College basketball winners and losers: Duke doubters, SEC take it on chin, but Georgia gets Sugar Bowl revenge
There's a pretty good reason why the SEC-Big 12 Challenge went to the Big 12 this year
A consequential day of wall to wall college hoops delivered the entertainment goods with surprising results and super finishes that sent jolts across the landscape of the sport.
Unlike last week, where four of the top 10 teams fell in a wacky Saturday slate, this weekend was chock-full of expected outcomes from teams at the top, as every top-10 team projected to win fulfilled that forecast. Only one team inside the top 15 fell, in fact -- No. 9 Kansas -- and it came up short against surging Kentucky, which came in ranked eighth in the polls and unbeaten all season at home.
Elsewhere in college hoops scenery, the Big 12 won its fourth SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and first since 2015-16,.
To break down all that was in the world of hoops from Saturday, we've broken down the biggest winners and losers.
Losers: Duke haters
Duke got back to full strength on Saturday by welcoming injured point guard Tre Jones back into the rotation, and. In fact, considering the game's location -- at Cameron Indoor Stadium in front of a rowdy Duke-exclusive crowd in Durham -- things got off to a surprisingly ugly start.
Against 11-9 Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils fell behind by eight in the opening minutes of the second half. Duke haters across the country were strutting around in their living rooms, flashing their Yellow Jackets gear. And then, Duke did what it does better than any team in the country by flipping a switch en route to a 66-53 victory. The Blue Devils outscored Georgia Tech 39-24 in the final 20 minutes. How? By using two weapons no other team in the country has: Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. They scored 46 points combined to lead Duke to an easy W.
Winner: Georgia's Sugar Bowl revenge
Georgia couldn't use the "We weren't up for the Sugar Bowl, because it's not the CFP!" excuse this time, and turns out, it didn't need it: The Bulldogs easily beat Texas 98-88 in a SEC/Big 12 Challenge game, (almost) avenging the UGA football team's loss to the Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl. The real question: Did Texas even try?
Loser: Top SEC teams sit out Challenge
I'm not trying to beat the SEC while its down -- falling 6-4 to the Big 12 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge surely stings -- but listen, SEC, we need to talk.
I think it's great and all that you were competitive in the Challenge, but to not have included Mississippi State, Auburn or LSU -- three ranked SEC programs -- in this year's field was a massive whiff. Sure, it's impossible to predict just how good each SEC program will be year-to-year, which makes placing teams in the field a bit of a guessing game, but to have three of your best representatives continuing league play and not in the field is a misstep. Most importantly, it's a missed opportunity for the all-important conference bragging rights.
Winners: Ayo Dosunmu and his imaginary teammates
Entering the week, Maryland had emerged as a darkhorse contender in the Big Ten. Then Monday, Michigan State thumped the Terps. Then Saturday, Illinois -- a bottom-two team in the league -- embarrassed them in 78-67 fashion.
Everything went right for freshman Ayo Dosunmu, who scored 20, and his imaginary Illini teammates who, despite ghosting him at the foul line, knocked down 7 of 20 3-point attempts to pull off the win.
Loser: Nebraska loses game,key player
A 70-60 loss Saturday for Nebraska against Ohio State was deflating in itself, and especially so in the context that it was the Cornhuskers's third consecutive loss. And it got even worse when senior forward Isaac Copeland Jr., the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder, injured his knee in the second half and was lost for the season.
Copeland sustained the season-ending knee injury against the Buckeyes in a bad-luck sequence, which makes the outcome tough to swallow, too: After being called for traveling and the play was whistled dead, he went up for a dunk to finish the play and landed awkwardly when he sustained the injury.
The Huskers are 13-7 on the season and, with the loss to Ohio State on Saturday, 3-6 in Big Ten play.
Winner: Notre Dame's violin-playing star
It's unclear if this Notre Dame halftime violin star was playing the tune of the Irish's funeral for the day -- Virginia absolutely smashed them 82-55 -- or if he's just a really passionate musician.
Make of it what you will, but for Notre Dame fans, I'd say this is one of the few bright spots of the day -- and the season.
