Kentucky and Syracuse notch major wins, while a star at Michigan is out for the season

The first big Saturday of college basketball after the Christmas break usually features some of the sport’s nastiest rivalries.

Case in point during the doubleheader televised Saturday afternoon by CBS:

Villanova raced out to a 23-7 lead during the first nine minutes.  But another freshmen sensation following in the footsteps of Rony Seikaly, Carmelo Anthony, and Gerry McNamara, Tyler Ennis stepped to the fore.  He scored 20 points, mostly on nifty moves driving to the basket to bring the Orange to within four at halftime 38-34.

The second half was all Syracuse (in the first matchup since leaving the Big East to be in the ACC), as Villanova committed some chippy fouls early and the likes of Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant helped put the stamp on the Orange being only one of eight remaining undefeated schools.  James Bell was the game’s high scorer for Villanova, tallying 25 points and 5 rebounds.

Syracuse also made the most of their opportunities at the free-throw line, converting a whopping 29 for 35 at a 82.9 percent clip.  Villanova was not as fortunate, only toeing the line 22 times and making 14.  The Wildcats also shot poorly, hitting 19 of 50 for 38 percent.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth battle at Rupp Arena turned out to be a game of runs–as the schools marked their centennial of their first meeting back in 1913-1914 (albeit they refused to play for a period of 62 years way back when):

Louisville scored the first 8 points 2 minutes and 22 seconds in before Julius Randle made a free throw.  Randle scored 17 points, all in the first half before John Calipari decided to go with experience over sheer talent.

Both UL and UK managed to trade baskets for the last 10 minutes of the first half.  But the second half showed that the Harrison twins made quite a combo.  Andrew made some nifty, twisty layups and Aaron contributed some neat passes and buckets of his own.  However, Louisville got as close as four with 6:51 remaining on Luke Hancock’s three from the right wing.

Kentucky won this game on the boards–40 to 34, including grabbing the first 8 of 9 from the offensive glass.  The final score was 73-66, eerily similar to the 2012 National Semifinal down in New Orleans.

Other key games of note around the nation:

UIC, aka Illinois-Chicago (RPI of 264) stayed toe-to-toe with Illinois (RPI of 17) in the Orange Crush’s annual road trip up I-57 to the “House That Jordan Built” in Chicago’s United Center.  The Flames led by double digits, 44-34 at the half before John Groce turned up the defensive screws and clamped down on UIC’s possible upset bid–winning going away in the final 7 minutes of action, 74-60.

Out West, Brigham Young stayed close but fell at the hands of Loyola Marymount 87-76, led by Evan Payne scoring a career high 27 points.

Most of the other ranked teams won by double digits, led by Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Duke.

Speaking of those last two schools, they will be featured in next Saturday’s CBS doubleheader on the road as conference season begins:

First up, Tom Izzo and Gang Green head to Big Red Country to take on the 2013 Big Ten regular season champions of the Indiana Hoosiers at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Then, it is 175 miles up US 31 to the land of the Golden Dome in South Bend as the Fighting Irish get their first really difficult test in their inaugural season of ACC play hosting Duke at 4 p.m. Eastern time.

Finally, a serious blow to the tournament hopes of another Big Ten school hit rock bottom on Friday as 2013 NCAA Tournament breakout star Michigan forward Mitch McGary has been ruled out for the rest of the season with back spasms.  His statistics paled in comparison to his freshman year, but he still has two more years of eligibility at the most remaining (barring any setbacks with his rehab and/or conditioning efforts during the off-season).

Couple that with Tim Hardaway, Jr. trying to save the New York Knicks from hitting rock bottom in the NBA, this Wolverines outfit is struggling just to stay afloat.  They not only would have to win most of their road games, but if they earn at least 11 Big Ten wins and maybe earn their way to the final game of their conference post-season tournament in Indianapolis come Selection Sunday, they could be one of the last four schools into the Big Dance.  With their RPI current at #88 according to CBSSports.com, I wouldn’t bet on Michigan repeating their way back to the Final Four let alone the Big Dance.

But that is why they play the games.  Enter Part II:  Conference Play.

Notre Dame loses more than just the lead at the hands of Ohio State

Michigan State dominates at Texas in the second half, while Davidson came oh so close to upsetting North Carolina.

More on the Irish’s newfound problems at the end of this blog.

In a marquee matchup seen on CBS, Texas (RPI of 26) controlled the first half, but Michigan State with an RPI of 14 (as decimated as they are) won going away in the final minutes by 14, 92 to 78.

