There weren't many opportunities to watch ranked teams play each other (there was just one, which is discussed below), but Saturday's slate provided many teams the chance to improve their resumes. Florida State and Northwestern took full advantage of their opportunities as they both knocked off Top 10 opponents at home, albeit in different ways.
While #6 Michigan State put up a fight in losing to Northwestern 81-74 in Evanston, #3 North Carolina offered no such challenge for Florida State in Tallahassee. Deividas Dulkys, who entered the game averaging 6.2 points per game, went off to the tune of 32 points (8-10 3PT) in the 90-57 beating.
Roy Williams' team went into the locker room at the half down just eight points at 36-28, but the Tar Heels didn't look like a team that wanted to fight back in the second half. Entering the game Florida State was the worst team in the ACC when it came to taking care of the basketball, but it was North Carolina that turned the ball over 22 times on Saturday with Kendall Marshall tallying seven.
FSU did turn the ball over 17 times but six of those belonged to Luke Loucks, and all six came in the first half. Leonard Hamilton's team didn't shoot better in the second half (47.1% to 50.0% in the first), but they took better care of the basketball (six turnovers). And combining that with their defense (33.3% FG allowed) meant bad things for the visitors from Chapel Hill.
"I think it was a team effort just defending their system," said Hamilton when asked of how they limited Tyler Zeller (14 points, 14 rebounds) and John Henson (ten points, three rebounds). "You just try to limit the clean looks they get and make them work for whatever they get."
As for Northwestern, they received help from the supporting cast and that was a big reason why the Wildcats were able to beat Michigan State. John Shurna (22 points) and Drew Crawford (20 points) did what they normally do, but Davide Curletti and Reggie Hearn (10 points) also reached double figures. As a team the Wildcats shot 50.0% from the field and assisted on 20 of 26 made field goals with just seven turnovers.
Bill Carmody's team also played well defensively in the second half, limiting Michigan State to 34.4% shooting overall and 7-for-21 on two-point shots. Michigan State scored 37 points in both halves, but the drop in their accuracy on two-point shots (61.5%) and efficiency helped Northwestern take control of the game and eventually push their lead out to 12 (69-57) with 6:45 remaining.
Keith Appling scored 17 points and Draymond Green 14, but they were the only two Spartans to reach double figures. Both Northwestern and Florida State were "out of character" in their victories on Saturday, with the Seminoles taking better care of the basketball and the Wildcats getting scoring from guys other than their two primary options. But the wins aren't going to mean much if they can't build on the outcomes and continue to improve.
"In order for this game to be meaningful we need to continue to stacking on these types of games," remarked Hamilton. Can't say it any better than that.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Jamaal Franklin's runner in the final seconds pushes #22 San Diego State past #12 UNLV.
The lone contest on the schedule matching ranked teams was also the Mountain West opener for both the Aztecs and Runnin' Rebels, and they gave the fans either at Viejas Arena or watching on TV a treat. Jamaal Franklin, who had to leave the game with 1:01 remaining after injuring his ankle, returned to the floor 30 seconds later and provided the winning points for San Diego State.
Franklin's driving bucket with three-tenths of a second remaining was the difference in the Aztecs' 69-67 win over UNLV, who remained within striking distance thanks in large part to their work on the offensive glass. UNLV grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, leading to ten second-chance points.
Franklin was outstanding despite some early issues with rushed shots, finishing with 24 points and ten rebounds. But he wasn't the only key contributor for Steve Fisher's team, as James Rahon scored 22 points and Chase Tapley 11. Anthony Marshall led UNLV with 26 points, but he was the Runnin' Rebels' lone double figure scorer as SDSU did a solid job of defending the likes of Chace Stanback (3-9 FG, seven points) and Mike Moser (3-11 FG, nine points, 11 rebounds).
UNLV entered the game averaging more than 18 assists per game but they finished with just nine, and the foul line didn't help matters either. UNLV made 11 of 21 from the charity stripe while SDSU knocked down 16 of 20, and leaving points at the foul line is one of the easiest ways to lose a close contest. With New Mexico getting their shot at both teams next week (SDSU in Albuquerque on Wednesday, at UNLV on Saturday) there isn't much time to rest on this outcome, but at the very least San Diego State held serve at home.
2. Oregon hangs on the beat Arizona, pulling off the road sweep of the Arizona schools for the first time in 34 years.
Dana Altman's team entered Saturday's game in Tucson needing a win to remain a game out of first place in the loss column, but to say the least history was not on their side as they hadn't beaten both Arizona and Arizona State on the road in the same season in 34 years. But thanks to a balanced offensive effort (four players scored either 12 or 13 points) the Ducks made program history in winning 59-57 despite blowing a 17-point lead. The Wildcats had two chances in the waning moments to either tie or win the game but couldn't make either shot, and quiet afternoons from Jesse Perry (2-4 FG, eight points) and Kyle Fogg (1-9 FG, five points) didn't help matters either.
