College Basketball Nation: Michigan

Video: Top seeds in the NCAA tournament

February, 26, 2013

Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams list the teams they believe should be the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Behind the box scores: Tuesday's games

February, 22, 2012
A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of statistical oddities and standout performances. Here are some we found from Tuesday.

Creighton 93, Evansville 92 (OT)
Evansville’s Colt Ryan scored 43 points, the highest scoring output by a player in a loss this season. He made 17 field goals, one shy of the high this year, set by Creighton’s Doug McDermott. McDermott was 6-for-13 from the free throw line Tuesday; he had missed just six free throws in his previous eight games.

Michigan 67, Northwestern 55 (OT)
Thirty-eight of Michigan’s 56 field goal attempts were 3-pointers (67.9 percent), the highest 3-point attempt percentage by a major conference team this season.

North Carolina 86, North Carolina State 74
North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall had 22 points, 13 assists and no turnovers in the win. No other player in Division I over the past 15 years has recorded at least 22 points and 13 assists without a turnover.
The Minnesota Gophers' tournament hopes died on March 2. Or so we thought.

That's when Minnesota, after winning at Illinois, attempted to build on its late-season push with a win at Michigan. That, um, didn't happen. Instead, the Gophers were walloped by a bad Michigan team, 83-55, and if you ever needed a reason to exclude the Gophers from the tournament -- and, as of March 2, you didn't -- the Michigan loss was plenty.

But look now: Minnesota is still breathing in the Big Ten tournament after wins over Penn State and yesterday's upset of No. 3 seed Michigan State, giving Minnesota its 19th and 20th victories of the year. Unsurprisingly, those wins have boosted Minnesota's tournament stock considerably. What's more surprising is that Minnesota's tournament stock isn't just vaguely better -- all of a sudden, the Gophers have a legitimate chance to sneak in the NCAA tournament.

Joe Lunardi now has Minnesota listed in his "next three out," right below Dayton and Mississippi State. That has to be the first Minnesota bracketology mention since, when, October? Of that group, only the Bulldogs are still active. Minnesota still has work to do -- leapfrogging Arizona State, Memphis, Rhode Island and Seton Hall will be no easy feat -- but it remains genuinely remarkable the Gophers are even on the bubble radar. A win over Purdue today would surely boost Minnesota's chances again, putting them right on the cusp. Then there's the Big Ten final against the winner of Ohio State and Illinois, which, duh, could mean an automatic bid for the Gophers.

Will Minnesota get in? At this point, it's still unlikely. But you have to give the Gophers credit for not doing what some of their disappointing Big Ten counterparts -- cough, Michigan -- have done, which is fade down the stretch. The Gophers are still fighting. Good for them.
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In many ways, today is the real start of March Madness, though you could just as easily say that about last week, when the conference tournaments really began. But since we have, count 'em, eight conference championships on the line tonight, and since this week marks the beginning of all the power conference tournaments, today rather feels like the start of what will be four consecutive awesome weeks of win-or-go-home hoops. Let's go to the tape:

  • Ken Pomeroy breaks down this week's most voluminous, and usually most exciting, conference tournament (who's up for another six-overtime thriller, because I am): the Big East. Can Syracuse rebound from its loss to the Cardinals? It might not matter, as Louisville is safely in the opposite side of the bracket. Meanwhile, West Virginia will look to upset the established order, and Villanova will try to overcome its defensive issues -- which actually didn't show up in its overtime loss to the Mountaineers Saturday -- and re-boost its once lofty projected tournament seed in the process.
  • ESPN Insider's LaRue Cook breaks down the historic chances of mid-major at-large bids, finding that conference tournament wins can be both a blessing and a curse for mid-majors on the bubble: "A handful of mid-major teams will receive consideration for at-large bids after strong work during the regular season, particularly given the under-performance of some of their major-conference brethren down the stretch. For those mids -- Saint Mary's, Old Dominion, Wichita State and Siena among them -- a conference crown isn't a must. Instead, our data shows that a single conference tournament win may do the trick. One win doesn't seem substantial, but last season four mid-majors received at-large bids and all of them had one conference tournament win on their resume. In fact, 33 mid-majors have earned an at-large bid in the past five NCAA tournaments, and just seven have not had at least one win in their conference tournament."
  • The New York Times' Thayer Evans has a quick rundown of what's at stake in all of the major conference tournaments. In short, a lot.
  • As expected, The Mid Majority is all over the mid-major conference tourney beat.
  • CAA Hoops tries to summarize the insanity in Saturday's quarterfinals round of the CAA tournament and finds words insufficient to do the tournament justice.
  • Searching For Billy Edelin has a handy little Microsoft Paint-drawn visual bubble aid. Who doesn't love Microsoft Paint? Back before the Internet was awesome, Microsoft Paint, Candystand mini-golf and Solitaire were the best ways to waste time in your high school's computer classes.
  • With the regular season finished, John Gasaway drops his final Tuesday Truths of the season. Maryland is still under-seeded according to their efficiency margin despite last week's big win over Duke, Notre Dame has added defense to its conference-leading offensive efficiency, Wisconsin is first -- yes, first -- in the Big Ten, and the order of the top four teams in the Mountain West might surprise you.
  • Casual Hoya hands out a few post-Oscar awards for its win over Lance Stephenson and Cincinnati on Sunday, which was, according to Hoya, "just the kind of medicine" Georgetown needed before the start of postseason play.
  • The Michigan State fans at The Only Colors relish a season-ending win over Michigan. Taking one look at the Spartans' offensive rebounding against the Wolverines is all you need to know; if Michigan State keeps that sort of obsessive second-chancing (not at all a verb, but let's go with it) going in the Big Ten tournament, it could separate itself from Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue just in time for the NCAAs.
  • IU coach Tom Crean fired assistant Roshown McLeod, who will not coach in the Big Ten tournament. IU is 1-0 this season without McLeod on the bench; the Hoosiers won their first game post-firing, a nearly blown home win over Northwestern Saturday. So maybe that bodes well for the Big Ten tournament? OK, probably not.
  • Kentucky fans might not like this column from CBS' Gregg Doyel, which parrots John Calipari's own consistent criticisms of the Cats: "Calipari looks tired. He sounds drained. And he looks and sounds this way on a Sunday afternoon when his team has just beaten Florida 74-66 to win the SEC regular-season title by two full games. He looks and sounds this way because he knows the heavy lifting is still to come, and because he has a team that is talented enough to lift as much weight as any team in college basketball -- but a team that is young enough, and dumb enough, to drop the weight on its own foot."
  • Basketball fans of the semi-nerdy persuasion were no doubt aware of MIT's Sloan sports conference, a collection of some of the best basketball-related statistical and business minds in the world. The conference is of primary interest to NBA fans, sure, but there is plenty of interesting stuff that spans into college hoops, too. Kevin Pelton has a recap, and our blog brothers at True Hoop were all over the gathering from start to finish.
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The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best action. Try not to make it awkward.

No. 7 Ohio State 73, Illinois 57: There were zero upsets to speak of last night, and Illinois' bid for a tournament-securing win at Ohio State was no different. Instead, the night was a feel-good Buckeye festival. Thad Matta's team secured a share of the Big Ten title. Evan Turner got a national spotlight, not that he needed it (more on this below). And Mark Titus, the by-now-famous purveyor of Club Trillion, made the most of his senior night, notching one final trillion in front of hundreds of Club Trillion t-shirt-clad OSU fans -- not to mention raising a whole bunch of cash for sick children. Really, things couldn't have gone much better.

The most notable performance of the night -- other than Titus', obviously -- probably came from Ohio State sharpshooter Jon Diebler, whose seven 3-pointers for 21 points (this scoreline math is refreshingly simple) helped bury the Illini in the second half. After the game, though, the only national topic was Turner. More specifically, the topic was "Is Evan Turner the player of the year?" Every analyst ESPN had to offer on Sportscenter proclaimed it to be true. The only dissenters? America. In a SportsNation poll, 37 percent of the country voted for John Wall as the player of the year; Turner notched 33 percent of the vote. Which means one thing, America: You're on notice. I know Wall might be the most familiar name, but it's March now. There's no excuse for this. Inform thyself. Wall is a great player, but Turner has had a better season, and he deserves the award. I thought we Turner advocates had settled this issue already -- seriously, you have no idea how good it felt to see the unanimous pundit praise for Turner Tuesday night -- but apparently not. We have more work to do. Turner bandwagon team ... assemble!

No. 19 Vanderbilt 64, Florida 60: Again, no upsets here: Florida, like Illinois, could have sealed an at-large NCAA tournament spot with a win over the sturdy Commodores on Tuesday night. It didn't happen. Still, the Gators acquitted themselves nicely in the loss; Florida held a typically efficient Vanderbilt offense to a mere 64 points on 60 possessions. Billy Donovan's team was undone by its poor shooting, though, hitting 21-of-50 2-point shots and just 2-of-13 from 3 for a paltry 31.8 effective field goal percentage. Even in a solid defensive effort, that's not going to get the job done.

The Associated Press wrap of the game seems to think that Florida significantly hurt its tournament chances with the loss, but that seems slightly overstated. Sure, Florida didn't help itself, but losing by four to Vanderbilt at home isn't the worst result in the world, is it? Florida might have more work to do -- but no more work than before Tuesday, right?

Everywhere else: Cincinnati likewise needed a big win to keep itself in the at-large conversation. They almost got it, but insert the old koan about horseshoes and hand grenades here ... UTEP clinched the outright Conference USA title with a hard-fought win at Marshall ... Missouri's Zaire Taylor almost perfectly recreated Tyus Edney's famous game-winner in a thrilling overtime win at Iowa State ... North Carolina became the second team in the history of college basketball to get to 2,000 wins; one wonders if the current players felt strange holding that 2,000-win plaque, given this season's ugliness ... Syracuse had no problems with St. John's on senior night ... Baylor won at Texas Tech, handing Pat Knight's team its sixth straight loss ... Minnesota suffered a major letdown at Michigan, one which officially puts the final nail in the the already almost-entirely-assembled Gophers' coffin ... Trevor Booker did manly things in Clemson's win over Georgia Tech ... and Marquette shredded Louisville's zone in a 21-point win in Milwaukee.
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown.

Illinois at No. 7 Ohio State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Of any team facing bubble implications to play tonight, Illinois' situation is perhaps the most fluid. A win at Ohio State puts the Illini in the absolutely-in pile; a loss leaves them right about where they are now, if not worse off. Losing would make the Illini would 18-12 overall, the sort of record the committee will not be perfectly thrilled with, and Illinois would still have to fend off loss No. 13 when Wisconsin comes to Champaign, Ill. on Sunday.

The good news is Illinois has proven capable of beating top Big Ten teams on the road before. The bad news is that Illinois' style plays right into the Buckeyes' hands: Few teams prevent free throws quite like the Buckeyes, and few teams refuse to pocket their jump shots and attack the rim quite like the Illini. If Illinois can reverse this trend for a night -- if they can get Demetri McCamey to attack the basket and get forwards Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis some good looks against Ohio State's somewhat undersized, shallow front line -- Bruce Weber's charges have a chance. If not, well, Ohio State is better and more efficient than Illinois in just about every aspect of the game. Things don't bode well.

No. 19 Vanderbilt at Florida, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of bubble teams in need of help ... Florida, come on down. Joe Lunardi has Florida as a No. 10 seed in the tournament right now, but thanks to a close loss at Georgia (which is actually not that horrible loss, given how well Georgia has played at home this season), Florida could use a big win tonight before a daunting trip to Rupp Arena on Sunday.

Make no mistake: That's what a win over Vanderbilt would be. Big. The Commodores have been a steady force in the SEC all season. Their only league losses have been to Kentucky and a blowout at Georgia -- there's that pesky Georgia team again -- and while not a great defensive team, Kevin Stallings' bunch is very difficult to stop on the offensive end. Vanderbilt's attack is nicely balanced between forwards A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffrey Taylor, and guard Jermaine Beal, all who shoot a plus-50 effective field goal percentage. Florida's lack of a true post presence could hurt them against the 6-foot-11 Ogilvy. Then again, Florida's strength isn't its size; it's speed. Make Ogilvy work away from the hoop on defense -- the sudden offensive brilliance of forward Chandler Parsons applies here -- and the Gators can make Vanderbilt exceedingly uncomfortable. And then we can stop talking about the Florida's bubble issues forever. I'm cool with that.

