If there's one thing we know about this particular college basketball season, it's that the unexpected has become the ordinary. No. 1-ranked teams have been dropping like flies. Heavy underdogs are not only covering double-digit spreads with regularity, but winning outright. Even if you've got a single-digit ranking next to your name, you're not safe.
Just ask No. 11 Ohio State, No. 18 Virginia and No. 20 Penn State, who all fell Saturday to unranked teams. The trio is just the latest bit of proof that this season has gone full tilt bananas. What you think you know, you don't.
The list of those who didn't succumb to that trend on Saturday is slim, and there were some nail-biters in there, too: No. 13 Louisville played with fire and escaped with a 67-64 win over Notre Dame and No. 14 Kentucky kicked Alabama to the curb 76-67 after playing tug-of-war to the end.
Others weren't quite as on the edge: No. 1 Gonzaga cruised to a 25-point win, No. 5 Auburn scooted past Georgia with ease and No. 15 Dayton crushed UMass. Those were the few and the fortunate. Some were winners, others losers, and the rest? They're included in our winners and losers recap from Saturday below.
Winner: Creighton's credentials
The Bluejays were impressive and relentless on the road against Xavier, moving to 13-4 and validating their status as a likely 2020 NCAA Tournament team thanks to a 77-65 win. Heading into the season, Creighton was considered the biggest tossup/mystery team in the Big East.
But no more.
The Jays (2-2 in the Big East) are in the top half of the conference in terms of quality, this we think we know. Greg McDermott's team now has two road Ws this season, plus a defeat of Texas Tech in Las Vegas. Here's our heads-up to you now: Creighton is unlikely to make big headlines the next eight weeks, but it's a deep sleeper pick to be an 8 seed-type of team to crack into the Sweet 16. Mitch Ballock had 15 of his 19 points come from 3s on Saturday. Marcus Zegarowski has flawlessly taken over at point guard and is probably a top-five guard in the league now. And how about this split: Creighton's 12-0 when it hits 70 points. It's only won once when failing to do so.
And, for McDermott, his 500th career win. Not a flashy team, but a fairly good one.
Loser: Vanderbilt's fortunes
The most impactful bit of SEC news to sneak out on Saturday wasn't on the court. Vanderbilt sophomore star Aaron Nesmith, the league's leader in scoring, could potentially miss the rest of the season with what Vanderbilt fears is a stress fracture in his foot, . Nesmith's been a revelation for the Commodores this season, averaging 23.0 points per game and rising up NBA Draft boards as a first-round prospect. He missed Saturday's game against Texas A&M -- Vandy didn't confirm the injury but said ahead of tip that he'd miss the game -- and is expected to miss extended time even if he does return this season. If he's indeed played his last game of the season, he may have played his last college game due to his rising NBA stock. It'd be the second consecutive season Vandy's lost a first-round talent due to injury early in the season after point guard Darius Garland played five games last year and never returned after an early-season knee injury.
To compound matters, on-court results for Vandy were just as bad: Texas A&M came to Nashville and destroyed the Commodores 69-50.
Winner: Baylor getting the monkey off its back
It got some anyway on Saturday.
The Bears went into historic Allen Fieldhouse and made their own bit of history by winning on KU's court for the first time … ever. It ends a previous winless streak that, before today, was 0-17. It also ….
Baylor just:— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) January 11, 2020
»Won at KU for the first time EVER
»Won as a top-5 team over a top-five team for the first time EVER
»Beat a top-5 team on the road for the first time EVER
»Made it 5-0 vs. ranked teams to start a season for the first time EVER
»Laid claim to the best resumé in CBB
KU coach Bill Self shot it straight after the game about what happened.
"We got our ass handed to us today," Self said. "They were just better than us."
Winner: West Virginia's Big 12 pace
The Mountaineers would make for a great long-shot NCAA-title pick right about now. Come early March, WVU might well prove to be a top-two team in the Big 12 and vying for a No. 2 seed. Won't be much of a dark horse then. But now? Still something of a poorly kept secret. The 'Eers are now the top D in the sport.
WVU held Texas Tech at arm's length the entire evening, winning 66-54 to improve to 13-2. This isn't a no-name team and isn't a squad reliant on one star. Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe and Miles McBride are, to my eyes, the best trio in the Big 12. Kansas has the best duo (Devon Dotson, Udoka Azubuike) and Baylor the best team, but WVU is stout and takes no stuff from anyone. The Big 12 is rough stuff but this team isn't losing more than seven games max before the postseason begins.
Loser: Ohio State
On Dec. 15, Ohio State was 9-0, coming off a dominant win over Penn State to open league play, and staring at a No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 poll with a win over Minnesota. You'd hardly know it in the month that's followed. The Buckeyes fell to Minnesota that day 84-71, and it was the first stumble of a few, which continued Saturday with a road loss to Indiana.
They've now lost five of their last seven and are in second-to-last place in the Big Ten standings.