But the game of the day on Saturday was in Chapel Hill.  Davidson nearly came close to upsetting North Carolina, two days after P.J. Hairston was booted off the team and is ineligible to play again for the Tar Heels.  Brian Sullivan nearly won it with a long three at the buzzer, but he still poured in a career high 33 points.  This in spite of the fact that UNC shot 58% in the second half while Davidson shot 50% after the break (and helped their cause greatly hitting  9 of 20 three-pointers in regulation).

The Tar Heels won going away in the extra stanza, as Marcus Paige scored 7 points–one more than he did in the first 40 minutes as the Tar Heels built an 88-81 lead with 2:35 remaining and won going away 97-85.  The final stat line on J.P. Tokoto was huge:  22 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 blocked shots.

The telling story of this game was the overall attempts by both teams at the free throw line:

North Carolina was 34 of 47 for 72 percent, while Davidson was only 14 of 24 for 58%.

Another pair of games early Saturday evening could go a long way to determining the last four teams into the Big Dance, as Illinois pulled out a close shave win against Missouri in their annual Border War in St. Louis by a 65-64 count, while Ohio State (RPI of 10) rallied from an 8 point deficit in the final 1:41 to stun Notre Dame (RPI of 126 entering Christmas Eve) at Madison Square Garden in New York, 64-61.

As my revised headline on Sunday night revealed, star redshirt junior guard for the Irish Jerian Grant scored 18 points and dished out four assists as Ohio State rallied to stun the Irish in the final 101 seconds of play.  On Sunday, he was found to be academically ineligible.  The son of former Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic great Horace Grant hopes to return after the spring semester and complete his coursework in time for graduation come May 2015.

What a huge blow for Mike Brey, as was Grant was great at facilitating with the ball while averaging 19.0 points and 6.2 assists.  Most media bracket experts had them between a 4 and a 6 seed, but a double digit seed might be coming into clearer focus before the Irish play their debut act in the monstrous ACC come January.

Two more major upsets on Wednesday night

Stanford held UConn to under 32 percent shooting in handing the Huskies their first loss of the season on Wednesday night, 53-51.  The last time the Cardinal won against a ranked team away from Palo Alto was during the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

Also, Texas stunned North Carolina at the DeanDome 86-83 as the Longhorns banged the boards 49 times compared to only 39 for the Tar Heels.  Isaiah Taylor had 16 to lead four Texas players in double figures.

So, here is my latest Stock Up, Stock Down report entering the holiday season:

STOCK UP:

Arizona–winning at Michigan cements them as a possible Overall Number 1 seed, but it is still pretty early in the season.  Bottom line, if they keep winning and keep their core players healthy, things will be fine down in the Desert.

Baylor and Wichita State–impressive wins earlier in the week have vaulted them to the upper echelon, for the time being.

STOCK DOWN:

Kentucky, Michigan, and North Carolina–my, how the traditional schools have fallen on hard times.  These schools are way too talented to be in this position, but they still have the upcoming conference season to right the ship.

Happy Holidays, hope to be back and better than ever in this space with the conference games starting on New Year’s Eve.  Expect a small recap a few days after New Year’s Day.

 

Wichita State escapes upset bid at Alabama, but Pitt ends Cincinnati’s dream of an unbeaten season

The game was played relatively even in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night.

With a lighter schedule than usual due to many students taking final exams (for those enrolled on the semester system), the Wichita State Shockers (CBSSports.com RPI of 13) made some key rebounds in the final four minutes to break open what was a tight contest throughout–72 to 67 was the final score.

Cleanthony Early scored a game high 26 points, 7 of 11 shooting and was a perfect 11 for 11 from the free throw line.  As a team, the Shockers won this game from the charity stripe, making 25 of 27 attempts.

Rodney Cooper hit a three of his own to bring the Crimson Tide (RPI of 132 entering the game) to within one at 65-64 with 1:57 remaining.   Fred VanVleet responded with a basket and Darius Carter scored on a rebound basket with 37 seconds remaining after Trevor Releford hit two free throws.  Alabama managed to grab a long rebound but Retin Obasohan’s 3-pointer missed.  Wichita State Head Coach Gregg Marshall remarked after the game on NewsRadio KNSS 1330 AM after the game, “We believed in ourselves…it was important playing in the SEC because of their overall athleticism and intensity (they bring to the game).”  This was the Shockers’ second straight win over an SEC opponent–last Saturday, they beat Tennessee at home.

Cincinnati on the other hand, was not so lucky.  In a throwback game where defense dominated the day at Madison Square Garden, Jim Valvano would have been proud.  Titus Rubles proved to be the difference hitting a rebound basket with 4.2 seconds showing on the clock as Cincinnati upended Pittsburgh by the slimmest of margins, 44 to 43.  Neither team shot 38 percent for the game.

