Saturday, January 17, 2009

North Carolina Bounces Back In A Big Way

#6 North Carolina 83, Virginia 61
We always have to be careful to not suffer from recent-ism and take too much from two straight losses. North Carolina is still the best team in the country, and you had to know that they were going to come back with a vengeance. They were going to take out their frustration on somebody, and Virginia had the misfortune of being the first team to run into the new UNC buzz saw. The Tar Heels actually didn't even shoot very well (42% from the field, 36% from behind the arc), but their defense was great, they took care of the ball and passed well. For Virginia, we knew that this is a rebuilding year. They have a lot of great young talent, but they just don't have a realistic path to the Tournament right now. With good play they might make the NIT, but it's tough to recover from a 1-6 start against the RPI Top 150.

#17 Minnesota 78, Wisconsin 74, OT

This was a very impressive, but also very lucky victory for Minnesota. They were getting handled easily before Wisconsin utterly collapsed down the stretch. But even with Wisconsin's poor play, Minnesota still needed a variety of miracle shots, including an off-balance three-pointer by Lawrence Westbrook with about two seconds left in regulation. But once that shot went in and took the game to overtime, you knew that the Gophers were going to collect their first win ever at the Kohl Center. For Minnesota, this is a massive legitimizing victory. The RPI is 12th, which must be taken with a grain of salt. But for the first time their Sagarin PREDICTOR has moved inside the Top 50. At 16-1 they are now 6-1 against the RPI Top 100, and are temporarily alone in second place in the Big Ten at 4-1. Right now, I could see Minnesota headed for anything between a 3 and a 10 seed, but what seems pretty clear is that they're going to be headed back to the Tournament for only the second time since Clem Haskins left the school in disgrace in 1999. For Wisconsin, this loss probably ends any chance they had at defending their Big Ten title, but while they lack any real defining victories they still have a very solid resume. The computer numbers are all good, and they are 5-4 against the RPI Top 100, with zero losses outside the RPI Top 60. They still seem like a low single-digit Tournament seed (something like a 7, 8 or 9 seed).

USC 61, #15 Arizona State 49
An unbelievable second half performance by USC also served to somewhat expose Arizona State as a bit of a one-man show. I don't mean to say that Arizona State doesn't have a few other good players, but they just are not a Top 20 team when James Harden isn't having a good day. And Daniel Hackett completely shut him down here (4 points on 0-for-8 shooting from the field). The Sun Devils are still a very good team that has an excellent chance to finish second in the Pac-10, but this big loss probably ends any realistic chance they had at winning the Pac-10. They also have to be careful, as despite the gaudy resume they are now only 3-2 in Pac-10 play with road games at UCLA and Arizona coming up. How they respond to this bad loss (not the opponent, but the margin of the loss) will tell a lot about what seed they'll eventually end up with in March. For USC, this win will do wonders for their resume. At halftime they looked to be heading to a 10-6 start to the season. Instead, they are back to 2-2 in conference play and now have their first RPI Top 100 victory. The computer numbers are still weak (RPI of 77th), but both Sagarin and Pomeroy suggest that they're on their way to strong victories later on this season. So while they probably wouldn't be in the Tournament if the season ended now, I still view them as a likely Tournament team in the end. They have a great shot at a 10-8 Pac-10 record, which will more than likely be enough for a Tournament bid (assuming they can win at least one game in the Pac-10 tournament to get to 20 total wins for the season).

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