Good morning, and welcome to 2016!
On paper, New Year’s Eve featured what could’ve been two of the very best games of the year in the Big East. Call it 1-for-2 at the plate, as one ended up being nothing of the sort, but the other delivered in every way.
Villanova hammered Xavier 95-64 in both teams’ highly anticipated conference opener on New Year’s Eve, as the Wildcats put on one of those dominant showings they are so capable of, especially at their home Pavilion, and knocked the Musketeers from the ranks of the undefeated. In the second biggie, though, Providence rallied from a 13-point deficit late in the first half to win at Butler 81-73, laying an early claim to status as top challenger to defending champion Villanova in the conference.
The Wildcats were nearly flawless, shooting 63.2% from the floor, 13 of 25 (52.0%) from three-point range and even 10 of 11 on free throws (90.9%). Ryan Arcidiacono made seven triples on his way to 27 points plus eight assists, and Villanova’s five starters combined for 77 points on incredible 29 of 43 shooting, a 67.4% clip.
It’s hard to find much fault with Xavier for this result, though, for the team had to be obviously shaken just a few minutes into the game when freshman guard Edmond Sumner was temporarily knocked unconscious and went off immobilized on a stretcher. Sumner was the victim of a hard fall on a fast break that was part hard foul, part fluke. It was a frightening scene that left the arena in silence, but he was released from the hospital and Musketeers coach Chris Mack tweeted that Sumner would travel back to campus with the team.
Without its emerging freshman, Xavier shot just 39.2% and committed 19 turnovers against the Wildcats’ swarming defense. Give the Musketeers a pass on this one, though, and here’s hoping Sumner is able to return to action soon and in good health.
If Villanova showed the Big East still goes through Philly, Providence displayed why it has a team built to win anywhere. The Friars trailed 36-25 at halftime but ripped off 56 points in the second half to win at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Kris Dunn (20 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) and Ben Bentil (19 points) were terrific, per usual, but the real key was Rodney Bullock. The sophomore scored a career-high 25 points and added 10 boards, drilling six three-pointers as PC made 12 of 26 from deep.
On the other hand, Butler made just 3 of 17 from deep, and the Bulldogs also were hurt by foul trouble to Tyler Lewis, who scored just one point in 18 minutes before fouling out. More concerning was an overall malaise in the second half, of which coach Chris Holtmann said on the Butler athletics website: “They were certainly the better team today. We have a lot to learn from this, and hopefully that starts tomorrow. We just didn’t have a good approach coming of halftime.”
- Gonzaga nipped Santa Clara 79-77, as the 4-11 Broncos and Jared Brownridge (26 points) were a pest again against a ranked team. The same team that nearly defeated Arizona earlier this year may well have beaten the Bulldogs were it not for a much-needed 26 points from Josh Perkins. The Zags also shared bad news earlier in the day, as center Przemek Karnowski will miss the rest of the season, per the Spokane Spokesman-Review. The 7-foot-1 center from Poland only played in five games this year and will be eligible for a medical redshirt next year if he so chooses.
- The Bulldogs could certainly get a real challenge from Saint Mary’s in the WCC this year. The Gaels are now 12-1 after an 85-74 win over BYU. In a balanced starting five, Calvin Hermanson was the leader in this one with 21 points, including five three-pointers, and five scored at least 13 points for the Gaels, who shot 56.4%.
- Among other results Wednesday, Wichita State took care of Drake 67-47 in both team’s Missouri Valley opener. ESPNU announcers Rich Hollenberg and Mark Adams are among the best in the sport, and most enjoyable were there tuxedos on the occasion for the game:
— Mark Adams (@EnthusiAdams) December 31, 2015
- Colonial Athletic Association play tipped off with road games winning three of the five matchups. College of Charleston picked up a big 65-62 win at James Madison in a game that included nine ties and 14 lead changes. Jarrell Brantley was magnificent from the field with 29 points on 13-for-14 shooting. Also, Towson came back from down 12 late in the first half to beat William & Mary 76-69. The Tigers are very quietly now 10-4 this year.
- In a key early-season Big South game, High Point handled Radford 77-60. John Brown totaled 14 points and 10 rebounds, but a good development for the Panthers was 29 points from the bench.
- Terrific early Big Sky game, where Montana outlasted Northern Arizona 90-84 on the road in double overtime. Brandon Gfeller led the Grizzlies with eight three-pointers accounting for all 24 of his points, and Montana made a school-record 18 three-pointers.
- Finally, for those who enjoy hyphens, Maryland-Baltimore County defeated Maryland-Eastern Shore 89-75. The Retrievers had their own version of Georgia Tech’s Lethal Weapon 3 from years ago (remember Kenny Anderson, Brian Oliver and Dennis Scott?) as Jairus Lyles (26 points), Will Darley (23) and Rodney Elliott (20) combined for 69 points.
Today’s Menu: A very light schedule. But it can’t be any worse than the college football “playoff” semifinals, right?
- The Pac-12 has staked out New Year’s Day with four games. The best one is Colorado at California. The Buffaloes are 11-2 but still tough to figure, having lost their two toughest games (Iowa State and SMU, by combined 10 points) and having a best win over BYU with little else for heft. Cal had a few early season hiccups but has played a tough schedule, and the Golden Bears will be better for it as the season continues.
- Other Pac-12 games include USC at Washington State, Utah with a tricky one at Stanford (9 p.m. EST, ESPNU) and UCLA on the road at young Washington (11 p.m., FS1).
- The rest of the schedule includes three Summit League games and a pair in Conference USA. The best in the Summit sees Denver on the road at league favorite South Dakota State, while C-USA features North Texas at Texas-San Antonio and Rice at Texas-El Paso.
Happy New Year.