#2 Texas 103, #10 North Carolina 90
Analysts often talk about how North Carolina has NBA size, because they have so many players who are 6'9 or taller, but I would disagree: North Carolina has NBA height. The problem is that other than Deon Thompson their other big men are all very skinny. Texas just shoved Tar Heels players out of the way around the basket, forcing Roy Williams to often go with a very tall and slow lineup to try to alleviate some of their post problems (I particularly disliked it when both Wear brothers were on the floor at the same time). Texas ended up with a remarkable 26 offensive rebounds, with a total of 20 more rebounds than Carolina had. Who would have thought that this year's North Carolina team could play a game where their backcourt outplayed their opponent and they still lost by double-digits? Once again Dexter Strickland was a spark plug for the Tar Heels, and if I was Roy I would throw him into the starting lineup and give less time to Will Graves, who tends to play out of control. For Texas, not only did their frontcourt play well, but this was probably the best that superfrosh Avery Bradley has played all season. He was the one Texas guard who wasn't outplayed by his North Carolina opponent. It was also good for them to get Jai Lucas on the court after his transfer from Florida. He played sparingly here, but when he gets back into game shape he will provide much needed backcourt depth with the Varez Ward injury. Texas also has to get confidence from the fact that they saw Kansas actually get outplayed in the paint by Michigan. The Longhorns don't have the guard play that Kansas has, but if they can dominate them inside like they dominated North Carolina, there's no reason that they can't beat the Jayhawks and win the Big 12.
#7 Duke 76, #15 Gonzaga 41
We often get odd results this time of the year with students distracted by finals and the holidays, but even though Duke is the better team and was favored in this game I don't think anybody saw this level of demolition coming. Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer alone outscored the entire Gonzaga team. After the way that Wisconsin's guards torched Duke in their last tough game, it's safe to say that backcourt defense was a big focus for the Blue Devils in practice recently. They completely shut down Gonzaga's trio of Steven Gray, Matt Bouldin and Demetri Goodson, who combined for 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting, with 5 assists and 9 turnovers. Duke will now clearly be the highest ranked ACC team, although I still think UNC is the favorite. But those two teams have seemingly separated themselves from the rest of the conference, and could end up in a two-team duel all season long. Duke opens ACC play on January 3rd against Clemson. As for Gonzaga, you have to start wondering if we need to reevaluate this whole team. They still have that win at the Maui Invitational, but that four point win over Colorado and the two point win over Cincinnati don't look nearly as impressive as they did a month ago, and their only good win outside of that tournament was a five-pointer over Washington State. They are now 8-3, and both Pomeroy and the Sagarin PREDICTOR rate them around 75th in the nation. They have two more tough out-of-conference games (vs Oklahoma, at Illinois) before starting the WCC with about as tough of a three game stretch as a team can have in that conference this season (at Portland, at Saint Mary's, at San Diego), so I wouldn't be completely surprised to see Gonzaga lose a couple of those games to lead into a few "Is Gonzaga a bubble team?" discussions. I still think Gonzaga will end up safely in the NCAA Tournament, but they haven't locked anything up yet.
USC 77, #8 Tennessee 55
Yet another one of the really bizarre results yesterday. You never want to draw too many conclusions from a game that was obviously a fluke result, but I'm going to point to Tennessee's three-point shooting. Despite the blowout score, I watched much of the second half and it kept feeling like USC was trying to let them back in the game but they couldn't hit an outside shot. Their 2-for-22 shooting behind the arc here was obviously a bit of an extreme, but they have never been a particularly good outside shooting team. They have a bad habit of settling for too many outside shots when they're struggling to score, and when they lose bad games it always tends to have the same pattern: they miss a lot of three pointers, yet keep firing away. Tennessee remains a contender to win the SEC, but they're going to have to get smarter and more efficient with their outside shooting. Kentucky is a poor free throwing shooting team, and I can easily visualize a scenario where Tennessee is fouling and trying to get back into a game against Kentucky in the final minutes, and they need those outside shots to fall. As for USC, they got a huge boost from Charlotte transfer Michael Gerrity, who was making his debut for the Trojans. Don't pay attention to Gerrity's 1-for-7 shooting from the field, and focus instead on his 10 assists and 10-for-11 free throw shooting. Gerrity absolutely torched Tennessee's athletic defenders, and now forms a pretty darn good backcourt with Dwight Lewis (who led all scorers with 21 points here). A big win like this inevitably leads to optimistic USC fans wondering if they can make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid, which would be a wonderful result considering the low expectations coming into the year. I'd caution them not to get too confident from one fluke game. They are still 5-4 with only one good win and at least one bad loss (Loyola Marymount). They now head to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic where they will get more chances for good wins, but they've got a lot of work to do to get into the bubble picture. It doesn't help that the Pac-10 is so weak this year.