Monday, February 2, 2009

College Basketball Week In Review: Four Weeks, Four #1's

What We Learned This Week: How many bids is the SEC going to get this year? Right now, are they looking at more than two? The way I see it, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, LSU, South Carolina and maybe Mississippi State all have some sort of chance if they are able to win enough games (I don't want to get into it too much, I am working on a post for later in the week about it). Kentucky looked to be a lock before getting swept this week. Florida was looking good until they were blown out by Tennessee, who is far from a guarantee themselves.

The biggest issue for these teams is going to be the perception of the SEC as very weak. Outside of Arkansas's (seemingly) fluke wins over Texas and Oklahoma, there aren't many impressive non-conference wins to speak of. Tennessee beat Marquette, but the Golden Eagles still have a lot of doubters out there. They also beat Georgetown, which is looking less and less impressive by the day. Florida and LSU have wins over Washington and Washington State (respectively), but the Pac-10 is down this year. LSU lost by 30 at Utah. Kentucky's win over West Virginia will be canceled out by their loss to VMI. And what about Mercer's dominance over the Alabama schools?

When it comes down to it, the SEC is going to get hurt by the lack of big games in conference play. Let's say Providence and Kentucky are on a par right now (not really a stretch). Who's shoes would you rather be in? The team that gets a shot at a number of Big East big dogs, where all you will need is an upset or two to solidify your resume. Or the team who is going to have to come damn near winning out against the on-the-bubble-powerhouses of the SEC in order to ensure themselves an at-large bid. Personally, I'd want to be in the Friar's spot.

Georgetown (12-8, 3-6) and Notre Dame (12-8, 3-6), both on five game losing streaks, are far from out of NCAA contention. There is still a ton of basketball yet to be played, and both teams are going to get a number of chances against tournament and top 25 teams the rest of the way. Think back to last year and Arizona. The Wildcats played the second hardest schedule in the country last season en route to a 18-13 record, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (good enough for 7th). But the Pac-10 was considered the best conference in the country, and as a result, the Wildcats earned a 10 seed as an at-large before losing to West Virginia in the first round.

The Hoyas have played the toughest schedule in the country this year, and with their schedule "lightening" up a bit down the stretch (only four of their final nine games are against RPI top 50 as opposed to six of their last ten), if the Hoyas can get to 9-9 or 8-10 in the Big East, they should be fine. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is in much more dire straits. Their SOS is currently 50th in the country, but if they hope to snag an at-large bid, they are probably going to want to go 7-3 at worst the rest of the way. They do get a road game at UCLA, which would be a huge win, as well as four other games against RPI top 50. But the Irish really have their work cut out for them.

Wake Forest 70, Duke 68
Not really that tough of a decision here. Wake Forest controlled this thing basically the entire game, eventually pushing their lead to 13 at 61-48. But that is when Duke started to chip away. Between Wake Forest missing free throws and taking questionable shots and Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler taking over the game, Duke was able to eventually tie the game at 68 after a Henderson 15 footer with 10 seconds left. Wake would push the ball up the court, but missed two shots before Henderson was called for a travel on the rebound, giving the Deacs the ball underneath with 2.6 seconds left. Dino Gaudio drew up a play in the huddle, and James Johnson slipped a screen and found himself wide open for a lay-up to win the game. Johnson finished with 13 and 11 while Al-Farouq Aminu added 15 and 10. Henderson and Singler went 20/8 and 22/12, respectively. A full write-up from the game can be found here.

Jerel McNeal, Marquette
Blake Griffin. Stephen Curry. Luke Harangody. These are the names that have been tossed around as far as player of the year is concerned. Believe it or not, Jerel McNeal needs to be included in that conversation. I've written about him (here) before, but McNeal has just kept playing better and better. This past week, he led Marquette to two more wins as the Golden Eagles remained undefeated in the Big East. Against Notre Dame, McNeal led the Eagles with 27 points as they sent Notre Dame to their second straight loss at home. But that was far from McNeal's best game of the week. On Saturday, as the Eagles hosted Georgetown, McNeal posted one of the best all-around lines of the season: 26 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 steals, and 3 blocks. The emergence of McNeal as an all-american has been the difference in Marquette being a good team in the Big East to the Eagles becoming a top ten team nationally.

Penn State
The Nittany Lions game their NCAA tournament hopes a huge boost on Sunday when they went into East Lansing and knocked off the Michigan State Spartans. Granted, MSU was playing without Raymar Morgan, but it is still a huge win on the road. Talor Battle had 29 to lead PSU in the win. With the win, Penn State moves into a three way tie in third place in the Big Ten (with Illinois and Minnesota) just a game behind Michigan State and 1/2 a game behind Purdue. Penn State has a win over both Michigan State and Purdue, but they will really get tested over their next six games - @ Michigan, Wisconsin, @ Purdue, Minnesota, @ Illinois, and @ Ohio State.

2/2 - UConn @ Louisville: Fantastic game between the two best teams in the Big East.

2/4 - Duke @ Clemson: There may not be two teams in the country that pressure the ball defensively as well as these two.

2/4 - Minnesota @ Michigan State: Can the Gophers handle the athleticism of the Spartans?

2/4 - Missouri @ Texas: The Longhorns get questionable PG play. How will they be able to hand the Mizzou pressure?

2/4 - West Virginia @ Syracuse: Syracuse has been slumping lately and is beat up physically. Not a good combo when you are facing a tough Mountaineer squad.

2/4 - USC @ UCLA: All of a sudden the Trojans are a game out in the Pac-10.

2/7 - Syracuse @ Villanova: Jonny Flynn goes toe-to-toe with Scottie Reynolds.

2/7 - Notre Dame @ UCLA: Notre Dame desperately needs this win.

2/7 - Memphis @ Gonzaga: Barring a collapse in conference play, both of these teams should be in the tourney. But a win like this could be the difference between an eight seed and a five seed.

2/8 - Purdue @ Illinois: Expect your typical Big Ten slugfest.

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