First bracket countdown: Observations and notes

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Our first in-season bracket projection at Bracketville is due out Monday evening (Dec. 6).  With it will come a lot of debate (and some complaints).  Time to fire away with some notes and observations from a great first month of college hoops.

 The first note is to remind ourselves that a lot of meaningful basketball remains.  Things don’t necessarily end like they start.  Flashback: Georgetown opened the ’08-’09 season 11-1, including a win at Connecticut – an eventual No. 1 seed.  From there, the Hoyas stumbled through the Big East – finishing 7-11 in conference play and 16-14 overall – missing the NCAAs.   With that, here we go …

  • San Diego State and UNLV lead a quadrant of teams (BYU and New Mexico) from the Mountain West that could impact our final bracket in March.  SDSU opened with three true road games and two neutral-court affairs – including a win at Gonzaga.  It’s the type of schedule that should pay big dividends.  UNLV has already beaten Wisconsin (home) and Virginia Tech (neutral court).   BYU has victories over WAC-favorite Utah State and St. Mary’s.  If there’s a bubble team, it’s likely New Mexico.  The Lobos beat Arizona State, but lost a lopsided tilt at Cal. 
  • If Connecticut continues to get production from Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, and others, the Huskies are in line for a very good season.  Kemba Walker is a front-runner for Player-of-the-Year, and UConn already has three wins over NCAA-level teams: Wichita State, Michigan State, and Kentucky (Maui Invitational).
  • Who thought Notre Dame would win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando?  While beating Georgia, California, and Wisconsin isn’t quite like UConn’s feat in Maui, the Irish have certainly improved expectations – at least outside South Bend.
  • Georgetown is also off to a great start.  The Hoyas 111-102 OT win over Missouri ranks as the season’s best game to date.  The season-opening road win at Old Dominion is looking better all the time.
  • Pittsburgh is solid again – beating Maryland and Pittsburgh in New York.  A No. 1-seed hopeful, the Panthers’ real questions won’t begin until March.  Can they reach a Final Four?
  • Overall, the Big East is 17-6 vs. fellow BCS teams.
  • The Big Ten – fresh off its second straight ACC-Big Ten title – is 14-10 vs. BCS teams and 9-5 vs. the ACC overall.  In our preseason Power 24, we suggested that Ohio State would challenge Michigan State for league supremacy.  No team has two bigger true road wins (Florida, Florida State) than the Buckeyes.  That said, MSU was 4-2 at this juncture last season and the Spartans ended up in the Final Four.  Don’t quit on Tom Izzo’s bunch just because they lost to UConn and at Duke. 
  • Will Duke lose to anyone?  That will be the question given the Blue Devils’ talent, depth, and incredible start.  Duke powered through Marquette and Kansas State in Kansas City before wiping out Oregon on the West Coast and the above-mentioned Spartans in Durham.  Even so, an undefeated regular-season is unlikely.  Trips to Maryland and North Carolina are always tricky – even if the Tar Heels have spun their wheels a bit.
  • Hard to imagine North Carolina having another down year from start to finish.  The Tar Heels are loaded with talent and you have to figure they’ll figure it out at some point.  A Top 10 preseason ranking simply wasn’t justified – then again, preseason rankings mean nothing anyway.  An exercise in fun (futility) nothing else.
  • Overall the ACC is just 14-18 vs. BCS teams. 
  • Virginia Tech could be one team that wishes it had a first-month do-over.  While the Hokies have played a much better non-conference slate, they are 0-3 in big-win games – falling at Kansas State, to UNLV on a neutral floor, and dropping a home game to Purdue in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.  Could be another testy Selection Sunday if the Hokies stumble in the ACC.
  • What’s going on the Atlantic 10Richmond has the best win (Purdue) while Temple has struggled more than expected.  The Owls were favored to win the Old Spice Classic but lost to California and Texas A&M.  Hampered by injuries, Xavier has been mostly unimpressive and Dayton was blown out by Cincinnati and lost at home to East Tennessee State.
  • The Pac-10 isn’t much better – thus far.  Washington is the league’s best, yet the Huskies missed chances with both Kentucky and Michigan State in Maui.  Neither is a bad loss, but outside a trip to Texas A&M (Dec. 11), UW now has little chance to make a non-conference impression.  A Top 4 seed will be hard to achieve.  Ironically, California has the league’s best wins (New Mexico and Temple) even though they lost games to Notre Dame and Boston College in Orlando.  The good news is that Arizona and UCLA seem on track to be in the NCAA discussion, along with Washington State.  Better quality wins should be available in conference play.
  • As noted in an earlier Bracket Bits column, the Missouri Valley will be challenged by another poor start.  Wichita State really hurt its opportunities in Maui by giving up a second-half lead to Connecticut.  Missouri State lost at Tennessee and Tulsa in its two best non-league tilts to date. 
  • By comparison, Colonial teams Old Dominion and VCU would both be in the NCAA discussion today – with ODU pushing for a single-digit seed.  The Monarchs gave Georgetown a great battle and have beaten Clemson, Xavier, and Richmond.  A win at Missouri on Dec. 30 would really leave a good impression.
  • Kansas State will battle Kansas for supremacy in the Big 12.  The Jayhawks know that Josh Selby will be eligible this month (Dec. 18) – another piece to an already good puzzle.  If Selby plays anywhere near the level of Kyrie Irving at Duke, KU will be in play for a No. 1 seed.
  • Not sure what to make of Missouri.  An NCAA team for sure, but the Tigers lost a virtual home game in Kansas City to their only quality opponent to date (G’Town).  They also struggled with several mid-range teams in Cancun and nearly coughed up a big lead at Oregon before winning.
  • Texas was impressive in New York, beating Illinois in OT and losing a tight game to Pittsburgh.  The Longhorns appear well on their way to a turn-around type season.
  • Gonzaga has played well, but not great.  The health of Elias Harris will be a determining factor for the Zags.  St. Mary’s is probably a bubble team – the one-point loss to BYU on a neutral court is encouraging.
  • So far, Tennessee isn’t letting all the off-court Bruce Pearl distractions effect its on-court performance.  How long will that continue, and what lies ahead for the Vols?  Pearl says his eight-game SEC suspension won’t matter – we’ll see.  Kentucky is loaded, but dealing with severe youth – as witnessed by a lopsided loss to UConn in Maui.  Still, I’ll take UK to win the SEC in March – especially if Enes Kanter wins his appeal/resubmission regarding NCAA eligibility.
  • Paging Florida.  Who are the real Gators?  Nice win at Florida State.  Bad loss to Central Florida.  Okay first half against Ohio State at home. That’s the type of formula that earns you a 7-10 seed in the NCAAs.
  • The SEC West is working hard for the NIT.  Favorite Mississippi State lost at home to Florida Atlantic and scheduled its first 11 games at home.  Sounds like a recipe for a very poor non-conference SOS – same as last year.
  • Minnesota looked very good in Puerto Rico – beating North Carolina and West Virginia.  Not sure what happened in the second half against Virgina, but the Gophers are well on their way to wearing a home jersey in the NCAA’s first round (Top 8 seed).  Wisconsin is, well, Wisconsin.  The Badgers aren’t likely to win the Big 10, but they are likely to make another trip to the NCAAs.
  • Illinois has avoided the bad losses it had last year.  Thus, an NCAA trip looks promising.  If the Illini improve rebounding and free-throw performance, they could prove dangerous.  They have good wins over Maryland and North Carolina, and an OT loss to Texas.

