PLAYER OF THE DAY: Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Cassius Winston was at his very best on Saturday afternoon. Playing in the early tip on the first fully-loaded conference season college hoops slate, Winston finished with 25 points and five assists as the No. 8 Spartans went into Columbus without Josh Langford and knocked off No. 14 Ohio State, 86-77.
Winston finished with 18 of his 25 points in the second half, as he torched C.J. Jackson for layups three times in the opening minutes of the half and forced Chris Holtmann to change his personnel. The Spartans played without their starting point guard on the floor for long stretches of the second half as a result. Ohio State’s offense stalled. Michigan State continued to execute, and by the time it was all said and done, Tom Izzo’s team had turned a seven point halftime deficit into a nine point road win to move to 3-0 in Big Ten play.
It was Winston that was the star on Saturday, outshining Columbus-native Nick Ward and outdueling a young Buckeye backcourt. He’s now averaging 17.7 points and 7.7 assists on the season with shooting splits of 47.7/83.0/45.7. He’s as efficient as point guards can get, and he’s doing all of that on a team that is going to push Michigan atop the Big Ten standings.
At this point, I need to start paying more attention to Winston in the Player of the Year Power Rankings.
TEAM OF THE DAY: Virginia Cavaliers
What No. 4 Virginia did to Florida State on Saturday afternoon should not go overlooked by anyone.
The final score was 65-52, which is impressive in its own right but is nothing compared to the way that the game actually played out. With just over two minutes left in the game and well after Virginia had already emptied their bench, the Cavaliers held a 65-36 lead. Florida State had scored eight points in the first four minutes, which means that over the course of a 34-minute stretch, Virginia held Florida State to just 28 points.
Should I mention that Florida State entered Saturday as the No. 9 team in the AP Poll and ranked in the top 15 on KenPom?
This was a total and utter annihilation of a team that is very capable of making it back to the Elite Eight this year. That should tell you everything that you need to know about this Virginia team. They are just as good defensively as they have been over the years, and this year they have two pros that carry their offense. That doesn’t include Kyle Guy, who finished with 21 points and five threes on Saturday, just three days after he went for a career-high 30 points against Marshall.
The Wahoos are better than they were last season, and that’s saying something.
ONIONS OF THE DAY: Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra
Justin Wright-Foreman might actually be the player of the day. The Hofstra star went for 42 points as the Pride knocked off Northeastern on Saturday afternoon, but that’s not all he did.
He also hit this ridiculous game-winner at the buzzer:
Not a bad afternoon for that young man.
EXTRA ONIONS: Curran Scott, Tulsa
Right after USF at tied the game at 75 with 4.4 seconds left, the Golden Hurricane went the length of the court and did this:
Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty important win for Tulsa because USF has been decidedly not-that-bad this year.
WTF OF THE DAY: Lavall Jordan rips his pants
It was quite the afternoon for Butler head coach Lavall Jordan.
Not only did he coach his team to a blowout win over Creighton in Hinkle Fieldhouse, but he also managed to go viral because … he ripped the seam of his pants while coaching.
And when you rip the seam of your pants while coaching, the only option is to tie a towel around your waste and keep on coaching:
ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide made a statement on Saturday, as No. 13 Kentucky came into Tuscaloosa and left with a 77-75 loss. That final score would look much more impressive had the Tide not found a way to let the Wildcats back into the game in the final minutes. Tevin Mack was the hero, popping off for 20 of his 22 points in the first half while Donta Hall found a way to put Reid Travis in his back pocket. This Alabama team is more talented that I think anyone realizes, and this is the kind of win that will look really good for them on Selection Sunday.
IOWA STATE: I don’t need to say anything about the Cyclones beyond this.
GONZAGA: The Zags smoked Santa Clara on Saturday night, but the best news for them is that they got back both Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall from their injuries.
NEW MEXICO: The Lobos have not been good this season. They entered Saturday with a 6-6 record against Division I competition. They were ranked 190th on KenPom. They had lost to New Mexico State by 35 points. They lost to Saint Mary’s by 25. They lost at home to North Texas and Penn.
And on Saturday, they handed No. 6 Nevada their first loss of the season, an 85-58 beatdown in The Pit. I mean, what in the world? With all due respect to the Lobos, I think that this loss said more about Nevada than it did New Mexico, but it also left me scratching my head — I know that they just got Carlton Bragg back, but there is enough talent on that roster that New Mexico probably should be better than it has been this year.
