College Basketball Nation: 121810 Saturday recap

Recap: 30 things I took away from Saturday

December, 19, 2010
What did we learn from an eventful Saturday? Here are 30 things I took away from the day:

1. Evan Turner was right. Last season’s national player of the year said in the spring that Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger would be not just the Big Ten freshman of the year but the Big Ten player of the year. Well, he’s on his way. Sullinger racked up 30 points and 19 boards in an MVP performance for the Buckeyes in their 22-point win over South Carolina.

2. Josh Selby was worth the wait. Kansas coach Bill Self had said that Selby was the missing piece for the Jayhawks, a player who could make something out of nothing. Selby buried his first two 3s, hit two more along the way and then nailed his final one to give Kansas the win over USC. He had 21 points in his college debut.

3. If you don’t think Duke has a challenger, it’s time to watch Ohio State … and then catch a little bit of Selby.

4. The Josephs lived up to their preseason hype. Kris Joseph was supposed to be the go-to player for Syracuse this season. On Saturday, he scored 21 points and was the key to leading the Orange in a win over Iona and its underrated star, Mike Glover (25 points, 16 boards). Cory Joseph was supposed to be Texas’ latest star lead guard. On Saturday, the Canadian hit the game-winning bucket with 1.4 seconds to go to beat North Carolina in Greensboro.

5. No team needed a win more than Gonzaga. The Bulldogs re-asserted themselves as a team to be taken seriously with the win over No. 9 Baylor in Dallas. Gonzaga has no bad losses. But even with a monster schedule, you still have to win some of them. Meanwhile, Baylor has yet to win outside of Waco – perhaps because this was Baylor’s first game outside of Waco. The Bears will need to prove their worth in the Diamond Head Classic.

[+] EnlargeFlorida Gators celebrate
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesThe Gators finally had something to smile about after beating K-State Saturday in Sunrise.
6. Florida has to run and get the ball inside to Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus. If it does, the Gators will be an SEC title contender. Beating Kansas State in Sunrise, Fla., was one of the most significant regular-season wins for UF since it won the 2007 national title. This team desperately needed something positive.

7. Credit Illinois-Chicago for a masterful plan in beating No. 14 Illinois. First-year coach Howard Moore should be applauded for pulling off what will go down as one of the most important wins in school history. Beating Illinois at the United Center will do wonders for UIC’s reputation in the city.

8. Illinois needs to show up with some toughness against Mizzou in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis on Wednesday -- or else it could be headed for a slide. There are simply no excuses for a team this talented to lose to a 4-7 squad from the Horizon League.

9. Kansas will have a better seed than Kansas State in the NCAA tournament.

10. Ohio State will have a higher seed than Michigan State.

11. I’m not sure you would have made those predictions in October. I know I didn’t.

12. San Diego State has plenty of double-figure scoring options, and Malcolm Thomas is the latest. The senior scored 18 points and picked up 10 boards in a 26-point win against UC Santa Barbara, the same team that had just beaten UNLV on the road.

13. In the bizarre world of coaching news: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo sat out the Spartans' win against Prairie View A&M because he had a counselor at a summer camp who had an association with a recruit. Meanwhile, Kentucky coach John Calipari was thrown out of a game for the first time since he was at UMass in 1996. Calipari was ejected after arguing with the officials and getting two quick technicals against Mississippi Valley State.

14. Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson lived up to his first-team all-American potential with a career-high 31 points in a win over Indiana State. Robbie who?

15. Forget about a tournament resume for UCLA. The Bruins just needed something positive to happen and beating previously unbeaten BYU at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim couldn’t have come at a better time.

16. Michigan has now won at Clemson and blown out Oakland, just days after the Golden Grizzlies won at Tennessee. Those wins aren’t going to move the meter much, but it does suggest the Wolverines will be highly competitive in the Big Ten and not an easy out. So does last month’s narrow loss to Syracuse.

