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College Basketball

Notre Dame douses red-hot Syracuse, more Snap Judgments

A few thoughts on Saturday's crop of college hoops:

Notre Dame 67, Syracuse 58: OK, it certainly isn't going down in the annals of Irish hoops' lore as being on a par with Digger Phelps' John Shumate-led club throttling the Bill Walton-led and John Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins' 88-game win streak in South Bend nearly 38 years ago. But, considering this Notre Dame team has been playing without the program's best player since Tim Ambromaitis suffered a torn ACL during a practice the day after Thanksgiving and had dropped two Big East games over the previous six days, coach Mike Brey and his crew couldn't have asked for a niftier way to improve to 12-8.

The program's eighth victory over a top-ranked foe came against a Syracuse squad that had won only five times by margins of fewer than 10 points while zipping to a 20-0 start.

The Orange played without sophomore center Fab Melo (7.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocked shots per game) -- he didn't make the trip, for which Coach Jim Boeheim refused to reveal the reason -- but it's doubtful his presence would have been enough to overcome an Irish offense that hit 50 percent from the field, including eight of 16 behind the arc.

No one yet should start questioning Boeheim's team's status as best in the Big East and a firm contender to get to the Final Four -- assuming Melo isn't off the floor for an extending period.

The result did much, much more to help Notre Dame's NCAA Tournament at-large bid possibilities than it did to alter the consensus of opinion on the Orange.

Florida State 76, Duke 73: Exactly two weeks before Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles took the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor Saturday for their ACC game against the Blue Devils, they were bopped around to the tune of 79-59 at Clemson, their third loss in four games and sixth in 10.

Since then they edged host Virginia Tech by four points, nuked North Carolina by 33 -- I repeat, 33 -- points in Tallahassee and methodically dominated visiting Maryland by 14 points.

Oh, yes: They left that Cameron Indoor Stadium floor a few hours later after Michael Snaer's transition three-pointer from the right wing, after a snap pass from Luke Loucks, zinged the nets as the buzzer sounded, jolting the Duke Crazies to near-silence and snuffing the Blue Devils' 45-game win streak in the building.

What a difference 14 days can make: The Seminoles, since that thumping in Clemson, are in a first-place tie (at 4-1) with the Blue Devils. The moral for those who follow college hoops? How about "Judge thee, not too harshly, a team a week into January"?

Missouri 89, Baylor 88: Until Michael Snaer's Jump Shot of the Week a couple of hours later in Durham, NC, the Tigers appeared to have a stranglehold on the Road Victory of the Week after knocking off the Bears in Waco.

Not to worry, though: That return trip to Columbia was just fine with an 18-1 record -- 5-1 in the Big 12 -- in tow.

How does a team hit 57 percent from the floor and score 88 points and still drop its second game in a row (the Bears were handed their first loss of the season Monday, Kansas doing the honors in Lawrence, 92-74)? By committing 19 turnovers, allowing the Tigers to shoot 54.5 percent from the field (including 23 of 34 inside the arc) and fouling enough to give Frank Haith's masters of "beating people off the dribble" the opportunity to hit 22 of 31 free throws.

The Jayhawks hit 35 of 61 from the field Monday night against Scott Drew's team.

We can guess what Drew will emphasize in practice before the Bears go to Norman for a Wednesday night game against Oklahoma.

Kansas 69, Texas 66: Senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor has been on the blunt end of a lot of criticism for his inconsistent -- erratic, if you will -- play for the Jayhawks.

But Bob Cousy Award voters, coach Bill Self and Jayhawk Nation had to be mightily impressed with Taylor's performances Saturday in Austin and Monday night in Lawrence.

Taylor had 22 points, five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes Saturday -- six days after going for 28, two, six and five in 33 during the defeat of Baylor.

If Taylor plays anything close to that same level while teammate Thomas Robinson continues on his path to the John R. Wooden Award, the Jayhawks' ambitions will rightfully extend well beyond a Big 12 title.

