College Basketball Nation: what-we-learned-120204

Now that's a Saturday of basketball. Take a deep breath, count to 10 and check out yours truly's observations from the evening's games, including the insane Kansas-Missouri finale.

For a recap of this afternoon's games, click here.

No. 4 Missouri 74, No. 8 Kansas 71: This game was easy to scout. Missouri is small and quick and offensively oriented, with four guards and one big man. Kansas is big and strong and built around forward Thomas Robinson, the national front-runner for player of the year. How would KU stop Mizzou's spread attack? How would Mizzou keep KU out of the lane? These countervailing dynamics seemed destined to determine the outcome of this game. And to some extent, they did.

But if we learned anything from this one, we learned this: Stylistic assessments tend to fly out the window when it's the final minute in a packed house and things are crazy and it's just a player, the ball, the game on the line and a single-possession deficit. It's hard to overthink this: You either execute or you don't. The Jayhawks didn't execute. That simple. And that's why they lost.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. Kansas was not helped by an iffy late charge call on Tyshawn Taylor that just as easily could have been a blocking foul on Michael Dixon. It resulted in two Missouri free throws and a three-point lead for KU to overcome. Even worse, that call wasn't nearly as egregious as the one against Robinson with 1:43 remaining; that easily could have been a block on Mizzou forward Steve Moore, an and-1 bucket for Robinson and a potential six-point swing, given Marcus Denmon's huge go-ahead 3 a few seconds later. Kansas fans are not at all happy about this turn of events, and they have every right to their anger.

That said, the Jayhawks would have been in better shape had Taylor made either of his two free throws with 42 seconds remaining. Despite all the late blunders and questionable calls, Kansas had a chance to take the game to overtime on the final possession. Had Elijah Johnson decided to shoot the ball when he got his first wide-open look as the clock ticked down, he might have gotten a clean shot. Instead, Johnson hesitated. He missed his chance. The clock expired. Game over.

As always, it's about execution, and in big-time rivalry games in heated buildings, the game is so often about execution in the final minutes. As Kansas was suffering shaky whistles, missed free throws, so-so shots and four turnovers in the final three minutes, Denmon was coolly canning two straight 3s, which turned a 71-65 Kansas lead into a 72-71 Mizzou lead in a matter of 30 seconds. Denmon was brilliant all game. He shot 10-of-16 from the field and was 6-of-9 from 3 en route to a 29-point outing. And that's the difference: Denmon was brilliant all 40 minutes. Taylor, Robinson and the Jayhawks were brilliant for about 37 minutes. When the game tightened and crunch time came around, one team consistently executed. The other did not.

For as much as we analyze (and overanalyze) these games, for as much as we talk about styles and matchups and X's and O's, for as much as we'll debate the Robinson charge calls for the next week, when you get to crunch time, that stuff fades away. The game shrinks. It simplifies. Be smart. Get good shots. Play defense. Take care of the ball. Rebound. Make your free throws.

Missouri scored the game's final 11 points. After leading 71-63, Kansas didn't score once.

In the end, the difference between those two sentences wasn't a matter of deep analysis. It wasn't stylistic or strategic. It was so much simpler than that.

Northern Iowa 65, No. 12 Creighton 62: It's not about what we learned in this game. We didn't learn all that much, save for the fact that Northern Iowa might be a bit better than its paltry Missouri Valley record (6-7) would indicate. But forget the new knowledge; this game was all about a reminder of the old.

That reminder: College hoops is an imperfect, frustrating enterprise. But when college hoops is good, it's better than anything else in the world.

Maybe that's hyperbole. Maybe I am the wrong person to levy such judgments, because I happen to love college basketball more than most. (I admit it.) Still, I defy you to find 60 more purely entertaining seconds than the final minute of Northern Iowa's win over 12th-ranked Creighton. College basketball seems to produce exchanges like this more frequently than other games; every week, it feels like something insane happens. But this ending -- which featured two 3s in the final 15 seconds, both of which came in open play, with no timeouts to stop the insanity -- registered an 11 on the 1-to-10 excitement scale.

