With holiday tournaments past, college basketball hits a docile stretch, a relative lull in the schedule. One filled with guarantee games, light weeks while teams take final exams, made-for-TV games, and more guarantee games.
The TV networks try to inject some intrigue into this time with happenings like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. And the event does have some excellent games, but the truth is the novelty of most of this event wore off long ago. Duke and Michigan State already play every few years in the not-so-modestly named Champions Classic, Indiana and Purdue face Notre Dame regularly in the Crossroads Classic. How many more games do these teams need to play against each other? Also: why should we buy the idea that Georgia Tech playing Penn State or Rutgers facing Miami (Fla.) is a big deal just because of their conference affiliations?
(Prime example of this: last night a top 25 team-Rhode Island-played on the road against a Valparaiso team that was a notable snub from the NCAA Tournament last year and very rarely gets to host top 25 teams. This was a prime setting for a terrific TV game. Instead, we were “treated” to Georgia Tech against Penn State in the 40% full Bryce Jordan Center)
On the micro level, though, individual games in this event still can be appreciated. Tuesday featured a number of quality matchups, with the two leagues generally holding serve at home with one notable exception.
At the top of the ledger, Duke pulled away from Michigan State in the second half for a 78-69 win, with Amile Jefferson totaling 17 points and 13 rebounds. Of course, Wisconsin did the same at home against Syracuse, shredding the 2-3 zone to the tune of nearly 50% shooting for a 77-60 win, with Ethan Happ scoring 24 points while making 10 of 12 from the field, seemingly every one of them from three feet and in.
Notre Dame took care of Iowa 92-78 while Illinois continued the theme of teams taking over close games in the second half, handling North Carolina State 88-74. The most impressive win of the night, though, might’ve come from Pittsburgh. The Panthers picked up a victory on the road, winnnimg at Maryland 73-59, one of the better road wins by any team this season (and coming in a matchup that recalls the days of the old ACC/Big East Challenge).
Pitt ran out to a 45-24 lead at halftime and was ahead by as much as 25 points early in the second half. The Terrapins made a run, getting within eight points late, but the Panthers closed it out to hand Maryland its first loss of the season.
- Valparaiso has had a heck of a last eight days, posting a 4-0 record that included three name-brand wins. The Crusaders won the MGM Grand Main Event tourney last week by defeating Alabama and BYU, and now Valpo has its first win at home over a ranked team since a 1988 win over Notre Dame dubbed the Lutheran Miracle by then-coach Homer Drew. The Crusaders topped No. 21 Rhode Island 65-62, with Alec Peters again playing at an All-American level with 27 points, nine rebounds and a blocked shot on the Rams’ final tying three-point attempt. Great win for Valpo, and a great test for URI as well.
- Xavier had near hiccups early this season with close shaves against Lehigh and Missouri. As expected, the Musketeers just keep getting better, but this much this fast? X dominated North Dakota State 85-55, owning the glass and completely shutting down the Bison’s quality backcourt while Trevon Bluiett starred (23 points, seven assists).
- Who is the most impressive Big East team so far? Is it Xavier? Butler? Creighton has every bit as much of an argument, and the Jays continued to roll by pulling away from Buffalo in the second half for a 93-72 win. Of course, Villanova is still the one all three of them are aiming at, and the Wildcats pounded Pennsylvania 82-57 at the Palestra in Big 5 play.
- Texas-Arlington just missed a chance at Texas last year. The Mavericks didn’t let a second chance go to waste, dumping the Longhorns 72-61. Kevin Hervey is starting to round into form (18 points, 10 rebounds) and UTA has won four straight since some second-half struggles led to three early losses.
- The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference struck a major conference team for the second straight night, as Delaware State won at St. John’s 79-72. SJU clearly hasn’t shook its penchant from last year for some mystifying losses, even acknowledging the serious rebuild going on. Good for the Hornets, who went 7-25 a year ago and came in with a 1-5 record that included losses by 22 to Maryland-Baltimore County and 23 at Montana State. For the Johnnies: is this worse than losses last year to Incarnate Word or NJIT?
- Nashville hosted a pair of city games last night, and one was hardly in doubt as Vanderbilt drilled Tennessee State 83-59, handing the Tigers their first loss. The other was a classic, though, as Dylan Windler caught a full-court pass and scored at the buzzer to give Belmont a 64-62 win over Lipscomb in the Battle of the Boulevard, capping a Bruins’ comeback from 18 points down that will be remembered for a long time in this underrated rivalry.
- VCU outlasted Princeton 81-70 in a game closer than the final score (this was tied with five minutes left). Both teams had some holes in their lineups as the Rams played without point guard Jonathan Williams, who has been sick since the team returned from the Bahamas and the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney, while the Tigers lost big man Hans Brase in the first half with a knee injury.
- A call to New Orleans, which handled Tulane with surprising ease for a 74-59 win in that city rivalry game. Good for the Privateers, who are still rebuilding from the affects of Hurricane Katrina and an aborted move to NCAA Division III.
- Finally, San Jose State defeated Idaho 58-49, the Spartans’ second straight win up in the Palouse after winning at Washington State on Sunday. The game was notable for being played in ancient Memorial Gym on the Idaho campus, a beautiful, ornate building built in 1928 with an upper level that almost literally hangs over the court and is a wonderfully cozy reminder of the tiny pits the sport has its origins in.
- Also of Hoopville note: Phil Kasiecki and Ted Sarandis have their latest podcast up, which you can listen to here.
Tonight’s Menu: It’s a busy slate with a total of 90 games on tap.
- Start your TV viewing early with New Hampshire-winner over Temple early this year and at solid Winthrop this past weekend-staying in New England but going to Providence (6:30 p.m. Eastern, FS1).
- The ACC/Big Ten Challenge wraps up with six games, including a number of heavy hitters. Purdue makes a rare trip to Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN), Virginia Tech is at Michigan in what could be an NCAA tourney bubble elimination game in March (7 p.m., ESPN2), North Carolina goes to Indiana for a matchup of bluebloods (9:15 p.m., ESPN) and Ohio State puts its undefeated record on the line at No. 6 Virginia (9:15 p.m., ESPN2).
- Temple plays at Saint Joseph’s as Philadelphia Big 5 play continues (7 p.m., CBSSN). The Owls have become an intriguing team to watch after winning the preseason NIT.
- Ohio University tries to move to 5-0 but faces a tricky road trip when it heads 80 miles south to play Marshall.
- Richmond is at Bucknell, a chance for the Bison to host a good team and get another nice win to add to one already over Vanderbilt.
- Good non-conference game as Middle Tennessee State goes to Mississippi, a series where MTSU has won four of the last five.
- No. 12-ranked Saint Mary’s is at Stanford, another of those road games so many have been clamoring for the Gaels to play more of.
- Colorado State is at Colorado with state bragging rights on the line. Also: Utah State takes on BYU, this one on a neutral court in Salt Lake City.
- Arizona gets a good home test when it welcomes Texas Southern, which has already won four games on the road this season. These two most recently met in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
- Finally, fresh off of beating BYU, Utah Valley has an excellent chance for a second straight name-brand win when it goes to Washington State, which lost to San Jose State its last time out.
Enjoy your Wednesday.