Saturday, January 10, 2009

Nice Win For Louisville

#21 Louisville 61, #17 Villanova 60
I don't think anybody who watched this game can explain how Villanova lost. First of all, they couldn't buy a free throw late in the game (finishing 2-for-8 in the final five minutes of the game, including two huge misses by Antonio Pena that would have put the Wildcats in the lead with five seconds to go). Secondly, they must have missed 20 shots in the second half that were within five feet of the basket, including at least two as the game's final seconds ticked away. The constant battles in the paint, along with all of the bad shooting, is so stereotypical of Big East play, and the reason people are so torn on whether the Big East is the best, or most overrated conference in America. No doubt this was an incredibly entertaining game. But at the same time, for all the athletes in this game, it just felt like the skill and composure wasn't there. Regardless, even as I thought they were going to lose I was still preparing to write about how this was an encouraging game for Louisville. I've watched at least four or five Louisville games in their entirety this season (it feels like every single one of their games is on national tv), and this is the first time they've looked like a Top 25 team. I saw Earl Clark and Terrence Williams really begin to show leadership, along with flashes of Edgar Sosa's former self, and some hints that Samardo Samuels will be a really special player some day. For Villanova, I saw a lot of great energy, but also bad offensive efficiency. I love the leadership that Dante Cunningham provides, but there's nobody else on that team who I feel is playing up to their potential. Scottie Reynolds seems to actually be getting worse by the week, and the Coreys (Stokes and Fisher) both dribble around way too with their heads down. Obviously this is a talented Villanova team that most likely has a Tournament bid in their future, but they are overrated. This is not the 17th best team in the nation.

#15 Marquette 75, #22 West Virginia 53
You probably wouldn't know it by the lopsided final score, but West Virginia actually led for the majority of this game. Marquette's lead was three with about eight minutes left in the game, and it was a 24-5 run to close the game that led us to the final margin. I wouldn't look too much into that run, though, as the Mountaineers really just went ice cold and got frustrated as the time began to tick away. They are a streaky team, and have to take these 20+ point losses to go with the 20+ point wins. Marquette is now off to a tremendous 4-0 start to their Big East season, with Providence and DePaul as their next two opponents. With future games also against St. John's, Seton Hall, South Florida and DePaul (again), there is just no way that they win less than nine games. And a 9-9 Marquette team will be a near-lock for the Tournament. The only real question is how high of a seed they can earn. For West Virginia, the Tournament is not as much of a slam dunk. They are now 1-2, although those two losses have come to UConn and here, at Marquette. With wins over Ohio State, Mississippi and Iowa, the computer numbers are all still very good. They would also be a near-lock for the Tournament if they get to nine wins in the Big East. It's just not as much of a lock that West Virginia will get that essential ninth win.

Maryland 68, Georgia Tech 61

Maryland trailed almost the entire way here, but showed a lot of poise in fighting back to grab a very tough and important win over Georgia Tech. I don't think it should be a huge surprise that Maryland would improve relative to Georgia Tech as the game moves along, because Maryland goes a solid ten players deep. Greivis Vasquez is the star, but Maryland can win when he's not at his best. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, relies heavily on four stars (Gani Lawal, Alide Aminu, Iman Shumpert and Lewis Clinch), and really doesn't get much of anything by anything else on the team. It will help when Zachery Peacock gets back, and my understanding is that he only missed this game with some sort of stomach ailment that should not keep him down for too long. But a loss is a loss, and Tech drops to 0-2 in the ACC, with four ranked teams amongst their next five opponents. They also end their regular season with four ranked opponents in their final five regular season games, which means that the Yellow Jackets are really behind the eight ball. With losses to Illinois-Chicago and Alabama, and with only one good out-of-conference win (Vanderbilt), even an 8-8 ACC record might not be enough for Georgia Tech to make the Tournament. For Maryland, they move to 1-0 in the ACC, and have wins over Michigan and Michigan State out-of-conference (along with a loss to Morgan State, however). The thing for Maryland is that their ACC schedule is very back-loaded, so they've got to get off to a quick start to stay confident about their Tournament chances.

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