#4 Missouri 72, #6 Baylor 57
This game was tight and a bit ugly through the first half, and it was still tied a few minutes into the second half. But a quick 17-4 run (during which Missouri hit five consecutive three-point attempts) blew the game open. Baylor is one of the few teams that has the defensive length and athleticism to slow down Missouri's offense in and around the paint, so Missouri was going to need to hit outside shots, and that's precisely what they did. On the other end of the floor, Baylor just struggled to score around the rim. Perry Jones had five offensive rebounds, but he ended up only 2-for-12 from the field.
Baylor is a good team, but boy have they struggled against the Big 12 elite. They have been swept by Kansas and Missouri. They did win very narrowly at home over Texas and won on the road at Kansas State, but that's it. Their scoring differential in Big 12 play is now only +0.05 (for comparison, Missouri is +0.12 and Kansas is +0.18). The Bears are now only 8-4 in conference play and they still have those tough road games at Texas and Iowa State to come. They're still 7-4 against the RPI Top 50, and their RPI is still 7th, so it's not like Baylor is going to plummet in the Tournament S-Curve. But it's just further evidence that Baylor is a step below the truly elite teams in the nation. They have key home games coming up next week against Iowa State and Kansas State. They "should" win both of those games, but if they don't then they could start to plummet into the middle of the conference standings.
Missouri has now swept Baylor and has themselves firmly in the Big 12 title race. The stats I gave in the last paragraph show that Kansas is still clearly the best team in the Big 12 (Kansas is also rated better in both Sagarin and Pomeroy), but Missouri will get their chance at Allen Fieldhouse on February 25th. Even without a win there, a 1 seed is still possible if they can win the Big 12 tournament. Their schedule next week will be pretty manageable, with a game against Oklahoma State on Wednesday, and then at Texas A&M next Saturday.
#5 North Carolina 70, #20 Virginia 52
North Carolina bounced back from that buzzer-beating loss to Duke with a nice home victory over Virginia. Mike Scott scored ten points in the first 7:30 of the game, but North Carolina locked down on him after that. He finished with only 18 points total. And outside of Mike Scott, Virginia just doesn't have any real offense. The star for North Carolina was Tyler Zeller, clearly motivated by what happened on that final shot against Duke, who lit up Virginia for 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting. Virginia needs outside shooting to score against that formidable UNC front line, but they didn't get it: 3-for-16 behind the arc as a team.
North Carolina moves to 8-2 in ACC play, though their final schedule is about as brutal as it gets in the ACC. They'll have to play at Duke, Virginia and Miami. If they can finish strong, though, a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is still very possible. I think that they need a share of the ACC regular season title, then need to win the ACC tournament, and then they need a little bit of help in either the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or SEC tournaments. The road game at Miami is next, on Wednesday night. The Hurricanes won at Duke last weekend, so they won't be an easy beat.
As for Virginia, the reality is that their resume is soft. Their win over Michigan back in November is their only this season against a team with an RPI better than 38th. Their own RPI is 37th, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is in the 25-30 range. I think that they'll need to win four of their final six regular season games to completely lock up their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Their next game will be Tuesday at Clemson.
St. Louis 59, La Salle 51
St. Louis has somehow been invisible this year, and the fact that this game wasn't televised (as far as I could tell) meant that they'll remain in the shadows. But the reality is that this is a really good Billikens team, and this was a very impressive win. They played a quality La Salle team here that hadn't lost at home yet in conference play, and just suffocated them defensively. La Salle suffered 20 turnovers, and (by my calculation) scored only 0.73 PPP despite hitting 40% of their threes. In fact, the final margin would have been larger if St. Louis hadn't been cold from the field (5-for-18 on threes).
I joked on my twitter feed that if St. Louis doesn't start getting some Associated Press Top 25 votes I'm going to go on a hunger strike. I explained in a post last night just why they should be considered a Top 20 team. They were rated 10th in the Pomeroy ratings even before this win. That said, they only have one quality opponent left on their schedule (Xavier, on February 28th), so it's going to be very difficult for the Billikens to get a good seed in March. But they're going to be a very scary Round of 32 match-up for whichever team they end up seeded against. Their next game will be Wednesday against Richmond.
This was a game that La Salle needed to get back into at-large contention. They are now only 6-5 in Atlantic Ten play, with a win over Xavier more than balanced out by bad losses to Delaware, Robert Morris and Richmond. They are now only 9-9 against the RPI Top 200, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has slid out to around 100th. They'd have to basically win out to enter the Atlantic Ten tournament with a chance to get back onto the bubble. They have a week to get ready for a road game at UMass next Saturday.