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? That's likely a toss-up between the Huskies and Cardinals.
Connecticut lost at Rutgers, who already owned a win at The RAC over then-#10 Florida, 67-60 with Eli Carter leading the Scarlet Knights with 19 points. It was a Saturday night to forget for Jeremy Lamb, who scored just eight points before fouling out. With the preseason All-America dealing with foul trouble for much of the night, Rutgers head coach Mike Rice was able to go with a zone defense to take advantage of the Huskies' issues in dealing with zones.
While UConn's 36.5% shooting from deep on the season isn't a great number it's definitely better than the 4-for-19 performance they put up against Rutgers. But of more concern than the lack of perimeter shooting is the lack of leadership and toughness for this group, something that was lost with the departure of Kemba Walker. And it's a sore subject for head coach Jim Calhoun, who returned to the bench after missing the last three games due to an NCAA suspension.
"There's not a lack of leadership, there's none," said Calhoun. Short, and to the point.
As for Louisville, their issues of running a half-court offense with cohesion has been well documented, and for that reason it's reasonable to say that Rick Pitino's team was given too much credit earlier in the season. Eric Atkins' shot with 17 seconds remaining gave the Fighting Irish a 65-63 lead and his two free throws in the final seconds of the second overtime sealed the 67-65 victory, giving Notre Dame their first win in the Commonwealth of Kentucky until 1980.
Louisville shot much better from the field, making 42.3% of their shots compared to 31.7% for Notre Dame. But when you hand the ball over 18 times, allowing Notre Dame to score 16 points off of turnovers, there's a good chance that the outcome won't be a positive one. The Cardinals now already have two home conference losses, and that's definitely not a good spot to be in if they're to contend for a Big East title.
"Hard fought game, but if you break it down, they made their free throws and we didn't," said Pitino. "To lose two home games in the Big East with the type of schedule we have is very destructive to say the least."
The other two losses to unranked opponents came in the SEC, with Florida kicking off the crazy day with a 67-56 loss to Tennessee (more on that below) and #15 Mississippi State getting lit up at Arkansas 98-88. The Bulldogs weren't much more than a sieve defensively, allowing the Razorbacks to shoot 56.5% from the field for the game. Rick Stansbury's team seemed to be in solid shape at the half, trailing by just six (43-37) despite turning the ball over eleven times to just two for Arkansas.
But that optimism was misguided as the Bulldogs allowed 55 points in the final 20 minutes with the Hogs making 67.9% of their shots. Julysses Nobles and B.J. Young scored 24 points apiece to lead Arkansas, who finished with five players in double figures, and they were also aided by the fact that three players scored 63 of Mississippi State's 88 points. Arnett Moultrie scored just nine but did grab ten rebounds before fouling out with over six minutes remaining, but his fifth foul essentially signaled the end of the game for Mississippi State. The lesson the Bulldogs learned was similar to that learned by the other ranked teams to fall: anyone can fall on any given day.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Kansas State takes advantage of #7 Missouri's lack of interior depth and hands the Tigers their first loss.
There were certainly concerns about how Frank Haith's team would deal with bigger teams as the season wore on, as Missouri has just seven scholarship players and two true frontcourt players. And at the "Octagon of Doom" the Tigers got their first glimpse of how difficult things could be, especially if their perimeter scorers aren't as productive as expected. Missouri shot just 32.7% from the field and were out-rebounded 39-25 by #23 Kansas State in the Wildcats' 75-59 victory, suffering their first loss of the season.
It didn't help matters that starting forward Ricardo Ratliffe played just 14 foul-riddled minutes, scoring two points and grabbing one rebounds. The Tigers can't afford that level of production when their guards are on, much less when Phil Pressey misses all six of his shots from the field and the team shoots 7-for-24 from three. Rodney McGruder led K-State with 20 points and as a team the Wildcats assisted on 18 of their 28 field goals, resulting in an efficiency (111.9) 21 points higher than what Missouri opponents averaged on the season.
2. Syracuse runs out to a big lead and hangs on to beat Marquette in the Carrier Dome.
Thanks to a 23-1 run in the first half to turn a 12-11 lead into a seemingly insurmountable 35-12 edge, top-ranked Syracuse seemed to be well on their way to an emphatic victory over #20 Marquette. But Jim Boeheim's team apparently left their intensity in the locker room, as they came out of halftime flat while Buzz Williams' team displayed the fight expected of his program. Marquette would eventually pull to within two points (59-57) but could get no closer as the Orange would eventually win 73-66, moving to 17-0 and by the end of the night sitting alone atop the Big East standings.
