Whether or not you believe Illinois is better off having lost a game before the NCAA tournament--and I believe it is--there's no denying the Illini can learn a lot from their 65--64 defeat at Ohio State on Sunday. The same can be said for Kansas and Kentucky, which fell to Missouri and Florida, respectively, on a day rife with upsets. To wit:
•Illinois has gotten by all season without a strong post scorer (6'10" forward James Augustine is more comfortable facing up from 10 feet), but the Illini's lack of size really hurt them on the defensive end against the Buckeyes; 6'9" forward Terence Dials had 21 points and eight rebounds for OSU. Augustine (above) and 7'2" reserve center Nick Smith have the ability to score around the basket, but Illinois needs to establish its big men early in games, or it will be clipped again.
•Kansas, of course, can score inside as well as anyone--6'9" forward Wayne Simien had 17 points and nine rebounds in the loss to Missouri--but the Jayhawks have been woeful from behind the arc lately. In its four Big 12 losses, all in the last six games, Kansas made just 27.5% from three-point range. To compensate, the Jayhawks need to do a better job of hitting the offensive glass and getting to the foul line. The latter task will be even harder if their best dribble driver, 6'4" guard Keith Langford (right), misses the Big 12 tournament with a sprained left ankle.
•That Kentucky grabbed one more rebound than Florida was a moral victory, since the Wildcats had been outrebounded in eight of their previous nine games. But Kentucky has a bigger problem: Even when the Wildcats are playing well, they simply don't score enough. With 10 players who average double figures in minutes, UK would be better off pushing the tempo to generate opportunities in transition instead of working mostly in the half-court. The Wildcats have topped the 80-point mark only eight times in 27 games this season. They will have to do better during the NCAA tournament.
1 Don't pay too much attention to a team's RPI ranking. Far more important to the NCAA tournament selection committee is whether the school beat enough opponents ranked in the RPI's top 50 or lost to too many teams ranked below 150.
2 Larry O'Bannon's emergence has been a huge development for Louisville. Last week the 6'4" senior swingman scored 57 points in wins over Charlotte and DePaul, solidifying his status as a valuable offensive option to Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean.
3 Mike Davis has earned the chance to return as Indiana's coach. The Hoosiers have a promising freshman class, won't have anyone in their rotation graduate and will add a missing post presence next season in 6'8" Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth.
Stewart Mandel projects the field of 65 in his Bracket Watch at SI.com.
JOHN BIEVER (AUGUSTINE)
BOB ROSATO (LANGFORD)