Monday, January 16, 2006

WKU Goes Nutts, 87-63; Bracket Update

I. 39-9 Run Fuels WKU Rout of Arkansas State, 87-63
As they often have this season, the Hilltoppers lurched out of the gate in unimpressive style and allowed the visiting Indians to build a 23-17 lead at the under-eight minute media timeout in the first half. That lead would evaporate posthaste, as Western Kentucky overcame their sluggish first twelve minutes by switching to a 1-3-1 zone trap. The defensive adjustment gave WKU a Mia Wallace-quality shot to the heart, as the Tops scorched land, sea, and sky during a 24-3 run to close the half. It actually spilled over into the second half, finishing as a 38-9 megaspurt. ASU would never recover, getting no closer than ten points the rest of the way.

The Tops led 60-36 at one point in the second half before the Indians made their only real run of the second half to close is to 64-54. Some questionable officiating led WKU coach Darrin Horn to shed his jacket like in WWE-like fashion, whirl it into his bench, and engage in a sonic assault that is still echoing in Diddle Arena. This earned him a much-desired (apparently) technical foul. This sparked yet another Topper run, only this time it was a relatively meager 15-4 burst to put the game far, far away. Junior G/F Benson Callier tied a career high with 21 points, and the Toppers enjoyed solid point guard minutes from both SO Ty Rogers (18 mins, 0 turnovers) and FR Orlando Mendez-Valdez . This was the Tops' second win over Dickey Nutt's Indians in a span of nine days. WKU hits the road at new Belt member Troy on Thursday, then head to much improved South Alabama next Saturday.

II. Bracket Update!
For the first time since I started doing these projections in 2002, the Kentucky Wildcats are not in the bracket. Their lack of quality wins (ZERO in the Top 50 RPI), mediocre RPI (52), 0-2 start in the SEC, and 5-5 record in their last ten games is just too much to overcome at this point. Some other notes:

1. I'm not sure Nebraska should be in with their 91 RPI, but the Big 12 has only two sure tourney teams at this point (Texas and Iowa State), and Nebraska's profile was as good as any of the other last 2 or 3 that got in.

2. Louisville gets the benefit of the doubt for one more week. They have to beat a good team at some point, though, and it probably will have to be UConn on Saturday if they want to stay in the bracket.

3. Nevada gets the same treatment as Lousville, but they are in serious trouble, too. The difference is that the Wolfpack do not have a lot of high quality teams left on the schedule. They will need to roll up a gaudy record and hope for the best. There is a very good chance that they will need to win the WAC tourney.

3. UW-Milwaukee got in as an at-large team this week, mainly on strong RPI (18). No team worse than 33 has ever been left out.

Multi-bid Conference Breakdown
Creighton, Wichita State, and LSU were the biggest gainers this week. Louisville, Boston College, DePaul, Wake Forest, Nevada, and Missouri State are looking a lot less certain.

Big East (9): Villanova, UConn, Pitt, Cincinnati, Syracuse, West Virginia, Marquette, Louisville, DePaul
Big Ten (6): Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa
ACC (6): Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College
SEC (5): Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas, Vanderbilt
MVC (5): Northern Iowa, Creighton, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, Missouri State
Pac-10 (3): UCLA, Arizona, Washington
Big 12 (3): Texas, Iowa State, Nebraska
WAC (2): Louisiana Tech*, Nevada
CUSA (2): Memphis, UAB
A-10 (2): Xavier, George Washington,
Horizon (2): Wright State*, UW-Milwaukee

*=Conference leader who would not be in as an at-large selection.

Last Four Teams In: DePaul, Nevada, UW-Milwaukee, Nebraska
First Five Out: Michigan, Oklahoma, Kentucky, George Mason, Washington State

Others: Miami-FL, Kansas State, Kansas, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Georgia, Colorado State, Georgetown, Clemson, Bradley, Florida State

III. Tonights GOI
--Kansas at Missouri. Border War with Bubble implications.
--Southern Illinois at Northern Iowa. Titanic battle of MVC powers.
--UConn at Syracuse. Statement game for both teams; UConn as a 1-seed candidate and 'Cuse as a legit Big East title contender.

A Bracket Buster update is on tap for tomorrow.