Frank Martin's Kansas State (4-0) may be undefeated on the young season, but it can definitely be argued that this group hasn't been tested. That all changes this evening as the Wildcats play their first true road game of the season, visiting Virginia Tech (5-2) in a game that could have long-term effects on both teams when looking ahead to Selection Sunday.
There was one big question for North Carolina going into their game with Wisconsin in the final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge: would they be able to play effectively in a tempo nowhere near what they look to establish on a nightly basis? Thanks to a second half run from Harrison Barnes and the excellent defense of Dexter Strickland, the Tar Heels passed said test with a 60-57 win over the Badgers in Chapel Hill.
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 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).
After both teams won their semifinal games at the CBE Classic in blowout fashion, Missouri (4-0) and California (4-0) should have a stiffer challenge on their hands as they play for the championship in Kansas City. Neither team has much of an issue with playing fast. but given their roots in the "40 Minutes of Hell" system used by former coach Mike Anderson the Tigers could be at an advantage if the pace becomes frenetic.
In-season tournaments can be tricky to analyze when the dust settles. Sometimes the winning team can build on the experience and move on to bigger and better things, with last year's Connecticut team (Maui Invitational champs) being a prime example. Others, like Minnesota (last year's Puerto Rico Tip-Off champs) can temporarily hide flaws that get exposed later in the season. Essentially these early season results should be taken with a grain of salt, because while we see flashes of teams in reality it's a small sample size.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have some impressive offensive performers that Washington State likely made themselves very aware of in preparation for their game at midnight. Elias Harris and Robert Sacre are formidable frontcourt players while Marquise Carter is a jet-quick point guard who is more than willing to attack defenses. But if the Cougars had a plan for how to slow down freshman guard Kevin Pangos it sure didn't look like it.
ESPN's 24-hour college hoops tipoff marathon will get off to a good start at midnight as rivals Washington State and Gonzaga meet at The Kennel in Spokane. The Cougars have embarked on life without Klay Thompson and DeAngelo Casto, and while that means they've got a lot of scoring to account for Ken Bone's got some established returnees back to lead a solid recruiting class. As for Gonzaga, the best news for them may be the health of junior foward Elias Harris.
Next up in the short series of looking ahead to next season is the Southwest region, where things essentially went haywire the first weekend. Advancing to San Antonio was the top seed Kansas and seeds 10 through 12, and when the dust settled VCU won the region. A number of teams have some important personnel issues to address, but the Jayhawks won't be the lone team expected to contend for their league title out of this region in 2011-12.