A roundup of high-quality NCAA games.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
#14 Georgetown 68 – Utah State 51: The Hoyas are putting together arguably the strongest non-conference resume. The Aggies were added to the list of impressive early season victims (Old Dominion, Wofford, Missouri, NC State) of Georgetown’s stingy defense and standout backcourt. Even when the three-pointers weren’t available/falling on Saturday (Georgetown makes on average 11 threes a game, but only made two of nine attempts vs. Utah State), the Hoyas were able to score by aggressively attacking the paint and drawing fouls (Georgetown made 20-27 free throws while Utah State attempted only 8). Expect Georgetown to crack the top 10 on Monday.
#1 Duke 82 – Butler 70: Butler has obviously struggled a bit to start the season (the road loss to Louisville is mildly excusable, but the home defeat at the hands of the mighty Evansville Purple Aces was puzzling), but I was shocked at how quickly people were dismissing their chances in the rematch of last year’s title game. Duke is the class of the country right now, but Butler is still largely the same team as last season. No Gordon Hayward this year obviously, but one would assume that, despite their early-season issues, the confidence gained from last April’s close defeat (that was apparently a few degrees away on the Hayward half-court heave from being a win) and the return of all-world defender/leader Ronald Nored from a concussion would help them keep this game close.
Duke’s depth and size advantage at every position eventually wore the Bulldogs down, but the game was tied at halftime and was within reach for Butler until the final minutes. Maybe if Matt Howard doesn’t get into foul trouble (that’s kind of like hoping the sun won’t rise in the morning) or Shelvin Mack doesn’t cramp up then Butler has a better chance, but there is clearly no shame in this loss for Brad Stevens. Despite Cleveland State’s undefeated record (which everyone seems to be really excited about), Butler is still the team to beat in the Horizon League.
North Carolina 75 – #11 Kentucky 73: You get the feeling Roy Williams has been waiting for a win like this for about a year and a half. The young Tarheels finally demonstrated the poise, toughness, and mental growth needed to finish close games. The effort was far from pretty. North Carolina still needs to find/develop a reliable ball handler for end of game situations (Williams was forced to throw to put the ball in the hands of his center, Tyler Zeller, in crunch time, because of his touch from the line), and this is still an awful, awful three point shooting team. But after his 27-point outburst, Zeller could be emerging as this team’s go-to-guy. It’s just one win over an equally overrated and even younger team, but the Tarheels have to start somewhere.
Kentucky is going to be inconsistent until they can get reliable production from all three of their star freshmen. It was Doron Lamb’s turn for a breakout game (24 points), but Terrence Jones struggled from the field ( 3-17) and Brandon Knight’s turnovers continue to be an issue. John Calipari simply doesn’t have the depth to overcome off nights from two of the three.
#19 San Diego State 83 – Wichita State 69: In a battle of mid-major favorites, the Aztecs continued to show why they are the country’s fastest rising team in addition to being the top squad out West. Billy White’s monster season continued, dropping 24 points on the Shockers, and Kawhi Leonard quietly registered 16 points and 12 boards. Wichita coach Greg Marshall said after the game what a lot of people are thinking, calling the Aztecs a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 team, “if they get the right draw…they’re dynamite.”
Marshall’s team, on the other hand, may have just lost any chance of an NCAA at-large bid. Having missed opportunities for quality wins vs. Connecticut and now San Diego State, the Shockers might have to rely on the MVC auto-bid to make it into the field of 68.
#21 Illinois 73 – #24 Gonzaga 61: Illinois was a trendy pick to challenge in the ultra-competitive Big-10 this season, and so far they have not disappointed. Illinois’ roster, in terms of pure talent, compares very favorably to conference foes like Michigan State and Ohio State. All five starters reached double figures vs. Gonzaga, including 15 points a piece from D.J. Richardson and Mike Tisdale. It’s hard to judge Gonzaga on their non-conference performance so far. As usual the Zags have played an extremely tough non-league schedule, and they haven’t had Elias Harris at full strength since he suffered a minor Achilles injury in the San Diego State loss. He came off the bench to play 24 minutes and score 12 points on Saturday night, but Harris is the most dynamic player on Mark Few’s roster. Gonzaga should be alright once Steven Gray and Elias Harris are running around together for 35-40 minutes a game again.
USC 73 – #20 Texas 56: So maybe Texas didn’t learn from how much it stinks to be in the 8-9 first round matchup after all. That is where Longhorns may be headed again, despite a loaded roster and signs of improvement from last season’s disastrous falloff. A struggling USC team (which came into this game with loses to Rider, Bradley, TCU, and Nebraska) at the bottom of the punching bag that is the Pac-10 dominated Texas behind a career high 24 points from forward Nikola Vucecic. Texas has a nice-looking win over Illinois on its resume, but this team had good wins at the beginning of last year too. The Longhorns play well together when things are going well, but at the first sign of adversity, individual players crawl back into their shells of selfish basketball. There’s still time to improve on this, but Rick Barnes better hurry: the top of the Big 12 will be unforgiving this season.
Montana 66 – UCLA 57: This Pac-10 performance is much harder to explain. Coming off what should have been a confidence-boosting, team-rallying performance at Kansas, a home game against the 3-3 Montana Grizzlies was supposed to be a great chance to continue to build momentum…not a resume crippling defeat. Maybe UCLA’s players and coaches were too busy worrying about the controversial foul call at Phog Allen last week instead of learning from what made them successful against the Jayhawks. Maybe it was simply an off night. Whatever, the case, UCLA should never lose to Montana at Pauley Pavilion. A really puzzling result after what seemed like a major step-forward at Kansas.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.