Saturday, January 09, 2010

Missouri Makes Some Noise

Missouri 74, #10 Kansas State 68
Kansas and Texas are a class above the rest of the Big 12, but a number of teams have gotten attention as potential third or fourth best teams in the conference. Kansas State has gotten some attention, as has Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech and even Oklahoma State. But nobody has paid attention to Missouri. It's surprising not because Missouri was so good last season, but because of why they were good: their coach and his system, which is still in place. The talent isn't as good as it was last season, but Missouri is still a dangerous team on any night because of their uptempo, pressing style. They always force a lot of turnovers (20 for Kansas State in this game), and make you play an uncomfortable style of basketball. Besides, Kansas State is not the tenth best team in the country and was due for a reality check anyway. They came into this game 13-3, but they have yet to beat an elite team. Their best win was at UNLV. They may still be the third best team in the Big 12, but I need to see them prove it in a few conference games before I really buy in. As for Missouri, this is their best win of the season, but they're 13-3 overall with only one bad loss (Oral Roberts). This win pushes their RPI up to 62nd, but they're better than that. I think they'll eventually get an at-large bid, and they're a contender to finish as high as third in the Big 12.

Minnesota 73, Ohio State 62
Minnesota got off to a bad start this season, but it was not because they weren't playing well. They just could not win close games, and were actually 4-3 at one point despite Sagarin and Pomeroy's computer insisting that they were a Top 25 team. This win puts them in the RPI Top 50 for the first time of the season, and they're now up to 12-4 with a 3-1 Big Ten record and wins over Butler, Penn State and Ohio State. They next have a very tough test, at Michigan State on Wednesday night. They definitely look like a Tournament team, but the question will be how high they can push up their seed. As for Ohio State, I was shocked to see how quickly Evan Turner got back on the floor. This seemed like one of those injuries where players keep getting held out longer and longer as a precaution, and not one where a player would return a full 3-4 weeks early. He's still not totally back in shape, of course, but his 19 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in this, his second game back, give you a sense of what Ohio State was missing without him. I have been saying that it was possible for Ohio State to lose so many games without Turner that they might fall out of the Tournament altogether, but that seems very unlikely now, despite the 1-3 start to the Big Ten season. They have two tough games ahead (at Purdue, vs Wisconsin), but their conference schedule eases up a whole lot after that. Even if they fall to 1-5 I still think they'll be able to crawl back. Even a 9-9 Big Ten finish will likely be sufficient for an at-large bid.

UNLV 74, #14 New Mexico 62
The warning lights have to be on in New Mexico, as this is their second straight loss to begin conference play, to actually push them to last place in the Mountain West. To be fair, those two losses came to San Diego State and UNLV, which are both bubble teams, and this game was more about three-point shooting (4-for-18 for New Mexico, 11-for-26 for UNLV) than anything else. UNLV is a good team that just played a really good game (the 20 assists on 27 made shots are particularly impressive), and this game was closer than the final score anyway (it was tied with under ten minutes remaining). The sense of invincability around New Mexico is shattered, but they're still (in my opinion) the best team in the Mountain West. They still have those wins over California, Texas Tech and Texas A&M and an RPI of 17th. And their schedule eases up a bit, with their next tough game likely being against BYU on January 27th. This game meant more for UNLV, a team that needed a big win like this. This seems to firmly push them into third place in the Mountain West pecking order, and the Mountain West probably deserves three Tournament teams. UNLV's RPI is 23rd, but Sagarin will probably have them around 40th when the new rankings come out in the morning, and which is probably closer to how good they really are. They went 12-2 out-of-conference with a win over Louisville and no bad losses, so even a 10-6 Mountain West record along with a win or two in the Mountain West tournament will probably be enough for an at-large bid.

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