Polls do matter. A case could be made that the All-America first team is almost wrapped up right now. And it’s not at all hard to envision Oklahoma and Kansas playing two or three more times this year, including perhaps again in April.
Nights like Monday make it hard to fathom the idea that college basketball’s regular season is meaningless. Exactly how much more can fans ask for than an evening featuring incredible individual performances by two of the nation’s very best players, an upset of a top 10 team, plus a 1 vs. 1 matchup between two Final Four contenders who couldn’t decide their game after 40 minutes and provided some bonus hoops. And then some more. And then some more.
If it weren’t for the polls, the setting for Monday night’s game between No. 1 (coaches poll) Oklahoma against No. 1 (AP poll) Kansas would’ve been just a really good regular season contest early in the Big 12 conference loop. Matching the two teams judged best in the nation right now on national television with Brent Musberger and Dick Vitale courtside, though, made this a showcase for the sport the likes of which all the marketers in the world could only dream up.
Kansas outlasted Oklahoma 109-106 in triple overtime, and it’s not hyperbole or recency bias to say that, when it comes to big games, the contest goes down as one of the finest regular season ones in the sport’s history. The popular statistic floating as the game reached a third overtime was this was the first triple-overtime game between top teams since No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 North Carolina went to three OTs in 1957. That was one of the most famous NCAA title games of all-time, as Lennie Rosenbluth and the Tar Heels edged Wilt Chamberlain’s Jayhawks 54-53.
On a light night of games and with no football being played, it was as close as we’ll have to a national audience in this media climate. It had a big-time feel all the way, from the announcers to the players to the clutch baskets and plays time and again by both teams. For those who were there or watched, the names in this game-Buddy Hield, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, James Woodard, Perry Ellis, Ryan Spangler-will be remembered for a long time.
Especially Buddy Hield. The senior from the Bahamas was sensational, scoring 46 points with a cornucopia of shot-making-three-pointers, twisting drives and daggers right in the face of Mason, who-despite what the numbers may say-really did play terrific defense.
Hield made a convincing still-early season argument for himself as the national player of the year. Certainly, he looks like a surefire a first team All-American, just like Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn.
Few would’ve considered Brice Johnson for first team all-ACC before the season, but the North Carolina senior big man also could be right there with Hield, Dunn, Valentine and likely Ben Simmons by the end. Johnson’s play has been solid all year and picking up steam the last month, leading to a monster 39-point, 23-rebound performance Monday night in the Tar Heels’ 106-90 win at Florida State.
Johnson made 14 of 16 field goals and put up numbers Carolina-and the sport-haven’t seen much of since the 1960s. The only player to notch a bigger double-double in UNC history is Billy Cunningham in 1964-including an obscene 48 points and 25 rebounds in one game.
If that wasn’t enough, while Oklahoma and Kansas were conducting their three-hour marathon, Buzz Williams got easily his biggest win at Virginia Tech so far as his team shocked No. 4-ranked Virginia 70-68 at home.
Most impressive was how the Hokies kept battling in this one and never let the Cavaliers wrestle momentum away at any point, even when UVA led for a good chunk of the middle of the second half. The same team that opened its season with a home loss to Alabama State, Tech is now 2-0 in the ACC and reminding us once again that there’s a reason why we play the games and, yes, why the regular season matters.
- West Virginia’s first road trip through the Big 12 was a success. The Mountaineers got challenged at Kansas State and TCU but won both, including a 95-87 win over the Horned Frogs. Jaysean Paige put in 20 points off the bench and six scored in double figures for WVU in a game that included 79 free throws and saw the Mountaineers with 21 fouls-in the first half alone.
- It was a good night for winless teams, especially in the SWAC. Prairie View A&M surprised Southern 71-65 for its first win in 14 games. This is the same Southern team that has beaten Mississippi State, Tulane and Wyoming this year. Mississippi Valley State also got its first victory in 15 tries, holding off Arkansas-Pine Bluff 66-60. Finally, Delaware State blasted Division III Summit (Pa.) University 93-44 for its first win.
- A stunner in the Horizon League as Youngstown State went on the road and defeated Oakland 100-98 on a tip-in by Jorden Kaufman at the buzzer. The Penguins (picked ninth in the HL preseason poll) perennially face an uphill battle in the Horizon but always give an honest effort, and they won this one despite missing their best player, as Bobby Hain is out with a foot injury.
- Also in the Horizon, Wisconsin-Milwaukee set a school record with 14 blocked shots and J.J. Panoske reset his own school record with eight blocks as the Panthers rallied to top league newcomer Northern Kentucky 76-67.
- For those of us who don’t want every score to look like an NBA game, we had Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis (N.Y.). The Mountaineers outlasted the Terriers in overtime-by a 44-40 score. The teams were tied 36-36 after regulation.
- Monmouth avenged one of its early losses this year, defeating Canisius 81-66. Justin Robinson was rolling again with 25 points.
- There was more than one triple-overtime game Monday, as Metro Atlantic rivals Manhattan and Siena played on-and-on until the Jaspers pulled out a 92-87 win in Riverdale. Talk about close the whole way-neither team led by more than eight. Manhattan got 37 points from its bench, including 19 from Rich Williams.
- Also a news item from the MAAC on Monday: Iona announced that sophomore guard Schadrac Casimir is officially done for the season after having surgery for a torn labrum in his hip. Casimir was the MAAC Rookie of the Year last year averaging 14.5 points per game but just never could get started this year due to the injury. He played in just four games and will redshirt. The Gaels did improve to 7-6 overall and 4-0 in the MAAC with a 65-52 win over Niagara on Monday.
- ESPN has the Ben Simmons Hype Machine cranking on all cylinders again (when a network has an NBA TV contract, it’s never too early to start hyping eventual NBA rookies), and it could hit yet another level if LSU knocks off Kentucky at home Tuesday night (9 p.m. EST, ESPN).
- Also in the SEC, South Carolina is now one of just two undefeated teams remaining (SMU is the other), and the Gamecocks put their unblemished record on the line with a tough one at Auburn.
- Still trying to get a read on where Richmond’s season is going. If it’s going to include the NCAA Tournament, it had best start winning games like its road trip to Rhode Island (7 p.m., ESPNU).
- Also in the Atlantic 10, it’s time to start paying attention to Saint Joseph’s, and the Hawks can further their cause with a win at home against VCU.
- Which Temple team will show up at Connecticut (8 p.m., CBSSN)? The one that won at Cincinnati a week ago? Or the Owls who were blasted at home by Houston on Saturday. If nothing else, the team should not lack for motivation after their recent humbling. Stylistically, both are similar offensively, so this could be closer than some expect.
- The best game out west (also the only game out west) is Boise State at Utah State (10 p.m., CBSSN).
- Two of the top teams in the Southern Conference (maybe the top two) square off with Mercer at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Have a terrific 12th day of Christmas.