Saturday, December 20, 2008

Aaand...Welcome to College Basketball

If college basketball were college football, ESPN would have some corny nickname for Saturday's multitude of great games, like "Statement Saturday" or something along the lines of that. Michigan State at Texas. Duke vs. Xavier. Davidson at Purdue. Syracuse at Memphis. The best of them all, Connecticut at Gonzaga. Top-25 teams squaring off against high-quality competition all across the country made for a fantastic day of college hoops. Looking back at the day and night as a whole, though, one could look at it as the day that really kicked off college basketball for the 2008-2009 campaign.

Sure, us die-hard fans have been following the season for about five weeks now, but most casual fans are still working off their college football hangover and have not had a chance to really take in the hoops landscape for this season. With ice and snow covering much of the country, it was the perfect day to watch marquee match-up after marquee match-up and check out some of the top teams and players in the country. If you were one of those people who haven't really been able to catch up on the season until today, you couldn't have chosen a better day. Here's a look at some of the highlights and storylines from the December 20 slate of games.

- West Virginia kicking off the day with a 36-point shellacking of Miami (Ohio), who usually doesn't give up more than 65 or 70 points in a game. The Mountaineers are going to be a tough out in the Big East.

- Look who has all of a sudden won eight of its last nine games: Kentucky. The Wildcats continue to improve behind the scoring of Jodie Meeks, who dropped in 46 points in a win over Appalachian State.

- Georgetown needed to hold Mount St. Mary's scoreless for the final three and a half minutes in order to secure a win today; the Hoyas shot just 38 percent on the day.

- Wofford's Tim Johnson missed two free throws with fewer than five seconds left in overtime, allowing Georgia's Zac Swansey to race down the court and hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 74-73 win.

- Minnesota improved to 10-0 this season with an upset of No. 9 Louisville, 70-64. The Cardinals had awful days from all three point guard options: Edgar Sosa, Andre McGree and Preston Knowles. They need to figure that position out if they want to contend for a Big East and/or national championship. On the other hand, the Golden Gophers look better and better.

- In a match-up of top-10 teams, No. 6 Duke jumped out to a 22-3 lead on No. 7 Xavier before the Musketeers could muster their first field goal of the game. Most college basketball fans knew Xavier was good, but not that good -- this proved it.

- Durrell Summers scored Michigan State's last five points to give the Spartans a 67-63 road victory over No. 5 Texas. Michigan State had a lot of hype heading into the season and this game might have given them their swagger back. A.J. Abrams had just eight points in 40 points for Texas.

- Temple couldn't pull off another upset, as the Owls fell on the road to Kansas, 71-59. Dionte Christmas did hit another six three-pointers, though.

- USC needed to overcome a halftime deficit to defeat North Dakota State by four. NDSU shot only 37 percent from the field, 31 percent from three-point range and 57 percent from the free-throw line, yet USC barely won because they didn't knock down a three all day.

- Arizona couldn't get another big win this weekend, as UNLV defeated the Wildcats by 15 after a huge second half in which Wink Adams and Tre'Von Willis took over for the Rebels. They could be a tough team to beat come March, while Arizona still needs to develop consistency.

- Tennessee barely beat Belmont, knocking off the Bruins by just two points. The Vols miss J.P. Prince, who is still out with an injury.

- In the Battle in Seattle, Gonzaga blew a nine-point second half lead to fall in overtime to the second-ranked Connecticut Huskies. The Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the field -- which is usually unheard of against UConn -- but Austin Daye, Matt Bouldin and Micah Downs all fouled out, leading them shorthanded in the extra period. On the other side, Hasheem Thabeet was disqualified for Connecticut after picking up his fifth foul on a ridiculous technical foul for taunting. The Huskies did not miss him too much, as Gavin Edwards had 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks off the bench. A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson combined for 45 points for Connecticut. Price's off-balance three-pointer with the clock winding down in regulation to tie the game was unbelievable.

- As goes Stephen Curry, goes Davidson. The All-American shot 5-of-26 from the field, including 2-of-12 from three-point range, and also committed six turnovers, as the Wildcats were drilled by Purdue, 76-58. Defensive stopper Chris Kramer proved once again that he is one of the toughest defenders in the country.

- The best ending of the day might have belonged to the BYU-Arizona State match-up. A back-and-forth affair all day, Arizona State took the lead with nine seconds left as James Harden hit the second of two free throws. After the Sun Devils knocked the ball out of bounds with three seconds left, BYU's Charles Abuou laid in a Jonathan Tavernari miss over his shoulder as the buzzer sounded. The referees originally counted the basket, but overturned it after seeing the replay, giving the Sun Devils the victory. My opinion? I didn't think it was good as it happened, but thought it might have counted after seeing the replays. Very, very close call.

- One undefeated team fell, as LSU dropped a road game to Texas A&M, while another undefeated stayed alive, with Stanford knocking off Northwestern.

- In its first game without the suspended Eric Devendorf, No. 11 Syracuse handed defending national runner-up Memphis another loss, defeating the Tigers 72-65 on their home floor. Devendorf's replacement, Andy Rautins, had nine points in 38 minutes. Memphis shot just 34 percent from the field and 21 percent from three-point range. The Tigers missed a whopping 26 three-point attempts; looks like the Syracuse 2-3 zone is still effective.

- Seton Hall dropped its second game of the season, as IUPUI defeated the Pirates on a lay-up by Leroy Nobles at the buzzer. The Jaguars, who nearly beat Arizona State on the road last week, never trailed.

- No. 21 Baylor overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to beat Texas-Arlington, 79-76. The Bears didn't lead in the second half until just over six minutes remaining. The Mavericks' five losses this season have come by a total of 23 points.

- One top-10 team that avoided an upset was No. 4 Oklahoma, who defeated head coach Jeff Capel's former team, VCU, 81-70. Blake Griffin took just eight shots, finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds. Tony Crocker stepped up for the Sooners, though, hitting five threes en route to a 26-point performance. Star guard Eric Maynor struggled for the Rams, shooting just 5-of-18 from the field (2-9 from three-point range) and committing eight turnovers.

- With four top-10 teams losing and a couple others struggling before pulling out victories, I'm guessing I'm not the only one who senses the gap between North Carolina and everyone else is growing?

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