Another key game in NYC had Florida getting a key win over Memphis 77-75, as forward Casey Prather led the Gators with 22 points, including the last 8 of the game to go along with 5 rebounds .  Three other Gators finished in double figures.  Memphis was led in scoring by Joe Jackson (no relation to one-time Ohio State guard from the early 1990’s who share the exact same name) with 17 points while playing 38 minutes.

Part II:  The Conference season cannot get here fast enough.   One more update to come before the week ends.

Arizona rallies from eight points down to stun Michigan, and DePaul reaches a historical milestone

Catching up on the last two plus days of college hoops action:

Wednesday night saw North Dakota State stun the Fighting Irish in snowy South Bend, 73-69.  It was a closely fought battle as both teams did not have more than a six point cushion at any time during the game.  Marshall Bjorklund led all scorers with 26 points in the third round of the Gotham Classic at Purcell Pavilion.

Lawrence Alexander tabbed a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds to help the Bison (7-3) earn their fifth straight win.  Pat Connaughton scored 21 to lead Notre Dame, who suffered their second home loss before conference play.  Mike Brey’s crew is 7-3 heading into a Saturday afternoon showdown with Indiana (again, weather permitting with a nasty lake effect snowstorm heading into North Central Indiana).

Thursday saw the once famous teams in college basketball history earn a historic milestone.  At Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois (formerly known at the Rosemont Horizon for all of you history buffs out there), DePaul won their 1,400th game as a school getting by a determined group from Florida Atlantic 81-70.  The Blue Demons have been playing basketball since the 1923-24 season, and although they have suffered through many lean years since Ray and Joey Meyer left their footprints on the private, basketball only school during the last half of the 20th century–could there be a slow turnaround similar to what is taking place with the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central division?Only time will tell.

But Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor proved to be quite a slugfest.  Michigan held a 37-28 halftime lead, mostly by evoking memories of Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the late 1980’s/early 1990’s by simply fast breaking up and down the court for easy baskets.  2013 NCAA Tournament breakout star Mitch McGary pushed the lead to double digits with a dunk to start the second half. But Arizona went on an 11-2 run to pull within two.  Michigan then led 58-50 before Arizona’s inside game eventually decided the outcome.

Nick Johnson made six free throws over the final 25 seconds, and No. 1 Arizona held on for a 72-70 victory over Michigan on Saturday after rallying from an 11-point deficit in the second half.

The Wolverines (6-4) led by one when Johnson drew a foul attempting a driving layup with 24.6 seconds left.  He made both free throws, while Michigan’s Nik Stauskas missed at the other end. After a tie-up, the possession arrow stayed with the Wildcats.  9.5 seconds remained on the clock.

Johnson pushed the lead to three with two more free throws, and Arizona fouled Spike Albrecht at the other end. Albrecht made only one of two free throws.  Johnson made two more freebies to make it 71-67, but Albrecht made things interesting by draining a 3-pointer with two seconds left.  Arizona’s Gabe York added a free throw to end the scoring.

Brandon Ashley scored 18 points for Arizona, which finally wore down Michigan inside in the final minutes. The Wildcats finished with 17 offensive rebounds, and although they only outscored the Wolverines 34-28 in the paint, that was enough.

Glenn Robinson III had a game high 20 points for Michigan, including a nifty up-and-under move as part of his 8 for 9 shooting from the field, plus going 2 of 3 from the free-throw line.  However, the potential 2014 NBA Draft lottery pick candidate did most of his damage in the first half. Caris LeVert contributed 15 points for the Wolverines in a losing cause.  Even though Michigan shot an even 50 percent for the game, rebounding was the deciding factors getting mauled on the boards, 33 to 21.

This game would definitely be filed as a good loss for the Wolverines.  Had they lost by double digits, with Arizona enjoying top dog status for the first time in over a decade probably would have not satisfied the Committee when it comes time to seeding and bracketing the teams come Selection Sunday.  Things were also not smooth sailing on Arizona’s side of the ledger when Kaleb Tarcewski appeared to have suffered an injury around his right leg at the midway point of the second half.  Trainers checked him out on the bench and then was cleared to resume playing a few minutes after the under 8 minute TV time out.

Elsewhere early Saturday afternoon, Northern Iowa got a statement win over VCU 77-68 and Pittsburgh remains unbeaten at 10-0 throttling Youngstown State, 91-73.

Hope to provide an update of the late afternoon and some of the evening games if I get some time.

Gonzaga and Florida make another impressive statement heading into conference play

As the Big 12/SEC Challenge wrapped up for another year on Tuesday night,

two games caught my attention:

Gonzaga held the nation’s hottest shooting team to only 44.3% shooting (27 of 61) at West Virginia.  Bob Huggins’ team has been shooting lights out prior to that loss at a sizzling 54.9 percent clip (just enough to melt any ice that is currently paralyzing the northern half of the United States).

