Friday, December 14, 2012

Tennessee Knocks Off Wichita State

Tennessee 69, #23 Wichita State 60
You could tell pretty easily that this game meant a lot to Tennessee. They had played three likely NCAA Tournament teams so far, played them close, and lost all three. A loss here would have been their third straight, and would have meant blowing their final chance in the calendar year 2012 for a quality win. Pushed back against the wall, they attacked the basket. Trae Golden led the way with 13-for-16 at the free throw line, and as a whole the Vols earned 36 free throw attempts.

This has been Wichita State's biggest problem this season - they struggle to keep opponents off the free throw line. They had the same problems against both Iowa and DePaul, This was the first time, of course, that they couldn't overcome those problems. This was Wichita State's first loss of the season.

As strong as Wichita State has played, the reality is that the only have one good win (VCU). So their resume is good, but it's not particularly robust. They're really only one bad loss from falling back to the bubble. Their two remaining tests before beginning Missouri Valley play are both at home - against Charleston Southern on Thursday and against Southern Miss a week from Saturday. Wins in both of those games and a 12-6 or better Missouri Valley record should be sufficient for an at-large berth.

With this win and without any bad losses, you can make a good argument that Tennessee would be a Tournament team if the season ended now. They have a couple of cream puffs up next, followed by home games against Xavier and Memphis. The odds are against them sweeping all of those games, but if they do then they only need to go 9-9 in SEC play to get onto the bubble. At 10-8 they'll be in good shape.

Villanova 65, St. Joseph's 61
These Big 5 games are always fun, and this one was fairly wild. Halil Kanacevic was the story afterwards for the middle finger that he gave the Villanova student section, and he earned a two game suspension for that. But really, his play didn't live up to his trash talking. He committed two bad turnovers late, while it was Villanova's James Bell who took over. Bell scored seven points in the final two minutes, including a clutch three with around 30 seconds left to put Nova up for good.

Villanova really hasn't played well at all this season, but somehow their resume isn't really that bad. They have that win over Purdue, and their only really bad loss was the one to Columbia. If they can survive three pretty soft opponents (the toughest game will be against Delaware) and then get to 9-9 or better in Big East play, then they'll be on the bubble. But they're not going to. I just don't think Villanova is that good. They struggle to shoot and they struggle to stop opponents from scoring. That's usually a bad combination.

St. Joe's got off to a great start to the season with that win over Notre Dame, but that loss to Florida State isn't looking great anymore, and then they got destroyed by Creighton and now have a bad loss to Villanova. The biggest change has been offensive ball handling. They only suffered 10 turnovers in overtime during that victory over Notre Dame. They have averaged 16 turnovers per game in each of these three losses, including those crucial turnovers late here against Nova. They will try to lick their wounds a week from Saturday against Fairfield. They'll then have six days before playing Iona.

DePaul 78, Arizona State 61
This is an embarrassing loss by Arizona State. They were never even competitive. And yes, the Sun Devils shot poorly (3-for-15 behind the arc, 42% at the line), but that's no excuse for never even really being in a game at home against DePaul. To put this game in perspective, it's probably DePaul's biggest non-conference win since taking down Northern Iowa on November 20th, 2009.

As good as Jahii Carson is, I think a good argument can be made (particularly after this game) that Arizona State isn't any good. They pulled that upset over Arkansas in Las Vegas, but have lost to the two other decent teams they have played. They are still 112th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, but have slipped to 156th in Pomeroy. They shouldn't be troubled by Dartmouth on Saturday, but will have an intriguing road game at Texas Tech, the worst team in the Big 12, a week later. A loss there and Arizona State really could be the worst team in the Pac-12.

DePaul got off to a brutal 2-3 start to this season with two bad losses (Western Kentucky and Gardner Webb). But since then? They've won five straight, including this victory and a road win over Auburn. They shouldn't start preparing for any postseason tournaments yet, but they're better than they've been in recent seasons. Their biggest change has been the emergence of Donnavan Kirk, who has given DePaul a real interior defensive presence. They are holding opponents to a 45.6 2P%, compared to 52.3% last season. Now that they can get some stops, they might actually steal a few good wins in Big East play.

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