Saturday, January 31, 2009

Patty Mills Is Missed

Portland 84, #18 Saint Mary's 66
It was definitely bad luck for Saint Mary's to have to play their first game sans leading scorer Patrick Mills on the road at a very good and hungry Portland team. They were never really even in this game, getting blown away pretty early on. Saint Mary's has now slipped to 5-2 in the WCC with an RPI that has fallen out of the Top 50. The fact is that they can only afford to lose another game or two or they'll fall out of the Tournament altogether. That said, Portland is a very good team. I didn't understand why they were underdogs in Vegas for this game, especially after the Mills injury. They are now second place in the WCC at 6-1, and that one loss was at Gonzaga. They have a win over Washington, which is better than any win that Saint Mary's has. That said, unlike Saint Mary's, they do have some bad losses (Portland State, Northern Colorado and Oregon, among others). So with an RPI near 100th, and Sagarin and Pomeroy numbers that aren't much better, it's an uphill battle to an at-large bid. They'd basically have to go undefeated the rest of the way. But don't count out the possibility of this team pulling an upset in the WCC tournament like San Diego did last year, because this Portland team is arguably just as good as last year's San Diego squad.

Tennessee 79, Florida 63
This shouldn't have been too surprising of a result. Tennessee is a desperate team, and the crowd was really into the game. They are also a very good team that is definitely better than their record. One really bright spot was the emergence of freshman star Scotty Hopson, who hadn't really been living up to the expectations thus far this season. He led all Tennessee players with 20 points, including 4-for-6 from behind the arc. This win pulls Tennessee back to 4-2 in the SEC, and within half a game of the leaders of the SEC East (a three-way tie between Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina). Tennessee now has the highest RPI in the SEC, as well as the most RPI Top 50 wins, and they're still my pick to win the conference. I do think that if anybody knocks them off, though, that it will be Florida. The Gators ran into a buzz saw today, but Tennessee won't play like this in Gainesville or on a neutral floor during the SEC tournament. I think both of these teams are Tournament teams, and that the SEC is most likely going to end up with four or five bids overall.

Boston College 67, Virginia Tech 66
I sometimes feel bad for Seth Greenberg, because you can feel the pain that he wears on his face when his team has a bad defensive breakdown. And that offensive rebound that they gave up to lose this game was killer for this squad. They could easily be 6-1 in the ACC, but two heartbreaking losses have dropped them to 4-3 instead. They have a pretty easy stretch coming up, but they have a really tough end to the season. They've absolutely got to take care of business in their next two home games (NC State, Georgia Tech) or they're going to have a hill to climb over the last month of the season. For Boston College, they've done a great job of rebounding from that four game losing streak to now win four straight, moving to 5-3 in the ACC. The computer numbers aren't there yet, but if they can finish 4-4 to get to 9-7 then I think the computer numbers will follow. A 9-7 ACC record would get either of these two teams into the Tournament most likely.

Washington Hangs In There

Washington 84, #14 Arizona State 71
Washington came out really strong in this one, opening up a double-digit lead early, and then held on despite a fierce Arizona State rally late in the game. The back court of Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon just absolutely torched Arizona State's back court, with each guard collecting at least 25 points. Regardless of how they did it, it's nice to see them bounce back from a tough loss to keep pace with UCLA at 7-2 atop the Pac-10. In the end I think they'll fall short of actually winning a share of the conference regular season title, but their at-large bid chances are looking excellent right now. They'd have to completely fall apart down the stretch to fall out of the Tournament now. Arizona State, on the other hand, looks a bit shell-shocked right now. With two straight home losses to the Washington squads they have fallen into fifth place in the Pac-10 at 5-4. The schedule is pretty tough the rest of the way, so the Pac-10 regular season title is looking pretty out of touch. They should still make the Tournament, but they can't keep playing the way they have this week.

Missouri 89, Baylor 72
Leo Lyons torched Baylor for 30 points, just getting to the basket at will. As is typical of Missouri wins they forced a lot of turnovers and collected a lot of layups. Baylor just could not keep up the pace. Missouri is now third place in the Big 12 at 5-2, and have an RPI that has moved inside the Top 40. The Sagarin PREDICTOR at Pomeroy both actually put this around the 10th best team in the country. I don't know if they're that good, but their Tournament chances are looking great right now. At 4-2 against the RPI Top 50, they may not have any huge scalps but they've done a great job of taking care of business against good opponents. They will likely make the Tournament if they get to 10-6, and will be a lock if they get to 11-5. Baylor, on the other hand, is back onto the bubble. They are 3-4 in the Big 12, and all of the computer rankings say that this is somewhere around the 35th best team in the land. They'd probably be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but only barely. They end their Big 12 schedule with some pretty easy opponents, but they've got to end this three game losing streak right now. You can let yourself fall too far below .500 in a conference that will likely only get six teams, and possibly only five to the Tournament.

Maryland 73, Miami (Fl) 68
Maryland stems the bleeding in what was probably a must-win game. A loss here would have dropped them to 2-5 in the ACC with a brutal stretch upcoming, including five games against Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest or Clemson. In must-win games you've got to get big production out of your stars, and Maryland got just that out of Grievis Vasquez, who put up 11 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. With awful numbers they still are barely even on the bubble, but Maryland now has the chance to turn their season around if they can shock North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Tuesday night. They're going to have to beat Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest or Clemson to make the Tournament, so they might as well start now. For Miami, this was by no means a must-win, but this is a pretty tough loss to swallow. They now have four losses in five games, with the last three being in games that they really should have won. You've got to win the games you're supposed to win the ACC, because there just aren't that many of them out there. They now are 3-5 with a truly brutal schedule coming up (Wake Forest, at Duke, North Carolina, at Florida State). They end with some relatively easy games, and they have a decent out-of-conference resume, but they've got to get to at least 7-9 in the ACC to make the Tournament, which means that they really need to at least split the upcoming four game stretch or they're going to have an uphill battle to the Tournament.

UConn The New #1

#2 UConn 94, Providence 61
UConn will be the new #1 team in the country when the polls come out Monday, as all of the other top four teams in the nation fell this week. I had a feeling this morning that this would be a reality check for Providence, but they really were blown away. I think they might have started to think that they're a little better than they really are. Even with the loss Providence is still 6-3 in the Big East, good for fifth place. That said, I think they're still only ninth in the Big East pecking order, possibly tenth. The league most likely will only get eight bids, so I think Providence is still on the outside looking in. The fact is that their out-of-conference resume is extremely weak (Pomeroy gives them an OOC strength of schedule of 267th), so they're going to need a very nice Big East conference record to make the Tournament. A 9-9 Big East record would be a Tournament resume for almost every other team in the conference, but not for Providence. They need to get to 10-8, plus a win or two in the Big East tournament. Their remaining Big East schedule isn't easy, but it could be a lot harder. They definitely have a realistic route to 10-8. The key will be getting their confidence back and just winning games.

Kansas State 85, #12 Texas 81, OT
Kansas State played out of their minds in this game, and it paid off in a massive victory, and a tough loss for Texas. For Kansas State, obviously, it was the Denis Clemente show. Clemente scored 44 points, including 6-for-6 from behind the arc and 12-for-12 from the line. The Wildcats also showed great perimeter defense, forcing 20 turnovers and only 4-for-17 three point shooting for Texas . With this win, Kansas State moves firmly onto the bubble. They are now 3-4 in the Big 12 with a respectable 2-3 record against the RPI Top 50. With an RPI of 74th and a Sagarin near 60th, they wouldn't be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they'd be in the discussion. They've got a very easy remaining Big 12 schedule, so they've got the opportunity to run up a bunch of wins. Right now I'd project them to finish 8-8, but if they can pull a couple of upsets they could easily get up to 10-6, which would warrant them a long look on Selection Sunday. For Texas, this is devastating for their hopes of a Big 12 regular season title and a 1 seed. With a 4-2 record they are now in fourth place, and just need to get their intensity and consistency back. Too many of their key players are just playing poorly right now (A.J. Abrams and Connor Atchley will both want to forget about this game). When Texas is running on all cylinders they are an elite team, but too often they're just not playing up to their potential.

Illinois State 69, Bradley 65

The Missouri Valley conference is starting to sort itself out a little bit. With Evansville and Drake fading it appears to be a four team race, and these two teams are among those four. Bradley falls to 7-4 with this loss, and their at-large chances are more or less done at this point. They just have to keep fighting for better seeding in the Missouri Valley tournament, because they'll certainly be among the favorites to earn the automatic bid if they can get a favorable draw. For Illinois State, their at-large chances are at least plausible at this point. They move to 7-4 in the Missouri Valley, and are a solid 18-4 overall, with an RPI of 61st, and both Sagarin and Pomeroy both put them around 60th-70th as well. It would really help to take the regular season title, but they're still three games back of the surprising Northern Iowa Panthers. But Northern Iowa really has a brutal schedule the rest of the way, including a game at Illinois State, so there's no question that the Redbirds will get their chance. If they can get to 13-5, earn at least a share of the Valley regular season title, and lose a close battle in the Missouri Valley tournament finals, that would be a pretty good Tournament resume. We'd just have to see how the rest of the bubble plays out.

