The final seconds of a big Gonzaga win over St. Mary’s officially brought to an end an outstanding Saturday of college basketball. Big teams, big performances, and outstanding battles heated up the hardwood during a cold January weekend. No matter your team allegiance, Saturday’s slate of games got the momentum going towards the promise of an incredible NCAA tournament in March.
March Madness in January
Golden Gophers Keep Digging Down
#24 Minnesota is trending in the wrong direction after a 12-1 start to the season. A 75-74 overtime loss at home to a depleted Michigan State team started a slide that has the Golden Gophers 3-3 in their last six games. In a game where they held a 32-18 first half lead, Minnesota fell on the road at Penn State 52-50. A three point lead with two minutes left turned into a bad road loss for a Minnesota team that needed a win badly. Star junior guard Nate Mason who had 31 points in a win at Purdue, managed only seven points against the Nittany Lions. We still don’t know how good Minnesota is, which is concerning after such a strong start to the season.
Gators Keep Chompin’ on SEC Foes
#23 Florida is trending in opposite direction of Minnesota. The Gators continue to get the conference wins they need to help end their two year March Madness drought. Florida defeated Georgia at home 80-76 in overtime, behind a 27 point performance by senior Canyon Barry. After back to back losses to Duke and Florida State, the 14-3 Gators have won seven straight. Beating the average teams in your respective conference is easier said than done. Florida faces a stiff test on the 18th, when they travel to South Carolina to play a Gamecock team that is undefeated when leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell is on the floor.
Fightin’ Irish Stay True to Their Name
#20 Notre Dame clawed their way to an impressive 76-71 win at Virginia Tech. The Irish moved to 16-2 on the season and an impressive 5-0 in ACC conference play. The Irish have reeled off seven in a row, and got a major contribution from freshman T.J. Gibbs who scored 13 points off the bench. The Irish aren’t big inside, but have a balanced scoring attack with junior Bonzie Colson leading the way at 15.9 ppg. Senior forward Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem are both over 14 ppg, and point guard Matt Farrell is one of the most improved players in the nation. Notre Dame faces another stiff test this Wednesday Night, when they travel to Tallahassee to play #9 Florida State fresh off a home win against Duke.
Clemson’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Starting to Fade
The Tigers came up short in a home game they desperately needed against #19 Virginia. The Tigers fell to the Cavaliers 77-73 thanks to London Perrantes‘ 25 points. Clemson has now lost four consecutive conference games, all of which they led in the second half. The Tigers are 11-6 overall and just 1-4 in the ACC. Senior Jaron Blossomgame continues his tremendous play (18.2 pgg, 6.0 rpg), but has little support. The difficult schedule continues as Clemson travels later this week to #14 Louisville to take on Rick Pitino’s Cardinals.
Butler Defeats Fifth Ranked Team of Season
The Bulldogs continue to navigate a difficult schedule with an 83-78 home win against Xavier. Butler improves to 15-3 on the season and 4-2 in Big East conference play. Freshman guard Kamar Baldwin keeps getting better each week, and led the Bulldogs with a season-high 21 points. Butler has now defeated #8 Arizona, #22 Cincinnati, #9 Indiana, #1 Villanova, and #15 Xavier this season. Their only loss to a ranked opponent was to Creighton, and they get the chance for revenge on January 31st at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Under head coach Chris Holtmann, the Bulldogs are 36-6 at home.
Mountaineers Avoid Letdown
After their incredible 21 point thrashing of #1 Baylor, the Mountaineers avoided a natural letdown with a 74-72 win at Texas. Junior guard Jevon Carter led West Virginia with 17 points. The Mountaineers continued to force turnovers with their press, as they caused 19 by the Longhorns. This gives Bob Huggins’ defense a total of 48 turnovers caused in two games. West Virginia plays Oklahoma and at Kansas State before hosting the Kansas Jayhawks on January 24th in a huge Big 12 matchup.
Tar Heels Keep Runnin’
The high scoring game on Saturday was #11 North Carolina hosting #9 Florida State. An exciting ACC battle ended with the Tar Heels pulling away late for a 96-83 victory. Joel Berry II had his usual 26 point explosion (three of six from behind the arc), and Isaiah Hicks and Justin Jackson chipped in 22 points each. The most promising take from this game was the double-double of junior forward Theo Pinson (12 points and 10 rebounds). Pinson has just returned from a broken foot, and is still only coming off the bench. The Tar Heels outrebounded Florida State 56-34, led by sophomore forward Luke Maye‘s 15 rebounds off the bench. No shame here for the Seminoles, who competed well and kept this game close in Chapel Hill until three minutes left. With Pinson on the floor, North Carolina may be the best team in the country.
Blue Devils in a Free Fall
The Duke Blue Devils dropped to 1-3 since Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s absence due to back surgery. They lost at #14 Louisville 78-69 and are now 14-4 overall and fell to 2-3 in the ACC. Junior guard Grayson Allen overcame a chorus of boos whenever he touched the ball to lead all scorers with 23 points, which kept Duke close despite only three bench points in the entire game. The absence of senior Amile Jefferson with a bone bruise in his foot severely hurt Duke’s depth. The Blue Devils need to reverse the trend, and upcoming home games against Miami and NC State should provide that opportunity. Louisville improved to 3-2 in conference (15-3 overall), and already owns impressive wins over Kentucky and Purdue.
Gonzaga Whips St. Mary’s
The last undefeated team in the country passed their biggest test with flying colors as #5 Gonzaga cruised to a 79-56 win over #21 St. Mary’s. Junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss led all scorers with 19 points, as the Bulldogs produced four players with double digit scoring. The normally defensive-minded Gaels could not contain Gonzaga’s high octane offense as the Bulldogs shot an incredible 64.7 percent from the field. Gonzaga shot 53.8 percent from long distance and turned a nine point lead into a second half blowout. The little hope St. Mary’s had to start the game was erased when leading scorer Jock Landale sat for over fourteen minutes with two fouls in the first half. The question now remains, when will Gonzaga lose? Ironically, their next challenge may not come until February 11th, when they visit the Gaels in Moraga.
Bruins Survive and Advance In Utah
If it wasn’t for a Dillon Brooks‘ last second three pointer, the UCLA Bruins would among the undefeated ranks with Gonzaga. The #4 Bruins survived a scare in Utah, overcoming a nine point second half deficit to pull out an 83-82 Pac 12 conference win. Star freshman Lonzo Ball had a great all around game with 17 points, eight assists, and six rebounds. This was a valiant effort by the Utes, as UCLA’s balanced scoring attack again produced five players in double figures. Sophomore reserve guard Aaron Holiday has appeared to break out of a recent scoring slump, with 14 points off the bench. The 18-1 Bruins have tough upcoming conference games at home against #16 Arizona and on the road at #25 USC.
Bears Bounce Back
The formerly undefeated Baylor Bears rebounded in a big way with an impressive 77-68 road win at #25 Kansas State. The Bears overcame the “Octagon of Doom” and major foul trouble issues to stay just one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 race. Point guard Manu Lecomte had a game high 26 points (four of six from three point range) and overcame two quick fouls in the opening three minutes. Baylor outrebounded the Wildcats 37-24 and used ten steals to finish off a late second half comeback. The Bears moved to 16-1 on the season and continue to eye a February 1st battle against to be #1 Kansas at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.