Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Busy College Basketball Saturday Doesn't Disappoint

Even though this Saturday had fewer games than we'll probably see going forward, a number of games with huge implications were played, including some gems from Villanova at Syracuse and Louisville at Kentucky. The last Saturday in 2013 was entertaining from morning to night, and it should leave all fans hungry for what we're about to see over the next three months.

First, we'll go over the games that will have the biggest effect on the bracket in March. I've also started adding into the scores who the home team is since that is quite important for knowing how teams will move up and down the S-curve.

@Syracuse 78, Villanova 62: Villanova jumped out to a huge lead in this game, looking like every bit of the undefeated team it was. But midway through the first half, Syracuse took control, and it never looked back. Villanova was confused by Syracuse's zone, and its failures on the offensive end lead to Villanova's stellar defense to fall apart. One wonders what would have happened had this game been played on a neutral court. With a 25-7 lead, Syracuse's massive crowd no doubt helped the Orange. It should be clear that the road loss does not hurt Villanova. A loss was expected. But Villanova's inability to finish out the game means that it will find it mightily difficult to climb up onto the #1-seed line, which it would have done with a win today.

For Syracuse, we did see a team with flaws but with enough talent to overcome those flaws on most nights. The matchup zone caused Villanova a ton of problems, but Villanova does not have a traditional lineup, and with a complementary inside game, Villanova likely would have held on. And Syracuse may very well be beatable away from the Carrier Dome by the country's top teams. The Orange won, but not entirely convincingly, in Maui, against Minnesota, California, and Baylor, who were seeded #10, out, and #6, respectively, in last week's Bracket Brief. In its one road game this year, Syracuse was losing with 5 minutes to play before pulling out a 5-point win over St. John's (not far from home). In fact, Syracuse has no challenging road games until February, when it plays at Pitt and Duke. Until we see how Syracuse performs in these games, it is hard to know what will happen when the Orange head to some March Madness site.

@Kentucky 73, Louisville 66: The result of this game was quite baffling. By all accounts, it should have been close, and Louisville should maybe have been able to pull out the win despite the hostile road arena. When Julius Randle, who played only 21 minutes, was sidelined in the second half with cramps, Louisville should have been able to get the win. But Randle went out, and James Young and the Harrison twins took over. Strangly, the Wildcats looked better with Randle out in the second half than it did when Randle scored 17 points in the first. This was a huge win for UK, a signature, whose best win prior to today was against Boise State and whose resume already includes losses to Michigan State, Baylor, and North Carolina. UK fans should not feel comfortable quite yet, as the Wildcats still have a number of documented problems to solve, but this was a huge step.

Louisville walks away asking questions. Most important to our purposes, just how good is UL? Louisville is a team with no good wins. A home game against Southern Miss is the only one even worth mentioning. Unlike Syracuse, Louisville doesn't even have a major neutral-court pre-season tournament championship. Smart money bets on Louisville being an excellent team, but there isn't a team considered to be in the upper echelon of college basketball right now that we know less about.

@Loyola Marymount 87, BYU 76: This was a major upset, despite the fact that BYU was at LMU. BYU now finds itself with 6 losses against a very difficult schedule, but losses at Utah and at LMU are particularly troubling. I haven't begun working on tomorrow's Bracket Brief, but my guess is that BYU will fall out of the tournament because of this loss. Look, it is hard to win on the road, but bubble teams can only afford to lose to good teams on the road. With Saint Mary's recent troubles and BYU's numerous losses, the WCC may return to form and end up as a conference with only one at-large team: the Zags.

Except where noted, these following Saturday games involved teams that should be in the bracket or who are on the bubble and won as expected.

@Memphis 75, Jackson State 61
@Cincinnati 74, Nebraska 59
@Georgetown 92, FIU 57
@Connecticut 82, Eastern Washington 65
@Butler 66, NJIT 48
@Indiana State 85, Belmont 73
@Wisconsin 80, Prairie View A&M 43
@Duke 82, Eastern Michigan 59
Southern Miss 77, @Rhode Island 64 - very useful road win for So. Miss and CUSA
@Arizona State 74, UC Irvine 61
@Marquette 71, Samford 48
@Toledo 85, Coppin State 66 - Toledo goes to 12-0, heading to Kansas on Monday
@Illinois 74, UIC 60
St. John's 65, Columbia 59 (in Brooklyn)
George Washington 69, @Hofstra 58
Harvard 94, @Fordham 86
@Utah 124, St. Katherine 51
@Michigan State 101, New Orleans 48
Kansas State 72, Tulane 41 (in Brooklyn)
@Xavier 68, Wake Forest 53
@Massachusetts 69, Providence 67 (OT) - good bounce-back win for Minutemen in stiff test
@California 90, Furman 60
@Richmond 67, Old Dominion 58
@Michigan 88, Holy Cross 66
@VCU 69, Boston College 50
@Gonzaga 74, Santa Clara 60
Missouri 68, @NC State 64 - excellent road win for improving Tigers
@Arkansas 89, High Point 48
@LSU 79, McNeese State 52
@Minnesota 65, Texas A&M-CC 44
@New Mexico State 82, South Alabama 64
@Utah State 84, San Diego Christian 53
@Colorado 84, Georgia 70
@UCLA 75, Alabama 67

Sunday has relatively few good games on the slate for college basketball, which isn't surprising considering that this is Week 17 of the NFL. There are quite a few tournament and bubble (and far off the bubble) teams in action, but short of an upset, look for nothing to change tomorrow. We'll have a new bracket brief up sometime on Sunday.

Murray State at Dayton
Buffalo at Drexel
Davidson at Wichita State
Morgan State at Oregon
Savannah State at Florida
West Virginia at William & Mary
Boston U at St. Joseph's
Chicago State at Creighton
Canisus at Notre Dame
Tulsa at Maryland
Cal Poly at Stanford

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