Marquette could hit nothing
in the first half, shooting 30% from the field and going 1-for-7 from
beyond the arc. But led by Darius Johnson-Odom (19 points), Jae Crowder
(15 points, seven rebounds) and Junior Cadougan (10 points, five
assists) the Golden Eagles attacked the inside of the Syracuse zone,
resulting in quality looks that were few and far between in the first
half. But with Kris Joseph scoring 17 points and reserves C.J. Fair and
Dion Waiters combining to score 25 points Syracuse was able to sew
things up late, and while they weren't as efficient as usual the Orange
did assists on 19 of 24 made baskets. While the landscape beneath them
is too muddled to make sense of, it's pretty clear that the Orange are
the class of the Big East.
3. Florida has some things to work on defensively if they're to be a factor come March.
The first thing that will stick out in#13 Florida's 67-56 loss at Tennessee is likely the fact that they scored just 56 points, shooting 35.7% from the field in doing so. But what should really be taken out of the defeat is their play on the defensive end of the floor, because despite the struggles offensively Billy Donovan's team won't lack for scoring options. Simply put, can Florida get the stops needed when the possessions become even bigger in March? If they're going to do so some things will need to change, with one being the lack of ball pressure on the perimeter. The issue against Tennessee wasn't about what the Volunteers could do off the dribble but rather the lack of pressure on entry passes.
On multiple occasions the lack of pressure on passers allowed a Jeronne Maymon (12 points, seven rebounds) or Kenny Hall (13 points, five rebounds) the time to walk their man up the lane and out of prime defensive position. If Florida couldn't get away with this against Tennessee, what are they going to do in their two meetings with Kentucky? And it's not out of the realm of possibility that a team like Alabama (or even Mississippi State) that has multiple big men could give them a hard time inside. The Vols entered Saturday's game scoring 33% of their points from three, but they didn't have to do that as the paint was open for business. Florida can't allow that to happen if they're to reach their full potential, prolific offense or not.
4. George Mason beats Georgia State to take over sole possession of first place in the CAA.
In prior seasons the three-game stretch for Georgia State of Drexel/VCU/George Mason would elicit bets of what the Panthers' combined margin of defeat would be. To say the least things have changed under Ron Hunter, as they'd won the first two games of that stretch going into Saturday's showdown with the Patriots for sole possession of first place in the CAA. But despite Ryan Pearson failing to make a single field goal it was George Mason who was able to make the key baskets late on their way to the 61-56 win. Neither team shot well from the field and George Mason turned the ball over 19 times, but the deciding factor was the charity stripe.
George Mason, who shot 67.3% from the
line on the season, made 18 of 21 on Saturday night and outscored the
Panthers by eight in that department. Vertail Vaughns (17 points) and
Mike Morrison (14 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks) more than made up
for Pearson's 0-for-4 night, while the Georgia State combo of Josh
Micheaux and Devonta White shot a combined 3-for-15 (they entered the
game averaging a combined 20.2 points/game). Jihad Ali led Georgia State
with 19 points, and while they didn't win the Panthers have the look of
a team that could hang around the race throughout the season. But they
didn't have enough down the stretch, allowing the Patriots to take
control of the driver's seat a quarter of the way through CAA play.
5. Oral Roberts blows out South Dakota State and moves to 6-0 in the Summit League.
The matchup between the Golden Eagles and Jackrabbits was anticipated by some due to not only the matchup of early Summit League POY frontrunners Dominique Morrison (ORU) and Nate Wolters (SDSU) (Oakland's Reggie Hamilton will also figure in the discussion). But they game didn't live up to that, much to the detriment of the Jackrabbits, who fell 97-75 in Tulsa. Morrison was outstanding as he finished with 38 points and seven rebounds, but he had plenty of help as Steven Roundtree scored 17 off the bench and Michael Craion and Warren Niles scored 15 apiece.
Wolters led five SDSU players in double figures with 22
points to go along with six assists, but the Jackrabbits' biggest
problem was they they couldn't stop the Golden Eagles. ORU shot 60.7%
from the field on the night and 67.5% from two while also making ten of
twenty-one from beyond the arc, and when ORU's got it rolling like that
they're extremely difficult to beat at the Mabee Center. Oral Roberts
finished the game with an offensive efficiency of 154.0, scoring 1.5
points/possession on the night. To say the least South Dakota State will
do their best to make sure that doesn't happen in the rematch on
1. Saturday marked the first step towards another March in which Virginia Tech is once again discussed as a bubble team, with the Hokies losing at Wake Forest 58-55. Erick Green was solid for the Hokies, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but more is needed from Dorenzo Hudson (4-13, eight points) if they're to be a tournament team.
