Also with some issues is Villanova, who fell victim to Austin Freeman in a 69-66 loss to Georgetown at home. Freeman scored a game-high 30 points for the Hoyas, making the big plays late for John Thompson III. The issue for the Wildcats: shot selection. While they took some shots that most teams shouldn't put up in their win at Syracuse, Villanova made those so it wasn't a major issue. But in losses to Providence and now Georgetown their overall efficiency has dropped, and Corey Stokes (4-13 FG, 13 points) needs to raise his percentages as well. Villanova shot 41% yesterday and was out-rebounded by the Hoyas 28-20 in a game that saw the Wildcat frontcourt fail to distance themselves from Georgetown's interior players. They've got the guard play needed to turn things around provided those players make sound decisions, but if Villanova is to have any chance at being special the big men will need to bring it on a consistent basis.
BYU and Saint Mary's both fell on the road following important conference victories earlier this week, with the Cougars falling at New Mexico to a borderline desperate team and Saint Mary's getting their doors blown off at Portland. Letdown? For Saint Mary's that could definitely be the case despite the fact that the Pilots were outstanding. Mickey McConnell scored 32 for the Gaels but when Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl (who was scoreless in the win at Gonzaga) struggle it becomes that much more difficult for Randy Bennett's team to win. In Alberquerque Jimmer Fredette scored 32 points but with a second straight game of limited production from Jackson Emery and nine bench points the Cougars dropped one to a New Mexico squad that needed the win to revitalize hopes of a run towards the NCAA Tournament. Tony Snell scored 16 off the bench for the Lobos while four starters reached double figures in the win.
And come Monday we may be down to just one ranked team in the SEC with both Florida (at Mississippi State) and Vanderbilt (Arkansas at home) falling. The more troubling defeat of the two? That would have to be Vandy, who was lit up by Rotnei Clarke (36 points) while Michael Sanchez added 20 off the bench. Three Commodore starters reached double figures but when Lance Goulbourne puts up a bagel and Brad Tinsley doesn't play well at the point they're in trouble. Clarke went 12-for-16 from the field, which begs for the question of how many of those looks were contested, despite his status as one of the premier perimeter shooters in the nation. Survivors included Ohio State and Pittsburgh, while Texas navigated poor free throw shooting to beat Missouri and Kansas blew out Kansas State in the return of forward Thomas Robinson. Just another fun Saturday, and at this rate we could be in store for a fun month of March as well.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Ohio State survives a methodical Northwestern rally to remain undefeated.
It wasn't difficult to figure out what Northwestern would have to do in order to slow down Jared Sullinger. Surround the big man with defenders when he touched the basketball, bang him around and hope that he commits a silly foul or two. That didn't happen as the freshman scored 21 points and eight rebounds, but the Wildcats kept with their methodical offense and nearly stole a victory before falling 58-57 in Evanston. Juice Thompson led Northwestern with 16 points while Mike Capocci added 11, but with Drew Crawford struggling from the field (2-for-12) and John Shurna out with concussion symptoms you can't help but wonder what could have happened if they have Shurna. But that's the nature of sports, and Ohio State made plays late (David Lighty coming up with a big play that doesn't involve scoring should surprise no one) to remain the nation's lone undefeated team. And unfortunately for Northwestern the Buckeyes have a player in Sullinger who's the ultimate mismatch inside.
2. Baylor escapes a defeat that could have ended their at-large hopes while Butler doesn't.
Baylor was in serious trouble at the half yesterday, trailing a Colorado team also in need of a victory 35-21. But LaceDarius Dunn played arguably his best all-around game despite poor shooting from the field (6-for-18) in scoring 26 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists, and Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III combined for 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Bears' 70-66 win. The win doesn't put Baylor into the Big Dance but it at least keeps the conversation going at a respectable volume, something that may not be said for Butler after their loss at first place Valparaiso. Valpo knocked down some huge shots in overtime to hand the Bulldogs their fourth conference loss, dropping Brad Stevens' team two games behind the Crusaders and Cleveland State. Zach Hahn and Matt Howard scored 17 points apiece but Shelvin Mack made just three of twelve shots in scoring 10 points, and given the relative lack of offensive weapons to last year's group that got Butler in trouble. There's still plenty of time to go on a run but how many wins that will register with the computer numbers (again, these are just one tool used) remain on the table for Butler? That's an important question at this stage for the Bulldogs.