Georgetown Is Now A Bubble Team

#8 Marquette 94, #23 Georgetown 82
This is definitely a really demoralizing loss for Georgetown, because it's hard to imagine them playing much better. They shot really well from the field, including 10-for-20 from behind the arc. Their ball control problems sprung up again with 17 turnovers, but they mostly made up for it by forcing nine steals from a normally steady Marquette squad. But in the end, Georgetown just does not have enough depth or enough explosiveness to beat the top teams in this conference. They looked like a Big East contender a month ago after that win at UConn, but everybody else in the conference has improved while the Hoyas have stagnated. They have now fallen to 3-6 in the Big East, with only a 12-8 record overall, including 6-8 against the RPI Top 100. They are tied with Notre Dame for 10th in the Big East standings, and while both teams have lost five straight I do think it's Georgetown that has the better path from here on out. For one thing, Georgetown is still a very good team, and they simply have suffered from a truly brutal schedule. The schedule lightens up, and they will be solid favorites in three of their next four games (Rutgers, Cincy, at Syracuse, at South Florida). I think Georgetown should get back to 9-9 in the Big East, and that probably will be enough for a Tournament bid, but it's not a given. Marquette, on the other hand, is now 8-0 in the Big East with a fairly easy schedule upcoming. The end of their schedule is pretty brutal, but they should still get a chance to win the Big East crown as they play the four other best Big East teams in their final four games (UConn, at Louisville, at Pitt, Syracuse).

Mississippi 67, Mississippi State 63

I'm impressed with how well Ole Miss has hung in there since the loss of leading scorer Chris Warren. It would be easy for a team to fold up the tent and quit after something like that, but Ole Miss is still hanging in the bubble debate with consecutive wins over Kentucky and rival Mississippi State. It's a testament to Andy Kennedy, who I think is a very underrated coach. The RPI is actually 52nd, but that's really deceptive. I've discussed before how teams can get inflated RPIs if they simply avoid scheduling teams outside the RPI Top 250, and Mississippi has played none outside the RPI Top 270. They are 3-4 in the SEC West, and 0-5 against the RPI Top 50. Neither Sagarin or Pomeroy are as fooled by scheduling quirks like that, and both put this team at a more realistic 90th-100th in the country. Still, if they can find a way to work their way to 10-6 or so, they'll be worth discussing as a potential Tournament team in March. For Mississippi State, this is a really tough loss, as they fall out of their tie for first in the SEC West with LSU. They are 4-2 in the SEC, but only 2-4 against the RPI Top 100. It's possible that they were thinking ahead to a key upcoming stretch (at Kentucky, vs Arkansas, vs LSU), but if so they'd better make those games count. If they want to crawl back into the bubble discussion they've got to win at least two of those, especially the game against LSU.

South Carolina 78, Kentucky 77
A clutch shot by Devan Downey sentenced Kentucky to their second straight loss, and further mixed up the SEC East. Originally thought to be a battle between Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee, the SEC East now features a tie for second place between South Carolina and Kentucky. If Tennessee takes out Florida tonight that will turn into a three-way tie for first, with Tennessee only a half game out. It's unlikely that any team from the SEC will score better than a four seed in the Tournament, but I'm sure Kentucky would take that in a second. They've got to right the ship and start winning just to get into the Tournament at all. Their current RPI is actually 67th. For South Carolina, they're making a strong push here for a Tournament bid. They're up to 16-4 overall with a decent 4-3 record against the RPI Top 100. They now have wins over Baylor, Florida and Kentucky, which is pretty respectable for a bubble team. Their remaining schedule is pretty tough as far as SEC schedules go, but if South Carolina can find a way to get to 11-5 they're more than likely going to make the Tournament.

Wake Forest Goes Down

Georgia Tech 76, #4 Wake Forest 74
Wake Forest is so incredibly talented, but they're also very young. And while they have already beaten North Carolina and Duke, they've now lost two consecutive games against the bottom half of the ACC. If they had won here, they actually would have had a pretty good case for the #1 ranking on Monday, but UConn will now take it easily unless they blow their big second half lead over Providence. Here I think they just played like the young players they are, overlooking a team that might not be that good but is definitely desperate after an 0-6 start to their ACC season. Georgia Tech still has basically no chance at the Tournament, but they've got enough good players that this probably won't be the last upset that they pull. For Wake Forest, I think they've got to settle down and try to play with more consistency. They are now 4-2 in the ACC, and it's unlikely that anything worse than 13-3 will win the ACC. Wake will probably need at least a share of the ACC title to get a 1 seed, so they've got to find a way to mow through their lesser opponents. They have to stop playing to the ability of their opponent.

#7 Louisville 69, West Virginia 63
This was actually a very impressive comeback for West Virginia on the road. After trailing by as many as 22 points in the second half, they got within four points of Louisville in the final two minutes before running out of steam. That said, this was a reach game for West Virginia, and nobody will hold it against them for losing at a red hot Louisville team. The computer numbers are still incredibly gaudy (they're in the Top 20 of all three major computer polls), although they likely won't be seeded in the Tournament as well as their computer numbers might suggest. They are 4-4 in the Big East, and are either sixth or seventh in the Big East pecking order. The Big East will definitely get at least seven Tournament teams, and I'd be surprised if they get less than eight, so right now they're in good position. Unless they really falter down the stretch, they should be in the Tournament. Louisville, on the other hand, is really making their case in the Big East. The Big East is now a four team race (Pitt, UConn, Marquette, Louisville), and Louisville might have the easiest remaining schedule of those four. Even with their weak non-conference schedule, any team that can win at least a share of the Big East regular season title and the Big East tournament title will be a lock for a 1 seed.

#3 Pittsburgh 93, #20 Notre Dame 80

This really had the feeling of a last-gasp game for Notre Dame. They threw everything at Pitt here, even getting a ton of production out of their non-stars (6-for-9 three point shooting from Luke Zeller, and double-digit points out of Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers), something which they seemingly had not happened all season. They shot 11-for-22 from behind the arc just in the first half, but unfortunately they did it all on the road against a Pitt team that was highly motivated after a bad loss to Villanova. Notre Dame may still be ranked at the moment, but right now their Tournament chances are actually getting pretty bleak, for reasons I spoke about here. For Pitt, this game was about trying to stay in the Big East regular season hunt. They are now in fourth place at 7-2. The key to the rest of their season will be the home-and-home with UConn. Pitt probably needs to sweep it in order to win the regular season title. With a split they're going to have to hope for some help.

Three More Recaps

#24 Minnesota 59, #20 Illinois 36
Before Saturday's games get started, I want to go through three final games from Thursday evening. Nothing much of anything happened last night, other than Butler avoiding a bad upset at home against Valpo, so these final recaps will get us up to date in time for Saturday's slate. This game here wasn't nearly as ugly as the final score might suggest, although it was pretty ugly. Minnesota plays good pressure defense mostly because they go eleven players deep and Tubby can keep throwing fresh bodies out on the floor, but even the good defense doesn't completely explain how most of the Illinois players couldn't hit an open shot to save their lives. In all they hit 29% from the field, 13% from behind the arc and 57% from the line. They actually did a pretty good job of taking care of the ball (9 turnovers, and 9 assists on their 15 made field goals), but they just could not hit a shot. This bad performance probably ends the Illini's chances of a Big Ten title, as they slip into a tie for fourth at 5-3. But even with this loss, Illinois is looking pretty safe for a Tournament bid. Looking at their remaining schedule, it's hard to see them finishing worse than 11-7, and even 10-8 would almost definitely lock up a Tournament bid. Minnesota, meanwhile, collects what might be their best win of the season, moving to 6-3 in the Big Ten and 18-3 overall. They are 7-3 against the RPI Top 100, and despite a pretty tough schedule the rest of way, should manage to get to 11-7 to lock up an at-large bid for themselves.

#25 Gonzaga 69, #18 Saint Mary's 62
Gonzaga seems to have gotten their feet back under them, with their seventh straight victory. That said, I do think that there are going to continue to be doubts with this team because they struggled so much about their elite opponents in the out-of-conference part of the schedule. The question will be whether they're really playing better, or whether they're just feasting on a very weak WCC. Even if they win out, their ceiling is probably a 3 seed. For Saint Mary's, the final score was not the big problem here. They're not as good as Gonzaga, despite the number in front of their name, and they did a good job to hang in here on the road. The real worry is leading scorer Patrick Mills (19 ppg). Saint Mary's is known for their outstanding trio of Mills, Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson, but Mills is probably the one they could least afford to lose. Samhan and Simpson are both big bodies with similar games. Mills is the primary ballhandler and their only outside threat. Mills is expected to be out for a full month, and they are going to have to find some outside offense. I think this puts pressure on senior Carlin Hughes (8 ppg, 3 apg) to lead them up the floor, and for sophomore Mickey McConnell (5 ppg, 41% three point shooting) to be more of a scoring threat. Saint Mary's does not have a Tournament bid wrapped up by any means, and this injury really puts those at-large chances in doubt. They are 16-2, but are only 2-2 against the RPI Top 100, with those two wins over Providence and San Diego State. The computer numbers are good enough to put them in the Tournament now (RPI of 49th, Sagarin of 34th, Pomeroy of 32nd), but they're close enough to the border that a couple more losses could drop them out. They have a huge game tonight against Portland, the team that they're currently tied for second in the WCC with. They are currently 6-1 in the WCC, and I think they're going to have to get to 11-3 to lock up a bid. If they fall to 10-4 then they're going to need at least one win in the WCC tournament.

