Sunday, January 28, 2007

Starting the Last Ten

The beginning of the final ten games of the regular season. That was ESPN's theme for this weekend, so let's go with it:

Providence 84, UConn 72
I'm on the brink of giving up on this Connecticut team. They have so much talent, but just are finding ways to lose games. This was a fast paced game with a lot of shots, and a lot of missing for the Huskies. A lot of offensive rebounds and missed bunnies led to 38% shooting. With all this talent struggling to play together, you have to wonder about Jim Calhoun. I know that he's an absolute institution in New England, and there's just about nothing he can do to get himself fired (not that I'm suggesting he be fired), but you have to wonder about whether he's losing touch with his players. Let's remember how much talent he had last year (four of the top 23 picks in the NBA draft) and how it always seemed like the team underperformed. Guys like Rudy Gay were so great when they tried, but just seemed to zone out at times and lose to teams they shouldn't. This year's team is similar in that it has a ton of talent that's underperforming. Of course, last years team had so much talent that underperforming meant losing in the Elite 8. This team's talent is such that underperforming could mean NIT. In fact, right now that's what I'm predicting. This particular loss dropped them out of the BP65 for the first time this season.

#4 North Carolina 92, #19 Arizona 64
The story of Saturday. The Tar Heels are just an amazingly talented team, and still my favorites to win the National Title at this point. They have so many offensive weapons that they can score 80+ points on anybody. Throw in an Arizona team that has played awful defense of late and you have the formula for an offensive show. No one's questioning Arizona's offense. They may not be Carolina, but they have one of the top offenses in the country regardless. They were unbelievably cold from the perimeter in this one, which is what made this one the real romp it was. Anytime a team shoots 1-for-23 from behind the arc it's about more than good defense, it's about a team that just is having one of those days. Throw in a more reasonable 7-23 or 8-23 and suddenly this goes from a romp to a close game. And in that way it's a shame, as this game easily could have been a 92-88 barnburner. But bad days happen, and that's why Arizona has to put more effort on defense if they want to be a truly elite team. If they can just put together a halfway decent defense they're a Final Four threat.

Missouri 71, Texas Tech 58
An important game for two bubble teams. Right now, Tech has several big time wins that give it a pretty solid resume. They've looked much better and much more relaxed since they got that Bob Knight wins record out of the way. As for Missouri, regular readers of this website know how much I love Mike Anderson. He is going to turn Missouri into a real Big 12 force. But despite some hope early this year that they might make it back to the Tourney in year one, I still think it's going to take another year or two for Anderson to really build the talent that he needs. He needs some real athletes, as well as some experienced players who can turn the ball over less (as this breakneck style has led to a lot of offensive turnovers for the Tigers as well). Still, the win here keeps Missouri alive on the bubble. A very key game will be on Wednesday at Kansas State. I can't see the selection committee taking more than six teams from the Big 12, so Missouri needs to finish ahead of K-State if they want to be taken seriously on Selection Sunday.
Louisville 76, Syracuse 71
A great comeback for an essential win for Rick Pitino's Cardinals. You had a Syracuse team that came out fired up and opened up an almost-insurmountable lead. Louisville worked their way back by feeding off the crowd's energy, forcing 17 turnovers, grabbing 18 offensive boards, and just finding a way to score 76 points despite only 36% shooting (and 25% from behind the arc). One thing you can't help but notice about this Louisville team is that this isn't a great team - no one sees them winning the Big East or being a serious player in the Tournament. But they're just winning the games they need to win to justify my support for them in the BP65. In conference play you have a lot of games against middle-of-the-pack/bubble teams. They aren't season highlights if you win, and you don't panic if you lose. But they add up. And Louisville is winning those games: Against Providence, at Depaul, vs. UConn and now vs. Syracuse. They are now heading into another key four game stretch, at Cincy and Nova before coming home for South Florida and Georgetown. They need atleast two wins there to set up games at Pitt and Marquette. They're currently 5-2, so a 3-1 performance in the aforementioned quartet of games would set them up at 8-3. That would mean that losses at Pitt and Marquette would only drop them to 8-5, still well on their way to an 8-11 seed.

Missouri State 85, Bradley 70
An outstanding shooting day for Missouri State (59% from the floor) led to another good win in conference as they try to stay in the running for the regular season Valley title. That said, they're a team that isn't really on the bubble. It would take a real collapse for them to fall to the NIT. Bradley, on the other hand, is a team that few expected to make a real run for an at-large bid. They suffered a big loss in Patrick O'Bryant to the NBA, but they've managed to score points and win games with sound play and experience (their seven leaders in points per game and minutes per game are all seniors and juniors). They have several good wins that keep their RPI high, but nothing that's really going to get them a bid (at home against Depaul, Southern Illinois and Wichita State, and on the road at Iowa State). They are currently sitting fifth in the conference, with Wichita State hot on their tail. The Valley won't get more than five bids, and since several of those teams have superior out-of-conference resumes (Missouri State, Wichita State, etc), Bradley needs to finish in atleast fourth place to get a bid. They have four home games left, which they really need to win. Then steal a game or two on the road and they might just steal an at-large spot from a team like Wichita State.

#5 Ohio State 66, Michigan State 64
Drew Neitzel can mail this video to all of the voters for the Big 10 All-Conference team. What an amazing performance almost single-handedly dragging the Spartans back from 20 points down in Columbus. I'm sure Thad Matta will have a lot to say to his team about not taking their foot off the pedal with a big lead. You also really have to question the Buckeye's hustle stats, coming down with an amazingly low five offensive rebounds. Combine that with only four steals and they're not getting a lot of extra possessions. They have a lot of great scorers on that offense, and you can make any team into an elite defense by throwing Greg Oden into the five spot, but hustle is so important for any team.

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