College Basketball Nation: Wake Forest

Today's ACC tournament games

March, 11, 2010
Previewing today’s games in the ACC:

Boston College-Virginia, noon

At stake: Both teams are hoping this is the beginning of a stunning run of four victories in four days. Not likely for either, but you have to start somewhere.

Who has the edge: The Eagles. Virginia has lost nine straight and suspended its leading scorer, Sylven Landesberg, for academic shortcomings. BC won by 13 when the two met in Chestnut Hill on March 3.

Stat to watch: Virginia has attempted the fewest free throws of anyone in the ACC, just 485. Next fewest is Boston College at 537, a full 80 fewer attempts than 10th-place Miami. Can either struggling offensive team find the easiest way to score by getting to the foul line?

Miami-Wake Forest, 2 p.m.

At stake: Miami is hoping for a miracle. The Demon Deacons are playing for NCAA seeding and would like to win their first postseason game since 2008.

Who has the edge: Wake, but not as big an edge as you might think. They’re played poorly down the stretch, losing four of their past five, and the teams split their two regular-season meetings.

Stat to watch: Wake Forest leads the nation in effective field-goal percentage defense, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics. Miami, meanwhile, is a pretty good shooting team at 46.2 percent, second-best in the league. Which strength wins the day?

Georgia Tech-North Carolina, 7 p.m.

At stake: Tech needs to win this game and perhaps another to feel secure about an NCAA tournament bid – and coach Paul Hewitt needs an NCAA tournament bid to feel secure about keeping his job. The Tar Heels are simply trying to pick their teeth up off the ground and salvage something from a disastrous season.

Who has the edge: Georgia Tech swept the season series, winning close in Chapel Hill and by 17 in Atlanta. And the Yellow Jackets are closer to playing for something than the Heels.

Stat to watch: Which team takes care of the ball? Both have committed more turnovers than they’ve forced – Carolina is last in the 12-team ACC in turnover margin in league games, and Georgia Tech is tied for eighth.

North Carolina State-Clemson, 9 p.m.

At stake: North Carolina State is hoping to start a run – and, potentially, hoping to extend Sidney Lowe’s tenure as coach. The Tigers are trying to improve their NCAA seeding.

Who has the edge: Clemson. It won the only meeting between the two this season by three points in Raleigh. But NC State has won three of its past four coming into this game.

Stat to watch: NC State is shooting just 44 percent on the season – and that drops to 40 percent in league games, last in the ACC. But the Wolfpack shot 50 percent or better in their past two victories. If Clemson keeps the Pack closer to 40 percent accuracy than 50 percent, it should win.
Jacob Pullen & Sherron CollinsIcon SMIJacob Pullen and Sherron Collins figure to play prominent roles in Wednesday night's showdown.
Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. The big nights are coming faster and more furious than at any point during the season -- I've barely recovered from Saturday -- and Wednesday night is no exception. Here's the rundown.

No. 5 Kansas State at No. 2 Kansas, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: This one doesn't need much by way of explanation. The in-state rivalry. The Big 12 title implications. The seeding possibilities. The two-point Kansas win at Bramlage on Jan. 30. A freaky Frank Martin. Sherron Collins' senior night. The packed Allen Fieldhouse crowd.

Yeah, It's safe to say this is going to be a big game. A very, very big game.

Martin's team can secure a shot -- an outside shot, but a shot -- at a share of the Big 12 title if it wins tonight, but that's probably less of a concern for K-State than A) Beating its hated, abusive basketball big brother on the brother's own floor in Collins' last home game and B) Making a case for a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed. A win would without question put Martin's team on the selection committee's top line. First, though, the Wildcats have to figure out a way to do what they do best -- get to the free throw line -- while preventing the Jayhawks from doing the same. Kansas State is one of the best teams in the country at getting to the line. This is the sort of offensive attribute (alongside great outside shooting from Jacob Pullen) that gives the Wildcats hope against anyone, including a Kansas defense designed to keep opponents out of the lane. In the first meeting, Kansas won the battle of the freebies. The Wildcats can't let that happen again.

Oh, and as you've probably noticed, no, tonight's game isn't being televised. It stinks, I know. But look at the bright side: You get to test out ESPN360. It's actually pretty awesome, so don't knock it until you try it. And no, I'm not just saying that because I work here. Promise. Though I would totally say that anyway. I'm completely shameless. Which brings me to my next point: If you can't watch the game, come here for our live chat from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. I'll be here, as will a bunch of your favorite college hoops heads, answering questions and live-blogging throughout the evening. Don't miss it.

No. 4 Duke at No. 23 Maryland, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of big games, well, ahem. This qualifies. It would mean as much in College Park even if the Terrapins didn't have so much riding on the game, for there is little hatred in the country -- in college basketball or elsewhere -- quite like the purely distilled brand Maryland fans brew for all things Duke. And anytime Greivis Vasquez gets this sort of spotlight, you can expect sparks to fly. It's going to be rowdy.

There are more than taunts on the line here, though. With a win, Gary Williams' team could pull even with Duke at 12-3 in the ACC with one game each left to play. It won't be easy. After occasional stumbles, most of them on the road, Duke has quietly morphed into the most efficient offense in the country, and the Devils are finally starting to play the sort of defense that anchored them in last year's campaign. After a 1-4 start on the road, Duke has won its last four away from Cameron. Maryland's is no easy task. But the Terps have been underrated all year, though, and tonight is the perfect opportunity to showcase -- to the tournament committee, especially -- just how far perception lags behind reality.

