Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Years Update

Working my way back after a few post-less days:

South Florida 75, Wake Forest 67
Not that anyone is considering South Florida a serious Tournament team (or even Big East Tournament team), but how about this win for the young Bulls? They've shown remarkable improvement this year, their second in the Big East. Clearly, just showing up in the Big East conference is bringing in talent that will allow them to compete. Last year they were the joke of the conference, but I would expect them to get several wins this year and maybe even get out of the cellar. Looking at their scouting reports, they actually haven't had great recruiting classes these last two years... but something is working because this is a team that never would have had a shot against Wake Forest last year.

Xavier 65, Illinois 59
A good win for a Xavier team looking to build its at-large resume. For the most part, Xavier has been winning the games they're supposed to win, but have struggled to get wins that they can brag about in March. Up until this point their only marginal resume win was against Villanova. I'd say that this win over Illinois is more impressive. Xavier heads into conference play with a good out-of-conference record, but they need to continue to win against their rivals. The Atlantic 10 is better than it's usually been in recent years, but it's still not that good. They need to go atleast 12-4 to have a legitimate at-large claim. They really need to go 14-2 or so to get a seed as high as I've been predicting in the BP65. They start off in a couple of days with a home game against Temple, which is the type of game they'll be playing a lot of. It's not a walkover, but if they show up and play hard and smart they'll win. They need to win it. Their first real test will probably be UMass on January 18th.

West Virginia 81, #11 UConn 71
An important game for both teams. For West Virginia, this probably takes them off the bubble for now. There were a lot of good reasons to think this team wouldn't be able to make it back to the Tournament after being decimated by graduations, but they have played excellent ball so far this year. They have some good resume-style wins, and continued play like this will make it easy to stick them in the Tournament at a halfway-decent seed. As for UConn, this is exactly what they didn't need. They went 11-0 out of conference by beating up on Eastern Connecticut School for the Blind and other similar basketball powerhouses. They kept moving up the Top 25 because this was UConn, they had a great recruiting class, and they looked good in their wins. Suddenly, the first good team they play and they get creamed? Makes you rethink UConn as a Big East power this year. So, is there a reason to dismiss this game from UConn's point of view? The only thing I can think of is that maybe this was just what you'd expect from a young team that hadn't played anyone tough. They're still playing November-style basketball while West Virginia's players were honed over a much tougher out-of-conference schedule. If this is the case we should see a quick improvement out of the Huskies. We should find out as soon as January 6th, when they go play LSU.

Creighton 77, Missouri State 74
Another good performance for a Creighton team that has just been all over the place this year. After a lot of preseason hype they've had some fairly awful performances (losses to Dayton, Fresno State and Hawaii by a combined 37 points), but have responded with some excellent wins as well. But the win over Xavier in early December is easily dwarfed by this one, which really sets a good tone for Creighton. It's important to get off to a good start in the Missouri Valley which is a conference, as we learned last year, where two games can mean the difference between 1st and 6th. Missouri State, on the other hand, is really entering bubble territory. They have some good wins, but not enough that they don't need a good finish in the Valley. Luckily for them, there are plenty of chances for marquee wins in this conference.

Washington State 58, USC 55
How about this Cougars team and Tony Bennett? They've played excellent ball this year that was mostly dismissed because of their fairly easy schedule. It was easy to ignore the win over Gonzaga as a fluke. Then, they missed a big opportunity when they lost to UCLA by 3. This time, however, they hung on for a huge win early in conference play. USC had been incredibly tough to beat at home, so the Cougars have proven that they have enough talent to win just about every game left on their schedule. They do need a real marquee win to strengthen their Tournament resume, because they just don't have the name brand that other schools have. They get a good opportunity in a couple days, with Arizona coming to town. A win there and no one can deny that this is a real Tournament team.

#18 Nevada 82, Gonzaga 74
Gonzaga has struggled mightily these past few weeks. losing games that they either should be winning or that they have a good chance to win (like this one). And they've put themselves in a spot that they really don't want to be. And that is, they really need to win every conference game. A loss or two in the WCC could knock Gonzaga right out of the Tournament altogether. They have a couple of good wins, but can a mid-major really get a bid with 8 or 9 losses? I suppose Gonzaga has the name brand to overcome a record that might doom others. But surely that wasn't Mark Few's plan to have a successful March this year. Josh Heytfelt is clearly not replacing Adam Morrison as well as Gonzaga had hoped.

Northern Iowa 63, #16 Wichita State 59
A very good win for a Northern Iowa team still cementing its spot in the 65 team draw. They know that they don't have the out-of-conference resume of a team like Wichita State or Missouri State, so they really need a good finish in the Valley. Like Creighton, they really need a second place finish or better to feel comfortable about where they are. As for Wichita State, what is going on with them? I correctly predicted that they wouldn't continue their ridiculous play from November, but they've really had an atrocious December. Since the December 2nd win over Syracuse they haven't looked like a Tournament team at all. People littered this blog with puerile insults for my suggesting that this team would only get a #6 seed. Well, right now they're playing themselves out of the Tournament altogether. Of course, I don't expect that to happen. This team has too much talent to keep losing for too long. They're just in a rut like any team goes through from time to time (see: Gonzaga, above). It's just that the margin-of-error is smaller for teams outside the BCS, so we notice it more. I expect this team to turn it around tonight, with a win over Bradley. You know they're going to come out fired up, because a loss there would really crush their hopes of winning the Valley regular season crown.

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