Sunday set up to be a big day for the Atlantic 10 with Dayton (Old Spice Classic) and Saint Louis (76 Classic) playing in the title game of their respective in-season tournaments. And even better for the conference is that both picked up wins, displaying the depth of a league thought by many to be Xavier, Temple and 12 other teams before the season began.
With the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on deck for Tuesday and Wednesday, it would be easy to think that the only matchups between ranked teams early in the week can be found on Tuesday and Wednesday. Not so thanks to the matchup between #12 Xavier (4-0) and #22 Vanderbilt (5-1)in Nashville, but while Memorial Gym is always a tough place to play the Commodores have already lost at home once this season (Cleveland State).
Just one day after a Top 5 team (Connecticut) suffered its first loss of the season, the nation's top-ranked team fell in the title game of the Las Vegas Invitational. North Carolina (5-1) fell 90-80 to UNLV (7-0) in a game that featured two standout performances from forwards...and neither played for the team with the frontcourt that many judged to be the nation's best. Mike Moser scored 16 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out six assists while Chace Stanback scored a game-high 28 to go along with ten caroms to help first-year head coach remain undefeated at his alma mater.
The title game of the Old Spice Classic may not be the kind of matchup that leads off SportsCenter like say, North Carolina/Kentucky next week, but it is a contest that we could look back on in March when discussing tournament resumes. Dayton (4-1) and Minnesota (6-0) meet in the title game, with both surviving a pair of close games to reach this point.
Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State
Prevailing wisdom had Florida State and Connecticut playing on Saturday in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Well, they'll be playing on Saturday...but with third place on the line as both lost their semifinal games in disappointing fashion. The Huskies looked to be in good shape as they held a 50-33 lead on UCF early in the second half, despite a lackluster shooting performance from Jeremy Lamb. But it was almost as if UConn turned off their "power source", and the Knights took full advantage.
The championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational provides undefeated UNLV (6-0) with not only a great opportunity but also a great measuring stick, as they take on #1 North Carolina (5-0) at the Orleans Arena. The Rebels fought off a USC team that may not be long on talent but they do make you earn everything, and UNC wasn't challenged much by South Carolina in the nightcap. Whether or not Dave Rice's team can beat the Tar Heels likely depends on the play of their most recent UCLA transfer, forward Mike Moser (15.0 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 3.2 spg).
While people didn't necessarily give up on Santa Clara when it came to discussing who could win the West Coast Conference, there weren't a lot of outside believers in Kerry Keating's team once forward Marc Trasolini was lost for the season in the summer due to a knee injury. And there were even fewer folks left in the aftermath of their 89-56 loss at UCSB just over a week ago. But if their 79-76 overtime win over New Mexico in a 76 Classic quarterfinal showed anything it's that Santa Clara remains capable of being a factor in the WCC race.
Tommy Amaker's Harvard Crimson came into this season loaded, with all five starters and many of their key reserves back looking get to the NCAA Tournament. After blowing out Utah on Thursday night the Crimson will take on a far stiffer challenge on Friday afternoon, as Florida State is one of the best half-court defensive teams in the country. This will offer an interesting contrast, as Harvard is one of the better teams in the country when it comes to points per possession.