Arkansas 89, Alabama 80
Arkansas was the more motivated team here, and it showed. Alabama's season is over, and everybody knows it. The end of Ronald Steele's season was the final nail in Mark Gottfried's coffin. The RPI has fallen all the way to 133rd, and even the NIT might be a reach right now. Arkansas, on the other hand, still thinks they can make the Tournament. But after following up the wins over Oklahoma and Texas with an 0-4 start to the SEC season, they absolutely needed to win this one. They're going to have to get to 10-6 to earn a Tournament bid, which means they've got to get on a winning streak. A game this evening at LSU is absolutely essential, especially when you consider that LSU is tied for the SEC West lead at 4-1. It's going to be very hard for a team that doesn't win the SEC West to make a case for the Tournament when you consider how awful it is, and even with this win the Razorbacks are still in last place. The thing is, I don't think Arkansas has that type of consistency in them. They might be the most wide open, undisciplined team in any of the six major conferences. They make an insane number of aggressive cross-court or full-court passes, and they simply lack the discipline to calmly work an offensive possession for thirty seconds. Even in this victory over a bad team, they still turned the ball over 12 times. They turn the ball over 14 times a game, but that doesn't even take into account all of the bad shots they take because they're in a rush. Such an aggressive style, when you're clicking on all cylinders, can make a team really tough to beat, and that's why they pulled those two huge upsets. But over the long haul, especially when your primary ballhandler (Courtney Forston) is a true freshman, it's going to make you inconsistent. I can't see Arkansas finishing any better than 8-8, and that will make them an NIT team.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Virginia Tech Misses Huge Opportunity

#11 Clemson 86, Virginia Tech 82
This is one of those really tough missed opportunities. Virginia Tech played great basketball, playing very efficiently (51% shooting from the field) against a very good defense. They led by as many as 15 points in the second half, but in the end they just couldn't make the big play. And remember that a win here would have put them into a tie for first at 5-1 in the ACC. The RPI slips to 38th, and despite a couple of big wins (at Wake Forest, at Miami of Florida) are only 4-4 against the RPI Top 100. If the season ended now they would really be a very tough decision for the Selection Committee, as they'd probably be the first team in or out. This win obviously would have gone a long way towards putting them safely into the field. Even with this loss, they are still 4-2 in the ACC knowing that 9-7 will almost definitely put them into the Tournament. Clemson meanwhile moves to 18-2 with a chance to really establish themselves as a national contender if they can beat Duke at home Wednesday night. It's still not out of the question for them to make a run at a 1 or a 2 seed.

Washington State 65, #14 Arizona State 55
This game was really important for both squads. For Washington State, this really throws them back into the bubble picture. They are back to 4-4 in the Pac-10 and have their first win over the RPI Top 50. Their 3-8 record against the RPI Top 50, and the bad computers wouldn't put them in the Touranment yet, but they're in the discussion. Things really were starting to get bleak for this squad. For Arizona State, with UCLA struggling and Washington not really good enough to win the conference, they had a chance to establish themselves as the leader in the Pac-10. But this is a really tough setback. James Harden is a great player, and probably a first team All-American, but he can't win the conference by himself. Arizona State fans need to hope that this was a "look ahead" game, and that they'll respond by taking out Washington on Saturday.

Arizona 106, Washington 97
A very entertaining, albeit messy game. Like Washington State, Arizona really needed a victory to stay in the at-large debate. They're now hanging in there at 3-5 in the Pac-10 with a 4-8 record against the RPI Top 100. We've known all season that Arizona is a very inconsistent team, so while they could utterly collapse down the stretch they could also go on a big winning streak. They're not out of the Tournament hunt by any means. For Washington, this loss was a bit of a reality check. They slip back into a tie for first in the Pac-10 with UCLA at 6-2, with a tough schedule up ahead. They're a good team that is still in an excellent position to make the Tournament, but I think they got a little bit overrated after that upset over UCLA. They're not as good of a team as UCLA or Arizona State.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Providence & Cincy Make Their Cases

Providence 100, #15 Syracuse 94
The more people doubt, the more this Providence team wins. They are now tied for fourth in the Big East with a 6-2 record, and with their first RPI Top 50 win they are now a respectable 5-6 against the RPI Top 100. They probably wouldn't make the Tournament if the season ended now, but even with the weak out-of-conference schedule don't they probably make the Tournament if they reach 10-8? If they can get to 10-8 while collecting another Top 25 scalp, and then win at least one game in the Big East tournament, I think that puts them in the Tournament. For Syracuse, this is a time to reflect on how a 15-1 start has turned into four losses in their last five games. More than anything it's just that their schedule got much tougher, but I'm still really surprised by this loss here. They have a home game on February 4th against West Virginia that really is something of a must win, because they follow that up with road games at Villanova at UConn. They're already down to 5-4 in Big East play, and they surely remember how they've managed to just barely miss the Tournament the last two years. If they manage to slip to 5-7 in the Big East, it suddenly becomes a real question whether this team will be Tournament bound. That said, I think Syracuse bounces back with a win over West Virginia, and I currently project them to finish 11-7. I don't think there's much of a chance of missing the Tournament, even if they do slip to 5-7, but I'm sure that some Syracuse fans are starting to get a little bit nervous about where things are heading.

Cincinnati 65, #23 Georgetown 57
Speaking of nervous fans, Georgetown has now lost four straight and six out of eight. And this loss is actually a higher quality loss than their last two (vs West Virginia, at Seton Hall). Obviously everybody talks about Georgetown's lack of depth, but their biggest problem might be ball-handling. Anytime your leading assist man is your freshman center (no Hoyas player other than Greg Monroe had more than two assists in this game) that's a really bad sign. Georgetown can make the excuse that their schedule has been really tough so far (it certainly has) and that their schedule gets a lot easier the rest of the way (it will), but they are still sitting here at 3-5 in the Big East. Both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR believe this is still a Top 20 team, but in the end it's about wins and losses, and Georgetown does not have enough wins. They will almost definitely make the Tournament if they get back to 9-9, but that's not a gimme right now. Cincinnati, meanwhile, slips ahead of Georgetown for ninth place in the Big East standings (they are currently 4-4 in conference play). They are 3-5 against the RPI Top 50 and have an RPI near 50th as well, but their remaining schedule really is pretty brutal. It's hard to see them finishing higher than 9-9, and even 9-9 might not be enough. It's a tough league when you can beat a Top 25 team and actually lose a spot in the pecking order, but I think Providence's win puts them 10th in the league pecking order, and pushes Cincy to 11th. Cincinnati cannot make the Tournament by just taking care of business. They're going to have to pull some more upsets.

LSU 79, Tennessee 73
With five losses in their last eight games, Tennessee now actually drops to fourth in the SEC East standings. I still don't really understand what is wrong with this team, because every time I watch them play they look better than the score. But the score is the score, and Bruce Pearl's boys really need to get their act together soon. With an RPI that has slipped to 33rd, and a 4-7 record against the RPI Top 100, that's not a surefire Tournament resume by any means. If they don't take care of business at home against Florida on Saturday, they really are going to fall too far away from the SEC East leaders to be thinking about SEC titles for a while. They could actually fall out of the Tournament altogether if they're not careful. LSU, on the other hand, collects a really key win here. They collect their first RPI Top 50 win and move to 16-4 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. They are currently tied for first place in the SEC West, which is important when you consider that the SEC West is unlikely to get more than one Tournament team. The computer numbers are all right on the boundary (60th in the RPI, 44th in Sagarin, 43rd in Pomeroy), so the way they finish will be key. They've got to have a good record in their last ten or twelve games, which means just taking care of business. Look at their upcoming games (Arkansas, at Georgia, Alabama, at Mississippi State, Ole Miss). They should be favored in every one of those. They need to take care of business, because anything less than 11-5 in the SEC West probably means a trip to the NIT.

Another #1 Goes Down

#4 Wake Forest 70, #1 Duke 68
I'm not sure why the media is making such a big deal out of four #1 ranked teams going down in a month, since only one of them was really much of an upset. I believe Wake Forest was favored for this one, which was why it was interesting to see half of the crowd rush the court after the win while half the crowd stayed in their seats. It's like they can't decide how good they really are, since a team that really believes it's one of the top teams in the land doesn't rush the court for beating anybody. Anyway, the reality is that Duke really played poorly in this one. They shot poorly (33% from the field, 18% from behind the three point arc), and they had a number of defensive breakdowns (including a particularly galling one on the final basket). Wake Forest is the type of team that should give Duke problems (tall, long and very athletic), which makes it actually somewhat encouraging for a Duke fan that they had this game tied in Winston-Salem with under three seconds to go. We know that at least one, and maybe two, 1 seeds will come out of the ACC, so these battles between Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina will be crucial in that fight.

#21 Villanova 67, #3 Pittsburgh 57

This game was definitely the worst that Pittsburgh has looked all season long. Shooting poorly is one thing, but they did a horrible job with ball control. Neither DeJuan Blair or Levance Fields looked at all interested in this game. Obviously Villanova was motivated in their last game ever at the Spectrum, but they wouldn't have won if Pitt hadn't played so poorly. Keeping in mind their remaining schedule, Pitt might really regret the egg that laid here if they end up finishing one game short of first place in the Big East when the season ends. Pitt is still firmly in the hunt for a 1 seed, of which the Big East is basically assured of at least one, but they've got to separate themselves from UConn, Marquette and Louisville. But Pitt's loss is Villanova's gain, and this really boosts the Tournament chances of the Wildcats. They are now 4-3 in the Big East, with an RPI of 14th in the land. They are still only 2-4 against the RPI Top 50, but there's no question that they'd be easily into the Tournament if the season ended now. At this point, they probably make the Tournament if they just win the games that they're supposed to win. Looking at their remaining schedule, 10-8 is probably their most likely record. Even 9-9 would be a near lock for a Tournament bid.

