What a day in College Basketball, the first full Saturday slate of College Basketball games left us with all-day entertainment. From the early upsets, the rivalry games, the controversial finishes, and the premier non-conference matchups, Saturday had it all. I won’t belabor you with any further introduction, so let’s begin the roundup.
Alabama beats Houston on a controversial call
How about this game to cap off the night, Alabama and Houston, two likely Top-10 teams going down to the wire and ending in a dramatic finish. Leading 83-82, Houston missed a shot, the ball was tipped off the rim and JD Davison soared in to clear the ball away from the rim as the buzzer sounded. The only question was whether it was a goaltend, which it was ruled that it was not. Whether you agree with the call, disagree, or are indifferent, my thought is that the ball was not going in either way based on the angle at which the ball was coming off the rim, so I wouldn’t have called it, but that’s just how I would have ruled it. The funnier thing was Kelvin Sampson chasing down the refs to get them to review the call, which isn’t allowed (Yes, add it to the rule book), while Nate Oats is standing at mid-court waiting for Sampson to give him a handshake. That is just tremendous content.
My main thoughts from the game were that it was a great game between two really good teams. Houston did a great job of slowing down Alabama from the perimeter, although fouled 28 times in the process. Houston dominated the boards, which allowed them extra shots like we all thought they would against an undersized Alabama team. In the end, it came down to who made the big plays late, and JD Davison’s putback dunk was the deciding factor in the outcome of the game. These are two teams that could make a Final Four and win a National Championship, so it was great to get them playing each other.
Arizona gets signature road win at Illinois
In the game of the day on Saturday, Arizona went on the road and beat Illinois 83-79 in a high-level basketball game. This was the most impressive win for Arizona on the season and the type of win that has me thinking that this team can win a National Championship. Illinois gave Arizona a great performance, Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer went for 27 and 25 points respectively, but they kept hanging in there and found a way to win. Defensively, Koloko did a great job slowing down Kofi Cockburn, holding him to only 13 points, albeit that gave space to the shooters, which didn’t help them. Offensively, this team just had a response to every Illinois run and that was key. Benedict Mathurin had 30 points to lead the Wildcats, he did an incredible job of just creating off the dribble and knocking down shots from deep. Kerri Kriisa continues to run the offense well, having 5 assists, plus 19 points, while Koloko had a tremendous impact in slowing down Cockburn. Arizona should at this point be the favorite to win the Pac-12 and they are good enough to win a National Championship.
Notre Dame honors LaPhonso Ellis, upsets Kentucky
It was a big day for Notre Dame basketball, as not only were they hosting a Top-10 team in Kentucky, but they were honoring LaPhonso Ellis as well. In the end, it was Blake Wesley’s jumper that was key to the day, as the freshman drilled the go-ahead basket, and after a turnover by Kentucky, Dane Goodwin dunked the ball at the buzzer as the crowd erupted onto the floor. This is College Basketball at its finest, a Notre Dame team that had been struggling all season long gets its opportunity and seizes it by beating Kentucky. Blake Wesley is certainly looking like he could be the next great Notre Dame player, the only hope for Notre Dame is that he can stay in College long enough to make a major impact. Kentucky has now played two decent teams, they lost handily to Duke and lost to Notre Dame, I predicted them to make the Final Four preseason but they’ve done nothing to prove that they deserve to even be ranked at this point.
Minnesota gets signature road win at Michigan
I don’t think anyone expected Minnesota to come into this game 7-1, but their schedule was manageable at the start. Winning this game may be what gets Ben Johnson looking like the Big Ten Coach of the year favorite. Jamison Battle, who seemed like an afterthought of the portal continues to shine at Minnesota, scoring 27 points in the game in this game. The Gophers have about 7-8 guys that Ben Johnson trusts, they play well together and defend hard. It may or may not be enough for this team to make the NCAA Tournament, but the fact that this is a discussion is a major credit to Johnson. As for Michigan, they continue to be heavily reliant on three-point shooting, if the team is making open shots, they can beat a lot of teams, if not, they are susceptible to an upset.
Ohio State takes care of Wisconsin in matchup of Top-25 teams
The Big Ten is going to give us lots of these Top-25 matchups all season and this one was one of the less entertaining ones. Wisconsin had an early lead but in the second half, Ohio State began to establish control of the game. In a matchup of Big Ten player of the year candidates, it was EJ Liddell that got the better of the matchup as he had 28 points, while Ohio State won 73-55. This Buckeyes team has begun rolling after a tough start, Liddell is starting to emerge as a legitimate Player of the year candidate, and Zed Key is now the clear #2 option. Inconsistency in the backcourt still will keep this team from being the Big Ten favorite but they are still a very good team.
