Posted by Marc Daley
I know it's only December 6 but if you're looking for teams that could be favorites to hit the Final Four in March look for teams that can win despite playing a bad game. Two popular teams that played ugly this weekend didn't come out on the winning end.
If the Kentucky-North Carolina matchup had been strictly a three-point contest the Wildcats could have called it a day after the first round. However, their offense from inside the money zone was hard to watch. Most of the time, nine for 21 from three is good enough to win – unless you go 15 for 41 from two, get outrebounded by eight and have enough players foul out that you expect your coach to morph into Gene Hackman and declare "My team is on the floor". Somehow, I don't think Jarred Polson, Stacey Poole, Jon Hood and Doron Lamb would have struck fear in Tyler Zeller and Co. had it gone to overtime.
At least that game went down to the wire. Texas inexplicably stole pages from their football brethren and turned in a turkey against a Southern Cal team that was lucky to still be eligible for the postseason this year. It's doubtful that the Trojans will continue after the Pac-10 tournament but if they become a bubble team for any tournament they can put this on their resume as a "quality" win – even though the 'Horns shot 32 percent for the game and were never really in it.
"Bad" has been slang for "good" for several decades. "Bad" can be relative, especially when it relates to teams from the BCS conferences and non-BCS conferences. Bad teams from the BCS conferences will reach double digits in wins by getting the majority of their wins against the bad teams from the non-BCS conferences. Bad teams from the non-BCS conferences will be lucky to grab a handful of victories. However, there may be one team from a BCS conference that may be non-BCS "bad" – Auburn. So far, they have lost at home to this murderer's row: North Carolina-Asheville, Campbell, Samford and Jacksonville. This weekend they faced off against Arkansas Pine-Bluff, which hails from the SWAC (a combined 12-60 this season). The Lions haven't played a home game and have been blown out in every contest. However, they nearly beat the Tigers for their first win until Auburn rallied for a four-point victory. Don't be surprised if the Tigers barely get that handful this season.
Nineteen teams remain undefeated this season. Duke, Kansas and Ohio State are among them, which is about as shocking as a Cincinnati Bengals loss. But just down the road a piece from Paul Brown Stadium you can come in, get warm and watch the Cincinnati Bearcats play their best basketball since the days of Kenyon Martin. Granted, they have beaten up most of the Little Sisters of the Poor conference but do own a 34-point blowout against Dayton. Their defense would make their old master Huggie-Bear proud as they allow their opponents to score barely over fifty points a game. They won't get tested until 2011 when they take on Xavier on January 7 but they could be interesting to watch in the Big East.
The week ahead has a great doubleheader on Tuesday night and some other matchups that look enticing, especially since winter decided to come early. So stay inside where the only cold ones should be in the fridge and check these games out:
Memphis-Kansas and Michigan State-Syracuse (Tuesday, 7 and 9 EST) The number of undefeated teams will decrease by one after the first game. Memphis hasn't had a tough test and nearly lost a big lead to Arkansas State last week. Kansas had some help from the refs against a UCLA team to escape with their lives – the same UCLA team that turned around and lost to Montana. Memphis looks primed to return to the Final Four – in 2012. Kansas still looked primed to get back there this season but this will be a great neutral court test in the Garden.
Syracuse also stands among the ranks of the undefeated but has been walking the tightrope in their last few games, including a nip over a Georgia Tech team that got drilled by Northwestern and lost earlier this season to Kennesaw State. Michigan State is easily the best two-loss team in the nation, which isn't hard to claim when your losses come against UConn and Duke. If the Spartans can get the Orange in foul trouble their thin bench should be exposed and the boys from East Lansing will get back to their winning ways.
Vermont-Brigham Young (Wednesday, 7 EST) Is Tom Brennan back with the Catamounts? In all seriousness, their only loss has come by sixteen to UConn. All eyes will be on Jimmer Fredette, who is continuing to light it up for the Cougars, but keep an eye on Evan Fjeld for Vermont, who is averaging a robust 21 points per game. If he can help the 'Mounts hang tough or even pull an upset they would have to be considered heavy favorites to win the America East and give their first-round opponent fits in March.
Tennessee-Pittsburgh (Saturday, 3:15 EST) Tobias Harris has been good as advertised for the Volunteers, who have already knocked off one Top 10 Big East opponent this year. The Panthers remain the best team who have never had made the Final Four but they look primed to break that streak this season. The key will come down to how well a couple of big men play against each other. While your eyes may go to Harris and Scotty Hopson or Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker look at the battle between Brian Williams and Gary McGhee. I have a feeling that will decide the contest.
This week's poll is full of changes. Three teams drop in, a couple of SEC teams took a dive but it was business as usual for the top four.
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Kansas State
- Brigham Young
- San Diego State
- Notre Dame