2013-2014 Mountain West Preview: Strong, will they perform better in March?

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The 2012-13 season for the Mountain West proved to be another solid campaign for the league with one notable problem: once again the conference struggled mightily in the NCAA tournament. Despite being ranked as the nation’s top conference in the RPI, none of the five Mountain West schools in the field reached the second weekend of the Big Dance. But hope springs eternal, and in 2013-14 the league and its fans are hopeful that another solid regular season will result in a more productive postseason.

Defending champion New Mexico welcomes back key performers in guard Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk, and with longtime assistant Craig Neal replacing the departed Steve Alford there should be no concerns about continuity. The Lobos won’t be without their challengers however, as Boise State, San Diego State and UNLV are all capable of contending for the Mountain West crown. Add in Colorado State and league newcomer Utah State, and this should be a fun season in the Mountain West.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: San Jose State (WAC), Utah State (WAC)
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Two new programs have entered the conference: Two more schools have made the jump from the WAC to the Mountain West: San Jose State and Utah State. While the rebuilding Spartans will take their lumps this season, Stew Morrill’s Utah State program enters the Mountain West ready to compete. The key for the Aggies, who haven’t failed to win at least 20 games in a season since 1998, is to stay healthy. Multiple key players, most notably guard Preston Medlin, missed significant time last season due to injury.

2. “Noodles” grabs the reins at New Mexico: When Steve Alford made the move from Albuquerque to Los Angeles (UCLA) the calls for Craig Neal to be named the head coach were loud, and UNM ultimately promoted Alford’s longtime right-hand man. And he isn’t working with a bare cupboard either. Tony Snell was a first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but four starters return, including guard Kendall Williams and center Alex Kirk.

(MORE: New Mexico’s bid for postseason success)

3. UNLV lost some key players but they’ve got plenty of talent as well: The Runnin’ Rebels saw one of their players from last season’s NCAA tournament team get drafted with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft (Anthony Bennett), another graduate (Anthony Marshall) and two more transfer (Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt). But Dave Rice won’t lack for talent, with UConn transfer Roscoe Smith eligible and guard Bryce DeJean-Jones back for another run. And in Jelan Kendrick, they’ve got a transfer talented enough to have a major impact immediately.

4. San Diego State lost its top two scorers: Head coach Steve Fisher has some key contributors to replace as well, with leading scorers Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley out of eligibility. But Xavier Thames returns, as do Winston Shepard and Skyler Spencer. If SDSU’s newcomers, especially Dakarai Allen, are ready to contribute the Aztecs will once again contend.

5. Boise State returns all five starters from last season’s NCAA tournament team: Leon Rice’s Broncos are a trendy pick to contend for the Mountain West crown, and their experience has a lot to do with that. Both Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks return, as do guards Jeff Elorriaga and Mikey Thompson and forward Ryan Watkins. They may not have a playing surface as original as the football team, but the Broncos will definitely attract eyeballs this season.

PRESEASON MOUNTAIN WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Kendall Williams (New Mexico)

For three seasons Williams has been a steadying influence for the Lobos, and his ability to operate both on and off the ball make the senior guard a tough matchup for opponents. With Tony Snell in the NBA there may be more opportunities for Williams, the reigning Mountain West POY, to score and he’s more than capable of handling the additional responsibilities.

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THE REST OF THE MOUNTAIN WEST FIRST TEAM:

  • G Deonte Burton (Nevada): Burton (16.3 ppg, 3.6 apg) may be asked to do even more scoring this season with Malik Story out of eligibility
  • G Anthony Drmic (Boise State): Drmic (17.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) shot 46.4% from the field and 39.2% from beyond the arc in 2012-13
  • F Josh Davis (San Diego State): Davis averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game at Tulane last season, earning first team All-Conference USA honors
  • C Alex Kirk (New Mexico): Averaged 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, earning second team All-Mountain West honors

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G Preston Medlin (Utah State)
  • G Derrick Marks (Boise State)
  • F Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming)
  • F Roscoe Smith (UNLV)
  • G Deshawn Delaney (New Mexico)

