Ah, it’s started already.
We’re still a couple weeks away from final exams for most schools, a time when especially it seems like highly favored schools need to pay a little extra attention in games that they should win easily. But we saw several teams have more trouble than expected in games Tuesday night that all expected to be blowouts.
Arizona needed 25 minutes to warm up against spunky Gardner-Webb, as the Runnin’ Bulldogs trailed by just one in the second half before the Wildcats pulled away to a 91-65 win. Texas wasn’t far from sending its fans into a full-blown panic in a 63-53 win over Texas-Arlington. Even Gonzaga was guilty, as the Bulldogs trailed SE Louisiana at halftime at home before making a big run to start the second half in an eventual 76-57 victory.
Is it any coincidence that Texas is facing top-ranked Kentucky on Friday, or that Arizona and Gonzaga are on a collision course to square off Saturday? Probably not.
Maybe these teams were looking ahead to upcoming biggies. Maybe it was too much Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. Whatever it was, this is part of what makes the sport fun and unpredictable. Even the unthinkable can sometimes happen (see: Chaminade over Virginia in 1982, Wright State beating Michigan State in 1999), keeping teams on their toes even when one thinks they don’t need to be.
Tuesday nights’s action:
- It wasn’t always pretty, but Michigan upended Syracuse 68-65. Spike Albrecht made a three-pointer with under a minute to play for the go-ahead bucket, and the Orange fumbled away a couple chances to take the lead before the Wolverines got two insurance free throws. Both teams will continue to improve, and this would be a terrific one to see again in March.
- Miami (Fla.) took out Illinois 70-61 in a battle of unbeatens. The Hurricanes unveiled another scoring weapon as Deandre Burnett scored a season-high 19. He’s the fourth different player to lead Miami in scoring in a game this year.
- Louisville ran out to a big halftime lead, then saw Ohio State climb back in before the Cardinals finally prevailed 64-55. Wayne Blackshear scored 22, while the Buckeyes may have shown more in this loss than they did in any of their first five wins against out-manned competition.
- VCU is one of the few top-level teams out there with the guts to play at places like Illinois State, so the Rams deserve to be recognized for their 66-62 win over the Redbirds. It wasn’t a resounding win, and in fact it was very close to a loss (this was a one-point game with under a minute left). But it’s also the type of game that is very easy for a lot of teams to lose in December. A fired-up crowd was on hand in Normal and ISU shot 50%, but the Redbirds also committed 24 turnovers, which is directly the result of course of VCU’s pressure.
- Stephen F. Austin got a signature-type win, going into Memphis and beating the Tigers 64-52. No, Memphis is not good right now, but this one still means a lot for the Lumberjacks, who have upgraded the schedule this year and played tough in a number of road games before finally pulling this one out. Really impressive is how much-shorter SFA was able to out-rebound the Tigers.
- BYU and Utah State’s games together are always great theater, and this year’s was no exception. The Cougars scored 60 in the second half and won 91-81. With a score like that, you’d expect a scoring explosion, perhaps from Tyler Haws, and you’d be right-35 points.
- Speaking of scoring, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State went up and down all night, with Tech hanging on for a 99-88 win. Three players scored at least 27 points in this one: the Bulldogs’ Alex Hamilton had 30, while Jalan West (28) and Zeek Woodley (27) lit it up for the Demons.
- Purdue looks like a team on the upswing. The Boilermakers are now 6-1 after a 66-61 win over N.C. State. Have to like the frontcourt Matt Painter has put together-A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards combined for 44 points and 21 boards in this one.
- Wyoming is 7-0 after another dominant defensive effort in a 68-42 win over Denver. Really want to see the Cowboys in Mountain West play, because early on this team looks like it’s going places.
- Alabama won again, beating South Florida 82-71 in a better game than most knew about. Why you should like Bama: the Crimson Tide leads the country in free throw shooting at better than 80%.
- Indiana defeated Pittsburgh 81-69. IU is now 6-1 with another good-to-very-good win. It should be noted the Hoosiers still haven’t left home yet this year. Credit a young team for a better start than many probably expected, but let’s see some road games soon. Xavier showed this past weekend in the Wooden Legacy that impressive wins at home don’t automatically translate when away from the comforts of home.
- Georgia hammered UT-Chattanooga 86-55. Notable is that this was at UTC, so the margin of victory is worth taking notice of as the Mocs are supposed to be one of the better teams in the Southern Conference. UGA shot 63.3%.
- LSU controlled Massachusetts 82-60. Josh Gray scored 25 for the Tigers, while this is not a good showing by the Minutemen.
- Finally, the buzzer beater of the night comes from Loyola (Md.), as the Greyhounds’ Eric Laster scored his only basket of the night as time expired to beat Columbia 64-62.
- It was a quiet news day, but Phil Kasiecki reports on struggling Boston University and the Massachusetts-Lowell team in the midst of a transition to Division I
- UAB announced yesterday that it is dropping its football program, sadly pulling the plug after one of the program’s better seasons in Division I. Since Conference USA at this time requires its members to sponsor football, it means the Blazers may be forced to find a new conference soon.
Duke at Wisconsin (9:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) If one is looking for a Game of the Year, this could be a worthy candidate. Talented youth vs. not-quite-as-athletic (but very talented in its very own way) experience.
Wichita State at Utah (11 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Caution is always advised when evaluating the importance of one game, but it’s not stretching the truth to say this game is huge for Utah. The Utes will be eager to prove their worth as a top 25-caliber team. The Shockers are already there, but a win here would validate their early top 10 ranking.
Virginia at Maryland (9:15 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Both are 7-0, though it’s not always been pretty offensively for the Cavaliers. Interested to find out if the Terps are for real, or if they may have just caught Iowa State on a bad shooting night. Dez Wells is out, but this is at home, so it’s a fair starting point.
Michigan State at Notre Dame (7:15 p.m. EST, ESPN2) MSU has looked good early, we’re not too concerned about the loss to Kansas in Orlando. Still don’t know much about the Irish, who have played a lot of cream puffs, but as some have said, this is starting to look like the Mike Brey ND teams we know, and a narrow miss against Providence says this should be close.
Iowa at North Carolina (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) Expect this one to go up and down. The Tar Heels responded well after getting bounced by Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
UTEP at Colorado State It’s almost painful, all of these old WAC/Mountain West meetings, teasing and reminding us of just how many good conference rivalries we are now missing. These two had a bunch of them in the Boyd Grant/Don Haskins days, and this is an important resume game for both teams.
Villanova at La Salle (8:30 p.m. EST, CBSSN) Just can’t resist putting a Big 5 game on this list. The Philadelphia city championship games are one of the true gems of college basketball.
Have a fantastic Wednesday.