Northeastern 68, VCU 63

I happened to jinx Northeastern the last time I talked about them, but hopefully it won't happen twice. But it's hard to ignore this team, that is now leading the Colonial with a 9-1 record. Overall they are 14-6 with a 4-4 record against the RPI Top 100, with an RPI up to 52nd overall. They will end up with 21-23 wins overall, but I'm not sure if that's going to be enough for the Tournament. They have a win over Providence that looks a lot better than it did a couple of months ago, but otherwise this represents their best win. It's very hard to earn an at-large bid without an RPI Top 50 victory, especially if your record isn't insanely gaudy. Butler is likely to make the Tournament despite zero wins over the RPI Top 40, but it's because (even if they lose in the Horizon League tournament) they're going to have something like a 26-3 record. Northeastern's 14-6 record just won't cut it. But they're a very dangerous team, and they're going to be a great upset pick if they do manage to win the Colonial tournament.

Texas Rolls, Maryland Continues To Stumble

#12 Texas 78, Baylor 72
Texas didn't blow out Baylor by any means, but it's a really solid win in all respects. Baylor doesn't get a lot of national attention (or really any national attention, honestly), but they're a very good team and they don't go down easily at home. Texas still doesn't have great numbers anywhere on their resume, but they're definitely still in the hunt for a 1 seed. They're going to have to beat Oklahoma, and they're going to have to go on a big winning streak, but they're one of the few teams that is still thinking that they can earn that 1 seed. Baylor, on the other hand, is focused on just making the Tournament, and they're still in good shape despite this home loss. They're 3-3 in the Big 12 with a 5-5 record against the RPI Top 100, but those numbers are deceptively bad because of the really brutal start to their Big 12 schedule. Things get a lot easier on the tail end of their regular season schedule, so they shouldn't struggle too much to get to the 9-7 that will more or less lock them into the Tournament. If they want a good seed, though, they're going to have to do better than 9-7. They're going to have to pull an upset or two.

#17 Purdue 64, Wisconsin 63

It's hard to think of a team that has been more snake bit this season than Wisconsin. They have found new and creative ways to lose every close game they've been in for more than a month now. I watch them play and they look like a team that obviously should be a Tournament team, but how can you say that about a team that is now 3-5 in conference play? That said, they're entering a very winnable stretch (at Northwestern, Illinois, at Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State, at Indiana). Looking at their schedule you would think that they should be able to get to 9-9, which would basically lock up a Tournament bid. But right now, nothing is a lock for Wisconsin. For Purdue, on the other hand, they keep their slim Big Ten title chances alive. They move to 5-2 in conference play, and are 7-4 against the RPI Top 100. I don't think they have a good chance at a top seed in the Tournament, but there's no reason that they can't get as high as a 3 or a 4 if they keep playing as well as they've played lately.

Boston College 76, Maryland 67
Things really are disintegrating at Maryland, and not just on the floor. Things are getting bad off the court (see here and here), and it's not clear how much longer Gary Williams will even be coaching at Maryland. I have to say that Williams has always been known as one of the good guys in the game, who runs one of the cleanest programs at major schools, so I don't like the way that their athletic director has gone to the media and thrown him to the wolves. On the floor, of course, things are also getting bad. The RPI is down to 87th, and they're 2-4 in the ACC with a pretty brutal schedule the rest of the way. They have a must-win game Saturday night against Miami, because after that they head to North Carolina and it's hard to see this team recovering from a 2-6 start. Boston College, on the other hand, is really making a good Tournament case. The computer numbers still aren't good enough for a bid, but they're up to 4-3 in the ACC, and are a solid 6-4 against the RPI Top 100. They have a winnable next two games, and end up with three relatively easy games to end the regular season, but in between it really gets brutal. So right now I'm not ready to put the Eagles in the Tournament, but they're definitely in striking distance. If they can get to 9-7 then they likely will make the Tournament. They definitely control their own destiny.

Will Notre Dame Even Make The Tournament?

#8 Marquette 71, #22 Notre Dame 64
Despite what I'm about to say about these two teams, I was actually surprised to see this result. While Marquette is clearly the better team, they are due for a reality check after this undefeated start to Big East play (currently 7-0). And Notre Dame has the feel of a desperate team, having slipped below .500 in the Big East and with a tough upcoming schedule. They had just had their huge home winning streak snapped, so they weren't going to lose two straight there, right? The fact that all of those factors were in play and Notre Dame still lost is making me really start to doubt whether this will be a Tournament team at all. They are now 3-5 in the Big East, with a road game at Pitt upcoming. They then head to Cincinnati and UCLA and follow that up with a home game against red-hot Louisville. At 11-7, that means this team could find themselves 11-11 with a 3-8 Big East record. They also have road games against Providence, West Virginia and UConn upcoming. I would say that 10-8 in the Big East is their best case scenario, and really they'll have to play well just to get to 9-9. They are 6-7 against the RPI Top 200, with an RPI of 80th, and how much better can Luke Harangody play? I think coaches have just figured this team out (read my explanation of this here). Things are looking bleak. On the other hand, a Marquette team expected to barely sneak into the Tournament has basically locked things up in January. They are 18-2, 7-0 in the Big East, and 8-2 against the RPI Top 100. The question is whether they can win the Big East, and I have to say that I don't think they will. They will have a gaudy record for some time, but the end of their schedule is just absolutely brutal (at Georgetown, UConn, at Louisville, at Pittsburgh, Syracuse). If everything falls right, they could get to 15-3 and earn a share of the Big East title, but it's more likely that they'll be 13-5 or 14-4. Still, a great season for Marquette, and they certainly have a good Tournament seed ahead of them.

Mississippi 85, Kentucky 80
Kentucky was due for a little setback. They are a pretty good team, but they were getting way too much hype in the national media. The media is really looking for somebody to hype in that conference, somebody to put on national television, and nobody is stepping up. Kentucky has probably played the best out of any SEC team over the past two or three weeks, but they still aren't that good. They are now 16-5 with a 5-1 SEC record, which looks very nice, but the 4-4 record against the RPI Top 100 is really suspect. Pomeroy puts them 23rd overall, but I think they're overrated because they have run up the score in their big wins. They have a lot of 20+ point wins over bad opponents. And while it's good that they take care of business against bad teams, that can cause a team to be overrated by some computer rankings. Kentucky is in good position for a Tournament bid, and is in the running for the important SEC East regular season title, currently tied for first with Florida at 5-1. But they have to treat the SEC like the Mountain West or the Atlantic Ten because, really, is there a big difference this season? There are very few quality losses. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is in a lot of trouble. They are 2-4 in the atrocious SEC West, and only 11-9 overall. The RPI is still 63rd, but both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them much lower. They need to get to 10-6 in the SEC to even be seriously considered for a Tournament bid.

NC State 84, Miami (Fl) 81
A huge shot at the buzzer by freshman Julius Mays, but the result means more for the loser than the victor. The win tucks NC State's RPI back inside the Top 100, but that's not saying much. They're 2-4 in the ACC, with two games left each against UNC and Wake Forest, in addition to other tough games (like a road game at Miami to close the season). Hard to see this team finishing better than 7-9 in the ACC, and that won't even earn them consideration on Selection Sunday. Miami, on the other hand, is more than likely heading to the Tournament, but not if they keep playing like this. They have lost two straight games where they were favored and should have taken care of business, and have now slipped to 3-4 overall in conference play (currently 8th place). They are 5-6 against the RPI Top 100. Sagarin, Pomeroy and the RPI all put them about 40th in the nation, and they'd be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they've got to get to 8-8 in conference play for me to be willing to say that on Selection Sunday. Their next two games will be very important, as they play at Maryland and then take on Wake Forest at home. Maryland is a team in a tailspin and should be very beatable. Meanwhile Wake Forest is overdue for a loss and could be vulnerable on the road.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Is Florida The Favorite In The SEC?

Florida 94, Vanderbilt 69
It's certainly a fair question to ask whether Florida is the favorite to take the SEC. It's certainly clear that Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee have broken clear of the pack a bit in the conference, and there is a chance that those will be the only three SEC teams to make the Tournament. I still believe that at least one more will make it (right now I'm projecting LSU to be that fourth team), but it's certainly a real possibility for only three to make it. I spoke here about why this makes seeding in the SEC East so essential. The fact is that there isn't a big difference between these three teams, and getting to avoid one of them in the semifinals will be great. Also remember that there is a substantial difference between second and third place as well, as the top two teams in the SEC East will get a bye to the second round. So each game between those three teams will be essential for placement in the SEC tournament. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, isn't even worried about SEC tournament placement right now. They have slipped to 1-4 in the SEC with an RPI up near 120th. Their at-large chances are pretty much done, and since there isn't a big difference between fourth, fifth or sixth in the SEC East (they're most likely going to finish fifth), it's all about figuring out what it takes to win. They need to find a way to peak at the right time and hope that they can be the 2009 version of the 2008 Georgia team.

