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Weekend notes – December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013 Columns No Comments
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We just got through a busy weekend of college basketball. It wasn’t loaded with headline-grabbing upsets, but it had a lot of good matchups, including later Saturday in New York and Las Vegas. On Sunday, the Diamond Head Classic got going in Hawaii.

Here are notes on some important matchups and results from both days.

  • The game that will probably be talked about the most is Ohio State’s epic comeback to beat Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden. This will go down with some of the biggest last-minute collapses, and while it will surely sting the Fighting Irish, the bigger loss came Sunday night with news that Jerian Grant is done for the season due to an academic issue.
  • The game that followed that one was well out of the national spotlight, but was a thriller as Delaware beat Bryant in overtime. The Blue Hens have brought Devon Saddler off the bench since he returned three games ago after he had started every game he had played in over his career, but he’s played big minutes and scored like he usually goes.
  • Kansas’ 86-64 thumping of Georgetown might say more about the Hoyas than the Jayhawks, although it now looks like the recent three-game losing streak for the Jayhawks may be a blip on the radar screen.
  • Florida State continued its nice start with a signature win over UMass in a defensive struggle. The Seminoles have a lot of length, and they used it well, while UMass struggled from long range, which could have been an equalizer.
  • Texas gave Michigan State about all they could handle, but Michigan State is too good. Rick Barnes appears to have righted the ship in Austin, so a win wouldn’t have been a shocker, but Michigan State is a legitimate national title contender and was simply the better team.
  • Stanford had a chance for two signature wins a few days apart, but couldn’t quite pull it off in a 68-65 loss to Michigan in Brooklyn. The Cardinal don’t have a bad loss on their resume, but having another good win besides the one over Connecticut – which was on the road and thus makes it a little better – would help. The wins over Northwestern and Houston won’t help much. Only Cal Poly remains before they open Pac-12 play with arch-rival Cal at home.
  • With Oregon beating BYU, the Cougars missed in their last chance at a quality non-conference win. Their wins against Texas and Stanford look a little better after this week, but the Cougars will probably need to win at least one against Gonzaga and/or Saint Mary’s and take care of business the rest of the way after whiffing on a number of good opportunities in non-conference play. It’s all conference play from here on out for them.
  • The Braggin’ Rights game came right down to the end, and Illinois validated what they have shown thus far: they are a good team. It will be interesting to see how they do in the loaded Big Ten, as they may not contend but will surely be a tough out for the top teams and are capable of at least a top-half finish.
  • Kansas State certainly got a good win by knocking off Gonzaga. The Wildcats need more, though, as they lost to Northern Colorado to open the season. They will probably have to wait until Big 12 play for those opportunities, although they host George Washington to close out non-conference play and the Colonials have been a pleasant surprise.
  • Speaking of the Colonials, they are now 10-1 after taking care of UMBC at home. Mike Lonergan is showing once again that he can recruit and he can coach the kids once they get to campus, and their start is certainly part of the Atlantic 10’s non-conference success.
  • In their first game since deciding not to seek reinstatement for P.J. Hairston, North Carolina needed overtime – and a big extra session at that – to beat Davidson 97-85. They got a big double-double from J.P. Tokoto (22 points, 11 rebounds) and will need more production from him the rest of the way. Davidson got 33 points from Miami (Ohio) transfer Brian Sullivan, who was 7-14 from long range.
  • Purdue improved to 10-3 after winning at West Virginia. That’s the best win they have thus far, so they have some work to do as far as the NCAA Tournament goes, but not much was expected of them before the season and this may be a sign that the team is getting better gradually.  Big Ten play begins with a visit from Ohio State in over a week, so we’ll get an idea quickly as to how much better this team has gotten as they prepare for the loaded Big Ten.
  • Oregon State missed a chance to get an opportunity for a significant win at the Diamond Head Classic. The 83-71 loss to Akron was bad enough on its own, but a win would have matched them up with Iowa State on Monday. The Beavers have a lot of work to do with Pac-12 play coming up.
  • Also in Hawaii, South Carolina picked up a big win in knocking off previously undefeated Saint Mary’s 78-71. The Gamecocks are in the midst of rebuilding, but this may be a sign that Frank Martin’s team is ready to accelerate its growth process. Boise State is up next on Monday night.
  • Dayton has had a good non-conference run, but losing at home to USC on a buzzer-beater in overtime stings. They have wins at Georgia Tech and over Gonzaga and California in Maui, so they’re not in bad shape with three non-conference games left, two at home (Murray State and Winthrop) and one at Mississippi, none of which would be resume boosters.
  • Marquette lost another chance at a signature win in losing to New Mexico in Las Vegas. The Golden Eagles are 7-5 and don’t have a bad loss, but their best win came against over-achieving George Washington and they have several wins against teams having bad seasons.
  • Alabama’s road to the NCAA Tournament got longer with a home loss to Xavier. The Crimson Tide are now below .500 on the season and will need a great run in the SEC with a few big wins to make the NCAA Tournament. It’s debatable whether or not they will have many opportunities. Florida, Kentucky and Missouri all look good, and LSU isn’t bad but a win over the Tigers won’t go down as a signature win as of right now.
  • Maryland is in the same boat as Alabama after losing to Boston University 83-77 at home. While the AP headline saying that BU “shocked” Maryland is off the mark since Boston University is good and the Terrapins aren’t a powerhouse, this is a bad loss for Maryland in that it came at home and they came in without a lot of margin for error as far as their NCAA Tournament resume is concerned. The Terrapins are going to need a run in the ACC they probably aren’t capable of.
  • While the game was an undercard to the big one later in the evening, Manhattan’s 84-81 win over Buffalo in Brooklyn makes the Jaspers 9-2, including 2-0 in early MAAC games a couple of weeks ago. One of the preseason favorites in the conference is certainly playing like it thus far.
  • North Dakota State improved to 9-4 by beating Towson, and the Bison have some good wins along the way as they have knocked off Bryant, Notre Dame and Delaware prior to knocking off the Tigers. They won’t get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but they have to be considered among the favorites in the Summit League.
  • Penn didn’t have a bad loss before going down at Marist on Sunday 76-62. The Quakers’ personnel has a lot to like, but the 2-7 record doesn’t suggest they will be contenders in an Ivy League that looks better all the time.

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