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Jeff Eisenberg

Twenty impressions from an eventful Saturday in college hoops

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Saturday's slate of college basketball games featured memorable upsets, marquee victories and a lengthy list of superb performances from some of the nation's freshman standouts. Here are 20 impressions from an eventful day:

1. If Gonzaga makes the NCAA tournament this season, we'll probably remember its 68-64 win over previously undefeated Baylor on Saturday as the start of its push. The Zags entered the game having lost to all four ranked opponents they faced, yet they finished off the Bears in Dallas with Steven Gray missing the second half with back spasms and Elias Harris fouling out with six minutes to go.

2. Baylor's five assists and 17 turnovers against the first team it has faced with any hint of a pulse exposed how much they miss graduated point guard Tweety Carter. The Bears are 7-1 and boast a strong frontcourt and an all-conference shooting guard, but we will have a much better guage on whether they're a threat to win the Big 12 after this week's loaded Diamondhead Classic in Hawaii.

3. Not to beat a dead horse here, but when is North Carolina coach Roy Williams going to hand the point guard position to Kendall Marshall? The freshman had seven points, three assists and one turnover on Saturday in 15 minutes, a brilliant performance compared to Larry Drew II's two-point, four-turnover nightmare before fouling out in 25 minutes.

4. A Florida team that had gotten clobbered by Ohio State and beaten by Central Florida validated some of its preseason hype on Saturday with a 57-44 victory over top-five Kansas State. Previously slumping Kenny Boynton hitting a few jumpers was encouraging, as was a superb defensive effort in holding the Wildcats to 27.3 percent shooting.

5. Is Kansas State capable of challenging Kansas in the Big 12? One December loss shouldn't eliminate that possibility, but there were plenty of disconcerting signs on Saturday. The Wildcats led Florida 20-8 on the road at one point before getting outscored 42-13 during a lengthy scoring drought that put the game out of reach.

6. The transitive property doesn't translate in sports, but it's still hard not to take notice when San Diego State clobbers the same UCSB team that upset fellow Mountain West contender UNLV in Las Vegas earlier this week. The Aztecs exploited UCSB's zone defense for 57 first-half points and 12 of 24 three-point shooting, rolling to a 90-64 victory over the Big West favorite Gauchos.

7. Mississippi State may yet develop into an NCAA tournament-caliber team once Dee Bost returns next month and Renardo Sidney gets back into shape, but the Bulldogs aren't even close right now. An 88-57 drubbing at the hands of previously struggling Virginia Tech exposed that, especially considering Mississippi State had the services of Sidney for the first time this season.

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8. Here's the most disconcerting aspect of the loss for the Bulldogs: Poor conditioning again was an issue for Sidney, who scored 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting but only grabbed three rebounds and fouled out in 25 minutes. "He's got to get himself so he can execute and do more things and not let fatigue totally take him out of everything, which in turn keeps everyone else from executing," Rick Stansbury told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

9. It figures that when Virginia Tech finally gets the quality win we've all been begging for we're no longer sure how good the opponent the Hokies beat was. Either way, defeating Mississippi State was absolutely crucial to Virginia Tech's hopes of making the NCAA tournament after the highly ranked Hokies had stumbled against the likes of Kansas State, Purdue and UNLV already this season.

10. Why Illinois won't challenge Michigan State or Ohio State for the Big Ten title: The Illini are still prone to baffling letdowns against weaker competition. There's absolutely no excuse for Illinois losing 57-54 to middling Horizon League foe Illinois-Chicago on Saturday, especially after a sluggish first half against Oakland and a lackluster second half against Northern Colorado made those games closer than necessary.

11. Trey Zeigler and Ray McCallum are forever linked since the two highly ranked freshmen shunned offers from big-name programs to go play for their dads at Central Michigan and Detroit respectively. McCallum won their first-ever head-to-head battle on Saturday, putting up 23 points, 11 boards and 7 assists in a 75-49 thrashing of the Chippewas.

12. There are a handful of teams capable of challenging Duke right now, but Ohio State is emerging as the biggest threat because of the staggering numbers Jared Sullinger is putting up right now. The freshman big man had 30 points and 19 rebounds in a 22-point win over South Carolina on Saturday, suggesting that Sullinger ought to be a factor not just in the freshman of the year race but perhaps in the national player of the year debate.

13. For Cincinnati to earn any respect for its gaudy 10-0 record, the Bearcats are probably going to have to wait until the Xavier game on the eve of Big East play. Saturday's 66-56 win at Oklahoma kept Cincinnati undefeated, but the rebuilding Sooners are no better than any of the other nine mediocre opponents the Bearcats have beaten save perhaps enigmatic Dayton.

14. Kentucky coach John Calipari was ejected late in the second half of Kentucky's win over Mississippi Valley State on Saturday night, telling reporters afterward that it was the first time in his career that's happened to him. Only problem: He actually has been thrown out of game before as the coach at UMass back on Feb. 24, 1996.

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15. To understand why UCLA's 86-79 win over BYU was so important to the Bruins' hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament this March, all you have to do is look at their remaining schedule. UCLA's best win entering this game was over Pacific, no marquee non-conference opponents remain on the schedule and the Pac-10 currently doesn't feature a team in the top 25.

16. Lost amid the well-deserved Josh Selby hype was that USC took a talented Kansas team to the wire on its own home floor, where close games are typically a rarity. If the Trojans consistently get the ball inside and defend with the purpose they did against Texas and Kansas, they have a chance to finish in the top four of the Pac-10.

17. The woeful SEC West dropped five of six games on Saturday, but there's not a worse team among them than Auburn. With a 62-59 victory over the Tigers, Presbyterian added itself to a list of teams that have won at Auburn that includes such juggernauts as UNC Asheville, Samford and Campbell.

18. Xavier doesn't appear to be as strong as in recent years, yet the Musketeers have nonetheless amassed a solid 7-2 record so far. Tu Holloway had Xavier's first triple-double in nine years on Saturday evening (12 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds) as the Muskeeters took down struggling Wake Forest 83-75 in the annual Skip Prosser Classic.

19. If Roberto Nelson was the most highly touted freshman Oregon State has signed since Gary Payton, then at least initially the hype seems greatly overblown. In his third game with the Beavers, Nelson scored three points in 14 minutes as middling George Washington went into Corvallis and emerged with a 87-79 victory.

20. Early foul trouble and late mistakes relegated Cleveland State to its first loss of the season, but West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was still impressed with the Vikings even after his Mountaineers beat them 74-63. "I like their team," Huggins told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I think they've got a great bench. Gary [Waters] can go to a bunch of people. I think [Joe] Latas really hurt us. I like them a lot."

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