I won't recap the entire closing exchange. You can see the highlights here, if you haven't seen them already. I've watched five or six times. The moment the shot goes in, well, it's almost perfect, you know? The rush up the floor, the crazy step-back, the swish, the crowd eruption -- this is the fabric of college basketball. Forget provincial rooting interests, alumni loyalty, wonky enthusiasm. The final 15 seconds of Creighton-UNI are why we love this damn game, imperfections and all.

No. 20 Indiana 78, Purdue 61: With 2:23 left and Indiana leading rival Purdue 65-61, IU point guard Jordan Hulls found himself trapped near half-court. Purdue was swarming -- it had been swarming and slapping and clawing at the Hoosiers all evening -- and, rather than risk a turnover, Hulls decided to play it safe. He and his teammates ran to the sideline, with their tenuous, shrinking lead still intact, and regrouped for what was sure to be an arduous finish in front of the Boilermakers' rabid crowd.

Then something strange happened: IU didn't fade away. It didn't suffer its typical frustrating late-game collapse on the road. It didn't bend under Purdue's relentless pressure. Instead, it blew the Mackey Arena doors right off.

Two minutes, 23 seconds later, the Hoosiers' 13-0 run had capped the first non-Penn State Big Ten road win of coach Tom Crean's 3 1/2-year tenure. In 143 seconds, the Hoosiers had gone from "well, here we go again" to their first win over the Boilermakers in their past six tries. For the first Big Ten road fixture this season, or in any of the Crean-era years that preceded it, Indiana looked self-assured and confident, not shaky and timid. The Hoosiers looked eager to go get the win, not anxious to avoid a loss. And so they did.

The game wasn't nearly as one-sided as that scoreline suggests, of course, and for most of the afternoon, even as Indiana built a 33-22 halftime lead, this thing was ugly on both sides. The Boilermakers were unusually scrappy, doing everything they could to make life difficult for Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and the rest, trapping and slapping and angling for jump ball calls from the official. (These attempts were often fouls, and when they were called as such, Purdue fans frequently flipped out. It was exactly what a home crowd should do. Even better, it often seemed to work.)

For most of the game, the Boilers' staunch defense held strong. The only problem: Purdue couldn't keep up with even a marginal offensive pace. The team committed just three turnovers all game, and its first didn't come until the 5:10 mark of the second half. With possession protection like that, you would have assumed the Boilermakers could have posted better than .90 points per trip. But Matt Painter's team couldn't break down Indiana's man or zone defenses with much regularity, and without a true post presence (an ongoing, irreconcilable issue for this team), Purdue was forced to hoist its typical diet of long 2s and 3s. Robbie Hummel & Co. made just five of their 21 3-point field goal attempts. They finished 21-of-71 -- or 29.6 percent -- from the field overall.

So what does it all mean -- that is, beyond the first batch of message-board/water-cooler bragging rights Indiana fans have had in years? It might mean this IU team is making progress in its understanding of how to win on the road. That's a difficult, indefinable quality, something even good teams struggle with each and every season. But if you're the Hoosiers, and you have your sights set on the heights reached in November and December, you have to beat inferior teams on the road in conference play. You have to hold on to those leads. Actually, forget holding on to your lead. Extend it. Sweep the leg. Finish.

The Hoosiers -- for the first time on the road in four Big Ten seasons (against a team not named Penn State, that is), for the first time in six tries against their hated rival -- unleashed their inner Cobra Kai. It wasn't a flawless victory, but it was a victory. For a team that lost so many of these games in 2010 and 2011 and even in 2012, that's a legitimate sign of progress.

One more IU-Purdue note: Guard Verdell Jones missed this game, but most of his minutes went to Victor Oladipo, and Oladipo responded with 23 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. When Indiana needed buckets, Oladipo always seemed to step in, ready and willing to attack the rim. Impressive performance.

