida is now in dead last in Conference USA with a 1-5 record, and though 5-2 against the RPI Top 100 they have only a win over Florida amongst the RPI Top 50, and they have RPI 100+ losses to Houston, Rice and East Carolina. Their RPI is 63rd and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be around 75th when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning. They have a chance to bounce back with a home game against UAB next, followed by a road game at UTEP. But the way things are going I don't expect much bouncing back. As for Memphis, they have won four straight and have their Sagarin ELO_CHESS back up close to 40th in the nation. That said, they have no wins against the RPI Top 45 and also a loss to SMU. So assuming they won't get a big win the rest of the way (I don't see a big win left on their schedule) they will likely need to get to 12-4 in CUSA play to earn an at-large bid.

Ohio State Destroys Purdue

#1 Ohio State 87, #12 Purdue 64
Purdue entered this game believed by most to be the second best team in the Big Ten. And they were absolutely destroyed here. Ohio State scored the first bucket about 15 seconds into the game and never gave up the lead again. They led by 20 at the half and by more than 30 at various points in the second half before relaxing down the stretch. Everything was clicking for them and they looked every bit like the best team in the nation. That said, I only urge caution because it's completely unrealistic to expect the Buckeyes to play like this every night. They're going to have a down game, and they're almost surely going to lose a game to somebody. Duke lost, Kansas loss, and Ohio State will likely lose. Let's recall that they started this month with a four game stretch against Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State where they won the four games by an average of 3.75 points per game. Their most likely losses ahead? Obviously road games at Wisconsin and Purdue. Pomeroy gives them a 53% chance of winning the former, and 58% in the latter, and overall gives them an 11% chance of finishing the regular season undefeated. But no matter what, Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten and to earn a 1 seed in the Tournament. As for Purdue, it was always going to be a longshot winning a game in Columbus, particularly since they came in 0-2 in true road games against the RPI Top 50. The margin of victory will be disappointing, but they remain 6-2 and in second place in the Big Ten. They will play Minnesota on Saturday and then head to Madison to play Wisconsin on Tuesday. A win there would give them firm control of second place in the Big Ten, and would keep their realistic hopes alive for a share of the Big Ten regular season title.

#5 UConn 76, Marquette 68
A poor night from Kemba Walker kept Marquette in this one, and the Golden Eagles were actually up five with about 11 minutes remaining. But UConn got nice contributions from Jeremy Lamb (24 points on 9-for-14 shooting) and Roscoe Smith (11 points and 8 rebounds, including 5 offensive boards). This represents the best production that UConn has gotten out of this class of freshmen all season long. If Walker can have a hot shooting night while those two are producing and Alex Oriakhi is dominating the paint, UConn actually does have the potential to be a Top Ten team. Both their Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings have moved inside the Top 20 now, and with all of the carnage atop the Big East they're actually back into a tie for second place in the conference at 5-2, only one game in the loss column behind Pittsburgh. They have a key stretch over the next week with a home game against Louisville on Saturday and then another one against Syracuse on Wednesday. For Marquette, this game reinforces the perception of many that they lack the ability to close out tight games. They have lost five of their last ten games, and all five losses have been by single digits and against quality teams. In fact, of their eight losses all season long, six have been by 5 points or less, and the other two have been 8 point losses. Their Sagarin PREDICTOR is now 28th, but their ELO_CHESS is only 40th. They are 3-8 against the RPI Top 100 with their only quality wins coming against Notre Dame and West Virginia. They have a team RPI of 66th. If the season ended now they'd be in the Field of 68, but only barely. At 4-4 in Big East play they've probably got to get to 9-9 to make the NCAA Tournament, including at least one more big win, and in addition to at least one win in the Big East tournament.

#19 Louisville 55, West Virginia 54
This is a heartbreaking loss for West Virginia. Playing on the road against a very good opponent they led most of the way, including an 11 point lead at halftime that rose as high as 12 in the second half. But West Virginia has a streaky offense, and they went ice cold over the last quarter of the game, including a 13 minute stretch without a field goal. West Virginia is still 4-3 in Big East play and 7-6 against the RPI Top 100, including victories over Vanderbilt, Georgetown and Purdue. Their RPI is 19th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be around 25th. They should make the Tournament if they get to 9-9 in Big East play. Their next game will be on Saturday, on the road against Cincinnati, which will be a chance for a nice victory over another team that will be potentially battling for one of the final at-large spots in March. As for Louisville, despite a 5-2 Big East record (and 16-4 overall) their RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS are both outside the Top 30 right now. They are 7-4 against the RPI Top 100, but this is probably their best win. Their other RPI Top 50 wins were over St. John's, Butler and UNLV. But even with the lack of big wins they will still very likely be in the Tournament if they can finish 9-9 because of the tough road ahead (road games at UConn, Georgetown, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati, plus home games against Pitt, Syracuse and UConn). The UConn and Georgetown road games are next, on Saturday and Monday, respectively.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kore Lucious Booted From Michigan State

