UNLV 90, #1 North Carolina 80
New UNLV coach Dave Rice already has his first huge win as a head coach. This wasn't a fluke victory either - it's not like UNLV shot 60% on threes or something. There were just several small factors that added together for this win. They got poor performances from Tyler Zeller and John Henson (a combined 5-for-18 from the field) and had Harrison Barnes on the bench for a few minutes with an injury (he was on crutches after the game, which created some temporary panic in Tar Heell nation, but the word is that he's off the crutches and it sounds like he'll be good to go for their next game). UNLV also got some fairly good shooting (13-for-32 on threes), and just rode the energy of the crowd. UNC couldn't match the intensity - the game just didn't mean as much to them as it did to UNLV. The Runnin' Rebs even won the rebounding battle (a 31.7 OR% to 21.4% for UNC).
North Carolina will tumble in tomorrow's polls, probably to somewhere around 5th or 6th, and I think that's a bit silly. It drives me nuts how pollsters always overreact to a single loss by any team. I'm not saying that I'm certain North Carolina is a top four team, but I don't see how a close road loss against a really good team (UNLV was my preseason pick to win the Mountain West, and I had them as a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament even before this win over UNC) means we should drop a team so far. I've still got UNC as the #1 team overall until more evidence compels me to change that opinion. And we should learn a lot more this week. They'll play Wisconsin at home on Wednesday, and then head to Rupp for a game against Kentucky on Saturday.
As I just said, I already thought UNLV was a Top 20 or 25 team, and the best team in the Mountain West. They're now 7-0, though this is their only truly big win. Their other quality wins were over Nevada and USC (well, USC might not be a quality win...). We'll learn a lot more about them during a series of tough upcoming road games. They'll play at UCSB on Wednesday, and then Wichita State next Sunday. They also will head to Wisconsin and Illinois over the next few weeks.
UC Riverside 64, Washington State 63
I've been talking about Washington State's lazy defense, and it bit them again here. UC-Riverside hit 8-for-16 behind the arc to finish with a 48.4 eFG% and only six turnovers. They scored 39 points in the second half to overcome what was an early double-digit deficit. A Phil Martin layup with 13 seconds to go ended up being the game winner. Washington State now has a bad loss to go with zero quality wins and a 2-4 overall record. That bad start wouldn't be a total disaster for a team in the Big East or Big Ten, but in the Pac-12 there just won't be a lot of chances for quality wins. No matter what they do the next few weeks, it's hard to see any scenario where Washington State goes Dancing with worse than a 12-6 record in conference play. They simply don't have any quality opponents left in non-conference play.
Wazzu comes home to play Grambling State on Wednesday. They open conference play on December 29th against Oregon. As for UC-Riverside, this is a great win, but it's also their first win against a Division I opponent this season after five attempts. They're still a long way from challenging Long Beach State in the Big West.
Murray State 90, Southern Miss 81, 2OT
I was one of the poor souls staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching the second overtime of this game in Alaska, which ran until almost 2:30AM eastern time (which was where I was). The good part of this game was the effort - both teams were diving and fighting and really trying to collect the Great Alaska Shootout title. The problem was, neither of these teams was sharp. Both teams struggled to execute offensively late in the game, and when you throw in the small crowd, the clueless announcers and everything about the environment, it felt more like a high school game than a high level college game.
But the game was fun, and I was particularly impressed with Isaiah Canaan, who was the best player for either team. He's been a good player the past two seasons for Murray State, but he exploded for 36 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists here. If Murray State can keep winning, Canaan could start to break through nationally the way smaller conference guys like Casper Ware and Scott Machado are starting to do this season.
This win was one of several things that caused me to finally replace Austin Peay with Murray State as the favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference. They're now 7-0 with wins over UAB and Southern Miss. They won't be undefeated much longer, however. They will play at Western Kentucky on Thursday, followed by a home game against Dayton and then a road game at Memphis. It's hard to see them winning all three of those games. Southern Miss has this loss to go with a loss to Denver, but they've also got wins over New Mexico State and Colorado State. I'm intrigued enough that I added them to the list of teams whose at-large chances I'm at least keeping an eye on now. Their next game will be a rematch with New Mexico State on Sunday.