Five takeaways from a tumultuous Tuesday night in college hoops

Marquette over Villanova wasn't necessarily the most surprising upset of the night, but it might be the most important. (AP)
Marquette over Villanova wasn’t necessarily the most surprising upset of the night, but it might be the most important. (AP)

Why do you watch college basketball in January? Why do we watch college basketball in January?

Some nights it seems like a fair question. Some nights are riddled with blowouts, endless end-of-game sequences, brickfests and — yes, it’s OK to say it — games that won’t mean much, if anything, when we look back on them in March. Some nights we wonder why.

Some nights. Not many.

Most nights the answer comes readily and freely. We watch because January college basketball is boundlessly fun. It’s boundlessly exciting. It’s boundlessly dramatic.

We also watch because of nights like Tuesday, which was something beyond fun, beyond exciting, beyond dramatic, and beyond a long list of adjectives that can describe relatively mundane occurrences.

Tuesday night was memorable. It was exhilarating. It was historic. It was the first time since 1979 that the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 teams all lost on the same date.

Tuesday night was also dizzying. Something about the timing and staggered simultaneity of the upsets made it so. West Virginia’s rampant second half drew people away from Villanova’s first, and the Wildcats kept them away by easing to a double-digit lead. Marquette’s comeback stunned even the most tuned-in viewer. At some point between the six-minute and two-minute mark of the second-half, it seized the attention of that viewer — and therefore diverted it away from Knoxville, where Tennessee was laying the first-half groundwork for an upset of its own.

Tuesday night left you asking “What?” and “How?” and all types of other questions that remained unanswered as new incredulous questions arose on top of one another. In the moment, there was no time to reflect, no time to digest what had transpired.

Now there is time, or rather has been time. Here are five takeaways from the three jarring results:

West Virginia over Kansas was the least surprising

Was it even an upset? Depends on whom you ask. The polls said so. Vegas, whose point spreads are far more predictive than the polls, said otherwise. The distinction is just semantics, though, and shrouds the real point: Nothing about West Virginia’s victory was entirely unexpected — nor will any West Virginia home victory over Kansas be unexpected until the Jayhawks snap their winless streak in Morgantown, which dates back to the days of Jeff Withey and Travis Releford.

There are takeaways from the game, but nothing that hadn’t already been hinted at previously. Kansas has trouble protecting the rim, but we already knew that. If there’s one encouraging sign for Mountaineer fans, it’s that their team won without forcing turnovers at a high rate. Recent performances had questioned their ability to do just that. And while Tuesday’s game didn’t quell the questions of whether the press might not be as effective against teams that are familiar with it, it gave us reason to believe West Virginia can make up for a lack of takeaways by taking care of the ball itself, and by doing other normal basketball things at the level of a top 10 team.

Villanova’s lack of bench scoring is somewhat troubling…

… But not too troubling. Let’s make that very clear. The Wildcats shot a dismal 6-for-34 from three. Jalen Brunson was 0 for 5. Kris Jenkins was 0 for 6. Jenkins won’t often miss six consecutive threes if you stick him 30 feet away from the basket and put a 7-foot-4 dude in his face, much less in a game. The Wildcats won’t often miss 28 threes over 40 minutes regardless of circumstance. Expect their shooting to regress to the mean (in a positive direction).

But don’t expect them to start getting significant contributions from outside their four starting perimeter players. Mikal Bridges stepped up Tuesday to lead Villanova with 20 points, but with Jenkins struggling, neither Eric Paschall nor Donte DiVincenzo could pick up the slack. That’s been a problem for the Wildcats all year. Jay Wright has a short bench, and the two guys that do play have been significantly less efficient on the offensive end than the five starters.

The defending national champs need more from their supporting cast, and certainly needed more down the stretch Tuesday. Villanova didn’t score a single point on its first shot of a halfcourt possession over the final 7:33 of the game as Marquette made its comeback.

Steve Wojciechowski has quietly built an offensive powerhouse at Marquette

Wojo’s Golden Eagles have gone from 155th in adjusted offensive efficiency in the former Duke assistant’s first season to 116th in his second season to eighth so far this year, his third in Milwaukee. They’re scoring 1.17 points per possession, and have been even more efficient in Big East play.

Freshman point guard Markus Howard has been brilliant, but even with Howard plagued by foul trouble Tuesday, Marquette showed its shot-making capabilities in its comeback. Sam Hauser, who has made a three in all but two games this season, made one crucial shot. Katin Reinhardt, who has a 132.7 offensive rating in conference play, made another. The Golden Eagles’ offense makes them dangerous.

Marquette might have had the best four-day stretch of any team this season

Four days before the Bradley Center court was overrun by Marquette students, the Golden Eagles travelled to Omaha and hung 102 points on No. 7 Creighton in their first win over a sure-fire tournament team this season.

The win over Villanova suddenly gives Marquette a substantial NCAA tournament résumé. Its best bullet point this time last week was a December win at Georgia. Now Wojciechowski’s team is firmly on the right side of the bubble, and based on the way it plays offense, isn’t a team top seeds will want to see in March.

Tennessee over Kentucky is the most puzzling of the three upsets

The fourth-ranked Wildcats were 9.5-point favorites. They came in averaging 1.20 points per possession; Tennessee came in allowing 1.02. Kentucky, though, scored just 0.82 points per trip in the first half, and the underwhelming offense wasn’t all due to poor outside shooting. Unless the Wildcats got the ball inside to Bam Adebayo, they made just 43 percent of their shots inside the arc.

Like with Villanova, the poor shooting was somewhat flukey. Malik Monk, a 40 percent three-point shooter, made just three of his 13 attempts, and the Wildcats were just 3 for 19 from deep before the final two minutes.

SEC teams have made a concerted effort to keep Kentucky out of transition. Those that have been successful have been able to hang with the Wildcats. The halfcourt offense struggles are far from a trend at this point, but are at least something to be cognizant of, especially heading into a Saturday showdown with Kansas.