17. It was only a road win against woeful St. Francis (Pa.), but Drexel didn’t slump in the trap game between a win at Louisville and a road game at Syracuse. That’s more than can be said about UCSB and Oakland after their big mid-week upsets.

18. Central Florida should be ranked this week after beating Miami by six in Sunrise, with Marcus Jordan hobbling at the end.

[+] EnlargeKhris Middleton
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezKhris Middleton scored 31 for an Aggies team that's now 10-1.
19. Quick, who had UCF at 10-0 with a sweep of Florida and Miami?

20. St. Bonaventure won at St. John’s last week and took out NCAA second-round team Ohio 112-107 in four overtimes on Saturday. If you haven’t heard the name Andrew Nicholson, it’s time you learned it.

21. Texas A&M has the look of an NCAA tournament team. Beating Arkansas in overtime with Khris Middleton going for a career-high 31 is a strong indicator.

22. Cleveland State was undefeated. The Vikings aren’t anymore after losing at West Virginia. But they were in it until the final few minutes. Butler will not have a cakewalk in the Horizon this season.

23. Speaking of Butler, the Bulldogs couldn’t beat Duke but they did take down a former Dukie player and assistant as Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins saw his Cardinal lose by 33 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

24. Just when it seemed like Richmond was going to go on a roll, the Spiders got re-routed. This time it occurred in the Bahamas as Georgia Tech won by 13 in what has to be considered a terribly disappointing result against an average ACC team.

25. Call us when Mississippi State wins a key game. If it doesn’t happen in Hawaii later this week, then it may not occur. The Bulldogs lost 88-57 to Virginia Tech, which finally won a game it needed to this season.

26. Detroit beat Central Michigan and the two leading scorers were the sons of their coaching fathers as Ray McCallum Jr., led the Titans with 23 points while Trey Zeigler led his dad’s Chippewas with 21. The McCallums won the game 75-49.

27. Presbyterian won at Auburn. Is there a worse major conference team than Auburn? (Hint: The answer is no.)

28. Although, Oklahoma could give Auburn a run (along with Oregon State, a home loser to GW on Saturday). Cincinnati beat the Sooners in Oklahoma City to go to 10-0, but without a strong schedule it’s hard to know just how good the Bearcats will be in the Big East.

29. Kennesaw State lost 99-73 to Lipscomb and hasn’t won a single game since beating Georgia Tech on Nov. 15, dropping eight in a row. So much for a momentum-changing victory.

30. Florida State avoided its trap game on the way to Hawaii by winning at Loyola Marymount. FSU had already lost twice at home (Ohio State and Florida) and couldn’t afford to drop one to LMU. The Diamond Head Classic is full of teams that need to emerge this week and show off some NCAA at-large credentials. The Noles are one of them.
Some scattered reflections on what turned out to be a rather tremendous afternoon of college hoops (Cory Joseph bobbleheads sold separately):