Some other observations from Saturday night's games:
    [+] EnlargeTerrence Jones
    AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainTerrence Jones delivers one of Kentucky's eight first-half dunks against South Carolina on Saturday.

  • Kentucky absolutely rolled South Carolina on the road, and Basketball Prospectus writer Drew Cannon summed up my feelings on the Cats with his perfect postgame tweet: "Can you imagine how high people would be on Kentucky if Watford's three rimmed out?" He's dead on. If Christian Watford's shot misses (Kentucky lost to Indiana at the buzzer in December), Kentucky is undefeated, rolling through the SEC with remarkable ease, and we're all talking about whether the Wildcats can make it to the NCAA tournament without a loss. As it is, the Wildcats are still remarkable to watch. For much of their 86-52 victory, they appeared to be playing a different sport than the Gamecocks. UK had eight dunks in the first half, as Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones finished easy buckets at will. Darrin Horn's team never stood a chance. Even scarier: This team, in particular point guard Marquis Teague, is still developing into what it can be. Considering how good John Calipari's team already is -- 23-1, 9-0 in the SEC, No. 2 overall in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, etc. -- that's a frightening thought indeed.
  • Colorado got a major home win over Oregon on Saturday night, but in questionable late circumstances. I didn't see the game -- there was the small matter of Kansas-Mizzou, after all -- but here's how the AP recap describes the final play in question: "Nate Tomlinson was fouled with one second remaining by E.J. Singler and sank the first free throw before deliberately missing the second to give Colorado a 72-71 win over Oregon Saturday night." Naturally, the AP isn't going to say whether the foul call -- which came with almost no time left on the clock -- was right or wrong. According to the response on Twitter, it might or might not have been a foul, but the referees should never have made such a marginal call in the final second of a tie game. Oregon coach Dana Altman was furious. Ducks fans are furious. Colorado will feel lucky to escape with the victory and move to 8-3 -- an unlikely 8-3, given this team's early prospectus -- in its first year in Pac-12 play. It sounds like we'll be talking about this call for a while. Should be fun!
  • Middle Tennessee lost its lofty perch as the Sun Belt's only unbeaten team when it fell 75-60 at Denver on national TV. MTSU is a fringe bubble candidate, but the loss will make things much more difficult for the Blue Raiders to impress the committee. How much it will help Denver remains to be seen. Either way, the lesson here, as in Wyoming's win over UNLV on Saturday: Altitude kills. As does Denver forward Chris Udofia, who had 27 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in the win.
  • Really solid road win for Iowa State, which topped Oklahoma 77-70 and kept its NCAA tournament momentum moving. The Cyclones have had a week to remember, which began with last Saturday's last-second win over Kansas and included this week's two-point home win over Kansas State. Oklahoma has given Big 12 teams legitimate issues this season, particularly at home, and Fred Hoiberg's fighting transfers have to be thrilled to escape Norman with a win.
  • Speaking of solid road wins: Iona (19-5, 11-2 MAAC) invaded the turf of one of its fellow MAAC co-leaders, Manhattan, and left with an 85-73 victory. Gaels star point guard Scott Machado continued his hyper-efficient, ball-dominant ways, scoring 18 points on 5-of-7 from the field (and 6-of-8 from the line) to go along with nine assists and four rebounds. A few days after a major contract extension for coach Tim Cluess, his team got one of its biggest wins of the season.
  • Murray State's latest extension to its undefeated record -- the Racers are now 23-0 and 11-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play -- came in what is rapidly becoming classic Murray style: It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't definitive, being but a 65-58 win over a team with a 3-21 record before Saturday. But it was a win all the same, another notch on the belt and another potential step toward a remarkable regular-season accomplishment. Stay tuned.
  • Harvard didn't look great in its 57-52 home win over a bad Columbia team, but as in the above bullet point, a win is a win is a win. The victory moved the Crimson to 6-0 in the Ivy League and 20-2 overall. Still, if Harvard wants to ensure its first trip to the NCAA tournament in six decades, it will have to muster something more than the disjointed offense it displayed Saturday.
  • And in CAA play, George Mason asserted its superiority -- and its position atop the conference standings -- with a 54-50 win over Old Dominion. Neither team is vintage for either program this season, and GMU's at-large case is a major work in progress, but wins like this are always steps in the right direction.
Here are a few things we learned from the biggest games Saturday afternoon. Check back later for analysis of tonight's games.

