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Jeff Eisenberg

Ranking the 10 biggest upsets from Saturday's surprising slate

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Seattle's shocking 41-36 victory over defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans will draw most of the headlines from Saturday, but college basketball experienced an upset-heavy day as well. Seven top 25 teams lost to unranked foes, with a smattering of other below-the-radar upsets to choose from as well.

Here's a look at the 10 most surprising upsets from Saturday's action as well as a gauge on how concerned the losing team should be:

1. Penn State 66, Michigan State 62

As surprising as Michigan State's four nonconference losses were, at least each of those came against quality opponents. A Penn State team that will finish in the bottom four of the Big Ten beat the Spartans on the boards, out-hustled them to loose balls and took advantage of 10-of-20 Michigan State free-throw shooting to emerge with a shocking upset.

Michigan State's No. 2 preseason ranking was predicated on the talent the Spartans returned from a Final Four team, but perhaps we should have paid more attention to how up-and-down the program was in the regular season last year. It's that squad that has shown up again this season, not the one that won four straight in the NCAA tournament.

Concern Level: High

2. Houston 76, Central Florida 71

For those who had argued that previously undefeated Central Florida has middle-of-the-pack talent in Conference USA, this disappointing loss to Houston was an I-told-you-so moment. The Knights fell behind by double figures in the opening minutes and couldn't claw their way back, losing to a Houston team expected to finish in the lower half of the league.

Central Florida survived a close call at Marshall earlier in the week, but the Knights got no closer than five against Houston. "They came out and played at a really high level, and we didn't match their intensity," UCF coach Donnie Jones told reporters afterward. "They made shots, and that's what you've got to do to upset teams."

Concern Level: Moderate

3. Wyoming 67, New Mexico 66

If New Mexico wants to make the Mountain West a four-bid league this March, the Lobos cannot afford to drop many road games like this against Wyoming. The Cowboys kept New Mexico at bay the entire game and then had three chances to take the lead on their final possession, finally hitting the game winner on a fallaway baseline jumper from Francisco Cruz at the buzzer.

New Mexico's NCAA tournament hopes will depend on a strong Mountain West season because the two-time defending conference champion Lobos didn't accomplish a whole lot in nonleague play. Wins over Big 12 teams Colorado and Texas Tech are decent, but they won't offset disappointing losses to Cal, Dayton and Northern Iowa.

Concern Level: High

4. Colorado 89, Missouri 76

In case eighth-ranked Missouri had forgotten what a mistake it made not recruiting in-state product Alec Burks hard enough, the high-scoring Colorado guard offered another first-hand reminder on Saturday. The Grandview native shredded Missouri's vaunted pressing defense for a career-high 36 points, serving notice that there's still time for Colorado to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid.

A technical foul on Marcus Denmon for tossing the ball too hard to a referee cost Missouri its last chance at a comeback, but the Tigers admitted afterward that the questionable call wasn't why they lost. Colorado out-hustled and out-rebounded them, snapping Missouri's nine-game win streak.

Concern level: Minimal

5. Georgia 77, Kentucky 70

Georgia entered the season as a dark horse in the SEC, but Mark Fox's team needed a signature win like this to be taken seriously as a contender. SEC player of the year candidate Trey Thompkins scored 25 points as Georgia survived an 11-0 Kentucky spurt midway through the second half to pull the upset.

Between the Enes Kanter ruling on Friday, a bowl loss to Pittsburgh Saturday morning and this upset loss at Georgia on Saturday afternoon, Big Blue Nation could probably use a collective hug this morning. Kentucky shot only 38 percent from the field at Georgia, struggled with the physical nature of the game and had three players foul out in the final minutes.

Concern level: Low

6. Austin Peay 66, Murray State 64

In a conference that was supposed to be a two-team race between Murray State and Morehead State, Austin Peay has crashed the party. The Governors now have a two-game lead on every other team in the conference after snapping Murray State's 25-game home win streak on Sunday.

Murray State was expected to be one of the nation's best mid-majors after returning the core of a team that fell one bucket short of the Sweet 16 last season, but this season hasn't gone as planned. The silver lining for the Racers is they have the next 2 1/2 months to correct their problems and get ready for the all-important Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

Concern level: Moderate

7. West Virginia 65, Georgetown 59

Until Georgetown's backcourt produces like it had been during nonconference play, these losses to mid-tier Big East teams are going to happen over and over again. Jason Clark had a solid 16-point game against West Virginia, but Chris Wright and Austin Freeman both struggled again, shooting a combined 6 for 21 from the field.

Whatever chance the Hoyas had at contending for the Big East title is probably now gone after three losses in four games to start conference play. Now the big concern is avoiding a January swoon like the one Georgetown endured two years ago when it lost seven of eight games to fall out of NCAA tournament contention.

Concern level: High

8. South Carolina 83, Vanderbilt 75 (OT)

Vanderbilt had been the SEC's most stable team prior to an upset loss at South Carolina on Saturday. The Commodores squandered a 14-point second-half lead and then deteriorated in overtime, enabling the hot-shooting Gamecocks to open SEC play with a confidence-building win at home.

There's no shame in losing to a team as scorching hot as South Carolina was in the final 15 minutes, but the concern for the Commodores is that the schedule doesn't get any easier. Georgia is up next for Vanderbilt, followed by a road game at Tennessee, meaning that the Commodores will need to rebound quickly to avoid falling into an early hole.

Concern level: Low

9. Arkansas 68, Tennessee 65

Put an unranked foe in front of Tennessee, and the Vols are always a threat to be upset. Tennessee is 3-0 against top 25 teams this season but has sustained five losses against unranked competition, with the latest coming against an Arkansas team coming off a 33-point loss to Texas.

In the first game of Bruce Pearl's eight-game suspension, Tennessee's primary problem was that it couldn't take care of the ball. The Vols committed 18 turnovers including four from forward Jeronne Maymon in just nine minutes, short-circuiting their chances at a second-half comeback.

Concern level: High

10. Oklahoma State 76, Kansas State 72

A loss at Oklahoma State isn't typically cause for concern because the Cowboys are so good at home, but there's something about the way Kansas State lost this game that only adds to the questions about this team. The Wildcats squandered an eight-point lead in the final 10 minutes, showed little toughness down the stretch and then left the locker room without talking to reporters afterward.

Give credit to Oklahoma State for a far stronger start than anyone expected after James Anderson turned pro, but this game might say more about where Kansas State is at than anything else. From the suspensions to Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen to the inconsistent play from Wally Judge, it's hard to believe that Kansas State was touted as the Big 12 favorite just two months ago.

Concern level: High

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