Indiana v Illinois

You think the season’s been fun? It gets so much better this week

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The excitement of the college basketball season reached a crescendo last week.

It started with Tuesday’s classic between Ohio State and Michigan, which Michigan won in overtime only hours after Arkansas walloped then-No. 2 Florida. That happened to fall on the same night that Michael Snaer hit his third buzzer-beater of the season and Wichita State lost on a blown goaltending call in the final seconds.

On Wednesday, Kansas lost to TCU, Creighton was blown out by Indiana State, Markel Brown raced the length of the court to beat Baylor in over time, Wisconsin was taken to double-overtime by Iowa and San Diego State used a last-second three to survive a visit from Boise State.

Believe it or not, Thursday ramped things up another notch, as Illinois shocked the country by beating No. 1 Indiana on a buzzer-beating layup from Tyler Griffey that capped a 13-2 run. Missouri lost at Texas A&M on a three from Fabyon Harris a matter of minutes before Larry Drew II beat Washington with a buzzer-beater of his own. Colorado came from behind to beat Oregon in the final minute while Nate Wolters was busy scoring 53 points for South Dakota State. Oh, and who can forget the three-quarter court buzzer-beater to force overtime?

That brought us to Saturday, where Ben Brust’s heroics and Russ Smith’s five-overtime struggles bookended a typically inexplicable Saturday. The weekend was capped with a Sunday that saw Minnesota lose to Illinois, Arizona lose to Cal, Duke barely survive BC and Scott Wood save the day for NC State in Lorenzo Brown’s return.

I’m exhausted just typing that out.

But here’s the best part: it’s only going to get better.

Because this week is Rivalry Week. That a look at some of the games on the schedule over the course of the next seven days:

  • No. 10 Kansas State at No. 14 Kansas
  • No. 4 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State
  • No. 25 Kentucky at No. 7 Florida
  • North Carolina at No. 2 Duke
  • No. 6 Syracuse at UConn
  • No. 5 Gonzaga at St. Mary’s
  • No. 20 Wisconsin at Minnesota
  • No. 2 Duke at Maryland
  • Purdue at No. 1 Indiana
  • Oklahoma at No. 17 Oklahoma State
  • Xavier at Dayton

Regardless of when or where these games are played, they are the kind of matchups that are must-see TV. As the saying goes, in a rivalry game, you can throw the records out the window. Fan bases will be fired up. Players will be fired up. Dick Vitale may spontaneously combust. It’s everything that we love about college basketball.

Except these games are packed with so much meaning. Kansas State has a chance to go into Lawrence and drop the Jayhawks two games out of the Big 12 title race. Michigan State can do the same to Michigan. Kentucky will get another shot at proving their legitimacy at Florida. Syracuse will be making their final visit to UConn as a member of the Big East. UNC will be looking to solidify a tournament spot — seriously — by winning in Cameron. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s is one of the nation’s most underrated rivalries.

This week is going to be incredible.

But based on the week and the month — and, frankly, the season — we’ve had, you should have known that already.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.