Everywhere else: While you're futzing around with your laptop -- and totally chatting with us, remember! -- Connecticut and Notre Dame will be slugging it out on ESPN for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Neither team is guaranteed a berth, but both teams can nary afford a loss, and both teams would surely benefit from the win. ... Kentucky will face a test at Georgia, where the pesky Bulldogs have taken down Vanderbilt, Florida, Georgia Tech and Illinois this season. ... Indiana travels to No. 6 Purdue, which should be a nice break from the post-Robbie Hummel meat-grinder Purdue is facing these days. ... Memphis and UAB will duel for bubble considerations. ... Oklahoma State at Texas A&M is an interesting battle between two tourney-worthy Big 12 squads. ... A-10 leader Temple will visit a St. Louis team that has streaked into the tourney-sphere in the last half of the season. ... The fading Demon Deacons have another battle on their hands at Florida State tonight. ... and lowly Fordham, the last team in Division I without a conference win to its name, will try to get that first win over Xavier tonight.

UNC shops already thinking football

February, 27, 2010
North Carolina managed to top a fading Wake Forest team today, which is a nice little win, but it's no secret the Tar Heels struggled throughout their 2009-10 campaign. Roy Williams is disappointed, UNC's typically devoted fans are embracing apathy, and at 14-14, pretty much everybody is looking forward to what should be a bounce back year in 2010-11.

Still, none of the above hammers home just how disappointing this UNC team is quite like this photo from Research Triangle blog friend and podcast host Dave Warner, who captured an image of UNC's team shops selling -- brace yourselves -- football gear. There are still basketball threads in the building, but Warner reports the football shirts are already on the front and center table.

Yes, you read that right. UNC football shirts. Being featured. In Chapel Hill. On Feb. 26. (It's so shocking. I have to. Write. In fragments. For emphasis.) You know things are bad when a Chapel Hill business decides its best chance of making money from the resale of cotton shirts is to stamp "football" on the front. Yikes.

(Hat tip: Buster Sports)

ACC all but vanishes from top 25

February, 23, 2010
The Atlantic Coast Conference had a pretty special streak going for, oh, three decades or so. That streak? Since 1977, when No. 5 North Carolina was by itself in the poll, the ACC has had at least two teams in the AP top 25 every time the poll was collected.

No more: As of yesterday, Duke is the only 2009-10 ACC team left in the top 25, breaking the conference's 30-year multiple-team streak.

The good news for the ACC is that things aren't quite so bad -- seven different ACC teams have held a poll spot at some point this season, and Virginia Tech and Maryland are just outside the poll in that ever-so-close "others receiving votes" pile. (Va. Tech tallied 76 votes this week while Maryland nabbed 57 votes this week, putting both teams just behind UTEP.) And there is still Duke, sitting pretty at No. 5. It's not as though the ACC is quite in dire Pac-10 poll drought levels yet.

The bad news, however, is that the ACC is demonstrably sliding a bit in recent weeks. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest and Clemson and Florida State and (most obviously) North Carolina aren't sniffing much of the poll anymore. That isn't the worst thing in the world, NCAA tournament-wise, but it's also not the most encouraging sign for conference partisans or, for that matter, for Duke, which would rather appreciate its conference mates putting up a fight as it seeks another signature win and a spot on the tournament's No. 1 line. If that win doesn't come from Maryland or Virginia Tech, it might not come at all.

The Morning After: Hey hey, Hokies

February, 17, 2010
The Morning After is our semi-daily look at last night's best basketball action. Try not to make it awkward.

No. 2 Kentucky 81, Mississippi State 75: The most obviously intriguing part of Tuesday night's Kentucky-Mississippi State match up -- at least before the game began -- was the interior battle between two of the country's best big men, Jarvis Varnado and DeMarcus Cousins. By the end of regulation, that was no longer the case. Varnado was on the bench, thanks to five fouls. Cousins was on the floor, grabbing rebounds and dominating in the paint. And the game had become so much more.

DeMarcus Cousins
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisKentucky's DeMarcus Cousins, left, finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds against Jarvis Varnado and Mississippi State.
It's always tough playing Kentucky (duh, Eamonn, thanks for the brilliant analysis); it's even tougher when your all-world defensive player and team-leading rebounder gets his fifth foul with plenty of time left in the second half (hey, you're welcome). Really, Mississippi State deserves credit just for pushing the game to overtime, because it was unlikely they'd make it that far after Varnado's foul-out. They did, though, and they gave us a thrilling game in the meantime, pushing Cousins and John Wall and Patrick Patterson to their best in a hard-fought SEC road win.

A few other notes:

1. Mississippi State fans celebrated their team's loss by throwing water bottles and other junk onto the floor. Combined with their racist and God-knows-what-else text messages to DeMarcus Cousins before the game, this was not a particularly strong national showing for the denizens of Starkville. Seriously, guys? Water bottles?

2. Kentucky fans will be happy to see Patrick Patterson playing well again. After drawing criticism earlier this season, Patterson looked like a dominant big man at times on Tuesday night; his contributions made the whole Varnado-Cousins faceoff a moot point.

3. John Calipari used all three of his remaining timeouts in the last six seconds of regulation, which resulted in a double-teamed DeAndre Liggins hoisting a prayer (which, to his credit, almost fell) from the baseline corner as time expired. I'm guessing this is not the shot Calipari wanted, but you'd think with all those timeouts, the Cats would have been able to get something better.