Pretty surprising news out of Michigan State as Korie Lucious has been kicked off the team for the season for off-the-court behavior. This is a big problem that will become an even bigger problem if something happens to Kalin Lucas. Lucious was huge last season after Lucas went down with an injury, including some outstanding Tournament performances.

With Lucious gone, Lucas is now the only point guard left on the roster. Keith Appling, a true freshman, has shown some promise, but he doesn't really have the ability to play the point too well at this point in his career. His assist/TO ratio is worse than 1-to-1. So Tom Izzo is going to have to give Lucas very heavy playing time while hoping that he doesn't get bitten by the injury bug again.

I don't think this changes Michigan State's standing too much. They weren't going to win the Big Ten anyway. And I doubt they'll fall all the way to the bubble. Most likely they're now looking at something in the 6-9 seed range in the NCAA Tournament. But considering where Michigan State started this season (#2 in the polls) it will be quite the disappointment.

Seton Hall's Beatdown of Syracuse Not As Shocking As You'd Think

Seton Hall 90, Syracuse 68
I actually thought that Seton Hall was going to have a good chance in this game. I watched these two teams play a few weeks ago and Seton Hall outplayed Syracuse. They earned 12 extra possessions in that game and did a great job of passing through the zone to get open jumpers, but they just could not hit a shot to save their lives (3-for-26 behind the arc, with similar success on two-point jumpers) and ended up losing by five. I watched that game and thought that Seton Hall would have won easily if they could have hit any kind of shot. So this evening in this game at the Carrier Dome? They hit shots. They were 10-for-17 behind the arc for the game and they were at their hottest to start the game. They hit 9 of their first 11 shots from the field to open up a quick 26-15 lead. Syracuse is a team that is so important to get ahead against - they are so difficult to come back on, but also are not built to come back in games themselves. Interestingly enough, Syracuse actually earned 9 more possessions than Seton Hall in this game. But it goes to show you how fluke shooting can affect perceptions. Nobody even noticed Syracuse beating Seton Hall by 5 points a few weeks ago, but everybody is shocked by this result. In reality, I thought Seton Hall actually played better in their loss. But they shot uncharacteristically bad in that one, and uncharacteristically well in this one. I guess it all evens out in the end. For Syracuse this loss is their third straight and their Big East title chances are nearly shredded. They are two games behind a Pittsburgh team that will have the head-to-head tiebreak over them. And their schedule doesn't ease up with road games coming up against Marquette and UConn. As for Seton Hall, this is a defining win for Kevin Willard, but this now only makes them 1-11 against the RPI Top 100 and 3-6 in the Big East. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 132nd, so they would have to win several more games in a row just to get some bubble attention. Their next game is Sunday afternoon at home against Providence.

#23 Florida 103, Georgia 91, 2OT
It's frustrating watching Florida's backcourt play. Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are so talented, but they have zero patience, and constantly commit silly turnovers and take silly shots. It was particularly apparent late in the second half of this game, when Florida had an 8 point game with three minutes to go. They had three offensive possessionsn before Georgia began intentionally fouling. Those possessions ended on Boynton missing a shot with 21 seconds left on a shot clock, a Walker turnover, and then a Walker missed shot with 12 seconds left on a shot clock. Florida never should have needed overtime to win this one. But a win is what Florida ended up with, and the Gators now lead the SEC East at 5-1. They are now 5-1 against the RPI Top 50 and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is up to 20th, and they will get their chance to earn an SEC title. They have to play at Mississippi State on Saturday, but next week they will play Vanderbilt and Kentucky at home. They can grab firm control of the SEC if they can win both games. As for Georgia, they have now lost three of five and are seeing their at-large hopes begin to fade. They are now 1-5 against the RPI Top 50 with just that win over Kentucky (although no bad losses). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall to near 40th when the new numbers come out in the morning, and Pomeroy and Sagarin will both rate them as near the 60th best team in the nation. They are 3-3 in the SEC and will likely need to finish 9-7 or better to earn an at-large bid. They next head on the road to play at Kentucky on Saturday, and then will play on the road at Arkansas.