I’m sure there’s numerous notes and observations we’ve missed.  We can’t go through every team.  Can’t wait to get the first real bracket together. If you have thoughts, please send a rebound.  Comment below or send an e-mail to bracketville.hoops@gmail.com.  I’m also on Twitter: BracketguyDave.

Indiana’s late-run beats No. 11 Michigan State 67-63

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Joey Brunk scored 14 points, including a key layup with 1 minute left to play, and Jerome Hunter made two late free throws Thursday night to close out Indiana’s 67-63 victory over No. 11 Michigan State.

The Hoosiers (15-4, 5-3 Big Ten) have won two straight and four of their last five. It was coach Archie Miller’s 50th win since taking the job three seasons ago.

Cassius Winston had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Spartans (14-5, 6-2), who lost their third straight in the series.

Michigan State had a chance to force overtime after forcing a turnover, calling timeout and sending Winston through the lane. He flipped the ball to Xavier Tillman for a layup, but the ball rolled off the rim and Hunter grabbed the rebound.

His free throws sealed the win.

The Hoosiers needed everything they had to earn this one after blowing a seven-point halftime lead.

Michigan State rallied by making its first six 3-point attempts in the second half and finally took a 51-48 lead on Rocket Watts’ 3 with 11:05 to go.

It remained a one-possession game the rest of the way.

But Aljami Durham finally gave Indiana what it needed – a 3 with 1:52 left – to break a 60-60 tie. Brunk’s layup made it 65-62.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Trips to Indiana just haven’t been kind to the Spartans lately. On Jan. 12, they were routed at Purdue. This time, they got beat in the closing minutes. Clearly, Michigan State performed closer to expectations than it did at Purdue. But another slow start cost them another game. They will return to Indiana for the conference tournament in March.