Everywhere else: Cincinnati doesn't share Illinois' and Florida's bubble anxiety -- it's entirely out of the picture, now -- but a win over Villanova couldn't hurt matters, I guess ... Gonzaga would put the cap on another WCC title season by topping Cal-State Bakersfield tonight ... With a win at Marshall, UTEP would seal the outright Conference-USA crown ... Baylor will put its third-place standing in the Big 12 on the line at Texas Tech ... Likewise for Missouri at Iowa State ... Minnesota plays at Michigan in yet another battle of the upper midwest's most disappointing teams ... and deadlocked Big East teams Louisville and Marquette will play a game both teams want, but don't necessarily need, in regards to NCAA tournament hopes. Marquette is involved, so it's a safe bet the game will come down to the wire. That should be fun.

Afternoon Linkage: Big Ten shakedown

February, 17, 2010
  • The glory days of the Purdue-Indiana rivalry have long since passed, or are at least temporarily on hold. Both schools have had overlapping rebuilding eras in the past decade or so; when Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson's teams were nationally competitive, Purdue was rebuilding, and now that Purdue is a contender again, IU is still digging out of its post-Sampson crater. But that doesn't diminish what the rivalry means to people in Indiana. In Indiana, you're either a Boilermaker or a Hoosier, and there's no room -- whether in the workplace, or at school, or on the troll-heavy comment threads of the state's major metropolitan newspaper -- for crossover. The best preview of the rivalry you'll read today comes by way of Purdue fan blog Hammer And Rails, which does a brief tongue-in-cheek history of the rivalry before closing with this totally reasonable thought: "This is still a rivalry though. I try not to view it with silly jokes (except for the above section), but with educated respect. We have won the battles in terms of the overall series, but they have won the war on the national scale. Until we win a title or two ourselves, it will be that way." It would be easy for Purdue fans to take this opportunity to stomp all over the struggling Hoosiers, a fan base that likes to remind Purdue loyalists of its five NCAA titles as frequently as possible. Instead, there's respect. Each fan base knows the history and the stakes. That's the mark of a true rivalry. Despite the product on the court in Bloomington tonight, it will still be worth your time.
  • When Evan Turner plays Penn State at home, at least one thing should happen: an eye-popping line. The Villian delivered: 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Did your eyes pop? Because mine did. This line caused me to ask my Twitter followers for a good reason why Evan Turner shouldn't be player of the year, and the only good reasonable response I got was "He was playing Penn State." Fair point. But Turner has been doing this all season -- except during his back-injury absence, of course -- and with John Wall's recent struggles and the way Ohio State relies on Turner so heavily, doesn't Turner deserve more love? Turns out he's getting it:'s staff polled its player of the year voters for an updated result, and Turner now trails John Wall by just seven first-place votes (25-18). There's still plenty of time to sort this all out, and John Wall will have plenty to say about it in the meantime, but it's hard to argue the fact that Turner is the most complete and valuable player of any in college basketball. If you can argue it, please do. But like I said: It's hard.
  • West Virginia fans debate the behavior of those who threw junk onto the court, including a coin that hit a Pitt assistant coach, during last night's win over Pittsburgh. The consensus? Kick these idiots out. Though there is one dissenter: "I’m an advocate of throwing eggs, oranges or other produce, in addition to metal trashcans. Whatever was thrown didn’t come from the student section. Not sure there is any way to reverse course and become reputed as model fans now. Might as well embrace the dark side and make the Coliseum a house of horrors where ANYTHING goes." Ha. Metal trash cans. Funny stuff. Wait ... he's -- he's joking, right? You guys? Tell me he's joking.
  • I did my best to summarize Dominique Jones' dominance in this morning's M.A.; now let John Gasaway discuss just how good the versatile, attacking guard really is. (One half-baked thought I just had about Jones: He sort of plays the way I assumed highly recruited Cincinnati forward Lance Stephenson would play -- physical, face-up, I'm-going-to-the-hole-now-try-to-stop-me sort of stuff. Stephenson has that potential, but Jones is already there.)
  • Andy Katz is out in California, and reminds us that, believe it or not, UCLA is still somehow in the hunt.
  • For the sake of mentioning it, Kalin Lucas' ankle is indeed merely sprained. He is listed as day-to-day.
  • In other Big Ten-State of Michigan axis news, the current rumor is that Manny Harris might stay in Ann Arbor for another season. This strikes me as a particularly good decision, given how bad Harris and the Wolverines have been this year.
  • The talk of a potential NCAA tournament expansion to 96 teams is still just that -- talk. But for the sake of fun, and as a handy way of putting into practice just who could hypothetically benefit from such an expansion, Rush The Court maps this year's 96-team NCAA tourney. The results are ... well, you'll see.
  • Can anyone go unbeaten in league play? Who? Why or why not? Mike DeCourcy shows his work.
As always, follow me on Twitter to send me links and tips. They'll get used. Trust me.
  • The Michigan State fans at The Only Colors have a major beef with Big Ten referee Ed Hightower, who spent a solid 30 seconds yelling face-to-face with Tom Izzo after a questionable traveling call on Raymar Morgan Tuesday night. They probably have a point: If Izzo is being so unruly that you need to make a statement, a technical usually does the trick. Yelling face-to-face tends to waver more on the "look at me" side.
  • In any case, more relevant to last night's game is this TOC post from a few days ago, which dissects the reasons why Michigan State was ranked so high -- No. 5 in the coach's poll, for example -- and yet isn't particularly well-liked by the Pomeroys of the world.
  • While we're in Big Ten recap mode, let's throw it over to UMHoops' Dylan, who gives mournful voice to Michigan hoops fans the world over this morning: "The last month or so has been littered with games where Michigan reminds you how good they could have been. In this one, Michigan reminded us how bad they really are."
  • Big 12 Hoops takes a look at the conference's teams that have a shot at winning the national title. This post probably could have just been titled "Kansas." Instead it includes Missouri and Baylor and Oklahoma State and other obvious stretches. But hey, you gotta keep things lively, right?
  • Rider's Ryan Thompson is doing his best to make the MAAC more than a one-Siena league.
  • There's a legitimate chance both the UConn Huskies and the North Carolina Tar Heels will be playing in the NIT this season. After you take a deep breath and recover from that SHOCKING TRUTH, be reminded that while the average college basketball fan might not be pleased about this development, the NIT's organizers are, like, super-stoked, bro.
  • Mike Miller argues that Duke is still, by all measures, an elite program. Whether or not it's still fun to beat them is a different story.
  • One team in the Pomeroy top 20 that everyone might be sleeping on? Ohio State. Here's why.
  • Keep The Bench Warm plays around with the idea of a Big Ten expansion, and what that means for the future of the conference. Why, it means everything! Or nothing! Your specific freakout level is up to you.
As always, follow me on Twitter to send me links and tips for Afternoon Linkage. Happy Wednesday!

