This introduction was going to be about one of the most anticipated games of the year so far, as Duke and Wisconsin squared off in a battle between top 5 teams, Final Four contenders and legendary coaches. That changed after midnight here in the Central time zone after watching Wichita State face Utah in what was maybe the second-most anticipated game-of at least the night, anyway.
The Utes picked up a signature non-conference win, edging the Shockers 69-68 in overtime. It’s a huge win for Utah, but if someone happened to turn this off late in the second half, they should know the win came far tougher for Utah than it may have looked late in regulation.
With three minutes left, the Shockers-and their 35-game regular season winning streak-were done for. WSU was down 58-49 and had a whole 16 second half points. Fred VanVleet was having maybe the roughest night of his collegiate career. Utah had Wichita State beat at its own game, consistently winning hustle plays on rebounds in the second half. The Shockers also were hurt badly by foul trouble and eventual disqualification for Darius Carter, and his absence on the front line for much of the game eventually took its toll as WSU became way too one-dimensional jacking up three-pointers. The Shockers are in the process of developing interior depth, and it’s not there yet.
Out of nowhere, the Shockers came back. A layup and a three-pointer by VanVleet. A 5-second violation forced, a three from Tekele Cotton. And then another three from VanVleet, and Wichita State actually led 60-58 with 30 seconds left before Utah hit two free throws to force overtime.
Similar happened in OT, as Utah pulled out to a four-point lead when suddenly Evan Wessel became a clutch scorer. Wessel, with 12 points scored total in four previous games plus the first 40 minutes of this one heading into the overtime, hit a three-pointer and then two free throws, putting the Shockers back ahead. The teams traded buckets one more time before Delon Wright hit what turned out to be the winning basket with 14 seconds left.
Struggling to score, hampered by fouls, playing on the road against a motivated-and very good-opponent, trailing by double digits late-Wichita State had no business even getting this game to overtime. That the Shockers did and nearly won was another exhibit of the extraordinary things incredibly tough, championship-caliber teams can accomplish. It was a dramatic last stand for the winning streak, and while WSU will lose a few more this year, this group has winning too ingrained in it to go quietly at any point.
Wednesday nights’s action: A very busy night
- Duke won at Wisconsin 80-70, as the Blue Devils shot 65.2%. That shooting percentage would be incredible for any team, but it’s doubly so for one playing against Wisconsin. Then you add in that this is a young team going on the road to a tough place to play, and this was a nearly flawless performance offensively for the Blue Devils. (Or should they be the Black & Blue Devils? Those awful road alternate uniforms…yuck.) The Badgers, meanwhile, have to be concerned about that leaky D, but also about the absence of any significant scorers stepping up in this one outside Traevon Jackson (25 points) and Frank Kaminsky (17).
- Notre Dame fought back for a 79-78 overtime win over Michigan State, another validation that the Irish are going in the right direction. Jerian Grant’s return to this team is looking absolutely huge so far. He had 27 in this one, and his trading big shots with MSU’s Denzel Valentine down the stretch was outstanding.
- Virginia took care of Maryland with relative ease, shooting 53.1% in a 76-65 win. The Terps are without Dez Wells for a while, but the Cavs were in control of this one throughout. Quality road win.
- Iowa won at North Carolina 60-55 in the most surprising result of the night. Perhaps the Tar Heels are simply not as good as we think they are or as good as their talent looks like it should be, but at this point this has to go down as a huge win for the Hawkeyes. Iowa shot just 32.7%, but that still looked good to UNC fans when compared to the Heels’ 27.9% marksmanship.
- Colorado State is now 7-0 after a 65-62 win over Texas-El Paso. J.J. Avila scored 20 points for the Rams, while the Miners’ Vince Hunter was limited to just four points. This is a handy resume win for CSU.
- Butler continues to impress, blowing out Indiana State on the road 77-54. Five scored in double figures for the Bulldogs, who dominated this one in every way. The Sycamores, meanwhile, are really struggling with Jake Odum no longer around.
- Villanova had little trouble with La Salle, beating the Explorers 84-70. The better Big 5 game of the night was between St. Joseph’s and Temple, with the Hawks hanging on for a 58-56 win over the Owls.
- Davidson and UNC-Charlotte put on an offensive show, with both shooting better than 50%. The Wildcats were the better of the two, hitting 58.2% in a 92-86 win.
- Harvard grabbed another solid win, never trailing in defeating Northeastern 60-46.
- Old Dominion won again, getting a 75-69 win on the road at George Mason to add to the Monarchs’ previous wins over former CAA rivals Richmond and VCU.
- Valparaiso is now an impressive 8-1. The Crusaders defeated Eastern Kentucky 72-66 on the road for their sixth straight win. Continue familiarizing with the name Alec Peters; the Valpo sophomore scored 21 in this one, hitting 7 of 8 from three-point range. The Crusaders’ only loss was at Missouri, so hold off on predicting a duplication of that 1998 Sweet 16 run, but still a terrific start for Bryce Drew’s team.
- New Mexico got a much-needed win, defeating in-state rival New Mexico State 62-47 in the first game of their home-and-home. Deshawn Delaney scored a career-high 22 points, while the Aggies are now a disappointing 3-5.
- Tulsa defeated Creighton 77-64 in a battle between two old former Missouri Valley Conference rivals.
- How about UC Davis? The Aggies won nine games all of last year but are now 6-0 after a 70-56 win over San Jose State.
- Holy Cross picked up a nice 74-57 win at Albany as Mitchell Hahn (22 points) and Anthony Thompson (15) combined to go an incredible 11-for-11 from three-point range.
- Idaho won at Washington State 77-71 in the long-running Palouse rivalry between these two schools just eight miles apart. Big win for Don Verlin’s Vandals, who had lost 11 straight to Wazzu in this series.
- Finally, the Big Sky nearly had another win over the Pac-12 but California got past Montana 78-76 in double overtime. The Grizzlies’ Jordan Gregory scored 23 points but missed two free throws with four seconds left in the second OT.
Apparently there is something called the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but for the lack of hype for this event compared to the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, one might think it is staged between Division II schools. In truth, the Big 12 is completely worthy of being a headliner in any challenge event (despite having ‘only’ 10 teams and not 14, it is every bit as deep with quality teams as either the Big 10 or ACC), so the logical conclusion is it is the SEC’s relative struggles in recent years that diminishes the pub for this (and it has nothing to do with east coast bias…right?).
Arkansas at Iowa State (9 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Best game of the night and maybe one of the best games of December for entertainment value (the Hogs may become a regular in that category, given they just got done playing Iona).
San Diego at San Diego State (11 p.m. EST, ESPNU) Very underrated city rivalry, and glad it was picked up by ESPN. The Aztecs are naturally the favorite, but USD seldom goes quietly in this game.
UW-Green Bay at Georgia State These two are playing a home-and-home this month, and it’s a smart move, given both are going to struggle getting any kind of quality non-conference games. Keifer Sykes against R.J. Hunter or Ryan Harrow would be must-see TV…if this one was on TV.
TCU at Mississippi (9 p.m. EST, ESPNU) The Horned Frogs are 7-0 but this is their first road game. Ole Miss has that early loss to Charleston Southern but was a pleasant surprise in beating Creighton and Cincinnati to win the Emerald Coast Classic. Better game than many would think by just looking at the names.
LSU at West Virginia (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) LSU had a bad Paradise Jam tourney, losing twice in the Virgin Islands. They started to rehabilitate that with a resounding win over UMass, and could really use this one.
Have a fantastic Thursday.