by Nick Rotunno
Happy weekend, college basketball fans. I can’t believe it’s late January already… just a few more weeks and we’ll be talking brackets!
Now, with all those NFL Playoff games, weird scandals and high-profile confessions swirling around over the past 14 days, it’s possible that you were distracted in recent weeks, and maybe you watched a little football—or a little Oprah—instead of the usual college hoops action. Who can blame you? It was riveting TV.
Don’t you worry, though, because the Week in Review has got ya covered. We skipped last Friday, so today’s edition will cover the most noteworthy games from mid-month until now. To better organize this novella-length column, I’ll start with the top games from this week, and then recap several important matchups from the week of January 12 (since the column runs Friday, we start the week on Saturday). Yeah I know, it’s a little weird, but it’s the only sensible format I could come up with, so bear with me.
Keep in mind that the rankings are always in flux, and the number next to a certain team is the ranking it possessed when that particular game was played.
One last thing: Today’s Player of the Week feature will spotlight the top baller from the past two weeks, so it’s more like the Player of the Fortnight.
OK, enough small talk. Let’s get after it.
WEEK IN REVIEW—January 19-25
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 9 Butler 53, La Salle 54—Wednesday, January 23
Just four days after a slim victory over Gonzaga in Indianapolis, Butler again took part in a classic, one-point ballgame. But this time the Bulldogs fell short, losing a heartbreaker to the unheralded La Salle Explorers, an Atlantic 10 rival, in Philadelphia.
It all came down to the bitter end. After a tough Butler layup that put the Bulldogs up by one, with just a few seconds remaining in the game, La Salle’s Ramon Galloway hurried up court, made a quick move and drove hard against Roosevelt Jones. Protecting the ball, he dribbled down the left side, straight toward the bucket, and scored. The Bulldogs had one final shot, a long-range heave from Jones that bounced off the iron.
La Salle plays in a small gym by college standards, but all 3,400 spectators were on their feet Wednesday night. At one point Butler opened a 10-point lead, a sizable deficit against a team as physical as the Bulldogs. But La Salle hit some clutch shots and clawed back into the game, eventually closing the gap late in the second half.
According to ESPN, the Explorers hadn’t beaten a top-10 opponent since 1980. The students charged the floor to celebrate the win.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” Galloway told the Associated Press. “It’s one of the greatest wins ever in my life. I know it is for my teammates, too.”
Tyreek Dureen scored 15 points for La Salle, including a pair of second-half buckets that pushed the Explorers into the lead. Guard Sam Mills contributed 11 points and five rebounds. Galloway, who came off the bench, tallied six points and a pair of steals.
On the Butler side, center Andrew Smith scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Leading scorer Rotnei Clark didn’t play; a sprained neck has kept him on the sidelines for three games. Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens was characteristically composed after the tough loss.
“I’ve got to do a reasonable job of keeping this in perspective,” he told reporters. “We beat Richmond and Gonzaga without Rotnei, and we lost a one-point game at La Salle against a very good team without Rotnei. I think we have to keep that in perspective and move on.”
I wasn’t sure about making this contest my Game of the Week (‘Cuse vs Louisville was my other choice), but then I thought about all the storylines at play here. Powerful Butler, just two years removed from its National Championship runs, versus a small Philadelphia school with less money, less notoriety, fewer resources, a tiny gym. La Salle down by 10 but coming back. An unknown player hitting a layup at the buzzer, the hero shot. Fans storming the court and mobbing the team. Players choked with emotion afterwards. What more could we ask for?
Plus, there’s this quote from La Salle coach John Giannini, a man who clearly believes in his team:
“It was a dramatic win for our players, our fans, our students. It was awesome. But am I going to tell you I’m shocked that we won? Absolutely not.”
That’s the kind of brash confidence you need when you battle a team like Butler.
The Bulldogs moved to 3-2 in the A-10, 16-3 overall. Their No. 9 ranking is obviously in danger. La Salle, sitting at 3-2, is just one game behind in the conference standings. Both squads are looking up at Xavier, No. 16 VCU and—oddly enough—Charlotte, which all have four A-10 wins.
Saturday, January 19
No. 6 Syracuse 70, No. 1 Louisville 68
In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting Syracuse to win this game—on the road against the No. 1 team in the country, in the sparkly-new and packed-to-the-rafters KFC Yum! Center (not a great name, but a beautiful arena), against a talented Rick Pitino-led team. But I underestimated smooth point guard Brandon Triche, who was sensational for the Orange, and Syracuse’s most effective weapon: The Zone.
Triche was on fire to start the game, hitting three’s and crossing up defenders. He can change direction on a dime, and he slithered into soft spots in the Louisville defense (the Cardinal played some zone, too), finding those open areas where he could shoot or dish to teammates. At halftime the score was knotted at 38, and Triche had scored 18 of his eventual 23 points.
After a rough first half, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams got rolling in the second. He scored 11 of the Orange’s final 13 points, including a steal-and-dunk-it combo with 23 seconds remaining in the game. Carter-Williams finished with 16 points and seven assists on the night.
The Syracuse 2-3—that long-limbed, constantly rotating zone that has frustrated so many offenses over the years—did its job on Saturday, holding a talented Louisville squad to 40.7 percent from the field. Still, Louisville had a chance to win it, but late turnovers and big plays from the Orange gave Syracuse a critical conference victory.
Russ Smith was Louisville’s top scorer, racking up 25 points on 8-18 shooting.
‘Cuse scored another Big East win over Cincinnati on Monday, bringing its record to 18-1. The Orange host Louisville in the Carrier Dome on March 2—circle the calendar.
