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Recent struggles for top teams should help you appreciate No. 3 Wichita State

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David Banks/Getty Images

As we headed towards tip-off for the early games on Wednesday night, I couldn’t help but be … underwhelmed.

Five top 25 teams were tipping off at 7:00 p.m. ET and, on paper, all five should have won without breaking a sweat. No. 7 Cincinnati did just that, running away from Central Florida in the first half. It took No. 24 a little bit longer, but they eventually pulled away from Northwestern.

No. 1 Syracuse? They lost to Boston College in the Carrier Dome. BC had won just a single games against a Division I opponent since November entering the night.

No. 2 Florida? They needed the worst 20 seconds of basketball that you’ll see this season in order to hold off Auburn in Gainesville.

No. 10 Saint Louis at least was on the road when they were taken to overtime by Atlantic 10 cellar-dweller George Mason.

It’s not unusual to see top teams struggle as we enter the dog days of February. Arizona lost at Arizona State last Friday. Michigan State lost to Nebraska at home on Sunday, just hours before Villanova was blown out by Creighton. On Tuesday night, Kansas needed a last-second, miracle bucket from Andrew Wiggins to survive a game at Texas Tech.

It happens to everyone.

And it hasn’t happened to No. 3 Wichita State, at least not yet. They beat up on Loyola (IL), 88-74, on Wednesday.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the competition that the Shockers are playing in this year’s version of the Valley is not what we’ve become accustomed to in that conference. It’s as bad as it has been in a long time.¬†That said, it’s not like Boston College is a threat to make the Final Four. George Mason isn’t markedly better than Indiana State or Northern Iowa.

Wichita State has played three singled-digit games since Christmas, road games against the three best teams in the Valley. Only one, the game at Missouri State on January 11th, was really in doubt late in the game, and that one went to overtime after Wichita State dug themselves an 19 point hole in the second half.

My point?

At this time of year, teams are dragging. Practice started in late-September, and when you deal with five months of travel and two-or-three hour practices, it will wear on you. Everyone has games where they don’t show up ready to play, or where their legs just aren’t there, or where they’re a step slow in their defensive rotations.

It’s a part of the game, and it’s not surprising when a group of college kids have an off-night.

I’m not trying to tell you that Wichita State is the best team in the country because they can run through the likes of Bradley and Drake and Evansville.

But disregarding the fact that they are 28-0 because they’ve played a weak schedule ignores one, simple fact: it is a very, very difficult thing to do to beat teams you are supposed to beat 28 straight times.

VIDEO: Monmouth hits a game-winner, Bench Mob member tries to disrobe

King Rice
AP
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Monmouth used a 17-2 run in the final minutes to beat Rider on Friday night, a win that will keep the Hawks within striking distance of the kind of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they fall in the MAAC tourney.

The run was capped by star point guard Justin Robinson, who buried this three with three seconds left to put Monmouth up for good, 79-78:

No. 17 Arizona erases double-digit deficit to beat UCLA

Arizona coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call during the first half of Arizona's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Friday, Feb 12, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Allonzo Trier scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half and Parker Jackson-Cartwright scored 16 points in his second career start as No. 17 Arizona knocked off UCLA, 81-75, in Tucson on Friday night.

UCLA was up by as much as 11 points in the first half and took a ten point lead into half time, but in the second half, the Bruins were eventually done in by foul trouble and the stronger front line of the Wildcats.

Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski were dominant down the stretch. The duo combined to score 12 of the last 23 point for the Wildcats, including the bucket that put the Wildcats ahead for the first time since early in the first half. Off of a missed free throw, UCLA’s Thomas Welsh battled with Tarczewski for the rebound, but when Welsh finally seemed to gain control of the loose ball, Anderson knocked it out of his hands and bullied through Jonah Bolden for a layup.

All told, those two combined for 20 points and 27 boards, seven of which were offensive. They also managed to foul out both Welsh and Tony Parker, although some of the calls that went against UCLA down the stretch were questionable.

The win keeps Arizona within a game of first place Oregon in the Pac-12 standings and tied for second with No. 23 USC, who will be visiting the McKale Center on Sunday night.