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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

The biggest winners and losers from Friday’s busy opening night slate

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Doug McDermott and Creighton looked impressive Friday (Getty Images)

Opening night for the 2012-13 college basketball season featured a walk-on's fairytale success story, a buzzer beater to thwart an upset bid and perhaps the abrupt end of the aircraft carrier game trend. Here's a look at the biggest winners and losers:

Winner: Creighton

The storyline entering Creighton's season opener against North Texas was the tantalizing matchup between national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott and future lottery pick Tony Mitchell. By the end of the Bluejays' 71-51 dismantling of the Mean Green, however, the bigger story was how the victory further legitimized Creighton. A Bluejays team that finished 222nd in the nation defensively last season shackled Sun Belt favorite North Texas, limiting the Mean Green to 32 percent shooting. McDermott led the way on offense with 21 points and 11 boards. Mitchell went for 18 points and seven rebounds.

Loser: Rutgers

A handful of power-conference teams opened the season with losses to lower-profile opponents, from rebuilding Mississippi State's flop against Troy, to Purdue's struggles against Patriot League power Bucknell, to Florida State's meltdown against Sun Belt contender South Alabama. None of those were quite as embarrassing as what happened to Rutgers, however, since the Scarlet Knights lost to a team projected to finish dead last in its conference. MAAC lightweight St. Peter's, which is coming off a 5-26 campaign, stunned Rutgers, 56-52, behind 18 points from Desi Washington. Yvon Raymond sank the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:09 remaining.

[More NCAA hoops: Condensation spoils Ohio State-Marquette opener]

Winner: Alex Len, Maryland

In a game that featured No. 1 overall recruit Nerlens Noel and promising 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, the best big man on the court didn't wear a Kentucky uniform. Oh sure, both those freshmen had their moments, but neither was better than Maryland sophomore Alex Len, who showcased NBA potential on both ends of the floor. The 7-1 Maryland center finished with 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks, almost enough to help his team back from a double-digit second-half deficit.

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Jarrod Polson and Kyle Wiltjer (Getty Images)

Loser: Michael Snaer, Florida State

Snaer called himself the best shooting guard in the nation during the offseason, but he wasn't even the best on the floor Friday night in the Seminoles' 76-71 loss to South Alabama. He went 2 of 11 from the field and 0 of 6 from behind the arc, finishing with just 10 points on a night when a young Florida State team needed more from him. Snaer earned the reputation of a big shot maker last year, but he did not come through with the Seminoles down three in the closing seconds Friday. His contestested fallway 3-pointer was well off the mark.

Winner: Jarrod Polson, Kentucky

The unlikely hero of Kentucky's win over Maryland was the walk-on guard who rescued a team full of McDonald's All-Americans. Jarrod Polson, a junior guard who played a total of 62 minutes the previous two seasons, logged 22 on Friday alone, scoring 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting, dishing out three assists and steadying the Wildcats after starting point guard Ryan Harrow fell out of favor with John Calipari during Maryland's 15-0 second-half charge. Polson's biggest play? Crashing the glass after a Nerlens Noel missed free throw, ripping the ball from Pe'Shon Howard and converting a crazy spinning layup to put Kentucky up 67-63 with 3:44 to go. Fairytale stuff there, folks.

Loser: O.D. Anosike, Siena

Anosike may be the Shaq of the MAAC in more ways than one. Although the power forward averaged a double-double last season and recorded another one Friday against Vermont with 10 points and 17 rebounds, he cost Siena dearly at the foul line. Anosike missed nine of his 11 free throws, including a particularly damaging miss with 18 seconds to go and the Saints clinging to a one-point lead. Sandro Carissimo took advantage for Vermont, scoring a spinning layup with nine seconds to go to giver the Catamounts a 54-53 victory.

[Also: UConn upends 14th-ranked Michigan State]

Winner: ESPN

ESPN's proposal to stage a game on a U.S. air base in Germany turned out to be a success in almost every respect. Not only did the network air plenty of touching moments when players from UConn and Michigan State met with U.S. troops and members of the Wounded Warriors program, the basketball itself was also compelling with the Huskies scoring a big upset for first-year coach Kevin Ollie. The network has proposed making a game on a military base, whether overseas or stateside, an annual season-opening tradition. As long as it's played on land and not on sea, that seems like a good concept.

Loser: NBC Sports Network

Hoping for a similar ratings boost to the one ESPN experienced from last year's Michigan State-North Carolina game on the USS Carl Vinson, NBC Sports Network eagerly snapped up two of this year's three aircraft carrier games. Alas, condensation on the court forced the cancellation of Florida-Georgetown at halftime and Ohio State-Marquette before the game even started. It was the correct decision by the respective schools not to risk the safety of their players, but a black mark for college basketball and a ratings killer for NBC Sports Network. The lesson here: No more outdoor games, folks -- at least not on ships on the East Coast anyway.

[Also: College hoops' 25 most intriguing early non-conference games]

Others worthy of praise ...

• Stanford's 74-62 victory over San Francisco was forgettable except for one thing: Dwight Powell scored a career-high 27 points and looked far more explosive than he did during an injury-plagued sophomore season. That's big for a Stanford team that needs a breakout season from the former top 50 recruit.
• Perhaps the under-the-radar hype for Polish 7-footer Przemek Karnowski was justified. The Gonzaga freshman displayed soft hands and soft touch, scoring an efficient 22 points in his debut against Southern Utah.
• In its return to Division I basketball, the University of New Orleans rallied from a 12-point deficit and edged San Jose State 72-68. The Spartans are no juggernaut themselves, but that's a quality win for a Privateers program still trying to find its footing post-Katrina.
• If Friday's upset win over Drexel is any indication, Kent State may challenge Akron and Ohio in the MAC. Randal Holt sank the go-ahead free throws with 18 seconds left and the Golden Flashes held off the CAA favorite Dragons 66-62 in overtime.
• George Mason's 63-59 victory over Virginia was the Patriots' first win ever over the Cavaliers. Three players scored in double figures for George Mason, which was without top big man Erik Copes due to suspension.
• Look, Fairleigh Dickinson is awful, but who saw 117 points from Xavier coming? Or 22 points and 15 assists from Dee Davis? That had to be a cathartic night for a Musketeers team likely to struggle this season after enduring the most nightmarish offseason of any program in the country.
•  Anyone shocked Bucknell went to Purdue and beat the Boilermakers isn't paying attention. The Bison deserve to be co-favorites in the Patriot League with Lehigh and the Boilermakers are rebuilding -- and were missing their best player.
• Granted none of its wins came against anyone good and one was against something called Willamette, but the Pac-12 went 6-0 on Friday night. Given the way the league struggled out of conference the past few years, that's a small victory.
• Overshadowed by Tyler Zeller and John Henson last season, James Michael McAdoo wasted no time taking advantage of his chance to shine. The North Carolina sophomore scored a career-high 26 points and pulled down 14 boards in a rout of Gardner-Webb.

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