Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wisconsin Thumps Illinois

Wisconsin 74, #12 Illinois 51
This game was not an upset (Wisconsin was a six point favorite in Vegas), but it was certainly surprising to see just how badly Wisconsin beat down Illinois. They opened the game with a 14-0 lead, and they led by a score of 37-11 before cruising the rest of the way to victory. Wisconsin shot the ball better (10-for-23 behind the arc vs 2-for-14 for Illinois), but the biggest difference in this game was rebounding. While the loss of Josh Gasser means that Wisconsin isn't as strong defensively as they've been in recent years, their offensive rebounding is much improved. Meanwhile, Illinois is a terrible defensive rebounding team that was made even worse by foul trouble for Nnanna Egwu. Wisconsin finished the game with a 54.5 OR%, compared to a 25.8 OR% for Illinois.

The reason why the computers all rated Wisconsin better than Illinois even before this game tipped off is partially because Wisconsin (as usual) is underrated. But more importantly, it's because Illinois is overrated. With mediocre defense and terrible defensive rebounding, it's hard for them to stop opponents. They have an offense that can be explosive when Brandon Paul really gets going (e.g. this year's Gonzaga game), but they're not going to beat really good teams consistently.

The Illini are now 1-3 in Big Ten play, with wins over Gonzaga, Ohio State and Butler, along with a bad loss to Purdue. They need to finish at least 8-10 in Big Ten play to make the NCAA Tournament, so they'll need to navigate their upcoming stretch without suffering any bad losses. They'll play Northwestern on Thursday, followed by a road game at Nebraska the following Tuesday.

Wisconsin is now 3-0 in the Big Ten with this their best win, and a potentially iffy loss to Virginia. They might get into the NCAA Tournament at 9-9, considering the strength of the Big Ten, but they need to get to 10-8 to really be certain. They will get a chance on Tuesday for a big upset at Indiana. Next Saturday they'll play at Iowa.

UCLA 78, Colorado 75
I've been saying for a while that UCLA is the most likely team to challenge Arizona for the Pac-12 title. And it's not because they've been the second best Pac-12 team so far - that's probably been Oregon - but because they have such a high ceiling. This team is still figuring things out and is stocked with NBA talent. And even here, in this victory, they have to feel like they can play better. Larry Drew, who's actually played pretty well at times this season, was invisible (0 points and 5 assists in 35 minutes) and Shabazz Muhammad struggled also (14 points on 6-for-16 shooting). Jordan Adams made a lot of the key plays down the stretch, but the best player for UCLA over 40 minutes was Travis Wear, who scored 23 points on 11-for-17 shooting.

Colorado got a big game from Spencer Dinwiddie (23 points on 9-for-16 shooting), but 5-for-17 three-point shooting doomed them. And it's a frustrating loss for Colorado, only nine days after that heartbreaking loss to Arizona, which drops them now to only 1-3 in Pac-12 play. They did beat Baylor earlier in the season, but that's wiped out by a bad loss to Arizona State. They're 4-5 against the RPI Top 100, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will drop to around 40th tomorrow. Needing to get to at least 10-8 in conference play to go Dancing, they have a tough road trip coming up next week at the two Washington schools. The odds are against a sweep, but they really can't afford another bad loss right now.

UCLA moves to 4-0 in Pac-12 play and has suddenly won nine straight games. Missouri, Texas, Stanford and Colorado are among the victims during this run. With a potential run at the Pac-12 title in mind, the next week features a key home stand against the two Oregon schools. Oregon State should be a relatively easy victim, but a win over Oregon, the team that just took out Arizona, would move UCLA into the lead in the standings.

Oklahoma 77, Oklahoma State 68
Earlier today I said that Virginia's loss would be dropping them out of my bracket projection tonight. But who to put in their place? I've been thinking about that all day. Boise State was a consideration, although there's just no way that the Mountain West can get six NCAA Tournament teams. So as I type this, I'm leaning toward Oklahoma, which used some hot 8-for-13 three-point shooting to get past Oklahoma State here.

Buddy Hield led the way for Oklahoma, shooting 3-for-5 behind the arc and finishing with 15 points and 5 assists. Romero Osby scored 17, and Steven Pledger was the one Sooners player able to get after the glass (rebounding has been a serious problem for them this season). Marcus Smart could only play 27 minutes for Oklahoma State because of foul trouble, though he wasn't particularly effective when he was playing (3-for-10 shooting, 3 assists and 4 turnovers). The bigger problem was probably Phil Forte, who kept launching threes (3-for-10) but couldn't get a big one to fall. He was 0-for-5 behind the arc in the second half.

Oklahoma is 11-3 overall and 2-0 in Big 12 play, with this win along with potentially bad losses to Stephen F Austin and Arkansas. The lack of big non-conference wins that they probably need to get to at least 10-8 in conference play to earn an at-large bid. They'll play Texas Tech on Wednesday, and then will go on the road to face Kansas State next Saturday.

Oklahoma State is 11-4 and 1-2 in Big 12 play, with a win over NC State along with a bad loss to Virginia Tech. Their RPI is 33rd and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE will slide to around 40th after this loss. Like Oklahoma, they probably need to get to at least 10-8 in conference play to go Dancing. They will play Texas Tech next Saturday, and then will go on the road to face Baylor the following Monday.

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