Markel Brown led Oklahoma State to a win over Colorado (Getty Images)
Winner: Oklahoma State
When Marcus Smart went to the bench with two fouls with more than seven minutes remaining in the first half on Saturday night, Colorado had a golden opportunity to pull in front of Oklahoma State. Thanks to Markel Brown, it didn't happen. Brown scored seven of his game-high 23 points during that stretch, grabbed three of his 10 rebounds and also had a steal and a block, enabling Oklahoma State to actually extend its lead to six by halftime. Colorado threatened in the second half but never regained the lead, falling 78-73 to the Cowboys in the marquee game of the Las Vegas Classic. Smart finished with 18 points, but Saturday's victory was a reminder that Oklahoma State's 11-1 start is a product of more than just its superstar. In addition to Brown's big night, LeBryan Nash had an efficient 15 points and Phil Forte drilled four threes off the bench. The Cowboys now own quality wins over Butler, Memphis and Colorado.
The opening game of the Las Vegas Classic featured two teams desperate for a win. New Mexico had dropped two straight against Kansas and rival New Mexico State and Marquette was hoping to dig itself out of an early hole created by losses against Arizona State, Ohio State, San Diego State and Wisconsin. Only the Lobos left Las Vegas with what they wanted, however, after a 75-68 victory in which they shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half. Marquette doubled the post in an effort to take away Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, but for once, New Mexico's supporting cast helped out. Cullen Neal had 24 points and knocked down six threes and Deshawn Delaney started in place of injured Hugh Greenwood and chipped in 10. Marquette's offense continued to falter despite 17 points from shooting guard Jake Thomas. That will have to change because the Golden Eagles' margin for error in Big East play is slim. With five losses and only one decent win against George Washington, Marquette will probably need to finish near the top of the new Big East to feel confident in its at-large hopes.
Winner: Unbeaten teams starting with an "O"
It took improbable late comebacks from both, but Ohio State and Oregon remained undefeated Saturday. Notre Dame led the Buckeyes by eight in the final minute before self-destructing in the face of relentless defensive pressure. The Irish committed back-to-back turnovers within seconds of one-another, fouled on a Lenzelle Smith 3-pointer and missed some key free throws, enabling Ohio State to emerge with a 64-61 victory. The Buckeyes had scored 17 points in the first 19 minutes of the second half but tallied 14 in the final 51 seconds. Oregon's comeback wasn't quite so unlikely, but it was just as impressive. The Ducks stormed back from a late 10-point deficit by holding the high-powered BYU offense scoreless on seven straight trips. After Oregon's Elgin Cook short-armed a pair of potential go-ahead free throws with 1.2 seconds left in regulation, the Ducks won in overtime anyway 100-96. Poor shot selection and point guard play were issues for Oregon, but 31 points from Jason Calliste and 25 from Joseph Young helped bail the Ducks out.
Loser: Unbeaten teams starting with an "M"
Even with the comebacks from Oregon and Ohio State, the list of undefeated teams shrank from 12 to 10 because of losses from UMass and Missouri. The Minutemen fell 60-55 to Florida State as a result of anemic 1 of 15 outside shooting and an uncharacteristic off night from point guard Chaz Williams, who struggled to finish over the Seminoles' length in the paint. Even so, UMass still had a chance to force OT on its final possession, but instead of a potential game-tying 3-point play on a dunk, forward Cady Lalanne was called for basket interference for hanging on the rim. Missouri's loss to Illinois in the annual Bragging Rights game was even more heart-breaking. Jabari Brown's 3-pointer had just given the Tigers a one-point lead, but Illinois' Tracy Abrams drew a foul driving to the rim and coverted both free throws with 4.6 seconds left to give the Fighting Illini a 65-64 win. Jordan Clarkson had 25 points and eight assists for Missouri, but Brown and Earnest Ross endured off games, shooting a combined 7 of 20 from the field.