Musselman gets ejected as Oklahoma handles Arkansas
Arkansas was one of the few unbeaten teams in College Basketball at this point in the season, but they also hadn’t played a great schedule to this point. Playing Oklahoma not only gave the Razorbacks their first test of the season but their first defeat as well. Oklahoma led 10-0, and while Arkansas made runs at times, they never really made the result a question. As Oklahoma was in the midst of putting the game away, Eric Musselman showed more energy as his team did all day, getting the double technical ejection, as the Sooners were able to win 88-66. Porter Moser has certainly done a great job with this Oklahoma team, getting significant offensive improvement from Jordan Goldwire and Elijah Harkless, while integrating a new group of players. The Sooners’ loss to Butler will never be good, but to rebound with a blowout win is a good sign, plus now Oklahoma is 2-0 against SEC teams.
Kansas dominates Missouri in return of Border War
After taking 9 years off of playing each other, with Missouri leaving the Big 12, the two reunited the series on Saturday. The return is good for the sport, we need big rivalry games like this, although the game was not that good. Kansas won by a final score of 102-65, Ochai Agbaji continued to play like an All-American, scoring 21, all five starters scored in double figures, even the bench got involved. Missouri is not a good team, but still, Kansas won this game like it was playing Southeast Missouri State. They are arguably the best offensive team in the sport and that makes them one of the favorites to cut down the nets in April.
Xavier handles Cincinnati in Crosstown Shootout
The Crosstown Shootout is one of the best rivalries in the sport, both these schools hate each other and want to beat the other like no other. In the end, it was Xavier who wanted to win this one more, as they won by 20. Jack Nunge continues to be the perfect transfer addition, coming off the bench and going for 31 points and 15 rebounds, Paul Scruggs added in 14 as well. This was a game that wasn’t all that close, Xavier led early and just kept building to it. Xavier just has more scorers than Cincinnati and that played out, whether it’s Nunge, Johnson, Scruggs, or someone else, this team just has so many players that can beat you, and that was the case in this game.
Mohammad stars in Georgetown’s win against Syracuse
Georgetown and Syracuse are old Big East foes, playing each other which is good for the sport. Even if both teams are down this season, this game is highly competitive and always close, with this just being the latest example. Syracuse had the lead much of the game, but just kind of let Georgetown stay in it, they didn’t get enough stops or have the offensive shot-making to put the game away. In the end, it was Aminu Mohammad who made the big plays for Georgetown, hitting the jumper to put them up one, then finding Kaiden Rice for the three that put the game away. His development has been key for the Hoyas this season and is a big reason they won this game. Georgetown might be the bottom team in the Big East this season but that’s more a testament to the league, more so than Georgetown being bad, which they won’t be when conference play hits.
Colorado State needs to be ranked after big win against Mississippi State
You know how you can tell if a team is good or not, it’s if they win a game they have no business winning. That was the case Saturday for Colorado State who trailed pretty much the entire game, but went on a late 17-2 run to take the lead for good. David Roddy had a casual 19 points, Isaiah Stevens had 10 assists and the Rams forced Mississippi State into 33% shooting. Colorado State is now 10-0 with wins against St. Mary’s, Creighton, and Mississippi State, them not being ranked come Monday would be atrocious, please rank them AP voters.
Baylor Scheierman’s three lifts South Dakota State to win against Washington State
While this is certainly not the biggest game of Saturday, it was the one with the most dramatic shot, as Baylor Scheierman drilled a step-back three to lead South Dakota State to a win against Washington State. The Jackrabbits are a solid program that are the favorites to win the Summit League, but this win is the first one that has people believing they could win a game or two in the Tournament. Noah Friedel is a star, Baylor Scheierman is a perfect bigger guard that can space the floor and run the point, while they have depth, talent and size to match up with teams. Every 4-5 seed will be hoping that come NCAA Tournament time they don’t draw the Jackrabbits in their first round matchup, as that could end in disappointment for teams. For Washington State, they might not be a Tournament team, we’ll have to wait and see on that, this is a team that has talent, size and athleticism to achieve a tournament bid. The question is whether they can get enough quality wins in a down PAC-12 to get them to the tournament at this point, because their resumé won’t be clean enough with losses now to South Dakota State and Eastern Washington, they aren’t out of making the Tournament but they’ve certainly dug themselves a hole.
Creighton handles BYU in their first major win of the season
Creighton had purposely scheduled somewhat easier to start the season, with their younger pieces needing time to adjust to their roles. Saturday was this whole season starting to come together as the Blue Jays took care of BYU. The Jays led by as many as 20 and were in full control all game long, Ryan Hawkins had 25 points on 4-8 shooting from deep. Ryan Nembhard continued to improve, scoring 17, while Ryan Kalkbrenner took advantage of a depleted front line. Creighton now enters Big East play looking like a legitimate Tournament contender, but we’ll see if they can go .500 in league play to lock up a bid. The Cougars have struggled with both Gavin Baxter and Richard Harward being injured, they still should make the NCAA Tournament but I don’t think they have second-weekend potential at this point.