Monday Madness: Best & Worst Of The College Basketball Weekend

I’ve been to some good games at some great venues – Madison Square Garden for the NBA, CenturyLink Field in Seattle for the NFL, Busch Stadium in St. Louis for Major League Baseball – but I doubt there’s a better place to watch a big game than Assembly Hall at Indiana University.

The house that Bob Knight turned into NCAA hoops holy ground was the site of not only the best college basketball game of the season on Saturday, but maybe the best game of any sport in 2011. Sports Illustrated writer Seth Davis tweeted afterward that Indiana’s buzzer-beating upset of No. 1 Kentucky might have been the best regular-season game he’s ever seen.

From the Hoosiers’ highs to the Bearcats and Musketeers’ lows, here are the best and worst of the weekend:

4 Games I Wish You Watched

Indiana 73, Kentucky 72 – For a while, it looked like a Steve Alford-trained army of red-and-white striped Orcs were going to blow the Wildcats out of the water with a barrage of threes and hustle plays. Then, just like in the North Carolina game, Kentucky shored up its D in the second half and went on a 12-3 run to swing the momentum to their side. With one minute to go, Christian Watford put Indiana up one with a spinning lefty layup, then Marquis Teague regained the lead for UK with a driving layup. The Hoosiers stayed alive when Kentucky’s Doron Lamb and Anthony Davis missed key free throws in the final seconds, and Watford ended it by stepping into a trey from the left wing to beat the buzzer and send Assembly Hall into pandemonium.

Kansas 78, Ohio State 67 – Once you got past the primary story line of OSU star Jared Sullinger sitting out with back spasms, you were treated to a well-played game between two national title contenders. Deshaun Thomas assumed the go-to scorer role for Sullinger, pouring in 19 points while the Buckeyes collected 12 offensive rebounds. But the Jayhawks were just too deep, too motivated and too opportunistic when OSU made mistakes. Thomas Robinson led KU with 21 points, while Tyshawn Taylor had 13 assists in his last game before going in for knee surgery.

Temple 78, Villanova 67 – If you were going to bet on which of the weekend’s NCAA games would end in a bench-clearing brawl that left blood on the floor, Temple/Villanova would have been right up there with Cincinnati/Xavier. The always-physical Philly rivalry was intense as usual, and was in a stalemate until the Owls went on a 10-run to take a 10-point lead with six minutes left. Senior guard Ramone Moore led Temple with 32 points, going 14-for-15 at the line.

Murray State 76, Memphis 72 – The last time you were paying attention to Murray State, they were shocking 4-seed Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2010 Big Dance. On Sunday, the Racers improved to 10-0 with a win over Memphis that had all the markers of a March Madness upset. The faster, deeper, taller, obviously more-talented Tigers looked underprepared and under attack by the Murray State threes raining from the ceiling. Senior guard Donte Poole dropped six triples, and his team was ahead by double-digits with two minutes left before weathering a last-ditch Memphis rally.

4 Future Pros You Know

Kenny Boynton, SG, Florida – Boynton scored approximately 13 million points in high school, so I figured he was due for a season like this on the college level, where he is the top scorer on the most talented offensive team in the country. The 6-2 sniper stamped 26 points on Rider, hitting five threes and 9-for-13 from the field. He’s a natural two-guard who may be asked to play point in the NBA, but Boynton will stick on any team that needs somebody to get buckets.

Renardo Sidney, PF, Mississippi State – In and out of the lineup with injuries and beset by his now-trademark inconsistency, Sidney put together his best game of the season with an 18-point, 8-rebound stat line in just 22 minutes against Troy. Of course it wasn’t all gravy: Sid picked up a technical and looked like he was asleep on the court at times, but when he was locked in, he again showed why some NBA team won’t be able to resist taking a chance on him.

Draymond Green, PF, Michigan State – Draymond’s game is like a box of chocolates, and you know the rest. One night he’ll take over as a scorer; the next night he’ll own the boards; and the next night he’ll stir the drink as the Spartans’ best playmaker. Saturday night was one of those scoring nights for the 6-7, 230-pound epitome of versatility. Green lit up Gonzaga for 34 points, hitting 11-of-13 from the field and four threes to go with three steals.

Yancy Gates, PF, Cincinnati – The thing is, Gates should’ve been making himself a household name for basketball reasons this season. Now he’s just known as the Ron Artest/LaGarrette Blount of college ball, the guy who opened up Kenny Frease‘s face during the Xavier/Cincy brawl and earned the longest suspension (six games) of the bunch. When Gates gets back on the court, the 6-9, 260-pounder (13.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg) will hopefully distance himself from the negative headlines and remind NBA scouts why they knew his name in the first place.

4 Future Pros You May Not Know

D.J. Cooper, PG, Ohio – A couple years ago, Cooper put himself on the map when he scorched Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament with the shooting range of a pro and the face of a 12-year-old. Now a junior, he is a 5-11 nightly triple-double threat with the face of a 14-year-old. Cooper put up 14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and five steals against Portland on Saturday.

Royce White, PF, Iowa State – The ’09 Jordan Brand All-American fell off the radar for a couple years after things didn’t work out at Minnesota, and has resurfaced as one of a handful of transfers making an impact for coach Fred Hoiberg. A 6-8, 250-pounder who can handle the ball like a guard and finish among the trees, White went for 17 points and eight boards to lead the Cyclones past Iowa.

Jamelle Hagins, PF, Delaware – The broke college kid’s Kenneth Faried put up the beast stat line of the season so far, with 21 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks against Delaware State. It was the fifth straight double-double for the 6-8 junior, who is averaging 14.6 points, 11.5 boards and 2.5 blocks.