Richmond 70, Dayton 61
Richmond is proving that, as always, things tend to even out in the long run. They had been an unlucky team so far, entering this game only 2-4 in games decided by single digits and 13-1 in games decided by double digits. Pomeroy rated their Luck 258th in the nation, and there was no question that they were better than their resume. And so in this game they were honestly outplayed by a quality Dayton team, but ended up with the win because of hot shooting. Dayton had 2 fewer turnovers, a better offensive rebounding percentage (41%, compared to 22% for Richmond), a higher Assist/FGM ratio (67% vs 50%) and an almost identical two-point shooting percentage (36%, vs 41% for Richmond). But Richmond hit 53% of their threes (compared to 32% for Dayton), and that was the difference. Richmond is a sleeper team now for the Atlantic Ten title. They sit one game back in the loss column to Xavier and Duquesne, but they still will play both of those teams, and will have both of those games at home. They are now 4-4 against the RPI Top 100 with a good win over Purdue to go with weak losses against Iona and Georgia Tech. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should slide into the Top 50 when the new numbers come out tomorrow, so they are right on the bubble. Dayton, on the other hand, will finally see their own Sagarin ELO_CHESS slide out of the Top 50, which was not expected since both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as only approximately the 100th best team in the nation. At 3-3 in A-10 play they will be unlikely to generate much at-large buzz unless they can get to 11-5. Their next game is Sunday, at Duquesne.

The Irish Shock Pittsburgh

#14 Notre Dame 56, #2 Pittsburgh 51
This game is why it's almost impossible to go undefeated in a major conference anymore. The Irish employed the perfect strategy, which was to squeeze the life out of this game. There were only 49 possessions in this game, the fewest possessions for any Division I game this entire season. Mike Brey knew that the more possessions a game has the more likely it is that the superior team will prevail. The star for Notre Dame was Ben Hansbrough, who was spectacular. The most glaring stat for me was that Hansbrough was 7-for-8 on two-point attempts, and also had 7 assists. Everybody knew he was taking the ball to the hole, and nobody on Pitt could stop him. And this brings up a common misconception that mainstream media analysts have, which is confusing a slow pace with good defense and bad offense. Pitt is 277th in the nation in tempo, so they don't score or allow many points per game (78.6 points for, 61.9 against). But their offense is actually spectacular - Pomeroy currently rates their offense first in the entire nation, and their defense only 37th. So while I was listening to the announcers of this game rail on about how amazing Pitt's defense is, the reality is that defense is their weakness. Not that Pitt has too many weaknesses. It's always a mistake to draw too much from one result. Pitt is still the solid favorite to win the Big East and to earn a 1 seed in the Tournament. Their next game will be Saturday, at Rutgers. As for Notre Dame, they quietly have a very impressive set of scalps. This year they've now beaten Pitt, UConn, Georgetown and Wisconsin. They are 7-3 against the RPI Top 50. Their RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS have both moved into the Top Ten, although both Pomeroy and Sagarin only rate them as the 26th best team in the nation. Their three conference losses mean that they're still a long shot to seriously contend for the Big East title, but they've now got the tiebreaker over Pitt and the top of the conference has gotten jumbled after some poor play by the top teams (Syracuse in particular, if they can't rescue themselves from a huge deficit against Seton Hall right now). I still think that something like a fourth place finish is most likely, but the way this team has improved throughout the season I wouldn't count them out just yet.

#17 Wisconsin 78, Northwestern 46
Obviously nobody saw a demolition of this level coming, but nobody should have been too surprised seeing Wisconsin walk into Evanston and exiting with a win. This season just feels like deja vu all over again for Northwestern. They've got an efficient offense and are beating the teams they're supposed to beat, but they keep coming up short against the big boys and are staring at another trip to the NIT. This game also featured a clear one-sided match-up: Wisconsin's deadly efficient offense (2nd in the nation according to Pomeroy - the best in the Big Ten) with Northwestern's atrocious defense (140th in the nation - by far the worst in the Big Ten). Northwestern is now 0-6 against the RPI Top 50 and 13-0 against everybody else. They are now 3-5 in Big Ten play and can finish no worse than 9-9 if they're going to have a shot at an at-large bid. They have a road game at Minnesota up next, tomorrow night. It will be the first for the Gophers since losing Al Nolen with a broken foot - a huge opportunity for a big road victory. As for Wisconsin, once again they are quietly contending for a Big Ten title after exactly zero buzz in the preseason. I still think Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite, but Wisconsin could easily finish ahead of Purdue for second place. They will get their chance against Ohio State, though, with a home-and-home still remaining. The Badgers next head to play a red hot Penn State team on the road before coming home for Purdue and Michigan State.