No. 3 Ohio State 58, No. 20 Wisconsin 52: Ohio State is hardly a breakneck team, but its adjusted tempo this season is 68.9 possessions per 40 minutes, far above those of many of its Big Ten brethren. The Buckeyes like to get out on the break a little. Thad Matta has a ton of talent, shooting, athleticism, scoring, you name it, and the Bucks aren't shy about letting it shine in the open floor.

In other words, this is exactly how Wisconsin wanted this game to go. It wanted it to be slow -- as slow as possible, in fact -- and it was. These two teams traded 57 possessions Saturday afternoon. If you had told Bo Ryan this game would be this slow, he'd have given his team an excellent chance of knocking off what might just be the best team in the nation. This is the luxury of having Jordan Taylor commanding your team: If you want the game to be deathly slow, with supreme economy of movement and as few possessions as possible, you can't do better than the Badgers' point guard.

The only problem? Ohio State has Jared Sullinger. Wisconsin does not. "The Artist Currently Known As Sully" just so happens to be very comfortable playing half-court offense, and as good as UW was on defense -- as much as it shaded and doubled and harried and harassed -- Sullinger was simply too much. He played all 40 minutes Saturday. He scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field in the first half alone. He finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds (5 offensive), 3 steals, just 1 turnover and an 8-of-10 shooting mark at the charity stripe. He was too much. Jared Berggren did his best, and the Badgers kept their shape well defensively -- there's a reason OSU scored just 1.02 points per trip -- but they never found an answer for the big man on the block.

They also learned the lesson anyone who has played this Ohio State team (or last season's version, for that matter) already knows: The Buckeyes defend, too. Per Ken Pomeroy's metrics, the Bucks are the stingiest per-possession defense in the country. The second stingiest? Wisconsin. But while the Badgers allow .81 points per trip, OSU allows an absurd .77, the rare team that forces turnovers but doesn't give away fouls and one that also cleans up the defensive glass. UW has had its troubles scoring from time to time this season, but the Buckeyes are a whole 'nother animal.

Play fast, play slow, play at your court, play in Columbus. Play however you like. If you don't have someone who can guard Jared Sullinger -- never mind a group of players to check the insanely talented group around him -- and/or an offense that can find a way to score against this kind of defense, it doesn't really matter. Ohio State is going to beat you.

Wyoming 68, No. 13 UNLV 66: For much of the season, during a remarkably quick turnaround, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher has been the consensus favorite for national coach of the year. Deservedly so. But any mention of the words "coach of the year" should also, after today, be followed closely by the words "Larry Shyatt."

Shyatt's story is remarkable. Wyoming gave him his first head-coaching gig in 1997, but after a successful season, he left to take over at Clemson, where he stayed until 2003. Shyatt spent the past several years on Florida coach Billy Donovan's bench, until this offseason, when he returned to Laramie to start over and repay a debt he felt he owed for his quick departure 15 years ago.

And what a return it has been. In 2010-11, the Cowboys finished 10-21 overall and ranked No. 215 in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. After a two-point stunner over UNLV -- during which they led for nearly all 40 minutes and turned it over just eight times -- the Cowboys now are 18-5 and ranked among Pomeroy's top 60 teams in the country. This is primarily thanks to their defense, which Shyatt has transformed entirely. Last season, the Cowboys were hands down the worst defensive team in the Mountain West. This season, the defense is among the MWC's best, and on Saturday, it held UNLV to 3-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc.

