Friday night’s action was highlighted by No. 20 Baylor’s 67-62 win over No. 3 Kentucky.
(20) Baylor 67, (3) Kentucky 62
There was plenty of intrigue surrounding no. 3 Kentucky’s matchup with no. 20 Baylor on Friday night at AT&T Stadium.
For starters, the Wildcats and Bears are two of the most talented teams in the country, championship contenders in their respective conferences with the potential to make deep NCAA Tournament runs. They also feature a bevy of likely future NBA talent. Seven players between Kentucky and Baylor — Julius Randle, Willie Caulie-Stein, James Young, Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress for the Wildcats; Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson for the Bears — are listed in Draft Express’s latest 2014 mock draft. Continue Reading
Thursday was relatively quiet in college hoops’ Top 25, with just one ranked team in action: No. 24 San Diego State, which held off San Diego at the buzzer for a wild 65-64 win, its eighth straight over its intracity rivals. Here’s a look at three other games with tourney hopefuls and what they might mean going forward.
Missouri 80, West Virginia 71
Perhaps it’s unfair to say the score here is misleading — a road team with noted chemistry issues a season ago staying hungry through a 35-minute drubbing deserves whatever credit a single-digit loss entails — but really, the Mountaineers’ run came so late it was more of a wake-up call than a threat. The Tigers’ extension of their now-23-game home winning streak took shape early: the previously sharpshooting Mountaineers needed seven minutes to hit their first field goal and struggled to find offensive rhythm with 20.3-ppg scorer Eron Harris in foul trouble, and the Tigers piled up quick buckets off misses and turnovers, taking a 14-point lead into halftime that ballooned to 21 within first two minutes of the second period.
The 2013-14 ACC/Big Ten Challenge had a different look this year thanks to realignment, but for the second consecutive year, the event ended in a 6-6 tie. In the end, the Challenge produced one shocking upset, showcased two Duke players heading in opposite directions and delivered one game that set basketball back a few decades. Here are several glaring winners and losers from this year’s version:
North Carolina basketball continues to confound.
After losing to Belmont at home, beating Louisville by nine on a neutral court and following that up with a loss at UAB, the Tar Heels entered Wednesday night’s matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing as underdogs that no one could understand. And after soundly defeating the No. 1 Spartans by 14 – a game in which No. 1 never led – UNC remains a mystery.
Certainly, the Spartans didn’t do themselves any favors. They ended the first half on an 18-6 run but couldn’t capitalize to start the second. They stayed steadily behind the Tar Heels for the first five minutes or so and even tied the game again at 49-49 with 12:09 left on Keith Appling’s 3-pointer. Brice Johnson stepped up for UNC and hit baskets on back-to-back possessions and gave his team a four-point cushion, and Michigan State didn’t get closer again. The Tar Heels won the game 79-65.
The Spartans struggled with injuries and illnesses: forward Matt Costello was suffering from the flu and questionable coming into the game, but he had six points and a spark off the bench. The real scare of the game came late in the first half as Appling went for a block and came down hard on his hip. He returned to score 10 points in the second half. Garry Harris was in an out with his aggravated ankle, and Adreian Payne struggled with cramps and was on and off the bench often in the second half.
But the injuries don’t explain the Spartans’ loss. The Tar Heels were the more physical, the more aggressive – and, to put it plainly – the better team on the court. They out-rebounded Michigan State (40-35), got more points off the bench (31-17) and scored from the paint, seemingly at will. Johnson finished 6-of-11 for 14 points and 290-pounder Kennedy Meeks added 15 points and seven rebounds. Neither of those players is a sure-fire future NBA pick like Payne is, but even when Payne was healthy, he was being outplayed in the paint.
The front court’s fortitude helped to ease the pressure on guard Marcus Paige. He has been North Carolina’s go-to scorer in the continued absence of P.J. Hairston, but he struggled against the stifling defense of Harris, shooting only 4-of-14 from the floor.
The outcome ended a 35-game home winning streak over unranked opponents for the Spartans. But that’s misleading. The Tar Heels aren’t unranked because they’re untalented; they’re unranked because they’re inconsistent. The Tar Heels team that played tonight is certainly in the top 10. The Tar Heels team that lost to UAB isn’t in the top 25.
For North Carolina fans, there is room for comfort and concern. If Hairston and Leslie McDonald return to the lineup, the Tar Heels could be one of the deeper teams in the country, but there is no timetable for a return.
For now, it’s up to Roy Williams to figure out how to get his Heels to play like every game is against a top-5 team.
This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge should have been re-named the National Championship Game Rematch Challenge. On Tuesday night, Duke beat Michigan, mirroring the outcome of the 1992 title game, and Syracuse toppled Indiana, reversing the result of the 1987 final.
The marquee matchup on Tuesday night pits No. 1 Michigan State against North Carolina. These two schools have become familiar foes both in this event and in the one that really matters at the end of the year. This will be the fifth showdown between the Spartans and Tar Heels in the 15-year-old ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the two teams have also faced off four times in the NCAA tournament since 1998. They’ve split their four previous games against one another in this event, while UNC has eliminated MSU from the Big Dance in each of those four tournament games, which included a Sweet 16 win in 1998, a Final Four triumph in 2005, a Round of 32 victory in ’07 and, of course, an 89-72 drubbing in the 2009 title game.