Seton Hall 65, Georgetown 60
This game was more important for Georgetown, of course. Seton Hall remains a long shot at-large team, at only 1-6 in the Big East. But this was a horrible game for Georgetown in a lot of respects. First of all, you never want to play a team with its back against the wall that is desperate for a win. Also, Georgetown is unable to take advantage of Seton Hall's weakness, which is depth. Seton Hall has something like six players coming in next year, and until then is dreadfully thin. They basically ran out of fresh players in their most recent game, an overtime loss to Providence. But Georgetown is thin themselves, and were unable to really take advantage of this. But Georgetown has bigger problems, as they need to figure out what type of team they are. A real contender for the Big East title just a few weeks ago, they are now 3-4 with any hopes of a regular season championship dashed. The computer numbers are all still very good, and there is no real risk of actually missing the Tournament, but five losses in seven games would worry any coach, even if it came against an incredibly brutal schedule. This tough stretch actually continues a little while longer before Georgetown gets some cupcakes. They continue on the road for two more, at Cincinnati and Marquette, before heading home for Rutgers. They really can't afford to fall to 3-6, so they've got to win one of those games. Even if they fall to 3-6 they still will most likely get back to 9-9 with their easy remaining schedule, and a 9-9 Georgetown team will make the Tournament due to strong computer numbers and a number of big scalps (Maryland, Memphis, Syracuse and UConn, among others). But their seed will continue to drop until they turn things around.

#7 Michigan State 78, Ohio State 67

Anybody who watched this game saw both the raw talent of this young Ohio State team as well as the incredible experience and savvy of this Michigan State team. The talent of Ohio State was on display as they came out firing on all cylinders against a Michigan State team that was highly motivated after that embarrassing loss to Northwestern. But after the second tv timeout of the second half, Michigan State's experience really started to show. They always seemed to find a good shot, and Ohio State suddenly forgot how to score. Michigan State outscored the Buckeyes 30-17 after that second tv timeout. They have also made it clear that the one loss to Northwestern was a fluke. They are making a great case for a 1 seed, and will most likely get one if they can sweep the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. Ohio State's youth, on the other hand, might end up playing itself out of the Tournament. They have slipped to 3-4 in the Big Ten, and the RPI has fallen out of the Top 30. They really need to take advantage of their next two games (vs Michigan, at Indiana), because their February schedule is really brutal. They've probably got to get to 10-8 in the Big Ten to make the Tournament, and the most likely path to ten wins involves sweeping those two upcoming contests.

UConn Makes Its Case

#3 UConn 69, #19 Notre Dame 61
Notre Dame has certainly played poorly lately, but you have to give UConn a lot of credit for taking it to a great Irish crowd and escaping with a real legitimizing win. Their perimeter defense was outstanding. Their offense played pretty well, although that's partly because they are the ideal opponent for Notre Dame. The Irish are weak on the inside defensively. Their only real big body is Luke Harangody, and he has to work hard to carry their offense. The way to play Notre Dame is to attack them in the paint, and force Harangody to make a decision to waste his energy on defense or to give up a lot of free points. UConn and Pitt are clearly in a knock-down drag-out battle for the Big East title and a 1 seed. It's possible that two Big East teams will get a 1 seed, but it's unlikely. The ACC also has a shot at a second 1 seed, and UCLA, Michigan State and the winner of the Big 12 (most likely Oklahoma) will also be in the thick of things. The more interesting thing to discuss is whether this slump is something Notre Dame will snap out of, or whether this is indicative of a team that just isn't that good. And in my opinion, this team just isn't that good. They just rely too much on two players (Harangody and Kyle McAlarney), and it's too easy to gameplan against them. Give Harangody his 25 points, assign your best perimeter defender to be McAlarney's shadow, and push the ball into the post when you're on offense. Mike Brey is running his stars into the ground (once again, both Harangody and McAlarney played over 38 minutes each), and they're just going to continue to wear out. Winning the Big East is no longer possible, and the real question is whether Notre Dame is still even a Tournament team. The RPI is 77th, although Sagarin and Pomeroy are in the 40s. They are 2-5 against the RPI Top 100 and 3-4 against the Big East and 11-6 overall with a tough schedule upcoming (Marquette, at Pitt, at Cincinnati, at UCLA). Their schedule gets easier as the season ends, but even so it will be an uphill battle just to get to 9-9 for the season. Will 9-9 get them into the Tournament? Probably, but it's not a lock.

USC 46, Washington State 44
This has to be a really demoralizing loss for Washington State. They win games with defense, and their defense was outstanding here, even if they did foul a lot. But in the end they were taken down by what has taken them down all season long: offensive firepower, and a lack of it. What little offense they have usually comes from the great creativity of Taylor Rochestie, but USC has good perimeter defenders themselves and they kept him completely covered all game. Both the Sagarin PREDICTOR and Pomeroy believe that Wazzu is one of the Top 60 teams in the nation, but in the end it's about wins and losses, and all of these close losses are really adding up. The RPI has slipped out of the Top 100 altogether, and they're down to 3-4 in the Pac-10 despite having a relatively easy schedule. The schedule gets tougher starting now, as they head on a four-game road trip to Arizona State, Arizona, Stanford and Cal. Wazzu needs to win at least two of those four to stay in the bubble discussion. With an 0-5 record against the RPI Top 50, Wazzu needs some big scalps, and they need to get that conference record back above .500. USC, on the other hand, has to feel pretty good about how they've played lately. They're back over .500 in the Pac-10 at 4-3, and the RPI is back up close to 50th. They've got a key stretch coming up with home games against Stanford and Cal, two teams with high rankings but that have played poorly lately. USC could easily win both games, and it's a great way to bump up those computer numbers.

#12 Louisville 67, #8 Syracuse 57
I was really killing Louisville earlier this season, but boy have they gotten real good real fast. It feels like the Big East should be a battle solely between Pitt and UConn, but how can you ignore Louisville right now? As good as Marquette is, they should slip back once their conference schedule gets tougher. But Louisville could legitimately go 15-3, there's no reason that they can't. They are now 6-0 in the conference, and will most likely move to 7-0 after a home game with South Florida on Wednesday. Their schedule is very favorable (they play UConn, Pitt and Marquette only once and at home), so passing this test was very important. For Syracuse, I think they're starting to show a few of their flaws. They are very talented, but they've also got some personality issues. Every time I watch this team I feel like they're trying too hard to look good. I hate watching Jonny Flynn make a mistake on offense and then dog it going back on defense while he tries to make it clear to the whole crowd how what he just did isn't indicative of his normal play. They also try way too hard to block shots on defense. The block is the most overrated stat in basketball, because trying to block shots is usually a bad decision. The difference between an elite blocking team and a bad blocking team is maybe two or three blocks per game, and most don't even end up being turnovers as they are just blocked out-of-bounds. But trying to block shots leaves you vulnerable to pump fakes, fouls and offensive rebounds. Syracuse needs to play much more disciplined on defense. That all said, they're sitting sixth in the Big East at 5-3, and will surely jump ahead of Providence (5-2) once the Friars start playing some real teams. Syracuse has been through a pretty tough stretch of games with their good resume in tact. They are on pace for a pretty good seed in the Tournament.

W-7 BP65


2. Duke
2. Pittsburgh
2. UCLA (PAC-10)
2. Wake Forest

3. Texas
3. Louisville
3. Arizona State

4. Georgetown
4. Marquette

5. Syracuse
5. Clemson
5. Florida

6. Illinois
6. Miami (Fl)
6. Kansas
6. Purdue

7. BYU (MWC)
7. Baylor
7. West Virginia
7. California

8. Minnesota
8. Dayton

9. Villanova
9. Wisconsin
9. Saint Mary's
9. Washington

10. Notre Dame
10. Florida State
10. Kentucky

11. Ohio State
11. USC
11. Texas A&M
11. Oklahoma State

12. LSU
12. Missouri

13. MIAMI (OH) (MAC)




Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
Boston College, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Providence, Michigan, Penn State, Illinois State, Utah, Arizona, Stanford, South Carolina

Good resumes, but need a little bit more:
Rhode Island, Iowa, Northwestern, Nebraska, George Mason, Northern Iowa, San Diego State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Boise State

Other teams with a decent shot, but that really need to improve their resume:
NC State, Duquesne, Saint Joseph's, Temple, St. John's, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Hofstra, Northeastern, UAB, Houston, Tulsa, Niagara, Bradley, Drake, Evansville, New Mexico, TCU, Washington State, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State

Still alive, but pretty much need a miracle:
Georgia Tech, Virginia, La Salle, UMass, Richmond, Saint Louis, DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall, South Florida, Indiana, Colorado, Drexel, James Madison, Central Florida, East Carolina, Marshall, Southern Miss, UTEP, Cleveland State, Wisconsin-GB, Fairfield, Buffalo, Ohio, Southern Illinois, Wyoming, Navy, Georgia, Charleston, Arkansas-LR, South Alabama, Portland, San Diego, Nevada

Pay Attention To Washington In The Pac-10

Washington 86, #11 UCLA 75
This has got to be the highest confidence level for the Washington program since Brandon Roy left a few years ago. You could tell watching this game how long that the fans and players had been looking forward to this battle for Pac-10 supremacy. And remember, it was these two teams that entered the day tied for first in the conference at 5-1. Washington has developed a great inside-out combo of Jon Brockman and freshman Isaiah Thomas. They also have developed more of a bench than I thought they'd have when the season began. I still think UCLA and Arizona State are the two best teams in the conference, but Washington really legitimizes their start to the season with this huge win. The key now is not having a letdown, as they head on the road for four straight games (Arizona, Arizona State, California, Stanford). If they are going to make a run at winning the conference, they've got to win at least two of those four games. UCLA, meanwhile, needs to figure out what their starting lineup is, because they seem to have a different identity every night. Is the go-to player going to be Darren Collison or Josh Shipp? Is James Keefe ever going to get back the minutes he's been losing to Nikola Dragovic lately? And what role exactly is Michael Roll supposed to be playing? There are a lot of questions to be answered if UCLA is going to make a run at another 1 seed and yet another Final Four.