The question now -- after the school's first victory over a ranked team in 12 years -- is whether Shyatt's miracle story can end with an NCAA tournament berth. The jury is still very much out, and Wyoming probably will have to grab another big win or two to be bubble-relevant going forward. But NCAA tournament or no, this team has made a drastic year-over-year turnaround. It has gone from a no-name afterthought to a program on the rise. And Shyatt's prodigal return is the reason.

Notre Dame 76, No. 15 Marquette 59: It's not fair to say the Fighting Irish looked totally irredeemable in their 8-5 nonconference start, but they certainly didn't look good. Notre Dame was dominated by Missouri, handled by Georgia, no match for Gonzaga, beaten by Maryland and overwhelmed by Indiana. Any time the Fighting Irish played a good (even decent) team, they looked exactly like what all thought they were: rebuilding, in transition, mediocre, meh.

Now? After Saturday's strong home win, which was keyed by a massive second-half run, it's impossible to discount the Irish. The Syracuse upset of two Saturdays ago was more than a random upset or a product of ND's mystically inexplicable propensity to upset elite teams in South Bend. No, Mike Brey's team is much more than that. Guard Eric Atkins is among the nation's most improved players, but he might be eclipsed in that category by forward Jack "Don't Call Me Mini-Harangody" Cooley, who, after years of geeks like me writing, "Hey, that guy looks exactly like Luke Harangody," is rapidly making his own name. (And Patrick Connaughton, whose Irish-name swagger deserves serious respect, was tremendous, too: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 big blocks on huge defensive stops. Dude can play.)

Most impressive in this game was Notre Dame's late push, even if "push" feels like an understatement. With eight minutes remaining in the second half, the Irish led 54-48. The final score speaks for itself. Marquette is a good team, and the Irish simply ran away. The only conclusion: Notre Dame is pretty darn good, too.

No. 11 Florida 73, Vanderbilt 65: It was the opinion of this writer that Florida and Vanderbilt felt like identical SEC twins: guard-oriented perimeter offenses led by sharpshooters (Vandy's John Jenkins, Florida's Kenny Boynton), versatile play from outside-in small forwards (Vandy's Jeffery Taylor, Florida's Bradley Beal) and one true post presence apiece (Vandy's Festus Ezeli, Florida's Patric Young). So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that this game's box score featured such near-identical numbers for both teams. Each team recorded 12 assists; each team snagged nine steals. Both teams turned the ball over at about the same rate. The teams' effective field goal percentages were similar. Vanderbilt shot 18 free throws. Florida shot 17.

You get the idea. So what was the difference? Simply put, 3-point shooting. The Gators made 11 of 24 shots from beyond the arc. VU shot just 8-of-25 from long range. There were other differences, too: Florida outrebounded Vandy on the offensive glass, grabbing 36.8 percent of its available misses to just 28.6 percent for the Commodores. But the real difference was shooting. Florida made three more of its 3s, and it shot 16-of-17 from the charity stripe.

All told, it wasn't Vanderbilt's best offensive day, but there are promising signs. For one, it didn't score the ball particularly well and still hung with a good team on the road. For another, there are signs Vandy's defense, which has played so well (surprisingly so) in the SEC campaign, is for real. It held the nation's best offense to 1.09 points per trip at home; compared to UF's usual output, that's not too shabby.

In the end, this is just what Florida does. It makes shots. It made a few more of them in this one. Not a bunch more. Just a few. But in a game this close, with such a doppelganger of an opponent, a few extra makes were all the Gators needed.

No. 24 Florida State 58, No. 18 Virginia 55: The scoreline says it all. If you don't like slow, plodding, offensively challenged basketball, this was not the ACC matchup for you. But it also was the rare game in which both teams can come away feeling pretty good. Virginia's task in Tallahassee was to take on one of the nation's best defenses and hottest teams, one that recently had found a scorching offense to go along with its typically staunch defense.

