Sunday, December 20, 2009

Richmond Knocks Off Florida

Richmond 56, #13 Florida 53
There are a few reasons not to draw too much out of this result. There are always weird results this time of year, and this was one of several surprising Top 25 results yesterday. Also, Richmond was coming off two straight tough losses and was highly motivated to turn things around, while Florida was overrated and due for a reality check (the computers rank them near 40th in the nation). Still, a result is a result, and this really helps rebuild Richmond's at-large resume. They are now 8-3 with wins over Mississippi State, Missouri and Florida, with losses to William & Mary, VCU and South Carolina. Their RPI is up to 22nd in the nation, and a New Year's Eve game at Wake Forest looms as their last really good opponent before A-10 regular season play begins. The key will be finishing high in the A-10 standings, because as good as the conference is it's going to be difficult for a team like Richmond to earn an at-large bid if they don't finish fourth or higher in the regular season. As for Florida, they now fall to 8-2 with four very winnable games before SEC play begins. Right now they appear to be the third best team in the SEC and, despite not being the 13th best team in the country, they should end up safely in the NCAA Tournament.

UMass 73, Memphis 72
This was the John Calipari Bowl in more than one way. Both of these schools formerly hired John Calipari, Calipari took both schools to the Final Four, and both schools had a Calipari-led Final Four wiped from the books because of NCAA violations.`The head coaches of both of these schools are young 30-something coaches who were assistants under Calipari and are now in their first head coaching job (UMass's Derek Kellogg is in his second year, Memphis's Josh Pastner is in his first). And both head coaches are known for their recruiting prowess, but still have to learn about in-game management. This game was not exactly a coaching clinic. It was perfectly apt that the game ended with a UMass inbounds play that went awry, with the ball bouncing around a few players and just ending up in the hands of freshman Terrell Vinson for a five footer to win with 0.7 seconds to go. While Memphis will regret not winning this game, situations like this are invaluable for young teams trying to find themselves. This is the first real hostile crowd that they've had to play in, and it will prepare them well for road games in Conference USA. Memphis has rolled through Conference USA ever since the other C-USA powers were poached by the Big East, and enters this season with 49 straight regular season wins in conference play. But this year will not be so easy, without John Calipari, without many of their stars, and with an improved set of opponents. They needed a game like this to get them ready. As for UMass, this is a nice win, but they are nowhere near being serious contenders for an at-large bid. All of the computers rate them in the bottom half of the Atlantic Ten, and this is their first good win to go with a couple of bad losses (Central Florida and Rutgers), and they are still only 5-5 overall. If they win their next two games, at Boston College and at Davidson, and build a better-than-.500 record in conference play, then and only then is it worthwhile to discuss them in the at-large picture.

Arizona State 55, San Diego State 52
Arizona State continues to be a team that plays better than the sum of their parts. They didn't shoot well here and were facing a very good San Diego State squad that was a lot bigger in the paint, but found a way to pull out the victory by taking care of the ball and forcing 23 turnovers. Arizona State now moves to 8-3 with no bad losses, although they don't have any great wins either (LSU, TCU and San Diego State are the best). Assuming they take care of the two cream puffs on their schedule before Pac-10 play begins, they may or may not be able to make the NCAA Tournament with a 10-8 conference result, but an 11-7 record or better should be enough. As for San Diego State, this was a missed opportunity, but it will not go down as a bad loss. I like the fact that they go solidly nine players deep. The Mountain West is as good this year as it's been the past few years, and you need a deep rotation when you are going to have to put in a good performance night in and night out to keep winning. With the loss they are 8-3 with one good win (Arizona) and one mediocre loss (Pacific). It's not a Tournament resume yet, but both Sagarin and Pomeroy rate them as a Top 40 team. While they're good enough to make the Tournament, it's eventually got to show in their resume. They'll get a chance for a good win on January 5th, when a potentially undefeated New Mexico team comes to town.

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