Before the start of action on Saturday few had any idea that the day would end up being as wild as it was. Seven ranked teams fell to unranked opponents on a day that will have a drastic impact on Monday's polls, providing a reminder that the madness doesn't always wait until March to get going. Those results were as follows:
- Colorado 89, #8 Missouri 76
- Georgia 77, #11 Kentucky 70
- West Virginia 65, #13 Georgetown 69
- Oklahoma State 76, #17 Kansas State 62
- Houston 76, #18 UCF 71
- Penn State 66, #19 Michigan State 62
- South Carolina 83, #22 Vanderbilt 75 (OT)
The biggest surprise of this group, despite the fact that Michigan State has its fair share of issues in Happy Valley, may be Penn State picking off the Spartans. Jeff Brooks posted his second consecutive double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) and four Nittany Lions reached double figures to make up for an off night from Talor Battle (3-for-14, 13 points). But Battle had six assists on the afternoon and his jumper with 18 seconds remaining pushed Penn State's lead to three as they held on for their second Big Ten victory. Durrell Summers led the Spartans with 21 but Michigan State left points at the foul line (10-20) and that ultimately cost them. UCF also went on the road and lost to a team not expected to contend for a conference title, falling at Houston as the Cougars limited the Knights to 39% shooting on the day.
Georgia and West Virginia picked up important victories from a resume standpoint as the Bulldogs knocked off Kentucky in Athens while the Mountaineers hit the road to beat Georgetown. Travis Leslie provided his usual highlights for Mark Fox's club and Trey Thompkins led four scorers in double figures with 25 points and seven rebounds. Meanwhile, outside of Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb the Wildcats struggled offensively and as a team made just 38% of their shots from the field. Georgetown was once again cold from deep (5-for-17) but their 18 turnovers had just as much to do with their loss as the poor shooting, and Casey Mitchell scoring 28 points didn't help the cause of the home team either. With the Hoyas now 1-3 in Big East play don't be surprised if they experience a sharp drop in the polls thanks to losses to St. John's and West Virginia.
Also of note was the performance of Colorado's Alec Burks, who reminded those who didn't know why he's on the Wooden Award's Midseason List. 36 points and eight rebounds for the wing in the Buffaloes' win over Missouri in the Big 12 debut for first-year head coach Tad Boyle. Colorado hadn't won their league opener since the 1996-97 season, when Chauncey Billups led the program to its most recent NCAA Tournament appearance. And in their last year before moving on to the Pac-10 this is the best that the Buffs could have hoped for as a beginning to their last hurrah. Of the seven defeats six occurred on the road, underlining the dangers that await teams within league play.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Connecticut makes the big plays late to win at Texas.
The matchup between the Huskies and Longhorns featured just about everything a sports fan would want: players stepping up to make crucial plays in late game situations, formerly struggling contributors posting their best performances of the season and the clutch shooting of one of the game's best players. Add in a flubbed dunk attempt and one of the more perplexing late-game decisions ever seen and you've summed up the game of the day. Kemba Walker struggled for much of the afternoon shooting and Texas point guard Dogus Balbay had a bit to do with that. But when it was winning time the junior was ready for the occasion, hitting a step-back jumper with five seconds remaining in overtime to give UConn a key 82-81 victory.
Walker, who made just 8 of 27 shots, also drained an end of shot clock heave from about 30 feet out to give Jim Calhoun's team an 80-77 lead. The struggling contributor going into yesterday's game? That would be forward Alex Oriakhi, who stepped up with 11 points and 21 rebounds as the Huskies grabbed 20 offensive boards and held a plus-10 (48-38) edge on the glass. Add in 15 from Shabazz Napier off the bench and 13 from Roscoe Smith (who likely misread the clock in throwing the ball 75 feet late in regulation) and the Huskies earned their first true road victory of the season. Five Longhorns reached double figures in defeat, but in the end it was about the superlative ability of Walker to make the big plays late.
2. Austin Peay remains in the driver's seat in the Ohio Valley race.
Much of the talk before the season focused on Morehead State and defending champion Murray State in regards to the OVC race. But don't forget about Dave Loos' Austin Peay Governors, who moved to 5-0 in league play with 66-64 win at Murray. The Govs were up 15 with 9:36 remaining, holding off the hard-charging Racers to move two games in the loss column ahead of both expected contenders (and already owning a victory over each). TyShawn Edmondson struggled, making just one of seven from the field and scoring seven points (averaging more than 19 per game going into Saturday's contest), but Justin Blake's 15 off the bench made up for it. Murray will likely look back to their shooting from the foul line (11-for-21) as the reason for their loss despite shooting 5-for-17 from distance, squandering a 39-24 advantage on the boards. There's still a long way to go before the OVC gets to its conference tournament, but you have to think that if Austin Peay can get themselves in a situation where the avoid both Morehead and Murray until the title game they'd be in solid shape.
3. Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost return and it doesn't matter for Mississippi State.
This one was a bit under the radar due to the fact that frankly neither Alabama nor Mississippi State has performed all that well. But Saturday marked the return of point guard Dee Bost and forward Renardo Sidney, with the big man serving just a one-game suspension for his role in a fight at the Diamond Head Classic with now former teammate Elgin Bailey. But not only did the two return to active duty they started, and if Saturday's result is any indicator of how much work Rick Stansbury has to do with this group they're in for a rough go for the immediate future. Trevor Releford led four Alabama starters in double figures with 17 points as the Crimson Tide stampeded in the second half of their 75-57 victory. As for the two stars: Bost shot 5-for-16 (14 points) while Sidney was 1-for-8 (2 points) from the field. The question for Mississippi State is who leads this team? That will more than likely fall upon the shoulders of Bost but with him missing the first half of the season he'll need time to get into game form. Is there anyone else who can step up in the meantime? The answer will likely determine the path on which the Bulldogs' season travels and a conclusion in the negative could bring down even more heat on their head coach.
Top Three Games
1. Connecticut 82, Texas 81 (OT)
2. UAB 100, UTEP 97 (3 OT) Cameron Moore, who led the Blazers with 29 points and 14 rebounds, won the game on a three pointer from the corner with two seconds remaining in the Conference USA opener for both. Randy Culpepper, who sent the game into the third overtime with a three pointer, led UTEP with 34 but his last-second shot from 40 feet out missed the mark.
3. St. Bonaventure 92, Charlotte 88 (3 OT) Andrew Nicholson's 34 points and seven rebounds led the way for the Bonnies, who move to 2-0 this season in games that have gone at least three overtimes (they beat Ohio in four OTs on December 18th). Javarris Barnett and Jamar Briscoe scored 20 points apiece to lead the 49ers, who attempted just nine free throws to St. Bonaventure's 42.
Three Notable Performances
1. Forwards Alex Oriakhi (Connecticut) and Herb Pope (Seton Hall) These were the only two players in college basketball on Saturday to grab 20 or more rebounds, with Oriakhi grabbing 21 (and scoring 11 points) in the Huskies' win over Texas and Pope snagging 20 (scoring 14 points) in the Pirates' loss to Syracuse.
2. G Alec Burks (Colorado) 36 points, eight rebounds and two assists in the Buffaloes' 89-76 win over Missouri in the Big 12 opener for both.
3. G Mickey McConnell (Saint Mary's) 11 points and 15 assists in the Gaels' 85-60 win over Pepperdine, moving their win streak to eight as a result.