Wrapping a Turbulent Week in College Hoops
Well, bracket fans, we’re only one week away from the point at which teams start to build their “Last 10 Games” criterion for the Selection Committee. Some schools are starting to separate themselves from the pack (Marquette, Washington State). Others looking for security at the start of the week instead find themselves sliding closer to the bubble at its end (LSU, Texas). And of course, some teams are thrilled just to be included in the bubble discussion (Vanderbilt, New Mexico State) after picking up important wins.
Without further ado, let’s get to a brief recap of what was quite a turbulent week in college hoops.
Team of the week: Villanova
After dropping a game at Syracuse last Saturday that I thought they’d win, the Wildcats responded very nicely back in Philly, beating Notre Dame and Texas in competitive games. Yes, ‘Nova has lost three guards to the NBA. But they’re arguably stronger inside this year now that Curtis Sumpter is back, and Mike Nardi and Scottie Reynolds form a more-than-serviceable backcourt. This team could be very dangerous as a 5-8 seed in March.
The Wildcats had better not look past Providence on Tuesday, but should have no trouble getting up for a big game in South Bend on Saturday, followed another when they host Pitt next Monday. A 2-1 record in the next three puts ‘Nova back in the top half of the bracket, probably for the rest of the year.
Disappointment of the week: Washington
The Huskies didn’t even get off the bus in Pullman for a game against the archrival Cougars that they absolutely had to win. The final margin was 28 points, but it wasn’t even that close.
Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver completely shut down the Husky backcourt and unleashed an impressive array of outside bombs and driving layups on the offensive end. In the Huskies’ defense, star big man Spencer Hawes was sidelined with an illness, but with the loss, Washington also lost all margin for error the rest of the way in the Pac-10. They now must beat every team remaining on their schedule, except perhaps UCLA, for any real hope of an at-large bid.
Team that lived up to its hype: Texas A&M
OK, OK (State), I get it. Texas A&M finally beat a marquee opponent, taking care of the Cowboys easily on Saturday at College Station. Yes, OSU may have been a bit fatigued after the triple-OT thriller against Texas earlier in the week, but a win in this Wednesday’s matchup at Lubbock will plenty of validation for Billy Gillispie & Co.
For all of the Aggie fans who might have felt I had something in for “the 6th man”, A&M made the biggest jump in this week’s bracket, from #7 up to #3, and they’re poised to move to the #2 line next week, as Duke, Oregon, and Ohio State can all be overtaken.
Team with the most new fans: Virginia
No, I’m not saying the ‘Cavs are converting average college hoops observers, but several teams are now desperately rooting for UVa to become a real player in the ACC. To do so, they’ll have to start winning some games on the road, but this week offers two great opportunities with trips to Raleigh and Clemson.
Purdue, Stanford, and even Appalachian State (RPI 48), smack in the middle of the bubble discussion, all count Virginia among their best wins. And of course Gonzaga, now scratching and clawing for an at-large bid (see below), wants Virginia to start blowing out some more teams so their own loss doesn’t stand out quite so much. Even Maryland, which blew a golden chance in Charlottesville last week and now stands at 1-4 in the ACC, would like to see Dave Leitao’s team win in the short-term, prior to its February 6th visit to College Park.
Biggest win no one heard about: New Mexico State over Nevada
This game started at 9:00 ET on Saturday night, and wasn’t televised, but you can be sure the Selection Committee members were watching for the result closely on Sunday morning. Nevada star Nick Fazekas did play, and played well (21 pts, 7 reb), but the Aggies took care of business at home.
Reggie Theus’ team features big-name transfers Elijah Ingram (St. John’s) and Martin Iti (Arkansas), but it was Justin Hawkins’ 29 points and 11 rebounds that led the way for NMSU. The victory would have given New Mexico State a 15-game win streak, but they dropped a mid-week game at Louisiana Tech. That loss is the only thing between the Aggies and the bracket at this point, but it makes the season finale in Reno on March 3rd a critical fixture.
Nevada loses its protected seed but keeps its preferred site in this week’s bracket, moving to a Sacramento pod with Washington State. Still plenty of time for the Wolfpack to move back onto the top four seed lines.
Conference race that will absolutely, positively come down to the final weekend: Missouri Valley
As is the case seemingly every year in this league, the conference champion will be bloodied and bruised before it’s crowned. ANY road win is a good win in the Valley—just ask conference heavyweights Southern Illinois and Wichita State, which lost at Evansville and Illinois State, respectively, this week.
Northern Iowa now holds a half-game lead in the conference over SIU and Creighton, but the Panthers must travel to Carbondale (a near-certain loss) and Drake this week. Even Wichita State, at 3-6 and sitting in seventh place, is still alive for the title. At this point, it looks like the eventual champ will have at best an 11-5 record, and more likely 12-6 with a tiebreaker.
That’s all for this week – check back next week as we take a closer look at teams whose power numbers don’t fit their profiles.