In any case, great game. Kentucky rolls on. State completes a valiant effort in a near-loss to an uber-talented, highly-ranked team. And Mississippi State fans get to spend some much-needed time in the corner. Everybody wins. (Well, you know, except Mississippi State. They actually, like, literally lost. But you know what I mean.)

Virginia Tech 87, No. 25 Wake Forest 83: Virginia Tech couldn't get no respect. This is the Hokies' fault -- building a 20-4 record against one of the worst schedules in recent memory (No. 340 in strength of schedule, to be exact) has a lot to do with scheduling; you almost have to try to play a non-conference slate as bad as Va. Tech's. I mean, just look at it. It's ... it's breathtaking. And not in a good way.

Nevermind that, now. The Hokies may have started their season with dreck, but they're ending with their most difficult and important games, and so far, so good.

It wasn't just that Virginia Tech won; it's how. Trailing by 11 with 16 minutes to play, Malcolm Delaney led his Hokies on a comeback, scoring 10 of his 31 points (he finished with nine rebounds, too), making big bucket after big bucket to get his team its all-important second win over a top 50 RPI team. As big as this game was for the Hokies' national respect, it should do just as much for Delaney's -- the guard just so happens to be leading the ACC in scoring at 21.2 points per game. I bet you didn't know that. What I didn't know was whether to believe in Virginia Tech. Another win or two like Tuesday night's, and we won't have a choice.

Everywhere else: Weirdly enough, Indiana was out-everything'd (not an actual word, but let's roll with it) by Michigan State last night but managed to hang tough until the second half, when the light-years-more-talented Spartans eventually pulled away ... Without suspended Jordan Eglseder, UNI rolled Creighton to clinch the MVC regular-season crown ... Baylor might have sealed its own tourney fate (in) as well as Texas Tech's (out; hey, this is turning into an episode of Project Runway), as the Bears gave the Raiders their seventh conference loss ... Meanwhile, two teams moving in relatively opposite directions in the Big East did exactly that Tuesday night, as South Florida edged Cincinnati ... and, not to rub any more salt in UNC fans' wounds, but you know it's bad when ESPN anchors stop during your highlight to talk about how much they're not used to seeing this sort of scoreline. Ouch. (Also: "Ed Davis, 0 points." Double ouch!)

Hokies vault into second place in ACC

February, 16, 2010
Virginia Tech flat took the game from Wake Forest tonight, and the Demon Deacons didn’t seem to mind much.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Delaney
AP Photo/Don PetersenVirginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney scored 31 points against Wake Forest.
Credit the Hokies for coming back from an 11-point deficit with 16 minutes to play. And credit them with just taking over the game in the final nine minutes to win by four. Tech was better on defense, smarter with the ball, aggressive going to the basket and swarming on the glass in scoring arguably its biggest win of the season.

The Hokies take over sole possession of second place in the ACC, and might be ready to move into the Top 25 as well.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest is fully ready to move out again after breaking in at No. 25. The Deacons are undeniably talented and athletic, but have many flaws.

Most glaring: their defense is plagued by breakdowns, which is how you give up 55 second-half points. The biggest culprit against Tech was Wake’s best player – Al-Farouq Aminu. He was beaten several times off the dribble, lazy rotating to help stop penetration and disinterested in getting a hand up on shooters. After scoring 21 points in the first half, Aminu finished the game with 25 and seemed to lack energy in the final 10 minutes. He largely spectated while guard Ishmael Smith tried to keep Wake in the game by himself.

  • In the Guys You Have To Love Dept., save a spot for Michigan State power forward Draymond Green. In the Spartans’ 14-point victory at Indiana, Green made all five of his shots and finished with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists in just 19 minutes of playing time.

    He has beautiful basketball instincts. Green is a 6-foot-6 sophomore who rebounds like he’s 6-10 and passes like he’s 6-2. He has flypaper hands that inhale the ball yet also produce a soft shooting touch and deft assists. With season averages of 10 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals, he’s always got his hands on the ball.

  • Momentum is a fleeting thing in the Big East. With South Florida whacking Cincinnati to further muddle the turbulent superconference, only four teams currently have won at least two conference games in a row: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Pitt and Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won five straight. Rutgers could join that group but is getting licked early by DePaul.
Saddle Up is our nightly look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown.

No. 2 Kentucky at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Unstoppable force, immovable object. DeMarcus Cousins, Jarvis Varnado. Even if Kentucky rolls over Mississippi State in Starkville tonight -- certainly no guarantee, despite Kentucky's vastly superior backcourt talent -- this matchup alone is worth your undivided attention. Cousins is a dominant freshman with a burgeoning skill set and one of the best interior offensive stat lines in the country. (Cousins gets a ton of offensive rebounds, takes a ton of shots, and makes most of them.) Varnado, meanwhile, is the best shot blocker in the country, and maybe of the past decade -- averaging five blocks a game this season, he's well on his way to setting the NCAA career record for blocked shots. He also leads the Bulldogs in rebounds, many of which come on the defensive end; he's one of the best in the country at that, too.

Unfortunately for Mississippi State, Varnado can shut down Cousins and the Cats can still roll. (Kentucky still has this dude named John Wall. I suppose he's pretty good.) Regardless of the outcome, though, Cousins-Varnado might be the year's best big man matchup, at least until we can get these two to play Cole Aldrich in a game of 21. You should probably watch.

