The Bulldogs (5-6) needed this one in the absolute worst way, and they got it with a combination of great second-half defense and a bit of luck in edging Purdue (9-3) in Indianapolis, 67-65. After the Boilermakers shot 55.6 percent from the floor in the first half, they went just 6-of-29 after the break (20.7 percent). They were out-scored by 13 after the break, with the final bucket coming on an Andrew Smith tip-in in the closing seconds. That win doesn't make up for a trio of early season, in-state losses to Ball State, Valparaiso and Evansville, but it gives Butler a big boost as it heads out for a pre-Christmas road swing to face Gonzaga (Tuesday) and Stanford (Thursday).
UNLV barely missed the cut for the 'Up' list, but their 64-48 wipe-down of Illinois was quite impressive. In the process of securing their second neutral site victory over a Top-20 team this season, the Rebels (11-2) exposed the Illini's (10-1) weaknesses. The one that stuck out the most was rising 7-foot-1 sophomore Meyers Leonard's inability to work out of double teams. He scored a season-low 7 points in 33 minutes. UNLV doubled him every time he touched the ball, but it derailed him for the rest of the afternoon, as he couldn't create anything for himself. Making it look worse was that the open 3-point looks Illinois got as a result of those early doubles weren't falling. Illinois hasn't looked great in its three games since beating Gonzaga on Dec. 3, but they better figure it out fast, as a matchup with No. 10 Missouri on Thursday leads them into Big Ten play after Christmas weekend. One other ugly stat to emerge from Saturday's game: Illinois has now lost five of its last six games at the United Center.
BYU (8-3) is the only team on this week's 'Up' list to lose on Saturday, but it was hardly one to be down about. In an 86-83 home loss to No. 6 Baylor (9-0), the Cougars lost to a team with far more size and raw talent than anyone they'll see in the rest of the regular season, giving them all they could handle. The most notable bright spot for BYU was the play of UCLA transfer Matt Carlino in his debut, scoring 18 points (including four 3-pointers) in 24 minutes. Labeled by some as a poor man's Jimmer Fredette, he will fill that same role for BYU as a scoring point guard who will alleviate the defensive pressure on everyone around him. He scored well, but also showed some rust in committing four turnovers. One came late with BYU down 84-83. Still, as he gets more comfortable, the Cougars will get that much scarier for the rest of the WCC.
Memphis (5-4) put up a strong fight at the KFC Yum! Center, but the Tigers continue to underwhelm on the defensive end for a team that has that much length and athleticism. Louisville (10-0) ran away at the end with a 95-87 win. If the Tigers' duo of Joe Jackson and Will Barton produces on the offensive end like it did on Saturday, Memphis should be able to blitz through Conference USA play. But if we've learned anything about Memphis so far, it's that they're rarely consistent.
Quietly, the Longhorns (9-2) just keep rolling. Since back-to-back close losses to Oregon State and North Carolina State in mid-November, they've now won seven straight, most recently taking down Temple (6-3) on Saturday, 77-65. J'Covan Brown continues to score big for Texas, but the biggest reason behind the team's strong play has been the veteran-like leadership from freshman point guard Myck Kabongo. He's averaging 10.8 points and six assists a game, making life easier on the rest of Texas's young pieces in the process.
DOWN: Boise State
The Broncos have been an absolute force at home this year, going 8-0 in Boise and winning by an average margin of 26.9 points. Away from home? They're now 0-3 after an ugly 79-62 loss at Denver (8-2) on Saturday. That came on the heels of a 64-45 loss at LSU a week earlier. In other words, if the blue jerseys come out, there isn't much of a reason to be scared of Leon Rice's club at this point.
UP: Indiana State
One of the true under-the-radar mid-major threats this season, Indiana State (8-2) came away with a huge road win at struggling Vanderbilt (6-4), 61-55. Sophomore guard Steve McWhorter came up with a huge defensive effort on Commodores star John Jenkins, who was held to a season-low 11 points on just 3-of-10 shooting. The Sycamores have a manageable game against Louisiana-Monroe remaining on Wednesday night before starting Missouri Valley play. At this point, they've established themselves as a strong league contender along with Wichita State, Creighton and Northern Iowa. That should be an incredible race.
It's just not their year, plain and simple. Saturday's 74-58 blowout loss at St. Joseph's (8-3), went down as the second loss in a week to a Philadelphia rival for Villanova (6-5). The Wildcats continue to struggle to find a reliable, consistent second scorer behind Maalik Wayns. He was 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) from the floor against the Hawks, while everyone else around him was a combined 14-of-45 (31.1).
Yes, the Hurricanes are only 6-4 after dispatching of a strong Florida Atlantic (4-7) squad in double-overtime, but it could be the start of a nice little run for Miami and coach Jim Larranaga. His team got a huge boost from junior center Reggie Johnson, who returned for his first game since undergoing offseason knee surgery. In 36 minutes, Johnson had 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and five blocks, giving Miami a strong post presence to balance out its offense. They now have four winnable games coming up (at Charlotte, vs. Appalachian State, vs. N.C. Greensboro, at Virginia) before a huge Jan. 10 trip to face North Carolina.
In what's been a challenging stretch of their non-conference schedule, USC has officially hit the skids. After suffering losses at Minnesota and at home to New Mexico in which they combined to score only 81 points, the Trojans fell to 4-7 with a 63-59 home loss to Georgia (5-5). Big man Dewayne Dedmon is mired in an offensive slump since returning much sooner than expected while still dealing with a stress injury in his right foot (6-of-16, 14 points in 81 minutes played). The excessive minutes being played by diminutive point guard Maurice Jones might be starting to take its toll. He was just 4-of-14 from the floor on Saturday. It doesn't get any easier, either for under-manned USC, as they host a decent TCU squad Monday, then 12th-ranked Kansas on Thursday to lead into Pac-12 play.
Follow Ryan Greene on Twitter: @ryanmgreene
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