This season, there are no surprises when a top-5 team goes down. Frankly, it’s also almost never a surprise when Louisville is the group defeating such a highly ranked squads.
Still, the Cardinals’ 71-65 win over No. 2-ranked North Carolina on Monday was bigger than some and maybe most this year, as it was Louisville’s first win over a sure NCAA Tournament team. There were previously losses to Virginia, Kentucky and Michigan State plus a loss to Clemson, while the best wins-Pittsburgh, Florida State plus several other mid-to-bottom pack ACC teams-were only moderately impressive.
The Cardinals were able to grind one out in a game that was not easy on the eyes, particularly in the first half, when the two teams all but appeared to be daring the other as to who could stand around more on offense. The 28-27 halftime tally supports that, but at least play picked up some in the second half, especially for the hosts, who shot 53.1% in the final 20 minutes.
Still, Carolina shot just 34.5%, a season low, including 3-for-17 from three-point range. That could be labeled an aberration for many teams shooting 48.5% for the year, but UNC now has shot in the 30s in four of its last five games. You can certainly call this a team in a bit of a shooting slump.
(This also may have had the feeling of Groundhog Day for the Tar Heels, who lost at Louisville in overtime almost exactly a year ago, Jan. 31, 2015. You won’t blame Roy Williams if he woke up to Sonny & Cher this morning.)
Meanwhile, Louisville continues to be a team that at first glance isn’t going to win the eye test. The Cardinals rely heavily on 1) Drexel transfer Damion Lee and 2) their defense. It’s a team with few obvious stars-only three score in double figures on average-but plenty of good players (Chinanu Onuaku, for instance, is averaging nearly a double-double). It’s a team that we’re still getting to know well, but with Rick Pitino’s track record, it’s entirely possible again that we’ll have plenty of chance to do just that in March.
- Texas just continues to find ways to win. The Longhorns won at Baylor 67-59, holding the Bears to 35.2% shooting. Prince Ibeh was a force up front and made life difficult for the Baylor big men with nine points, six rebounds plus five blocked shots.
- More big news in Texas, where Houston rallied to knock off SMU 71-68. Devonta Pollard scored 23 points off the bench and the Cougars outrebounded the Mustangs 35-23. UH also did it without Rob Gray, who missed the game after spraining an ankle in practice Sunday.
- One more Texas note: Texas Southern held on to beat Alabama A&M 71-66. TSU is now 9-0 in the SWAC and did a terrific job on A&M’s LaDarius Tabb, a 20.6-ppg scorer coming in who was held to just six points.
- Florida State held off Cat Barber and North Carolina State 77-73, moving to 15-7. Barber scored 31 but Dwayne Bacon answered with 20 for FSU. Quietly, the Seminoles thus far are putting together a decent NCAA Tournament resume.
- Monmouth solidified its hold on first in the MAAC with a 93-87 win over Siena to sweep both meeetings of the two teams this year. Justin Robinson scored a career-best 36 for the Hawks, outscoring Javion Ogunyemi, who scored 31 points himself for the Saints.
- Tennessee-Chattanooga dominated The Citadel 125-85, scoring 77 points in the second half and moving to 19-3 overall this year. The Mocs still have one of the better road wins of any team this year-at Dayton-and continue making a case as an at-large pick if they don’t win the Southern Conference tourney in March.
- The Atlantic Sun race also is becoming a battle for supremacy in Jacksonville, Fla., where the league’s current top two teams reside. North Florida still leads the way but was upset by Stetson 86-82 Monday night, ending UNF’s 18-game home winning streak and dealing the Ospreys their first A-Sun loss. Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s Dolphins are now just a game behind after an 83-80 win over Florida Gulf Coast. What a job Tony Jasick is doing at Artis Gilmore’s alma mater, which won 10 games a year ago.
- The game of the night is in the Big 12, where West Virginia goes to Ames to face Iowa State. The Mountaineers have been leaking a little oil, losing three of five. WVU is the deeper team, but imposing its will for ISU is made much easier by playing at Hilton Coliseum. Caucus exit polls from Monday night favor the Cyclones here.
- Indiana is at Michigan (9 p.m., ESPN). The Hoosiers are back in the rankings even as they have a total of two wins over teams in the top 75 of the RPI. Michigan isn’t far ahead of that, with two over the top 90.
- Butler hosts Georgetown (7 p.m., FS1), and it’s almost must-win time for the Bulldogs as they still try to recapture their early season form. On the other hand, a loss here would put the Hoyas at 13-10.
- Tricky road tests in the SEC for a number of teams: Kentucky goes to Knoxville to take on Tennessee (7 p.m., ESPN), South Carolina is at Georgia (7 p.m., ESPNU) and LSU has to fight a letdown on the road in a battle of tigers at Auburn.
- Clemson faces one of those swing games it can’t afford to lose when it travels to Wake Forest. Also in the ACC, Syracuse hosts Virginia Tech and Duke-freshly unranked for the first time since 2007-plays at Georgia Tech (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- MAC East co-leader Kent State goes to MAC West co-leader Central Michigan, while the other MAC East leader Akron is also on the road at dangerous Ohio. The only MAC leader at home is Northern Illinois, which hosts Buffalo, and the Bulls are just one game behind the Zips and Golden Flashes in the East. Take a deep breath while digesting all of that.
- Quietly, New Mexico has moved into second in the Mountain West. The Lobos can strengthen their hold on that spot with a win at The Pit against UNLV (8 p.m., CBSSN).
- Finally, San Diego State looks to stay undefeated in the MWC when it hosts Colorado State (11 p.m., ESPN2).
Enjoy your Groundhog Day.