With games at #13 San Diego State and against #11 UNLV this week, Steve Alford's New Mexico Lobos had a great opportunity to not only take control of the Mountain West but also make a statement nationally.
With first place on the line in Columbus the expectation was that #11 Michigan State and #3 Ohio State would play a tight, physical affair. And that's exactly what it was, with the visitors from East Lansing seeming to be the more comfortable of the two teams in the first half. Michigan State shot 46.9% from the field but the reason for their 35-25 lead at the half was their defense, as they limited Ohio State to 33.3% and forced eight turnovers.
The matchup between the two best teams in the SEC was expected to be a competitive affair, one that would challenge John Calipari's squad and show how much of a national title contender they really are. The answer was an emphatic one, as Kentucky controlled the game on both ends of the floor in a 78-58 win that didn't seem all that close in the second half.
Rivalry games bring more to the table when it comes to intensity, and that was definitely the case in the battle between #4 Missouri and #8 Kansas in Columbia on Saturday night. In a game that featured many momentum swings and neither team leading by more than eight points, it was Frank Haith's Tigers who landed the final blow. Kansas led 71-63 with 3:25 remaining but they would not score again, as Missouri finished the game on an 11-0 run to win 74-71.
One of the consequences of conference realignment has been the ending of some of the best rivalries in college sports. With #4 Missouri (20-2, 7-2) headed to the SEC after this season Saturday night's game with #8 Kansas (18-4, 8-1) could be the last time for a while these two teams meet in Columbia. But that's a mere subplot in this one as the Tigers are looking to move into a tie for first in the Big 12 while Kansas can strengthen their grip on the top spot with a win.
To say that there were some complaints about the "quality" of Saturday's schedule would be an understatement as many felt that the college basketball slate wouldn't provide much intrigue. But once again college basketball didn't disappoint the fans, with the big result being Iowa State's 72-64 win over #5 Kansas. The Cyclones won despite turning the ball over 19 times by getting to the foul line and controlling the boards. ISU attempted 34 free throws (making 25) to just sixteen for the Jayhawks (who made ten) in handing the visitors their first Big 12 loss.
It looks as if the schedule-makers in the Mountain West wanted to spark some serious national conversation about the conference from the beginning of league play because the first full week of play will feature all three expected contenders facing each other. Wednesday's slate features #16 San Diego State (15-2, 1-0), fresh off of their two-point win over UNLV, visiting The Pit to take on a New Mexico (15-2, 1-0) squad that's quietly won thirteen in a row.
Monday's showdown between #3 Baylor and #7 Kansas gave the visiting Bears a great chance to make the statement that they were ready to dethrone a program that's won at least a share of the last seven Big 12 titles. Well while there's still plenty of basketball to be played before the regular season champion is determined, it's safe to say that Bill Self's team has no plans to simply hand over the top spot.
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