Duke remains unbeaten after beating Temple 90-67 (Getty Images)
Duke remains unbeaten after beating Temple 90-67 (Getty Images)
Saturday's college basketball slate didn't feature many marquee showdowns with finals starting next week for most schools, but there were some noteworthy performances. Here's a look at what we're buying and selling from the early action. (Check back for updates from tonight's games)
Buy: Illinois as a top 15 team
Until Saturday, Illinois merely had the ranking and record of an elite team. Now it also has the resume win. Anyone who doubted the legitimacy of the Illini is eating crow after they overcame a hostile crowd and beat fellow unbeaten Gonzaga on its own floor. Brandon Paul had 35 points to continue his star turn and help the Illini win despite frontcourt foul trouble.
Sell: Ole Miss as an NCAA tourney threat
It seemed like we wouldn't find out if Ole Miss' undefeated start was for real or not until the Diamondhead Classic later this month. Turns out it didn't take that long. A 65-62 loss at Sun Belt contender Middle Tennessee State is an early sign the Rebels may once again be NIT bound rather than NCAA tournament material. Ole Miss, which averaged 87 points prior to Saturday, committed 18 turnovers and never found a rhythm.
Buy: Duke as the nation's No. 1 team
Indiana may have a deeper, more talented roster. Florida may be winning games by more points. Syracuse may have more upside. But seriously, folks, how is any sane coach or member of the media voting anyone besides Duke No. 1 in the nation right now? The Blue Devils had already defeated Ohio State, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota and VCU entering Saturday's neutral-court matchup with unbeaten Temple. Add the Owls to that illustrious list because Duke parlayed torrid shooting into an easy 90-67 win. It remains to be seen if the Blue Devils are still the nation's best team in March, but with Mason Plumlee emerging as a player of the year candidate, Quinn Cook strengthening his grip on the point guard job and Rasheed Sulaimon out-performing expectations, Duke looks formidable right now.
Sell: John Calipari as fun to be around these days
It wasn't just Kentucky fans who were upset about the Wildcats losing two straight against Notre Dame and Baylor. John Calipari also apparently was a little grumpy about his team's sluggish start. During the first half of Kentucky's 74-46 victory over overmatched Portland, TV cameras caught Calipari smack away assistant coach Orlando Antigua's hand on the bench when it got into his field of vision. Thankfully for the Wildcats, Calipari had less to be upset about as the game went on. They got 15 points apiece from Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin, a near triple-double from Nerlens Noel and most encouragingly, six assists and one turnover from point guard Ryan Harrow.
[More NCAA basketball: Christian Watford's stunning 3-pointer now an epic Christmas lights display]
Buy: Georgetown's defense
Even though Georgetown's offense hasn't exactly been a work of art the past few weeks, its defense is allowing it to win anyway. The Hoyas eked out a 46-40 win over an improved Towson team on Saturday despite scoring only 17 first-half points and shooting below 30 percent from the field. They did it by forcing 19 turnover, allowing just 32.6 percent shooting and limiting an opponent to 41 or fewer points for the third straight game, the first time in six decades they accomplished that feat. Georgetown beat Tennessee 38-37 eight days ago and Texas 64-41 earlier this week.
Sell: Colorado as road-ready.
It was too much to ask for Colorado to snap its 29-game losing streak at Allen Fieldhouse (especially when guard Spencer Dinwiddie rolled an ankle early in Saturday's game), but the Buffs weren't ever remotely competitive. They trailed 18-3 after five minutes, 43-22 at halftime and 72-32 with 11 minutes to play en route to a 90-54 thrashing at the hands of ninth-ranked Kansas. One of Colorado's weaknesses is its lack of proven depth, and it showed Saturday. With a hobbled Dinwiddie only able to chip in four points on 1 of 4 shooting in 21 minutes, nobody besides Askia Booker (15 points) and Josh Scott (19 points) were able to help shoulder the scoring burden. The Buffs were also done in by uncharacteristically poor defense and a flurry of early turnovers.
Buy: Utah's improvement
Like Virginia Tech, Utah proved more in a loss than most of it peers did in a win. The Utes held the lead at rival BYU until the final four minutes when Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws did just enough to rally the Cougars to a 65-62 victory. Heartbreak for Utah? Sure. A sign Larry Krystkowiak's formula of patient offense and stout defense is working? Definitely. Utah has already matched last season's win total of six and is no longer a punch line.
Sell: Washington finishing in the upper half of the Pac-12
As the rest of the Pac-12 has improved this season, Washington is sinking in the pecking order. The Huskies had already lost at home to Albany and required a late comeback to sneak past Cal State Fullerton. Now they can add a 76-73 home loss to a previously struggling Nevada team lacking much interior play. Aside from C.J. Wilcox, Washington simply does not have the talent past teams have had, which showed when the Huskies had to rally from 18 down in the second half just to make it competitive against Nevada.
Buy: Illinois Chicago as a Horizon League contender
An Illinois-Chicago team eight months removed from a 22-loss season now has the two best wins any Horizon League team has achieved so far this season. The Flames won at Northwestern 50-44 last Saturday and toppled Mountain West contender Colorado State at home 64-55 this Saturday. Why did Illinois-Chicago handle the Rams? Solid perimeter defense might be the biggest reason. Colorado State guards Dorian Green and Wes Eikmeier combined for a mere 11 points on 2 of 15 shooting, not good enough to secure a road win.
Sell: Any talk of Virginia Tech as a fraud
Even though Virginia Tech suffered its first home loss in its first road test, the Hokies showed more in defeat than most teams do in victory. Virginia Tech battled back from a six-point halftime deficit and took a one-point lead in the final seconds on a banked-in 3-pointer by Robert Brown, but West Virginia won the game on a Juwan Staten layup on the ensuing possession. It wasn't the result the Hokies wanted, but it was a performance that suggests their home wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State weren't a fluke. They'll be a threat to finish in the upper half of the ACC and perhaps contend for an NCAA tournament bid.
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