No. 25 Wake Forest at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: While Indiana is taking its probable beating from Michigan State on ESPN at 7 p.m., you might also flip over to ESPN2, a game with actual tournament implications. (Though I suppose Michigan State could lose to Indiana, and that would have tournament implications ... but whatever, you see what I mean.) See, Virginia Tech is 20-4. That's a gaudy record. It was also amassed against one of the worst schedules in the history of college basketball, and I'm barely exaggerating: The Hokies are ranked No. 344 -- No 344! -- in nonconference strength of schedule this season. They have one win over a team in the RPI's top 50 (Clemson). Their best wins are over Seton Hall, Miami, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia (twice). Sorry, but this is not the résumé of an NCAA tournament team -- at least not yet. Tonight, Va. Tech gets its chance to prove the haters wrong, notch another RPI top-50 win and build momentum for its backloaded ACC slate, which includes games at Duke, vs. Maryland and at Georgia Tech. Contender or pretender? Tonight, the Hokies have a chance to answer.

Everywhere else: The first game of Jordan Eglseder's controversially short suspension is tonight, when UNI plays Creighton in Cedar Falls. ... As mentioned above, Indiana will try to recover from its ugly Big Ten losing streak as MSU attempts to stave off a letdown. ... Texas Tech, still trying to play its way into the tournament, will go to Baylor, which already has. ... Dominique Jones and Lance Stephenson do anything for you? Cincinnati-South Florida sounds entertaining, at least. ... Less entertaining: Rutgers at DePaul. ... North Carolina will look to build on last week's near-miss against rival Duke with a trip to Georgia Tech. ... Drexel will play VCU in a matchup of putative CAA contenders.

Forde observations: Temper hinders Kentucky's Cousins

February, 13, 2010
Ten o'clock thoughts:

  • DeMarcus Cousins gave us a glimpse of what makes him both overpowering and maddening during the first half against Tennessee. He's the best offensive rebounder in the country -- and perhaps the most immature player in the country, too.

    I believe he's Kentucky's best player. He can get his hands on anything that comes off the glass, which is why the argument that he's dependent upon fellow freshman John Wall to get him the ball is a fallacy -- Cousins gets the ball for himself off missed shots.

    But Cousins also is addicted to cheap and silly drama -- throwing elbows, talking trash, arguing with officials. He was T'd up yet again in the first half against the Volunteers along with J.P. Prince. If he doesn't think opposing players and fans are going to continue to work on his hair-trigger temper, he's fooling himself.
  • Tennessee is outmanned, banged up, on the road -- and right in the game. Give the Volunteers credit for moxie, but you still have to wonder about their horrendous shot selection. If they continue to jack up long 3s early in the shot clock, they'll get run out of the gym eventually.
  • Kentucky has seen all kinds of zone this season without it costing them. But zones from better teams could be another matter. The Wildcats struggled in the first half against the Vols' zone and surely will see more of them as their SEC schedule stiffens down the stretch.
  • Good stuff from the ACC tonight, particularly Georgia Tech-Wake Forest (won by the Demon Deacons) and Virginia-Virginia Tech (won by the Hokies). It's not a very good league by its own lofty standards, but it is a competitive one. ACC tournament should be a big ball of messy fun.
  • Western Kentucky crushed Arkansas-Little Rock on the road, continuing to pull out of a midseason tailspin in which it lost six of seven games. The perennial mid-major power will finish in the middle of the Sun Belt pack in the regular season but figures to be dangerous in the league tournament.
  • Oregon State, which lost by 51 points to Seattle, won at Arizona. The Pac-10 is amazingly mediocre.

The Morning After: Big Ten in flux

February, 10, 2010
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not make it awkward.

[+] EnlargeE'Twuan Moore
AP Photo/Al GoldisPurdue's E'Twaun Moore scored 25 points against Michigan State.
No. 6 Purdue 76, No. 10 Michigan State 64: Well, now we've got a Big Ten race. As recently as eight days ago, it seemed an undefeated Michigan State team was primed to run away with the Big Ten. No more. Kalin Lucas sprained his ankle. The Spartans were blown out in Madison and then edged at Illinois. And Tuesday night, with a clearly laboring Lucas in the lineup, the Spartans couldn't stop a balanced, thorough, complete Purdue team. That leaves us with a logjam at the top of the Big Ten, one that should provide plenty of entertainment as the season winds down, and one that ought to leave Tom Izzo and company less than thrilled.

Then again, it was probably only a matter of time before Michigan State came down to Earth a bit, right? That's not even the best way to phrase it, I guess, because a loss to Purdue doesn't constitute some sort of statistical correction. The Boilermakers are just good. Robbie Hummel can score and direct from distance. E'Twaun Moore has what Steve Lavin might call a "complete toolbox, the hammer, the screwdriver, the bandsaw." (I just made that phrase up, but it sounds like something Lavin would say, only less awesome.) Chris Kramer is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. And, perhaps most importantly, JaJuan Johnson is becoming a dominant force in the paint.

Johnson has been good in the past, but he hasn't always gotten the touches his high level of efficiency should demand. He hasn't needed to; Hummel and Moore and even Kramer can handle the scoring load just fine, thanks. But Johnson is a uniquely effective weapon for the Boilers. He can score in the paint, stretch defenses with outside jumpers and, on the defensive end, disrupt any interior shots with his freakishly long arms. (I hope that's not mean to say. Those arms are freakish.) Purdue has its own flaws. It's not a perfect team. But the Boilermakers are solidly balanced enough to play with anyone anywhere.

Oh, and Michigan State fans? Don't freak out. Your team is banged up and in the middle of the toughest part of their Big Ten season. There are worse places to be than 9-3. You'll be all right. Probably.