Saddle Up: Big one in the Big Ten

February, 2, 2010
Saddle Up is our nightly look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown:

No. 5 Michigan State at No. 16 Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Michigan State is good on the road. Wisconsin is good at home. Immovable object, unstoppable force, you get the idea: Something's got to give in Madison tonight, and I have no idea what it will be.

Someone has to win, though, and if the tempo-free numbers have anything to say about it, that someone should be Wisconsin. The Badgers are No. 5 in the country in adjusted efficiency while the Spartans are No. 18, a difference that largely comes down to the Badgers' defense. Wisconsin doesn't force many turnovers, but they prevent teams from hot shooting nights and they rebound on the defensive end better than any team in the country. Michigan State has been getting better and better lately, so their numbers might not be a true reflection of their current state, but it's hard to look at Michigan State's strength -- offensive rebounding -- and think the Badgers don't have a serious advantage when it comes to the boards.

Of course, the numbers aren't the end-all. Still, this is Michigan State's biggest conference test of the season, and it comes as the Spartans just so happen to be playing their best basketball -- both at home and on the road -- of the year. This game is going to be slow, methodical, physical, defensive and awesome. Who else is excited?

Mississippi at No. 3 Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: OK class, quiz time. Who knows what everyone is going to be talking about before, during, and after Kentucky's home matchup with Ole Miss tonight? Yes, that's right: CalWallGate 2010. (I just made up that name. Pretty terrible, right?) Is John Wall still mad at John Calipari? Have the two reconciled their differences? Is this really a "teaching moment?" Expect this to be a topic of conversation, to say the least.