"I think it's a work in progress right now," said a dejected Chris Holtmann after the game. "We gotta find a way to figure some things out here quickly."
Winner: Clemson snaps a streak
It finally happened. Clemson really did it: beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
For the first time in 60 (!!) tries, the, winning 79-76 in an overtime thriller. Clemson overcame an 18-point deficit (read: UNC blew an 18-point lead), moving its all-time record against UNC record to 1-59. 1-59! That's cause for celebration, Tigers nation.
Loser: VCU's foothold on the 2-hole in the A-10
Maybe we can call this the most surprising outcome of the day. VCU was a projected eight-point victor over just-OK Rhode Island. The game was in Richmond, Virginia. Winning at the Seigel Center is among the toughest asks outside big-conference hoops. But hello: the blue-and-white Rams knock off the black-and-yellow Rams by nine points, bringing some chaos to the top of the A-10. Virginia Commonwealth was comfortably positioned in every metric as the second-best team in the conference. That could still hold. But this is a seed-bump-down kind of loss for VCU, which wants to avoid entering the bubble conversation once we get to February.
We aren't short on giving URI credit, though. This team is capable of being the sleeper to win the A-10 tournament two months from now.
Winner: Myles Powell's national profile
Powell keyed Seton Hall to a well-isn't-that-nice 69-55 home win over Marquette, improving SHU to 12-4 and all but guaranteeing the Pirates return to the AP Top 25 on Monday. Seton Hall's won six in a row and is off to a 4-0 start in the Big East, which matches the best league intro in program history; the only other time the Hall did this was the 1992-93 season, and if SHU wins its HUGE game at Butler on Wednesday, it will be the first 5-0 start ever.
But back to Powell. The never-stopping shooting guard had 23 points, and since he returned from sustaining a concussion in the Pirates' games at Rutgers on New Year's Eve, Powell's averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.8 steals. He's come back into the National Player of the Year conversation, easily ranking in the top 10 and maybe even the top five at this point. Been a bumpy season for Seton Hall so far but things are leveling out and horizon is looking more optimistic than two weeks ago.
Winner: Auburn's streak
The pressure keeps on coming, and yet the wins keep on rolling in for Auburn, which improved to 15-0 with an 82-60 home win over Georgia. The Tigers remain one of only two unbeaten teams in the sport.
This is Auburn's best start to a season in more than two decades (Auburn opened 17-0 in 1998-1999), and rivaling an unexpected breakout that came from Auburn last season when it won 30 games and went to the Final Four. Pearl's coaching chops have been proven time and again, but replacing his top three scorers this season and still reeling off a 15-game heater is up there amongst his all-time best jobs of his career.
The rub with Auburn is still its schedule and what it lacks -- it still has not played a ranked team. But credit to Auburn. You can only win the games in front of you, and Auburn's accomplished that in its rise into the top five of the sport.
Loser: Notre Dame's NCAA Tournament resumé
Louisville gets the steadying win with a 67-64 road defeat at Notre Dame (these teams always play close). But while it's a confidence-building victory for the Cards -- who had a nice defensive sequence on the final possession of the game to keep away any chance of overtime -- this is a stinger for Notre Dame. This defeat slips ND to 1-4 in the league and has them at 10-6 overall. Notre Dame has no wins against top-60 competition. It's going to have to fight to get into the NIT, which was not the expectation coming into the season.
Only once in his career -- be it as a head coach or an assistant -- has Mike Brey missed the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons (2004-06), but it's looking highly probable that will happen in 2020.
Winner: Duke's new uniforms
Duke avoided the fate of other top teams by winning 90-59 over Wake Forest, and boy did the Blue Devils do it in fashion. To honor their first game inside Cameron Indoor since the arena turned 80 years old, Duke went with gothic throwback uniforms ... and they were beautiful and perfect in every way.
Losers: Washington's skid continues
The Huskies dropped their second consecutive game Saturday to Cal in overtime, 61-58, falling to 1-3 in Pac-12 play. It's their fourth loss in five games and second straight since starting point guard Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible. UW may be in line for a bounce back with two home games upcoming, but this week has really grounded a team that, just a few weeks ago, looked like it could be the class of the conference. They're tied for last place in the conference.
Winner: Saint Joseph's guard Ryan Daly
Take a bow, Ryan Daly. This was the best shot (that went in) I saw all Saturday -- and it may be the most wild and improbable buzzer-beater I'll see all season. Off one leg with one hand sprinting full speed ... nails.
Loser: Oklahoma teams
Tulsa and ORU managed big wins, but the two Big 12 teams in the state -- Oklahoma State and Oklahoma -- did themselves no favors in conference play with lopsided road losses on Saturday. The toughest to swallow between the two is Oklahoma State's 52-40 loss to TCU, which drops the Cowboys to 0-3 in league play. It's Oklahoma's first loss in-conference after a 2-0 start, ending its four-game winning streak.