Kentucky 77, Alabama 71: Coach John Calipari and the Wildcats didn't know it at the time, but the Wildcats' down-to-the wire SEC victory over the visiting Crimson Tide was going to be enough to move them to the top of the newest national ratings.

Anthony Davis hit just two of 10 shots from the field, but the likely National Freshman of the Year -- and very possible SEC Player of the Year -- impacted the game in significant other ways via his nine rebounds, four steals, four blocked shots and countless "shot alterations."

The free-throw performance -- 27 of 40 -- was of the so-so variety but just good enough to keep poll voters from having a really difficult decision to make on Monday.

Tennessee 60, Connecticut 57: The defending national champions may have more "talent," per se, than the Huskies possessed while going 11-0 in Big East and NCAA Tournament play last spring. After their second loss in a row Saturday in Knoxville -- and fourth in six games -- that theory is moot right now.

On an afternoon when one of the nation's most touted freshmen (Andre Drummond) and one of the players who led the Huskies to that national title (Alex Oriakhi) were on the floor, the best big man in the game was clearly another freshman -- mid-year high school graduate Jarnell Stokes (16 points and 12 rebounds), who made his college debut against Kentucky seven days before.

So much for enduring periods of adjustment ...

West Virginia 77, Cincinnati 74 (OT): Ladies and gentlemen meet the hottest team in the Big East right now. Coach Bob Huggins' Mountaineers can make that claim after their fifth win in six games since they lost by 19 points at Seton Hall two days before New Year's.

Is WVU senior forward Kevin Jones (26 points and 13 rebounds Saturday against Huggins' former program) the best player in the Big East? A compelling argument could be made in behalf of that suggestion.

Louisville 73, Pittsburgh 62: Just when it seemed as if the outlook for the rest of the season couldn't get any dimmer for Jamie Dixon's Panthers, they fell to 0-7 in Big East play, dropping their eighth game in a row overall with the home defeat to the Cardinals.

Rick Pitino's team has done a remarkable job in dealing with a lot of injuries to win three of seven conference games and, at 15-5 overall, be in solid NCAA Tourney at-large bid position.

The Panthers? Barring a Connecticut-like run through the Big East Tournament, they're going to be part of the NIT field. Who would have imagined that a month ago?

Murray State 82, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 65: Raise your hands if you looked at Murray State's schedule in October and thought "Here's a team that might be unbeaten"?

Uh-huh.

The Racers are the last of the unbeatens after their 20th victory, the eighth in Ohio Valley Conference play, Saturday night.

First-year head coach Steve Prohm must be thinking, "It's got to get tougher from here, right?"

It sure will, Steve.

UNLV 80, New Mexico 63: Well, it had all the appearances of a "Mountain West showdown" -- for a half, at least, before the Rebels dispensed with the Lobos.

Coach Steve Alford's team has five games to play before getting a rematch with San Diego State (which beat the Lobos Wednesday night in Albuquerque) and they would be prudent to win at least four of them to stay in reasonable NCAA tourney at-large range.

As for the Rebels, they're playing for the best possible tournament seed -- regardless of what happens in the conference's postseason tourney on their home court.

Long Beach State 71, UC Santa Barbara 48: There appears to be a major gap between the two best teams in the Big West Conference -- at least that was the case Saturday night in Santa Barbara, when the 49ers-0">49ers built a 31-point edge with about 10 minutes left to go 7-0 in conference and 14-6 overall.

Perimeter players Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and James Ennis combined for 47 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists with just four turnovers for Dan Monson's Long Beach squad while the Gauchos' Orlando Johnson was held to four of 15 shooting and 10 points.

The reason the Gauchos aren't panicking, though: They've beaten the 49ers in consecutive conference tourney title games, doing so last March after losing to Long Beach by margins of 16 and 18 points in the regular season.

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