Elsewhere, no team has had a better four-day stretch than Illinois. After spending most of the season on the outside looking in, the Illini posted a home win over Michigan State last Saturday, then won at the Kohl Center in Wisconsin on Tuesday – a place the Badgers have lost only 11 times in 10 years. Even though Kalin Lucas didn’t play for MSU, these are two huge wins for the Illini who are 9-3 in the Big 10 and tied for first place with MSU. A win Sunday over Ohio State (at home) will move Illinois into our Should Be In category.
The Big East continues to have a pile of contenders in the middle of the standings. We should know a lot more about whose moving “in” and who’s moving “out” during the next two weeks. In most seasons, more teams play their way out than play their way in. Have a different thought? Rebounds are always welcome. You can follow daily updates and news with our Twitter updates: BracketguyDave.
Mid-January often provides an early shake-up in conference standings and expectations. It also gives rise to a variety of quirky resumes and an expanding bubble. Conference play is just different. Who can win on the road? Who can protect home court? Who will make a push toward earning a bid? Who will play their way out? The answers will be somewhat clearer in another two weeks. For now, however, we’re left with a lot of uncertaintly. Teams at the bottom of our latest bracket projection (Jan. 18) - along with those next in line - all have noticeable question marks on their resumes.
January 18 Bracket Projection.
Several mid-line teams are also on shaky ground … think about this group: North Carolina, Connecticut, UNLV, Cincinnati, Rhode Island, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Dayton, Xavier, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest … some have more work ahead than expected.
More thoughts as the week progresses. The No. 1 seeds remain the same, but with a slightly different order – Texas (South), Kansas (Midwest), Syracuse (West), Kentucky (East). Because Syracuse can’t be placed in the East (host) the only way for the Orange to move out of the West Region is to overtake Kansas or Texas. It could happen, but at this point, we’ll leave it alone. If Villanova were to reach the Top Line, the Wildcats could be in the East Region if ranked above the fourth No. 1 seed.
Moving in: Richmond, Illinois. Moving out: Texas Tech, Minnesota. What kind of weekend was it? Friday night we said that Illinois had to win or make a good showing in East Lansing to get a spot. Neither happened, really. But nothing happens in a vacuum. A variety of factors – including Minnesota’s loss at Indiana – changed some outlooks. The Gophers have to find a way to win on the road. For Texas Tech, an 0-3 start in Big 12 play puts a serious question mark on the Red Raiders’ ability to make the field.
As a final note … Several one-line seeding adjustments were necessary (see notes on the bracket). Also remember, teams are evaluated on their whole body of work, not a one or two-game scenario (Purdue, for example). Upcoming schedules played a role in determining our last in and first out. It’s also important to compare quality wins and whether a team is trending up or down. I’m sure there are lots of opinions – rebounds are always welcome.
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.