The more pertinent question is whether Wall can rebound from his string of merely human performances -- or whether he needs to. Kentucky is so talented, and so many of its possessions end up in DeMarcus Cousins' hands, that Wall doesn't have to take games over on the offensive end to get the Wildcats a win. He merely needs to control the game, keep his turnovers in check, find Eric Bledsoe for open looks on the perimeter, and get the ball inside to Cousins, and somewhat-overlooked forward Patrick Patterson, and the Cats should handle fringe top 25 opponents like Ole Miss with relative ease.

John Wall doesn't have do it all. He just has to do some of everything, and efficiently so. If he does, UK will be just fine.

Everywhere else: Villanova is on fire these days. Seton Hall will try to do what so few Nova opponents have been able to -- put out the flames. (Or at least toss a little water on them. Anything to quell the burning. OK, I'll stop now.) ... Meanwhile, the second of two Big East games featuring marginal road teams at vicious home foes -- this one would be Providence at Syracuse -- will be tipping off. ... Kansas State goes to Nebraska, which got its first Big 12 win of the year in Saturday's 17-point win over Oklahoma. ... BYU will continue its roll through the Mountain West when TCU comes to Provo. ... Northwestern is still a potential tourney team! Repeat: Northwestern is still a potential tourney team. Games like tonight's -- a possible home victory over Michigan; nothing flashy, but necessary for the committee's ease of mind -- are key to that cause. At 3-6 in the Big Ten, the Wildcats can't afford another bad one.
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not to make it awkward.

[+] EnlargeDevan Downey
AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainDevan Downey did most of his damage off the dribble, which led to 23 of his 30 points.
South Carolina 68, No. 1 Kentucky 62: There's nothing quite like your roommate coming home from work, glancing at the game you're watching, and asking who South Carolina's best player is and you telling him it's 31-points-per-game scorer Devan Downey ... and then watching as Downey hits a series of clutch down-the-stretch baskets one more unfathomable than the next. The fallaway three-point play? The extra-tight crossover on the left block? That probably-a-little-lucky-but-who-cares spin move through a sagging, slapping defense, ending with a teardrop high off the glass? Downey finished with 30 points on 9-for-29 shooting, but who cares? He got to the line all the time, and he made so many key buckets in crunch time that a few (OK, a ton of) early misses can be excused. If the average college basketball fan wanted to get to know this 5-foot-9 guy from South Carolina they'd been hearing about, well, there he is. He's pretty awesome, huh?

In the meantime, there are sure to be a flood of stories about why this is a good loss for Kentucky. That makes sense. It will disappoint Kentucky fans that their ascent to college basketball's upper crust has been derailed so quickly, but the more reasonable among them would have had to assume it would happen eventually. Upsets happen. All Kentucky can do is take the lessons from Tuesday night -- John Wall and Eric Bledsoe must protect the ball better; when DeMarcus Cousins has position, he needs the rock; help defense means stopping penetration and recovering to your man -- and apply them as they go on their quest for a national title. I'm not sure I buy the good loss theory. There are no such things as good losses. But there are plenty of good lessons to come from losses, and those are what Kentucky needs right now.

(Oh, and for plenty more on last night's game, be sure to scroll below for Pat Forde's instant postgame observations and Dana O'Neil's wrap.)

No. 5 Michigan State 57, Michigan 56: I have no allegiance to Michigan, other than my affection for a friend who went there, and that has nothing to do with Michigan basketball. (Plus, that friend broke our fantasy league's traveling trophy yesterday, so I couldn't care less about him right now. Such disrespect!) I attended a rival Big Ten school. But I have to admit I'm starting to feel a little bit sorry for Michigan fans. First their team is ranked in the top 15 at the beginning of the season. Then they have to suffer through 19 games of mediocre, lifeless basketball, nine of which the Wolverines lost. Then their best player is suspended for a date at Purdue. Then they welcome No. 5 Michigan State, play the Spartans tough for 40 minutes, lose a one-point lead on a Kalin Lucas jumper with 3.5 seconds left, and then rim out an inbound play that nearly got them a two-foot game-winner with less than a second left. I mean, yikes. Whether Michigan should be better than this or not is up for debate; whether their fans expected more and are now forced to face a 10-10 team is not.

But there is a silver lining here, however bleak it may be: Even if Michigan had won last night, it's not like they'd be in the tournament for sure. Heck, even if they'd won, converted the win into momentum, and finished the Big Ten regular season strong, there's no guarantee the committee will find the Wolverines worthy. Michigan will probably need to win the Big Ten tournament to get in the NCAA. Look on the bright side, Michigan fans: This loss, painful though it may be, doesn't really matter.