Arizona's had trouble with bigger teams this season, and that was no different with the Ducks having Tony Woods and Olu Ashaolu to pester Perry inside. Does Oregon have enough to contend for the Pac-12 crown? The addition of guard Devoe Joseph is one reason why, and E.J. Singler has played well for much of the season. In a wide-open league the teams that can pull off road sweeps will likely have the best chance of winning the title. This is a big weekend for Oregon from a historical standpoint, but how big it is this season depends on whether or not they can build on the positive momentum.
3. Kentucky makes the plays they needed to make late to win at Tennessee.
Cuonzo Martin welcomed freshman Jarnell Stokes (nine points, four rebounds) into the fold on Saturday, and while he still has a way to go with regards to both conditioning and understanding the system there's no denying Stokes' talent. In spite of a fired up crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena and a team that refused to lie down, Kentucky found a way to leave Knoxville with a win thanks in large part to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It's become obvious that the freshman is Kentucky's leader and he once again made the "winning plays" needed to close teams out, finishing with 17 points, 12 rebounds and three steals in the 65-62 win.
Anthony Davis added 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots and Terrence Jones ten points as Kentucky won their second conference road game of the season. That matches their total from all of last season, which should be a good sign for John Calipari's young team. Cameron Tatum led Tennessee with 16 points and Jeronne Maymon added 15 and ten rebounds, but the Volunteers couldn't overcome Kentucky's seven-point edge (21-14) at the foul line. Tennessee gave Kentucky everything they wanted and will get better as the season wears on, but a team with a glue guy the caliber of Kidd-Gilchrist is tough to beat.
4. Weber State makes quite the statement in whipping Montana to take sole possession of first place in the Big Sky.
The second-biggest game of the day out west took place in the Big Sky, with Montana and Weber State being the lone remaining undefeated teams in the conference. But with the return of two key cogs in the attack, Randy Rahe's Wildcats made a statement in their 80-64 win over the Grizzlies in Ogden. Damian Lillard (21 points) and Scott Bamforth (15 points) are names known by most college basketball fans, but what about Frank Otis and Gelaun Wheelwright? Otis, who like Kyle Bullinger missed multiple games due to injury, sparked a Weber State run from the eight-minute mark of the first half that resulted in a 49-36 halftime lead.
Both he and Wheelwright finished with seven points and Kyle Tresnak scored 12 as the Wildcats proved to be too much for Montana on both ends of the floor. Montana shot just 35.7% in the first half and 38.5% for the game as their six-game win streak came to an end. There's a lot of basketball to be played before Wayne Tinkle's team gets another shot at Weber State (the regular season finale for both on February 28th), but Weber State's performance on Saturday night clearly makes them the team to beat.
5. Oklahoma picks up a much-needed win, knocking off #18 Kansas State in Norman.
There aren't many teams that are going to beat Missouri and Kansas period, much less in back-to-back games, so there wasn't much shame in falling to those teams as Lon Kruger's Sooners did to start Big 12 play. But to lose at Oklahoma State on Monday night to fall to 0-3 made Saturday's game against #18 Kansas State even more important, and the Sooners rose to the challenge as they won 82-73 in Norman. Andrew Fitzgerald scored 21 points and Steven Pledger and Romero Osby scored 18 apiece for Oklahoma, who shot 70.0% from the field in the second half to maintain the nine-point spread they built in the first half.
Kansas State shot just 33.3% from the field in the first half and trailed 38-29 at the break, and a big problem for them was the lack of productivity from their starters other than Rodney McGruder (19 points, ten rebounds) and Will Spradling (11 points). The other three starters combined to score just ten points with nine coming from Jamar Samuels, and while Nino Williams and Jeremy Jones scored 12 apiece off the bench it wasn't enough as the Wildcats were unable to get stops in the second half. Whether or not the Sooners can make a run at a tournament bid remains to be seen and it will be tough since the Big 12 is now a true round-robin, but at the least they needed a win Saturday and they got one.
1. While neither team won on Saturday, both Pittsburgh and Villanova played far better than they did on Wednesday in losses to Rutgers and Syracuse respectively. The Panthers fell at #24 Marquette 62-57, but the move to put Isaiah Epps in the starting lineup at the point served as a boost for Ashton Gibbs (29 points). As for Villanova, Maalik Wayns (39 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) was outstanding but it wasn't enough in an 82-78 loss at Cincinnati. Whether or not these two can play their way into NCAA Tournament consideration remains to be seen, but at the least they've shown signs of life. That wasn't the case on Wednesday.