2. Entering the week with an 0-2 league record, UCLA couldn't afford anything less than a split with the Arizona schools if they wanted to be a contender in the Pac-12 race. Ben Howland's squad did better than that, wrapping up a sweep with a 75-58 win over Arizona State. Travis Wear scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Joshua Smith added 18 off the bench.
3. Few people gave Colorado a shot at being in first place in the Pac-12 at this point in the season, but there they sit after sweeping the Washington schools this weekend. A big reason why: defense. In their 71-60 win over Washington State, Colorado limited the Cougars to 36.5% shooting and none of their three league opponents have shot over 40% from the field. Also in forward Andre Roberson, Tad Boyle's got one of the most underrated players in the country.
4. Of the four teams tied for first place in the MVC the most surprising has to be Illinois State, who beat Evansville 75-73 on a miraculous shot by Jackie Carmichael. Carmichael, who finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, banked in his first career three-pointer as time expired to win the game. We'll find out how much staying power the Redbirds have immediately too, as they visit Wichita State and host Creighton in their next two games.
5. In a matchup of teams undefeated in SoCon play Davidson shot 60% from the field and made 11 three-pointers in their 96-74 win over Georgia Southern. Jake Cohen (29 points) and De'Mon Brooks (24 points) combined to score 53 points with Cohen also grabbing 12 rebounds in the victory.
6. There was also a matchup of undefeated teams in the NEC, and that game wasn't particularly close either. Ken Horton scored 21 points and grabbed ten rebounds while Robbie Ptacek scored 24 points and Kyle Vinales 18 in Central Connecticut State's 68-53 win over Robert Morris. Robert Morris shot just 30.3% from the field and turned the ball over 15 times in defeat.
7. Back in the ACC, Florida State laid a serious egg in their ACC opener as they fell 79-59 at Clemson. Not only did the Seminoles struggle offensively, shooting 35.5% and turning the ball over 15 times, but they also allowed the Tigers to shoot 60% from two and 49% overall. Leonard Hamilton's team can ill-afford the defensive breakdowns they had on Saturday if they're going to be a tournament team.
8. Both Temple and Saint Joseph's dropped conference games at home on Saturday, with Dayton pulling away late to be at the Owls 87-77 and Charlotte shocking the Hawks 57-52. Archie Miller's Flyers picked up a key resume-building win, and Charlotte's victory was a good step for Alan Major as he looks to rebuild that program.
9. Bowling Green also provided a surprise in their MAC opener as they beat Ohio 67-57. Jordon Crawford led the way, scoring 16 points to go along with five assists, four rebounds and two steals. BGSU turned the ball over 20 times (Crawford: six turnovers) but the Bobcats shot 4-for-20 from three, alliowing the home team to lock up the victory.
10. And in terms of a possible changing of the guard Nevada may have struck the biggest blow, handing Utah State their first conference home loss since 2007 by the final score of 78-71. Deonte Burton, who finished with 25 points and five assists, provided the dagger in the form of a four-point play with 37 seconds remaining while Dario Hunt scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Five (plus one) Notable Performances
1. F Doug McDermott (Creighton)
44 points (18-23 FG), eight rebounds and two assists in the Bluejays' 92-83 win at Bradley.
2. F Dominique Morrison (Oral Roberts)
38 points (11-15 FG), seven rebounds and two assists in the Golden Eagles' 97-75 win over South Dakota State.
3. G Damian Lillard (Weber State)
38 points (8-14 3PT), five rebounds and five assists in the Wildcats' 88-81 win at Portland State.
4. G Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)
35 points (7-8 3PT), five assists and two rebounds in the Racers' 87-75 win at Austin Peay.
5. F Kevin Jones (West Virginia)
22 points (8-12 FG) and 16 rebounds in the Mountaineers' 74-62 win over #9 Georgetown.
Plus One: F Royce White (Iowa State)
18 rebounds, ten points and ten assists in the Cyclones' 74-50 demolition of Texas A&M in College Station.
Game of the Day: Stanford 103, Oregon State 101 (4 OT)
If you missed this one late that's too bad, because the Cardinal and Beavers combined to play an instant classic. The game didn't truly take off until the final moments of regulation, as Stanford's game-winning basket was ruled to have come after time expired. Stanford would eventually win as Roberto Nelson's three-point attempt as time expired missed the mark. Chasson Randle led six Stanford players in double figures with 24 points off the bench while Nelson and Jared Cunningham led six Oregon State players in double figures with 19 apiece.