The first Saturday of the new year brought us a rarity in college basketball during conference play: a day with few meaningful upsets of any kind.
Nineteen nationally ranked teams played on Saturday. Eighteen of them won. The only one that didn’t (Virginia Tech) was playing on the road against a higher ranked team (Florida State). Of course, it certainly helped that 12 of the 19 ranked teams were playing at home, but the road wins were mostly no slouches (Creighton won at Providence, Louisville was victorious at Georgia Tech, Butler beat a desperate Georgetown team, Cincinnati topped Houston and even Saint Mary’s had to overcome rival San Francisco).
January madness? Not on this day.
The signature win of the day just might’ve come from Baylor, a narrow 61-57 winner over Oklahoma State. For the second time this week, the Bears weren’t particularly impressive at home against a likely mid-pack Big 12 team, but they ran their record to 15-0 and are set to ascend to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time in school history.
It’s been noted by others, but it can’t be said enough what a job Scott Drew has done in Waco. This is a program that has become an NCAA Tournament regular, with five trips in the last seven years and three trips to the Sweet 16 and two to the Elite Eight since 2010. This is the same school that went a 57-year stretch (1951-2007) with one NCAA tourney bid. One. (And only three NIT bids in that time, too, for that matter.) It will be a wonderful and deserving honor for the program to wear the No. 1 ranking, and don’t believe for a second that it doesn’t mean anything.
As far as all the stories mentioning the Bears’ rise this year from unranked and unheralded to No. 1, as if this is a stunning feat: that’s shame on the top 25 voters. Drew’s cupboard this year was far from bare, and this is a program that, if not in the top 25, should’ve been right on the cups for anyone voting. There’s no excuse why some considered Baylor so far off the radar entering the season, and wins at home over teams like Oregon are what we should expect of teams like the Bears. A No. 1 ranking was unexpected, because it’s unexpected for all but maybe 5-10 teams entering any season. But it’s time to acknowledge that this is a program that should be beyond surprising anyone by now.
Phil Kasiecki returns with his Saturday notes for the rest of the season, including his recap of Saturday’s biggest games here.
Among the top individual performances of the day:
- The best one-and a contender for the best performance by any player this season-came deep into the night. Nevada’s Jordan Caroline finished with 45 points and 13 rebounds and hit the game-winning shot as the Wolf Pack stunned New Mexico 105-104 in overtime in Albuquerque. And we do mean stunned. The Lobos led by 25 points with 11 minutes left in regulation and by 17 points with 2:42 left. Nevada came back with a host of three-pointers in the final minute of regulation, including several of the bank shot variety, and then won the game on Caroline’s pull-up three in the final seconds of overtime. You had to see it to believe it.
- Drew McDonald scored a career-high 37 points and nabbed 10 rebounds for surprising Northern Kentucky, which defeated Cleveland State to move to 12-5 overall and 3-1 in the Horizon League.
- Loyola (Ill.) senior Milton Doyle also had a career day with 35 points and 11 rebounds too in the Ramblers’ 78-62 win over Bradley.
- D.J. Miles of Northern Colorado scored 36 points as the Bears out-dueled Northern Arizona 83-79, weathering 31 points by NAU’s Mike Green.
- Lamar’s Colton Weisbrod scored 34 as the Cardinals continue to play well, drilling SE Louisiana 74-54.
- Garret Covington of Western Illinois-one of the best unsung players in the country that no one knows about-scored a career-best 34 in the Leathernecks’ 86-71 win over Oral Roberts to move to 3-1 in the Summit League.
- Also in the Summit, Marcus Tyus scored 34 for Nebraska-Omaha in its 101-93 win at South Dakota State.
- Finally, Louisiana-Lafayette double-double machine Bryce Washington-all 6-foot-6 of him-scored 10 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in the Ragin’ Cajuns 69-60 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
- NBC Sports Network is covering the Atlantic 10 heavily this year, and their fourth and fifth games televised this weekend include a leadoff today with Richmond at George Washington (Noon Eastern).
- Two of the favorites in the Patriot League meet when Bucknell goes to Holy Cross. The Crusaders stunned the Bison in the league tourney quarterfinals last year on their way to an improbable NCAA Tournament bid.
- North Carolina State and North Carolina play their rivalry game one day later (1 p.m., ESPN), after the orginally scheduled game Saturday was postponed due to the winter storm in the Mid-Atlantic. It might be for the better; this is a game that deserves a national audience, which is more likely on a Sunday than a crowded Saturday.
- Albany and Stony Brook have played a number of classics in the America East in recent years, and they renew their rivalry today.
- Normally a Big Ten game between Northwestern and Nebraska would generate a yawn, but with the Huskers 3-0 in league play and the Wildcats looking like at least a solid NIT team this year-if not more-this is a fascinating game (2:15 p.m., Big Ten Network).
- The opposite of that: Wichita State is at Northern Iowa (4 p.m., ESPNU), and usually this would be a must-see game, but the Panthers have really been struggling of late.
- One of the bigger games of the year in the Big Ten: Wisconsin is at Purdue (4:30 p.m., CBS). Another in the conference is Ohio State at Minnesota (7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network), a game where the Buckeyes may have an advantage as the team needing this one more.
- Fresh off a big win at Valparaiso, Oakland can’t afford a slip-up at improving Illinois-Chicago.
- California is another of those teams that has an NIT look early in conference play, but could start turning that around if it can win at USC (10 p.m., ESPNU).
Have a great Sunday.