Gonzaga won their fifth straight game and also won the rebounding battle, 43-36.  The final score was not really indicative of how the game finally turned out with the tally being 80-76.  Toran, Poland born center Przemek Karnowski led four Bulldogs in double figures with 19 points.  Only eight players saw action for Mark Few’s bunches.

Meanwhile at The Indoor Swamp in Gainesville, Billy Donovan is working his magic again.  The Gators came from behind after racing through a 21-0 run in the first half to lead 36-21 at the break. 

Kansas clawed its way out of the huge hole and made it 60-55 on Andrew Wiggins’ 3-pointer (the game’s high scorer with 26) with 55.8 seconds remaining.  It was his second 3 in the final 80 seconds of the game.  Florida closed it out from the free-throw line — barely.

The Gators made 20 of 34 free throws overall, including 9 of their last 11 attempts.

Kansas got it as close as 65-61 with 10.9 seconds left. Florida’s Kasey Hill ended any chance of a comeback by icing the contest with two free throws.

Aside from Wiggins, who made 7 of 15 shots, Kansas had no one else score in double figures.  24 turnovers did the Jayhawks in, so Florida should be moving on up from #19 while Kansas stood at #13 in the latest CBSSports.com RPI poll.

The biggest culprit for the Jayhawks was committing 24 turnovers. Many of those came right out of the starting blocks.

Other games of note:

Xavier overcame a poor shooting short to edge out Evansville at home, 63-60 while IPFW (Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne for you keeping alphabet soup scoring) won at Bradley to go to 8-4 in this young season winning 65-61.

Kentucky and California also won at home without too much trouble.

Wednesday’s schedule has North Dakota State visiting snowy and very chilly South Bend to take Notre Dame, while the I-94 matchup will occur in the Badger State as Wisconsin-Milwaukee tangles with the #4 ranked Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center.

Przemek Karnowski

Missouri throttles UCLA, while Colorado uses a buzzer beater to shock Kansas

Two more upsets involving top ranked teams on Saturday afternoon.

In what was billed as a titanic sports day at Columbia, Missouri–the Tigers got off on the right foot by beating UCLA (CBSSports.com RPI #39) in the first CBS game of the season, 80-71.
Thanks to guard Earnest Ross running the show both inside with consecutive dunks and a three pointer by Jabari Ross in a four minute span, Missouri (#48 CBSSports.com in RPI poll) turned a 56-55 deficit into a 70-62 lead.  The most ironic point which there was a graphic after the first TV timeout during the second half was the fact that except for two points scored by each school, every other basket and free throw converted was made only by backcourt players.

What a way to clean out the clocks from that stunning second round defeat thanks to Tyus Edney, present day UCLA Special Assistant whose driving layup stunned Missouri at the Boise Pod during the 1995 NCAA Tournament.  The Bruins were held to only 37 percent shooting overall, at a paltry 23 for 61, while Frank Haith had every reason to smile often as his Tigers outrebounded UCLA 44 to 28.  And hopefully, it helped ease the pain after Auburn ran circles around the Georgia Dome after Auburn ran away with the SEC title and the final BCS Championship appearance against Florida State–or when Purdue stunned the Lady Tigers on their home court to win the second round matchup in the women’s volleyball tournament, losing 3 sets to one.

As for UCLA, the Bruins suffer their first loss in the Steve Alford era, and only 16 schools remain unbeaten after what happened a few hours later in Boulder, Colorado.

Askia Booker did a few dribbles more than Christian Laettner during the Elite Eight round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament.  Catching a pass that was 60 feet in flight, his three dribbles in less than 2.9 seconds as the shot hit nothing but nylon at the buzzer.

Kansas battled back with 11:31 to play after being down by nine points at 53-44.  Andrew Wiggins missed 1 of 3 free throws at the 13 second mark that could have tied the game at 71.  Spencer Dinwiddie of Colorado split his two attempts from the charity line shortly thereafter.  The next time down, KU’s Perry Ellis made a driving layup to tie the game at 72 before Booker’s heroics.

The key to Colorado’s victory was getting to the free throw line–22 of 37 attempts while Kansas only toed the line 20 times and made 13.  Kansas (as of Saturday, #2 in the CBSSports.com RPI poll) finished 27 of 51 from the field for a sparkling 52.9%, but Colorado nearly lost with poor shooting on their end of things, going only 23 of 54 (41.1 percent).

Another interesting factoid for you history buffs out there–

The last two times when Colorado (#13 in the most recent CBSSports.com RPI poll) beat Kansas (back when they were members of the Big 12 and prior to that in the old Big Eight Conference) in 1991 and 2003, both of those years the Jayhawks did reach the Final Four.

Kansas will head to Florida on Tuesday night, should be another interesting test.