OKLAHOMA: The Sooners went into Stillwater and picked off Oklahoma State, which means that this Oklahoma team is now 12-2 on the season and is sitting pretty with eight Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins, the most of any team in college basketball. They were already a No. 4 seed in our most recent bracket projection.
SHAMORIE PONDS: Ponds finished with another monster performance at Georgetown, finishing with 37 points in a 97-94 overtime win over the Hoyas. It is going to be a tremendously fun race to watch and see who wins Big East Player of the Year, Ponds or Markus Howard.
OREGON: As if things weren’t already bad enough for the Ducks after losing Bol Bol for the season and Kenny Wooten for a couple more weeks, Oregon went out on Saturday and lost a rivalry game at home, falling to Oregon State, 77-72, behind a 28 point outburst from Tres Tinkle. The Ducks were supposed to be the second-most likely option for an at-large bid in the Pac-12 behind Arizona State. Both teams lost at home this week to teams projected to finish in the bottom half of the conference.
That’s not ideal.
FLORIDA: The Gators had been one of the hottest teams in college basketball heading into Saturday. Then they opened up a double-digit lead on South Carolina in both the first half and the second half. Then they blew both of those leads, allowed the Gamecocks to tie the game up in the final seconds and then lost like this:
That’s not ideal, either.
CINCINNATI: The Bearcats had finally managed to convince people that they might actually be pretty god this year, and then they had to go and do this: Lose at East Carolina. This is a bad loss. A really, really bad loss. East Carolina is the team in the AAC that, along with Tulane, you cannot lose to. They are going to go onto Cincinnati’s tournament profile as a bad loss and drag down their computer numbers. In our most recent bracket, Cincinnati was a No. 6 seed, so they have some room to work with.
NEVADA: Oh, we’ll get to them.
Nevada was absolutely embarrassed on Saturday night.
New Mexico mollywhopped them. The Pit looked like it did in Steve Alford’s glory days. The Wolf Pack got down 22-9, trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and eventually ended up losing 85-58 in a game that they never truly threatened to win.
And that’s a problem for this group, who did not look all that impressive through the first six weeks of the season. They needed a second half comeback to beat Arizona State. They struggled to knock off Grand Canyon. They beat South Dakota State by four, Akron by six and needed to pull away from Utah in the second half to win.
Now this, a 27 point home loss to a team that entered the day ranked 190th by KenPom, a team that had lost by 35 points to New Mexico State, 25 points to Saint Mary’s and to Colorado, North Texas and Penn in the same building that they manhandled Nevada.
The question that we now need answered is which team is Nevada — the one that we fell in love with because of last year’s run to the Sweet 16 and their wins away from home against teams we once thought were pretty good (Arizona State, USC, etc.), or are they the team whose best win, according to KenPom, is either at Loyola-Chicago or at home against Utah State?
I understood why Nevada had some slow starts early on this season. This is a team full of fifth-year seniors that thought they were headed to the NBA. They’ve already won the Mountain West title and are playing out a regular season where they may not end up with a top 50 KenPom team on their schedule when it’s all said and done. It makes sense that this group threw it into cruise control — hell, the Warriors have done it for three straight regular seasons.
On Saturday, they finally got caught coasting by a team that was able to slow down their one-on-one game in the second half.
Frankly, I’m pretty interested in seeing where Nevada goes from here, because I do think that this team can beat just about anyone in college basketball. That’s how high their ceiling is. This roster is built around three all-american caliber players that thrive in isolation and when asked to make a play against smaller, less-talented defenders. That’s what they do, and on the nights when the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline get it rolling, they can do things like they did in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year: light up Cincinnati, one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams.
But Saturday proved that they are not talented enough to avoid getting caught on the nights they decide not to show up, and that matters because of how weak their schedule is. To put this into context, Saint Mary’s entered Selection Sunday with a 28-5 record last season, a win at Gonzaga and four of their five losses away from home — their one home less was to the Zags. They missed the NCAA tournament. Now, Nevada’s non-conference schedule was tougher than that Saint Mary’s team, and the Mountain West is better than last year’s WCC, but there’s nothing that Nevada can do that will be remotely as impressive as winning at Gonzaga.
We’re still three losses away from really needing to have this conversation, but if Nevada can lose by 27 points at New Mexico, why should we assume that they’ll go 17-1 in the Mountain West?