No. 13 Kansas State 76, Baylor 74: Smart money was on this being a close game, an eminently winnable one for Baylor if the Bears kept K-State off the free throw line. At the most crucial time, that didn't happen: LaceDarius Dunn fouled Jacob Pullen with eight seconds left to put the Wildcats guard on the free throw line, where Pullen knocked down the two game-winning shots to give K-State a steal of a win on the road. Baylor actually shot more free throws than Kansas State; the Bears also managed to keep turnovers low and rebound a decent portion of their offensive misses. The difference was in the shooting. Kansas State shot a 58.8 eFG percentage, while Baylor shot 43.2 eFG, and the Bears' solidity in other facets of the game wasn't enough to overcome a cold night in Waco.

Everywhere else: On a day when Clemson fans were talking about becoming an elite hoops program, this has to be a disappointing road loss at Boston College ... Maryland cruised over Miami, continuing the Terps' streak of efficient, impressive basketball in the ACC thus far ... West Virginia had few issues at DePaul ... UAB defended its place in the top 25 by topping Tulsa and taking full ownership of a wide-open C-USA ... This was probably NC State's best shot at toppling the hated Tar Heels in, what, five years? Unfortunately for the state's red-clad fans, it didn't happen, as UNC cruised to a 14-point win ... and Northwestern, despite its ugly efficiency profile, played Minnesota tough at Minnesota. The Wildcats are still, despite all odds, looking tourney-worthy.
Saddle Up is our nightly preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown.

No. 1 Kentucky at South Carolina, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Only four players in the country use more of their team's possessions than South Carolina star Devan Downey. DeMarcus Cousins is one of them. But where Cousins probably takes a few too many shots in Kentucky's offense -- John Wall and Eric Bledsoe are standing right there, DeMarcus -- the Gamecocks rely on Downey's production much the same way as Ohio State relies on Evan Turner. Perhaps even more. The question is whether Downey's gaudy offensive production is enough to stand up to a Kentucky team that is better than South Carolina in literally every way. The Gamecocks are especially vulnerable when the ball hits their own rim; they rank 339th in the country at preventing opposing offensive rebounds. Here's where it gets worse: Thanks to Cousins' prodigious rebounding ability, Kentucky ranks No. 1 in the country in grabbing their own misses. This smells like disaster. If the Gamecocks can keep Kentucky off the glass even occasionally, and thus give Downey a chance to go at Kentucky's defense on the other end, maybe South Carolina can hang with a Kentucky team that has had trouble putting away inferior opponents in the past. But if not -- if Cousins works as freely on the glass as the numbers suggest -- South Carolina has no shot. No matter how good Downey is.

In any case, tonight is Kentucky's first game as the No. 1 team in the country. Will that affect the Cats' play? Will it matter at all? This is not a team unused to hype, so I'm betting no ... but it's worth some attention all the same.

No. 5 Michigan State at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Can Michigan get a reschedule? This is really not a good time. Manny Harris is coming off a suspension. The Wolverines are still desperately looking for leadership. And John Beilein is saying things like this: "It's almost like the old-time days in the mid-majors. You got to go on a big string at the end of the year or you have to peak at tournament time and win the tournament. Those are our two options right now." Meanwhile, Michigan State is playing its best basketball of the season, or at least coming off its most emotional win, a come-from-behind last-second win at Minnesota on Saturday, the kind of win Tom Izzo teams always seem to get right before they figure things out and tear through the second half of their season. There are a lot of ancillary factors for Michigan at work here, and none of them look particularly positive.

No. 12 Kansas State at Baylor, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: Fire up the laptops; this is tonight's best game. Baylor nearly beat Kansas at the Phog last week. Kansas State toppled Texas before dropping a home game to Oklahoma State on Saturday. So K-State is vulnerable, and Baylor is at home. This has the makings of a close one. Baylor's key? Keep the Wildcats off the free throw line, which they go to more than any other team in the country. K-State's key? Get to the free throw line (naturally), and also keep Baylor's perimeter shooting (the Bears make 40 percent of their threes and 53.3 percent of their twos) under wraps.

