Friday, January 25, 2013

Arizona Falls At Home To UCLA

UCLA 84, #6 Arizona 73
Arizona only hit 1 of their first 13 shots from the field, falling behind 19-3 to open this game. Arizona was able to chip away, eventually getting within six points with 3:47 to go, but they could not get closer. Arizona could have won this game with some better shooting - they shot 5-for-24 behind the arc after coming in as a 38% three-point shooting team - but the biggest difference in this game was Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad scored 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting here, the 7th time he's broken 20 points in his last 11 games.

I find it odd how little hype Shabazz Muhammad is getting. He was a very hyped recruit whose issues with NCAA eligibility got a ton of attention from the national media. But now that he's playing and making a serious case for Pac-12 Player of the Year, you basically never hear about him. When was the last time you heard his name on Sportscenter? And yes, I know, "east coast bias" and all that... but UCLA is usually exempt from that. It's bizarre. Muhammad will make some noise in the NCAA Tournament and he's going to be a very good NBA player. That's apparent already.

UCLA is the biggest winner here, but Oregon isn't far behind. The Ducks are now in very firm control of the Pac-12 regular season title race. They have one fewer loss than UCLA and two fewer than Arizona, with the tiebreaks over both. Oregon would have to really struggle over the next month to blow this now. Despite being dumped into a tie for third place, I do still think Arizona is Oregon's top contender. The Wildcats will play USC on Saturday. Next week they'll go on the road to face the two Washington schools.

UCLA is now 6-1 in Pac-12 play, with wins over Missouri, Arizona and Colorado, along with a bad loss to Cal Poly. Their RPI is 32nd and their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should move into the Top 40 as well. They'll probably make the NCAA Tournament if they can get to 12-6 in conference play. 13-5 should clinch it. They'll try to avoid an upset on Saturday at Arizona State. Next week they have only one game, at home on Wednesday against USC.

Northwestern 55, #12 Minnesota 48
Minnesota looked lost in this game. Athletically they are on a different level from Northwestern, but their offense was incredibly passive. They were too satisfied to take jumpers. The 26.3% three-point shooting was a cold hand, but 37.1% two-point shooting was poor offense. Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins were invisible. Meanwhile, Jared Swopshire (16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and 8 rebounds) played well doing his best to battle Minnesota's front line.

Honestly, I'm not totally sure what to make of Minnesota. The computers still love them - even after this loss they are rated 9th by both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR. At the same time they are 1-4 against the Pomeroy Top 35 and have lost three straight games since moving as high as 8th in the AP Poll. Minnesota has not had a whole lot of success during the Tubby Smith era, and you have to wonder whether they peaked this season in early January. They will head on the road to face Wisconsin on Saturday. Their schedule gets easier next week, but nothing is ever that easy in the Big Ten.

Northwestern is now 3-4 in the Big Ten, with wins over Minnesota, Baylor and Illinois, along with bad losses to Illinois-Chicago and Stanford. Their Sagarin ELO_SCORE is now 69th. They'll try to move to 4-4 on Saturday at Nebraska.

Richmond 86, #19 VCU 74, OT
The key to staying in a game against VCU is not turning the ball over. The Rams live off of transition offense, and at times will get bogged down offensively in the half court. Richmond did pretty well in that regard, turning the ball over only 11 times in 69 possessions. The only team to have a better turnover percentage against VCU this season was Duke.

Yet despite great outside shooting for Richmond (44.4 3P%) vs terrible outside shooting for VCU (17.6%), the Rams still led by three in the closing seconds of regulation when they allowed Darien Brothers to take a three-pointer in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. In overtime, things just fell apart for VCU. They committed three turnovers to fall behind, and then just bricked three-pointer after three-pointer trying to catch up. In the end, this game finished with a deceptively lopsided score.

VCU had won 13 straight games coming into this one. With this loss they are now 16-4 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic Ten, with wins over Memphis and Belmont, along with this bad loss to Richmond. It's not an overwhelming resume, but it doesn't change the fact that VCU is a very good team. They're much better, in fact, than the VCU team that went to the Final Four a couple of years ago. But they're going to need some quality wins to contend for a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They'll get a chance for a decent win against La Salle on Saturday. Butler, St. Louis and Temple are all ahead for VCU later in the season.

Richmond moves to 13-7 overall and 3-2 in the Atlantic Ten with this win. Both of those marks sound impressive, but it's come against a soft schedule. This is their first quality victory of the season, and they have bad losses to Davidson, George Mason and Ohio. Their next game will be at UMass on Sunday, followed by a game at Temple on Wednesday.

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