#5 Oklahoma 95, #23 Baylor 76
This game wasn't even as close as the final score might suggest. Oklahoma was up 58-31 at halftime, and just put it on cruise control in the second half. I've been very impressed with Oklahoma's play, and it's worth noting that they'd be undefeated if it weren't for a fluke loss to Arkansas. At this point, the only question with them seems to be whether a 1 seed or a 2 seed is in their future. There are more questions for a Baylor team that has been pretty inconsistent this season. They do have moments where they look like a 3 or a 4 seed, but they also have games (like this one) where they look like a 10-12 seed. I'd say they're more likely to be in the 5-9 seed range, but you never know with these guys. Life is always a rollercoaster when you root for Baylor basketball.

UNLV 75, Utah 65
This was a very important battle for Mountain West supremacy, as well as at-large positioning. Utah's resume will be a conundrum all season long because of that loss to Division II Southwest Baptist that doesn't show up on any of the popular computer rankings. They are still in the thick of things at 3-2 in the Mountain West, but they've got to find a way to finish in the top two in the conference standings if they're going to get an at-large. I just don't think that the out-of-conference resume is good enough. UNLV has a little bit more slack with the wins over Louisville and Arizona, and without that Division II loss complicating things. They need to get to 11-5 to have a strong Tournament resume, with a 12-4 record probably being enough to lock up a bid. They are currently 4-2. So they're in good shape for a Tournament bid at this point, but are far away from actually locking anything up.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Maryland Embarrasses Itself

#2 Duke 85, Maryland 44
Nobody would have held it against Maryland on Selection Sunday for falling at Cameron Indoor. But I think avoiding the largest loss in school history might have been a minimal expectation. This game was just absolutely brutal. Before I get to a discussion of Maryland, I would like to point out how hilarious I found it that the afore-linked game recap actually makes note that Monday will be the first time that Duke will be ranked #1 in the nation since March of 2006, as if this is supposed to be some long stretch of futility. If nothing else, it's a comment on how remarkably successful this program has been under Coach K. But the questions for Maryland are much more interesting, because their problems go deeper than one single loss. Maryland is only 2-3 in the ACC, which doesn't look too bad when you consider the win over Michigan State and the 4-5 record against the RPI Top 100. But they're going to have to get to at least 8-8 in the ACC to make the Tournament, and their schedule is really back-loaded. They still have to head to North Carolina and Clemson, with home games against Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest. In other words, they either need to take out one of the ACC's Big Four, or they're going to have to win every other game. There is basically no chance of them winning all of those other games, which means they will need at least one win over the Big Four. That's a tall order for a team that has really struggled lately. The sting from this bad loss should be a motivator, but they're going to need more than a little motivation to turn this around. They are looking more and more like an NIT team.

#24 Memphis 54, Tennessee 52
Memphis survives another close game, and moves their winning streak to ten. They still have to head to Gonzaga, but the real question for me will be if they can go undefeated in Conference USA again. They still have to go on the road against basically all of the top teams in the conference, and Memphis isn't nearly as good as they were last year, but they've clearly improved a lot since the start of the season and still have a shot at something like a 3 seed in the Tournament. Tennessee, on the other hand, would probably jump at a 3 seed at this point. It seemed like they had finally turned things around with two straight solid SEC victories. It felt like their defense was finally coming together, and there was nothing to change that opinion after this game. It was their offense that failed, with 33% shooting from the field, 20% from behind the arc, and 61% at the line. Just bad shooting all around. Of course, at this point in the season, it's all about SEC play for Tennessee. If they can win the regular season and tournament titles, I still think they've got a great shot at a 3 seed. For the SEC tournament title it will really help to get that regular season title, because seeding will be important. Barring some fluke result (like Georgia last season), we've got to figure that the SEC tournament champion will be Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee. Two of those teams will be on pace to play in the semifinals (the second and third seeded teams out of the SEC East), while the regular season champion will have a relatively easy path to the finals. It's late enough in the season that Tennessee has to start thinking about things like conference tournament seeding.

Drake 74, Creighton 62
The Missouri Valley really is chaotic, isn't it? I didn't get a chance to watch this game, but I have to wonder about that 10-for-33 from behind the arc. When you're shooting that badly, you've got to stop taking those shots. But with Drake salvaging things after a brutal three-game losing streak, it's possible that the beneficiary of all of this carnage is Northern Iowa. I still think they lack the scoring power to make a successful run through the Missouri Valley tournament, but their chances of winning the regular season title seem to improve with the day. If Creighton is going to make a run at this regular season title themselves, they're going to have to even the score with Drake in a couple of weeks. More importantly, they're going to have to head into Northern Iowa on the 8th of February and knock the Panthers off their perch. It very well might be a 13-5 that wins the Missouri Valley, but it's going to take an 8-1 record the rest of the way for Creighton to do that. I don't really see that as likely at all.

Nitty Gritty Is Up

As today's games get started I want to point out that Warren Nolan's Nitty Gritty Report is finally up and running for this season. It's a great link because it's probably the most concise source for a team's resume, and lists the entire RPI Top 105, as well as all of the other conference leaders. You will find important stats like road records, RPI Top 100 records, record over the last ten games, et cetera. So as usual, the link will stay up on the right side of this page under "Other Important Links".

The Week That Was: Missouri Valley

Southern Illinois 68, Bradley 62
Creighton 79, Evansville 57
Northern Iowa 66, Bradley 61
Missouri State 65, Drake 44

I want to take a break from the BCS conferences to talk about the Missouri Valley for a couple of reasons. First of all, it seemed like all of the top teams in the conferences ended up playing each other this past week, and those games are always great. Also, this conference doesn't get the attention it deserves in the national media because it doesn't have a lot of glamour teams. The conference also isn't quite as talented as it has been recently, such as in 2006 when four Valley teams made the Tournament, and two made it to the Sweet Sixteen. In fact, the way the conference has beaten up on itself I would say that the most likely scenario is that only one team will make the Tournament out of this conference. But that's what makes the conference so much fun to watch, because each game is so utterly important. It's not like the ACC or Big East, where a top team can take a game off and still not worry about their Tournament chances. Each game between these top teams is a real battle, and it's so much fun to watch. I highly recommend Missouri Valley games on television.

Speech over, let's actually talk about how this conference is stacking up right now. I have been sticking with Creighton as my favorite to take the conference, and I'm not jumping off that bandwagon now. They have the most maturity and experience of all of the top teams, and that makes the difference for me. We know that experienced guard play is probably the most important part of a college basketball team in a tournament setting, and nobody in the Valley can match Booker Woodfox and P'Allen Stinnett. In fact, most BCS conference teams can't match those two. That said, Creighton is in a three-way tie in the standings with Illinois State and Bradley, both of which are excellent teams in their own right. In my mind, Creighton is the very slight favorite over Illinois State, with Bradley the most likely team to win the conference if it's not Creighton or Illinois State.

That said, you'll notice in the previous paragraph that I said "three-way tie in the standings with" and not "three-way tie for first with", and that's because Northern Iowa is actually holding onto first, a full two games up on everybody else at 7-1, and they've done it with superb defense. I don't know if they have the offense or the overall talent and experience to win the conference, but they obviously are very much in the discussion. Two other teams that got off to great starts have fallen back lately: Evansville and Drake. Both of them got off to good starts by taking care of business against the lesser squads of the conference, and I think both are out of the top spots to stay. Neither is a serious contender anymore for the regular season Missouri Valley title. If I was going to throw a fifth team into the discussion I'd actually mention Southern Illinois, and just because the Salukis are the team that nobody will ever count out in this conference. I believe they've made the Tournament six of the last seven years, and also have a lot of very good, but very young talent. They have an outstanding freshman class, highlighted by the 2008 Illinois Mr. Basketball Kevin Dillard, that is improving with the week. They may only be 4-4 in conference play, but they have announced themselves with that big win over Bradley as a team to be reckoned with in the second half of the season. I expect them to keep moving up the standings as the season goes along.

The Week That Was: ACC

Boston College 80, Georgia Tech 76
Virginia Tech 78, #1 Wake Forest 71
Miami (Fl) 75, Florida State 69
#6 North Carolina 94, #9 Clemson 70

It was actually a fairly slow week in the ACC, except for a remarkable Wednesday evening. But that Wednesday evening had enough important results to be worth a discussion here. We probably should first discuss that not-as-surprising-as-you-might-think Virginia Tech upset over Wake Forest. I warned about this as a possible upset back on Sunday, because after that huge four-game run you knew that Wake was due for a reality check. And Virginia Tech has a habit over the past few years of pulling huge upsets in the ACC. Unfortunately, Vegas didn't agree that this was such a big possibility, and didn't even offer a moneyline on this game, so I took the points and collected my (unfortunately much smaller) profit. And the way that North Carolina looked like the UNC of old with a demolition of Clemson reminded ACC fans that UNC is still the team to beat in the conference, even if they're currently tied for fourth place with Miami of Florida.

The key thing to look for in the ACC, of course, is the bubble. Unlike the Big East, the ACC does not have a clear-cut fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth teams, and it's why they risk only getting five teams to the Tournament even though they are probably the best conference in the land. You can put North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest in the bracket with ink pen at this point, because they're locks. And Clemson looks pretty safe as well, even if they were overrated at ninth in the rankings. But after that, it's absolute chaos.

I think it's clear that Maryland, Miami, Boston College, Florida State and Virginia Tech have separated from the field. None of those five teams will win the ACC, but any remaining ACC at-large bids will almost definitely go to one or more of these teams. So the remaining regular season is just about these teams trying to rack up victories. Rather than attempting to predict the future of these five teams (which I certainly will not be able to do with much accuracy) I'll just recommend that you watch any game involving these teams that will be on your television, because it's going to be a lot of fun.

