Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Legitimizing Wins For WVU, LSU & Stanford

West Virginia 76, #13 Ohio State 48
The fact that West Virginia pulled the upset wasn't a huge surprise (I think that most college basketball analysts would agree with me that despite the ranking disparity, these two teams are pretty even), but the way that the Mountaineers wiped the floor with the Buckeyes was certainly a bit of a shock. To be fair, it was just one of those days when it feels like the rim has a lid on it. Not only did Ohio State shoot a mere 31% from the field (including 2-for-18 from behind the arc), but both B.J. Mullens and Dallas Lauderdale missed half of the game with foul trouble. Despite missing just about all of their key big men with Mullens and Lauderdale on the bench, Ohio State still fought to a draw on the boards, and the other defensive stats (steals, turnovers, personal fouls) were all pretty similar. So it was just one of those bad shooting days. That said, we now get to see how Ohio State responds to a loss. They now slip to 9-1, but I don't think anybody expects them to fall off a cliff because they have played a pretty tough schedule. They have three high quality wins (Notre Dame, Miami (Fl) and Butler), and should end up somewhere between second and fourth in the Big Ten. They should blow through a home game against Iowa tomorrow, but then it's off for two straight tough road games (Minnesota followed by Michigan State). A split of those two games should relieve any anxiety in Columbus. For West Virginia, they break through here with their first victory over a ranked team, legitimizing the 10-2 start to their season. Selection Sunday will be a very stressful game for whichever Big East team ends up ninth in the conference pecking order, so it's very important for WVU to collect as many big wins as possible. They will get a lot of pressure for that eighth spot from quality teams like Villanova, so this win will go a long way.

LSU 64, Washington State 52
This game was pretty far below the national radar, but it was an important contest for two bubble teams. Like how the aforementioned victory over Ohio State was huge for legitimizing West Virginia's gaudy record, this win is huge for legitimizing LSU's highly questionable 10-1 record. The fact is that those first 9 wins were over bad teams, with their one quality opponent (Texas A&M) also representing their one loss. Washington State is not where they have been the past couple of years, but they're still a tough team for anybody to beat. This win won't suddenly turn LSU into any kind of SEC contender, but it will cause college basketball analysts to pay attention. LSU is a legitimate threat for an at-large bid, especially if they can collect a win in one of their two big remaining out-of-conference games (at Utah on January 6th, and at home vs Xavier on the 24th). For Washington State, this only increases the questions about where this team stands. They have no bad losses, but they really have no good wins either. They still retain several of the key players from the highly successful teams the past two years, but they are dreadfully thin. Washington State's success required high intensity defense, and that's really tough to do when it's stretching it to say that they go eight players deep. The fact that they have no bad losses means that they're still firmly in the hunt for an at-large bid, but they're going to have to earn it in conference play, which probably means at least an 11-7 record in the weak Pac-10.

Virginia 88, Georgia Tech 84, OT
Another dominating performance by stud freshman Sylven Landesberg. I really expect him to be a star in the ACC someday if he continues to develop like he has so far this season. Despite Georgia Tech's home court advantage, and their vastly superior size, Virginia just found a way to hang in the game long enough for Tech's atrocious foul shooting (16-for-33 for the game) to drag the Cavaliers back into the game. This will go down as a quality win for Virginia, but it's their first of the season and they've got a very long way to go to get back into serious at-large consideration. The fact is that Georgia Tech played awfully in this one, and they're not one of the better teams in the ACC, and it still took the best performance of Landesberg's collegiate career for Virginia to eke the victory out here. In other words, I'm not too impressed with their chances of finishing too far from the league's basement. For Georgia Tech, I have to say that their starting lineup is plenty good enough to play in the Tournament. But they are extremely thin. In a 45 minute long game in which they scored 84 points, only 5 came from the bench. And their free throw shooting has been a problem all year, as they average 58.6% from the line for the season. They now have four losses, three of which are very questionable (home games against Penn State, Illinois-Chicago and Virginia) to go with at most one quality win (at home over Vanderbilt). I think they need to find a way to go 10-6 in the ACC to make the Tournament, and that's going to be very tough to do when they've possibly blown the easiest game they'll have throughout the entire ACC regular season.

Stanford 111, Texas Tech 66

Like the West Virginia/Ohio State game, the surprise here is not the victor, but rather the margin of victory. Texas Tech was down 20 points in the opening minutes, and never showed any spark after that. I can't say that I'm extremely impressed with Pat Knight, but I also can't say whether he's had a fair shake as an in-game coach, because he simply doesn't have the talent. I can't point to a single player on that team as a potential star. They typically hustle (although not in this one), but they just don't have the skill to play with an elite team. They need to bring in a go-to scorer and creator. Seasons can always turn around with one big win, but that's something we can re-visit should that unlikely event occur. For Stanford, they still lack any blockbuster wins, but they continue to look solid in beating pretty good teams. They are now 10-0 with wins over Air Force, Northwestern, Colorado and Texas Tech. None of those wins is too impressive by itself, but in combination they make up an impressive set of scalps. Nobody wants to rank this team in the Top 25 because they assume that this team is nothing without the Lopez brothers, and because they lack that elite win, but I don't see how you can ignore this team after their extremely impressive demolition of Tech. But when you play in a BCS conference, you can never hide for long, and they open with a bang when Arizona State comes to town on Friday. I don't think that the game is on television nationally, but those on the west coast should be able to catch this important Pac-10 match-up.

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