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Saturday, February 27, 2010
Jayhawks fall on wacky Saturday

By Eamonn Brennan

The stars -- or at least the schedules -- had aligned. One look at today's hoops schedule and it was clear this was, at least on paper, the best Saturday of college hoops we've had all year. All we needed was for the games to live up to the hype.

They did. It was. And we're not done yet.

The insanity that will be Syracuse-Villanova is still minutes away from tipoff, but look how far we've come already: Notre Dame won at No. 13 Georgetown to reinvigorate its tournament hopes. No. 12 New Mexico beat No. 11 BYU in Provo to clinch a share of the Mountain West title (and make a pretty clear argument as to who the best, most tourney-ready MWC team really is).

James Anderson
Oklahoma State's James Anderson scored 27 points against Kansas on Saturday.
No. 17 Tennessee knocked off No. 2 Kentucky in Knoxville, building a big lead in the first half before succumbing to Kentucky's inevitable onslaught ... only to score the last nine points of the game, seal a thrilling win over a hated rival, and hand UK its second loss of the season.

Then, of course, there was Kansas. Anyone who thought we'd end the day with not one but both of our top two teams in road losses deserves some sort of clairvoyance award and a lucrative late-night cable infomercial. Just a few hours after Kentucky fell, the Jayhawks lost their first conference game of the season at Oklahoma State.

If the loss itself wasn't shocking -- playing on the road in conference play is always hard, even for great teams like Kansas -- the way Oklahoma State thoroughly handled Kansas was. The Cowboys dominated Sherron Collins and company almost from the opening tip. By halftime, the lead had ballooned to 47-29. James Anderson was scoring at will against Kansas' typically impenetrable defense, and when the Cowboys didn't make shots -- which was rare; they posted a 69.8 percent effective field goal rate -- they were able to grab the offensive rebounds that Cole Aldrich and the Jayhawks almost never allow.

Much like their compatriots at the top of the polls, Kansas fought back late, eventually closing the lead to nine with over two minutes to play. Unlike Kentucky, though Kansas wasn't able to get any closer than that, thanks in large part to 5-foot-9 OSU sharpshooter Keiton Page's four late 3s. And that was that: Just like No. 2 before them, No. 1 had fallen, and any dreams of a perfect Big 12 season would be deferred.

All of which sounds very dramatic, of course. And it was. Still, let's not overplay KU's loss. The Jayhawks would never admit it, but they had nothing substantial on the line in Saturday's game. They'll still be the Big 12 regular season champs. They'll still be the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament.

Most important of all, they'll still be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament -- probably the No. 1 overall seed, barring a Big East tournament title by Syracuse. We should take notes from last year's eventual champs, the North Carolina team that blitzed the NCAA tournament from start to finish. In the regular season, sometimes the best team doesn't win. Sometimes the best team seems downright disinterested. Kansas' loss felt a lot like that today, and while that's not exactly the best excuse for a loss -- eh, we didn't have anything to care about, right? -- it shouldn't affect the way we look at the Jayhawks going forward. Make no mistake: Bill Self's team is still the favorite.

Want to know the most awesome thing about today? All of that already happened ... and the day's best, most important game is still minutes away from tipoff. (Which is not to mention Mizzou-Kansas State, a very good Big 12 matchup currently in progress.) Syracuse-Villanova should be everything everybody (including the record crowd currently packed inside the Carrier Dome) hoped. But if it isn't? Oh well. Saturday was still the best day of college basketball we've had all season. It was the perfect way to welcome March, the very best month of the year.

Show of hands: Who's ready for the tournament? Yep. Thought so. Me too.