Early-season games that will have an impact on March Madness
Cornell has road wins over Alabama, Massachusetts and St. John's
Florida and Butler have both suffered losses that could damage their resumes
Ohio State has been playing without Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner
Think nonconference games don't matter? The NCAA selection committee begs to differ. Because what happens in November and December doesn't stay in November and December, here's a look at some of the early season's most interesting games (and why they'll impact March Madness).
Cornell 71, Alabama 67
Yes, the Crimson Tide is rebuilding, but Ivy teams don't usually go to SEC country and win -- and then have the SEC team remark how much bigger the Ivy team was inside. Cornell subsequently has won at UMass and St. John's and, if it can take continue to take care of business, could land the Ivy's highest NCAA seed since 1998, when Princeton was a 5.
Kentucky 72, Miami (Ohio) 70
John Wall's collegiate debut ... and his first buzzer-beating game-winner. Kentucky won a game it probably would have gacked in the last couple of seasons, threw off some bad vibes, realized immediately what it had in Wall, and now is solidly entrenched as a projected No. 1 seed entering conference play.
Cal State Fullerton 68, UCLA 65 2OT
If you watched this game, what came soon after -- UCLA getting crushed by Portland and losing to Long Beach State -- shouldn't have surprised you. The Bruins were expected to be rebuilding, but yeesh. Then again, with the Pac-10 not packing a ton of pop, Ben Howland still has a chance to get things right in 2010.
Kansas 57, Memphis 55
Bizarro rematch of the 2008 national title game. KU missed some free throws and Memphis had a last-second 3 (which missed). An early wake-up call for the top-ranked Jayhawks (they haven't really been threatened since) and evidence that, with Duke transfer Elliot Williams, Memphis will be a C-USA factor.
Syracuse 95, California 73
Cal was shorthanded, but still ... wow. The Orange's MSG coming-out party continued the next night when a huge second-half run tapped out North Carolina. Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson is a stud. Despite losing Jonny Flynn and two others early, the Orange are a viable 1-seed and national title threat.
Dayton 63, Georgia Tech 59
This opening-round win at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is the type of win the Atlantic 10 needs, and was a disappointing drop for the Yellow Jackets, a preseason buzz team. The Flyers have been laying low since losing their final two in that event, to Villanova and Kansas State, in close affairs. Need a non-football alternative for New Year's Day? Dayton at New Mexico is chock full of NCAA profile punch.
VCU 82, Oklahoma 69
Impactful for several reasons: 1) Exposed Oklahoma's limitations, which were further illuminated in Alaska; 2) Kickstarted a strong VCU run that has included wins over Nevada, Rhode Island and Richmond; 3) Should drive every mid-major AD to include the mandatory home-and-home provision in their coach's contract, like VCU had in Jeff Capel's, which forced the Sooners into this true road game.
Sacramento State 65, Oregon State 63
Hyped as a burgeoning program, the Beavers dropped to 1-3 with a dreadful home loss to Sac State, which hadn't won on the road since like 1873. This was the, um, headliner on a night that exposed the frailty of this season's Pac-10. The league went 0-3, with WCC teams not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary's doing the rest of the damage (USC lost at home to Loyola Marymount and Oregon fell at Portland).
Purdue 73, Tennessee 72
A nice little power check for the Boilermakers, who remain unbeaten and are more than living up to preseason expectations. The Boilers went on to dispatch Wake Forest in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. What's that? A home date with West Virginia on New Year's Day? Maybe Dayton-UNM can wait...
Texas A&M 69, Clemson 60
Sometimes, it's the hidden meaning beyond "winning a game against an ACC team" that matters. In this case, the opening-round win in the 76 Classic got the Aggies a game against West Virginia (big RPI points despite the loss) and then a third-place game against Minnesota that they won by a point. All in all, a big resume-building weekend in Anaheim was set up by this Thanksgiving night victory.
Florida 77, Michigan State 74
A surprising win for the Gators at the time, this game is starting to carry (to paraphrase an old colleague) an "air of fraudulence" for both teams. The Spartans haven't found their full stride yet and the Gators dropped three straight, all in the state of Florida, to Syracuse (no shame at all), Richmond (sneaky good A-10 club) and South Alabama (OK, that's a bad home loss).
Duke 68, Connecticut 59
The Blue Devils beat Arizona State and then the Huskies to take the NIT Season Tip-Off title with two gritty defensive efforts -- maybe an option that wasn't as available to the last couple of Duke squads. Jon Scheyer's playing well as the de facto point, but you wonder how this team would look with Elliot Williams as an option.
Clemson 70, Butler 69
A last-seconds loss capped a meh weekend in SoCal for the Bulldogs, and really is a microcosm for a season in which Butler hasn't yet hit all cylinders for any significant stretch of time. The Bulldogs are still formidable, but this may indeed be the "year before the year" for the still youthful Horizon kings.
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