OK, college football, you got this one.
Responding to a week of college basketball that started strong with ESPN’s 24-hour tip-off marathon, then got scandalous with news of a potential catastrophe at Syracuse, the gridiron guys regained the spotlight with some Top-5 upsets and plenty of down-to-the-wire thrillers.
But even though college hoops took a comfortable backseat to the BCS, NFL and NASCAR, that doesn’t mean it was uneventful. Here are the best and worst of the weekend:
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4 Games I Wish You Watched
Presbyterian 56, Cincinnati 54 â€“ The name alone might have you thinking Presbyterian is one of those teams that lines up a 6-4 center surrounded by four guys destined to work in IT, but the Blue Hose are no stranger to stomping with the big dogs. Last year they knocked off Wake Forest and Auburn, and this weekend stunned another big-conference foe by beating 20th-ranked Cincinnati. The Bearcats were up 15 in the second half before Presbyterian guard Khalid Mutakabbir (25 pts) met the ghost of Ali Faroukmanesh and started raining jumpers, including the go-ahead trey with seven seconds left.
Oregon State 100, Texas 95 (OT) â€“ On a bang-for-buckets scale, this was the best game of the season so far. Beavers guard Jared Cunningham (37 pts, 20-23 FT) and Longhorns guard J’Covan Brown (25 pts, 5 threes, 9 asts) led the scoring barrage, and OSU used a 9-0 run in overtime to pull off one of the program’s biggest wins in recent memory.
Cleveland State 67, St. Bonaventure 64 â€“ One week after handing seventh-ranked Vanderbilt the season’s first major upset, Cleveland State got all they could handle from the unranked Bonnies. The teams traded runs in the second half, and the score was tied with three seconds left when Vikings guard Trevon Harmon (20 pts) came around a screen a buried a fadeaway three with three seconds left.
Texas A&M 58, St. John’s 57 â€“ In what was basically a road game, their second game in two nights, and ripe for a consolation game letdown after a disappointing loss to Mississippi State, the Aggies overcame Madison Square Garden tenant St. John’s (and some suspect officiating) on Elston Turner‘s pull-up jumper from the right elbow with six seconds left. In what A&M coach Billy Kennedy would probably call poetic justice, St. John’s missed two free throws with two seconds left that would have given them the win.
4 Future Pros You Know
Doron Lamb, SG, Kentucky â€“ I’ll admit, I wasn’t too sold on Lamb’s pro potential going into this season. His ability to shoot the ball wasn’t in question; it was more doubting if he could do anything but knock down jumpers, coupled with a bad habit of disappearing for games at a time. Lamb added some muscle over the summer and is playing with a leader’s edge he didn’t always have as a freshman, and his up-and-down production may be more due to Kentucky’s wealth of talent. Over the weekend Lamb dropped 26 points in a rout of Penn State and scored eight in a closer-than-expected win over Old Dominion.
Robbie Hummel, PF, Purdue â€“ Hummel’s right knee is going to be examined harder than Michael Jackson‘s autopsy report (too soon?), but he’s still too good not to find his way onto an NBA roster. So far in his redshirt senior season he’s staying upright and showing the skills that made him a pro prospect in the first place: Hummel scored 20 points against Temple and had 17 against Alabama over the weekend.
Mason Plumlee, PF/C, Duke â€“ The Phoenix Suns have already drafted Robin Lopez, Taylor Griffin and Markieff Morris. So in the tradition of taking the “other” brother, bank on the Suns not getting their hands on Mason Plumlee. The best of the Plumlee trio ahead of Miles and Marshall, Mason put up 16 points and 13 rebounds against Davidson to bump his season averages to 12.3 points and 10.0 boards per game.
Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina â€“ If you want to play an NBA Draft drinking game (and get smashed), take a swig every time an analyst mentions Barnes’ maturity and consistency and says things like, “He doesn’t do any one thing great, but he’s very good at everything.” The sophomore swingman has been a rock for the Tar Heels, posting identical 17-and-5 stat lines in his first two games, then getting 18 points and seven rebounds in Sunday’s win over Mississippi Valley State.
4 Future Pros You May Not Know
Ray McCallum Jr., PG, Detroit â€“ After putting together a McDonald’s All-American career at Detroit Country Day High School, McCallum chose the life of a college underdog by committing to play for the Titans and for his father, Ray Sr. But the younger Ray has “pro” written all over him. In a blowout of Concordia over the weekend, he put up 17 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Jared Cunningham, SG, Oregon State â€“ If you’re suffering from Kevin Martin withdrawal due to the NBA lockout, get your hands on as much Oregon State game film as possible. Cunningham’s smooth scoring skills (26.0 ppg) and mastery at getting to the free-throw line make him the closest thing the college game has to K-Mart II, without the funny-looking jumper. Cunningham torched Texas for 37 points on Saturday, getting to the line 23 times in an overtime win.
JaMychal Green, PF/SF, Alabama â€“ You know the drill: Too big for the small forwards, too athletic for the power forwards, and just big and athletic enough to land a spot on the NBA Draft stage someday. Green averaged 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in wins over Wichita State and Purdue.
Dominic Cheek, SG, Villanova â€“ Well on his way to a respectable but forgettable career as a defensive stopper for Jay Wright‘s squad, Cheek has rediscovered his shooting stroke this year and has turned himself into a potential pro. The 6-6 junior scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half of Villanova’s win over Delaware, and is averaging 22.0 points per game on 44 percent shooting beyond the arc.