The Week That Was: Big East

#4 Pittsburgh 78, #8 Syracuse 60
Providence 72, Cincinnati 63
#3 UConn 89, #21 Villanova 83
West Virginia 75, #14 Georgetown 58

I did manage to cut down the unwieldy Big East to four important results since Sunday. The first result was no surprise, with Pittsburgh bouncing back from the Louisville upset to prove that they're still one of the two teams to beat in the Big East. And yes, I've bumped that number down to two, as UConn is the only team keeping pace with Pittsburgh right now. UConn obviously has a huge battle today at Notre Dame, and a win there would really cement their place in that top two.

One of the other big results from this week was West Virginia shocking Georgetown at the Verizon Center, although the margin of victory is deceptively large (it was a seven point game with 4:45 to go). That result makes Georgetown something of a long shot now to take the Big East, and also has big implications for the chances that the Big East collects a record ninth Tournament team, although I'll get to that in a moment. First I want to note that under-the-radar Providence victory over Cincinnati. With the win, Providence stays firmly on the bubble. Before going further, let's break this conference down:

Teams With A Chance To Win The Conference: This really is a battle between UConn and Pittsburgh, although we have to note that those two teams are currently sitting third and fourth in the standings, as Louisville and Marquette are still undefeated. You have to consider those latter two teams dark horses, because they are undefeated, but they still have flaws. Louisville has that win over Pitt, but that game was something of a fluke. I always get a lot of angry e-mails and comments when I use those words, because they don't understand what I'm talking about. The win was still a huge win, and it will count for a lot on Selection Sunday. But when projecting into the future, we have to acknowledge that Louisville won't normally play on that level. The crowd was unreal, and it just was all in all a remarkable game. You can't expect them to play that way the rest of the season. That win over Villanova was indeed a fluke in the more normal sense of the word, as Nova would have won easily if they could have found a way to miss a few less two foot bunnies. I would actually be surprised if they're still undefeated in the Big East after they leave Syracuse tomorrow evening. Marquette's schedule is also back-loaded, and they will pick up some losses when the time comes. I'll also throw Georgetown in this discussion, because they are still a very good team, and Syracuse is still alive with a minute chance at the conference title. But in the end, it's almost definitely going to come down to Pitt vs UConn.

Teams In The Tournament: Obviously Pitt, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville and Syracuse are locks for the Tournament. Marquette has a minute chance of missing the Tournament, basically because they'd be in trouble if any of their Big Three goes down with injury. But we can pretty much pencil them in as well, so we have six teams that are safe.

Likely Tournament Teams: I'm throwing Villanova and Notre Dame in this category. Both teams are extremely talented, and both of their fan bases would surely be offended to even discuss the idea of missing the Tournament, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see one of these teams finish 8-10 in the Big East and miss the Tournament. But the most likely result will be a Tournament bid for these two teams as well, pushing us to eight Tournament teams, which would tie the all-time record that the Big East set in 2006, and tied last season. But I think everybody expects the Big East to collect eight bids. The real question is whether they'll get that record ninth team:

A Ninth Team? A Tenth?: There are a number of other teams still firmly in the at-large hunt. I would list West Virginia, Cincinnati and Providence here. There are other teams that still have a chance to get hot and make a Tournament run, but it's unlikely. If the season ended now, I think West Virginia would certainly be in, while Cincy and Providence would be out. But we have a long way to go. West Virginia has outstanding computer numbers, but they did this last season as well, winning many of their games by big margins and inflating their computer numbers relative to their actual record. That win over Georgetown is huge, and they can really give themselves a fat margin of error if they can knock off Pittsburgh at home tomorrow. If they can win that game and get to 9-9 in the Big East, I think that puts them in as the record ninth Big East Tournament team. The scenario is not as simple for Cincinnati and Providence. Providence is currently tied for fifth in the Big East at 5-2, but that's really deceptive, as they have zero wins over the Top 25, and only a 3-6 record against the RPI Top 100. The reason that the Big East is not as good as the Big Ten or ACC is that they have too many bad teams at the bottom, and a team like Providence can get to 5-2 without having to beat anybody good. Of course, they get a great chance for a legitimizing win over the next two weeks, as Syracuse and Villanova come to town. They're going to need an upset or two, because their stay near the top of the Big East is surely temporary. Cincinnati is only 3-4 in the Big East, but probably has a slightly better resume than Providence. But they, too, need a marquee win. With Georgetown and Notre Dame coming to town over the next two weeks, they absolutely need to win at least one of those. Probably both, unless they pull off a road upset in the interim. I really can't see the Big East getting a tenth team into the Tournament, because there just aren't enough wins to go around, so Providence and Cincinnati have a lot of ground to make up. They've got to take care of their business while hoping that one or more of the teams above them slip up.

The Week That Was: Big Ten

Northwestern 74, #17 Minnesota 65
#24 Illinois 67, Ohio State 49
Northwestern 70, #7 Michigan State 63
#18 Purdue 70, #20 Minnesota 62

So many big results from the Big Ten this week that it was hard to pick out only four to focus on. The star of the week, of course, was Northwestern. The upset over Minnesota wasn't as big as you might think, because as I've said many times before: bet on teams that are up against the wall, and bet against teams that just came off big wins. Minnesota was coming off their first ever victory at the Kohl Center, and an 0-4 Northwestern team had one last chance to get back into the at-large debate. So that one upset wouldn't have been a huge shock. But heading into the Breslin Center and knocking off Michigan State was unbelievable, definitely one of the five biggest upsets I've seen this season. And I watched this game, and I can tell you that Michigan State didn't play badly. Northwestern just played out of their minds. Anytime they got an open shot they made it, and their pressure defense was outstanding. Michigan State just could not get the ball into the lane. If it wasn't for superlative play by Goran Suton, the margin of victory would have been much larger. Even after those two huge wins, Northwestern is still only 2-4 in the Big Ten and 10-6 overall. But they have kept themselves alive in the at-large debate. Remember, Northwestern has never played in the Tournament. So just keeping those hopes alive into late February would mark a very good season.

Two other teams with good weeks were Illinois and Purdue. Illinois didn't have any remarkable victories, but they continue to play solidly while taking care of business, and that probably makes them the slight favorite to finish second in the Big Ten. I still think it's a long shot for anybody to catch Michigan State. As for Purdue, they overcame that 0-2 start to now win four straight, but the schedule starts getting tougher. Three of their next four games are on the road, at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Illinois. If they're going to make a run at second place in the conference, they need to find a way to win two of those three tough road games.

A team that has taken a bit of a step back is Minnesota, a team with a strength that is something of a weakness. They have remarkable depth, with eleven (yes, eleven) players averaging double-digit minutes per game. But they also lack a go-to star in the clutch. It's good to have depth, but you have to find a balance. I think Tubby really needs to find a more clear-cut eight- or nine-man rotation. And the team needs to figure out who "The Man" is, be it Lawrence Westbrook or Al Nolen.

Two teams that have slipped lately have been Ohio State and Wisconsin. As I've discussed many times before, I think Ohio State was just overrated earlier this season. In retrospect, their wins weren't as impressive as we might have thought they were, and the Buckeyes haven't looked too impressive in any of their Big Ten games so far. They are 3-3, but have yet to beat any of the really good teams in the conference. For them, it's going to be about trying to steal an upset or two while taking care of business as much as possible. If they can get to 10-8 in the Big Ten, they should be a lock for the Tournament. For Wisconsin, they have a clear problem with a resolution that is not clear, which is the play of Trevon Hughes. He just has played badly on offense, and allowed that frustration to hurt his defense, and his bad play has been the main cause of Wisconsin's three game losing streak. I don't think there's too much risk of them actually falling out of the Tournament, but obviously this is something that has to turn around soon. Looking at their schedule, I don't see how they can finish worse than 9-9, with a more likely result in the range of an 11-7.

One final team to discuss is Michigan, which is unfortunately reminding me more and more of Arkansas. Just like Arkansas, those two Top Ten victories are getting further and further away in the rear view mirror, and they're being exposed as just not as good as many people thought they were. They are now 3-4 with an absolute must-win today against Northwestern. For one thing, Northwestern is vulnerable after those two straight wins. They're due for a reality check. And for another thing, Michigan knows that road games at Ohio State and Purdue are coming up next week, so a loss today could mean a devastating 3-7 start to the Big Ten season. If they don't win today, their chances at the Tournament start looking a bit bleak.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Week That Was: Pac-10

#16 Arizona State 53, Arizona 47
Washington 78, USC 73
Oregon State 69, California 65

In my attempt to catch up on this past week, I'm going to go conference by conference. Not all of the conferences, mind you, but only the conferences with multiple important games that really changed up the standings. And the Pac-10 was one of those conferences. Arizona State followed up that great win over UCLA by taking out rival Arizona on the road. The only problem in that game was that James Harden was still on the floor after the result was decided, and fell hard on his side. It looked pretty bad live, but Arizona State officials are insisting that Harden is fine. Arizona State fans had better hope that's true, because as I've discussed here and here, that team is barely a Tournament team without his All-American play.