Loser: Chick-fil-A's in Kentucky and North Carolina
Chick-fil-A does an amazing giveaway at NC State and Kentucky (and maybe elsewhere) that if a visiting team's player misses two consecutive free throws, fans in the arena get free Chick-fil-A. So Chick-fil-A's in the Lexington, Kentucky and Raleigh, North Carolina. areas are getting hit hard with freebie giveaways Saturday after Kansas and Clemson both missed consecutive free throws in their respective games. (Conspiracy theory: Does everyone in attendance get free Chick-fil-a, players included? If so, how motivated would KU or Clemson players be to willingly miss two free throws for some bomb nuggets and fries?)
Anyhow, the real loser in all this is the big business hit because of all the fans likely to take advantage of the giveaway. Or maybe it's the fans, who likely can't even redeem their freebie until Monday because Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays.
Winner: Hofstra extends nation's longest win streak
Justin Wright-Foreman, one of the top mid-major players in the sport, scored 25 points Saturday in leading Hofstra to a cozy 84-61 win over Towson, extending the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games.
The Pride (19-3, 9-0 Colonial Athletic Association) have beaten Towson (7-15, 3-6) in six of the last eight meetings. Hofstra entered with a three-game lead over Northeastern atop the CAA standings, and only clinched their grip on the conference tighter. The teams play next Saturday in Boston.
Loser: Those who bet on Missouri
Missouri closed as 5.5-point underdogs in its Saturday showdown against No. 25 LSU, and by all indications in the second half, it was going to cover with ease. The Tigers led 70-56 with 2:08 left in the second frame, in fact. They were well on their way. And then the unexpected happen: LSU reeled off a 15-1 run over the next 128 seconds to force overtime, and outscored Mizzou 15-9 in the extra period to win 86-80. So after leading by 14 in the final minutes of the second half, Missouri not only lost -- but it didn't even cover the 5.5 point spread. Brutal beat.
Winner: Ethan Happ's All-America candidacy
It's time to prepare yourself for what's becoming a more imminent outcome by the game: Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ is on his way to earning First-Team All-America honors. He's been rock-solid for the Badgers as a scorer and rebounder all season, and Saturday he solidified his standing as a top-5 player in the country with his all around play. The passing, the rebounding, and the scoring. Happ had 13 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists in Wisconsin's 62-46 victory vs. Northwestern.
Just call him Russell Westbrook, because he made this triple-double -- his second as a Badger -- look way too effortless.
Losers: Blown call dooms Lobos
No one wins when a judgement call by an officiating crew that isn't reviewable is called incorrectly. Just ask Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints!
New Mexico and its coach, Paul Weir, felt that pain Saturday. With the Lobos up 66-65 with 33 seconds left, New Mexico's Anthony Mathis made a crosscourt pass to teammate Vance Jackson that was assessed as a backcourt violation. However upon video review made in the postgame, it was clear there was no violation. Here's the play.
The league quickly issued a statement after the game saying that after postgame video review, the Mountain West "determined the whistle for a backcourt violation" made in the final minute of the game "was incorrect."
"Inasmuch as the situation involved a judgement call, it was not reviewable via the instant replay monitor," the statement read, adding that the matter will be addressed with the conference's internal officiating evaluation procedures.
Which is all fine and dandy, save for the fact that New Mexico went on to lose 68-66 on a 3-point shot at the buzzer. Maybe the Lobos lose anyway, but a horrendous officiating gaffe paving the way for the collapse isn't ideal -- for the MWC, the refs, or New Mexico.
Winner: Legend of Mike Daum
Becoming a recognizable college basketball player is hard -- most only become recognizable for a moment, only to leap to the pros -- but South Dakota State's Mike Daum is the rare exception. He's a fantastic player for the Jackrabbits, and he's going out with a bang as a senior.
Saturday he dropped 33 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and had five assists, two blocks and three steals in SDSU's 83-73 win over Omaha, becoming the first Division I player in the last 20 years to notch at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in three consecutive games.
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