Monday Madness: College Basketball’s Weekend In Review

Hidden between the lines of the most depressing sports stories of the week – Penn State’s cover-up scandal putting a dark cloud over college football, and the NBA lockout threatening to put pro basketball on indefinite hiatus – are two words that should cheer up anybody who frequents this site: “college” and “basketball.”

The first full weekend of college hoops 2011-12 has been played, and it was indeed full: 24 of the Associated Press Top 25 teams were in action, just about every player you’ll see on next year’s mock draft boards graced the court, and the sidelines were populated with enough top-flight coaches to fill a Barnes & Noble with motivational books.

It was like college basketball’s Black Friday – with a Black Saturday and Black Sunday thrown in just because. Who were the stars and stooges of the show? Let’s get to it:

4 Games I Hope You Watched

Duke 77, Belmont 76 – You knew it was going in. Up by one with 20 seconds left, shot clock close to zero, and on the verge of having their 36-game home win streak snapped, Duke’s offense started to fall apart on the most important possession of the game. But when Andre Dawkins took a handoff and squared up 25 feet from the basket, you knew the outcome. And that’s why Duke is the team you love to hate. Dawkins’ trey ended an inspired Belmont comeback and gave the Blue Devils enough cushion to put Coach K one win closer to becoming the most successful coach in D-I history.

Evansville 80, Butler 77 (OT) – Is it safe to stick Butler back in the box with the other mid-majors? Now that Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard are gone, there’s no way Brad Stevens can coach this team deep into the Big Dance again, right? Right? Butler’s march toward a third straight NCAA championship game appearance began with a stumble, as Evansville guard Colt Ryan (23 pts, 14-18 FT) put the Bulldogs on blast.

Ryan tied the game at the line with 0.9 seconds left in regulation, and on the ensuing possession, Butler center Andrew Smith made a Christian Laettner shot at the buzzer. Only Smith had been fouled before the shot, so with 0.2 on the clock, his Laettner moment turned into a Nick Anderson moment as he bricked both free throws. Ryan then scored six of Evansville’s 11 points in overtime.

Virginia Military 103, The Citadel 100 – That’s right, no overtime. VMI is the running, gunning, Golden State Warriors of college ball, having led the nation in scoring five years in a row. And when they seduce an opponent into playing their style, scoreboards hit triple digits. The opener of the All-Military Classic provided an instant classic, as VMI almost blew a 15-point lead in the final four minutes before finally getting a defensive stop on the last possession of the game.

North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55 – This wasn’t just a showcase for the top-ranked Tar Heels. Playing on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, this was a stage for college basketball, for ESPN, for Nike, and at risk of sounding corny, for America to show off. And everybody brought it; even a Michigan State squad that was overmatched on paper but kept it competitive enough to entertain the most famous fan in attendance, President Obama.

4 Future Pros You Know:

Jeremy Lamb, SG/SF, UConn – Lamb has that sleepy-smooth T-Mac vibe about him, but in UConn’s win over Columbia, he showed he’s also got a lot of fire. On his way to 30 points, five threes and four steals, Lamb had a Lipton Special baseline dunk that made one of Columbia’s big men a YouTube punch line.