Illinois 63, No. 13 Wisconsin 56: Don't look now, but Illinois is 9-3 in the Big Ten. And don't look now, but the way Illinois has put themselves in the thick of the Big Ten race after a shaky start is worthy of serious respect. Beating a Kalin Lucas-less Michigan State team at home is one thing. Going to Wisconsin and handing the Badgers their sixth loss (and their first-ever to an unranked team) at the Kohl Center under Bo Ryan is entirely another. Demetri McCamey deserves much of the credit -- McCamey scored 27 points on an efficient 11-for-17 shooting Tuesday night, adding seven assists (though he did have five turnovers, which I suppose we can let slide). Forward Mike Tisdale was likewise efficient, scoring 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting. The Illini have plenty of flaws, and there's no question they caught Wisconsin on a particularly bad shooting night -- the Illini aren't a great defensive team this year, at least not yet -- but when Illinois is shooting this well, it's hard to blame their opponents for their success. They deserve the credit, and with the aforementioned Michigan State loss, they deserve to be in the thick of the Big Ten race. Now all Bruce Weber's team has to do is play this well the rest of the season. Easy, right?

No. 24 Vanderbilt 90, No. 12 Tennessee 71: 43. 43! That's the number of free throws the Vanderbilt Commodores shot in their 90-71 win over Tennessee in Nashville last night. There's a reason the Dores scored 90 points -- the Volunteers fouled 29 times in 40 minutes. Vanderbilt's free throw rate -- a ratio of free throws to field goal attempts -- was a mind-boggling 84.3 percent. Of course, Vanderbilt actually had to make these free throws. They did, hitting 37 of those 43. (Exclamation points are also applicable here. Thirty-seven made free throws!) And that's almost all you need to know: Vanderbilt built a big lead early, protected the ball, got good looks, and got to the line so often my head is literally spinning even as I type this.

In any case, it's a great win for Vanderbilt -- both for the team's tournament chances and for its in-state bragging rights. Bruce Pearl has done an admirable job keeping Tennessee tourney-bound in the wake of the Tyler Smith New Year's Day fiasco. Tuesday night -- a chippy, ugly affair, punctuated by the constant clang of Tennessee's misses -- was not in that vein.

Everywhere else: Kentucky kept Alabama at bay for a relatively easy win at Rupp Arena; John Wall got his first double-double and DeMarcus Cousins got his seventh in his past seven games ... Providence had a legit chance to upset Georgetown Tuesday, leading 47-40 with 15 minutes remaining, but Georgetown rallied in time to take a nine point win in Rhode Island ... Texas couldn't win in Norman, but Texas Tech (barely) could ... Vermont and Boston played a barnburner, which Vermont won on a layup in the final 10 seconds ... Wichita State took another step back in the Missouri Valley, losing at the previously 0-13 Evansville ... and Wake Forest handled Boston College in Winston-Salem.
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best action. Try not to make it awkward.

No. 12 Purdue 60, No. 15 Wisconsin 57: Michigan State is still in charge of the Big Ten, but Purdue and Wisconsin aren't far behind. That's the conclusion from Thursday night's thrilling 58-possession game (not an oxymoron!) in West Lafayette, where Purdue and Wisconsin battled for 40 minutes, neither team able to totally solve the other, until Trevon Hughes' last-second floater rimmed out and the Boilermakers finished the game with a three-point margin. Purdue made just two threes all game but made up for it by shooting 73.3 percent on its twos, while Wisconsin made up for a lackluster two-point percentage by making 47.4 percent of its threes. This made for an even matchup. The difference, however slight, could possibly be found in offensive rebounding; Purdue rebounded 37.9 percent of its misses while Wisconsin only grabbed 21.2. In any case, the margin is almost too slim to call, and this is your second tier in the Big Ten. Michigan State still reigns, but both Purdue and Wisconsin are right there, and both deserve your respect. That was Thursday night's lesson.

No. 22 Georgia Tech 79, Wake Forest 58: Anatomy of a thorough beatdown: Make a lot of shots (59.3 percent eFG). Stop the other team from doing the same (35.2 percent eFG). All else equal, um, yeah: You're going to win that game. Such was the case in Atlanta last night, as Georgia Tech laid the aforementioned thorough beatdown on Wake Forest, 79-58. Paul Hewitt said it best: "I'm not sure we can play much better than that." I'm not sure any team can. At least not any team in the ACC. Now it's up to Georgia Tech to replicate that performance. If they can, even sporadically, the Yellow Jackets ought to treat their fans to an awfully interesting couple of months.

Everywhere else: Ole Miss shot well on the way to a 10-point road win over Auburn ... Pitt rebounded from a slow start -- the Panthers trailed by four at the half -- to take a 63-53 win over St. John's in Pittsburgh; this was not a game Pittsburgh was allowed to lose ... Seton Hall and South Florida played into overtime, and that's when Dominique Jones took over, giving South Florida the two-point win ... Santa Clara pushed Gonzaga to the limit, causing even Ken Pomeroy to worry, but the Bulldogs rallied from a 14-point deficit to take the win ... Virginia Tech got an impressive win at Virginia in overtime; Tony Bennett has had the Cavaliers playing solid basketball, so a loss at home is something of a surprise ... Siena fought off another test from upstart St. Peter's ... and Cal took another step toward Pac-10 supremacy with a win over Arizona State in Tempe.