Kansas State 69, Baylor 61
Kansas State absolutely could not afford to lose this game. A loss would have dropped them to 1-5 in Big 12 play with a road game at Kansas (almost a certain loss) up next. What made this game bizarre to me was how well Kansas State shot free throws. They've been horrible at shooting free throws since Frank Martin got there, and they're averaging only 61% on the season, yet they hit 25-for-31 (81%) in this game, including 11-for-12 over the final four minutes or so. This is another decent win for Kansas State - they've also beaten Gonzaga, Washington State and Virginia Tech. But they remain 0-6 against the RPI Top 50 and 5-7 against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 57th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 51st, and if the season ended now they'd almost certainly be headed to the NIT. Depending on who they beat, Kansas State might earn an at-large if they can get to 8-8 in conference play. But unless they shock Kansas that will mean a 6-3 finish to their regular season. But things could be worse, they could be in Baylor's situation. The Baylor Bears are 1-4 in games decided by single digits and are now 1-6 against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS that only narrowly are inside the Top 100. Sagarin and Pomeroy both rate them as the 45th best team in the nation, so they are due to start winning games, but they don't have too much time left. They are 3-3 in Big 12 play and have some easy wins ahead, but they need some quality wins to impress the Selection Committee. Home games late in the season against Texas and Texas A&M are their best chances.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Al Nolen Injury = Bubble For Minnesota

Disastrous news for Minnesota: Al Nolen has broken his foot and will likely be gone for the rest of the season. Nolen is Minnesota's best offensive playmaker and perimeter defender. And this makes the transfer of Devoe Joseph really painful. Joseph could have handled playmaking abilities with Nolen gone.

Now? Minnesota will likely turn to Chip Armelin, a true freshman who had been taking some of the ball handling duties when Nolen was on the bench. Maverick Ahanmisi, another true freshman, is an option. He was more of a highly touted 2010 recruit than Armelin, but has played poorly and has been a turnover machine thus far (44.1% turnover rate). Blake Hoffarber is actually leading the team in assists, but he isn't much of a primary plamaker. He's a good passer and shooter, but he's not going to play the point.

To me, this injury makes Minnesota a bubble team. They're currently ranked 16th in the AP Poll and 18th in the Coaches Poll, but they weren't that good even with Nolen. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 18th and their Sagarin PREDICTOR is 42nd, and Pomeroy also has them 42nd. In other words, their current ranking is reasonable considering their current resume, but they're not any better than a bubble team. So I was expecting them to slide a bit down the stretch even with a healthy Nolen and had them as a 9 seed in the W-7 BP68. Now? Things will be even worse.

Minnesota is currently 4-3 in Big Ten play with a quality home win over Purdue. They were handed a generous Big Ten schedule (the two teams they will not need to play twice are Wisconsin and Illinois), but they still have to head to Purdue and also have home games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois. In my opinion, an 8-10 or 9-9 Big Ten record is most likely. That said, their resume has some breathing room in it. In addition to the Purdue win they have also beaten North Carolina and West Virginia, and only have one weak loss (Virginia). With a worse-than-average ACC, Pac-10, SEC and Atlantic Ten this season, even an 8-10 Big Ten record might be enough for an at-large bid if Minnesota can win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament.

But at the very least, Minnesota's hopes of a top three finish in the Big Ten are over. In my opinion they are the sixth best team in the Big Ten, and will likely still be on the bubble in March.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

W-7 BP68

We're seven weeks from Selection Sunday. Again this BP68 has the full bubble, where every team with even the most remote chance of an at-large bid is listed. With each new BP68 some teams are eliminated.

As always, here is how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. Texas
2. Syracuse

3. BYU (MWC)
3. Villanova
3. San Diego State
3. Purdue

4. Wisconsin
4. Texas A&M
4. Louisville
4. Illinois

5. Vanderbilt
5. Michigan State
5. UConn
5. Missouri

6. Notre Dame
6. Georgetown
6. North Carolina
6. Kansas State

7. West Virginia
7. Arizona

8. Florida
8. Cincinnati
8. Tennessee

9. Maryland
9. Baylor
9. Minnesota
9. Saint Mary's

10. Boston College
10. Florida State
10. Oklahoma State

11. Washington State
11. Marquette

12. Richmond
12. Northwestern
12. Virginia Tech
12. Central Florida
12. Georgia




16. LIU (NEC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Duquesne, Xavier, St. John's, George Mason, Cleveland State, Wichita State, New Mexico, UCLA

