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.
Marcus Jordan scored 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists to lead a comeback that resulted in a 68-63 win, and Keith Clanton scored 20 as well. UConn couldn't score and they couldn't stop the Knights either, and the defensive side of the floor is where they ultimately lost the game. UCF shot 46% in the second half after making just a third of their shots in the first 20 minutes, outscoring UConn 39-25. The Huskies were nowhere near as efficient offensively as they were in the first half, but simply put if they string a couple stops together the comeback is likely stunted.
"I can't be more disappointed in how we played," said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun after the game. "We just stopped playing. We couldn't even get the ball inbounded near the end. Nobody stepped up and it was a complete disaster for us."
Florida State's loss to Harvard could also be described as disastrous, but for what happened with them offensively. There's no disguising the fact that the Seminoles have their issues offensively, and despite those issues Leonard Hamilton's team reached the Sweet 16 last season. But things may have gotten worse for FSU, as in their 46-41 loss to the Crimson they finished with a offensive efficiency of 66.1.
Michael Snaer led the way with ten points but it wasn't enough to earn the win, setting up the third-place battle between the Seminoles and Connecticut. The good news for UConn is that Ryan Boatright (NCAA suspension) makes his season debut, giving them another ball-handler in the backcourt. That's something they need to help out Shabazz Napier, who turned the ball over seven times against UCF and will need someone to relieve some of the workload he's been given. Can the Huskies defend better? Can FSU shoot better? The answers will determine the outcome.
Other Notable Happenings
1. The Atlantic 10 will have two teams playing for championships on Sunday night.
Annually the talk regarding the Atlantic 10 from a national point of view has centered around Xavier and Temple, and rightfully so given the success of those two programs. But if early returns are any indication on the strength of the conference, there will be more for the rest of the country to pay attention to. After wins on Friday, Dayton (Old Spice Classic) and Saint Louis (76 Classic) will play for the title in those events on Sunday. Dayton shot just 36% from the field but Archie Miller's team turned the ball over just nine times and outscored Fairfield by 15 points from beyond the arc in their 56-49 win over the Stags. As for Saint Louis, Jordair Jett scored 19 points off the bench and the Billikens neutralized everyone outside of Maalik Wayns and James Bell in their 80-68 win over Villanova. Both have winnable matchups on Sunday, with Dayton playing Minnesota and Saint Louis taking on Oklahoma, and that's a good development for the conference in regards to possible rewards in March.
2. Oklahoma remains undefeated and looks to be a better basketball team.
A long rebuilding process was expected for Oklahoma when Lon Kruger took over the program in the off-season. Not much in the cupboard talent-wise along with NCAA sanctions made many think that though could be a rough campaign for the Sooners. But if there's one thing (among many) that Kruger can do it's rebuild programs, and the Sooners look to be on the right track with their 4-0 start. Oklahoma limited Santa Clara to 26% shooting in the first half and took a 42-19 lead into the break on their way to an 85-73 win. Steven Pledger scored 26 points and three other Sooners reached double figures, but the biggest differences between this team and the last two seasons are the effort on the defensive end and their unselfishness. It's still going to be a process for Oklahoma, and there will likely be disappointments along the way, but the Sooners are putting together a solid foundation.
3. Kris Joseph takes over late, allowing Syracuse to rally past Stanford.
Johnny Dawkins' Stanford Cardinal put forth an impressive battle in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off, leading favored Syracuse for much of the first 30 minutes. But the Orange went their full-court pressure and senior Kris Joseph scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half as they won 69-63. Could Joseph be the go-to guy that so many have looked for on this deep team? Friday was certainly a good start in that regard, but the two games in NYC were also good for sophomores C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters. They scored ten points apiece with Waiters adding three assists and three steals, and both were named to the All-Tournament Team as a result. Joseph can be considered a known commodity but for Fair and Waiters to begin their seasons in this fashion is a good sign of things to come, especially in March.
1. What's up with Rider? A team some thought could be a factor for third in the MAAC is 1-5 following an 86-69 loss to James Madison in the Philly Hoop Group Classic. The Dukes outscored the Broncs 48-31 in the second half, shooting 60% from the field in the final 20 minutes.
2. Southern Miss out-rebounded New Mexico State 38-26 and limited the Aggies to 41.7% shooting in their 80-72 win in a Great Alaska Shootout semifinal. LaShay Page scored 22 points to lead the Golden Eagles, who play Murray State in the title game.
3. Kendall Marshall scored just four points in North Carolina's 87-62 win over South Carolina, but his true value can be seen in his 14 assists and six steals. As long as he's on the floor the Tar Heels are going to be extremely difficult to slow down.
4. Marshall picked up a good road win as they beat Cincinnati 73-69 in overtime. Damier Pitts came up big late for the Thundering Herd, picked by many to be Memphis' chief competition in Conference USA. As for the Bearcats, this makes that loss to Presbyterian even costlier.
5. Good luck trying to slow down the Florida Gators. In their 107-62 win over Jacksonville five Gators reached double figures with Kenny Boynton (22 points) and Erving Walker (21) combining to score 43 points. Florida has made ten or more three-pointers in each of their games this season.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Doug McDermott (Creighton)
31 points and 11 rebounds in the Bluejays' 104-81 win over Campbell.
2. G Reggie Hamilton (Oakland) and G Isiah Williams (Utah Valley)
In the Golden Grizzlies' 89-83 win over Utah Valley Hamilton scored 34 points (five assists, five steals and three rebounds) while Williams paced the Wolverines with 35 of his own (three rebounds, three assists).