#8 Connecticut 61, #7 Villanova 59
UConn jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in this game, but Villanova struck right back and it was a close game the rest of the way. Despite Kemba Walker's huge production, UConn doesn't score a lot of points in the halfcourt, and they need to grind out these kinds of low-scoring victories. For Villanova, this is the second consecutive poor performance from Corey Stokes (0-for-6 from the field with 2 rebounds and 0 assists in 38 minutes). Corey Fisher has been consistently excellent this season, and Maalik Wayns is explosive himself, but Villanova's big wins this season have only come when Corey Stokes shows up. For UConn, the question after this win is whether they are actually a truly elite team. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 6th and their PREDICTOR is 24th. Pomeroy also rates them 24th, gives them a Luck rating of 60th in the nation, and projects only an 11-7 finish in the Big East (they are currently 4-2). Obviously they're not one of the ten best teams in the country, but the computers may be underrating the ability Kemba Walker has to win close games (he won this game with a last second shot). This is something that I want to flesh out into a longer post, but to state it briefly: the old fogies in the media who claim that sabermetricians don't understand that some players are just "clutch" and "know how to win" are just false. Nobody denies that some teams are going to win a larger-than-average share of close games. What sabermetricians deny is that there isn't a ton of luck going on. Every year the New York Yankees finish ahead of their Pythagorean record because they have Mariano Rivera and a bunch of clutch hitters, but if they're 15 games ahead of their Pythagorean at the All-Star Break you can just about guarantee that gap will close in the second half of the season. So, I think UConn is a team that will win a disproportionate amount of close games... but they still need to slide back closer to the mean. Right now I'd project a 12-6 Big East record and a 5-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As for Villanova, they fall to 4-1 in the Big East, but their season is likely to come down to their games against Syracuse and Pittsburgh anyway. They have to play both of those teams twice. Their road game at Syracuse is next, on Saturday afternoon. Kris Joseph should be back for that one, though, so I give Syracuse the slight edge.
#14 Missouri 75, #24 Kansas State 59
Kansas State proved in this game that, yet again, turnovers are the key to playing Missouri. Their press tends to force an enormous number of turnovers and fast break layups, but if you can beat their press they are very soft defensively in the halfcourt and they struggle to rebound on the defensive end. In the first half of this game Kansas State committed 13 turnovers and made 10 field goals, and naturally they were getting blown away 43-28. They went on a roll to start the second half and the announcers started talking about how Frank Martin must have given a fiery halftime speech. In fact, it was probably the opposite - they went on a run because they settled down and took care of the ball. Over the first 11 minutes of the second half Kansas State committed only 3 turnovers, hitting 8 shots and narrowing the lead to only three: 55-52. But Missouri adjusted, and Kansas State cracked, and over the final nine minutes of the game K-State hit only 3 shots while committing 8 turnovers, and so the final margin ballooned to 16 points. In all they had 23 turnovers and 20 made baskets, which just won't cut it. This game had extra importance to these two teams because both entered 1-2 in Big 12 play. Kansas State is now 1-3 and reeling. They are 13-6 overall with wins over Gonzaga, Washington State and Virginia Tech, and no particularly bad losses. But that makes them 1-5 against the RPI Top 50, and their Sagarin ELO_CHESS is 49th. If the season ended now they'd be right on the bubble, probably very narrowly in the field. If they can get to 8-8 in Big 12 play they should make the Tournament, but that's no lock. Pomeroy actually projects a 6-10 finish, which would send them to the NIT. I think 8-8 is more likely, and I do think they'll make the Tournament, but the margin is thin when you consider how improved the bottom of the Big 12 is this season. There are very few easy wins. They next will play at Texas A&M on Saturday, a huge opportunity for Kansas State to get themselves off the bubble with a win. Missouri is overrated at 14th, even after this big win, but unlike Kansas State they are very safely in the Tournament with a chance for a good Tournament seed. Right now they're the third or fourth best team in the Big 12, and if the season ended now they'd be in the 5-7 seed range.
Georgia Tech 78, North Carolina 58
I wanted to talk about one last game from Sunday - a shocking blowout by Georgia Tech of North Carolina. Georgia Tech is a strong defensive team, but North Carolina's offensive woes in this game went beyond that. The Tar Heels shot 27.6% from the field and had 18 turnovers, 16 made baskets and 9 assists. Georgia Tech's offense is poor, but it doesn't take much offense to beat a team playing like that. North Carolina is 12-5 overall and their RPI is 25th, and the computers do like them (25th in the Sagarin PREDICTOR, 30th in Pomeroy), but their resume is weaker than that would suggest. They are 1-4 against the RPI Top 50 (the one win came over Kentucky), and they now have this bad loss to Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels will get the benefit of the doubt from the Selection Committee if they are right on the bubble, but they've probably got to get to 9-7 in a weakened ACC to get there. They are 2-1 in ACC play so far, and will play Clemson at home later tonight. This win pulls Georgia Tech back to .500 on the season, and 1-2 in ACC play. They might pull off a few more quality wins at home because their defense can be quite ferocious, but they don't have the offensive firepower to beat almost anybody on the road, even in this year's ACC. I don't see any realistic path to the bubble for them.