Miami (Fl) 54, Maryland 47
This game was just brutal. These two teams combined to have a 36.7 eFG%, and scored a combined 0.75 PPP. Maryland, of course, had the worst of it. Their 34.2 eFG% and 0.70 PPP were their worsts since a 71-44 drubbing at Virginia last season. While Miami's offense can be very ugly, particularly when Durand Scott has an off day (only 6 points and 2 assists here), their defense has keyed their strong play this season. The 0.77 PPP that Miami has allowed so far in ACC play leads the conference (Duke, at 0.89 PPP, is second best).
I talked on twitter about my view that, at this point, Miami is one the most underrated teams in the nation. They're rated 19th by Pomeroy, 17th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, 13th in the Sagarin ELO_SCORE and 5th in RPI. And their 4-2 record against the RPI Top 50 is pretty impressive (for comparison: Minnesota is only 2-2 against the RPI Top 50). So by any objective metric, Miami has been a Top 25 team so far. Yet they failed to break into the Top 30 in any of the human polls on Monday.
The problem for Miami is that in a down ACC it is much easier to pick up bad losses than to get good wins. So as good as Miami is playing, there's not a huge cushion between them and the Tournament bubble. Right now they're 3-0 in the ACC with wins over Michigan State, Maryland and North Carolina, along with bad losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana State. I think they need to get to at least 11-7 in ACC play or they're going to enter the ACC tournament with work left to do to avoid the NIT. They'll play on the road at Boston College tomorrow. A week later they'll get an opportunity for a huge win over Duke in Coral Gables.
Maryland is a team that, in my view, has been somewhat living off that great opening night battle against Kentucky ever since. The reality is that they haven't beaten a quality team since, and are now 1-2 in the ACC with a potentially bad home loss to Kentucky. With a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that is 55th, an RPI that is 91st and a 1-3 record against the RPI Top 100, the reality is that they'd be NIT-bound if the season ended now. They'll need to get to 10-8 in the ACC with at least one win over a ranked team in order to be in a good position for an at-large bid. They have a big week coming up with a home game against NC State on Wednesday and then a road game at North Carolina on Saturday. They have to win at least one of those two games or they'll be in pretty big trouble at 1-5 in the ACC.
Iowa 70, Northwestern 50
Well, at least Northwestern alumni won't have to spend the entire season worrying about whether they'll finally make the NCAA tournament. Their defense has never been good under Bill Carmody, but they used to at least be able to score. Last season they scored 1.06 PPP in Big Ten play, which was tied with Michigan for fifth best in the league. But the loss of John Shurna to graduation, the loss of Drew Crawford to injury, and whatever else is going wrong with them right now has their offense in a tailspin. Their Penn State game was the only time they've broken 1.00 PPP since Christmas, and they're only scoring 0.93 PPP in Big Ten play.
Northwestern's defense is terrible (their 1.11 PPP allowed per possession in Big Ten play is worst in the league so far), and Iowa ate them up (22 assists on 29 made baskets, with only 8 turnovers). They needed to shoot the lights out to stay in this game, and instead they hit 5 of 26 attempted three-pointers. Hence the 20 point destruction. At home. Northwestern is now 10-7 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play. Considering the strength of their league this season, Northwestern is going to struggle to have an overall record over .500. In fact, they could lose 20 games. Their next game will be Thrusday on the road at Illinois, followed by games against Ohio State and Minnesota. It might be a while before their next win.
This was a near must-win for Iowa. The Hawkeyes came in 0-3 in Big Ten play. Overall they are now 12-5 with a win over Iowa State and a bad loss to Virginia Tech, which is a reasonable resume. They can't help but pick up a couple of quality wins in conference play. But they need to get to 9-9 in conference play to have a good shot at an at-large bid. A loss here would have made them 0-4 with a home game against Wisconsin and a road game at Ohio State up next. That would have been a pretty daunting predicament. Now at 1-3 they only need to split these two upcoming games and they'll be in good shape.
#4 Kansas 61, Baylor 44
Brady Heslip is Baylor's only real outside weapon. Kansas has the best interior defender and the best interior team defense in the nation. It was probably inevitable that Baylor wasn't going to be able to score. They hit only 21.4% of their two-point attempts and finished with 0.82 PPP.
Ben McLemore led the way for Kansas, putting up 17 points and 8 rebounds while forcing 3 steals, though his ankle was the story after the game. He rolled it and had to leave the game late. The good news is that it sounds as though he'll be okay and shouldn't miss any time. They have a fairly tough upcoming schedule, playing at Texas on Saturday and then at Kansas State next Tuesday. Those are both games that they can lose if they're not careful. Though if they do pull through those two games with wins, we can probably start printing the Jayhawks' Big 12 regular season title trophy.
Baylor is now 11-5 overall and 3-1 in Big 12 play, with a win over Kentucky along with bad losses to Northwestern and Charleston. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is 41st. If the season ended now they'd be an NCAA Tournament team, but not with a lot of room to spare. If they can get to 11-7 in Big 12 play then that should lock up their at-large bid. They'll play a non-Division I team on Saturday, followed by a home game against Oklahoma State on Monday.