Decent resumes, but not good enough:
Clemson, Miami (Fl), NC State, Dayton, Penn State, Colorado, Iowa State, Nebraska, Drexel, James Madison, VCU, UAB, Southern Miss, UTEP, Valparaiso, Northern Iowa, Colorado State, California, South Carolina

Long shots, but still in the at-large discussion:
Virginia, Rhode Island, Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Indiana, Michigan, Hofstra, Marshall, Tulsa, Princeton, Indiana State, Creighton, Air Force, Arizona State, USC, Stanford, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Portland

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Georgia Tech, St. Bonaventure, Charlotte, UMass, Saint Louis, South Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Tulane, Wright State, Fairfield, Ball State, Miami-Ohio, Utah, Oregon, LSU, Mississippi State, North Texas, Boise State

Purdue Takes Care Of Michigan State

#13 Purdue 86, #18 Michigan State 76
I had thought that the Big Ten Player of the Year race was between just Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson and Jon Leuer, but E'Twaun Moore was spectacular in this game. JaJuan Johnson did have 20 points in this game, but they were quiet, and he only had four rebounds. Moore had 26 points in this game with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals, and also was the primary playmaker for Purdue. And he had some ridiculous made shots near the basket. Both of these teams hit 50% of their three-pointers, but the difference was two-point shooting: 61% for Purdue, 42% for Michigan State. Kalin Lucas, in particular, was eaten up by Purdue's backcourt defense. He shot 3-for-16 from the field for the game. Michigan State falls to 4-3 in Big Ten play, and they are 1-4 in true road games this season (the one win was a three-point victory over Northwestern). With road games remaining at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota, I don't see any realistic path to a Big Ten title for Michigan State. I think they're in a battle for fourth place, and could only realistically rise as high as third. As for Purdue, they finally have a nice win. This is their first win all season against an RPI Top 45 team (they have beaten one team currently in the RPI Top 50 - Valparaiso). So they are 9-3 against the RPI Top 100 and 6-2 in the Big Ten, but I still have huge questions about them. On Tuesday night they head to Ohio State, and after that they get Minnesota at home and then head to Wisconsin. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate Purdue in the Top Ten, clearly the second best team in the Big Ten, but I am not completely sold yet that they could contend for a Big Ten title. They have to prove it to me over the next two weeks.

#9 BYU 94, Colorado State 85
You have to give Colorado State a lot of credit for trying to keep up with Jimmer Fredette in this game. Despite falling behind 23-11 to start the game and never really pulling closer than about six points the rest of the night, they kept scoring at a tremendous pace to try to stay in the game. Jimmer had 42 points on 4-for-9 shooting behind the arc and 16-for-17 at the line. Colorado State scored approximately 1.2 points per possession on a BYU team that was giving up only 0.92 PPP coming in. This was always going to be a long shot against the team that I think is the best in the Mountain West, particularly when you combine BYU's explosive offense with CSU's weak defense, but it's a missed opportunity for a Colorado State team that is near the bubble but not yet on it. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should stay near the 66th it was coming in, but with only one win against the RPI Top 70 they are going to need that ELO_CHESS inside the Top 50 to have any chance on Selection Sunday. They play Air Force at Wednesday and then head to Utah, but after that they get their shot at home against San Diego State. A win over BYU or SDSU will do wonders for their resume, and that game against SDSU will be their last chance against those two teams at home. As for BYU, they move to 18-1 with an RPI that is up to second in the nation. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS was 7th coming into this game and will not move much, and they'd probably actually be a 3 seed in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they have their huge home game against San Diego State coming up on Wednesday. if they prove me right and turn out to be the best team in the Mountain West they've really got to win that game.