BREAKOUT STAR: G Daniel Bejarano (Colorado State)

This pick is as much about opportunity as it is talent. Bejarano won Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year honors last season, posting averages of 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. With the Rams losing all five starters from last season’s team the Arizona transfer will need to score early and often for Colorado State.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: David Carter (Nevada)

In four seasons as the head coach Carter’s posted an overall record of 74-58, winning a WAC regular season title and making two NIT appearances. But two of his last three seasons have been 19-loss campaigns, including last season’s 12-win campaign (3-13, last in the Mountain West). With a new athletic director as well, this could be an important season for Carter despite having a contract that won’t expire until 2017.

(MORE: Read about Deonte Burton’s push to bring Nevada more team success)

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: That regular season was nice and all, but it won’t mean much if the league once again falters in the NCAA tournament.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Seeing whether or not Boise State can build on last season’s NCAA tournament appearance.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • December 10, Boise State at Kentucky
  • December 14, New Mexico vs. Kansas (in Kansas City)
  • December 7, UNLV at Arizona
  • December 21, New Mexico vs. Marquette (in Las Vegas)
  • January 5, San Diego State at Kansas

PREDICTED FINISH

1. New Mexico: The shift from Alford to Neal isn’t your “standard” coaching change, and with Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk leading the way the Lobos have the pieces needed to remain on top.
2. UNLV: No more Bennett, Marshall or Moser, and Katin Reinhardt transferred, but the Rebels are still talented. Keep an eye on Khem Birch, who should build on his solid play a season ago.
3. Boise State: Drmic and Marks make up one of the best tandems in the conference. Whether or not the Broncos can win the league will depend on their front court.
4. San Diego State: How much has Winston Shepard improved? That’ll be one key for the Aztecs, who need to account for the loss of both Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley.
5. Utah State: The Aggies may be a newcomer but with Preston Medlin back (and healthy) they’ll give their new conference foes fits.
6. Wyoming: Leonard Washington and Derrious Gilmore are gone but Larry Nance Jr. returns for the Pokes, who look to match their 20 wins of a season ago.
7. Colorado State: Larry Eustachy lost a lot of talent from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but this is a solid program (tip of the cap to Tim Miles). The question: can Daniel Bejarano and Jonathan Octeus be the on-court leaders the Rams need with Jesse Carr (knee) unavailable?
8. Nevada: The Wolf Pack won just three league games last season, and that can change if they get more production from the front court. PG Deonte Burton is one of the nation’s best at the position.
9. Fresno State: The dismissal of Robert Upshaw wasn’t a crippling blow for the Bulldogs, who will be improved. But losing Braeden Anderson for the year definitely hurts.
10. Air Force: Falcons lost their top four scorers from a season ago, most notably guard Michael Lyons (17.7 ppg). Could be a tough year in Colorado Springs, but Dave Pilipovich’s team will compete every night.
11. San Jose State: Dave Wojcik takes over as head coach, and his young roster will take its share of lumps in the Spartans’ inaugural Mountain West campaign.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Louisville or Ohio State at No. 1?

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It feels like college basketball makes a little more sense today than it did at this time last week.

That’s because, over the course of the last seven days, we’ve had a number of marquee non-conference battles, from the showdowns that took place during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to a wild Saturday that was headlined by a battle of top 20 teams to a Sunday that happened to feature the worst game between top ten teams that we’ve ever seen.

So there’s a lot to dig through.

And in a season where it doesn’t feel like there are any great teams, I will say this: I think that we’re starting to get some separation at the top.

Anyway, here is my AP poll with some explanation as to why I slotted teams in those spots.



1. LOUISVILLE (9-0, Last Week: 2)

2. OHIO STATE (9-0, 6)

I think there are only two teams this week that can justifiably be ranked No. 1 in a poll: Louisville and Ohio State.

