Rivalry matchups dotted the schedule during the second week of February, a critical time in the college basketball world as teams continue to jockey for NCAA Tournament position.
Several clubs helped themselves – too many to list here. Some others saw their potential bids or seeds damaged by losses that can leave coaches and fans scratching their heads in confusion. We attempt to break it down for you here in our latest edition of the Postseason Watch.
(Credit: Michigan State Athletics)
– Michigan State (20-4, 10-2 Big Ten; No. 6 RPI, No. 11 SOS)
It’s about this time in the season where Tom Izzo’s teams usually make their move, and the 2012-13 Spartans are no exception. Michigan State is 7-4 against the RPI top 50, including a 75-52 pasting of rival Michigan on Tuesday night to pull into a tie atop the Big Ten with Indiana. The Spartans have won 10 of their last 11 behind backcourt duo Keith Appling (14.0 points per game) and Gary Harris, who connects at 43.6 percent from 3-point range. Michigan State hosts the Hoosiers next week in a game that could go a long way toward determining the regular season champion in college basketball’s toughest conference.
– Oklahoma State (18-5, 8-3 Big 12; No. 28 RPI, No. 58 SOS)
Like the Spartans, the Cowboys have posted a solid record against elite competition – a 7-4 mark against the top 100 is usually a good indicator of success when March rolls around. Key among those victories was an impressive 85-80 win at Kansas that ended the Jayhawks’ 33-game winning streak at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, part of a hot streak that has seen Oklahoma State win six straight and seven of its last eight. Terrific athletes like Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and freshman guard Marcus Smart, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound load who leads the Cowboys in rebounding and assists, will make Oklahoma State a tough out for any tournament opponent.
– Illinois (17-8, 5-7 Big Ten; No. 27 RPI, No. 5 SOS)
We also considered Wisconsin (17-7, 8-3 Big Ten; No. 30 RPI, No. 17 SOS) and Georgetown (18-4, 8-3 Big East; No. 22 RPI, No. 45 SOS) for this spot, but the Illini get the nod because they’ve played their way into the tournament field thanks to their recent three-game winning streak. Illinois ambushed Indiana at home on Tyler Griffey’s layup at the buzzer and stands at 5-6 against teams in the RPI top 33, a brutal schedule that includes double-digit victories against Butler and Gonzaga. The Illini should capitalize on a bit of a breather in their next two games – Northwestern and Penn State are next up for Illinois – to move back to the .500 mark in conference play.
– Kentucky (17-7, 8-3 SEC; No. 44 RPI, No. 55 SOS)
One of the saddest scenes in college basketball this season unfolded Tuesday night in Gainesville, as Wildcats’ freshman Nerlens Noel lay screaming and clutching his left knee on the baseline during the second half of Kentucky’s game against Florida. Noel, widely projected to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, suffered a torn ACL that will sideline him for the rest of the season and end any slim chance the Wildcats had of defending their NCAA championship. Kentucky is just 1-4 against the top 50 and has committed double digit turnovers in all but two of their 24 games. The Wildcats will do well not to miss the tournament entirely coming from a weak SEC that is ranked No. 8 in conference RPI.
– Kansas (20-4, 8-3 Big 12; No. 7 RPI, No. 7 SOS)
There’s no shame in losing to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Falling to TCU, however, is a different story. These aren’t the Horned Frogs of Billy Tubbs – TCU won its first Big 12 game of the season in a 62-55 shocker against the Jayhawks on Feb. 6, a loss that could cost Kansas a chance at a No. 1 seed in March. The Jayhawks snapped out of their three-game tailspin by crushing rival Kansas State on Monday night, but the damage might already be done. A defeat against a team with an RPI of 219 usually sends the Selection Committee searching elsewhere for a favorite to land on the bracket’s top line.
– Indiana State (15-9, 9-5 Missouri Valley; No. 58 RPI, No. 67 SOS)
To borrow from Rick Pitino, Larry Bird’s not walking through that door. If he did he’d be ashamed of his alma mater for losing on Monday to a Missouri State team that went 0-10 in the nonconference portion of its schedule. The Sycamores are 4-4 against the RPI top 50, but four of their five losses in Missouri Valley play have come against teams with RPIs of 112 or higher. That sort of inconsistency from a mid-major usually isn’t rewarded with an NCAA berth.
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