One of the great things about conference play is watching just how teams and players react to playing quality competition and/or on the road after having not been challenged much in the season’s first six weeks.
The Big Ten began its conference schedule on Tuesday with several notable games of that ilk. No game displayed the switch to the rigors of conference play like Iowa’s 71-65 win at Ohio State.
The Hawkeyes did an excellent job of moving the ball and finding the sweet spots in the Buckeyes’ 2-3 zone defense that was frankly way too soft. Iowa also hit shots, something it hasn’t always done this year (the Hawks’ 46% shooting was the team’s best mark in over a month), and controlled the boards for a big win to start off the conference schedule, one that should have lasting impact for quite a while.
Ohio State, meanwhile, looked exactly like a team that has been spending too much time playing too many easy games at home. The Buckeyes’ 11-2 record coming in was buoyed by a schedule that has had 11 home games and just one true road game. OSU has admittedly drilled some fair teams-High Point, Miami of Ohio and Wright State aren’t complete pushovers, and the Buckeyes beat them by an average of 42.3 points. Ohio State may well be a top 15-20 team, but at this point it is not nearly as tested as an Iowa team that has played not only four ranked teams already but also some tricky home games against the likes of Pepperdine and North Florida.
Some will try to make the case that Ohio State’s non-conference schedule doesn’t hurt it. And in fairness, Tuesday’s game was one game, and if the Buckeyes win their next, say, four games, no one will be worrying about their non-league slate.
After Tuesday, though, it’s perfectly fair to question if Ohio State was sufficiently ready to play a team like Iowa in a game like this, where it was challenged early and never recovered. Fattening up on a bunch of designated cupcakes at home is no substitute for putting teams in stressful situations. Even a road game or two against the likes of which the Buckeyes beat up on for much of November and December would’ve been better preparation for this one than a host of easy W’s.
- Maryland continues to look really, really good in the first half of the season. The Terrapins won at Michigan State 68-66 in double overtime.
- Virginia and Davidson engaged in a fascinating display of contrasting styles, and the Cavaliers proved they can play a faster game and come back from a halftime deficit in an 83-72 win. This game is a win-win for both teams, as UVA found out some good things about itself, while the Wildcats saw that they can hang with one of the nation’s best teams.
- West Virginia unleashed another devastating display on an opponent, hammering Virginia Tech 82-51. The Hokies trailed by just three at halftime before WVU outscored them 49-21 in the second half. It’s never a good thing when a team has more turnovers (25) than rebounds (20) like Tech did here.
- North Carolina pulled away from William & Mary in the final minutes for an 86-64 win after the Tribe had cut a 25-point second half lead to nine. The Tar Heels shot 50.8% and limited a good-shooting W&M team to 37.7% from the floor.
- Aside from Iowa or maybe Maryland, Cincinnati may have had the most impressive win of the day when it went to N.C. State and came out with a 76-60 win. The Bearcats were efficient offensively (53.8% shooting) and held the Wolfpack without a three-point make.
- Kansas got a challenge from Kent State for a while before coming out with a 78-62 win. Kelly Oubre took over offensively for the Jayhawks and scored 20 points.
- Michigan is still going to be a thorn for teams in the Big Ten. The Maize and Blue came back to beat Illinois 73-65 in overtime.
- Florida State edged rival Florida 65-63 after the Gators accidentally tipped in a missed shot by the Seminoles just before the buzzer, essentially losing on an own goal. Not a good loss for Florida, which looked like it was turning it around before this one.
- Oklahoma State and Missouri put on a good show in Kansas City, with the Pokes finally pulling out a 74-72 win in overtime.
- More overtime in the Sun Belt Tuesday night, which had three really good games: Arkansas State (63-60 over South Alabama) and Louisiana-Lafayette (83-79 over Arkansas-Little Rock) both won in overtime while Texas-Arlington edged Georgia Southern 62-61.
- Texas Southern very nearly victimized another, but Ian Baker scored with two seconds left to give New Mexico State a 54-52 win over the Tigers.
- Pittsburgh got out to a 7-0 lead and never trailed in beating Florida Gulf Coast 71-54. Quietly the Panthers seem to be hitting their stride though, again, this is another team that hasn’t been away from home in nearly a month.
- Dayton continues to find ways to win, defeating Mississippi 78-74. The Flyers are now 10-2.
- A promising start to the season early for Mississippi State has gone completely sour. The Bulldogs were humbled at home by McNeese State 66-47 Tuesday night for their sixth loss in seven games.
- In a game matching two of the most improved teams in the country, Maryland-Eastern Shore won at Tennessee-Martin 63-60. The Hawks already have eight wins, two more than all of last year.
- Finally, Concordia (Ala.) won at Alcorn State 79-70, an ugly loss for the Braves of the SWAC.
- Boise State has officially lost guard Anthony Drmic for the season due to an ankle injury, the Idaho Statesman reported yesterday. Drmic was already sitting out earlier this year due to a back injury, but a bum ankle continued to worsen, leading to BSU shutting him down for the year. Drmic is expected to apply for a medical redshirt and, if granted, would be eligible to play again next year.
Today’s Menu: In recent years, New Year’s Eve has suddenly become a popular day for college basketball.
St. John’s at Seton Hall (Noon EST, Fox Sports 1), Butler at Villanova (2:30 p.m. EST, FS1), Marquette at DePaul (5 p.m. EST, FS1) Creighton at Providence (7:30 p.m. EST, FS1), Georgetown at Xavier (10 p.m. EST, FS1) A number of conferences are tipping off their conference schedules collectively on or around N.Y. Eve. But none does it like the Big East, with all five of its games televised on one network, capped by Georgetown and Xavier playing right up until the ball drops at midnight.
Temple at Connecticut (1 p.m. EST, ESPN2) The Owls are now a team to watch after that whipping of Kansas, while the Huskies have looked vulnerable this year and really don’t have a notable win since beating Dayton back in mid-November.
UNLV at Wyoming After the Runnin’ Rebels win over Arizona, this one suddenly takes on a lot more importance. Laramie is always very tough for road teams, so a win here for UNLV would be huge.
Penn State at Wisconsin (1 p.m. EST, Big Ten Network) Just not buying Penn State yet, despite the gaudy record, but the Nittany Lions would do wonders for perceptions of them by just making this one close in Madison.
Indiana at Nebraska (5:30 p.m. EST, Big Ten Network) Both teams could really use this one early in Big Ten play.
Lafayette at Army Arguably the two best teams in the Patriot League so far, as these two are a combined 17-5 coming in.
Coastal Carolina at High Point Same story here. Perhaps the two best teams in the Big South.
Brown at Rhode Island Notable because the Bears have not lost in nearly a month, including their win at Providence. A victory here and Brown can make the claim as champions of The Ocean State.
Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve everybody