  • Gonzaga gets its much-needed win. Forget an NCAA tournament at-large bid. For now, Gonzaga just needed to see something positive happen on the basketball court. The Zags have been battered and bloodied by their brutal non-league schedule, going 5-5 in their first 10 games and losing to basically every competent opponent they have played. So this was a huge win, not only because it helps salvage Gonzaga's flagging at-large tourney hopes, but because sometimes you just need to see the ball go in the basket. With Steven Gray sidelined by back cramps, Gonzaga got a neutral-court win over an unbeaten and athletic top-10 team. Quality stuff, and just in time.
  • [+] EnlargeUIC Flames
    AP Photo/Charles CherneyThe UIC flames upset No. 14 Illinois Saturday as the Illini managed a paltry 18-for-55 on the night.
    Illinois falls to ... wait, is that scoreboard right? You can be forgiven for not believing your eyes on this one, but there it is, plain as day: The 14th-ranked Fighting Illini did indeed fall to the 4-7 University of Illinois-Chicago Flames at the United Center on Saturday. It's rather remarkable, actually, because this UIC team is not a sleeper NCAA squad, or an undefeated-but-hard-to-gauge foe like Cleveland State. The Flames have a host of bad losses to their name, including one to Northern Illinois earlier this week. The Illini were, to this point, rolling right along. There were few causes for long-term concern regarding Bruce Weber's team before Saturday, though one involved the Illini's penchant for long two-point jumpers, statistically the least efficient shot on the court. Illinois needed to shoot more 3-pointers. The problem against UIC wasn't the attempts (18) but the makes (a mere four). I'm not sure you want to worry too much about Illinois going forward, because, hey, bad losses happen. But the Illini do have plenty of offensive improvements to make to ensure bad teams like UIC can't keep up with them on neutral floors this season.
  • Who's worried about the Kansas State Wildcats? No one likes Chicken Little, so I'll reserve the whole sky-is-falling routine for more dire circumstances. But it's probably time to be at least somewhat concerned with Kansas State's slow start. Against a Florida team that also had not proved much early in the season, the Wildcats stormed out to an early lead in Sunrise, Fla., only to follow it with one of the worst second-half performances you'll see all season. After halftime, the Gators shot 60 percent (15-for-25 from the field), which would have been nice enough on its own. But when you cause your opponent -- or your opponent causes itself, or some combination therein -- to shoot 6-for-28 and score a mere 21 points in 20 minutes, 60 percent shooting might as well be 100. Frank Martin's team led 23-8 at one point and then totally broke down in this one. At this point you have to wonder whether K-State isn't just playing poorly, but whether it's not nearly as good as we all assumed this offseason. There's still plenty of time to figure all this out, and plenty of time for the Wildcats to change their season's trajectory again. But for now, games like Saturday's are disconcerting.
  • Everyone wins in Greensboro. How does everyone win in a basketball game, exactly? When the better team wins, but both teams compete at a high level, show noticeable improvement and improve their standing in front of an eager college hoops public. Both Texas and North Carolina performed as such Saturday. The young and talented Longhorns got what was essentially a road win in a hostile environment. The young and talented -- but oftentimes confused -- Tar Heels played a quality opponent to the wire, got key contributions from Harrison Barnes (especially a pretty last-minute 3 to tie the game, just before Cory Joseph's jumper gave Texas the win) and Kendall Marshall. Marshall's big play is especially encouraging for a team that has lacked consistency at the point guard spot. At this point, though he may do so like a reluctant father buying his teenage son a car, Roy Williams needs to the keys over to Marshall and see whether he's ready to drive. That may or may not be a mixed metaphor. The important part is that it's true. When he does so, UNC appears to be the second-best team in the ACC, and we would not have said as much two weeks ago.
  • Other games and performances of note: Michigan handled that tough Oakland team in Ann Arbor. We might need to start giving the Wolverines a little more attention as a potential NCAA tournament team out of the Big Ten ... Jared Sullinger again went nuts, scoring 30 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in a performance that caused our own Doug Gottlieb to call Sullinger the best player in the country. At this point, who else has done more? ... BYU lost its unbeaten record, falling to UCLA at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, as the Bruins' thus far schizophrenic season took another strange (but encouraging) turn ... Georgetown shot 78 percent (!) in the first half against Loyola (Md.) ... Josh Selby's first game as a Jayhawk was a tempered success: Selby scored with ease and hit big shots down the stretch, but his style seemed to clash with KU's pass-heavy system in a tight home win over USC ... UCF stayed unbeaten with a win over Miami, and it's officially time to start calling the Knights a NCAA-tourney candidate ... and Cleveland State, playing in its first "Are they real or not?" game of the season, was dealt a loss at West Virginia, but the Vikings acquitted themselves well until the Mountaineers pulled away in the second half. Their games against Butler in the Horizon League will be fun to watch.