Saturday, January 02, 2010

Purdue Hammers West Virginia

#4 Purdue 77, #6 West Virginia 62
Purdue was very impressive here, in the first big college basketball game of 2010. West Virginia cut a 12 point deficit down to five by halftime, but Purdue opened it up to 25 by the 11 minute mark in the second half and the game was never close again. What makes this domination even more impressive for Purdue is that West Virginia actually shot the ball really well, including 9-for-12 behind the arc (46% overall from the field, 9-for-10 from the line). Purdue won this game with defensive pressure, forcing ten more turnovers than they allowed. Their backcourt also got to the basket at will, getting a lot of high-percentage layups, as well as 13 more free throw attempts than they gave up. Purdue is now one of the four remaining undefeated teams in the nation, and actually only has one game I'd be remotely scared about over the next month (January 9th at Wisconsin, a team that is generally almost impossible to beat at home, but which has been owned by this Purdue team over the last couple of years). Purdue isn't getting the hype of teams like Kentucky and Texas, but they have as good of a shot at a 1 seed as any of them. As for West Virginia, the good news is that they were due for a loss after those close wins over Marquette and Seton Hall, and it's better to lose that game out-of-conference against a Top Ten team than in conference. They are still 2-0 in the Big East with a fairly easy next few games, so they should be in the thick of the Big East title race for some time. I still think they're the second best team in the conference, and should be in a close battle for the crown with Villanova and Syracuse, and potentially Georgetown and UConn as well.

Missouri State 68, Illinois State 64
This is the kind of game that doesn't get mentioned on Sportscenter unless there's a brawl on the court, but it had important implications for the Missouri Valley. It's often hard to tell this early in the season, but it appeared to me as if Missouri State and Northern Iowa had separated themselves a bit from the rest of the Missouri Valley during the out-of-conference season. In a conference that has a decent shot at being a one-bid conference again, winning the regular season title will be an essential part of a potential at-large resume, and Missouri State needed to get off to a good start with a home win over a quality opponent. They are now 12-1 with a win over Tulsa, and a mediocre loss at Arkansas. Their RPI is 31st, but it's hard to take those numbers so seriously with so few quality opponents, and Sagarin and Pomeroy put them closer to 60-65th in the nation. Missouri State will have to go something like 14-4 or 15-3 in the Missouri Valley to earn an at-large bid, and I don't think that they will, but it's certainly a realistic goal that they can set at this early stage. As for Illinois State, they hadn't looked like much of an at-large team, and this loss won't help that. They are 10-3, but they are 1-2 against teams in the RPI Top 125 (the one win coming against Wichita State). Their RPI is 92nd, which isn't too bad, but the only way they could earn an at-large bid would be to absolutely roll through conference play, and losing their road opener is not a good start. At this point, their best shot for the NCAA Tournament is to try to earn as easy of a path through Arch Madness as possible, and to focus on getting hot in March.

#10 UConn 82, Notre Dame 70
This was a game that UConn is supposed to handle easily, especially coming off that difficult loss to Cincinnati, so I was disappointed to see Notre Dame actually lead most of the way through the first half. The Huskies did seem to play better as the first half went along, and eventually grabbed control of the game in its latter stages. While this wasn't a dominating win, it's a win on the resume, and a quality win at that. I don't think anybody is going to finish 16-2 in the Big East, so it's not like UConn can't lose another game if they want to win the conference, but it really would have been hard to come back from an 0-2 start. This might actually have been their best win on the season, as their other best wins came against LSU and Harvard. Their next important test will come on January 9th at Georgetown. If they can win that, and then beat second ranked Texas at home on January 23rd, then we can really start putting the Huskies in the discussion as a potential 1 or 2 seed. As for Notre Dame, this game was a reach for them, and I actually thought they should gain confidence from how well they played here. I've been particularly impressed with Ben Hansbrough recently. If you squint hard enough, Hansbrough really looks like a lot Kyle McAlarney, minus the three-point shooting of course. He handles the ball well, and is a good complement to Luke Harangody. Throwing him in with Tyrone Nash and Tory Jackson gives them a pretty nice four player core. It's the depth of the team that is a problem, and their lack of players who can really create their own points other than Harangody. The Irish are 12-3, but that record is not as impressive at it appears. Their best wins are over UCLA, Providence and UCF, and it's possible that none of those teams will end up in the RPI Top 100 (they're 3-2 against the current RPI Top 100). But despite the so-so start to the season, the fact that they only have one bad loss (Loyola Marymount) and that they will play so many ranked teams in the Big East means that they have plenty of time to play better and earn an at-large bid. But they will have to play better than they've played so far to get to the 10-8 record that they will likely need to go Dancing.

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