#6 Kansas 97, Iowa State 89
In the latest edition of "why luck matters more than clutch play in very close games", note Ben McLemore's three-pointer missing so badly that it banked in with around one second to go to send this game to overtime. With that shot finishing off a fairly large comeback (Iowa State led by six with just over 2:30 left in regulation) the air just came out of Iowa State's sails. Overtime felt like a certain Kansas win from the opening tip. McLemore was a huge part of that comeback, scoring five points in the final minute and making several key defensive plays. In all he finished with 33 points on 10-for-12 shooting, including 6-for-6 behind the arc.
As tough as it is to fall short in a game like this, Iowa State should take heart from the fact that they played really well. Melvin Ejim, in particular, really impressed. He went toe-to-toe with Jeff Withey all night, finishing with 19 points (on 7-for-14 shooting), 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Iowa State doesn't have any big wins this season, but if they keep playing like this then they'll get some.
Despite not having any big wins, Iowa State doesn't have bad losses either. They're 2-4 against the RPI Top 100 and 8-0 against everybody else. They will play Texas on Saturday, and then will take on the dregs of the league for the next couple of weeks. The key part of the regular season for them will be late January and early February, when they'll be taking on teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma.
A loss here might have thrown the Big 12 standings in disarray, but by escaping this game I think the Jayhawks have kept the status quo in place. The Big 12 does have a true home-and-home round robin this season, so every team will get their shot to knock off Kansas. They'll play at Texas Tech on Saturday, and then will get Baylor at home on Monday. After that will come their first difficult road game, at Texas on January 19th.
#14 Butler 72, Saint Joseph's 66
Believe it or not, this was actually an upset. Butler is overrated at #14, St. Joe's is a pretty good team, and the Hawks had homecourt advantage. Sagarin and Pomeroy had St. Joe's as a three point favorite. Vegas put the line at two. Butler actually trailed for much of the second half, and leaned on big games from stars Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith to carry them through. Clarke and Smith combined for 29 of the 37 points Butler scored in the second half. Clarke finished 6-for-10 behind the arc on the way to 28 points for the game. Smith had six offensive rebounds to go with his 24 points.
Despite the computers being really down on Butler, I continue to believe that the reality for Butler is in between the polls and reality. Obviously the polls are put together by idiots - the 14th best team in the country can't be struggling with so many bad teams. But Butler, over the past few years, has played to their level of opponent more than any other team in the nation. They lose to a lot of teams they shouldn't lose to, but they always seem to be at their best for the most important games against the best opponents. The computers rate Butler around 50th, but I just can't believe that they're not one of the 30 or so best teams in the nation.
Butler is now 13-2 with wins over Indiana, Marquette and North Carolina to go with this win and a bad loss to Xavier. Their RPI is 16th but their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is only 34th. If the season ended now they'd be a Tournament team, but not with a huge margin of error. I think they need to get to 10-6 in Atlantic Ten play to feel really good about their at-large chances. They have a tough road game at Dayton on Saturday, followed by a home game against Richmond on Wednesday.
St. Joe's has played in a lot of close games this season. Only five of their 13 games have been decided by more than ten points. And they're a decent team, but not a great team. So they're going to win some and they're going to lose some. They now have wins over Notre Dame and Harvard, along with losses to Villanova, Fairfield and Florida State. Overall it's not a Tournament resume. They'll need to get to 10-6 in A-10 play just to get on the bubble, in my opinion. They'll try to bounce back to 1-1 at Duquesne on Saturday. Their next game will be a brutal road game at VCU, on January 17th.
Charlotte 74, La Salle 65
Let's stay in the Atlantic Ten to talk about a brutal night for La Salle. They shot 7-for-32 from the field in the first half, scoring only 17 points and falling behind by 16 at the half. Ramon Galloway got going offensively in the second half, helping the Explorers chip away at the lead, though they never got closer than six. It was just too large of a hole to dig out of. La Salle finished this game with ten more offensive rebounds and eight fewer turnovers, meaning 18 more possessions. But 4-for-29 three-point shooting can undo even that large of a possession differential.
La Salle obviously will feel like they should have won this game, but they didn't, and they continue to struggle to come through against good opponents. They are 10-4 with this loss and a loss to Central Connecticut State, without a quality win. Their schedule also does not do them any favors - their only shots at St. Louis, VCU and Temple will come on the road. Their only chance for a quality win at home will come against Butler in a couple of weeks. They'll play Richmond next, on Saturday.
Charlotte moves to 13-2 overall with this win, despite entering this game ranked 96th by Pomeroy and 97th by the Sagarin PREDICTOR. Why were the computers so down on a 12-2 team? Because their schedule has been soft, and they haven't really dominated cupcakes the way that elite teams tend to do. This is a really nice win for them, though.It's their best win of the season, and it goes with only one iffy loss, to Florida State. A 9-7 Atlantic Ten record should put them on the bubble, and that's a realistic outcome for them this year. A key will be winning the games they're supposed to win, beginning with a road game at Rhode Island on Saturday. Rhode Island isn't very good, but they're playing hard and they've been frisky at home. That's not a walkover at all.