Saturday, January 03, 2009

Marquette Moves On Up

#25 Marquette 79, #13 Villanova 72
Marquette came out solid here, in their first game in this year's Big East regular season. Anybody who has watched Marquette play over the past couple of years knows that there isn't much depth behind Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews and Lazar Haywood. But when those four are playing well, they are one of the top foursomes in the nation. In addition to those four playing well here, Marquette also had the advantage of playing an overrated team. There's no way that Villanova is the 13th best team in the land, and they were overdue for a reality check. They have a few good wins over the Atlantic Ten, but no wins yet over BCS conference teams. One thing Villanova has going for them is that they ease into the Big East schedule, starting with Seton Hall, Louisville and St. John's. They probably should be favored in all three of those games, which should give them some momentum. They also have about as easy of a Big East schedule as a team can have, lucking into only one game against Pitt, Georgetown, UConn, Marquette, Notre Dame and Louisville. Knowing how good the Big East is, and the fact that Villanova has no bad losses, I would have to think that a 9-9 regular season record would be enough for Villanova to make the Tournament. If they can take those three early games, so that they're 3-1 (and 15-2 overall) when they head to UConn on the 21st, they should be in excellent shape for an at-large bid. Marquette also starts off with a pretty easy Big East schedule, and will likely be favored in their next five games before heading to Notre Dame on the 26th. And if they collect all five of those wins they will probably move into the Top Ten and end up being over-ranked themselves. But it's essential for the Golden Eagles to run up the score now, because they end with an absolutely impossible finish to their schedule. Their final five opponents are Georgetown, UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, with three of those five games on the road. Knowing how important the finish of a season is to the Selection Committee, it's really essential for Marquette to be at least 9-4 heading into that stretch, unless they really want to be nervous about potentially falling out of the Tournament altogether.

South Carolina 85, #20 Baylor 84
Those who read this blog know that this isn't a big upset, as I've been hyping this year's South Carolina team since April. That said, I've also been declaring this Baylor team underrated here and here, so something had to give. I would probably argue that Baylor might be a shade overrated at 20th in the nation. In my opinion they're right on the edge of the Top 25, and should float in and out of the rankings all year long. Texas and Oklahoma are far and away the best two teams in the Big 12, but Baylor has as good of a shot as anybody to finish third. South Carolina, despite this win, is not a Top 25 team. But they now have a statement win to go along with only one bad loss. I expect them to hang right on the fat part of the bubble for the entire season, although they're somewhat disadvantaged that they're on the tough side of the SEC. They would have a much easier road to 10 conference wins if they got to play Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and Arkansas twice during the year. And I do think that it will take 10 SEC wins for South Carolina to earn that at-large bid. If they only go 9-7 then they'll need to win a game or two in the SEC Tournament or they can pack their bags for the NIT.

USC 83, Oregon 62

This was an important win for USC, although not because Oregon is a very good team that USC can brag about beating when March comes around. But because USC has a chance to finish as high as third place in the Pac-10, and doing that requires consistency. And consistency requires taking care of business when playing inferior teams on the road. Oregon had fairly high hopes heading into this season, but they've played very badly. Obviously anybody at this point in the season has a mathematical possibility of winning 10 straight conference games and moving into an at-large spot... but Oregon just does not have the talent to properly run Ernie Kent's system, or to get back to the Tournament. USC, of course, does have the talent to be in the Tournament. And they most likely will be there. They get a great chance to really earn some national attention with two home games coming up against UCLA and Arizona State, on the 11th and 15th respectively. Even just one win in those two games will likely strengthen USC's claim to third place in the Pac-10. And the conference may not be very good this season, but the third place team will still most likely get a high-single digit seed in the Tournament, something like an 8 or 9.

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