College basketball rarely disappoints and produced some interesting results over the weekend. Need proof? Here's a few of the biggest storylines from Saturday and Sunday.
Even without its best player Duke delivered on all the drama we rely on you to produce each and every Saturday. From fouls-turned-foul-shots , from Kentucky beating Auburn so bad the Tigers' tails were tucked by halftime, and from buzzer-beaters and tight finishes, we saw a little flavor of everything that makes the sport so unpredictable and yet so pleasurable.
Let's recap it all, shall we?
Winner: Suspense in the Big Ten
Even after losing junior Josh Langford in December and junior Nick Ward a little more than a week ago, Michigan State proved Sunday that it remains the cream of the crop in the conference by ousting seventh-ranked Michigan 77-70 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
But the Big Ten race isn't over just yet.
Sparty's win gives them a slim 1/2 game lead in the Big Ten standings ahead of Purdue and a full game lead over the Wolverines, but how about this: Michigan and Michigan State play once more, on March 9, in what could be a winner-take-all (or winner-take-tie) high stakes rematch. Purdue remains a factor here, too, with only three losses and four winnable games remaining. The Big Ten looks like it is coming down to the wire with an exciting finish.
Loser: Kansas' hopes of keeping The Streak alive
This tweet succinctly sums up my thoughts on the Big 12 regular season race:
Texas Tech is up 31 points on KU.— /r/CollegeBasketball (@redditCBB) February 24, 2019
*looks around, doesn’t want to say it, but is starting to believe it’s true...*
Is....... is this the year?
Kansas has won the Big 12 title, either outright or at least a share, a nearly-impossible 14 consecutive seasons under Bill Self. The Streak, as it's called, is looking like it might end this season. After falling at No. 14 Texas Tech 91-62 (not a typo!) on Saturday, the Jayhawks are now 9-5 in league play and two games out of first place with four regular season games left -- including a massive Monday showdown against league-leading Kansas State.
Winner: Zion Williamson-less Duke
When Duke freshman Zion Williamson went down in the opening minute of its game against North Carolina, many believed Duke's hopes of winning would be gone unless/until he returned.
Many were very wrong.
Duke beat Syracuse on the road by double digits Saturday without Williamson, who was in street clothes on the bench. It did so by getting an equal parts stellar and efficient game from RJ Barrett, who had 30 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Alex O'Connell, who was inserted into the starting lineup Saturday, rewarded Duke's decision by scoring a career-high 20 points, including a 5-of-8 mark from distance.
Loser: Referees in LSU-Tennessee game
With LSU and Tennessee seconds away from a second overtime, officials called a foul on the Vols' 70 feet from the basket with 1.4 seconds remaining that effectively ended the game and gave the Tigers a 82-80 victory. Was it a foul? Yes. But its controversial timing to essentially award LSU free throws -- and the game -- was a culmination of a wackily officiated game throughout.
At various times throughout the game we had lengthy video reviews to determine the time of the game, to determine possession, and to determine whether a player called for a foul was in the restricted area. Per an astute reader, Lawrence Benedetto, the four review stoppages in the final minute of regulation lasted nearly ten minutes -- ten minutes! -- in total.
Winner: John Calipari
Kentucky's coach stayed winning on Saturday. Let's check in on his accomplishments.
- Coach UK to a 80-53 victory win vs. Auburn ✅
- Move into a 3-way tie for the top spot in SEC ✅
- Become the second-winningest coach at Kentucky ✅✅✅
Calipari improved to 298-68 in his 10 seasons at UK with its dominant win over Auburn, surpassing the great Joe B. Hall, who was 297-100 at Kentucky. The only coach ahead of him on the all-time Kentucky wins list is Adolph Rupp, the man who bears the name of the palace Kentucky plays its games in. Coach Cal still has some ground to cover, though, if he want's to catch up to Rupp's 876 wins at UK.
Loser: Bubble teams
The bubble this season is at least twice the size of the one Bubble Boy rolled about in back in the early aughts. But, it seems to be shrinking, and the bubble is close to bursting for some.
Teams like Clemson, Temple, TCU and Oklahoma all got wins Saturday to at least resist being shoved out of the not-so-cozy bubble discussion, but for the most part, it was a bad day for the rest. Auburn failing to solidify its resume against UK was a missed opportunity, Ohio State falling short at Maryland, Furman falling to SoCon leader Wofford were all bad results for the bubble teams entering the day.
Winner: UNC's Nassir Little
In the broad view, No. 8 North Carolina is absolutely a winner. It demolished No. 16 Florida State 77-59, which entered the weekend on an eight-game winning streak, to keep pace in the ACC at 12-2. In the micro-view of this game, however, true frosh Nassir Little was among the biggest winners.