And both have strong claims to the top spot. Louisville was No. 1 in the AP Poll last week and all they did was land a couple of double-digit wins over Pitt and No. 4 Michigan, who was No. 1 in this space seven days ago. They’re very much deserving of being the No. 1 team in the country.

But Ohio State has an argument as well. The Buckeyes beat North Carolina and Penn State by an average of 28.5 points this week, with the win over the former coming in Chapel Hill. The Buckeyes have three wins over 25 points or more over KenPom top 25 opponents. To put that into context, there have been just six instances this season where a KenPom top 50 team has lost by 20 or more. Ohio State is responsible for half of them.

So they’re deserving of consideration as well.

3. KANSAS (7-1, 3)

If you forced me to put college basketball into tiers, I would have Kansas as the third team in the top tier. Hell, I think that there’s an argument to be made that they are the favorite to win the national title right now. They have the most unstoppable force of the elite teams – see: Azubuike, Udoka – and they have the best point guard play as well. They beat No. 20 Colorado by 14 on Saturday evening, a win that is going to age really nicely.

4. MICHIGAN (8-1, 1)

The Wolverines got smoked when they played at Louisville on Tuesday, which was hardly unexpected. Michigan was coming off of a trip to the Bahamas, where they played three games in three days, and it was the most obvious fade Michigan spot in the history of gambling. They bounced back on Friday by putting up 103 points on Iowa.

5. MARYLAND (10-0, 4)

Maryland is still undefeated despite trying their damnedest to not be undefeated anymore. The Terps needed to rally from 15 points down in the second half to avoid dropping a home game against Illinois, but they did it. I’m still torn on just how good this team is, but the talent is undoubtedly there.

6. GONZAGA (10-1, 8)

The Zags went into Seattle and picked off in-state rival Washington on Sunday night. That’s a really nice win for a team that seems to be flying under the radar a little bit. Remember the name Joel Ayayi. He’s the x-factor for Mark Few.

7. KENTUCKY (7-1, 5)

We just have to survive games against Georgia Tech and Utah in the next 10 days and we’ll get rewarded with the Wildcats taking on No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 Ohio State in the span of one week. I’m already fired up.

8. ARIZONA (9-1, 9)

I discussed why on the podcast (at the 26:50 mark), but I actually feel better about Arizona after they lost at Baylor than I did before they played.

9. AUBURN (8-0, 10)

I’m still in on this Auburn team. They struggled with Furman at home, but the Palladins are well coached with good guard play. Teams like that are not going to be affected by Auburn’s pressure. There’s a reason they are still undefeated.

10. DAYTON (7-1, 12)

I guess that I’m still higher than the public on Dayton, and they rewarded me by going out west and taking care of Saint Mary’s in Phoenix. This is a really, really good team that spaces the floor, shoots a ton of threes and has Obi Toppin. They’re legit.

11. DUKE (9-1, 13)

Exactly seven days after they lost at home to Stephen F. Austin as the No. 1 team in the country, Duke turned around and went into East Lansing and handed the preseason No. 1 team in the country a beatdown. I don’t pretend to understand it.

12. OREGON (7-2, 15)

The Ducks bounced back from a tough trip to the Bahamas by beating Hawaii in Eugene over the weekend. We’ll get a better sense for just how good they are this weekend, when they head to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan.

13. BAYLOR (7-1, 17)

The Bears hung on to beat Arizona at home on Saturday despite playing what sounded like a road game in their own gym. That’s what happens in Big 12 country when your football team is playing for the conference title at the exact same time. The big question with Baylor is going to be whether or not Tristan Clark can ever get back to 100 percent.

14. VILLANOVA (7-2, 18)

The Wildcats have been pretty good since they were plastered by Ohio State in Columbus, and there is still rook for them to grow. Bryan Antoine has only played 38 minutes this season as he comes back from shoulder surgery.

15. UTAH STATE (9-1, 19)

Neemias Queta is back, which means that we can finally start to see the Aggies that we have been expecting to see since last March. When healthy, this is a dangerous group.

