The novelty of each program wore off long ago, but Baylor and Butler remain remarkable stories in their own way. They reminded the college basketball world of that on Friday in distinctively different ways.
Both teams took home championships on Friday. The games were very different, but the end result was the main thing in common.
We all know where Baylor came from under Scott Drew. He took over the program when few probably would have. He’s turned the Bears into a consistent NCAA Tournament team, one that routinely finishes in the top half of the Big 12. And every time it looks like they’re poised to take a step back, they win games and reach the NCAA Tournament again.
This iteration had its early apex on Friday in the Bears’ stunning 69-66 comeback win over Louisville in the championship of the Battle 4 Atlantis. It’s a win that in a way mirrored the program’s trajectory, because Louisville was in command throughout this game. It looked like the Cardinals would be the program appeared to be good at a time many wouldn’t think so, given their own recent brush with the NCAA. They had shut down Baylor star forward Jonathan Motley, who had quarterfinal and semifinal games that made him a leading candidate for tournament MVP. They led by 22 points late in the first half, and Baylor didn’t seem to be gaining much traction in the second.
Motley ended up winning MVP after all, though in this game the difference-maker might have been King McClure, who scored all 15 of his points after intermission. Baylor had a big edge in bench production that might have made the biggest difference.
So to recap, the Bears have knocked off Oregon, VCU, Michigan State and Louisville thus far. None of those games were true road games – the Bears don’t have one of those until Big 12 play – but that’s not a bad first couple of weeks at all.
Butler, on the other hand, had to make a late run after losing a lead to Arizona to take home the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational 69-65. The Bulldogs led for a lot of the game, at one point by nine, but Arizona went on a 17-2 run to take the lead. Butler then scored eight unanswered points to take the lead in the final minute.
Butler hasn’t had any scandals, but the program has gone through a great deal of adversity over the last few years. They have watched alums tragically pass away at a young age, a coach leave the program and lost players for significant time due to serious injuries. Through it all, they have continued to win games and reach the NCAA Tournament, and all while going from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East.
This doesn’t look like one of Butler’s best teams, but the Bulldogs are 6-0 with wins over Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Arizona. Just how good any one of those wins proves to be from an NCAA Tournament resume standpoint remains to be seen – Arizona, while highly ranked, is short-handed, especially without Allonzo Trier – but this is a pretty good start and the program just continues to win games. It’s what they do. And just like the ones who came before him, from Barry Collier (now the athletic director) to Brad Stevens, current head coach Chris Holtmann can coach.
In other action at the Battle 4 Atlantis, Michigan State took third place with a 77-72 win over Wichita State, while VCU beat LSU 85-74 for fifth place and Old Dominion sent home St. John’s with an 0-3 mark after a 63-55 win in the seventh place game. The third place game in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational went to Vanderbilt by an 86-76 margin over Santa Clara despite 36 points from Jared Brownridge.
Temple ran out to a 45-25 lead at the half, then lost the lead before going on a decisive run and the holding off West Virginia to win the NIT Season Tip-Off 81-77. The Owls were led by 22 points and 12 rebounds from emerging star Obi Enechionyia, who was 8-13 from the field including 5-7 from long range en route to winning Most Outstanding Player honors. Florida State beat Illinois 72-61 in the consolation game.
The AdvoCare Invitational had its semifinals on Friday. Iowa State cruised past Miami 73-56, as they were never seriously threatened, then Gonzaga used a big second half to knock off Florida 77-72. Miami had some additional news, as they booted guard Rashad Muhammad from the team on Thursday after having suspended him for three games earlier in the season. The consolation bracket saw Stanford beat Indiana State 65-62 on a late three-pointer, then Seton Hall pulled away from Quinnipiac 90-79.
Also having semifinal action was the Wooden Legacy, where Texas A&M used a big second half to overcome a 13-point halftime deficit and beat Virginia Tech 68-65, then UCLA beat Nebraska 82-71 behind a double-double from Thomas Welsh (12 points, 11 rebounds). In the consolation bracket, New Mexico beat Cal State-Northridge 105-89 and Dayton beat Portland 84-74 despite 31 points and eight assists by Portland’s Alex Winterling.
In the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic, Virginia dominated Iowa 74-41, then Providence got a double-double from Emmitt Holt (16 points, 11 rebounds) to knock off Memphis 60-51.
The Barclays Center Classic saw Kansas State knock off Boston College 72-54, then Maryland needed overtime to beat Richmond 88-82 behind 31 points from Melo Trimble.
In the Great Alaska Shootout, the semifinals saw Nevada pull out a 67-62 win over Buffalo, then Iona cruised past Weber State 76-54.
Kentucky blew out UT-Martin 111-76, but the Wildcats were without floor leader Isaiah Briscoe as he sat for a second straight game due to back issues. Kentucky head coach John Calipari said Briscoe will have an MRI. The Wildcats also saw senior Derek Willis leave Friday’s game with a sprained right thumb, and whether or not he misses any game action is unknown. Kentucky next takes the court on Monday night, when they travel to Tempe to take on Arizona State.
A few of the tournaments take a break, but there are plenty of games on tap in between the big games on the gridiron.
- Virginia takes on Providence in the championship of the Emerald Coast Classic, which follows the third-place game between Iowa and Memphis.
- The Barclays Center Classic starts with the consolation game between Richmond and Boston College, then the championship game closes out a busy day at the arena as Maryland takes on Kansas State.
- In the Global Sports Classic, the championship game features TCU taking on Washington in Las Vegas, while UNLV takes on Western Kentucky in the consolation game.
- The Great Alaska Shootout has a full slate highlighted by its championship game, which pits Nevada against Iona.
- In non-tournament action, the highlights are Xavier hosting Northern Iowa (noon), Syracuse opening the action at the Barclays Center against South Carolina in the Brooklyn Holiday Hoops Invitational (2 p.m.) and NC State hosting Loyola (Ill.) (4 p.m.)