2. There may not have been a more impressive bounce-back from a bad outing earlier in the week than what Iowa was able to do, as they beat #13 Michigan 75-59 in Iowa City following a 95-61 loss at Michigan State on Wednesday. Matt Gatens led four Hawkeyes in double figures with 19 points and Fran McCaffery's team assisted on 18 of their 25 made baskets. It also didn't hurt to have Michigan shoot 8-for-31 from beyond the arc.
3. Good luck attempting to handicap the Atlantic 10 race, but unlike the Pac-12 that action would be to sift through quality options as opposed to detritus. Xavier looks to be back to their normal selves as they beat St. Bonaventure 77-64 at home, and Saint Louis was finally able to win a close game as they won 68-67 at Charlotte. But Temple and Saint Joseph's weren't as fortunate, falling to Richmond (76-65) and a surprising UMass (71-62) respectively. This is going to be a fun race to watch unfold.
4. Another non-BCS race to keep an eye on is the NEC, which currently has one undefeated team (LIU Brooklyn at 6-0), three teams at 5-1 (CCSU, St. Francis (NY) and Wagner) and Robert Morris sits a game behind those teams at 4-2. Dan Hurley's Seahawks beat CCSU 67-58 at home despite 21 turnovers, moving their win streak to seven games (Wagner hadn't done that since the 1979-80 season) thanks in large part to their defense (19 TOs forced, 38.8% FG allowed). Jonathon Williams led Wagner with 18 points while CCSU was paced by Robby Ptacek, who finished with 26.
5. The three remaining undefeated teams (Baylor, Murray State and Syracuse) all won on Saturday afternoon, with the Bears and Orange both blowing out overmatched opponents (Baylor beat Oklahoma State 106-65 while Syracuse beat Providence (without the suspended Vincent Council) 78-55). Murray State dealt with a stiffer challenge, beating Tennessee Tech 82-74 thanks in large part to a combined 52 points from guards Donte Poole (28) and Isaiah Canaan (24). With Ivan Aska out for the next month or so while his broken hand heals, the Racers are going to need more from their frontcourt to remain atop the OVC.
6. Zeke Marshall (17 points, six rebounds) became the 8th player in MAC history to block at least 200 shots in a career, but the biggest reason for Akron's 68-63 win over Ohio was the production of their bench. Nick Harney and Brett McClanahan scored 10 points apiece and the Zips' reserves outscored Ohio's 31-18. Keith Dambrot's team moved to 3-0 in league play and there's little doubt that Akron has the tools needed to return to the NCAA Tournament.
7. Arnett Moultrie won the individual matchup between he and JaMychal Green, scoring 25 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, and as a result #20 Mississippi State beat Alabama 53-50 in Starkville. Dee Bost added 17, and it should be seen as a good sign for Rick Stansbury's team that they found a way to win with starters Rodney Hood and Jalen Steele combining to shoot 0-for-11 from the field.
8. Despite Shabazz Napier's foot still bothering him and guard Ryan Boatright being held out due to eligibility concerns, #16 Connecticut ended Notre Dame's 29-game home win streak with a 67-53 win. Napier scored a team-high 16 points, Alex Oriakhi had arguably his best game of the season (12 points, seven rebounds) and Andre Drummond posted another double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds) to make up for Jeremy Lamb scoring just six points. Eric Atkins scored 20 but Notre Dame made just 32.3% of their shots on the day.
9. Early pick for Ivy League Player of the Year? Has to be Penn guard Zack Rosen, who scored 18 points and dished out five assists (five steals as well) in the Quakers' 64-52 win at Cornell. Penn's off to a 2-0 start in conference play, and while there's quite the gulf between Harvard and the rest of the league Rosen and Tyler Bernardini (18 points, eight rebounds) are two reasons why Jerome Allen's team may be their biggest threat.
10. Bob McKillop's Davidson squad took control of the South Division of the SoCon with their 83-79 win at Appalachian State, moving to 6-0 in league play. Jake Cohen scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds and De'Mon Brooks scored seven straight during a 10-0 run to move the Wildcats to 12-4 overall. And with Georgia Southern losing at Wofford, Davidson is two games up on the second place Eagles.
Five Notable Performances
1. G Maalik Wayns (Villanova)
39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the Wildcats' 82-78 loss at Cincinnati.
2. G Deividas Dulkys (Florida State)
32 points (8-10 3PT) and four assists in the Seminoles' 90-57 pasting of #3 North Carolina.
3. C Kyle O'Quinn (Norfolk State) and F Dewayne Jackson (Morgan State)
In Norfolk State's 90-89 double overtime win O'Quinn posted a line of 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks while Jackson led the Bears with 33 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks.
4. G J'Covan Brown (Texas)
34 points (10-16 FG), four rebounds and two assists in the Longhorns' 84-73 loss at #9 Missouri.
5. F T.J. Robinson (Long Beach State)
14 points and 19 rebounds in the 49ers' 76-66 win over Pacific, Long Beach State's 17th straight win at home.