Originally Published: December 17, 2012

For A Weekend, College Basketball Shines

By Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

As I watched Mark Lyons take over in the final seconds of No. 8 Arizona's 65-64 win over fifth-ranked Florida on Saturday, I wanted to be there in Tucson, soaking in the Wildcats' game-winning push.

My reaction went from "There's just no way" to "What's happening to Florida?" to "Oh my!"

Text messages and emails were quickly dispersed to friends and colleagues after the game. "Did you just see that????"

Every year, college basketball puts up its shield against the naysayers who question its regular-season relevance. It's rare for a product that generates billions of dollars to need so much perennial protection. But the sport is always on trial, it seems.

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Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsThe Arizona Wildcats delivered one of the weekend's highlights by knocking off Florida.

"Does college basketball matter before March?" is the central query.

But with the NFL, NBA, NHL (most years) and college football overlapping with the college basketball season each year, it's a valid question.

And if the ratings war is the only battle that assesses the game, then college basketball will lose many times. The crux of the NFL regular season, primetime NBA matchups and BCS football tend to dominate the fourth quarter of each calendar year. College basketball, however, is a worthy competitor that offers similar thrills. Even in November and December.

Saturday's slate offered a snapshot of college basketball's early-season potential on one of the first weekends without BCS football.

Florida and Arizona finished a captivating day that Butler and Indiana commenced with an overtime matchup that made Alex Barlow, a walk-on, an unlikely hero. Barlow scored the game-winning floater in the closing seconds of Butler's 88-86 win over No. 1 Indiana in Indianapolis.

That was the game's pinnacle, not its only highlight. Two plays kept Indiana alive: Victor Oladipo's steal and layup off a quick spin move and Kevin Ferrell's huge 3-pointer at the end of regulation, seconds after the freshman's costly turnover. And then, Butler relied on its gutsiness in overtime. Next, Barlow's shot. Wow.

Then Louisville overcame a 16-point deficit at Memphis. The Cardinals, who competed without Gorgui Dieng, were resilient. The Tigers, however, failed to finish strong enough to put their rivals away in the second half. And they couldn't overcome the officiating crew, either. But the Cards were terrific as they fought back in the second half of an 87-78 win.

Michigan's Trey Burke dropped 27 points on West Virginia. Creighton's Doug McDermott put up 34 points at California. Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk scored 20 points against Kansas State.

East Carolina threatened North Carolina in the second half. And Georgia Southern upset Virginia Tech on the road. All of this before Arizona's come-from-behind win over the Gators. In that game, the Wildcats were on the ropes most of the evening. And then Sean Miller's squad pressed, and the Gators unraveled.

In 18 seconds -- from 1:01 to 0:43 -- Florida committed three turnovers. They were necessary breaks for the Cats -- breaks that led to Lyons' game-winner.

It was a great day for the game. I'm not sure what it meant for the larger discussion about college basketball's significance in November and December.

All I know is that I rarely left my couch. I had no reason to.

And that's worth noting in the conversation.

THE RUNDOWN

My favorite moments of the 2012-13 season ... so far.

Chaminade over Texas in Maui Invitational: Yes, it happened. Chaminade, a Division II team, beat Texas 86-73 in the Maui Invitational on Nov. 19. The loss was clearly just the beginning of the Longhorns' early troubles, but it was an embarrassing effort for Texas and a huge win for Chaminade.

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Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireBrad Stevens' Bulldogs have had a flair for the dramatic.

Butler's buzzer-beater against Marquette in Maui: Butler's win over Indiana on Saturday wasn't its first thriller. Rotnei Clarke's buzzer-beating 3-pointer sealed a win over Marquette at the Maui Invitational last month. Clarke launched the shot with one hand, as he drew contact and fell to the floor. The Bulldogs' bench exploded. So did the folks who were watching at home.

Butler beats Indiana in overtime: Somehow, the Bulldogs topped that moment with another spectacular finish in Saturday's win over Indiana. It was the program's first regular-season win over a No. 1 team. Due to foul trouble, the Bulldogs weren't at full strength. Yet they didn't relent. Barlow hit a late floater and Indiana suffered its first loss.

Taylor scores 138 points: Jack Taylor of Grinnell College, a Division III school, took 108 shots in 36 minutes in his record-breaking effort in a win over Faith Baptist Bible last month. Taylor's 138 points in the 179-104 victory shattered previous high marks at the collegiate level. He took 71 3-pointers. You have to feel sorry for David Larson, though. He scored 70 points for Faith Baptist Bible.

Cal Poly upsets UCLA: Coach Ben Howland signed the nation's top recruiting class, so there was a lot of hype surrounding the Bruins in the weeks that preceded the 2012-13 season. But the NCAA investigation that sidelined Shabazz Muhammad for the team's first three games tempered expectations. Once he arrived, however, the sky was supposed to be the limit. And then Cal Poly beat UCLA 70-68 at Pauley Pavilion Nov. 25. Changed everything we'd previously thought about the Bruins.

Baylor over Kentucky: There weren't many reasons to assume that Baylor had a chance to upset Kentucky. The Bears were coming off a 63-59 home loss to Charleston on Nov. 24 when they traveled to Lexington on Dec. 1. But they pulled it off and snapped Kentucky's 55-game winning streak at Rupp Arena with a 64-55 win.

Connecticut beats Michigan State in Germany: College basketball kicked off the season with an unprecedented bang when Connecticut and Michigan State faced off on Ramstein Air Force Base. Led by Shabazz Napier (25 points), the Huskies earned the 66-62 upset victory and kicked off the Kevin Ollie prove-it year in grand style.

Illinois wins at Gonzaga, quiets doubters: Many (including yours truly) weren't sold on the Illini, even after they won their first nine games. But an 85-74 win over the Zags in Spokane on Dec. 8 added vast credibility to Illinois' résumé. Senior guard Brandon Paul scored 35 points and was unstoppable in Illinois' most significant win under new coach John Groce.

The Weekly Forecast

By Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

A quick look at the temperature of college basketball as we head into a new week:

Canadians

Hot: UNLV forward Anthony Bennett (20.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 1.9 bpg) is not only America's best freshman, but also a strong candidate for national player of the year. He's been as dominant as any player in the country thus far. Fellow Canadian-born big man Khem Birch, who transferred from Pitt last year, will join UNLV's rotation Monday against UTEP.

Cold: Really? Another lengthy investigation, NCAA? This time, Myck Kabongo is the victim of the organizing body's internal bureaucracy and inefficiency. Kabongo hasn't played for Texas this season as he awaits the results of the NCAA investigation into his ties to an agent and a pro trainer whom he allegedly worked out with during a trip to Cleveland. But why has it taken so long for the NCAA to announce a verdict?

The state of Virginia

Hot: Virginia has defeated Wisconsin and Tennessee during its seven-game winning streak. Richmond has won five consecutive games. And VCU's 73-54 win over Alabama on Saturday was its fourth in a row.

Cold: Virginia Tech's 78-73 home loss to Georgia Southern (4-5), which lost to Samford (2-10) two weeks ago? Ugh. Not a good weekend for the Hokies.

Bulldogs

Hot: The Gonzaga Bulldogs bounced back from last weekend's double-digit loss against Illinois with a 68-52 victory Saturday over Kansas State in Seattle. And the Butler Bulldogs captured the weekend's top moment when they upset No. 1 Indiana in Indianapolis in an 88-86 overtime win Saturday.

Cold: The Georgia Bulldogs' struggles continued with a home loss to Iona. They've lost three in a row and seven of their past eight games.

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