Separation At The Top

Kansas and Pittsburgh's losses make picture clearer

Jan. 23, 2007

By Jerry Palm

Special to





Jerry runs the web sites and and a analyst. E-mail here!

Before I go on describing the pain and misery that was last week for many teams, let me talk about one team that jumped into the tournament picture.  Vanderbilt, which seems to make an annual appearance on the "Close, but NIT (Not In Tournament)" list, made a strong move last week with a blowout win over Alabama at home, followed by a win at Kentucky.  Vandy still has some work to do to overcome its miserable non-conference performance, which includes losses to Appalachian St., Wake Forest and at home to Furman.  The Commodores have a game at LSU Wednesday night which could end up being big for both teams' tournament hopes.


Speaking of Alabama, I'm still waiting for the Crimson Tide to look like a top rated team.  The voters have `Bama 12th, but its results don't seem to warrant such respect.  In RPI terms, the Tide's best win was their last one, a 78-76 win at home over No. 49 Georgia.  They also beat No. 52 LSU at home and No. 51 Xavier in Puerto Rico.  However, when they lose, they do so with style.  The only loss they were remotely competitive in was the 14-point clunker at Notre Dame.  Arkansas and Vandy blew their doors off.


Texas also had a rough week.  The Longhorns lost that classic, triple-overtime game at Oklahoma State and then followed up with a loss in Philadelphia to Villanova.  Texas also has a lot of work to do to earn the respect of the committee.  The Longhorns' best win came at home over No. 30 Arkansas and they've only won twice outside the state of Texas (at St. John's and Colorado).  They have been reasonably competitive in their losses though, losing twice in OT and their worst loss by just 10 to Gonzaga in Phoenix.


The chances of the Missouri Valley Conference matching last year's total of four tournament bids gets smaller each week as the league feeds on itself.  Last week, tournament contenders Missouri State and Southern Illinois both lost at Evansville, which was supposed to be a bottom feeder in the league, and Wichita State continued its remarkable collapse by losing at Illinois State and Bradley.  The only team to escape last week undamaged was UNI, which is now back in first place after beating Missouri St. and Indiana State.  SIU is now the only MVC school still in the RPI top 30 at 11.  There are two big games in the Valley this week.  The Salukis host UNI for first place on Tuesday, and Creighton travels to Missouri St. on Wednesday.


At the top of the bracket, Kansas & Pittsburgh both lost last weekend to create greater separation between the top four teams (North Carolina, UCLA, Florida and Wisconsin) and the rest of the field.  Oregon is probably the strongest candidate to move up at this point.  The Ducks are only two points from being undefeated and are the only team to beat UCLA.  The Washington road trip will really test the Ducks this week.  They face the Huskies on Thursday and Washington State on Saturday.


There are several other games of importance this week to teams either looking to move up or solidify positions in the field.  Illinois, which has looked for all the world like a NIT team, has a chance to change that perception this week when they host Indiana on Wednesday and travel to Purdue on Saturday.  Also on Wednesday in the Big Ten, Michigan looks to put a big feather in its cap when it takes on Wisconsin in Madison.


Just when DePaul appeared to be headed the right way, the Blue Demons lost at home to Louisville.  They can start making up for that by winning on the road this week at Georgetown and West Virginia.  Also in the Big East, Villanova will look for the season sweep against Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend and then host Pittsburgh on Monday.


Finally, there is one big game among the other non-majors this week when Butler goes to Chicago to take on Loyola.  The Bulldogs will be on the road for five of their next seven games, and the Loyola game should be the toughest of that bunch.


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