The other big results this week were a very under-the-radar Washington team doing a great job of taking care of business against USC, and Cal continuing to slip a little bit from their hot start with a loss to Oregon State. So the question is, after all of this, where does the Pac-10 stand as we head into tomorrow's slate of games:

First of all, UCLA remains the team to beat in the conference. Arizona State's strong play has narrowed the gap, but I still think UCLA is the heavy favorite to take the Pac-10 regular season title. If they don't repeat, however, Arizona State is obviously the most likely team to overthrow the defending champs. Of course, UCLA isn't currently tied in first with the Sun Devils... they're tied with Washington. The Huskies have come out of nowhere to get off to a great 5-1 start to their Pac-10 season. That said, their schedule really has been quite easy. Let's see what happens when they have to go play the tough part of their Pac-10 schedule, starting with a home game tomorrow with UCLA. If Washington wants to be part of the Pac-10 championship conversation, they need to beat UCLA tomorrow.

The team that had been off to the hottest start in the Pac-10, California, has now dropped two straight. I don't think they ever were as good as some people thought they were after that 4-0 start, and the bigger issue is whether they'll make the Tournament at all. Keeping their very weak out-of-conference schedule in mind, they have already slipped to fourth place in the Pac-10 standings, and could easily fall to seventh or eighth if they're not careful. Of course, the Pac-10 is full of enigmas, including Stanford, USC and Arizona. I'm not going to go into each of their resumes in depth at this point, as I'm sure I'll end up going through them the next time I recap one of their games.

It suffices to say that the Pac-10 only has two firm Tournament teams at this point: UCLA and Arizona State. After that, you've got five teams firmly in the hunt (Cal, Stanford, Arizona, Washington, USC) and a sixth team that is still hanging in there but really is in trouble after failing in their upset bid last night (Washington State). I think we can safely say that this conference will probably end up with four or five Tournament bids, so it's going to be a wild ride as these teams try to beat each other to move up the pecking order. This might be the hardest conference to predict of all of the six major conferences.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Catching Up

I know I've gotten behind on these game recaps. It's been a bit of a busy week for me. Anticipating the fact that there will be a ton of things to talk about on Saturday, I'm going to have a slightly higher standard for game recaps from the past four days. Only the really big games will get discussed. But I'll be back to the normal rate of recaps once I catch up, I assure you. There have been a lot of interesting results that have shaken up the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Missouri Valley standings just in the past four days, so there is a ton to talk about.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Give Me Feedback

As you probably have noticed, the page looks different for the first time since this blog was initially created nearly three years ago. While there are some very slight color changes, that will probably go unnoticed by anybody but the most regular readers. I do need feedback on a couple of issues, though:

1. Typos: Do I have any? I did a lot of copying and pasting of links, and I'm not sure if I got them all perfectly. If I made any errors, please e-mail me.

2. New "Gadgets": I've added two minor gadgets, "Subscribe to" and "Followers." I've put them at the very bottom of the sidebar so they're not intrusive. Please let me know if you like them or don't like them, or if I should have different gadgets.

Basically, just let me know what you think about the changes. Please click here to contact me.

Template Changes

I want to apologize for some of the weird appearances with the blog tonight. I'm messing around with these new templates. The "classic" Blogger template seems to be going the way of the dinosaur, so I'm trying to catch up with the times. I hope to have the layout settled within an hour or so.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pittsburgh Goes Down

#20 Louisville 69, #1 Pittsburgh 63
I don't want to make too much out of this result. Even the most biased Pittsburgh fan probably would have admitted that they weren't going to go undefeated in the Big East. At 4-1 in conference play they are still very much in a battle with Georgetown and UConn for the regular season title (with some possible sleepers that I'll get to in a moment). Louisville has really played well over the last week or so, and they got a ton of energy from the crowd at Freedom Hall last night. Every time they fell behind it felt like the crowd dragged them back into the game. After Pitt got off to a lightning quick start, Louisville responded with a 22-6 run late in the first half. Then when Pitt pushed the lead back to ten with a little under nine minutes to go, Louisville closed the game with a 24-8 run. That said, one of those Big East sleepers must be Louisville, right? They are now 4-0 in conference play with a home victory over Notre Dame and a road victory at Villanova to go with this huge win. Still, it's all mental with this team, as they're no more talented than they were when they were underachieving in mid-to-late December. Rick Pitino's teams are famous for starting slow, though, so I think they're here to stay among the Big East elite.

#14 Marquette 91, Providence 82
Speaking of sleepers for the Big East title, guess which team is currently leading the conference with a 5-0 record? Yep, Marquette. I have to say that it's extremely pleasurable to watch this team play, and I was entranced watching them come back over the final fifteen minutes of this game. Buzz Williams must be the luckiest coach in the country walking into a job where he gets Dominic James, Wes Matthews and Jerel McNeal, who have started all four years together and are clearly very good friends with great chemistry. Throw in Lazar Hayward and that's four great players, even if the rest of the team really isn't that good. I don't think either of those four players sat any of the last fifteen minutes of the game, and I don't think Williams was really doing much coaching either. He just let his stars win this game by doing all of the little things right. If you want to know why this game was so wonderful to watch, I want to give you a stat that will blow you away. Between the 19:45 and 1:45 in the second half Providence shot 11-for-13 (85%) from the field and went from a five point lead to a three point deficit. That is unbelievable. How do you shoot 85% from the field over an 18 minute stretch of game time and get outscored by eight points? Marquette has got to be a sleeper to steal the Big East title. Meanwhile, as well as Providence has been playing of late, I just don't see a route to the Tournament for them. They should head to the NIT and will be a dangerous team next year. Keno Davis is doing a good job with these guys. He just picked a terrible year to coach his first season in the Big East.

Stanford 75, #23 California 69
A bit of a surprising result as Stanford seemed to be fading while Cal had jumped out to a 4-0 record in Pac-10 play. I think this was a case of a team up against the wall coming out highly motivated and just beating a team that probably had less at stake. A loss here would have dropped Stanford to a very bleak 1-4 Pac-10 record. A 2-3 record looks so much nicer, and the Cardinal also collect what is only their third win over the RPI Top 100. With the weak strength of schedule, I think Stanford needs to get to 10-8 to earn an at-large bid, which makes the upcoming home games against Oregon and Oregon State essential. They need to sweep those to get ahead of pace before they follow that up with a road trip to USC and UCLA. Despite the loss, California is still tied for the conference lead at 4-1, and they also still have the highest RPI (16th). They are also 15-3 with a very good 6-3 record against the RPI Top 100. With a few good scalps already (Utah and Arizona State, among several others), Cal probably would still get in the Tournament at 9-9. And with the 4-1 start and the schedule remaining, I don't see them winning less than ten Pac-10 games. So they're still a very likely Tournament team, despite this tough loss.

James Harden Beats UCLA

#15 Arizona State 61, #7 UCLA 58, OT
When Arizona State got rocked by USC a couple of days ago, I spoke about how they were exposed as being really all about James Harden. When Harden isn't playing his best, Arizona State is not an elite team. But when he is playing his best, my goodness is he good. You might not realize how much he dominated this game by just looking at the box score, as Harden had a good-but-not-outstanding 24 points. But he really was the Arizona State offense, especially in the late game and into overtime. One underrated aspect of this Arizona State team is their defense. They held UCLA without a field goal between 8:12 left in the second half and 0:55 in overtime. They actually held UCLA without a point for more than nine crucial minutes of game time. And this might expose a weakness of UCLA which is a lack of elite scorers. If you can keep Darren Collison out of the lane, UCLA really struggles on offense. That all said, this was still just an upset, and UCLA is still the unquestioned team to beat in the Pac-10. There are now zero undefeated teams in Pac-10 regular season play, with six teams having one or two losses. This victory keeps alive Arizona State's slim chances of winning the Pac-10 regular season title. But more importantly, it really helps their resume. They've got a great shot at something like a 4 or a 5 seed in March.

#10 Michigan State 63, Illinois 57
A few days ago I spoke about my huge disappointment regarding the way that Michigan State choked down the stretch at Penn State. They won the game, but only because Penn State choked the game away themselves. I have gotten so used to seeing incredibly savvy play down the stretch from this very experienced team. And I'm happy to report that the Penn State game was a fluke, because Michigan State played tremendous over the final ten minutes of this game. Illinois is a very good team that played a very good game, but just seemed utterly unable to stop Michigan State's run to end the game. The Spartans might be able to put away the Big Ten regular season title over the next three to four weeks, because I don't see how anybody else is going to contend. Despite falling to 3-2 in the Big Ten, I still feel like Illinois has as good of a chance at finishing second in the Big Ten as anybody. I think they have a great combination of scorers, passers, shooters, rebounders and defenders.

Virginia Tech 79, Boston College 71
Boston College continues to be cursed by that North Carolina victory, as they have now followed that up with four straight losses. The computer rankings have similarly collapsed, and their RPI is now 69th overall. They are now only 4-4 against the RPI Top 100, along with two losses to teams outside the RPI Top 150 (Saint Louis and Harvard). At 1-3 in the ACC, they are going to have to go at least 6-6 the rest of the way to even be considered for an at-large bid. In other words, they need to get out of this funk soon. Virginia Tech wouldn't be in the Tournament if the season ended today either, but at least they are moving in the right direction. At 2-1 in ACC and 3-3 against the RPI Top 100, they've got respectable numbers all around. But the lack of a marquee win (zero over the RPI Top 50) means that they probably need an upset somewhere along the line to make the Tournament. They actually have an underrated opportunity coming up on Wednesday night when they head on the road to play a Wake Forest team that is going to spend all week hearing the national media call them the best team in the country. Wake Forest is a far better team than Virginia Tech, but they're primed for an upset with so much hype. Virginia Tech will never make the Tournament if they go 7-9 in the ACC, so they've got to get to at least 8-8 with at least one big win. On the road at Wake Forest would certainly qualify.