Saturday, January 30, 2010

Purdue Survives Wisconsin

#12 Purdue 60, #16 Wisconsin 57
Despite this being only the second loss for Wisconsin since the Jon Leuer injury, this is actually the best they've played since the Leuer injury, and the Badgers should be encouraged by their play here. This is the toughest game on their schedule because historically they have almost never won at Purdue, and Purdue's style of play matches up very well against Wisconsin's. Wisconsin did a better job of taking care of the ball and getting better shots, and Purdue only won this game because of their size inside which led to a bunch of tip-ins off of misses. They had 11 offensive rebounds while Wisconsin had 15 defensive rebounds. Since the Leuer injury Wisconsin has mostly gone with a seven man rotation, and none of those seven are really post players, so rebounding is a big issue for them. But this result, even though it's a loss, proves to me that this team won't fall off the face of the Earth as they wait for Leuer to return. For Purdue, they got a great game out of E'Twaun Moore (who had 20 points and was really the only Boilermaker who could consistently create his own shot) and Robbie Hummel (who was shut down by Tim Jarmusz, probably the most underrated defender in the Big Ten, but did a great job of getting second chance points and by creating offense for others, finishing with four offensive rebounds, five assists and 12 points). Purdue now moves to 5-3, which puts them in a tie for third place in the conference. Wisconsin is still in second place, but at 6-3 they also have three losses. Michigan State is far ahead of everybody at 8-0 but they have had a relatively easy schedule and pulled off a bunch of very close wins, and are not as good as many people think they are. If Purdue can sweep their two games with Michigan State then they actually still have a realistic shot of winning the Big Ten regular season title. I certainly give them a better shot than anybody else of taking the title from the Spartans.

Virginia Tech 76, Virginia 71, OT
This result should put together the silly hype about Virginia, which was inexplicably getting a lot of Top 25 media votes and getting put into the field of 65 on other bracketology sites. Tony Bennett is, in my opinion, one of the best young coaches in the country, and he will build up this program. But this is Bennett's first season, and he was just not dealt a very good hand. Other than Sylven Landesberg there isn't anybody who is considered one of the better players in the ACC, and as a thin team they tend to wear out at the end of games (as they did here, where they actually led most of the game before faltering down the stretch and in overtime). They are trying to learn a new system, and it will just take a few years for Bennett to get the players he wants to build a winner. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, does have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament this season. This win pushes Virginia Tech to 3-2 in the ACC and 16-3 overall, with a 3-3 record against the RPI Top 100, but with no big wins or bad losses. Their strength of schedule is very poor, and so since the RPI overvalues strength of schedule it only has the Hokies at 61st, but that number will improve as their strength of schedule improves (Sagarin rates their strength of schedule 193rd, one of only three ACC teams outside the Top 90). Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 25th and their PREDICTOR is 45th, and Pomeroy has them 36th. What that all tells me is that if the season ended right now Virginia Tech would almost definitely make the Tournament, but they've got a lot of work left to do. If they can end up 8-8 in the ACC while knocking off at least one elite team then they will more than likely earn an at-large bid.

California 78, Arizona State 70
California's backcourt, probably the best in the Pac-10, had perhaps their best game of the season and led the Bears to a huge victory in terms of at-large positioning. Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher combined for 46 points on 16-for-29 shooting from the field, and they absolutely shut down Derek Glasser, who sometimes struggles against very athletic guards like them. If it wasn't for Eric Boateng's best game of the season (his first double-double since a mid-November game against TCU) and homecourt advantage this game probably wouldn't have even been close. This was the first game in a stretch of four key road games for Cal (at Arizona State, Arizona, USC and UCLA) that could determine whether they win the conference, or whether they even make the NCAA Tournament. This win keeps them in first place in the Pac-10 at 6-2, but the conference is so jumbled that everybody is close behind (the last placed team in the Pac-10 right now is 3-5). With this win Cal now has the best computer numbers in the conference across the board: their RPI is 18th, Sagarin has them 29th and Pomeroy has them 17th. If they can go 5-5 the rest of the way and then have a respectable performance in the Pac-10 tournament then I think they're in very good shape for an at-large bid. For Arizona State, this was a huge missed opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac-10 pack. They are now 4-4 in the Pac-10 and 14-7 overall, but only 7-7 against the RPI Top 200. With an RPI of 90th and a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 86th there is no chance they'd make the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now. They've got to finish 10-8 or better to have any chance of an at-large bid. But their Sagarin PREDICTOR rating is 28th and Pomeroy has them 30th, even after this loss, so they're good enough to still make a run.

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