Good morning, Happy New Year and welcome to 2017! Wishing all a blessed and prosperous year ahead.
The final day of 2016 was a collection of many of the things that make college basketball such a great sport. With 12 overtime games, a total of 18 games decided by three points or less, three matchups pairing ranked teams against each other and a total of five ranked teams losing on the day, the sport again ran circles around college football’s poor excuse for a playoff, which continues to make us long for the days when there were just 15-18 bowls and only the champions of leagues could be tied into a bowl.
(If one is being honest, the current ‘playoff’ is absolutely no better than the way college football decided its champion before conference expansion and the BCS. And no playoff will be complete until it includes a champion from every Division I-A or FBS conference).
Back to college basketball, the day would’ve been notable for any of its particular happenings alone. Duke, Indiana and North Carolina all lost, including the Blue Devils and Tar Heels soundly on the road in ACC play. Virginia Tech drilled Duke 89-75 in a performance every bit as complete as the final score, while UNC lost 75-63 to…Georgia Tech? Yes, the same Yellow Jackets who lost to Penn State and were pounded by Tennessee went ahead and defeated a Carolina team that has mowed down one opponent after another this year, often in devastating fashion.
Top-ranked Villanova did not lose, instead going on the road to undefeated Creighton and winning 80-70 in front of a rabid crowd in Omaha. It cannot be said enough: no team is more battle-tested than the Wildcats, who fearless regardless of the opponent or setting.
Sixth-ranked Louisville won handily at Indiana, its 77-62 win seemingly establishing the Cardinals on a level a notch above the Hoosiers this year. Notre Dame won 78-77 in overtime at Pittsburgh, with Steve Vasturia hitting the winner in the final seconds of the extra session.
MAAC favorite and darling Monmouth was stunned at home by Rider, with the Broncs’ 93-90 win in another of those overtime games displaying again that they’ve become a perpetual thorn in the Hawks’ side. Connecticut lost yet again, falling at Tulsa 61-59 in overtime. Who knew that the Golden Hurricane-losers of nine seniors from last year’s NCAA tourney team-would be better than the Huskies at this time of the year? Weber State won at Montana 84-81 in a battle of two of the top Big Sky teams, as Jeremy Senglin hit a game-winning three-pointer in the final second of OT.
Yet perhaps the most impressive team of the day was Florida State. The Seminoles are seemingly a hot prospect every year, oft hyped for big things but rarely delivering. As a result, many have been taking a wait-and-see approach on this year.
It’s time to buy into FSU after it posted a 60-58 win at Virginia to move to 14-1 this year. Leonard Hamilton has always been an excellent recruiter, and this year he has a team with athletes, size and depth galore. Hamilton can literally go 12-deep with his roster, and with it he’s picked up the pace this year, recognizing what others with the most riches are increasingly finding, that the rules encourage such teams to use a shorter shot clock to their advantage against less-talented opponents.
Florida State wasn’t able to come close to its 88.1 point per game average in this one, but it didn’t matter. Dwayne Bacon scored 29 points-nearly half of the Seminoles’ total-and he hit the game-winning three-pointer with four seconds left. FSU beat Virginia at its own game here, and there’s no better compliment to give a team than that.
We got all of that in one day. So while college football made an ill-fated attempt to seize New Year’s Eve the last two years, perhaps we’re finding out now that Dec. 31 really belongs to college hoops, not football.
- Among other notable results from the day, Xavier outlasted Georgetown on the road 81-76. The Hoyas are 0-2 in the Big East.
- Clemson won at Wake Forest 73-68. The Tigers are going to have a real chance to challenge for an NCAA tourney bid. Also in the ACC, Miami (Fla.) gave North Carolina State a lesson with an 81-63 win that indicates the Wolfpack still have some work to do.
- UNC Wilmington-recent loser at Clemson this week-opened CAA play with a quality road win, taking down contender Towson 76-67.
- The Sun Belt is going to be worth watching all season. On its opening day of play, favorite Texas-Arlington stretched its win streak to 10 games with a big second half in a 90-69 win over league newcomer Coastal Carolina. Arkansas State edged Texas-Arlington 74-71, while Arkansas-Little Rock edged Louisiana-Monroe 79-75 in overtime in a rematch of the 2016 conference tourney final.
- Dartmouth upended New Hampshire 63-62, knocking off one of the America East favorites in the battle for supremacy among the only two NCAA Division I programs in the state of New Hampshire. Brendan Barry hit the game-winning triple with three seconds left for the Big Green.
- Southland favorite Sam Houston State is stunningly 0-2 in conference play after a 67-65 loss to 2-12 Central Arkansas, as Aaron Weidenaar hit three free throws with a second left.
- Out west, Gonzaga moved to 14-0 by rallying from a halftime deficit to down Pacific 81-61. Saint Mary’s also handled San Diego 72-60, getting 35 points from its bench including 12 each from Tanner Krebs and Jordan Ford.
Today’s Menu: New Year’s Day once was a quiet one for college basketball, but that’s not the case this year. A schedule of 22 games is TV heavy, with more than half of them available over the air.
- The day starts with Nebraska looking for another road upset when it goes to Maryland (Noon Eastern, Big Ten Network). Also in the Big Ten: Michigan is at Iowa (2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network) and Minnesota goes to Purdue (4:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
- The Missouri Valley has an almost-full schedule of games, and the best one has Illinois State at upstart Loyola (Ill.).
- The Big East features struggling Providence at Butler (3 p.m., CBSSN) and Marquette at Seton Hall (4:30 p.m., FS1).
- One of the biggest games of the year in Conference USA has UAB at Middle Tennessee State, a game that is inexplicably not on national television.
- The Pac-12 has a busy day, with Colorado at Utah (6:30 p.m., ESPNU), Arizona at Stanford and Washington State at Washington (8:30 p.m., ESPNU).
- Nationally ranked Cincinnati hosts Tulane in an American matchup (7 p.m., CBSSN).
Again, Happy New Year!