NCAA Weekend Recap
San Diego State stays on point; Duke bounces back; Texas A&M is no joke
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
Duke 76 – Virginia 60: Duke seemed hung over from their road loss to Florida State for a little more than a half on Saturday. Andre Dawkins’ energy off the bench woke them up. Led by the guard’s 12 second half points and Nolan Smith’s 29, the Blue Devils held off Virginia. I’m not sure anyone ever doubted the outcome of this one since it was at Cameron Indoor, but Duke is clearly not at its sharpest right now. It’s a good thing for Coach K that there’s plenty of room for error in the perfectly ordinary ACC.
Ohio State 69 – Penn State 66: So last week I gave Penn State some love for their consecutive upset wins over ranked conference opponents. I also happened to dismiss their chances of making a serious push for an NCAA Tournament bid (and irritate some Penn State fans in the process). Of course, the Nittany Lions went on to nearly stun No. 2 Ohio State on the road while Taylor Battle struggled through a 5-17 outing. So, take away #1: Penn State is clearly going to be a tough opponent the rest of the season. Take away #2: I underestimated Battle’s supporting cast. While still thin, David Jackson, Ryan Brooks, and Andrew Jones can, in fact, score. Take away #3: Ohio State might be the country’s new No. 1 team by the time you’re all reading this, but the team still needs to learn how dominate these inferior teams. This is the fourth opponent in a row the Buckeyes have failed to put away early.
Kansas 63 – Nebraska 60: Kansas and Ohio State are having similar seasons. Ohio State has the better resume in terms of quality wins, but each is coasting along with a roster overflowing with talent and a somewhat misleading undefeated records. Kansas is cutting it even closer than Ohio State, needing overtime to beat Michigan, getting past Iowa State by five points, and scratching out a three point win over Nebraska at home on Saturday. While the Jayhawks overcame tough road environments to win two of those games, Michigan and Iowa State are teams that Kansas should beat handily. The Morris twins are too much for most teams in the Big 12, but eventually Kansas is going to dig itself an early hole it can’t climb out of.
Syracuse 67 – Cincinnati 52: Another impressive, fairly dominant win over a competitive Big East team. Syracuse has had a pretty friendly early conference schedule. That isn’t Jim Boeheim’s fault (although he does traditionally like a home-heavy nonconference slate), and Cincinnati can’t be expected to win at the Carrier Dome, but the Bearcats are eventually going to need to steal one of these games against a Big East heavyweight to legitimize their lofty non-conference record. They will get another chance Wednesday at Notre Dame.
San Diego State 77 – New Mexico 67: The Aztecs continue to build college basketball’s top resume. With its win in the always difficult Pitt, and its early seasontriumphs at Gonzaga, versus Saint Mary’s, Wichita State, Cal, and UNLV, San Diego State is quietly sneaking up the national rankings. Every Mountain West game is treacherous, but the January 26th slugfest with National POY favorite (sorry Kemba) Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars in Provo might be the can’t-miss game of the year in college basketball (and one that 60% of college basketball fans probably will miss). Circle/star/highlight your calendars.
Villanova 74 – Maryland 66: Villanova is another team that has been gifted (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with a favorable early conference schedule. I can’t hold that against the Wildcats, and, unlike a lot of teams, they have taken care of business so far. But coming from behind to beat Maryland at home was huge, considering what lies ahead for the Wildcats in the next couple of weeks. Trips to Connecticut, Syracuse, and Providence, and then a home game with Georgetown (the Hoyas are struggling but match up extremely well with Nova’s quick guards) await Villanova. Jay Wright’s team will either be exposed or emerge from this stretch as a Final Four contender.
And the Terps can’t keep blowing these opportunities against ranked opponents, especially in a conference where they might not face another (besides Duke again) for the remainder of the season. Close calls against Pitt, Illinois, Temple, Duke, and now Villanova won’t impress the Selection Committee.
Texas A&M 91 – Missouri 89 OT: Probably the most exciting game of the day was in College Station, and the Texas A&M Aggies continue to demonstrate why they are college basketball’s most underrated and least talked about ranked team. The Aggies came into the game with one of the top ranked defenses in the country, but led by budding star forward Khris Middleton’s 28 points, Mark Turgeon’s team showed it can run and score with anyone as well. A huge test at Texas is next for the Aggies. With a win in Austin, Texas A&M would have to be considered a Big 12 favorite.
Mizzou has now been on the losing end of two of this season’s most exciting games (the other being their overtime loss to Georgetown in Kansas City). Against poised teams, Missouri’s pressure defense seems to be giving up more points than it is creating for the Tigers. That’ll have to be corrected for Missouri not to fall too far behind in the Big-12.
Wisconsin 76 – Illinois 66: Illinois was a trendy pick for Big-10 champion in the pre-season, but it looks like Wisconsin should’ve been in that discussion as well. It’s easy to forget about the Badgers because nothing Bo Ryan’s team does is trendy, but they are going to be near the top of the Big-10 standings the entire season. Jon Leuer is probably the most versatile big man in the country and one of the most underrated (his 26 points against the Illini led the Badgers) and Jordan Taylor has smoothly replaced and perhaps eclipsed his predecessor Trevon Hughes. Their only blemish in conference is the recent overtime road loss to a super-motivated and desperate Michigan State team. Hardly a disappointment.
Southern Mississippi 86 – Central Florida 69: Just included this to point out how mediocre, middling, blah, etc… Conference USA is this season. Actually, there are some decent teams in the league, just not one great team. It might end up being the dysfunctional Memphis Tigers who take the title. At this point, about all I can guarantee is 0-4 Rice won’t win the conference’s auto-bid. Central Florida’s undefeated non-conference run is long-gone. One or two more conference losses and their at-large hopes will be gone as well.
Colorado 75 – Oklahoma State 71: I’m officially on the Buffs bandwagon. The duo of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins has been too much for Big-12 opponents so far this season. Now 3-0 after a solid conference win over Oklahoma State, Colorado has put itself in a position to be 5-0 (with winnable games at Nebraska and Oklahoma upcoming) going into a potentially monster showdown at home with Kansas. Colorado’s undersized frontcourt will have issues against the freakishly athletic frontlines of Kansas and Texas, but I don’t see any reason why the Buffaloes can’t continue their recent success against the rest of the conference. The Buffs could be saying bye to the Big-12 with an NCAA Tournament bid.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.