Florida State no doubt hoped to keep the good offensive vibes rolling, but more important in the end was holding serve on its home floor. After an incredible streak that included a 33-point win over UNC and a win at Duke, the last thing the Seminoles needed was a lackluster home loss to pull their record (and, maybe, their spirits) back to earth.

FSU didn't keep the offense rolling. Virginia's defense was nearly up to the task. The Cavaliers forced Leonard Hamilton's team into a turnover on 31 percent of its possessions. Unfortunately, UVa coughed it up even more frequently than did FSU. That's the thing about this Florida State team, which is now 7-1 in ACC play: When the Noles are shooting the ball well and scoring it with ease, they're just about unstoppable. But even when they're not, that defense will always be there, providing a baseline when the going gets tough. That has to be comforting, doesn't it?

No. 6 North Carolina 83, Maryland 74: How good are the Tar Heels? Sometimes it's hard to tell. They often look dominant, every bit the national title contender we assume they'll be in March. Just as often, though, they struggle, particularly on the road and frequently against teams they should rather easily handle. Maryland is one such team.

On Saturday, facing the Terrapins in front of a rowdy crowd, the Tar Heels struggled. There's no other way to put it. Maryland brought it, sure, but UNC often seemed to be on its heels, no pun intended. UM center Alex Len was excellent, and Terrell Stoglin showed why he probably should be an all-ACC inclusion by the end of the season. By the 17-minute mark in the second half, Maryland had opened a nine-point lead. Suddenly, as analyst Len Elmore said, the Heels found themselves in a dogfight.

Here's another reason Carolina is so often so hard to appraise: This team seems to have the fabled ability to "hit the switch," i.e., to suddenly focus its efforts, let talent take over and go win the game even when not playing well. And that's what happened Saturday. UNC seemingly flipped its switch, started locking down on defense, started getting easy buckets on offense, started making 3s -- you know, basically, all the things this team should do -- outscoring Maryland 46-34 in the second half en route to a victory. It wasn't pretty, and we often tend to expect more from purportedly great teams, but it's impossible to dismiss this team's talent and its ability to transform that talent at a moment's notice.

No. 2 Syracuse 95, St. John's 70: And so all was well in the land of the Orange. When sophomore center Fab Melo was lost to a lingering first-semester academic issue, Syracuse lost its first game of the season without him, and even in the two wins that followed -- at Cincinnati and in questionable fashion over West Virginia -- the Orange didn't look anything like their typically dominant selves. With so much depth and talent, it was hard to pin all this on Melo's absence ... but it was hard to compare Syracuse's offensive output with and without Melo (not to mention its block percentages, where Melo really excels) and not think the newly trim and focused big man didn't have a much bigger effect on this team's 20-0 start than many originally thought.

And then you watch Saturday's game, Melo's first since his return. You see the big man score a career-high 14 points on a tidy 5-of-6 from the field. You see the Orange roll St. John's to the tune of 1.34 points per possession on a day when they didn't shoot the 3 particularly well (just often). You see them tie a season high with 24 second-chance points and 52 in the paint.

Given all that, you can't help but think Melo is absolutely crucial to this team's national title chances. And then our fine friends at ESPN Stats & Information send along the following statistics, and you see the facts in all their glory: With Melo, Cuse is 21-0, and averages 38.9 points per game in the paint (28.7 without him), 14 second-chance points per game (6.3 without) and 1.18 points per possession (1.00 without), and has an offensive rebound percentage of 39.5 (25.5 without).

So, yeah, I suppose you could say he's pretty important. Impressive performance for Melo, impressive win for Syracuse.

Memphis 72, Xavier 68: "That Used To Be Us." It's the title of Thomas Friedman's questionably considered new book. It also feels appropriately descriptive of the Xavier Musketeers, who spent the first two months of the season earning difficult wins thanks to late rallies but were the victims of such a rally Saturday afternoon at the FedExForum.