16. SETON HALL (6-3, 16)

The status of Sandro Mamukelashvili, who may have broken a bone in his wrist, is much more important than losing on the road at Iowa State. Without him, Seton Hall’s ceiling takes a significant hit.

17. MEMPHIS (8-1, 20)

Memphis just keeps winning without James Wiseman. On Saturday, they erased a 20 point deficit on the road against a pretty decent UAB team.

18. BUTLER (9-0, NR)

The most underrated team in college basketball right now, the Bulldogs picked off Florida in Hinkle this weekend after going into Oxford and beating Ole Miss.

19. TENNESSEE (7-1, 22)

The Vols have only played one game since returning from the Emerald Coast Classic. They get Memphis on Saturday. Buckle up.

20. VIRGINIA (8-1, 7)

The Wahoos can’t score. When you go from having Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter to Kihei Clark, Kody Stattman and Mamadi Diakite, you are going to take a step back.

21. NORTH CAROLINA (6-3, 11)

I’m not sure what to do with North Carolina. On the one hand, they looked awful this week. On the other hand, they’re a young team still learning how they are going to play that had to go up against the two best defensive teams in college basketball.

22. XAVIER (9-1, 24)

Xavier’s win over Cincinnati on Saturday should force you to take notice. All the people that Travis Steele bought beers for certainly did.

23. PURDUE (6-3, NR)

Purdue gave up 84 points in two games this weekend against Virginia and Northwestern. Matt Painter might be able to get to the NCAA tournament with my men’s league team.

24. FLORIDA STATE (7-2, 21)

Just when I was starting to buy in to the Florida State hype they go out and lose by 14 at Indiana, who promptly goes and loses by 20 to Wisconsin. I don’t know anymore.

25. MARQUETTE (7-2, NR)

I’ve been impressed with Marquette defensively. If you can guard and you have two players that are as good at getting a bucket as Markus Howard and Koby McEwen, you have a chance to win a bunch of games.

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 18 Butler, No. 23 Purdue, No. 25 Marquette
DROPPED OUT: No. 14 Michigan State, No. 23 Florida, No. 25 Colorado

No. 9 Gonzaga uses late 3s to beat No. 22 Washington 83-76

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SEATTLE — One glance at the shot clock told Killian Tillie there was no choice. He had to launch the jumper 30 feet from the basket.

When the shot left Tillie’s hand, it felt just like a normal 3-point attempt, even if he was almost closer to half-court. And the result? ”

“It felt good. It was cash,” Tillie said.

The senior forward hit the key 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 2:55 remaining and finished with 15 points, Joel Ayayi hit another 3 with 24 seconds left that served as a capper, and No. 9 Gonzaga held off No. 22 Washington 83-76 on Sunday night.

Control of the in-state rivalry remained on the east side of the state as the Bulldogs (10-1) could never pull away but made the key plays in the closing minutes to hold off the young Huskies (7-2). Gonzaga has won six straight in the series, with Washington’s last win coming in 2005.

It was a fun, loud, exciting night where Washington’s home arena roared in hope of the Huskies mounting a comeback. But every rally was stemmed and it was the Gonzaga fans yelling and cheering at the end.

“It was just a great college basketball game. Big shot after big shot. Big play after big play,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Except it was the Bulldogs who made more of the big plays and especially the big shots.

Tillie and Ayayi were two of the heroes on a night the Bulldogs put five players into double figures. Filip Petrusev finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Ryan Woolridge had 16 points, including two key baskets in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Corey Kispert added 15 points and Ayayi finished with 12, but none bigger than his 3 in the final minute.

“We did a really good job taking away the 3 until the end of the game,” Washington coach Mike Hopkins said.

Ayayi had just missed a 3 on Gonzaga’s previous possession, but didn’t hesitate to launch another 3 after Washington’s Nahziah Carter had missed a drive at the other end that could have pulled the Huskies within one.

“I felt really comfortable when I got the ball and somebody had to shoot it,” Ayayi said.

Isaiah Stewart led Washington with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Jaden McDaniels and Carter both added 15 points and Quade Green finished with 14.