Indiana: It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Hoosiers struggled to make shots. But they’ve figured out how to limit the 3s and take advantage of their size and athleticism inside, and it’s made a huge difference. If Indiana’s offense stays in sync this weekend, they just might crack the Top 25 for the first time.

STAT PACK

Michigan State: Aaron Henry had 12 points, while Gabe Brown had 10 points and four 3s. Xavier Tillman finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. … The Spartans had 13 turnovers, but only gave up six points off those turnovers. … Michigan State started the game by missing its first nine 3s. It wound up 9 of 21 from beyond the arc.

Indiana: Trayce Jackson-Davis had 12 points and four rebounds, while Durham finished with 11 points and four 3s. … Race Thompson had four points, two blocks and two steals before leaving the game late in the first half after a hard foul. He sat on the bench the entire second half. … Nine of the 10 Hoosiers who appeared in the first half scored. Only Jerome Hunter, who logged four minutes, was shut out. … NBA star Victor Oladipo attended the game. The two-time All-Star is expected to make his season debut with the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: plays two of its next three on the road, including Sunday’s stop at Minnesota.

Indiana: hosts another ranked opponent, No. 17 Maryland, on Sunday.

Three Things To Know: Marcus Carr beats Ohio State, Indiana wins, Yoeli’s back

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There were no brawls, but there is still plenty to talk about after a full slate of games on Thursday night.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. THE BIG TEN STAYS WILD

It was another bonkers night in the toughest conference in the country on Thursday.

Let’s start with the early game.

Ohio State lost for the sixth time in the last seven games, blowing an 11-point second half lead after Marcus Carr, who finished with 21 points, his a three with 3.3 seconds left on the clock to give the Gophers a 62-59 win.

Daniel Oturu added 11 points and six boards, all of which came in the second half, as he shut down Kaleb Wesson to give Minnesota the season-sweep of the Buckeyes.

Minnesota is now 5-4 in the Big Ten and 11-8 on the season, and while this loss drops Ohio State into 12th place in the Big Ten standings, the work that they did in the early part of the season combined with the depth and strength of the conference they play in means that, as of now, this is still a Quad 1 win for Minnesota.

The late game was just as crazy.

No. 11 Michigan State trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before storming back to take a lead in the final four minutes. But Indiana responded, and caught a lucky break as Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open tip-in with less than a second left on the clock that would have forced overtime.

The Spartans are now 6-2 in the Big Ten, putting them in a tie for first place with Illinois, while Indiana an absolutely enormous win for Archie Miller and this program. With No. 17 Maryland coming to town on Saturday, this was critical for Archie Miller, whose lack of success has gotten the locals riled up.

This should give him some breathing room.

2. YOELI CHILDS IS BACK

It hasn’t really been discussed much nationally to this point, but BYU is a really good, really dangerous team this season when they are at full strength.

The problem has been that they’ve barely been at full strength.

Their best player is Yoeli Childs, a 6-foot-9 center with all the tools that make him an intriguing NBA prospect and, in turn, an absolute monster in the WCC. But he missed the first nine games of the season because of a paperwork issue withdrawing from last year’s NBA draft, and then had to sit out the last four after injuring his finger.

But he’s back now.

And he put everyone on notice with a 26 point, nine rebound outburst in a 74-60 win at Pacific.The Cougars are a very real at-large candidate with the size and shot-making to threaten Gonzaga. Keep an eye on them.

3. HOUSTON SURVIVES UCONN

In one of the weirdest end-of-game sequences I can remember seeing, No. 25 Houston managed to find a way to survive UConn’s upset bid.

Here’s what happened: The Cougars, who trailed for the entire game, finally took the lead late in the second half. They had pushed the lead out to six points, when UConn’s Jalen Gaffney scored with 7.3 seconds left to cut it to four. But after he scored, Houston’s DeJon Jarreau said something to Danny Hurley and was given a technical foul. After Gaffney made both free throws, Jarreau then committed a five-second violation on the ensuing inbounds.

UConn ball.

But this is the strangest part: Since UConn was in foul trouble, they brought in a walk-on — Temi Aiyegbusy — to commit a foul. But no time went of the clock on the turnover, so he had to remain on the court for the UConn possession. The ball ended up in his hands in the corner, and he passed up on a three took a pull-up that missed.

Houston grabbed the rebound, made their free throws, and that was that.

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

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Very other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure: