Stock up: Kentucky's other freshmen
When Julius Randle left Saturday's showdown with Louisville with severe cramps midway through the second half, everyone in Kentucky blue at Rupp Arena probably had an uneasy feeling wash over them. A nine-point Wildcats lead had already vanished, and now the home team was going to have to hold off the defending national champions without its best player on the court. Kentucky pulled it off, leaving with a 73-66 victory thanks to the contributions of other members of its heralded freshman class. One week after he watched from the bench for long stretches as former walk-on Jarrod Polson more effectively played his position, Andrew Harrison enjoyed his best game at Kentucky, scoring nine of his 18 points in the final 15 minutes after Randle first left the floor. Twin brother Aaron Harrison continued his recent good play, scoring eight of his 10 points in the final 15 minutes. And James Young, whose shot selection had been horrific in the first half, sank a key three and played solid perimeter defense to contribute to the Kentucky win.
Stock down: Wake Forest's rebuilding job
If Saturday's 68-53 loss at Xavier was a measuring stick for the Wake Forest rebuilding process under Jeff Bzdelik, then what it revealed wasn't very encouraging for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest may be good enough to avoid ugly losses to the small-conference programs this season, but the Demon Deacons have not progressed far enough in year four of Bzdelik's tenure to threaten quality teams away from home. A 10-3 record is impressive, but a closer look reveals Wake Forest hasn't accomplished much. Not only have the Deacs lost convincingly to Kansas, Tennessee and Xavier, their best win is also either against rebuilding USC or middling Richmond. What went wrong Saturday against Xavier was pretty much everything. The Musketeers clobbered Wake Forest on the glass, limited the Deacs' transition opportunities and held their half-court offense in check. That will have to change for Wake Forest to experience more success on the road in the ACC.
Stock up: UMass' supporting cast
With Chaz Williams on the bench after a phantom fifth foul with 1:39 to play in regulation, UMass needed other players to come through to avoid a discouraging home loss against Providence. The Minutemen surrendered six straight points after Williams' departure to allow the Friars to force overtime, but they did just enough in overtime to emerge with the victory. Derrick Gordon put back Trey Davis' missed floater with 1.1 seconds left in a tie game, enabling the 23rd-ranked Minutemen to beat the Friars 69-67. It was the second consecutive year UMass beat Providence on a late shot, and this one was probably more significant. Had UMass followed its loss against Florida State with a home setback against Providence, it would have undone much of the good the Minutemen had accomplished in rolling to a 10-0 start. Instead they're one win against Miami (Ohio) from entering A-10 play with a 12-1 record, a top 25 ranking and a very good chance to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly two decades.
Stock down: BYU's NCAA tournament hopes
Already saddled with five losses after a difficult non-conference schedule, BYU entered WCC play without much margin for error if it wanted to contend for an at-large NCAA tournament berth. That margin is even more scant now because the Cougars dropped their first WCC game of the season in convincing fashion. An 87-76 loss at Loyola Marymount dropped BYU to 8-6 on the season and extended its losing streak to three. What's more, the Cougars simply don't have the feel of a team consistent enough to rattle off 13 wins in 15 games over the second half of the season. Enigmatic point guard Matt Carlino is going through a bad slump that has caused his shooting percentage to dip well under 40 percent. Freshman big man Eric Mika has battled foul trouble, often leaving BYU without an interior scorer on the floor. And when BYU's offense isn't performing at an elite level, its defense certainly isn't good enough to bail the Cougars out.
Stock up: Syracuse's backcourt
One of the main questions facing Syracuse entering the season was whether replacements would emerge for Michael-Carter Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland on the perimeter. So far, however, perimeter scoring has turned out to be the biggest strength for the Orange rather than a weakness. Freshman Tyler Ennis may not be the NBA prospect that Carter-Williams was, but what he lacks in size, length or explosiveness, he more than makes up for in savvy and smarts. He scored 20 points and didn't commit any turnovers in Syracuse's biggest win of the season on Saturday afternoon, a come-from-behind victory over previously unbeaten Villanova. Trevor Cooney also probably lacks the size or quickness to interest NBA scouts, but his outside shooting has become one of Syracuse's best weapons. He had 21 points against Villanova and is now shooting an absurd 50.6 percent from behind the arc this season.
Stock down: Villanova's zone offense
In the first five minutes of its showdown against Syracuse on Saturday, Villanova built a quick double-digit lead by sinking all four threes it attempted. In retrospect, that turned out to be a better omen for the Orange than the Wildcats. Too quick to settle for threes early in the shot clock the rest of the game instead of trying to probe the middle of the Syracuse zone, Villanova hoisted 31 of its 50 field goal attempts from behind the arc. Only 10 of Villanova's threes went in – and just six after the opening five minutes – not nearly a high enough percentage to make that a sound strategy. Guard-heavy Villanova attempts the 12th most threes in the nation but its 32 percent shooting puts them in the lower half of the country in efficiency from behind the arc. Perhaps the Wildcats would have had a better chance of springing an upset in the Carrier Dome had they made a more concerted effort to move the ball around and create driving lanes against the zone or to play through JayVaughn Pinkston in the high post.
Other outcomes of note:
• Long Beach State is now 3-0 with victories over USC and Nevada since UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb became eligible earlier this month. The wing had 17 points against the Wolfpack on Saturday and is easing the scoring burden on point guard Mike Caffey.
• The more games Boston College plays, the sillier I feel for thinking the Eagles might be due for a breakthrough season. They fell to 4-9 on Saturday with a loss to VCU in which they committed 23 turnovers, shot 38 percent from the field and missed 15 of 18 from behind the arc. And, don't forget, it's defense that's actually Boston College's bigger weakness.
• Trevor Releford has to be wondering what more he can do. The Alabama guard scored 34 points on only 15 shots at UCLA on Saturday, yet the Tide still lost 75-67 to fall to 5-7 this season. Alabama greatly misses standout guard Trevor Lacey and former McDonald's All-American Devonta Pollard.
• Missouri's come-from-behind win at NC State solidifies the Tigers as a contender for a top-three SEC finish. They've now beaten West Virginia, UCLA and NC State and are a one-point loss to Illinois away from entering SEC play unbeaten.
• Poor St. Katherine's College. One night after being bludgeoned 118-35 at San Diego State, the fledgling NAIA program traveled to Utah and endured a 124-51 rout at the hands of the Utes. In four games against Division I competition this season, St. Katherine has lost by 50 or more each time.
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