|Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart celebrate the win over Kansas|
Villanova Upsets Kansas This 63-59 upset is a huge result for Villanova, but let's not pretend that Villanova is TCU. This won't look like as big of a shocker in February as it does now. I've been very high on Villanova since April, and had them as a 6 seed in the Tournament even before this win. It's a really deep roster that plays strong defensively and has a whole bunch of guys who can beat their man off the dribble and get to the rim. They might not have the shooters to make a serious run at the Big East title, but they're a team that should easily get in the Tournament as an at-large team.
Kansas fans shouldn't freak out too much about this loss. First of all, keep in mind that it's a long season. Last season the Jayhawks lost to an atrocious TCU team and still earned a 1 seed. Second of all, they got some nice performances from new faces. Andrew Wiggins didn't have his best game of the season by any means, but this was something of a breakout game for Joel Embiid and Frank Mason. With so many freshmen in key roles, Kansas is the type of team that should see significant improvement between November and March.
Arizona Pulls Away From Duke Late This seemed like a tough match-up for Duke coming in. They are always stronger on the perimeter than in the paint, but that's exaggerated more this season than any other in recent memory. Jabari Parker is really their only regular rotation player that is a strong interior defender. And this Arizona team has a ton of length and size in their front court. In the first half of this game, though, Arizona was actually out-trebounded and out-worked in the paint. But in the final ten minutes of the game, Arizona enforced their dominance down low.
In the battle of the freshmen, I actually thought both Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker played really well, despite the postgame criticism. Gordon is such a quiet stat stuffer. You don't think he's got any stats, and then you look at the boxscore and see that he's got a bunch of rebounds, assists and blocks that you don't even remember. He almost seems like more of a "glue guy" than anything, although the perception that he doesn't look for his shot is false (he has a 23.2% shot rate).
As for Parker, he was getting a ton of criticism after the game for his 7-for-21 shooting performance. But to me, that's nonsense. Sometimes you take a great shot and it just happens to miss, and sometimes you hit a circus shot. Everybody occasionally has a bad shooting day. But Parker was physically dominant, and the best player on the floor for either team.
San Diego State Knocks Off Creighton San Diego State is a squad that could potentially be scary as this season goes along. They have really good athletes that play strong defense, but they also have some good outside shooters. As a whole, their offense is not particularly strong (1.08 PPP), but as a 42.9% three-point shooting team they have the ability to get streaky and pile up points on occasion. And that's what happened here, as they hit 8-for-16 behind the arc en route to an 86-80 upset of Creighton. Is San Diego State a Tournament team? Let's not go there yet. But this win is a huge scalp for their at-large resume.
As for Creighton, they continue to be who we thought they'd be. They can score almost at will, but they can't stop a nose bleed, to quote the great Bart Scott. San Diego State's 3-point and FT shooting were a bit fluky here, but that will happen from time to time. And this is why, as good as Creighton is, I don't think they can be regarded as the Big East favorite. They're just not going to be consistent enough to go 14-4 or 15-3 in Big East play.
Game Of The Day: Drexel 85, Alabama 83, 3OT This was the game of the day. Kind of. It wasn't the best played game, and the fans at Madison Square Garden were so eager to get to the Arizona/Duke game that they were loudly cheering for whichever team happened to be winning. In an accidentally cruel moment, the crowd loudly cheered when Jimmie Taylor missed a free throw with Alabama down by 2 in the final few seconds of the third overtime. In the end, Alabama leaves Madison Square Garden empty handed and looking a piece or two short of an at-large team, while Drexel looks like a team that actually could take a run at an at-large bid themselves. Certainly they look like the favorites in the Colonial.
Florida Holds Off Florida State's Upset Bid The Gators had a lot more trouble in this win over Florida State than they thought they would. Though really, they played better than the score would suggest. The Gators simply were ice cold from the field for much of the day, and had to make up for it on the glass (a 45.7 OR% compared to a 33.3 OR% for the Seminoles). Scottie Wilbekin struggled with his shot (2-for-12 from the field), but still played well (8 assists, 5 steals) in his first game against a quality opponent since returning.
The Gators remain a hard team to figure out because they have not yet had their full roster active at the same time. But even with all of the personnel issues, they've still played like a Top 15-20 team, which means that they can be really strong if they ever get fully healthy and off of suspensions. As for the Seminoles, they have two losses all season, and they came to Michigan and Florida by a combined three points. So while they're not likely a contender in a wide open ACC, they're definitely playing like an NCAA Tournament team. They are for real.
Oklahoma State Escapes Butler In An Ugly Finish Both of these teams struggled to execute in the final couple of minutes of Oklahoma State's 69-67 win over Butler. In the final 4 minutes, Oklahoma State had 8 possessions and scored a grand total of one point. Marcus Smart personally had a pair of turnovers and went 0-for-3 at the free throw line (including missing the front end of a 1-and-1) during that stretch. But they held onto the one point win because Butler went completely scoreless over their own final five possessions.
Considering the poor game that Kellen Dunham had (3-for-14 from the field), Butler showed a lot of toughness coming back in this game. They continue to be really well coached and awfully tough, and are going to be a competitive team in the Big East all season long. Their depth might cost them an NCAA Tournament bid, but they'll be a bubble team at the very least. Missing out a huge scalp here could end up being crucial in that regard.