Arizona 65, Washington State 63
Arizona survived this one to re-affirm themselves as the second best team in the Pac-10 after getting thumped by Washington earlier in the week. And this was an extremely narrow victory, with Wazzu star Klay Thompson missing a 12 footer at the buzzer to tie the game. When the new numbers come out in the morning Arizona will be rated as a Top 20 team by both Sagarin and Pomeroy, but they do have holes in their resume. They are 0-3 against the RPI Top 50 and have a bad loss to Oregon State, although they are 16-4 overall including 5-2 in Pac-10 play. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is inside the Top 40, so if the season ended now they'd be safely in the Tournament with something like a 9-11 seed. But with the weakness of the Pac-10 and the lack of big wins, Arizona could go 11-7 in Pac-10 play and end up in the NIT, so they've got to keep taking care of business against inferior teams. This coming week they will play the Los Angeles schools at home, and then they head on the road to play the two northern California schools. Washington State will be rated near 40th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings when the new numbers come out tomorrow, but their resume is nowhere near the 40th best right now. They are 3-6 against the RPI Top 100, including 0-4 against the RPI Top 50. Both their RPI and Sagarin ELO_CHESS are outside the Top 50. They are 4-3 in Pac-10 play and will have to finish at least 11-7 to have a chance on Selection Sunday.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Notre Dame Survives Marquette

#16 Notre Dame 80, Marquette 75
Mike Brey will be happy to not have to see Marquette again this season. When these two teams played in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago Marquette had their best game of the season, whipping the Irish by 22 points. This evening in South Bend, Marquette led by 12 points in the second half before Notre Dame fought back behind a whole bunch of free throws. They hit 28-for-36 for the game, including a 9-for-10 stretch in the second half as their turned that 12 point deficit into a six point lead. This win pushes Notre Dame to 5-3 in Big East play, good for sixth place. They next have a tough game at Pittsburgh, on Monday night, but after that they have a fairly easy stretch that they should be able to feast on (at DePaul, vs Rutgers, vs Louisville, at South Florida, at West Virginia, at Providence, vs Seton Hall). I see them going 5-2 over that stretch, getting to 10-6 and already locked into the NCAA Tournament when they play Villanova on February 26th. Marquette is one of those Big East teams that is precariously in the Field of 68 for now. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them just outside the Top 30 teams in the nation, but they're only 3-7 against the RPI Top 100 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that has fallen out of the Top 40, and an RPI outside the Top 60. They are 4-3 in Big East play, and probably need to get to 9-9 to make the Tournament. They have a key stretch next week with home games against UConn and Syracuse. Pomeroy rates their chances of losing both games at only 21%, so they should pick up a quality victory. If they do lose both, though, they'll be in trouble, with road games ahead against Villanova, UConn and Georgetown.

Florida State 67, Boston College 51
Boston College really is like an Ivy League team this year under first-year Coach Steve Donahue, who spent the last 20 years on the staffs of Cornell and Penn. They are among the best in the country in free throw percentage, not turning the ball over and not fouling. But do not have elite ACC talent other than Reggie Jackson, and they have struggled with very athletic defenses. Needless to say, they struggled with Florida State, hitting 35% from the field and getting blocked seven times. What was more surprising was the way that they struggled defensively, allowing Florida State more than 1.15 points per possession, the biggest offensive outburst by the Seminoles since they played Stetson on December 15th. This win keeps Florida State effectively in the ACC lead. They are tied with Duke at 5-1, and have the head-to-head win (and will not play against in the regular season). They now have a week to prepare for a road game at Clemson, and then will play Wake Forest and North Carolina the following week. Despite their strong play they still will likely need to go at least 5-5 down the stretch to earn their way into the Tournament. They should achieve that, but it's not going to be automatic. Boston College drops back to the bubble with this loss. They are 14-6 and 4-2 in the ACC, but only 1-4 against the RPI Top 60 (the one win came against Texas A&M) with losses to Yale, Harvard and Rhode Island. Their RPI is 35th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will fall out of the Top 40. They will play at Duke on Thursday, but I don't see that upset happening. And if they lose then they might need to finish 6-3 just to stay in the Tournament.

San Francisco 96, Gonzaga 91, OT
Gonzaga lives and dies with their defense. Their defense was horrendous in the early part of this season when they were at one point 4-5. They got their act in the second half of December, rolling off victories against Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State. But the defense has been a joke the past two games, allowing more than 1.2 points per possession against both Santa Clara and San Francisco. There's no excuse for that with the athletic talent that they have. And now this is the first time in years that we've been this late in the season and able to say that if the season ended now Gonzaga would be heading to the NIT. They are 6-7 against the RPI Top 200 with a Sagarin ELO_CHESS that will likely be out of the Top 60 when the new numbers come out tomorrow morning. They have now set up a near-must win on Thursday at home against Saint Mary's. They will play at Saint Mary's on February 24th, but Saint Mary's is much better at home than on the road, and if they can go into Spokane and win then they'll likely win the return trip. And Gonzaga can probably afford only one or two more losses the rest of the season if they're going to earn an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, should they need it. As for San Francisco, they do deserve credit for some nice wins this season. In addition to this win they've beaten Colorado and Portland, and at 4-1 they're in second place in the WCC. Of course, their computer numbers are well outside the Top 100 and they have no chance at an at-large bid and are quite the longshot for the WCC's automatic bid. But they're a young team and should be even better next season. They could be a Top 100 team next season for the first time in more than a decade.

