Saturday, February 12, 2011

Florida Survives Tennessee, Strengthens SEC East Lead

#19 Florida 61, Tennessee 60
Tennessee led most of the way in this game, but a late spurt tied things up, and Ervin Walker hit the winning shot with about 14 seconds remaining. Scotty Hopson poured in 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting for Tennessee, but it wasn't quite enough. Florida has played an inordinate number of close games. Of Florida's 25 games, 11 have been decided by five points or less, or in overtime. They are 8-3 in those games, which is why the computers are a little down on them. But whatever the computers think, Florida is now 9-2 in SEC play, with a firm two game lead in the loss column over Vanderbilt and Georgia. I do expect the SEC East to stay competitive, however. Florida will be underdogs in road games at Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and they have some other dangerous games (a home game against Alabama, for example). They are due to lose a close game or two. They now have a full eight days to prepare for a road game at LSU on February 20th.

Tennessee has lost three straight to fall to 5-5 in the SEC, and 15-10 overall. To again repeat Tennessee's bizarre resume: they have wins over Pittsburgh, Villanova, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Missouri State, along with losses to Charlotte, USC, Oakland, Arkansas and Charleston. They are 6-4 against the RPI Top 50, but 5-6 against teams with an RPI between 51 and 200. Their RPI is 25th but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 50th. They'd still be in the Tournament if the season ended now, but they are on the bubble. Their remaining schedule is pretty easy, so I think they need to win four of six to get to 9-7. That and a win in the SEC tournament should lock up an at-large bid for them.

#3 Texas 69, Baylor 60
Baylor put together a furious comeback late in this game. Texas was up 59-47 with six minutes remaining before a 13-4 Baylor run got the game within three points. But Baylor missed their final four shots of the game, and a bunch of Texas free throws got the final margin up to 69-60. Texas had 37 free throw attempts in this game (compared to 8 for Baylor) to help them overcome a 26 point performance from LaceDarius Dunn. With the win Texas continues to roll, and will get a bunch of #1 votes in the human polls on Monday, but I stand by what I said back on February 1st, which is that this team is going to hit some stumbling blocks at some point. Rick Barnes teams always do. They won't play a ranked team the rest of the regular season, but I do expect them to lose another game or two.

Baylor falls to 6-5, which is still good for fourth place in the Big 12. They only have one RPI Top 50 win (Texas A&M) along with two bad losses (Oklahoma and Iowa State), but they will have chances for good wins down the stretch with home games against Texas and Texas A&M. Even if Baylor does get to 9-7 by the end of the season they will still likely enter the Big 12 tournament with work left to do. The computers simply do not like them. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS was 70th even before this game.

#6 San Diego State 63, UNLV 57
UNLV played really well in this game, particularly late, but they couldn't hit a shot to save their lives and just couldn't dig out of a double-digit deficit. UNLV ended up with 1-for-15 shooting behind the arc. Early this season I was consistently calling UNLV a streak shooting team, because they'd occasionally go white hot and they'd occasionally go cold. But the past few weeks? At some point "streaky" turns into "sucks". UNLV's three-point shooting on the season is down to 31%, second worst in the Mountain West (Wyoming is worst). And so once again UNLV comes up short against a top opponent. They beat Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Kansas State before conference play began, but since beginning Mountain West play a home victory over New Mexico is their only quality win. UNLV's Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still stay inside the Top 30 after this loss. With the nice wins that they have there's no question that they'd be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended now, but they're far from locking up a bid. They still have road games at Colorado State and New Mexico, and either of those would be good wins. UNLV can definitely afford at least one more regular season loss without putting their at-large bid in too much risk.

San Diego State moves to 10-1, and they are tied for the lead in the Mountain West standings with BYU, but at this point they have to be the clear favorite to win the regular season title. They will play BYU at home, and also will play New Mexico and Colorado State at home. Their remaining road games (Air Force and Wyoming) shouldn't be too much trouble. I do still think BYU is the better team and should be considered the favorite in the Mountain West tournament, but right now they have a much tougher remaining path to the regular season title.

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