No. 8 Gonzaga 63, No. 13 Butler 64
Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been rolling through the WCC, but they faced a stiff nonconference test against Butler at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler’s Roosevelt Jones, an unconventional player who hits ridiculous running flip-shots all the time, knocked down a ridiculous running flip-shot at the buzzer to knock off the 8th-ranked Zags.
Gonzaga had this game in hand: Ahead 63-62, needing only to inbound the ball and get fouled, the Zags turned it over on a horrendous miscommunication at half court. With 3.5 seconds left, Jones galloped toward the rim and hit the game-winner.
As Butler coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game, “These guys make you believe.”
It was Butler’s 13th straight win (a streak that would end on Wednesday against La Salle). Jones scored a game-high 20 points and snared eight rebounds. Guard Kellen Dunham added 15 points for the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga’s reserve forward Sam Dower and starter Elias Harris had 20 points each.
For some fun commentary on Gonzaga, Butler and playing at Hinkle Fieldhouse—a barn with plenty of… umm… idiosyncrasies—check out Mark Titus’s column at Grantland.com.
No. 15 San Diego State 45, Wyoming 58
How ‘bout them Cowboys? Wyoming knocked off a potent San Diego State team on Saturday, adding another W to its impressive 15-2 record (now 15-3, as of Thursday). Sharp-shooting Leonard Washington had 14 points and 14 rebounds for the ‘Boys, a man-sized double-double, while Derrious Gilmore piled up 13 points.
And what defense! Wyoming held SDSU to 28.8 percent from the field (17-59). San Diego State scored just nine points in the first half. Sure, it didn’t help that the Aztecs missed all but two of the 18 three-pointers they chucked, and clearly had one of the worst shooting nights ever.
But the lads from Laramie are a quality team, and at this point in the conference season the Cowboys look like contenders for the Mountain West title. Maybe it’s a long shot, but still… I’m seated firmly aboard Wyoming’s rickety old Conestoga bandwagon.
Wisconsin 66, Iowa 70
At last, my beloved Hawkeyes knocked off a quality Big Ten opponent. Wisconsin, just a few days removed from beating No. 2 Indiana, rolled into Iowa City with the best record in the conference and left town with its first Big Ten loss.
Iowa’s Aaron White led all scorers with 17 points, while Devyn Marble chipped in 13 for the Hawkeyes. It was a meaningful game for the Hawks, in more ways than one—Iowa honored the memory of former player Chris Street, who passed away 20 years ago Saturday.
I’ve been hyping the Hawkeyes all season—they’re young, well coached and athletic. And they can shoot pretty well, too. But Iowa is still mercurial and inconsistent, fighting for a spot among the league’s elite teams. If the Hawks can hang with Wisconsin, though, they can hang with anyone.
Displaying its typical parity and competitiveness, the Big 10 is battering itself into a mishmash of very good teams with very respectable records, many of which are ranked in the top 25. But there’s no clear-cut favorite to win the league. Of course Michigan, Michigan State, OSU and Indiana are all in contention, and—with a little luck—Minnesota, Illinois or Wisconsin could probably compete for the Big Ten title as well. Hell, even Iowa could give it a shot. At the conference tourney, with its one-and-done, winner-take-all drama, anyone can make a run.
No doubt about it, February will be a very interesting month in Big Ten country.
Other Saturday notables:
No. 7 Arizona 71, Arizona State 54
No. 17 Missouri 52, No. 10 Florida 83
No. 11 Ohio State 56, No. 18 Michigan State 59
No. 21 Oregon 76, No. 24 UCLA 67
Monday, January 21
Georgetown 63, No. 24 Notre Dame 47
Not much to say here, other than Notre Dame isn’t quite as good as we all thought it was. Otto Porter Jr scored 19 points for the Hoyas. The Irish shot around 35 percent from the field and made only 2-16 from beyond the arc.
Tuesday, January 22
No. 3 Kansas 59, No. 11 Kansas State 55
By all accounts, this one was ugly—as befitting an in-state rivalry betwixt two tough, physical teams. The Jayhawks held on for a four-point Big 12 victory, taking hold of first place in the conference with a 5-0 record.
K-State pulled within three points in the final minute of the game, but Kansas nailed a handful of clutch free throws to ice the victory. Travis Releford scored 12 points for the Jayhawks, a team-high. Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore had 11 points apiece.
“That game went just as all you predicted, not the most artistic,” Kansas coach Bill Self said to reporters.
Other Tuesday notables:
No. 5 Louisville 64, Villanova 73
No. 13 Michigan State 49, Wisconsin 47
Wednesday, January 23
No. 1 Duke 63, Miami 90
Hmm… not the result I expected. Credit the Hurricanes, though, because it’s a rare thing to beat a Coach K team by almost 30 points. So much for that No. 1 ranking…
Other Wednesday notables:
No. 17 Creighton 69, Drake 74
SDSU 78, Nevada 57
Thursday, January 24
Purdue 53, No. 2 Michigan 68
An inspired Purdue outfit opened a one-point lead at the end of the first half, but in the end Michigan was just too good—the Wolverines pulled away in the second frame and secured another Big Ten victory.
The vaunted Michigan backcourt was characteristically excellent: Trey Burke scored a game-high 15 points, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. had 13. Inside-outside threat Glenn Robinson III had 12 points and nine rebounds.
If Michigan beats Illinois in Champaign on Sunday, the Wolverines will be the No. 1 team in the land.
UCLA 84, No. 6 Arizona 73
Ben Howland’s Bruins weren’t fazed by the whiteout in Arizona—they took command early and held off the Wildcats for a solid Pac-12 win. Freshman Shabazz Muhammad scored 23 points for UCLA, Larry Drew II had nine assists and David Wear collected 15 points and eight boards.
The surging Bruins have won 11 of their last 12.