#12 Kentucky 78, #20 Louisville 63
This was the first time this vicious rivalry was played in Louisville's new arena, and the crowd was fired up. But Kentucky is really starting to get on a roll, and it's because their star freshmen are starting to figure college basketball out. Terrence Jones was the only star early on, and Brandon Knight has been coming on (he had 25 points, including 4-for-6 behind the arc, in this one), but it was Josh Harrellson (23 points on 10-for-12 shooting plus 14 rebounds, including 6 offensive boards) who dominated this one. John Calipari is still trying to find depth, and you have to wonder if his freshmen will wear out from the big minutes, but right now Kentucky is playing at another level from the rest of the SEC. As for Louisville, this game exposed how thin they are in the frontcourt. Louisville's success under Rick Pitino has consistently revolved around strong post play, from Earl Clark to David Padgett. This year it was supposed to be Terrence Jennings, but he's been disappointing. If they don't figure this out they're really going to struggle in Big East play with all of the big bodies on the elite squads. Louisville opens Big East play on Wednesday against Seton Hall, and their next big test will be January 12th at Villanova. Kentucky opens SEC play at Georgia on Saturday, but should blow through their opponents before they seriously begin the SEC East race on February 5th at Florida. Due to a scheduling quirk, all six of their regular season games against Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee will happen in February and March this season.
Charleston 91, Tennessee 78
Speaking of the SEC East, Tennessee continues to fall apart. I thought preseason that there was a chance that all of Bruce Pearl's off-the-court issues would cause them to blow up, but after such a strong start to the regular season (wins over Pitt, Villanova, Missouri State and VCU before their first loss) things seemed alright. But the wheels have fallen off now, with four losses in a six game stretch against five mid-majors and USC. Their Sagarin ELO_CHESS has collapsed from the Top Ten to 67th. To be fair, they didn't even play poorly in this game. Charleston is a quality team and Tennessee earned 16 more offensive rebounds and had 1 fewer turnover. They ended up with 31 more shots from the field, and I don't think I've ever seen a team take 30+ more shots than an opponent in a loss - it seems almost impossible. What it takes is what happened here: 14-for-25 three-point shooting for Charleston, and 5-for-18 three-point shooting for Tennessee. But what matters more than anything is how Tennessee responds to this mentally. They play Memphis on Wednesday and then will begin SEC play on January 8th at Arkansas. And they jump right into SEC East action right after that when they'll play Florida, Vanderbilt and Georgia within an eight day stretch. If they don't bounce right back this season could be a complete disaster before January ends. This win will help Charleston's seed if they win the SoCon, but they remain locked in a battle with Davidson. They beat Davidson by nine points at home a month ago, and will head to Davidson on January 29th. Another important game for Charleston will be on Thursday night at Furman, the team most likely to upset the apple cart and to steal the SoCon's auto bid.
#11 Purdue 82, Northwestern 69
Despite losing Robbie Hummel before the season started, Purdue has been extremely solid in the early going, and they've been impressive to begin Big Ten play. I thought before the season that E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson were the best inside-outside duo in the Big Ten, so their success was expected, but what's keyed this success has been how improved guys like DJ Byrd and Ryne Smith have been. Purdue has a solid seven man regular rotation with a couple other guys who play a few or many minutes depending on the opponent, and there really is no weak link. They all play tough defense, they all rebound, and they don't turn the ball over. They forced Northwestern in this game to win without John Shurna (only 8 shots taken from the field), and the Wildcats couldn't do it. Purdue is now 2-0 in Big Ten play and will likely be 4-0 when they head to Minnesota on January 13th. They'll begin their Big Ten title run for real on January 22nd, when they'll play Michigan State and Ohio State in a four day stretch. Northwestern is 0-1 in the Big Ten, and now has to play Michigan State tomorrow, and then they head to Illinois on January 25th. None of those three games are bad losses, but an 0-3 start would be really tough for a Northwestern team that probably needs to get to 10-8 in Big Ten play to make the Tournament. If they go 9-9 or 8-10 they'll need to do well in the Big Ten tournament and they'll need a weak bubble.