Gonzaga never trailed after falling behind 5-4, but the lead never got bigger than nine. Every time Washington made a run, the Bulldogs had an answer.

Gonzaga took its biggest lead at 65-56 with 8:35 left when Drew Timme tipped in Woolridge’s miss. It seemed a substantial advantage after the teams spent the first 30-plus minutes never separated by more than a couple of points.

But Washington responded with a pair of free throws from Stewart and off a turnover a floater from Carter to pull back within 65-60 and force a Gonzaga timeout. Tillie stemmed the momentum with a tough basket, but Hameir Wright answered with a 3 for Washington and the lead was 67-63 with 7 minutes left.

Gonzaga pushed the lead back to 7, but Carter’s fast-break layup, followed by Stewart hustling to save a loose ball and McDaniels hitting a 3 pulled the Huskies to 72-70 with 3:51 left.

That’s when Tillie saw the shot clock winding down and launched from well-beyond the 3-point line. The 3 pushed the lead back to five and after Carter hit a 3 for Washington, Woolridge scored on consecutive possessions for the Bulldogs.

Ayayi’s 3 was the capper that sent Washington fans to the exits.

“We did a good job every time answering them,” Tillie said.

IN THE MIDDLE

Despite being a heavy focus of Gonzaga’s defense, Stewart had one of his more impressive games. The freshman was 6 of 7 shooting and 9 of 10 at the foul line. He also stayed out of foul trouble and played a season-high 37 minutes.

AGAINST THE PAC

Few improved to 39-18 all-time against Pac-12 opponents. The Bulldogs are 2-0 against the conference already this year with wins over Oregon and Washington and one more game upcoming.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The matchup against Washington was the start of a mighty three-game stretch for the Bulldogs. They’ll have a nearly a week off before traveling to Arizona next Saturday and then return home to host North Carolina. Washington was the second ranked team the Bulldogs have faced.

Washington: The Huskies will lament a sloppy first-half where they committed 12 turnovers. The Huskies finished with 19 turnovers, which was two off a season-high committed. “When you’re playing a top-10 team you can’t have 19 turnovers,” Hopkins said.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: At Arizona on Saturday.

Washington: Host Seattle on Dec. 17.

No. 5 Virginia wins slugfest against No. 7 North Carolina, 56-47

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Mamadi Diakite scored 12 points and Tomas Woldetensae and Francis Caffaro combined for 21 points off the bench as No. 5 Virginia rebounded from a mid-week embarrassment to hand No. 7 North Carolina their second straight loss, 56-47.

This was hardly a pretty basketball game. The two teams combined to shoot 34.7 percent from the floor. Both turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions. The score at halftime was 24-18, and while the scoring kicked up a notch in the second, it was hardly a vintage North Carolina performance.

In fact, it’s the second straight game that the Tar Heels failed to crack 50 points – they lost 74-49 at home against Ohio State on Wednesday night – and further highlighted the issues they have on the offensive end of the floor.

The truth is that neither of these teams are all that good right now. Both are still reeling from a massive talent departure during the offseason, and with Duke still working through some things as well, it looks like this is going to be Louisville’s ACC title to win.

I will say this: I do think that both teams do have access to a ceiling.

The Tar Heels are a young team built around the exploits of a pair of freshmen (Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot) and they just played the two best defensive teams in the country, according to KenPom. Things were never going to look pretty for them in these two games.

And for Virginia, the answer is going to be finding some shot-makers on their perimeter. Part of that will be the return of Braxton Key. Part of it will be hoping that this 3-for-4 shooting performance from three is the start of Woldetensae busting out of his funk. And part of it will be getting the best out of Casey Morsell, who has shown some flashes but has played like a freshman.

I’m not ready to write either team off, not in a year where no one is all that good, but I am ready to say neither UNC nor UVA are anywhere near top ten teams as of today.

