December 04, 2011
While North Carolina and Kentucky took up most of the national spotlight on Saturday, there was plenty left to highlight from the rest of the day's busy slate of games. The Dagger already spotlighted Illinois' big win over Gonzaga and Tulane's landmark victory over Georgia Tech. Here's the best — and not-so-great — of the rest.
UP: Xavier and Tu Holloway's heroics — After trailing Purdue by 19 points in the second half, the Xavier star capped an epic comeback at the Cintas Center with two absolutely deadly 3-pointers in the final minute. The second came with the game tied 61-61, when he forced isolation against Lewis Jackson, then ate him alive with a crossover before burying the shot from atop the key. The 66-63 win wrapped up a monster week, during which the Musketeers also went on the road and knocked off Vanderbilt in overtime. Holloway and Mark Lyons might be the most dangerous back-court duo in the nation right now, and Chris Mack's club is flat-out rolling.
DOWN: Purdue's defense — Saturday was hardly the first time this season in which Purdue has looked vulnerable on the defensive end, as Xavier shot 53.7 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Boilermakers 30-23. Matt Painter's Purdue teams have not been known as ones to regularly outlast opponents in shootouts, but right now, that's the way this year's group is going to have to win games like this. It's tough to tell how sustainable of a model that will be for them moving forward.
UP: Marquette — On a night when Jae Crowder was held to just two points in 24 minutes, 6-foot-3 freshman guard Todd Mayo contributed 14 off of the bench for Marquette in a 61-54 win at Wisconsin. The Golden Eagles are 7-0, and the signs are there that Buzz Williams might have his toughest, deepest, most well-rounded team yet. The most important stat in this one? Marquette out-rebounded Wisconsin 41-28.
DOWN: Wisconsin — Not only did the Badgers lose twice this week, but they lost twice in grinder-style games that are normally looked at as their specialty. Granted, those losses came to two Top-20 teams, but the way they were pushed around for the better part of both games and looked out of sync on offense raised some red flags. The schedule lightens up some before Big Ten play starts, but the Badgers have two huge games four days apart starting next Saturday, when they host UNLV, then travel to face UW-Milwaukee, who is off to a 7-1 start.
UP: Weber State's Damian Lillard — He might not be putting up Jimmer numbers, but the Weber State senior is this year's super-scorer in the state of Utah. He entered Saturday night's game against San Jose State leading the nation in scoring at 25.6 points per game, and responded with a heroic 41-point effort in a 91-89 double-overtime win. He had two huge deliveries, with the first being a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. At the end of the second overtime frame, he drove for an and-one layup, hitting the subsequent free throw that pushed Weber over the hump for good. Nation: You've been notified.
DOWN: Detroit — The hits keep coming for the Titans, who are down to eight active players thanks to a rash of odd absences and injuries. Now, the losses are continuing to pile up for the team picked second in the Horizon League's preseason poll. Ray McCallum Jr. — the league's preseason Player of the Year — continues to play well, but the help around him is minimal. Following a 66-61 loss at home on Saturday to Cleveland State — who is now 8-1 — Detroit is 3-6, with light at the end of the tunnel tough to find at the moment.
UP: Arkansas and Tennessee tough in losses — A young Arkansas team continues to play exciting ball under first-year coach Mike Anderson, and though the Hogs were out-lasted at UConn on Saturday, 75-62, they put up a tougher fight than many expected. The same goes for Tennessee, who in a rebuilding year under Cuonzo Martin were tipped at home by Pitt, 61-56. Both look like teams that will cause fits for opponents from the middle of the SEC ranks this season.
DOWN: UCLA — Meanwhile, no one appears to be scared of the Bruins, who let an early double-digit lead slip away at home against Texas. The Longhorns out-scored UCLA by 16 in the second half en route to a 69-59 victory. While Texas got a very sharp performance from freshman point guard Myck Kabongo (13 points, 8 assists), UCLA — now 2-5 on the season — continues to look like a team who's players are having no fun running the floor with one another. The fact that the lights went out for a few minutes late in the first half in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, forcing a brief delay, was a fitting twist in a start to the 2011-12 season where nothing has gone right or according to plan for Ben Howland's team.
UP: Northern Iowa — Hey, remember these guys? After wearing the slipper in the NCAA tournament two years ago with an upset of top-seeded Kansas, Northern Iowa took a brief step back from the spotlight a year ago. Now, they're 7-1 after knocking off a quality Colorado State squad on Saturday, 83-77. They've already built up a very respectable résumé, too, with wins at Old Dominion, Providence and Iowa State. Leading the way are juniors Anthony James (14.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.4 apg) and Jake Koch (10.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 54.8 FG%), who were little-used reserves on that 2009-10 squad.
DOWN: Utah State — The Aggies are trending the other way. They dropped to 3-4 with a very surprising 65-57 loss on the road against a rebuilding Pacific team. While Kyisean Reed played well on Saturday night with 13 points and seven rebounds, he's been inconsistent so far, and the 6-foot-6 junior is having a tough time replacing injured Brady Jardine in terms of presence. Jardine is Utah State's heart and soul, and him being out is clearly taking a toll. Including a rare home loss suffered on Wednesday, Utah State has dropped three of its last four and needs to rebound fast before heading to Wichita State next Saturday.
Follow Ryan Greene on Twitter: @ryanmgreene