Impressive wins were garnered over the weekend by a number of teams. The biggest surprises were in the Big Ten. Penn State ended the 33 game home-winning streak of Illinois and last place Purdue knocked off Wisconsin in West Lafayette.
Penn State came from 16 down early in the second half to beat Illinois. The Nittany Lions made nine-of-19 threes, had just nine turnovers and won the free-throw game.
Purdue outshot the struggling Badgers 49 percent to 38 percent, and won the rebounding battle by seven. Wisconsin has now lost five of six.
I was in Lawrence, Kan., on Sunday and saw a stirring comeback by the young and improving Jayhawks. Their winning streak is now five. Down 16 points with about eight minutes to go, freshman Brandon Rush jump-started a 25-8 run to finish the game.
Pressure defense led to Oklahoma turnovers and missed shots which resulted in transition scores for Kansas. Oklahoma built its lead with an effective zone defense, offensive rebounding and timely shooting. For 30 minutes the Sooners controlled the game. But for eight minutes at the end, Kansas was in charge. That was the difference. And that kind of win for a young team could pay high dividends in March.
I also finally got a chance to see the George Washington Colonials, and they are impressive. Down by 17 in the first half on the road at Xavier on Thursday, the Colonials came back to win. On Sunday, the Colonials pressured Richmond into a fast-paced game and won by 25. They've now won 10 straight.
Blinding team speed and relentless pressure is what stands out when watching the watching this team. Everyone is on the same page defensively. The ball pressure and rotations are excellent and they seem to contest every shot. Blocked shots, deflections and steals fuel a high-octane offense, and everybody attacks the hoop.
Only Pops Mensah Bonsu appears to be uncomfortable handling the ball on the perimeter and shooting the three. Everyone else can score off the dribble and shoot the three. And freshman Maureece Rice is a potent scorer off the bench. Multiple offensive weapons, relentless defense and rebounding, and good team chemistry make the Colonials a dangerous tournament team.
Georgetown's winning streak is at six games after Sunday's win over Pitt. Using a zone defense to slow down the Panthers' Aaron Gray in the second half and getting 22 points from Jeff Green were instrumental in the win. Georgetown's efficiency and discipline are impressive. The Hoyas are a low-turnover and high-assist team and, as a result, have won most of their close games.
Stanford has found a nice groove. Six consecutive wins have the Cardinal tied for second with California in the Pac-10 race. In a win at Oregon State, Chris Hernandez got 22 of his 28 points in the second half to make up for the absence of Matt Haryasz, who left with an eye injury. The status of Haryasz going forward is uncertain.
Seton Hall has ridden the surprising production of Jamar Nutter, and the steadiness of seniors Kelly Whitney and Donald Copeland, to five straight wins after beating Rutgers on Sunday. Nutter was a reserve the first 11 games and averaged nine points per game. But due to injury, he has moved into the starting lineup recently and is averaging 18 points over the last nine games. He had 22 in 36 minutes Sunday.
Iowa's thrashing of Michigan, while not an upset, was surprising. The Hawkeyes winning at home, where they are very hard to beat, was not a surprise (although I thought Michigan was primed to pull the upset). However, totally dominating an experienced Michigan team that had been playing so well caught me off guard.
The Hawkeyes arguably are the best defensive team in the Big Ten, and one of the best in the country. The Wolverines shot just 32 percent in the second half. Recently, the Iowa offense has regained some of its swagger. It shot 65 percent and made 13 threes against Michigan.
Butler got an overtime win over league leader Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday, and now is just a game behind the Panthers in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs have won their last five.
Kent State won the showdown in the MAC with Akron on Saturday, and now has sole possession of first place. The Golden Flashes held the high-scoring Zips to 57 points, including 22 in the second half on 30 percent shooting. Kent State also committed a season-low six turnovers.
Alabama gave LSU its first loss in the SEC and continues to scratch out wins playing without leading scorer Chuck Davis. The Tide is 5-2 since Davis went down with a season-ending knee injury. Sophomore point guard Ronald Steele has played just about every minute in every game since Davis got hurt. In Saturday's win, he had 12 of his team-high 21 points in the last eight minutes and played the entire game.
Florida used an 18-1 run in the second half to blow out Kentucky in Gainesville on Saturday. I coined the word "spurtability" (the ability to score a bunch of points in short spurts) 10 years ago to describe the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats. Florida is a team with spurtability. The Gators shot 58 percent from the field against Kentucky and assisted on 20 of 30 made field goals. Five players scored in double-digits and the Gators blocked seven shots and won the boards. This is a young, talented team that is growing up nicely.
Career highs were posted by Florida's Taurean Green (29 points) and Joakim Noah (26) vs. Kentucky. Jonathan Modica had a career-high 37 in Arkansas' win over South Carolina. In an overtime loss at Duke, Florida State's Al Thornton tied his career high with 37. Nevada's Nick Fazekas came within one point of his career high with 36 points in a win over New Mexico State