Baylor, Cincinnati Bounce Back With Wins

Baylor 76, Oklahoma State 57
Baylor's frontcourt was embarrassed by Kansas on Monday night, and they flexed their muscles here against an undersized Oklahoma State team. Perry Jones led the way with 24 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and overall the team shot 60% from the field. All you need to know about the domination of Baylor's front line was that Oklahoma State forced 13 steals and still lost by 19 points. This was a win that Baylor needed after an 0-5 start against RPI Top 100 teams this season. But a win over Oklahoma State, while a quality win, is not enough for an entire resume, and Baylor's RPI is still 89th after this win, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be in the same neighborhood. Both their Pomeroy rating and their Sagarin PREDICTOR will be inside the Top 50, so they're a good team that should make a run back at the bubble. They have a big game up on Monday at Kansas State, a team that is beginning to put their season back together and should be tough to beat at home. Oklahoma State falls to 3-5 against the RPI Top 100, with zero wins against the RPI Top 30, but no bad losses either. Their RPI is 39th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be near 45th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. Computer numbers that strong almost always get a team in the Tournament, but the lack of big wins would have Oklahoma State sweating it out if Selection Sunday was tomorrow instead of seven weeks from now. As a funny coincidence, they have a great opportunity for a big home win on Wednesday against a Texas team that should be due for a letdown after their huge upset of Kansas earlier today.

Cincinnati 53, St. John's 51
This was a killer loss for the Johnnies. These two teams are going to be fighting for the last few Tournament spots, and St. John's was the better team on the floor. But what killed them was the free throw line, where they hit only 12-for-26. St. John's had been 72% at the line for the season, and 72% in this game would have meant nine more points and a victory. The St. John's resume is now getting dangerously mediocre. Their RPI is still 23rd, but they're only 4-5 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Georgetown, Syracuse and West Virginia, but also losses to Fordham and St. Bonaventure. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 35th, and their PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings will likely both be outside the Top 50. If the season ended now they'd be in the Tournament, but assuming they lose to Duke next weekend they'll likely need to finish at least 5-5 in their final ten regular season Big East games, a tall task. I still think they'll end up in the NIT when all is said and done. This win helps Cincy bounce back after a 1-3 stretch followed a 16-0 start to the season. They are now 4-3 in the Big East and should move to 5-3 when they play Rutgers at home on Wednesday night. But after that they play West Virginia and then head to Pitt. They'll have a much better shot at making the NCAA Tournament as an 8-10 Big East team than St. John does, but even 8-10 is no sure thing. And it will be almost impossible to get into the Tournament if they end up 7-11, as good as the Big East is.

Providence 72, #15 Louisville 67
Providence came into this game 0-6 in Big East play and with almost no chance of postseason play, but they are a much better team than people give them credit for. Marshon Brooks is a darkhorse candidate for First Team All-Big East, and Keno Davis has a whole bunch of good freshmen and sophomores that are developing and improving. This win will likely push both their Pomeroy rating and Sagarin PREDICTOR inside 75th in the nation. But with that said, their resume is still their resume, and they came into this game 0-5 against the RPI Top 75. This win should finally push their Sagarin ELO_CHESS inside the Top 100, but only barely. They'd have to put together a three or four game winning streak in Big East play to get any bubble buzz, and I don't see that happening. This result is a huge missed opportunity for Louisville after Syracuse's loss to Villanova really opened up the top of the Big East. Louisville's remaining games against Pitt and Syracuse will both be at home, although they do have to head to Georgetown, UConn, Notre Dame and West Virginia. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely fall out of the Top 35, but they're a better team than that and I expect them to end up with something like a 4-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

