These next two weeks will help set the stage for March Madness. In early February we reach the mid-point of conference play. Why is that important? Because conference standings are a big deal for NCAA selection. Over the next two weeks we’ll find out which teams put themselves in position for at-large consideration. We’ll have an idea about who appears “locked in” and who may appear on the “bubble.” That in mind, here are some Bracket Bits and a look at some meaningful weekend clashes …
Conference RPI rankings (from collegerpi.com) are as follows: 1. Big East | 2. Big 12 | 3. ACC | 4. SEC | 5. Big 10 | 6. Atlantic 10 | 7. Mountain West | 8. Pac-10 | 9. Missouri Valley | 10. Colonial. While teams earn bids, not conferences, the rankings still help give some indication of how bids could be handed out in two months. Our January 11 bracket projection had at least three teams from conferences ranked 1 to 7; while the others had two or one – along with a team or two also considered.
Resume building … No team helped it’s NCAA resume more this past week than Pittsburgh. Winning three straight conference road games was quite an accomplishment. It also set the Panthers up for top-tier finish in the Big East. If Pitt simply wins its remaining home games, the Panthers would finish 12-6 in league play; nicely positioned for a potential protected seed. That’s quite a climb for a squad that three weeks ago looked like a bubble team. Then there’s Ohio State – which welcomed back Evan Turner. How much better are the Buckeyes with a fully healthy Turner? Ask Purdue. Illinois opened Big 10 play by beating Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana, and Penn State (4-0). The next four (@Michigan State, Purdue, @Northwestern, @Penn State) will tell us much more about the Illini’s NCAA chances. Read more…
As teams in the Big Ten Conference celebrate their first-ever ACC-Big 10 Challenge title (it took, ironically, 11 tries), the league might want to consider sending quick thank-you notes to Illinois and Wisconsin. For starters, the young Illini – fresh off two stumbles in Las Vegas – rallied from 23 points down on the road in the second half to nip Clemson. It’s especially interesting given that Illinois gave up a 16-point halftime lead in Vegas to Utah. For seconds, the Badgers – picked 9th in the Big Ten – upset Duke at home. The Kohl Center is a tough venue for anyone, but remember that until Wednesday night, the Blue Devils had never lost a game in the series. If you had tried to predict games – which we did – it would have been difficult to suggest that both Illinois and Wisconsin would claim victories given location and opponent.
In other quick notes … Michigan continues to struggle. The Wolverines should have handled Boston College at home. Minnesota is also hurting – both on and off the court. Miami is performing better than expected. Carolina will be tough if they continue to get good guard play. Duke is still looking for a consistent inside presence. Ohio State will compete with Michigan State and Purdue. The jury is still out on Florida State. Same for Maryland, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Maybe even for Penn State. A weekend look-ahead on Friday. As always, send a Rebound.
Around the Rim (ATR): Here’s an interesting – and telling – stat from Syracuse‘s two-day title run at the Coaches vs. Cancer finale in New York: 24 steals. The Orange garnered 14 thefts vs. Ohio State and another 10 vs. Carolina. It helped SU shoot close to 55 percent during their trip to Madison Square Garden. Opponents shot just 39 percent. Two impressive wins for ‘Cuse, no doubt. At the same time, this is November and the Buckeyes and Tar Heels don’t often see a well-played 2-3 zone. It’s also worth noting that the Heels, in particular, are breaking in a new point guard – not named Ty Lawson. Take away: If Syracuse puts together a solid Big East campaign, these two wins will boost seeding in March. Additional notes …
California has to be disappointed with their showing in the Big Apple. The Bears missed both chances to score an important non-league win. Then again, they played without a couple of key players – namely Theo Robertson. At this point, Cal relies heavily on perimeter shots.
San Juan: Mississippi and Villanova play for the title. Dayton and Kansas State square off in the consolation. Indiana got outrebounded 52-32 by Boston University Friday night and lost to the Terriers. IU coach Tom Crean talked about his team’s lack of physical play. That would pretty much explain a minus-20 rebound margin.
It hasn’t been a great start for the Missouri Valley. Northern Iowa lost to DePaul Friday. The MVC is now 0-2 in notable non-league matchups – Creighton lost at Dayton. The Blue Jays upcoming game with Michigan suddenly looms large as a resume builder.
Strong start for the Atlantic 10. Dayton has wins over Dayton and Georgia Tech. St. Joseph’s beat Boston College on Friday.
Breaking 80 again? Illinois has scored at least 80 points in its first two wins – something they did just twice last year. Freshman guard Brandon Paul has made the biggest splash – averaging 21 points per game in his first two college outings.
Keep track of key wins and losses throughout the season under Team Capsules. And as always, have a thought? Send a rebound. In closing … seems to be quite an interest in the Big-10/ACC challenge; a more current preview will arrive soon.
What a way to open the Big 10 and Big East – the RPI’s No. 2 and No. 3 conferences (the ACC is currently No. 1).
Monday, Georgetown goes to Connecticut and posts a convincing 74-63 victory. Tuesday, a rebuilding Illinois team see five players reach double figures en route to an overtime upset of preseason league favorite Purdue, 71-67. When you talk about “road wins,” these will resonate throughout the year. Still, we won’t know the true value for another month. Why? Well, the Hoyas host Pittsburgh on Saturday and then travel to Notre Dame. The Hoyas could be a very impressive 3-0 by this time next week, or be 1-2 in the Big East and have nothing bad of note. For the Illini, they visit Ann Arbor Sunday to battle Michigan – which has beaten UCLA and Duke. Read more…