Iowa State 73, #11 Kansas State 67
Iowa State had one of the worst performances by any team in the nation in the past few weeks when they sleep-walked through a loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday. I expected them to bounce back with a win here against an overrated Kansas State team, but they actually underwhelmed. They did barely cover the spread (Iowa State was a 4.5 point favorite in Vegas), but only because of 11-for-22 three-point shooting. Defensively, they couldn't keep Kansas State out of the paint. Kansas State had 18 assists on 28 made baskets, and shot 58.3% on two-pointers.
Iowa State is a team that lives and dies with the three a lot, though. They lead the Big 12 in 3PA/FGA ratio, and this year they are 3-4 when shooting below 33% behind the arc, and 11-1 when shooting 33% or better. They are 4-2 now in Big 12 play, with a 2-4 record against the RPI Top 100. Their RPI is 40th and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should move up to around 45th with this win. I think that a 10-8 Big 12 record and a win win the Big 12 tournament should put them into the NCAA Tournament. If they only finish 9-9 then they're going to have a bit of work to do in the Big 12 tournament. Their next game will be on Wednesday, at Oklahoma State.
Kansas State started the season 5-0 in games decided by six or less, but have now lost two consecutive such games. Like I always say, this type of luck tends to even out. They are now 4-2 in Big 12 play, with wins over Florida, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that should still be near 30th. They should be an NCAA Tournament team if they get to 10-8 in conference play. At 9-9 they'll be on the bubble. They'll play Texas on Wednesday, and then on the road at Oklahoma on Saturday.
Wisconsin 45, #12 Minnesota 44
This game had a very bizarre finish. Wisconsin got the ball in a tie game with around 39 seconds to go. Traevon Jackson used up the entire clock and hit a short jumper as the shot clock was expiring. Minnesota had only a desperation chance left, but the refs called a foul on Mike Bruesewitz to put Trevor Mbakwe to the line... only Mbakwe grabbed at his wrist and insisted he couldn't take the shots. Seeing as how nobody could see any contact with his wrist on the play, there's a lot of suspicions that Mbakwe was faking it. The Wisconsin coaches took as much advantage as they could, delaying for several minutes (including a bizarre period where the entire coaching staff huddled around a stat sheet) before putting Rodney Williams, a 65% free throw shooter, on the line. Williams hit the first but missed the second, giving Wisconsin a strange victory.
Traevon Jackson had a relatively quiet game until the final minutes, finishing with only 9 points on 4-for-7 shooting, along with just 1 assist. But he's starting to gain a reputation as a guy who is calm and confident in tight games, which is pretty impressive for a guy who basically didn't play last season as a true freshman. Bo Ryan seems to always do this with his point guards. You can already tell that George Marshall (8 points on 3-for-7 shooting with 1 assist off the bench) will be a good one someday as well. Minnesota got approximately half of their offense from Andre Hollins, who scored 20 points (including 3-for-4 behind the arc). Wisconsin could not stop him all day, and it honestly felt like he could have gone for 30 if Minnesota kept going to him. Andre Hollins joins Aaron White as players who didn't get a lot of hype when they first showed up in the Big Ten, but as sophomores this season deserve serious consideration for First Team All-Big Ten.h
Minnesota has lost four straight games to fall to 3-4 in Big Ten play, leading to a lot of talk postgame on twitter of Minnesota being a potential bubble team. To me, that's ridiculous. All four of those losses came against quality opponents, three came on the road, and all were decided by eight points or fewer. Minnesota came into this game ranked 9th by Pomeroy and 10th by the Sagarin PREDICTOR, and considering the fact that they actually covered the Vegas spread (they were three point dogs) they're not going to drop in the computers. The Big Ten is just really good this season, and every team (other than maybe Michigan) is going to lose a bunch of games. Minnesota should be an NCAA Tournament team if they get to 9-9 in conference play, and they should clear that bar easily.
Minnesota comes home next week to play Nebraska on Tuesday, and then Iowa the following Sunday. Wisconsin moves to 5-2 in Big Ten play with this win, but with a tough week coming up. They'll be on the road to face Ohio State on Tuesday, and then Illinois the following Sunday.
South Dakota State 69, North Dakota State 53
I had been looking forward to this game between the two best teams in the Summit League. North Dakota State had been the much better team in non-conference play and had beaten South Dakota State by three in Fargo on December 29th. I had stuck with South Dakota State as the favorite in the league, mainly because of Nate Wolters. And Wolters did pour in 26 points here on 7-for-16 shooting. But as South Dakota State has improved their play over the past month, what has really changed has been their defense.
South Dakota State has lost six times this season, including terrible losses to Hofstra and South Dakota. But what those losses have in common is that South Dakota State allowed at least 1.12 PPP in each of them. They have now held four straight opponents below 1.04 PPP and are now second in the Summit with 0.98 PPP allowed in conference play. And that really is the key for them, because Nate Wolters can put up 20-25 points against anybody, and they just need the stops on the other end.
Coming into this game, North Dakota State was 14-4 overall with only a couple of iffy losses (Wisconsin-Green Bay and Western Illinois) and an RPI that had pushed up to 53rd. They were actually kind of a long shot at-large team. But the reality is that there aren't a lot of quality losses to be had in the Summit League. They're going to need to find a way to shut down Nate Wolters in what will presumably be a rubber match in the Summit League title game.
North Dakota State will play next on Thursday, against UMKC. South Dakota State will get a rematch against South Dakota on Thursday.