Christian Watford, SF, Indiana – In the biggest game of his career, Watford (20 pts, five rebs) had his defining performance as a Hoosier. Even before he knocked down the game-winning three against Kentucky, the 6-9 wing was hitting clutch shots off the dribble and spotting up beyond the arc. Watford has a little Danny Granger in his game, and if he wasn’t on the NBA radar before Saturday, he is now.

4 Fab Freshmen

Tony Wroten, PG/SG, Washington – He’s not a starter, and yet he’s the Huskies’ best player. Wroten scored a season-high 23 points against Duke, outplaying freshman counterpart Austin Rivers in a loss. Wroten has proven he can be a big-time scorer and playmaker, but he needs to control his turnovers and improve his free-throw shooting.

Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky – Facing a hostile crowd at Indiana (he’s from Indianapolis and chose UK over the Hoosiers), Teague went scoreless in the first half before blowing up for 15 points in the second. He was huge in Kentucky’s late rally that almost won them the game, including hitting a go-ahead layup in the final minute.

Brad Beal, SG, Florida – Beal reminds me of Eric Gordon, an explosive scorer with a smooth outside shooting stroke and the strength of a forward when he goes to the rim. Though he’s only 6-3, Beal has already had three games of 10-plus rebounds. He scored 18 points in another Gators blowout, this one over Rider.

LeBryan Nash, SF, Oklahoma State – Thanks to past freshman phenoms like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony who “got it” right away, people tend to forget that the transition from high school to college is difficult. Nash (13.4 ppg, 41% FG) is the classic case of a dominant high schooler who is realizing things aren’t as easy on the next level – struggling with shot selection and letting the game to come him – but he’s starting to come around. Nash scored 20 points against Pittsburgh’s normally suffocating defense, though the Cowboys lost the game.

4 Teams Running Suicides on Monday

Cincinnati – The Bearcats were headed for this list even before they turned a friendly neighborhood basketball game into the Royal Rumble. Cincinnati was getting blown out by their crosstown rivals before the brawl ensued, having turned in an ugly defensive effort and an even uglier offensive effort (27% FG).

Xavier – It’s not like the Musketeers were innocent victims, either. I don’t hold the post-brawl press conference against Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons (“Zip ’em up” is officially in every thug’s rotation now), because nobody should be expected to be calm and collected until at least one day after a fight. But that doesn’t mean Xavier coach Chris Mack won’t give his team a talking-to (or worse) for casting the program in a negative light. Call it a teaching moment.

Tennessee – Everybody knew this would be a rebuilding year for the Volunteers and first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, but there are still some games on the schedule that even an SEC doormat is supposed to win. Austin Peay was 1-9 going into their game against Tennessee over the weekend, and trailed the Vols by 11 with about 6:30 to play before mounting a comeback win. Tennessee made just one shot over the final five minutes.

Oregon State – Picking on the Pac-12 has (again) become the trendy thing to do this season, and while I want to defend my favorite conference from national scorn, it’s tough without any positive material. The Beavers produced another eye-roller on Friday, losing at home to Idaho in decisive fashion. OSU star guard Jared Cunningham went 0-for-9 from the field.

4 Teams Running Toward the Final Four

Mississippi State – Yeah, Mississippi State. After seeing the likes of Butler, VCU and George Mason make the Final Four in recent years, you can’t automatically write off teams outside of the traditional powerhouses anymore. And the Bulldogs (9-1) have as much raw talent as any team in the country, plus some key elements like size, depth and senior guards. In Saturday’s 38-point rout of Troy, senior PG Dee Bost had 28 points, nine assists and seven threes.

Duke – The typical question mark for a Duke team is whether they can still win when the outside shots aren’t falling and things get grimy. In Saturday’s win over Washington at MSG, the Blue Devils overcame 29-percent shooting beyond the arc, a ton of missed free throws down the stretch, and some key players getting in foul trouble. Austin Rivers scored 18 points, while Andre Dawkins added 17 off the bench for the Blue Devils (9-1).

Kansas – Need another reason why college basketball’s national championship is 20,000 times better than the BCS system? Look at Kansas. The Jayhawks are clearly one of the best teams in the country and deserve a fair shot at winning it all in March. But star PG Tyshawn Taylor has a knee injury and will miss the next three weeks or so. No problem: as long as KU doesn’t completely fall apart in his absence, they will still be there come tourney time to get their title shot. A couple regular-season losses won’t kill them. And that’s how it should be.

North Carolina – Before you label UNC’s six-point win over Long Beach State unimpressive, consider that Long Beach beat Pitt last month and stayed within single digits of Kansas last week. (The battle-tested 49ers have also played Louisville, and have Xavier on the upcoming schedule.) Kendall Marshall had the Tar Heels offense clicking as usual, racking up 16 assists as John Henson scored 24 points, Harrison Barnes scored 20, and Tyler Zeller added 17.

4 Questions That Need Answers

Is there anything that gets sports media types all riled up with their finger-wagging and shame-on-yous more than a fight during a college game?

Was UCLA coach Ben Howland right for dismissing star PF Reeves Nelson?

If you were a D-1 coach, what system would you run: Dribble-drive, full-court press, ball-control, Princeton-style, run-and-gun or something else?

Now that Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III has the Heisman, what are the chances that power forward Perry Jones III can give Baylor a Heisman-Naismith sweep?

What were your takeaways from college basketball this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.

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