After dropping three straight Big Ten games #25 Wisconsin (16-5, 5-3) has won four straight games, but they face quite the challenge at the Kohl Center as #17 Indiana (16-4, 4-4) visits in a pivotal Big Ten battle. The leaders in the conference (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State) are all 6-2, meaning that the Hoosiers can ill-afford to fall three games back in the loss column if they're to remain a factor in the title race.
With the announcement that starting center Fab Melo would miss Saturday's game due to an unresolved academic issue, the chances that top-ranked Syracuse would remain undefeated took a hit. But few would have thought that the Orange would have few (if any) answers in the paint as a result of his absence, and that's exactly what happened at Purcell Pavilion. Jack Cooley scored 17 points and grabbed ten rebounds and Notre Dame led by as many as 18 points on their way to the 67-58 win, the eighth in school history over a top-ranked opponent.
On the heels of their first loss of the season, #3 Baylor (17-1, 4-1) returns home to take on #5 Missouri (17-1, 4-1) in a game that features a major contrast when it comes to team strengths. Scott Drew's Bears are one of the biggest teams in college basketball while Frank Haith's Tigers are neither as big or as deep in the frontcourt. That simply means that in addition to forwards Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and Steve Moore (4.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg) all hands must be on deck of Missouri is to have any shot of leaving Waco with a victory.
Remember the concerns late in non-conference play that Vanderbilt was destined to be one of the country's biggest busts? Don't look now but Kevin Stallings' Commodores won their eighth straight game on Thursday night, beating Alabama 69-59 in Tuscaloosa to remain tied atop the SEC with Kentucky (4-0). Alabama shot 26.5% from the field in the first half and trailed 26-19 at the half, and a 17-4 run over a five-minute stretch pushed the Vanderbilt lead out to 23 points at 58-35 with 8:12 remaining.
With the SEC making the move away from two divisions, games such as the one between Vanderbilt (13-4, 3-0) and Alabama (13-4, 2-1) take on added importance in the race for one of those four first-round byes in the SEC Tournament. And while both teams presently have the look of NCAA Tournament clubs, there's nothing wrong with picking up another resume-building result.
There weren't many opportunities to watch ranked teams play each other (there was just one, which is discussed below), but Saturday's slate provided many teams the chance to improve their resumes. Florida State and Northwestern took full advantage of their opportunities as they both knocked off Top 10 opponents at home, albeit in different ways.
Thursday was a big night for the Virginia Cavaliers as they were looking for their first win at Duke since 1995, and a victory over the sixth-ranked Blue Devils would raise their ceiling even higher.
The first Saturday of the new year proved to be far more exciting than anticipated, much to the detriment of ranked teams who took their show on the road. Removing #7 Missouri and #20 Marquette, who both lost on the road to ranked opponents (more on both of those games below), five ranked teams lost to unranked opponents with four of the losses coming on the road. The Big East provided the most intrigue, with #8 Connecticut and #9 Georgetown falling on the road while #10 Louisville lost in double overtime at home. So which of the three defeats is most concerning?
ROBERT MORRIS (12-4, 3-0 NEC) AT CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE (6-7, 3-0 NEC)
Time: 3:30 p.m.
To understand the funk that Pittsburgh and Villanova are currently mired in, it may take this fact about the two teams they lost to on Thursday night. This is the first time as members of the Big East (since 2005-06 for both) that DePaul and USF have won conference games on the same night. Yes, allowing that to sink in underlines the gravity of the situation for both the Panthers and Wildcats, as both teams are in need of some answers at this point in time.
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- Bracketology: Saturday Night NCAA Tournament Projection
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