Travis Steele buys entire bar drinks after Xavier beats Cincinnati (VIDEO)

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To celebrate a win over rival Cincinnati, Xavier head coach Travis Steele walked into Dana Gardens — *the* spot for Xavier fans and students — and dropped a huge wad of cash on the bar. Beat UC and drink for free:

Legendary move.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Ohio State’s awesome, Cowan the savior, Queta’s back

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Football dominated the conversation on Saturday.

That’s what happens when conference championship games determine who will be in the college football playoff. And some of those football games that were played on Saturday were fun!

But there were also some good, meaningful college basketball games that happened as well.

So if you spent the afternoon and evening eating, drinking and watching football, here are the ten things you need to know after a fun Saturday of hoops.

1. OHIO STATE IS PLAYING LIKE THE BEST TEAM IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL

I don’t know if No. 6 Ohio State in the best team in college basketball right now.

I don’t think anyone in college basketball is the best team.

After seeing Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke lose as the No. 1 team in the country, I feel like a man that has had multiple relationships end because he was cheated on. I can’t fall in love again until I can trust again, and I am definitely not ready to trust a single college basketball team with the title of my girlfr-… I mean, the No. 1 team in college basketball.

That includes Ohio State.

But I do think that I can say this and have it be justifiable simply because it can be backed up with facts: Ohio State is playing like the best team in college basketball right now.

On Saturday afternoon, the Buckeyes mollywhopped Penn State, beating them 106-74 as they became the first Big Ten team to put up triple digits in a conference game since 2006. Before you start snickering about how bad Penn State is, remember this: The Nittany Lions entered the day as the No. 23 team in KenPom’s rankings.

Ohio State beat them by 32 points.

And that’s not the only KenPom top 25 team that they have done this to.

They beat Villanova by 25. They beat North Carolina by 25, and that game took place in Chapel Hill. According to the indefatigable Jordan Sperber, there have been just six games this season where a KenPom top 50 team has lost by 20 or more points. Ohio State is responsible for dispensing three of those butt-kickings.

So while I don’t think that Ohio State will find themselves at the top of the polls on Monday morning, I do think that there is probably an argument to be made that they deserve it.

2. ANTHONY COWAN SAVES MARYLAND FROM DISASTER

The No. 3 Terps dug themselves a 15 point hole at home against Illinois on Saturday afternoon, which is hardly an ideal scenario and more or less the kind of thing that the naysayers have come to expect out of Mark Turgeon teams these days.

But Maryland didn’t lose.

The Terps rallied, and Cowan was the savior. He finished with 20 points, seven boards, six assists and three steals to lead the way, which is impressive, but what matters more is that Cowan scored four points in the final 20 seconds – a 28-foot three followed by a steal, drawing a foul and hitting a free throw – to give Maryland a 59-58 come-from-behind win.

Now, on the one hand, this performance is somewhat worrying. Top five teams playing at home should not find themselves in a 15 point hole to anyone. But everyone is going to have rough nights, and while this certainly qualifies as such, Maryland still found a way to win. Winning ugly is still a win.

And in regards to Cowan, I think that it should be noted that these are the kind of performances we’ve been waiting to see from him. Put the team on his back, carry them to a win they’re not supposed to get. That’s the stuff All-Americans do.

3. BAYLOR’S TRISTAN CLARK IS NOT RIGHT

The No. 18 Bears found a way to hang on and beat No. 12 Arizona in Waco on Saturday, 63-58, despite the fact that they had to give away free tickets – many of which were scooped up by Arizona fans – because their football team was playing in the Big 12 title game at the exact same time.

But Clark only played ten minutes after sitting out Wednesday’s game against UMES with a foot injury and a knee that apparently hasn’t quite recovered from surgery last season. He tweaked something in the first half and never came back in.

I feel for the kid. Last season, when Clark went down, he was arguably the best big man in the Big 12. He was likely a shoe-in for first-team all-conference had he played for the entire season, and the idea of pairing him with Freddie Gillespie, Mark Vital and all of those talented guards was why everyone was so bullish on Baylor entering the season.

