Stock rising: North Carolina
In dire need of a confidence-boosting marquee win before the start of ACC play next week, North Carolina delivered its best performance of the season Saturday in a 79-73 victory over No. 20 UNLV. The Tar Heels overcame the absence of Reggie Bullock (concussion) thanks to improved defense, balanced scoring and surprising success getting to the foul line 33 times. UNLV rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to take a 49-48 lead on a Katin Reinhardt 3-pointer midway through the second half, but North Carolina responded with an 8-2 run keyed by James Michael-McAdoo to regain control. The win is North Carolina's first notable win after double-digit losses to Butler, Texas and Indiana. Erratic play by UNLV certainly helped the Tar Heels achieve it, but their perseverance and effort suggests it may be too soon to write them off as an ACC contender.
Stock falling: Murray State
Unlike last season when Murray State built at-large credentials in non-conference play, the Racers are probably going to have to win the OVC's automatic bid to return to the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. They have the talent to accomplish that feat, but the past two games have certainly made it seem like no guarantee. Murray State followed up an excusable 77-68 loss at Dayton with a more perplexing 66-64 home loss to Horizon League contender Valparaiso. The Racers squandered an 11-point first-half lead and again failed to find enough scoring to complement Isaiah Canaan and Ed Daniel. The common thread in both losses? Not enough production from wing Stacy Wilson. The senior is averaging 15 points a game, but shot 3 of 12 against Dayton and 2 of 10 against Valparaiso to finish with six points in both games.
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Stock rising: Butler
Even though Vanderbilt lost all five starters last year and will likely finish in the bottom half of the SEC this season, winning in Nashville can still be a bit tricky. As a result, it was impressive the way Butler didn't just eke out a victory over the Commodores on Sunday night but instead left no doubt who the better team was. Rotnei Clarke scored 22 points and sank six 3-pointers as Butler rolled to a 68-49 win to improve to 10-2 on the season. Included in those 10 wins: neutral-court victories over Indiana, North Carolina and Marquette in addition to Saturday's win over the Commodores. That's the resume of an Atlantic 10 title contender, folks.
Stock falling: Cal
It wasn't a good sign for Cal's NCAA tournament hopes that the Bears failed to capitalize on any of their three chances for marquee wins in non-conference play, falling to UNLV, Wisconsin and Creighton. It's even worse, however, that Cal now also has suffered a home loss to a team it should be beating. Harvard's 67-62 victory in Berkeley validates the Crimson as Ivy League favorites and suggests Cal may not be much of a threat in the Pac-12. The Bears received 27 points from Allen Crabbe and a combined 27 from guard Justin Cobbs and forward David Kravish, but the rest of the roster managed a combined eight points. That formula isn't going to work in Pac-12 play if the Bears are going to challenge Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Oregon.
Stock rising: Santa Clara
They didn't have quite enough firepower to withstand Duke's second-half blitz, but the Broncos showed a lot hanging with the nation's top-ranked team on its home floor for 30 minutes in a 90-77 loss. Not only does Santa Clara (11-3) appear to be a top-four team in the WCC this season, the gap between the Broncos and Saint Mary's or BYU is narrow. Winless in league play last season after losing top big man Marc Trasolini to a torn ACL and star guard Kevin Foster to suspension, Santa Clara has made a remarkable turnaround now that it's at full strength again. The high-scoring Foster is the headline attraction, but Evan Roquemore is a capable lead guard, Trasolini has regained much of the explosiveness he had and the young big men benefited from the experience of early playing time last year.
Stock falling: Virginia Tech
When Virginia Tech reeled off seven straight wins to start the season capped by victories over Oklahoma State and Iowa, the Hokies appeared to be one of the nation's most pleasant surprises. Only a few weeks later, that torrid start feels more and more like a mirage. Virginia Tech lost for the fourth time in six games on Saturday, following a 36-point home loss to Colorado State by falling 97-71 at BYU in a game in which they were never competitive. With the nation's leading scorer, Erick Green, scoring just 12 points to end his streak of 20-plus-point games at 12, Virginia Tech had no chance of recovering after surrendering 56 first-half points. Perhaps the Hokies can regain their mojo in ACC play, but it doesn't look promising.
Other performances of note:
Stock rising: Towson
A Towson team that won only one game last season and may have been the worst team in Division I basketball notched its fifth victory this season on Saturday by upsetting Oregon State 68-67. The Tigers are a year or two away from contending in the CAA, but they aren't a laughingstock anymore.
Stock falling: UNLV
Even though UNLV has easily the most talent in the Mountain West, the Rebels haven't looked like the league's best team so far. Their shot selection has been a season-long issue, they lack a true point guard and their effort wasn't up to par in the first half Saturday in Chapel Hill. It's definitely not time to write off the Rebels, but Dave Rice has a lot of work to do .
Stock rising: Seth Curry
Despite a lingering leg injury that is preventing him from practicing regularly, Curry had 31 points to propel Duke past Santa Clara. Even more impressive, the senior showcased an improved all-around game, attacking the rim in the second half to notch the first 30-point game of his career at Duke.
Stock falling: Jeff Robinson
The Xavier forward dressed but did not play Saturday at Tennessee. We'll find out post-game exactly what message Chris Mack was trying to send, but the Musketeers clearly could have used Robinson against Tennessee's burly front line.
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