Thursday, December 31, 2009

UConn Loses Their First True Road Game

Cincinnati 71, #10 UConn 69
I never like it when teams choose not to play a true road game during their out-of-conference slate, and not just because it prevent us as fans from having more good match-ups. It also keeps a team from developing and learning their true identity. UConn can blow through inferior teams with their athleticism, but they haven't proven that they can make a comeback in tough circumstances, or that they have the leadership for close games in general. Jeff Adrien was a bigger loss than Hasheem Thabeet because he had the ability to rally the team when they were down, and I don't know who the leader of this team is. Stanley Robinson? Anyway, it's not a particularly bad loss, but it's one that probably wouldn't have happened if UConn had gone into a hostile crowd before beginning Big East play. The Huskies now get two home games that they should win fairly easily (Notre Dame and Seton Hall) before heading to Georgetown. We'll see if they find more of an identity before that Georgetown game. As for Cincinnati, this is a very big game for their at-large resume. They are now 9-3 with all losses coming to quality mid-major opponents (Gonzaga, Xavier, UAB), and wins over Vanderbilt, Maryland and UConn. They now head into three important Big East road games, against Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John's. A good at-large team should win two of those three, and we'll see if Cincy can keep up their good start to conference play.

#17 New Mexico 90, #24 Texas Tech 75
This was a thorough domination from start to finish by New Mexico. Texas Tech kept it close for the first ten minutes, but New Mexico took a 12 point lead into the half and never took their foot off of the pedal. This was a high tempo game where both teams gave extended minutes to 10+ players, which says a lot about the depth of both teams. New Mexico took 62 shots from the field and 43 from the line, which is some of the most I've some from any team on this side of VMI this season. Pomeroy only rates New Mexico's team tempo at 123rd in the nation, and Tech's is 16th, so Tech managed to force their tempo and were still handled easily. A big part of it was probably that New Mexico was highly motivated coming off their first loss of the season, an upset against Oral Roberts. You always want to play the 13-0 team that is flying too close to the sun over the 12-1 team just coming off a brutal loss. Still, both of Texas Tech's losses have now come to quality opponents, and they are still 10-2 with wins over Washington, Stanford and Oregon State, and get another chance for a good out-of-conference win against UTEP on January 3rd. They would be right on the bubble if the season ended now, but that's a good place to be relative to preseason expectations. As for New Mexico, they have that fluke loss, but it goes with wins over California, Texas A&M, Creighton and Texas Tech, and will play Dayton tomorrow. With the quality of the Mountain West, a 10-6 conference record should clinch a Tournament bid for New Mexico, and they could potentially even compete for a 2-5 seed.

Boston College 85, South Carolina 76
It seems like Rakim Sanders has been the man in every one of Boston College's good wins, and he led the way with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, along with 7 rebounds. They also did a good job as a team of making Devan Downey work hard for his points. Downey had 29 points, but it took 28 shots from the field, and I think that just about any South Carolina opponent will take that stat line. Boston College dominated the paint, but their backcourt struggled with the South Carolina pressure, and they will have to improve that as the season goes along, even though it seems like most of the top ACC teams are better in the frontcourt than the backcourt. I want to add that I got a kick out of the Associated Press's game report that I linked to at the top of this recap: "It was the third straight win for the Eagles (9-4) after embarrassing home losses to Harvard and Rhode Island -- both teams from weaker conferences." You would think that professional college basketball writers would know that both Sagarin and Pomeroy, the two most respected computer ratings, rate both Harvard and Rhode Island as better teams than Boston College. Regardless, this win does do a little bit to salvage Boston College's out-of-conference performance, but it's not enough. Unless they knock off a few ranked teams, they will probably need to go at least 9-7 in the ACC to make the Tournament. As for South Carolina, this has been a pretty disappointing out-of-conference performance by a team that really looked like a Tournament-quality team entering the year. They are 8-4 with their best wins coming over South Florida, Western Kentucky and Richmond, and they have one pretty bad loss (Wofford). They're probably not in a worse situation than Boston College, but they're heading into conference play in an inferior conference, which means less chances to get back into the at-large picture. They have one more chance for a quality out-of-conference win, against Baylor on January 2nd.

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