Saturday’s Things To Know: Huge wins for UNC, Kansas, Indiana
PLAYER OF THE DAY: Juwan Morgan, Indiana
Juwan Morgan really loves playing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
A year after setting his career-high by scoring 34 points in a win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic, Morgan broke that record by dropping 35 points as No. 25 Indiana won their fourth-straight one-possession game, picking off Butler, 71-68.
Rob Phinisee is going to be the guy that makes all of the highlight reels after this game -- we’ll get to that in a minute -- but Morgan was the hero for Indiana. They’re no where near a position to be able to win this game at the buzzer if Morgan doesn’t keep this thing close. Butler controlled the game for 35 minutes. They led by as many as 11 points. They were up by two or three possessions for the majority of the second half, but Morgan did just enough to keep Indiana connected.
Butler was never able to pull away, and in the end, that is what cost them the game.
TEAM OF THE DAY: Belmont Bruins
The Bruins of Nashville paid a visit to the Bruins of Westwood and left with a 74-72 victory. They did this despite trailing by 12 points in the second half and while their star forward Dylan Windler spent much of the afternoon struggling with the length and athleticism of UCLA’s frontline. And given what we know about this UCLA program, it should surprise exactly no one that the Bruins lost this game because they got beat on a backdoor cut.
This was another in a long line of bad losses for the Pac-12 this season. While Washington was smoked by No. 13 Virginia Tech and Utah was embarrassed by No. 19 Kentucky, the good news here is that the weekend wasn’t a total loss. No. 20 Arizona State found a way to beat Georgia after trailing by 14 while Stanford overcame a big first half deficit against Eastern Washington in Palo Alto.
ONIONS OF THE DAY: Robert Phinisee, Indiana
Also known as the new Big Shot Bob:
SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS
NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels picked up a massive win over No. 4 Gonzaga, a win that this program really needed after a disappointing run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. We spent quite a bit of time on that game already today, so read that here.
KENTUCKY: The Wildcats looked like they had a point to prove on Saturday. After seeing one of their teammates transfer out of the program and after dealing with a week where everyone was talking about why this group was so overrated, whether or not John Calipari can still win with the one-and-done model and if Kentucky has lost their edge, the Wildcats came out and whipped up on poor Utah, their first impressive performance of the season. They won 88-61, and it will be interesting to see where this team goes from here.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs landed a really important home win over Cincinnati, 70-59, in one of their only relevant non-conference games this season. Mississippi State is now 9-1 on the season -- tied for the best record in the SEC -- but this may be their best win to date, depending on how you feel about victories over St. Mary’s, at Dayton and Clemson. If Ben Howland is going to get this group to the NCAA tournament, this was a game he needed.
SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS
BUTLER: In a game they really, really needed to win, Butler dominated Indiana for 35 minutes, held Romeo Langford in check and blew up Indiana’s last-second play ... before watching Phinisee’s game-winner go in. The Bulldogs are now 7-3 on the season with losses to Indiana, Saint Louis and Dayton. In a Big East where there may not actually be a good win available, this is a bad spot to be in. A trip to Florida on Dec. 29th is suddenly a critical game.
GEORGIA: Tom Crean is not going to be happy about the way that this one ended. The Bulldogs led by as many as 18 points in the first half against No. 20 Arizona State and still somehow managed to find a way to lose, 76-74, at home despite Arizona State’s late-game execution being horrendous.
UAB: UAB had a chance to get a signature win on Saturday evening, and they couldn’t put it away. Jared Harper scored 23 of No. 8 Auburn’s last 30 points as the Tigers outlasted UAB in overtime, 75-71. This could have been a season-defining win for the Blazers. Now it is a warning for Bruce Pearl’s team that they cannot expect to sleepwalk through the season and win the games they want to win.
SYRACUSE: We thought the Orange had gotten things figured out after landing a come-from-behind win over Georgetown last Saturday, but it turns out we were wrong. The Orange let B.J. Stith score all 18 of his points in the second half as they lost to Old Dominion in the Carrier Dome, 68-62. The Orange are now 7-3 on the season with losses to ODU, UConn and Oregon. Not good.
There are nine teams that are still undefeated this season.
Some of them are simply a product of scheduling (Houston, St. John’s) while some of them are good mid-majors that went out and won a buy game or two (Buffalo, Furman). There are a couple of true national title contenders that remain unblemished (Virginia, Michigan) and a third (Texas Tech) that is more dangerous this season than anyone realizes.
And then there is Kansas, and there is Nevada.
I cannot figure out either of these teams.
We’ve been over the issues that are plaguing Kansas this season. I wrote 1,000 words on them right here. No Udoka Azubuike is forcing Dedric Lawson to play in a position that is not his best when Kansas doesn’t actually have a player to fill the ideal role for Lawson, and all of that is happening as Quentin Grimes is struggling to find his footing and the rest of the Kansas perimeter attack is ... well, it’s just Lagerald Vick.
The Jayhawks have not looked dominant for a full 40 minutes yet this season -- they struggle to put together an entire half -- and they could have three or four losses at this point in the year.
But they’re 9-0.
Is this a good thing (good teams win when they play bad, and Kansas will figure it out) or is this something that we should be very, very worried about (at some point, this is going to catch up with them).
And then there is Nevada, who has trailed at the half in three of their last four games after turning a 40-33 halftime deficit into a 72-68 win over South Dakota State. They haven’t really beaten anyone that matters -- winning at Loyola and at USC isn’t impressive, although the win over Arizona State in LA will carry some weight on Selection Sunday -- and we might not see them play an NCAA tournament team again until the NCAA tournament.
But there is also something to be said for a team full of veterans struggling to get up for the dregs of non-conference play when classes are done and they’re just thinking about holiday break.
So we’ll see what happens with both of these teams, but even their most avid supporters should admit that their team isn’t playing great right now.