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Monday Look Back: Illinois proves it's a true contender

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North Carolina beat Kentucky, Kemba Walker entered the record book, Old Dominion blew a chance to make the Top 25 (and one) and Trevor Mbakwe scored a bunch of points on free throws. In other words, it was a busy weekend in college basketball. There's no better way to recap it than with the Monday Look Back.

Tyler Zeller was one of many future pros on display Saturday in Chapel Hill. (AP)  
Tyler Zeller was one of many future pros on display Saturday in Chapel Hill. (AP)  
Best game of the weekend: It wasn't well-played or inspiring for either side, but Saturday's nonleague showdown between traditional powers Kentucky and North Carolina was fun to witness. Each side had at least three future pros -- Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson for the Tar Heels; Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight for the Wildcats -- on the court at most times, and the sellout crowd at the Dean Smith Center created a nice atmosphere. North Carolina ultimately won 75-73 because of the dominance of Zeller (and because Lamb missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer). So while I exited with more questions than answers about both talented but flawed teams, the Tar Heels and Wildcats combined to keep me entertained for two-plus hours Saturday, and that's good enough for early December.

Worst game of the weekend: Rivalry games can supposedly go any direction at almost any time, but not Saturday's between UNLV and Nevada. The Rebels held their WAC opponent to no field goals for nearly the first 11 minutes, jumped to a 22-2 lead and cruised to an 82-70 win. Consequently, UNLV remained undefeated after a trip to Reno, which is more than the Boise State football team can say.

Win to brag about: Just beating Gonzaga isn't all that impressive, considering Kansas State and San Diego State did it last month. But the way Illinois beat the Zags on Saturday -- by shooting 52 percent from 3-point range, by limiting Steven Gray to just two points until midway through the second half, by holding Mark Few's team to 19 percent shooting from beyond the arc -- was impressive, and the Illini's 73-61 victory in Seattle reinforced my belief that they're an excellent candidate to join Duke and two other schools at the Final Four in Houston.

Loss to hide from: I had a difficult time settling on a final team for the Top 25 (and one), mostly because of Old Dominion's 75-67 loss to Delaware on Saturday. If not for that, the Monarchs would've been ranked with a 6-1 record featuring a lone loss to Georgetown and wins over Clemson, Xavier and Richmond. As it is, they're 5-2 with a loss to Delaware. So if Arizona fans are looking for somebody to thank for their Top 25 (and one) ranking, they should thank Monte Ross' Blue Hens because Delaware's win over Old Dominion is what made Arizona's ranking possible.

Player who deserves improper benefits: Kemba Walker maintained his unofficial (and incredibly early) lead in the National Player of the Year race by recording just the eighth triple-double in Connecticut history during Friday's 94-61 win over UMBC. The junior guard finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists against the Retrievers, who are 0-7 on the season, but still. Lots of players play against bad teams every week; almost none of them record triple-doubles. Don't forget that.

Player who does not deserve improper benefits: Washington beat Texas Tech on Saturday. The final was 108-79. So a total of 187 points were scored in the game, and Texas Tech's Mike Singletary only got six of them, and all six came in the first half. Truth be told, the Red Raiders were probably going to lose at Washington regardless of how Singletary played or how many points he scored. But a six-point/seven-rebound effort from the same guy who was coming off a 29-point/13-rebound effort is still disappointing given how it made it impossible for Texas Tech to even be competitive against the Huskies.

Why I'm smarter than you think: I watched Boston College three times at the Old Spice Classic, got home and wrote a column about how the Eagles seemed to have learned something from their early loss to Yale. They were 4-2 when I filed the column last Tuesday. Twenty-four hours later they dealt Indiana its first loss of the season, and then they did the same to UMass on Saturday by a 76-71 margin. So Steve Donahue is on my good side right now because that's all I ever really ask of coaches. If I write nice things about you, make me look smart for doing it. Donahue is living up to his end of the arrangement. I'm appreciative.

Why I'm dumber than I think: I ranked 26 teams in the preseason -- one more than the AP and coaches polls -- and yet still couldn't find a place for Georgetown even though the Hoyas returned every relevant player except Greg Monroe from a roster than earned a No. 3 seed in last March's NCAA tournament. The decision didn't make much sense at the time, and now it just looks flat stupid considering Saturday's 68-51 win over Utah State has Georgetown sitting at 8-0 with victories over Missouri, Old Dominion and North Carolina State.

Three things you should know before you go

1. Murray State was the overwhelming favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference and a team worthy of preseason Top 25 votes based on the fact that the Racers returned the top three scorers from a roster than won 31 games and beat Vanderbilt in last season's NCAA tournament. A month into the season, Murray State is 4-4 overall and 0-1 in the OVC after Saturday's 75-65 loss to Morehead State, and now the realistic hope of an at-large bid to -- and/or a nice seed in -- the NCAA tournament is probably gone.

2. Trevor Mbakwe had an unusual scoring line Saturday. The junior college transfer finished with 12 points, 16 rebounds and no field goals in Minnesota's 71-66 win over Cornell. He was 0 for 4 from the field and 12 for 20 from the free-throw line. Neither percentage is great (or even good). But 12 points and 16 rebounds is 12 points and 16 rebounds, far as I'm concerned.

3. Sunday night was a strange night in Los Angeles. Southern California -- which was coming off a double-digit loss to TCU -- beat Texas 73-56 at the Galen Center, and Montana -- which was coming off a loss to Portland -- beat UCLA 66-57 at Pauley Pavilion. It was the Bruins' fourth straight loss, by the way. They're now 3-4 on the season.

On tap: Kansas State will play the first of two tuneups before consecutive games against Florida and UNLV when the Wildcats host Alcorn State on Monday night. The Jimmy V Classic featuring a doubleheader of Memphis-Kansas and Syracuse-Michigan State is Tuesday night at New York's Madison Square Garden. Vanderbilt will get its first road test when the Commodores visit Missouri on Wednesday. Two great non-BCS programs will meet Thursday when Butler plays Xavier at Cintas Center.

Final thought: San Diego State played as a ranked team for the first time in history back on Nov. 13.

The Aztecs beat Long Beach State that night.

Afterward, Steve Fisher talked about the win and the polls.

"We're going to look again Dec. 4," he said, "and see if we can find ourselves."

Well, it's now Dec. 6, and the Aztecs are 8-0, ranked No. 9 in the Top 25 (and one) and set to move into the top 15 of both the AP and coaches polls, so things are going well. San Diego State has recorded notable victories over Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and, most recently, Wichita State in front of SDSU's second straight sellout crowd of 12,414, which is remarkable given the history of the program. Simply put, things haven't always been this way at San Diego State. In fact, things have never been this way at San Diego State.

"I told our players, 'You're the reason this is like it is,'" Fisher said. "And I said, 'When you go out there for that jump ball ... just for a second, look at all the people who are here to see you and enjoy what you've accomplished. They're here to help you accomplish more.'"

But how much more?

I'll let Wichita State's Gregg Marshall answer that question.

"That's a team that's a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight type team if they get the right draw, get a couple of breaks and stay healthy," Marshall told reporters late Saturday. "They're dynamite."


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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