Saddle Up: The Big Ten does battle

January, 28, 2010
Saddle Up is our daily look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch tonight. Here's Thursday night's rundown:

No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 12 Purdue, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Who wants to watch some very slow, very methodical, very high-quality Big Ten basketball? I do. I occasionally complain about the Big Ten's slow pace -- and who better to pinpoint for that sloth than Bo Ryan's Wisconsin teams, who thrive on grinding games to a halt -- but the bottom line is that pace doesn't equal quality. Sure, it's fun to watch the North Carolinas and Villanovas and Missouris of the world, teams that fly up and down the court with minimal abandon, but it can be equally fun to watch two really good, really strong teams battle for every inch in a 60-possession game. That's what you can expect when Wisconsin goes to Purdue tonight: a battle. Not a blitzkrieg, but a bunker war. It might take a little more to appreciate, but when it's good, it's awfully good.

There are some stakes here, too: Michigan State is in the driver's seat in the Big Ten, of course, but both Wisconsin and Purdue have a shot. UW is two games behind the Spartans in the Big Ten, and a win at Purdue would do away with one very pesky hurdle in competing for that top spot. Meanwhile, the Boilers seemed to have recovered from their three-game slide, which began with a loss in Madison on Jan. 9. If Purdue wants to make a run and get back into national consideration -- let's not forget how many people had the Boilermakers getting to the Final Four -- it will need to prove that games like a Jan. 12 home loss to Ohio State are exceptions, not rules.

Settle in: Every possession matters, and in a game this likely to be slow, it'll feel like it.

Wake Forest at No. 22 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. ET, RSN: Well, if it isn't the two most confusing teams in the ACC. What's up, guys? Both have 14-win records and respectable starts in conference, and both have future pro talent likely to go high in the first round of next year's NBA draft. Both are also missing that certain je ne sais quoi that makes you think either are complete teams capable of making a deep tournament run. But maybe they are. Maybe that's just me. Tonight is an opportunity for one to separate itself from the other, both in the ACC and in people's minds, and it's also a chance to see Al-Farouq Aminu match up with Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. I'm not complaining.

Siena at St. Peter's, 7 p.m. ET: Guess who is 10-0 in conference and 17-4 overall, and who looks for all the world like another NCAA tournament bid (and potential darling-status run) is back in the works? That would be Siena. (No, sorry, it wasn't St. Peter's. Good guess though!) The Saints are rolling through conference play right now, and next up is tonight's matchup at St. Peter's, a team riding a five-game winning streak and one that played Siena close until a second-half run finished the game in the Saints favor (64-53) on New Year's Eve. But the opponent doesn't matter so much as the opportunity to check in on Siena. Are the Saints this year's bracket buster? Can they turn frequent NCAA love into "next Gonzaga" status? Is the leap within reach? I don't know, but now's as good a time as any to find out. (Also, they have a dude named Just-in'love Smith. This remains the greatest name in the history of not only college basketball but names.)

Everywhere else: Gonzaga will try to keep its conference win streak intact as the Zags visit Santa Clara on ESPN (11 ET) ... Ole Miss is still quietly ranked, and still quietly impressive, and the Rebels have a chance to improve their conference record with a road win over Arkansas ... A struggling St. John's team will head to Pittsburgh (ESPNU, 7 ET), which has maybe hit a bit of a cold-front after their early Big East-leading heatwave ... and, along with a host of other Pac-10 games tonight, Cal will visit Arizona State to see which team can lay early claim to the title of West's best. A win would likely mean more for Cal; the Bears played poorly in their nonconference but their schedule was unforgiving and a solid road win over an OK team like Arizona State would be a nice little boost to the Bears' resume.

The Morning After: Whoa

January, 21, 2010
The Morning after is our semi-daily recap post. Try not to make it awkward.

All together now (all together now!): That was one wild Wednesday night. For the short version of last night's unlikely events, check Brett's late-night roundup. For the long, rambling, wordy version, simply keep reading.

UTEP 72, Memphis 67: Well, I guess a share of the all-time conference wins record will have to do. Yes, after much sturm und drang leading up to Wednesday night's match up with the Miners, Memphis fell flat, dropping a game to a good-but-not-great UTEP squad in Memphis. This is no doubt disappointing; Memphis players and coach Josh Pastner couldn't stop talking about owning that all-time, 65-game streak. As a Tigers fan, you have two choices: You can lament the loss and tie it into John Calipari's untimely departure this offseason, and you can worry for the program's future under a younger, less experienced coach. Or you can take a minute, collect yourself, and realize that there are seniors on this current Memphis team that just lost their first conference game ever. Vacated wins or not, that is remarkable.

No. 3 Kansas 81, Baylor 75: I'll keep this one brief, since it was the one game that actually made sense last night, but it almost wasn't. Despite a raucous crowd fired up from Baylor's decision to leave the court during Kansas' pregame video session and Sherron Collins' intent from the tip-off to get his teammates as many open dunks as possible, Baylor hung around all game and made a late comeback to tie Kansas at 65 with 3:34 left in the second half. LaceDarius Dunn turned in a monster performance on the road: 27 points, nine rebounds, and four steals, while Collins led the way for the Jayhawks with 28 points and Xavier Henry came up with seven steals of his own. And late in the second half, Kansas escaped with the win, providing some small measure of sanity in an otherwise insane college basketball world.

