Saturday, February 05, 2011

Northwestern, Baylor And Kansas State Win Must-Win Games

Northwestern 71, #24 Illinois 70
It's early in the year for true must-win games. And, yes, Northwestern could have lost this game and mathematically had a shot at an at-large bid. But a loss would have dropped them 3-8 in Big Ten play, knowing that even an 8-10 finish in the Big Ten would leave them with a lot of work left to do heading into the Big Ten tournament. With several tough games ahead (at Wisconsin, at Penn State and at home vs Minnesota being the toughest) it's hard to see Northwestern losing less than twice the rest of the way, no matter how well they play. Michael Thompson was the star for Northwestern, with 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting (including 5-for-8 behind the arc), as well as a whole lot of great hustle plays on defense and on the boards. John Shurna still is not completely himself, and Thompson has taken the team on his back in Shurna's stead. For Illinois, Demetri McCamey remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. With nine minutes left in this game McCamey had two points, and he ended the game with only four assists. He is so physically talented that he can get to the rim and to the line almost at will, yet he seems to mentally just lose it for halves and games at a time. And over the past four games McCamey has averaged 7.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 turnovers per game, compared to 16.2 points, 7.2 assists and 2.8 turnovers per game this season before that. It's no shock that Illinois lost three of those four games.

With the loss Illinois falls to 5-5 in Big Ten play, with a home-and-home left against Purdue, as well as road games at Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan State. A 9-9 finish in the Big Ten will get them into the Tournament, but that's no lock. If McCamey doesn't wake up soon I certainly wouldn't be shocked if Illinois falls to the bubble. As for Northwestern, this game finally gives them an RPI Top 50 win. In fact, a home win over Michigan is their only other RPI Top 100 win. Northwestern has no RPI 50+ losses, but the lack of a big win was a huge albatross on Northwestern's resume and collective psyche. The weak schedule and the lack of big wins mean that Northwestern probably can't earn an at-large bid without finishing 9-9 or better in Big Ten play. If they finish 8-10 they'll need to win a couple of Big Ten tournament games and they'll need to hope for a weak bubble. They are now 3-8 heading into a couple of big road games, at Michigan and Penn State.

Baylor 76, #16 Texas A&M 74, OT
Baylor came into this game 4-4 in the Big 12, but in desperate need of a quality win. And they got that win, on the back of another impressive performance from Perry Jones. Because he beat up his girlfriend, I wouldn't be a LaceDarius Dunn fan personally, but I also don't like his game. He often shoots as soon as he touches the ball, even if it's a fadeaway 24 footer with 32 seconds left on the shot clock. Occasionally he hits one of these crazy shots, and the announcers will ooh and ahh about what a tremendous shooter and scorer he is. But first of all, taking those long shots in the first moments of a shot clock is idiotic, even if you happen to make it. That shot will be available later on - work it inside first. And second of all, Dunn finished the game 5-for-14 from the field with 5 assists and 7 turnovers. He did almost as much harm as good. Dunn can get hot and can put up a lot of points, but to me it's clear that this is Perry Jones' team. Jones had a tremendous 27 points (on 9-for-16 shooting) and 7 rebounds (including 4 offensive boards).

Prior to this game, Baylor's only RPI Top 100 wins had come over Oklahoma State and Colorado. Meanwhile, they have bad losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State. This win pushes their RPI inside the Top 75, but their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will likely still be around 80-85th. Baylor is 5-4 in Big 12 play, but just to make the Tournament probably need to get to 9-7 with a win in the Big 12 tournament. If they only finish 8-8 they could really use another big win, and will have chances with a home-and-home against Texas, along with a home game against Texas A&M and a road game at Missouri. Texas A&M has now lost four of five and is only 4-4 in Big 12 play, but they've just come through a brutal stretch of schedule, and should feast the rest of the way. They do have to play at Kansas on March 2nd, but otherwise should not play a ranked opponent the rest of the regular season. I expect them to finish the season well, and to stay in contention for a 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Kansas State 86, Iowa State 85
This game was a shooting exhibition, with both teams hitting 50%+ behind the arc and from the field. Both had an eFG% over 60%. It was surprising to see Kansas State winning in Ames without a big day from Jacob Pullen, but they got a lot of bench support. The biggest surprise was Nick Russell, who had scored only 111 points in two seasons with Kansas State, never getting more than five in a Big 12 game. Russell had 13 points in this one, including 3-for-6 behind the arc. With defections and suspensions, Kansas State has had to rely a lot more heavily on the end of their bench than they expected preseason, and for the most part the bench hasn't stepped up. They stepped up here.

And this was a game Kansas State needed to avoid falling to 3-6 and 11th place in the Big 12. Kansas State still lacks any RPI Top 50 wins, and they have a mediocre home loss to Colorado. Their RPI is 32nd and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be close to 40th when the new numbers come out tomorrow. If the season ended now they'd be in the Field of 68 narrowly, but still need a big win. They'll get a chance on February 14th when Kansas comes to town. Iowa State falls to 1-8 in the Big 12 with this loss, and their at-large hopes are effectively dashed. Iowa State will remain rated near 80th in the nation by Sagarin and Pomeroy, but their ELO_CHESS and RPI are well outside the Top 100. Still, they're a good team that is improving under Fred Hoiberg. Don't be shocked to see them pull an upset or two down the stretch.

No comments: