What a Saturday in college hoops. All three Division 1 unbeatens went down on the same day. Duke to Georgetown, Florida to Tennessee and Pittsburgh to St. John's.
The most surprising loss was Pittsburgh's. St. John's has been very stingy defensively, but I didn't think it would hold the Panthers to just 50 points and 35 percent shooting – evidence that Norm Robert's team is playing hard and together and finding enough offense to win low-scoring games.
Duke and Florida falling were not nearly as surprising. I saw the Hoyas practice in November and have watched them play a couple of times since. They have size, talent and speed, and do a good job executing their offense. When they take care of the ball they get high-quality shots.
The big guys – Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green and Brandon Bowman – are all good passers and capable perimeter shooters. Front-court players with skills like that really lubricate the Princeton offense that Georgetown runs – big guys on the perimeter – help keep the lane open for backcuts and layups. And because Duke likes to pressure the ball everywhere, the Blue Devils were vulnerable to those backcuts, and Georgetown took advantage.
Florida fell to a Tennessee team that loves to shoot the three and shoots it well. They also do a nice job forcing turnovers (the go-ahead basket late in the game came off a steal). The Vols made one more three point field goal than Florida and forced 19 turnovers to overcome the Gators' 52 percent field-goal shooting.
While there is still plenty of basketball to be played between now and Selection Sunday, there's no denying that these are resume-enhancing wins. Winning at home, however, does not carry the same weight with the selection committee (or me) as winning on the road does. Big home wins get temporary headlines for the winners and are most likely a momentary stumble for the losers.
So what are the overall tournament implications of these games? Most likely they won't do much for the winners or the losers. There's simply still too much work to be done in building a profile.
- While the three unbeatens all losing on the same day was the headliner in college hoops over the weekend, the biggest shocker was Wisconsin losing at home to North Dakota State – a result that had me double-checking the sports ticker. Wisconsin has been nearly invincible at home under Bo Ryan, but on any given day ... well, you know the rest. The Badgers shot 22 percent for the game, and that, in part, sealed their fate.
- I was at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday covering the West Virginia-UCLA game and enjoyed watching one of the best teams in college hoops do its thing. The Mountaineers played almost flawless basketball for 25 minutes, and led the Bruins by 20 with 15 minutes to play.
They made threes, scored on precision passes for layups, got points off turnovers and frustrated a young and strong UCLA squad by changing defenses effectively. But the talented and shorthanded Bruins staged an impressive rally behind the stellar offense of Jordan Farmar and inspired play off the bench from Darren Collison and Ryan Hollins. UCLA got to within three with seven seconds to go and had the ball, but a steal by West Virginia's Mike Gansey and a subsequent free-throw sealed a 60-56 win for the Mountaineers. It was West Virginia's 12th straight win, and showed it can play with anybody.
Both of these teams should be tournament teams and will be capable of getting to the second weekend. Once there, who knows.
- Before Sunday's loss to St. Louis, Xavier had won seven straight. The Musketeers are among the nation's leaders in field-goal defense and sport a very balanced offensive attack. Senior Brian Thornton is having an excellent season and Stanley Burrell is one of the best sophomore guards in the country.
The A-10 title will go through Xavier or George Washington, with Charlotte emerging if either falters.
- Speaking of GW, I've yet to see the Colonials play, but I've heard this year's squad is better than last year's NCAA tournament team. The Colonials got an impressive win at Charlotte on Saturday and are now in first place in the conference. I'm looking forward to seeing them soon.
- Louisville is starting to look like a team that might be overwhelmed by the Big East this season. I know the Cardinals are young, have not had a healthy Taquan Dean for a few games, and that the schedule has been tough. But even with Dean, this team is laboring to score points in the halfcourt and its defense has not created offense.
Quality wins will be hard to come by unless the Cardinals become much more efficient on offense. With such a young team that's a long shot.