NC State 88, No. 6 Duke 74: You've already read that this was the first time Duke and UNC have lost on the same night in seven years. That's a pretty incredible stat. But I'd wager it's less incredible than Duke losing to a hapless North Carolina State team, and less incredible than that Duke team surrendering 88 points on 70 possessions (or 1.25 points per possession) to an NC State team averaging just over a point per trip. What happened to Duke's defense? Last year the Blue Devils were quietly one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they carried that pattern through to the beginning of the 2009-10 season. But after last night's matador act (and to be fair, the Wolfpack shot an insane percentage) the Blue Devils have fallen all the way to No. 18 in the country in defensive efficiency. Oh, and more importantly, Duke has yet to win a true road game; last night's loss dropped them to 0-3 in that department. I'm guessing this is something Coach K will want to spend some time on.

No. 14 Georgetown 74, No. 11 Pittsburgh 66: Pitt is an awfully good team, but a Big East-leading one? Questionable. So after a 5-0 league start, the Panthers were probably due for some sort of natural, universal correction, some force bringing them back down to Earth, lest they go all Icarus on us and burn up Jamie Dixon's well-tailored suits. That force's name: Georgetown. The Hoyas waltzed into what the AP described as a home-court where students were "stomping their floor-level seats so passionately it caused the grandstands to ripple like a wave." If that's true, Pitt should probably get that fixed. But you get the idea. Georgetown didn't seem to mind: Chris Wright scored 27 points as Georgetown turned in a solid all-around performance. The Hoyas went to the line on 37 percent of their possessions; they rebounded 31.2 percent of their misses; they rarely committed turnovers; and they posted a 52.7 effective field goal percentage in a slow, 63-possession game. That is the statistical profile of a winner, folks, and no number of rippling bleachers and pounded seats could deny it.

Oh, and to continue with the streak-busting theme, this was Pitt's first home loss in two years. Seriously, weird stuff happened last night.

Wake Forest 82, No. 23* North Carolina 69: Speaking of weird, is it weirder that Roy Williams just lost his third game in a row ... or that Roy Williams has never lost three games in a row at North Carolina before? That, like Memphis' streak, is pretty remarkable, a sign of just how much Roy and the Tar Heels have dominated since his arrival from Kansas in 2003. But they are not dominating in 2009-10, and rather than getting better with experience the Heels, if anything, seem to be regressing. Anyway, this week will test the durability of the media's love for UNC; if they're still in the AP poll on Monday, I will drink an entire jug of milk on video and post that video on this blog. I'm not even kidding. It will almost be like a protest. A delicious, milky protest.

Everywhere else: So much to get to. DePaul busted its own ignominious streak Wednesday night, topping Marquette by one at the Allstate Arena and winning its first Big East game in 24 tries, a streak that spanned almost two years ... Iowa deserves credit for playing Michigan State tough in East Lansing, but the Hawks eventually ceded to a far superior Spartans team ... Villanova had no problems with Rutgers in New Jersey, which, man, poor Rutgers fans. That thing is bad ... West Virginia didn't get an easy one at its rare January nonconference date with Marshall, either, needing free throws to build a late margin against the Thundering Herd ... Temple edged Xavier in Philly; read Dana's recap from the scene last night ... and UConn found a forgiving home date with St. John's was just the thing to snap a three-game losing streak (and get a win without head coach Jim Calhoun on the bench).
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not to make it awkward.

[+] EnlargeTurner
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesEvan Turner scored 23 of his career-high 32 points in the second half Tuesday night.
Ohio State 70, No. 6 Purdue 66: Evan Turner does bad things. You know this already. He did such things before the ugly back injury (which he suffered doing something awesome; players like Turner don't get injured in normal or unexciting ways, apparently), and he's done such things since returning from that injury. He's, um, really good. But the Buckeyes' accomplishment Tuesday night -- winning a road game over an efficient, brutal defensive team like Purdue -- is truly remarkable: Road wins like this simply don't happen all that often in basketball.

How did Ohio State do it? It was almost flawless where it counts most: The Buckeyes shot well, they rebounded their misses, and they didn't allow Purdue to get to the line, surrendering free throws on a mere 12 percent of the Boilermakers' possessions. Purdue will be disappointed with that number; the Boilermakers must find a way to balance their perimeter strengths with more touches for JaJuan Johnson, who shot only five times Tuesday night. Make no mistake, though: This win belongs to the Buckeyes, who got a legendary performance from their star and did more than enough around the margins to complement him. If the Buckeyes go on to stir things up at the top of college hoops this season, they will have learned their formula on Jan. 12.

No. 2 Kentucky 89, Florida 77: It's almost unfair. After all, John Calipari already has the best point guard and arguably best player (I'm adding in the "possibly" because did you see Turner last night?) in the nation in John Wall. It's easy to forget that Eric Bledsoe was almost as highly touted as Wall as a high schooler; Bledsoe was considered the third-best point guard in that class and among the top 20 or 30 players entering the 2009 class. But for all the John Wall love, Bledsoe is showing Kentucky fans they have no reason to worry about 2010 and beyond -- while not as versatile and athletic, Bledsoe is nearly as quick as Wall and has a much better shooting touch, which he displayed last night in his 25-point, 10-of-13 performance at Florida.

In the meantime, the tandem of Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins (and even Daniel Orton) is proving impossible for teams to stop. The Wildcats scored 1.25 points per possession last night -- an insane rate for any team -- without shooting particularly well from beyond the arc. Kentucky was just that good (65.2 percent for the game) on their twos. If the Wildcats can score at this rate even when they don't shoot well from the perimeter (and when Wall bricks 3 after 3, which he's prone to do), then we were all wrong: The Cats aren't vulnerable. They're just scary.

Colorado 78-No. 24 Baylor 71; No. 12 Kansas State 88, Texas A&M 65: Who else is trying -- and failing -- to figure out the middle portions of the Big 12? Eamonn confused: Baylor beats Oklahoma by 31 and goes to Colorado and loses to a frisky-but-let's-be-real-here-still-pretty-bad Buffs team. Meanwhile, Texas A&M looks like a tough matchup for a K-State team that lost its first Big 12 game to Missouri. Instead, the Aggies build themselves a tower of bricks (how tall? 38.2 percent FG% tall, is how tall) while K-State scores almost 1.2 points per possession. Road difficulties? Weird night? Who knows? The Pac-10 is this year's most wide-open conference -- which is a nice way of saying there are no good teams -- but the Big 12 might be the most fun to figure out in the next two months.

NC State 88, No. 25 Florida State 81: Florida State will have some 'splaining to do. How do you lose to the hapless Wolfpack at home? Well, here's how: Freshman Scott Wood made 7-of-11 3-pointers and scored a career high (duh) 31 points on the way to a Wolfpack win. Add that to NC State's generally hot shooting and efficiency on offense -- it went to the line on 66 percent of its possessions and scored 1.2 points per trip -- and you have a recipe for a freaky loss at home to an inferior team. Not that this is the upset of the century, but still.

Everywhere else: Maryland-Wake Forest played a classic that few around the country saw, trading baskets in overtime on the way to a two-point Wake win; Al-Farouq Aminu had 24 and 13 and a key defensive play in the victory. ... Northern Iowa tied a school record with its 14th straight win, but a two-point win over Bradley at home was probably not the win the UNI folks had in mind. ... TCU edged Wyoming out West. ... Illinois needed some last-second drama to top Penn State at home, but escaped with 54-53 the win all the same. ... Iowa got its sixth win, a five-point home win over Tennessee State.
Saddle Up is a quick preview of the basketball your TV wants you to watch tonight. Here's Tuesday night's rundown.

No. 2 Kentucky at Florida, ESPN, 9 p.m. ET: ESPN resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi (perhaps you've heard of him?) sees big implications in Tuesday night's pair of ESPN games. Can you blame him? We'll get to Ohio State-Purdue in a minute, but Florida has a major opportunity. It gets the Kentucky Wildcats, unbeaten and riding high, in Gainesville. For Kentucky, there would be no shame in losing to a motivated Florida team on the road tonight; if Tennessee's weekend upset over Kansas tells us anything, it's that elite teams can and will often lose on the road to merely good teams. That would be the case tonight ... if a "merely good" Florida team shows up. The Gators have the potential to beat Kentucky in Gainesville -- they topped Michigan State on a neutral court earlier this year. Florida has also lost to Richmond and South Alabama. This is why tonight's opportunity is such a major one. Playing the Wildcats at home is Florida's chance to steal a win that most of us will recognize as the difficulty of a road contest, but that the selection committee will see first and foremost as a quality résumé win. And a big performance against John Wall's crew might just make Florida's own highly touted freshman, Kenny Boynton, a household name, too.

Ohio State at No. 6 Purdue, ESPN, 7 p.m. ET: If Florida's date with the Wildcats is an uphill battle, Ohio State's trip to Mackey Arena to face a brutally tough Purdue team is more like trying to play laser tag on Mt. Everest. But, much like Florida, this is the Buckeyes' chance to change their entire season, to prove they're fully recovered from losing uber-versatile Wooden Award candidate Evan Turner to a busted back, to show that with Turner in the lineup, they're just as good as anyone in the Big Ten. There's a bit of immovable-object-meets-unstoppable-force stuff going on here; is Turner good enough to shed Purdue's smothering defense? It's a tall order, but if anyone can do it, Evan can.

Texas A&M at No. 12 Kansas State, ESPN 2, 7 p.m. ET: If you knew nothing about either team, and merely glanced at their records, you'd be forgiven for thinking Texas A&M (12-3, 1-0 Big 12) was Kansas State's (13-2, 0-1 Big 12) relative equal, at least in terms of perception. But Kansas State's last loss, a 74-68 loss at Missouri, was its first since Nov. 20; in the meantime, Frank Martin's team has shot up the polls and gained a measure of respect most K-State hoops fans will find foreign. A&M, on the other hand, has yet to achieve the same level of national respect, despite an impressive record and three OK losses (West Virginia, New Mexico, at Washington). Tonight, A&M gets a shot to prove its worth, while simultaneously making an argument for Big 12 as the deepest conference in the land.

Everywhere else: Baylor will look to build off its blowout win over Oklahoma as it travels to Colorado ... Florida State should handle N.C. State, probably the ACC's worst team, at home ... Maryland will travel to Wake Forest in the much-anticipated "Battle Of Teams That Seem Like They Should Be Better Than They Are Based On Star Power" ... and Northern Iowa, or as we Iowans call it, "UNI," will look to extend its winning streak another game against Bradley in Cedar Falls.
I'll admit it: "Afternoon Linkage" is kind of growing on me. It's casual. It's important to keep things casual, right? This is a blog, after all, and blogs are nothing if not -- sorry. Why am I rambling about blogs? Let's hit a few links on this wonderful college hoops Wednesday:
Quick programming note: Be sure to hang around this evening, as I'll be covering Duke-Iowa State live at the United Center before and after the contest. And I'm sure I'll be tweeting throughout, so follow me, if you're into that sort of thing.