3. Xavier uses the foul line to soundly defeat Richmond on the road.
Saturday's matchup between the Musketeers and Spiders was billed as a crucial battle in the Atlantic 10, and with Richmond already a game back in the standings it was a game they needed in order to entertain thoughts of a regular season title. Xavier had other ideas as Tu Holloway scored 33 points and as a team the Musketeers made 29 of 30 from the charity stripe in whipping Richmond 85-62. Justin Harper scored 20 for Richmond while Dan Geriot added 15, but with Kevin Anderson struggling from the field Chris Mooney's team got into a hole they were unable to climb out of. Kenny Frease added 19 and Mark Lyons 14 for the first-place Musketeers, who look to be on a collision course with Duquesne that comes to a head on February 13th at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh (instead of on campus at the Palumbo Center). But for an early statement to follow last week's win over Temple, the beating of Richmond will certainly suffice.
4. St. John's ends their skid in emphatic fashion at the Garden.
Simply put the Red Storm blitzed Duke in the latter stages of the first half, expanding their lead out to 21 points by halftime. In that first half St. John's outscored Duke 22-6 in the paint and 21-4 off of turnovers. Nolan Smith (32 points) and Kyle Singler (20) did what they're expected to do offensively but when Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins combine to shoot 4-for-13 from the field Duke is going to have problems. With the return of Kyrie Irving looking to be more unlikely by the week one of those two will need to be a consistent number three on offense, and the Plumlee brothers have to get better inside. As for Steve Lavin's team the brief step out of Big East play was exactly what they needed, with Dwight Hardy (26 points) and Justin Brownlee (20) leading the way on offense. The Johnnies assisted on 21 of their 32 made baskets while also scoring 50 points in the paint, and defensively forced 17 Duke turnovers in controlling the run of play. While the win doesn't make St. John's a lock to go dancing, a senior class that hasn't experienced a lot of national success definitely has the ability to make that dream a reality.
Top Five (plus one) Games
1. (25) Utah State 89, Hawaii 84 (2OT) Brian Green came up big with a game-tying three pointer to send the game into double overtime, and his 22 points led the way as the Aggies remained undefeated in WAC play. Zane Johnson led the Warriors with a game-high 25 points.
2. (19) Louisville 79, (5) Connecticut (2OT)
3. UC Davis 108, UC Irvine 107 (2OT) Eric Wise scored a game-high 34 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds but it wasn't enough to beat the Aggies. Mark Payne led UC Davis with 32 points while Eddie Miller and Joe Harden chipped in with 25 and 23 respectively.
4. Weber State 72, Northern Colorado 71 A Scott Bamforth shot from just inside of half court may have been the finish of the day, giving the Wildcats an improbable win while handing the Bears their first Big Sky loss. Jordan Richardson led Weber State with 17 points while Devon Beitzel led all scorers with 29.
5. North Dakota State 89, UMKC 88 (2OT) A sideline out of bounds lob from Eric Carlson resulted in a Michael Tveidt layup in the final seconds to give the Bison a one-point home victory. Carlson led all scorers with 32 points while also handing out 12 assists, and Jay Couisnard led UMKC with 28 and 13 rebounds.
BONUS: Manhattan 60, Marist 59 A Michael Alvarado heave from behind midcourt gave the Jaspers the victory in Poughkeepsie. George Beamon led three Manhattan players in double figures with 13 points while Dorvell Carter led Marist with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Five (plus one) Notable Performances
1. G/F Eric Wise (UC Irvine) 34 points and 12 rebounds in the Anteaters' 108-107 double-overtime loss at UC Davis.
2. G Tu Holloway (Xavier) 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the Musketeers' 85-62 win at Richmond.
3. G Steven Pledger (Oklahoma) 38 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in the Sooners' 82-76 overtime win at Iowa State.
4. F John Henson (North Carolina) 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks in the Tar Heels' 84-64 win over North Carolina State.
5. F Noah Dahlman (Wofford) 34 points (15-17 FG), four rebounds and three assists in Wofford's 75-66 win over Western Carolina.
BONUS: F Thomas Robinson (Kansas) 17 points and nine rebounds in the Jayhawks' 90-66 win over Kansas State.