Posted by MATT JONES
1. Top two escape at home: With Duke losing earlier this week to Florida State, next week’s top two teams will be Ohio State and Kansas. However both squads got quite a test from unlikely opponents at home on Saturday. Ohio State was forced to rely on a clutch performance from the top freshman in America, Jared Sullinger, who produced a key three point play with 13 seconds to go and the score tied, in order to beat surprising Penn State. The Buckeyes trailed at times in the game and looked more vulnerable than at any point in the past few weeks, potentially giving future Big Ten opponents insight into how to beat its multi-pronged attack. As for Kansas, it slept walked through much of the game, falling behind by ten points to Nebraska early in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks did just enough to survive down the stretch, but its 63-60 win suggests that its previous close calls to Michigan, UCLA and USC aren’t simply aberrations, but are par for the Jayhawks’ course. While both teams will go into next week, Nos. 1 and 2, they also both look quite beatable by virtually any team in their respective conferences
2. No lead is safe: Vanderbilt had to assume its quick 17 point lead against rival Tennessee would be enough to help it win in Knoxville and slam the door shut on the Vols’ bizarre season. But a late run led by Scotty Hopson helped the Vols to a comeback victory that gives them a slim sliver of life left in the SEC. With Bruce Pearl not yet halfway through his suspension, the win kept Tennessee from opening up conference play 0-3 and showcased that even though its fans were ill-prepared for the rivalry game (only 500 or so people showed up for a College Gameday taping before the game), its players weren’t ready to demolish the season just yet. Even more impressive was the absurd comeback by Louisville, which looked on the verge of NIT land when down 18 to Marquette at home with 5:44 left. But with a late dash of steals, quick scores and four Preston Knowles three-pointers, it made one of the more improbable comebacks in recent college basketball history. For Rick Pitino, the game means his team keeps its head above water in the Big East, while Marquette’s Buzz Williams has to live with one of the worst coaching and team collapses in recent memory.
3. Florida disappoints again: No team is more impossible to predict this season than the Florida Gators. The same team that won impressively in road games at Tennessee and Xavier, has fallen at home to Central Florida, Jacksonville and today, South Carolina. The 72-69 loss to the Gamecocks comes right as I was about to take Florida seriously once again. It looked tremendous in its gutsy win over the Vols in Knoxville and the combination of Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons, Erving Walker and Kenny Boyton seemed to give the Gators enough multiple scoring threats to make them scary in conference play. But now after the loss, we are left with the same Florida team that has disappointed so often in the last three years. Inconsistency, thy name is Florida.
4. San Diego State and Texas A&M are legit: If you saw San Diego State in the pack of unbeatens and determined that they were simply a fluke beneficiary of fortunate scheduling, I hope you took note of today’s 87-77 win at New Mexico. The Aztecs controlled the game at the Pit, led by D.J. Gay’s 30 points and an impressively diverse set of offensive options that make them a terror to try and defend. While New Mexico isn’t a Top 25 team, it is talented and a win in one of the best home courts in America is proof that Steve Fisher’s group is not to be taken lightly. Similarly, if you were ready to assume that No. 13 Texas A&M was going to fade in Big 12 play, that conclusion also may need to be revisited. The Aggies won a hard fought 91-89 Overtime victory over Missouri that showcased what a talent it has in Sophomore Khris Middleton. His name spelling is similar to the Aggies as a team, surprising and orthodox, but potentially with the win over Missouri, now a contender for best in a suddenly deep Big 12 conference.
5. A-10 and Conference USA Flops: Both the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA leagues consider themselves to be worthy of respect and national attention and often shun the notion that they are “second-tier” leagues in college basketball. When one of the leagues has a dominant team, it is thus good for its image as a potential national power, as showcased by St. Joseph’s and Memphis in recent years. Until today, both teams thought another such team could exist this year, but Temple and Central Florida both laid an egg in humiliating road defeats. Neither Temple’s 78-66 loss to Duquesne nor Central Florida’s 86-69 defeat at Southern Miss was ever close and both defeats exposed the weaknesses of the previously ranked teams. For now at least, both leagues will suffer from diminished attention due to the lack of power at the top of the standings.