Sunday, January 19, 2014

Conference USA's Marquee In-Season Game, and the Oregon Ducks Slide

Tonight, we got a little bit of clarity into the Conference USA race, and we found out that the Oregon Ducks are simply not the same team that started out winning its first 15 games this season. We'll look at those games and preview Monday's games.

@Southern Miss 80, Louisiana Tech 71: This was going to be the test to see how good Louisiana Tech would be without the services of Raheem Appleby. Without question, Louisiana Tech at full strength is this year's best Conference USA team, as evidenced by how it played up until today's game. But Louisiana Tech's status for the next several weeks is now in question. I still think Louisiana Tech has the best chance to get Conference USA's automatic bid assuming Appleby is back in enough time to tune up for the tournament. Make no mistake: this was Southern Miss's only opportunity to prove itself before the conference tourney, and it took advantage. It may not climb into the bracket based on its resume (especially if it loses more games like at Western Kentucky and at Tulsa), but the C-USA tourney should be interesting.

@Oregon State 80, Oregon 72: So long, Oregon. The Ducks started off the season hot, winning its first 13 games. Many games were close, with three going into OT, but UO got wins over Georgetown, BYU, and Utah. Then it lost four games. At Colorado, with Spencer Dinwiddie, was not a bad loss. Two home games to California and Stanford were unacceptable. A loss to Oregon State, even on the road, is incomprehensible to a team that started so hot. Oregon may be entirely out of the tournament at this point, and even though it has two games each against UCLA and Arizona left on the schedule, it cannot afford any more upsets like the one tonight. The Ducks are in a world of trouble.

Elsewhere, three other worthwhile games happened on Sunday, but all the favorites won as expected.

@Iowa 94, Minnesota 73
Green Bay 69, @UIC 64
@SMU 73, Hofstra 49

Two huge games are set for Monday night. Early, we'll see Creighton head to Villanova. Creighton lost a little momentum in losing in a bit of a big way at Providence on Saturday. But Creighton is in for a major battle if it wants to avoid a losing strea, as Villanova has dispelled the concerns of its fast start in continuing to win, a loss at Syracuse being the only blemish on the record.

We'll also see Baylor head to Kansas, where we find a KU squad improving by the week as it figures out its best rotations and distribution of possessions. Meanwhile, BU has lost 3 of its last 4 after its hot start, and it is looking for a signature in-conference win.

Keep an eye, as well, on North Carolina at Virginia. Both of these teams have a lot to prove in the ACC. North Carolina has struggled all year long, losing unexpectedly while, a few days later, winning unexpectedly. The Tar Heels are now 1-3 in the conference, and they need a win at UVA to prove in some way that they belong in the conversation for the top ACC team. But the Cavs are yearning for wins that would legitimize their season. Virginia simply does not have the name recognition, and wins over Florida State and SMU are nice, but they aren't North Carolina, even in a down year.

Fairfield at #15 Belmont
#6 Xavier at DePaul
#5 Creighton at #1 Villanova
#2 Ohio State at Nebraska
#11 North Carolina at #5 Virginia
#14 Delaware at Drexel
New Hampshire at #15 Vermont
Loyola (MD) at #15 Boston U
#9 Baylor at #2 Kansas
(NFO) Maryland at NC State
Marquette at (FFO) Georgetown
#16 Southern at Mississippi Valley State

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