Little has been up and down as a freshman comparative to how many view him -- as a top-5 pick in this year's draft -- but he had one of his better games against the Seminoles by dunking, dashing and dipping his way to 18 points and 8 rebounds. He's still a future, but if he plays more like he did Saturday for the rest of the season, he might not slip past the top-5.
Loser: Louisville's psyche
This feels like a third-rail topic among Louisville fans in the same way as Fight Club -- the first rule about Louisville's psyche is not to talk about Louisville's psyche -- but it's time to address the big, sulking Cardinal in the room. Louisville might just be broken.
The No. 18 Cardinals once again blew another double-digit lead on Saturday, this time squandering a 12-point lead in the second half in a 64-52 loss to No. 3 Virginia. The Cavaliers are a very, very good team, so credit to the 'Hoos, but at this point, no lead feels safe for Louisville, and I can feel the unease of fans watching the game as I'm watching the game. It's really uncomfortable.
This all started earlier this month when the Cardinals held a lead against FSU on the road, but blew it in an 80-75 overtime loss. Three days later, their meltdown against Duke in which they gave up a 23-point lead officially rattled their psyche. Since then, they haven't been the same.
Louisville is still an NCAA Tournament team in my estimation, but at some point you have to pick yourself up off the mat. Its loss to UVA on Saturday is its fourth in five games -- a slump of epic proportions that's going to leave a sour taste in the mouths of Louisville fans in Chris Mack's first year if they don't turn it around fast.
Winner: The North side of the Red River Rivalry
Stakes for the annual Red River Rivalry -- the name of the always-entertaining Oklahoma vs. Texas game -- are annually high in college football. Big 12 titles are often on the line. Sometimes, at least last season, College Football Playoff appearances are, too.
It's safe to say those stakes are chopped down in basketball, where both teams sit in the middle of the league standings. But Saturday's matchup between the teams had an elevated sense of importance because both are flirting with the wrong side of the bubble. In fact, OU frosh Jamal Bieniemy may have single-handedly thrown a dart at Texas' bubble when he blocked the potential game-winner to seal OU's very nice 69-67 victory.
Winner: James Madison's Matt Lewis
James Madison star Matt Lewis out-dueled one of the top players at the mid-major level in Hofstra's Justin Wright-Foreman on Saturday by scoring 40 points -- including an overtime-inducing 3 at the buzzer of the second half -- to lift his team to a 104-99 win. It's a career-high for Lewis, a sophomore, and tied for the fifth-most in a single game in the program's history.
Loser: New England's Rob Gronkowski
How many times has New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski been on the losing end of a big game? (Hint: Not very many!)
He was on the wrong end of a big one on Saturday though -- one he wasn't playing in, mind you -- as he watched Syracuse fall to No. 1 Duke while rocking an Orange jersey. (His dad played football at Syracuse; he spurned Syracuse for Arizona.)
Winner: Syracuse's record-setting attendance
Syracuse broke its own on-campus attendance record against No. 1 Duke on Saturday by packing in 35,642 fans into the Carrier Dome -- all who witnessed the top-ranked Blue Devils escape with a 75-65 win. Some who witnessed from very, very far away. Very far!
This was .... not cool. It's unclear who this angered bird from Missouri sophomore forward Jeremiah Tilmon was aimed at (it's believed to have been at Florida's student section in the Gators' 64-60 victory). It is not the very best of looks to be caught on television wagging your middle finger.
Winner: Prolific NCAA scorers
Two of the NCAA's top-four scorers on the season -- Campbell's Chris Clemons, and South Dakota State's Mike Daum -- both hit landmark achievements on Saturday. Clemons scored 41, the fourth time he's gone over 40 this season, to move up to No. 6 on the all-time scoring list. He surpassed Keydren Clark and Harry Kelly.
Daum, meanwhile, scored 25 (two days removed from a 38-point, 20-rebound game) to reach the 3,000 points scored club that only 10 Division I NCAA players have reached. He's now ahead of Oscar Robertson and Danny Manning on the scoring list with 3,006, and in line to chase Clemons, who now has 3,074.
Loser: Vanderbilt's momentum
Almost all of Vandy's momentum went out the door when point guard Darius Garland was lost for the season due to injury. He was the Commodores' best player -- and their best chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
But that momentum has really, really subsided in 2019; Vanderbilt hasn't won a single game since the calendar turned. Its woes continued Saturday with yet another loss, this time to Alabama 68-61, to extend its losing streak to 15. It's officially the longest losing streak in program history, the previous record of 14 which was set over a span of two seasons in the 1934-35 and 1935-36 seasons.