Missouri 93, California 66
It's a slow week in college basketball, and next week will be another slow one. It's partially because a lot of students are taking final exams. More importantly, we're in the purgatory between the great early season tournaments and conference play. Some of the smaller conferences actually started playing a couple of conference games back in November, but the big conferences don't start until nearly New Year's. Anyway, about this specific game, this was an example of Mike Anderson's system at its best. He turned the game into utter chaos, and California just couldn't keep up. Missouri forced 14 steals and outrebounded the taller Cal team, and the layups they got on those fast breaks buoyed their shooting percentage up to 49% despite bad outside shooting (6-for-20 from behind the arc). This win makes you really think that this is the year that Mike Anderson finally takes his boys to the Tournament. They have a loss at Xavier, but that really doesn't look like a bad loss right now. And they now have this win to go with a win over USC. If they can avoid any losses to bad teams before the Big 12 season starts, then you have to consider them in really good shape for an at-large bid. At this point you probably have to put them fifth in the Big 12, after Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Baylor. Obviously, that could change once conference play starts. For Cal, they've got to bounce back tonight with a big game at Utah. They're 6-2 without any bad losses, but they also lack any wins over any good or even decent team. They have one more decent opponent, Nevada at home, before the Pac-10 season starts. If they fall to Utah, that Nevada game becomes a must-win to salvage the out-of-conference resume.
Florida State 57, #21 Florida 55
A great bounce-back win for a Florida State team that was in danger of slipping out of the at-large picture. The Seminoles have home wins over California and Cincinnati, but it's not clear yet whether those will be good wins or not. And that big loss to Northwestern was very bad. It was a great thing to see them bounce back as quickly as they did. They have an opportunity for a huge win down the road when Pittsburgh comes to town, but otherwise they should blow away the mediocre teams they're playing between now and their ACC opener against Duke. Even if they lose to Pitt, a win in every other game will make them 13-2 without any really bad losses heading into ACC play. A 9-7 ACC record might not lock up an at-large bid, but they'd have a great shot. For Florida, this is a tough loss that showed their immaturity. Other than Nick Calathes, who is better used as a shooting guard or swing forward, they just lack passing abilities. The rest of the team (other than Calathes, who had six assists) had a grand total of two assists. The team had a total of 16 turnovers. That's how you lose to a team that only shoots 31% from the field. Florida continues to play well enough to avoid bad losses, but losses to Florida State and Syracuse mean that they haven't been able to get good wins either. Their best win is a two-point squeaker over Washington. There are no other chances for good wins in the out-of-conference, which means that the pressure will be on Florida in the SEC. It's quite possible that Tennessee will be the only ranked team that they play in the SEC, so there will be a lot of pressure on the Gators to win one of those two match-ups.
#22 Davidson 68, West Virginia 65
Yet another close win for a Davidson team that has proved very tough in the last five minutes of games. Three nights after the five-point win over NC State, they came right back with another win despite a weak night for Curry. It's weird how Sportscenter turns every Davidson highlight package into a collection of all of Curry's made shots, because he's actually been fairly inefficient this season. All of his shooting percentages are down from last year (he's only 38% from behind the arc, for example, compared to 44% last season). Against West Virginia, for example, he took 27 shots to get his 27 points, which is actually a pretty poor performance. No, the reason for Davidson's good season hasn't been Curry's shooting, it's been his passing. His assists are way up this season, up to 6.9 per game from a career high of 2.9 per game last season. He had 10 assists here against West Virginia. Basically, defenses have been actually over-pursuing Curry. They are keeping him from scoring, but they're leaving open tons of players down low, and Curry is finding them. Eventually I would think that defenses will re-adjust, and try to find the proper balance between stopping Curry and preventing the easy lay-ups down low. Davidson will see two more good teams the rest of the way when they head to Purdue on the 20th, and to Duke on January 7th. Even if they lose those two, Davidson is in really good shape for an at-large bid. They've played well enough that they can afford a loss or even two in the SoCon while still being in line for an at-large bid if they go out in the SoCon tournament. A quick note about West Virginia: we were expecting big things out of this team, but they've disappointed so far. In addition to this loss, they've also lost to Kentucky, with only one win that I would qualify as "good" (a 19 point win over Iowa). West Virgina gets one more serious test before the Big East, when they head to Ohio State on December 27th. Without a win there, they're going to need a minimum of 10 wins in the Big East to get into the Tournament.
#6 Texas 67, #12 Villanova 58
The best match-up of the week on paper wasn't really as close as the score would indicate. It was never a blowout, but Texas just seemed in control the whole way. Villanova never led after a 12-10 lead early in the first half. Texas just has a lovely combination of pure young talent and seasoned vets like A.J. Abrams, who can take over when times get tough. There's a reason why I've had these guys as a 1 seed ever since I put together my preseason BP65 back in April. But since Texas is only worried about the Big 12 title and trying to collect a 1 seed at this point, Villanova is a more interesting team to discuss. This marks their first loss of the year, which sounds impressive until you look at their 8 wins. But they hung in here with an elite Texas squad, so there's nothing to complain about quite yet. I would like to see them take out Saint Joseph's tomorrow night, but even a loss there wouldn't be too devastating. Villanova was probably a little bit overrated at #12 in the country, but they're still a good team that shouldn't be worried about missing out on what would have been a big upset here.