Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wake Knocks Off Clemson

#3 Wake Forest 78, #9 Clemson 68
You can't say enough about how good of a stretch Wake Forest is in right now. Their performance here was especially impressive because of how they survived a frantic Clemson attack late in the game. After watching a 14 point second half lead evaporate to one point with under five minutes to go and the crowd in a frenzy, the young Wake Forest team took care of business and ended up winning by a healthy ten point margin. That said, I need to put this all in perspective because too many people are jumping on this bandwagon. First of all, despite the 16-0 record, Wake has not played like this for 16 games. This is a great four game stretch that they're on, but that's it: four games. Early in the season they had results like a three point win over UTEP, a six point win over Cal State Fullerton and a seven point win over Richmond. And as impressive as these last four games have been, the Sagarin PREDICTOR still only has them 8th in the nation, and Pomeroy only puts them 7th. Remember, I was hyping this team up in the preseason back when the bandwagon was just me and maybe a few rabid Demon Deacons fans: all the way back in April I put them 2nd overall in the ACC and headed for a 2 seed in the Tournament. But the problem I see is that they are peaking in January. Wake Forest isn't going to keep playing like this, and I just feel like they have gotten too good too fast. There is a high risk of a crash, especially with such a young and inexperienced team and program. There is no doubt that they've played great lately, but let's hold off on chiseling their 1 seed into granite. And Clemson, well, they know what it's like to be 16-0 in a season and then have it all go down in flames. I do think that this particular Clemson team has the experience and skill to still be a very good seed in the end, but they were clearly overrated at 9th in the polls.

Florida 80, Arkansas 65
Nick Calathes continues to roll below the radar, putting up All-SEC numbers, and leading Florida to first place in the SEC East at 3-0. They are now 16-2 with a 4-2 record against the RPI Top 100 (although an iffy 1-2 against the RPI Top 50). With all of Tennessee's struggles, the Gators have to view the SEC as absolutely wide open right now. They have as good of a chance at winning this conference as anybody. Arkansas, meanwhile, falls to 0-3 in the SEC and further away from an at-large bid. They are playing sloppy basketball, they're not boxing out, and they're generally doing all of the things that often cause teams to slip out of the Tournament picture. They still have the best RPI in the SEC West (55th), but that number will fade as those Texas and Oklahoma wins become a smaller piece of the total body of work.

Cincinnati 59, DePaul 55
A gritty effort by Cincinnati to overcome a late DePaul rally to collect a very important win. You can feel the pressure on this Cincy team, and the stress that they're all under to avoid any unnecessary losses. I felt stressed out just watching every time the camera zoomed in on one of their players in the second half of this game. The margin of error is so small for them in the Big East that a loss here (which would have dropped them to 1-4 in conference play) would have been absolutely devastating. There is no way that the Big East will get ten teams to the Tournament, so Cincinnati has got to take care of business against all of the six worst teams in the conference, while hoping to steal an upset or two against the big boys. They are currently 2-3 with five games left against Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and South Florida. They also have winnable home games against Notre Dame, Louisville and West Virginia. Figuring that they need a minimum of an 8-10 Big East record to stay in consideration for an at-large bid, and that it would take a big upset for them to win any of their other five games, this means that they need to go 6-2 during those eight "winnable" games just to have a chance at an at-large bid. That's a very small margin of error for what is actually a pretty good team.

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