NC State hangs on, Clarke back for Butler; evening roundup
After a crazy afternoon of upsets and ineptitude, Saturday night was more about teams making statements. The loudest one, at least for the first two-thirds of the game, may have come in Raleigh, N.C., but there were other very meaningful results from around the land. Let's run through the most notable ones:
N.C. State 91, North Carolina 83
For the first 27 minutes or so, this was The Exorcism that Wolfpack fans had waited seven long years for. Then the Pack got a bit sloppy and let North Carolina go from down 28 to within five in the final minute. The result was never in doubt and winning for the first time in 14 tries in the series definitely feels good, but it wasn't the full kick in the teeth that was in the offing. Three N.C. State starters ended up with double-doubles. Lorenzo Brown went for 20 points and 11 assists while C.J. Leslie has 17 and 10 (rebounds) and Richard Howell had a 16 and 14.
Quick takeaways: This is not a good North Carolina team. Unless things change as the youthful core continues to gain experience, the NCAAs look like a hit-or-miss proposition. Chapel Hill is not much for moral victories, but much like when Kentucky reeled in Louisville before losing a close one to their arch rival, UNC's refusal to roll over had to please Roy Williams and left NC State backers feeling a bit less blissful. Any rivalry win is a good win, but if you can let the air out a little, it helps for the loser.
For NC State, it was two-thirds of a command performance on national TV against their most hated rival. It's a good bounceback after the fairly inexcusable midweek loss at Wake Forest, but it doesn't really prove that much. The game was at home, the Wolfpack is clearly the better team and early foul trouble left Carolina's frontcourt all but helpless. Bottom line: The Pack did what they needed to do and should feel very good about it. The streak is over. Now let's see if it translates to the road. Great teams have more consistency than NC State has shown so far.
San Diego State 55, New Mexico 34
During the week, I mentioned on Twitter that I favored the Aztecs in this one because they were, by far, the more desperate team. They already had lost at home to UNLV and this was the third of their three big home games to open league play. They simply couldn't afford to lose this one, too. And they didn't, completely shackling the Lobos in a lopsided (and fairly ugly) manhandling.
Quick takeaways: The schedule disparity in the Mountain West has to be taken into account when considering where the league currently stands. As mentioned, San Diego State already has faced fellow contenders Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico at home. They have to return all three of those games, so they're still a bit behind the 8-ball. So far, UNLV (at SDSU) has the only big-time road win, and the Rebels had the reverse schedule from the Aztecs, playing all three primary rivals on the road already.
New Mexico has a win at Boise State, which is suddenly dropping like a rock. No one else has really done very much on the road yet, and road wins will be what decides this league. New Mexico is at Wyoming on Wednesday and San Diego State visits Air Force next Saturday. Those are the games these teams need to continue to get away from home.
La Salle 69, VCU 61
Everyone is raving about Villanova's week, one in which the Wildcats dumped Louisville and Syracuse at home. Well, what about their Brotherly brethren? The Explorers edged Butler at home during the week and then doubled up on the league debutantes, going to Richmond and beating the Rams. Ramon Galloway was lethal with 31 points for La Salle.
Quick takeaways: This was certainly a boost to the Explorers' NCAA aspirations and jumbles up the A-10 race a bit more. Butler probably has the best backcourt in the league, but Galloway and Tyreek Duren aren't all that far off that level. For the second game in a row, VCU was not able to wreak havoc on an opposing offense. Richmond only had 11 turnovers in their overtime win Wednesday night and La Salle limited the Rams to 14 turnovers forced in this one. VCU's defense is not sound enough to overcome so many possessions in which an opponent gets quality shots. It also puts a further wedge between the perception of VCU as a team (good) and VCU's selection profile (surprisingly weak).
Butler 83, Temple 71
The Owls are an experienced, physical team that actually got a very good road whistle ... and they still lost by 12 in Rotnei Clarke's return to the lineup. Recall, this is a Temple team that beat Syracuse (pre-Southerland suspension) at Madison Square Garden and took Kansas to the wire in Lawrence. Clarke had 24 points and nine assists in a high-impact return.
Quick takeaways: This is a good, quality win, the type of which some folks wondered whether Butler was ready to get in its quick move up to the Atlantic 10. Well, yes, they are ready, and yes, they look like the league's best team. Clarke's presence is obviously huge for the Bulldogs. When he and Kellen Durham are stroking threes, it makes everything work so much better for the Bulldogs' frontcourt guys. Andrew Smith continues to have a quietly excellent season and Butler's whole starting five is rife with quality.
Temple needs to figure some things out. Khalif Wyatt carried the Owls for a while, but they get too many bad shots and have too many offensive droughts for a team with a good amount of experience. Losing T.J. DiLeo early in the game to a bad ankle sprain certainly didn't help matters. Clarke pretty much dominated the proceedings once Temple lost their primary cover.
Other meaningful results...
Harvard 82, Dartmouth 77 (OT)
The Crimson rallied from 10 down in the final two minutes to avoid what would have been an early, crippling loss in the Ivy. Without a conference tournament, there is little room for error in what should be a close race all season with Princeton.
Memphis 73, Marshall 72
Style points don't really matter for the Tigers at this stage of C-USA play. They just need to keep winning. That's good, because this was terribly unimpressive over a Marshall team that was obliterated midweek by Southern Miss. Memphis' selection profile is incredibly empty right now, and they only have one chance at a solid win (at USM) before the last five games of the season.
Arizona State 78, UCLA 60
Incredibly impressive win for the Sun Devils, who improve to 5-2 in an increasingly wild Pac-12. The Bruins can go home nursing the great road win at Arizona.
Oregon 81, Washington 76
The Ducks, without injured point guard Dominic Artis, staved off the Huskies to stay perfect in the league at 7-0. Washington has now lost three in a row.
Mississippi 63, Auburn 61
Just win, baby. Marshall Henderson made two late free throws and the Rebels stayed perfect in the SEC. They visit Gainesville next week to face a Gators team that's flat crushing people. Florida has won its six SEC games by 33, 22, 21, 31, 17 and 35 points. The Heat might not have done that. (OK, they would have. Work with me here.)