And Then There Were Two: Kansas Loses To Texas

#11 Texas 74, #2 Kansas 63
Kansas jumped out to an 18-3 lead in this one and seemed to be running away with the game, but it was really just some hot outside shooting by Kansas and cold outside shooting by Texas. Eventually the Longhorns settled down and played the type of brutally athletic defense they've played all year. They entered this game with an eFG% against that was second in the country, and they won't drop after this game. What was particularly impressive was their play in the paint, holding Kansas to 37.8% shooting on two-pointers after the way that Marcus and Markieff Morris destroyed Baylor's long and athletic front line. Offensively the star was J'Covan Brown, who came off the bench for 23 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field (including 3-for-6 behind the arc) and 8-for-10 at the line. He also got under Josh Selby's skin, who showed a little bit of his immaturity in celebrating just a little bit too much early in the game, and visually showing way too much frustration late in the game, including picking up a technical. The raw talent that Selby has is obvious, but he's even further behind in the development that most true freshmen have because of the time he missed with suspension. He still has some growing up to do. But despite the snapping of the 69 game home winning streak for Kansas, and the ending of their undefeated season, the reality is that Kansas fans need to put this in perspective. Nobody is going undefeated this season, and if you're going to lose a game you can do a whole lot worse than Texas, a legitimate Final Four contender. These two teams will not play again in the regular season, so with the head-to-head win Texas is now effectively two games ahead of Kansas in the Big 12 standings. But they are going to lose some games, so Kansas just has to worry about beating the teams ahead of them and a Big 12 title will still be within their grasp. And a Big 12 regular season and tournament title for Kansas will lock up a 1 seed in the Tournament for them. As for Texas, this win will likely push their Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy ratings up to about 5th, although they'd likely be a 3 seed in the Tournament if the season ended now. They are now 4-0 in the Big 12 but have a pretty brutal schedule ahead (at Oklahoma State, vs Missouri, at Texas A&M), so they still have a long way to go before they can be considered the favorite to win the conference.

UNLV 63, New Mexico 62
This was a miracle victory for UNLV, and a heartbreaking loss for a New Mexico team desperately in need of a quality win. New Mexico was up by one with the ball and under 30 seconds remaining when Tre'Von Willis stole a pass and was fouled, with the refs ruling it an intentional foul. Willis hit both free throws, and then UNLV was fouled on their extra possession and hit one-of-two to go up by two points. New Mexico turned the ball over with about three seconds to go, seemingly ending the game, but then stole the inbounds pass and earned a foul, giving them a chance to tie up the game right before the buzzer. Kendall Williams hit the first... and missed the second, delivering UNLV a one point win. The win only gets UNLV to 3-3 in Mountain West play, and they remain effectively out of touch with BYU and SDSU atop the conference, but they do look to be safely in the NCAA Tournament for now. They are 4-4 against the RPI Top 100 with wins over Wisconsin and Kansas State, and only one bad loss (UCSB). Their RPI is up to 28th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is around 35th. If they can finish the regular season 7-3 to get to 10-6 in conference play, that should lock up a Tournament bid. Things are not as rosy for a New Mexico team that is now 1-5 against the RPI Top 80, and that one win came at home against Colorado State. They've also got a couple of bad losses (Wyoming and Utah). Their RPI has plummeted to 80th and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is closer to 90th. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as closer to the 60-70th best team in the nation, but they have to win a few games in a row just to get back to the bubble. On Wednesday they play TCU, but next Saturday they'll have BYU at home, a big chance to get back on the right track.

VCU 59, Old Dominion 50
VCU did a tremendous job on the boards in this game. Old Dominion came into this one second in the nation with an offensive rebounding percentage of 44.0% and were held here to 33%. Because Old Dominion committed seven more turnovers than VCU they actually had five fewer possessions. And without all of those offensive rebounds they lost a lot of those easy points that they rely on. Old Dominion lacks good shooters, and they struggle to score when they're not getting putbacks. This win pushes VCU to 7-1 in Colonial play and keeps them on the bubble. They're 3-3 against the RPI Top 100 with a win over UCLA to go with this win, and only one really bad loss (Georgia State). This win pushes their RPI up to 56th, although their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be closer to 75th. They're going to have to finish something like 15-3 in Colonial play to stay on the bubble. Realistically, the Colonial's best shot at an at-large bid was and still is Old Dominion, so this result actually hurts the conference. Old Dominion is 7-4 against the RPI Top 100, although that's a little less impressive than it sounds as their best wins are over Xavier, Dayton, Richmond and George Mason. They've got a bad loss against Delaware. Their RPI is 33rd, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely be in the mid-30s when the numbers come out tomorrow. Sagarin and Pomeroy both actually rate Old Dominion as closer to the 70th best team in the nation, so it shouldn't be a shocker that they're beginning to fade. Old Dominion has an easy stretch up next (vs UNC-Wilmington, at Georgia State, vs Towson, vs Delaware) that they need to take advantage of, because they probably need to end the regular season 8-2 to stay in the Tournament.