Wisconsin and Illinois squared off in a game to see who would join the Spartans and Boilers at the top (Ohio State also can with a win tonight). To everyone's surprise, the Illini went to Madison and came out with a win. What a three-day run Demetri McCamey has had. After playing brilliantly on Saturday night against Michigan State, he racked up 27 points and dished 7 assists last night. Illinois shot the ball well and played excellent defense, holding Badger star Trevon Hughes to 4-of-16 shooting from the floor.
In this crazy race though, Wisconsin still has time to recover.
On Monday night, Villanova helped narrow the Big East race to a two-team affair between themselves and Syracuse, by winning a tough game in West Virginia. When a guard-oriented team takes on a forward-oriented team and outrebounds them, it's a foregone conclusion who will win. That's what 'Nova did, getting a 37-27 edge on the boards with their lone post man Antonio Pena, getting valuable help from Reggie Redding who crashed for seven rebounds. The Wildcats show a lot of mental toughness in quickly putting the loss at Georgetown behind them and winning in a very tough venue.
In the SEC, it was Vanderbilt who emerged as the lone challenger left to Kentucky, as they beat Tennessee 90-71 in a fight to see which team would remain one game behind the leader. Vandy hit 86 percent of their free throws on their way to an astonishing 37-13 scoring advantage from the stripe. Swingman Jeffrey Taylor hit 12-of-12 freebies on his way to 26 points, while guard Jermaine Beal was 7-of-8 on his way to 20. Very impressive win for the Commodores, to beat a good team without a productive night from center A.J. Oglivy.
I took my first dive into the RPI rankings and, as always, came up with some surprising results. It's always an open guess as to how much the Selection Committee looks at these. There was a time when you could virtually know the seedings in advance just by looking at the RPI standings. After a while, it was downgraded. We do know that it remains a part of the process, and it does factor in issues the Selection people clearly are looking at--like strength of schedule and quality of losses. So unless you're Joe Lunardi at ESPN.com and can be a full-time bracketologist, the RPI is a good snapshot tool for the rest of us. I'm not trying to predict the bracket, just understand the landscape, and here is some of what I found...
*Maryland might be at the top of the ACC, but they could be in trouble if they slump it all. At #44 in the RPI, they trail conference brethren Clemson (#43), Florida State (#37), Wake Forest (#16). And even though Virginia Tech is 18-4, they are at #63, a number outside the realm of what generally gets chosen for the field.
*Illinois may be the toast of the Big Ten right now, but they are at #72 in the RPI, albeit prior to the Wisconsin game last night. They trail Minnesota (#61) and Northwestern (#66).
*In the area of fans that might be pleasantly surprised, Texas Tech is #33, putting them in the leaning-inward neighborhood, while Texas A&M is #20, virtual lock territory.
*And the Bubble Battle in the Big East is going to be a great story the rest of the way and through the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. From South Florida at #51 to Seton Hall at #64, there are six Big East teams in that window (including South Fla and Seton), and Louisville is sitting just above it at #42.
Personally, I believe this whole process is made far more complicated than it needs to be. My own formula would be simple--at the end of December, when you have a feel for how each league performed outside its own, settle on how many bids they earned. Perhaps tweak it for the few notable non-conference games in January and February. Then rely on the conference standings, with some minor adjustments if a non-conference performance was extreme or if someone plays really well in a league tournament. But that's just me. The real world makes it much more complex, so that's what we'll cover and talk about from here on out.