Friday, January 29, 2010

And Then There Were None

South Carolina 68, #1 Kentucky 62
This game had the feel of one of those games where the big upset is almost inevitable. The South Carolina players were diving all over the floor, the crowd was in a frenzy, and the Kentucky players look scared and tentative. The game wouldn't even have been close without some great play by John Wall down the stretch. I used to think that the best freshman I had seen play was Dwyane Wade (Carmelo Anthony got more attention that season because his team won the title, but he also had better teammates and a better coach - I was more impressed by Wade that year), but I think I'd rather have 2009-10 John Wall than 2002-03 Dwyane Wade. That all said, the star of this game was Devan Downey, who'd be a household name by now if he played for another team. He is practically unguardable one-on-one, and torched Kentucky for 30 points. That said, people are making a bigger deal of this game than it should have been. Kentucky is not the best team in the country, or even one of the best. Pomeroy rates them the 11th best team in the country and Sagarin's PREDICTOR has them 12th. They were the last undefeated team because their schedule was so easy, not because they were the best team. The computers agree with me that Kansas is the best team. Sagarin rates Kentucky's current strength of schedule 120th in the country, and they have yet to play a game against a team in the current RPI Top 25. A loss like this is actually a good thing for Kentucky. The stress of being the last undefeated team really wears a team out, and it's always easier to make a run at a Final Four without that albatross. On top of that, there's a big risk with a very young team that they will get too impressed with themselves. This loss is a reality check, and they'll be better down the road for it. They still remain a favorite for a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, if South Carolina makes the NCAA Tournament they will likely have this win to thank. This win moves them to 3-3 in the SEC and 3-7 against the RPI Top 100. They're going to have to go at least 9-7 in the SEC to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid, which means a 6-4 finish. Considering three very difficult road games ahead against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky (you might want to bet your life savings on the Kentucky money line in Vegas for that last game), it's still quite an uphill climb for South Carolina. But this win gives them a realistic shot.

Minnesota 65, Northwestern 61
Northwestern nearly collected another nice victory here. Despite the hostile crowd they enforced their deliberate pace on this game. Northwestern's bench played a combined 19 minutes, which helped completely neutralize the very deep Minnesota bench (they have 11 players averaging over nine minutes per game this season). The Wildcats would have won this game if it wasn't for some hot outside shooting from Minnesota, particularly by Blake Hoffarber (5-for-8 behind the arc). Minnesota had come into this game 0-3 in games decided by three points or less, and even after this win their Pomeroy Luck rating is still 339th in the nation, so they are still better than their record. Their record is that of a bubble team, with a 4-4 Big Ten record, a 3-5 record against the RPI Top 100 and one bad loss (to Indiana). If the season ended now they probably would not be in the Tournament, but I think they'll finish 6-4 to get to 10-8, and that will more than likely be enough for a Tournament bid. Northwestern falls to 3-5 in the Big Ten and 4-6 against the RPI Top 100, although they don't have that bad loss. They also have a big win over Purdue that probably gives them a slightly better resume than Minnesota at the moment, but they now head to a very tough game at Michigan State and will likely fall to 3-6 in the Big Ten. They finish their conference schedule with Iowa, Penn State and Indiana, so they can come back from a sub-.500 record, but they can't fall too far off the pace.

Providence 81, #19 UConn 66
This loss for UConn was not a big surprise when you consider that it was coming off that huge win over Texas. You can avoid that letdown game only with great coaching, but UConn is in a particularly delicate situation with Jim Calhoun sidelined for health reasons. This loss also underscores the fact that despite that big win over Texas, Connecticut has by no means locked up a Tournament bid. This loss drops them to 3-4 in the Big East with road games at Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova and Notre Dame still remaining. I think that an 8-10 Big East record will be sufficient for an at-large bid, but that's not an automatic with the way they've been playing. For Providence, this nice win moves to 4-4 in the Big East, where they remind me a bit of last year's team that was wrongly put into the bubble discussion just because they had a nice Big East record (10-8), even though their overall resume was not that good. This year's team, even after this win, has a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 85th, so they're not even close to getting an at-large bid if the season ends now. The 3-8 record against the RPI Top 100 is the reason the computer numbers are bad. They get a chance to make noise over the next few days with road games at Cincinnati and Syracuse, but I wouldn't bet on it.

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