First Take: Huskies Still Alive
Does UConn have enough to make a run at a bid?
Leave it to Connecticut, perhaps the biggest enigma of any team in the country, to pull itself from the brink of NCAA Tournament bid elimination by beating #3 Villanova on the road. Yes, this is still the same team that laid an egg at home against Cincinnati three days ago and had dropped five of their last six. This is also the same team that defeated Texas when the Longhorns held the #1 national ranking and gave Kentucky all it could handle before succumbing to a three-point loss.
This concept has already been beaten into the ground, but it’s all about effort for the Huskies. As far as talent is concerned, they are right up there with anyone in the country save for maybe Kansas, Kentucky and possibly Texas at this point. There are no less than four players on their roster right now that will get a look from the NBA at the very least. Stanley Robinson is a lottery pick, Jerome Dyson and Gavin Edwards could land in the second round this year and if he continues to develop and show up in big games, Kemba Walker could work his way into late-lottery discussions for 2011. There is no reason this team shouldn’t be among the best in the Big East and the best in the country. The question now is do they have enough to make a major final push and possibly play themselves back into an at-large bid?
There are five regular season games left on the schedule for UConn and they are all very winnable contests, with the greatest challenges coming from West Virginia and a Louisville team fresh off an upset of Syracuse. For arguments sake, if the Huskies win out that puts them at 10-8 in the conference and 20-11 overall with a pair of wins over teams that were ranked in the top five at the time of the games. Factor in also that the team will be red hot having won six straight in this scenario, I think that is enough to get into the Dance, barring they don’t fall apart and lose their opening game in the Big East Tournament.
Louisville is another team that took a major step towards punching its Tournament ticket with their win over the Orange on Sunday. Of the four-team quagmire that is Marquette, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and the ‘Ville, the Cardinals likely have the best shot or earning and at-large bid at this point. With that said, Rick Pitino’s bunch has a murderous final six games with road trips to Connecticut and Marquette, while also playing host to Notre Dame, Georgetown and a rematch with Syracuse. In order to crack the field of 65, Louisville has to get to 20 wins in my mind, meaning they win four of their final six, guaranteeing them at least one quality win down the stretch. Taking down the Hoyas or the Orange makes them a lock if they can handle the games they are supposed to.
Kansas fans shouldn’t be worried or concerned with their team’s close call on the road at Texas A&M. The Aggies are one of the more underrated teams in the country right now, even with their #23 ranking. The fact that the Jayhawks are finding themselves in these kinds of games, ones where they aren’t performing their best, but can still come out on top against a quality opponent should be encouraging as March quickly approaches.
Maryland bounced back very nicely from the shellacking it took at Duke over the weekend and put an equally impressive hurt on Virginia, blowing out the Cavaliers 85-66. First, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Terps lost as badly as they did in Durham, the Blue Devils are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference right now, but that doesn’t mean they are unbeatable by any means. But what really should be taken not of is how Maryland responded to the situation. After losing as badly as they did on the road, the team turned around with one off day and hammered a pretty solid UVA team. Greivis Vasquez had another great all-around showing, tying his season high of 30 points, while freshman big man Jordan Williams recorded his fourth double-double. This is the kind of mature turnaround that Maryland wouldn’t have made last year and proves that they are a team that could catch some teams off guard in March.
There aren’t any games that really jump off the page on tonight’s docket, but certainly Kentucky’s visit to Mississippi State features at least a semi-interesting story line given the harassment that DeMarcus Cousins has undergone from Bulldog fans. Jarvis Varnado is a great interior defender, but Starkville residents are going to eat their words tonight when Cousins dominated yet another SEC frontcourt player.
Wake Forest visits Virginia Tech in an evenly matched ACC tilt that has major implications in the conference race with the Demon Deacons holding a half game lead over the Hokies and Maryland for second place behind Duke. Wake has been on a role winning six of their last seven games despite the up and down play of their stars Al-Farouq Aminu and Ishmael Smith. If you like a contrasting styles though, this game is for you. The Deacons are a defensive minded unit that has the eight best opponents field goal percentage in the country, and the Hokies can trot out Malcolm Delaney, who has been a scoring machine, averaging just a shade under 20 ppg.
The CAA schedule has a pair of important games tonight as well, with third place George Mason hosting William & Mary who is tied for fourth and fifth place VCU meeting the other fourth place team in Drexel. The top five teams in the conference are separated by three games at this point, but no one has more pressure on them tonight than Mason which stands just one game back of first place squads Northeastern and Old Dominion.
That’s it for today, hope those of you who had a three-day weekend enjoyed it and to everyone else, enjoy the hoops!