Everywhere else: West Virginia visits a DePaul team that's playing slightly better since interim coach Tracey Webster took over ... Clemson will take on Boston College in Boston on ESPN2 ... Maryland will attempt to preserve their hot ACC start (Gary Williams' team is playing the best offense in the conference thus far) against a cupcake-bloated Miami (FL) team in College Park ... North Carolina State has been better than expected and North Carolina has been far worse; which wins out when the Heels head to Raleigh? ... Seattle will visit Washington with its secret weapon, former Washington juco recruit Charles Garcia in tow; check out Diamond's post about Garcia, who uses more of his team's possessions than any other player in the country, here.

Marquette isn't this bad

January, 26, 2010
Marquette's record doesn't look pretty. The Golden Eagles are 11-8 and 2-5 in the Big East, which puts them just above conference punching bags Rutgers and St. John's in the conference standings. If you merely glanced at Marquette's profile, you'd assume the Eagles were having the sort of down year you'd expect after the losses of seniors Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews.

But it isn't true. Marquette isn't having a great year, to be sure, but they're not nearly as bad as their record would allow. In terms of efficiency margin, Marquette is actually outplaying opponents by a half a point per game, which puts them even with Connecticut and a tenth of a point behind Pittsburgh, one of the surprise teams of the season. The Eagles are ranked No. 20 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, ahead of a host of probably NCAA tourney teams. So why is Marquette's record so bleh? John Gasaway helpfully explains:

The numbers here suggest that the Golden Eagles are a solid NCAA team, but at just 2-5 in the Big East Buzz Williams' group is tied with the likes of South Florida and St. John's in the eyes of the committee. Marquette lost by one at West Virginia, by two to Villanova, by two at Villanova, by one at (brace yourself) DePaul, and by five at Syracuse.

None of these are particularly bad losses, but viewed in sequence, you get a team with a mediocre record and a bad at-a-glance NCAA resumé. It also doesn't help that Marquette's nonconference schedule was filled with RPI downers like Centenary, North Florida and Presbyterian. To be fair, Buzz Williams' team didn't get any help from Michigan's collapse (the Wolverines were No. 15 in the country when Marquette handily beat them) and Xavier's rebuilding year, but still, that's not a tough schedule, and Marquette didn't do itself any tournament favors before Big East play began.

Had Marquette won a few of their close games, the story would be much different, and the nonconference foes wouldn't really matter much. But the slimmest of margins has Marquette looking like a tournament long-shot already, even though they're playing some pretty darn good basketball.

And people say the college hoops regular season doesn't matter. Right. Tell that to Marquette fans.

UM's Harris reinstated...what now?

January, 26, 2010
And just in time for Michigan's trip to Ann Arbor Tuesday night, too. The quotes from Michigan's statement (via UM Hoops) are below:

“It is our hope that Manny will show tremendous growth from his suspension,” said Beilein. “We look forward to moving on and to having a great practice today.”

“I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize to the university, the coaching staff, my teammates and every U-M fan for not being able to help the team against Purdue,” said Harris. “I made a poor decision during last Friday’s practice which I regret very much. I fully accept the suspension from the coaching staff. It was the correct decision. I cannot tell you my disappointment for letting my teammates down and showing the lack of leadership that I normally try to provide. I love my teammates, the coaches, this program and especially all the fans who have continued to support me. I have learned a great deal from this situation and I don’t ever want to have it happen again.”

All right then. That's a suitable apology, and Harris has been known to play well after disciplinary action, so Michigan fans can be at least somewhat hopeful of a strong performance from their best player at Michigan State tonight. They'll desperately need it.

That's mere short-term stuff, though; Harris and Beilein need to start thinking about the future. Michigan is in a precarious position. The Wolverines are 10-9 with few, if any, signature wins. As of right now they're nowhere near the bubble. Despite some gaudy numbers, Harris hasn't played all that well. The decision tree for both has changed: Can Harris and Beilein find some sort of common bond in the face of overwhelming odds, one strong enough that Harris will want to stick around for his senior season? (Harris is projected as a mid-second-round NBA draft pick right now.) Or do they stubbornly feud until the season ends and Harris goes pro, ruining any chance of a postseason appearance this season? Michigan can still salvage something here, whether it's this year or next. But both coach and player need to figure out whether they're willing to try.