Xavier opened a 10-point lead in the second half, but Memphis fought back. The Musketeers opened another one with seven minutes remaining, finding themselves up double digits (62-51) as the Tigers' ugly offense appeared headed toward a losing effort. And then something funky happened. Memphis used a 12-1 run to rally all the way back and tie the game at 63-all with 2:12 remaining. And then something even funkier happened. Memphis closed out the game with a score of made free throws. The Tigers shot 24-of-28 from the line, including 9-of-11 in the final two minutes. Joe Jackson alone was 12-of-12. All told, Memphis went on a 17-1 tear, and the game went from 62-51 to 68-63 before the Tigers closed it out.

It was a nice -- and much-needed -- win for Memphis, sure, but more than anything, it spoke to the seemingly downward trajectory of the Musketeers. This team hasn't been the same since the Dec. 10 brawl, of course, but at this point, the cause-and-effect is beginning to look tenuous. Now more than ever, it looks like X really wasn't all that good in the first place. Losing on the road is hardly a crime. Losing like this? It's something closer.

Some more observations from this afternoon's games:
  • Is Arizona on the rise? It's hard to ignore the three-day stretch the Wildcats had, getting not one but two wins on their Bay Area road trip. First, the Wildcats held on for a win over apparent league favorite Cal on Thursday, and then they looked even more impressive in their 56-43 victory at Stanford on Saturday afternoon, holding the Cardinal to just 16-of-63 (!) from the field and 3-of-12 from 3 in their own building. Zona might or might not get on the bubble by the end of the season, but these sort of performances might just carry the Cats to the top of the league's standings before all is said and done. At the very least, Sean Miller's team is worth keeping an eye on.
  • Butler's offense is not worth keeping an eye on -- and it continues to cost the Bulldogs games. It's been the case all season, really, and it was the case again today. The Dogs lost to a team that made just two of its 10 3-point field goal attempts and shot just 20-of-47, because Butler's offense was even worse: 18-of-51 from the field, 4-of-19 from 3, just one made field goal from any bench player, a tough 0-of-7 night from Ronald Nored. The Bulldogs can't score. Nothing new here. But give some measure of credit to Detroit for a tough win on the road. Hinkle Fieldhouse was sold out, and the Titans got the job done in Indy for the first time since 1999.
  • Baylor loves to play close games. It's either that or the Bears can't help themselves. Whatever the reason, the good news is Baylor seems more capable than most of winning those close games, particularly on the road. It did so twice this week. The first came in a three-point win at Texas A&M on Wednesday. The second came Saturday afternoon, when Oklahoma State rallied from a nine-point deficit to take a 57-56 lead on Keiton Page's 3 with 1:42 remaining. Baylor ended up finishing the game in the final moments, which is nothing new. The Bears have played eight games decided by five points or fewer this season. With the exception of the 89-88 loss to Missouri, they've won every single one. That might not be by design, and it probably doesn't help Bears fans' blood pressure levels, but it's the kind of trait that might come in handy in March.
  • Seton Hall is officially off the wagon. A loss at UConn is understandable, even forgivable, but the Pirates were absolutely smacked, 69-46, by a team that had lost six of its previous eight games, to say nothing of Jim Calhoun's sudden and indefinite medical absence. That's Seton Hall's sixth consecutive loss. Unfortunately, the Pirates' happy redemption story is rapidly shrinking under the rigors of Big East play. Shame.
  • Before Saturday, South Florida's Big East record was 6-3. Considering the Bulls entered conference play with a 7-6 record and their best conference win was at Villanova, it was fair to say that surprising league start had more to do with South Florida's schedule than its skill. After today's blowout loss at Georgetown -- USF's worst conference loss since joining the Big East and its worst loss period since 2004 -- I think we can officially cement that perception.