'Canes impress, Jayhawks' troubles continue; Saturday wrap
Dare we say it? A Saturday without much mayhem? Without massive madness? With some semblence of order? Well, except for Michigan getting #Brusted, that is.
Here's what happened on Saturday in games without 40-footers that forced overtime:
No. 8 Miami 87, North Carolina 61
It's hard for a 26-point margin not to fully reflect the lopsided nature of a game, but this game was never in doubt after Miami jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The Hurricanes banged 15 three-pointers. Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott combined for 52 points in an efficient, balanced attack. Larkin also had a career-high nine assists. Reggie Bullock was UNC's lone bright spot with 14 points and seven boards.
Quick takeaways: Miami is not getting full due for its accomplishments, principally because it's Miami, a program with limited cachet located outside the sport's epicenters. If Duke or North Carolina were 10-0 in the ACC and unbeaten with its full roster available, you'd certainly be hearing more about where they fit in the elite picture. And that team surely wouldn't be ranked eighth. The Hurricanes were literally men among boys today, with their age and size advantage rendering the Tar Heels more or less helpless. This Canes team has the frontcourt, guard play and coaching to be very, very serious March contenders. If you have been sleeping on them until now, it's time you woke up, and not because they manhandled a mediocre North Carolina team which likely will make the NCAAs, but has very little upside at this point.
Oklahoma 72, No. 5 Kansas 66
The Jayhawks lose their third straight game for the first time since the game was invented. OK, not quite that long ago, but this is a shocking development for a team that was 19-1 a week ago. Romero Osby posted 17 points and six rebounds for the Sooners, who gained the marquee win their profile had been lacking.
Quick takeaways: This is the seventh game in their last eight in which Kansas scored 1.02 points per possession or fewer, and several of those games were well below a point per possession, which is the nation's average. That's really poor for a team with Kansas' talent level and a sign that things have been trending downward since well before the losing streak started. Point guard Elijah Johnson had another mediocre game, shooting 3-for-11 while notching four assists and three turnovers. He's not the only issue causing the Jayhawks' troubles, but he's a major one. He's shown better than this in the past, so the decline in Big 12 play is a puzzling one. Even if he's not a true point, the long-term shooting woes are hard to reconcile at this point.
Kansas' loss opens the door for Kansas State to take over the league lead, which seemed almost unfathomable a week ago. If the Wildcats handle Iowa State Saturday night, they'll be the first-place team in the Sunflower State showdown in Lawrence Monday night. If they lose, it's a four-way tie.
No. 14 Butler 59, George Washington 56
Any road win in the A-10 seems pretty decent these days, and the Bulldogs escaped from D.C. with a W despite almost blowing a 17-point lead by not making a field goal in the last seven and a half minutes of the game. Butler held GW to 27.9 percent shooting, and the Colonials couldn't find a game-tying three late. They missed one, had a second opportunity squirt out of a shooter's hands (maybe a foul?) and a third chance was bobbled and missed after the buzzer anyway.
Quick takeaways: The A-10 is nuts, but with the win, the Bulldogs at least keep a share of first place. It's impossible to judge this early, with the middle of the league so cluttered, but seeding may end up being very important for the league tournament. A strong run there could net Butler a favorable NCAA seed and possible inclusion in the Midwest regional being hosted in their hometown of Indianapolis. Butler's defense has started to regain its form after an extended run of mediocre-to-worse performances where the Bulldogs had allowed at least 1.04 points per possession in six of nine games.
No. 21 Missouri 98, Mississippi 77
Alex Oriakhi made an impact all over the court. He tripped Ole Miss' Reginald Buckner (resulting in Buckner's ejection when he scrapped with Laurence Bowers) and treated Tigers fans to a 22-point, 18-rebound effort in an important win for the Tigers. Phil Pressey recorded four assists, which pushed him to the school's career assist record ahead of Anthony Peeler. Missouri tied a season-high by knocking down 12 threes.