4 Fab Freshmen
Anthony Hicky, PG, LSU â€“ The Tigers are still trying to find their identity, and this weekend realized they might find it by looking down. Standing 5-11, Hickey had a breakout weekend at the Charleston (S.C.) Classic, finishing with 17 points, seven boards, four assists and three steals against Western Kentucky, and 20 points and four dimes against Georgia Tech.
Jabari Brown, SG, Oregon â€“ Unfortunately for the Ducks, odds are Brown will be unleashing his fab-ness at another school. The most hyped recruit of head coach Dana Altman‘s tenure was supposed to help lead an Oregon resurgence in the Pac-12, but yesterday it was announced that Brown had quit the team two games into the season. Altman says he wants Brown back, but even if he does change his mind, how will his teammates take to allowing a quitter back into the fold?
Kevin Pangos & Gary Bell, Gonzaga â€“ After Coach K‘s historic 903rd victory, Pangos and his 903 three-pointers (maybe it was more like nine) against Washington State was arguably the second-biggest storyline from ESPN’s 24-hour college hoops tip-off. Pangos came back closer to Earth this weekend with a 12-point, three-steal effort against Hawaii, while Bell added 14 points on four triples. They weren’t the most hyped freshman backcourt in the country, but by the end of the year, Pangos and Bell may be the best.
Tahj Tate, SG, Delaware State â€“ One day back in my early years at the Dime office, a DVD showed up in the mail. It was a homemade highlight reel of a middle-school ballplayer â€”not something uncommon to find its way to Dime HQ â€” that became famous among the crew more for its production value than its content. The kid was nicknamed “Freeze-Pop,” and his people had gone all-out with promotion and bells and whistles; there was even a clothing line centered on the kid, who seemed on the fast track to becoming the next Hot Sauce. But I kept track of Freeze-Pop, and years later he’s resurfaced as plain ol’ Tahj Tate, getting BUCKETS at Delaware State. The 6-4 freshman dropped 29 points on Notre Dame over the weekend and is averaging 22.0 points this season.
4 Teams Running Suicides on Monday
Washington â€“ Any kid who’s ever been back-slapped at church knows the deal: One of the worst things you can do is embarrass your elders in front of their friends. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar used to coach at Saint Louis â€“ he was actually the last man to guide the Billikens to the NCAA Tournament â€“ so for his Huskies to travel to his old job and get handled, 77-64, Romar is probably pulling the Grandmama card right now.
Drexel â€“ The other thing you really don’t want to do as a kid is ruin it when your elders are trying to relax. After the Dragons scored 35 points in Saturday’s loss to Virginia at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, going 3-for-21 from three-point range and shooting 25 percent from the field, coach Bruiser Flint surely had his mini-vacation ruined by poring over game tape and adding worry lines to his forehead.
Boston College â€“ Teams in the ACC aren’t supposed to lose to those from the Patriot League. And they’re definitely not supposed to get blown out by 22 points while getting bullied on the glass (36-25) and letting the opponent shoot 52 percent beyond the arc. So for letting those things happen against Holy Cross, BC will have some ‘splaining to do.
Arkansas â€“ First-year Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson, a longtime assistant to Nolan Richardson who is bringing “40 Minutes of Hell” back to Fayetteville, can deal with losing for now. After all, he’s just getting started rebuilding a program that lost a lot of talent. But he won’t accept his team getting outrun in the second half when they should at least be the best-conditioned team on the court. Houston ran away from Arkansas in the second half of Friday’s game, handing the Razorbacks their first loss.
4 Teams Running Toward the Final Four
Louisville â€“ No team has been more impacted by early-season injuries, and yet, no team has been less impacted by early-season injuries. Make sense? Probably not. Despite losing junior guard Mike Marra (knee) and freshman swingman Wayne Blackshear (shoulder) to season-ending injuries, and not having star point guard Peyton Siva (ankle) on the court this weekend, Louisville continues to win with suffocating defense and balanced offense. The Cardinals are giving up 49.6 points a night, and on Saturday went on the road and held Butler to 39 percent shooting from the field on a court where the Bulldogs had been 57-5 during the Brad Stevens era.
North Carolina â€“ Still no reason to believe the Tar Heels won’t be the team to beat in March and April, as they smacked around Mississippi Valley State 101-75 on Sunday. UNC is struggling from the free-throw line (63 percent) and behind the three-point line (29 percent), and yet nobody has come close to beating them.
Connecticut â€“ The Huskies found out that freshman point guard Ryan Boatright would be suspended six games by the NCAA, but also found out that they don’t really need him right now. Shabazz Napier posted a triple-double (22 pts, 12 rebs, 13 asts) against Coppin State and Jeremy Lamb (22.7 ppg) continues playing like a National Player of the Year candidate. The backcourt duo is carrying UConn and allowing star freshman big man Andre Drummond to develop at a reasonable pace.
Syracuse â€“ Distractions off the court can be particularly, um, distracting to college players. Which makes it even more impressive that the Orange were able to play as intensely and efficiently as ever in Saturday’s 92-47 win over Colgate despite all that’s going on with assistant coach Bernie Fine facing child-molestation accusations and head coach Jim Boeheim trying to avoid being lumped into a public-opinion group with Joe Paterno.