You can go a long time in this college basketball season and not have a better day than Tuesday provided.
It’s true that you certainly won’t find a longer day. But beyond the novelty of the Tip-Off Marathon, Tuesday was loaded with power matchups, revivals of rivalries, All-Americans at their very best, and just plain good games that were worthy of the national platforms they were provided, even if played at times that were the furthest thing from prime time.
The Champions Classic is an event Billy Packer would love, the ultimate in TV matchmaking. The first game saw the two biggest brand names in the sport right now, and we found out Kentucky’s freshmen mixed with returnees are better than Duke’s frosh and veterans in mid-November. The Wildcats were led by the old(er)-Tyler Ulis with 18 points-and the new-Jamal Murray with 16) and simply outplayed the Blue Devils in a 74-63 win.
The second game appeared for much of the night to belong to Kansas. The Jayhawks led by 11 midway through the second half, but in a night marked by stud performances by All-American candidates, Denzel Valentine’s may have been best of all. His line of 29 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists was incredible, reminiscent of a magical former Spartan from the past, and Michigan State rallied for a 79-73 win. What a finish to hour-upon-hour of basketball.
Maryland and Georgetown could easily be one of the top five rivalries in the sport, if only it were played more. It was 22 years since their last meeting in the Washington D.C. area where both reside, and the night confirmed what many suspected: the renewal of the series was 21 years later than it should’ve been.
The Terrapins edged the Hoyas 75-71, rallying back from a late seven-point deficit by scoring with ruthless efficiency in the final five minutes. Maryland scored on each of its last eight offensive possessions to close the game, fighting back behind Melo Trimble (24 points), who the Terps don’t win this game without, even on a night where he uncharacteristically missed five free throws.
Tulsa and Wichita State are not quite the neighbors that those two are (separated by 175 miles) but were fierce rivals when the Golden Hurricane were members of the Missouri Valley Conference for many years before choosing to follow the football rainbow and leaving for the WAC in 1996.
It’s a shame these two aren’t conference mates anymore, so it makes their rare meetings even more appreciated. That increases exponentially when both are good like they are now. The Shockers recent history needs no introduction, while Tulsa is looking to get back as a player on the national scene. A 77-67 win over WSU on Tuesday indicates the Golden Hurricane are on the verge, especially when the sometimes cold-shooting team hits 10 of 22 from three-point range. Let’s play this one every year too, please?
Tuesday also included Oklahoma winning at Memphis 84-78, as Buddy Hield showed All-American mettle with 30 points. Colorado outscored Auburn 91-84 in a high scoring game for a road win, while Valparaiso survived Rhode Island 58-55 in a low-scoring contest for a big road victory. And for pure basketball with wild swings and an amazing finish, few games this year will be better than Hawaii’s 76-75 win over Nevada, which began at 4 a.m. Eastern time.
The day had just about everything one could ask for in non-conference matchups, literally featuring the sport from coast to coast. You can’t ask for much more.
- More from the hoops marathon: Northern Iowa defeated Stephen F. Austin 70-60, topping the Lumberjacks for the second straight year. Also, Dayton was mighty impressive in running all over Alabama 80-48. The Flyers’ depth is back, as evidenced by freshman Steve McElvene finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
- A game we thought would be a contest really wasn’t, as Oregon State ran past Iona 93-73. The Gaels have been beaten by 20+ points twice already and clearly have work to do. The Beavers deserve credit in this one too-even with two players out, this team continues to grow.
- Villanova responded after falling behind Nebraska in the early going, going on to an easy 87-63 win. Daniel Ochefu (17 points, 10 rebounds) had a double-double. Notre Dame got a challenge from Wisconsin-Milwaukee but shot 57.1% and needed every shot in an 86-78 win.
- Connecticut steadily pulled away from New Hampshire for an 85-66 win behind 21 from Sterling Gibbs. UNH again played without guards Daniel Dion and Joe Bramanti, suspended for the first three games of the season for violating team rules.
- Syracuse defeated St. Bonaventure 79-66 in a game much closer than the final score-the Bonnies led deep into the second half.
- Quietly, Penn is 3-0 after a 60-54 win over Delaware State. The Quakers already are a third of the way to their season total of nine wins a year ago.
- Western Illinois also has backed up its win over Wisconsin with two more, the latest an 84-57 win over Illinois-Chicago. It’s way, way early, but the Leathernecks are making a preliminary claim to be one of the nation’s most improved teams.
- Finally, The Citadel bounced back from being on the wrong end of a demolition from Butler in its opener, earning a 94-93 win over Stetson for Duggar Baucom’s first win with the Bulldogs.
- Also, a news item from Tuesday: Northwestern State guard Jalan West has been diagnosed with an ACL injury and will miss the rest of the season. West was injured late in the Demons’ opener against Mississippi. The senior led the nation in assists last year (7.7 apg) and also averaged 20.0 points per game, teaming with Zeek Woodley to form a high-scoring backcourt that combined to average 42.2 ppg a year ago. Very unfortunate that we won’t get to see them play together the rest of the season, and we can only hope West gets a hardship to try again next year, as Woodley is a junior (and is averaging 30.5 ppg through two games this season).
Today’s menu: A fairly busy schedule, though it will feel benign after the round-the-clock quality of the previous 36 hours
- Providence gets to host Illinois (7 p.m. EST, FS1) as part of the Gavitt Games series this week between the Big East and Big Ten.
- Top-ranked North Carolina hosts Wofford, while ranked Purdue gets Incarnate Word at home. Nebraska can tell the Boilermakers all about not taking the Cardinals lightly. Also, Gonzaga hosts Northern Arizona, another team that the ranked club should beat but cannot overlook.
- Cincinnati faces a toughie on the road when it travels to Bowling Green. MAC teams don’t often get chances like this, especially good MAC teams, and the Falcons are one.
- Richmond is at Wake Forest, and is the type of game the Spiders need to win if they want to be serious about at-large candidacy in March.
- Akron has a manageable chance at a decent road win when it goes to Arkansas. Ditto for UC Irvine as it travels to Central Florida.
- Loyola (Ill.) is at New Mexico in a MVC-Mountain West Challenge contest and can score some power rating points for the Valley with a win here.
- Finally, Eastern Michigan at Oakland is an intriguing in-state battle between a pair of teams that both fall in that ‘better than you think’ category.
Enjoy your Wednesday.