Quick takeaways: Missouri improved to 14-0 at home and is 0-5 on the road. I thought Mike Anderson left for Arkansas? The win over a fellow SEC enigma was important because four of the next five are away and the only home game in that stretch is Florida. Missouri is no lock to make the NCAAs at just 6-5 vs. the top-100, and chances for big wins in the SEC are limited.
Ole Miss is in worse shape, even if they're still a game ahead of the Tigers in the league standings. The Rebels only have three top-100 wins and their "marquee" win is home over Missouri (which, again, hasn't won a road game this season). They also don't play Florida, Kentucky or Missouri again the rest of the way, meaning they could have a gaudy league record with very little substance. The Rebels could be an interesting discussion for the committee depending on how this breaks.
Memphis 89, Southern Miss 76
Geron Johnson had a breakout performance -- 25 points (8-11 FG), eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals -- in a game Memphis really needed to start to shore up its NCAA credentials. The Tigers are now two games up in Conference USA, which is a good thing with some tough (by C-USA standards) games left on the slate.
Quick takeaways: This game is a good example of why Memphis had to get out of Conference USA (when they're not being coached by John Calipari, and they could fully transcend the league). This is the Tigers' best win of the season against a team that also could make the Field of 68, on the road, and the collective national response will be something like "So? C-USA stinks." To a point, that's true, but it shortchanges this win and the building momentum the Tigers have since some higher-profile setbacks in nonleague play. Johnson's emergence is another sign that the Tigers are better than they were when the nation last paid attention to them in December. One potential sour note: This tweet from a Memphis reporter that suggests the Tigers may have lost Antonio Barton to an ankle injury.
Conversely, this is a disappointing loss for the Golden Eagles, who are squarely in the "good team, unacceptable NCAA profile" category. They drop to 0-6 against the RPI top-100 with the home loss. That's not going to cut it. They almost certainly will need to grab C-USA's auto bid, and definitely will should they not be able to win the rematch at Memphis.
No. 6 Gonzaga 74, Loyola Marymount 55
Kelly Olynyk had another solid game in the easy victory, but that's really secondary to the dynamic developing in the Northwest. With all the mayhem swirling elsewhere, it's becoming more and more possible to think the Zags could run the table the rest of the way and land a 1-seed in the NCAAs. On the other hand, they still have to put away the WCC and that means handling Saint Mary's, which only has one league loss, in Moraga on Thursday night.
No. 13 Kansas State 79, Iowa State 70
Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez combined for 42 points and the Wildcats moved to 8-2 in the Big 12. That means that they will be the first-place team when they arrive in Lawrence Monday night for the in-state showdown with Kansas. That's ... unbelievable. The Wildcats are also pushing harder for a spot in the Kansas City subregional in the NCAAs.
UNLV 64, No. 15 New Mexico 55
In a ragged but entertaining game, the Rebels were in control for the entire contest but never leveled the knockout punch that would have ended the contest. Anthony Bennett notched another double-double. So did New Mexico's Alex Kirk, which used its double-big alignment again and got 30 points and 22 rebounds from Kirk and Cameron Bairstow. Unfortunately for the Lobos, they went through long stretches of the game where they weren't able to get the ball inside successfully, and it cost them. The win closes the gap at the top of the Mountain West and moves Colorado State into a tie with the Lobos in the loss column.
Illinois State 75, No. 16 Creighton 72
Things have gotten real interesting in the Valley. The Bluejays' home loss -- their first of the league season -- creates a three-way tie at the top of the conference, with Wichita State and now upstart Indiana State sharing the perch. Will the committee reward all three of these teams with bids? Or will the series of recent losses from the teams at the top of the league be interpreted as weakness? That will be one of many interesting questions this season's committee has to wrestle with heading into March 17. The Redbirds' Tyler Brown exploded for 23 of his 27 points in the second half.
No. 23 Pitt 62, No. 17 Cincinnati 52
The Panthers have pushed their way into Big East contention after another quality road win. Pitt held the hosts without a field goal for the final 9:21 of the contest, thanks in large part to a zone they leaned on heavily in the second half. The Panthers have won seven of eight and visit league leader Marquette next Saturday. The Bearcats' rough week (including a loss at Providence) has dropped them into a tie for ninth in the conference.