And they weren’t wrong.

This is still a top 15 team.

But if Clark can’t get back to being the guy that he was for two months at the start of last season, that’s a pretty big blow to Scott Drew’s frontcourt depth.

4. NEEMIAS QUETA IS BACK

After a full month of nightly speculation about when Utah State would get their 7-foot-1 Portuguese center back from a knee injury, we finally got the answer on Saturday.

Midway through the first half in a home win over Fresno State on Saturday, Queta checked in for the first time this season.

Queta played just 10 minutes, finishing with six points on six free throws, missing all three of his field goals, but it’s his presence and availability that matters. The Aggies have plenty of skill and shooting on this roster. What they have been missing is a defensive anchor and a rim-protector, and those are the things that Queta does well enough to attract NBA attention.

5. MARKUS HOWARD IS BACK, TOO

After missing a game on Wednesday with a concussion, Markus Howard returned to the floor for Marquette on Saturday, and he made a difference.

The Golden Eagles went into the Little Apple and knocked off Kansas State, 73-65, thanks to 19 points from Howard.

6. IT IS TIME TO TAKE BUTLER SERIOUSLY

I know, I know, it’s Florida.

At this point, Florida has made us believers in Florida State, UConn and now Butler. So maybe we should be saying more about the Gators than about the teams they are playing. That’s certainly a conversation worth having at some point.

But I also think that it is fair to point out that Butler, currently sitting 9-0 after a very impressive 76-62 over those Gators – one in which their star, Kamar Baldwin, was just OK – currently has wins over Florida and Minnesota at home, Stanford and Missouri on a neutral and Ole Miss on the road.

This isn’t a fluke anymore.

7. CINCINNATI HAS BIGGER ISSUES THAN JARRON CUMBERLAND’S HEALTH

I don’t know how injured Jarron Cumberland is right now. I know that he had some issues early in the season that kept him out of practice for a few weeks, and I know that he and head coach John Brannen have had their issues. Cumberland has missed two games this season. He only played 18 minutes in a win against Vermont. His numbers are way down from last season.

On Saturday, Cumberland was 4-for-14 from the floor and finished with just 11 points in a 73-66 loss at Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout.

The bottom line is this: Right now, whatever is going on between Cumberland and Brannen is torpedoing what could have been a really good season.

8. KANSAS PASSED ANOTHER TEST AT HOME

I was actually really curious to see how Kansas would bounce back from their win in the Maui Invitational on Saturday when they hosted No. 20 Colorado.

The Buffaloes are tough. They are a veteran group that is well-coached and that defends the paint well. They have the bodies to give Udoka Azubuike some trouble inside. But that didn’t happen. There was no Maui hangover. The Jayhawks picked off the Buffaloes, 72-58, in a game that was closer to 20 in the second half.

That’s a good win in a tough spot.

9. INDIANA TOOK THEIR FIRST LOSS IN THEIR FIRST ROAD GAME

I don’t think I was the only one that thought the Hoosiers were officially back when they managed to beat up on a good Florida State team on Tuesday night, winning 72-58 in Assembly Hall. That win boosted their record to 8-0 on the season, and while all eight wins came at home, it surely had to mean something considering that one of those wins came against the No. 17 Seminoles.

Right?

Well, on Saturday, those very same Hoosiers got absolutely humiliated in an 84-64 loss at now 5-4 Wisconsin. Indiana trailed by as many as 30 points on Saturday. That’s not good.

10. CREIGHTON HUMILIATED NEBRASKA

We knew that Nebraska was in a rebuilding year in their first season with Fred Hoiberg at the helm, and we also knew that Creighton is a team good enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid this season.

The Bluejays were always going to be favored.

But this was a rivalry game.

Nebraska would make it interesting, right? Because these are the kind of games where you just throw the records out the window, correct???

Well, no.

Creighton was up 27-4. They led 37-7. I think the worst that it got was 42-11. The final wasn’t quite as bad – Creighton won 95-76 – but I don’t think anyone still cared at that point.