Winner: Kansas State's hopes of recovering from a bad start
When Kansas State lost its season opener to Northern Colorado and then came home from Puerto Rico with humbling losses to Charlotte and Georgetown, it seemed the Wildcats had little hope of returning to the NCAA tournament this season. They still may not get there, but the past three weeks have shown they'll at least put up a fight. Saturday's victory over Gonzaga in Wichita extended Kansas State's win streak to six and improved its record to 8-3. The Wildcats are still inefficient offensively and horrendous from behind the arc, but their defense has been excellent and several players have shown the ability to emerge as go-to scorers. Freshman Marcus Foster is leading Kansas State in scoring and had another huge game Saturday, while big man Thomas Gipson is a consistent interior threat.
Loser: Maryland's hopes of recovering from a bad start
Whatever slim chance Maryland had of recovering from its poor start diminished Saturday when the Terps suffered another bad loss. They fell at home 83-77 to a Boston University team that is one of the favorites in the Patriot League but also was days removed from losing at home to Norfolk State. Much of Maryland's problems have been blamed on its lack of point guard, but despite 17 more turnovers on Saturday, it's clear the issues go beyond Seth Allen's absence. The Terps shot below 60 percent on free throws, missed numerous open shots and had breakdowns trying to guard ball screens. Coach Mark Turgeon's trust in his bench appears to be wavering as well as Dez Wells and Jake Layman both logged 36 minutes apiece in the loss. With losses to Boston University, Oregon State and George Washington already on the resumé and a victory over Providence serving as the closest thing to a good win, Maryland is in a big hole entering ACC play.
Aaron Harrison – Quietly, since a poor performance against Michigan State and a week later against Texas-Arlington, Harrison has been excellent. He has scored in double digits his last seven games and tallied 23 points in Kentucky's comeback win over Belmont on Saturday, raising his average to 15.1 points per game this season. The major area in which he can improve is his 3-point shooting, which is still at just 30.8 percent.
VCU's press – VCU shook off a brutal loss to Northern Iowa and completed a sweep of its in-state ACC rivals with a convincing 82-52 win over Virginia Tech. The Rams trailed 8-6 when they unleashed a 31-0 first-half run fueled by their swarming pressure defense to pull away for good. An astonishing 42 of VCU's 82 points came off turnovers.
Tarik Black – Scoreless in his previous four games and seeing his playing time dwindle as a result of Joel Embiid's emergence, Black emerged from his slump and found a way to make an impact. The Memphis transfer played 20 minutes against Georgetown with Perry Ellis sidelined after taking a blow to the head, scoring 17 points on 5 of 5 from the field and 7 of 9 from the foul line. He also grabbed six boards, proving he can contributed when needed.
Andrew Harrison – Whereas Aaron has flourished at off guard, Andrew continues to struggle at point guard. He had seven points and no assists in 20 foul-plagued minutes against Belmont on Saturday, and Kentucky's offense often ran better when Jarrod Polson was relieving him. Said John Calipari to reporters after the game, "I want Andrew to be the best point guard in the country. ... Right now, most games, he's not the best point guard on the court."
Davidson's press break – There's no doubt what Davidson will be working on in practice this week: ball handling and press-break offense. The Wildcats had North Carolina on the ropes in the final minutes Saturday in Chapel Hill, but they could not adjust when the Tar Heels turned up the defensive pressure. Four turnovers in the final five minutes helped North Carolina force overtime and eventually pull away for a 97-85 win.
Alabama – If you're a power-conference program and you're below .500 entering league play, then a lot has to be going wrong. That's certainly the case for Alabama which fell at home to Xavier 77-74 on Saturday and now sits at 5-6 with a road game at UCLA still left to play before the start of the SEC schedule. One big problem for the Tide is that its defense hasn't been as stingy as year's past. Alabama allowed Xavier to storm back from a second-half deficit to escape with a road win.
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