Kansas stunned at home, Syracuse falls again, more hoops
What was a fairly docile early afternoon turned into a tempest of turmoil heading into dinner on the East Coast as a number of upsets rattled the landscape. The biggest of them came in Lawrence, Kan., but the most important group of results so far may have come from the ACC. Here's a quick spin through what's happened so far and why each game matters:
The Jayhawks' ragged January didn't end when the month did, and it finally bit them as the Cowboys came to Lawrence and broke a 16-game losing streak at Allen Fieldhouse. It's obviously an enormous win for Oklahoma State's profile (and the program in general). Their precocious backcourt of Markel Brown and Marcus Smart combined for 53 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and six steals. The last of Kansas' 15 turnovers sealed the Jayhawks' fate in the final seconds, an appropriate end to the contest and to a run of games where the offense has struggled for consistency.
For Kansas, maybe it's a wake-up call. Then again, maybe it's a blaring alarm. The Jayhawks' offense in their last seven league games has been, at best, very, very mediocre, and today, their defense finally couldn't bail them out thanks to the star turn of the Cowboys' backcourt. The league race tightens up a bit, although I still don't believe there's any really legit challenger over 18 games. That said, KU is thisclose to two home losses in conference play, so the rest of the league should sense vulnerability. We'll see where this goes from here. In an imperfect season, we could be in for a crazy March.
Reggie Johnson's tip-in with 0.8 seconds left capped a late Miami run and the Hurricanes got out of Raleigh with an enormous road win when Rodney Purvis' three-quarter court heave at the buzzer rimmed out. The Hurricanes stay unbeaten in the ACC and now have beaten Duke (at home) and the Wolfpack (on the road), putting them in tremendous position to win the regular-season title. NC State drops to an inconsistent 5-4 and has played all of its big home games already. All six Miami rotation guys took between nine and 11 shots and five of them scored between 13 and 18 points. Team effort.
NC State is the proverbial girl with the curl. When they're good, they can be very good, but the consistency simply isn't there yet and this loss may be a big crimp in their plans. They head to Cameron next, so they could be a .500 team in league play with games at UNC and Florida State also left.
The Panthers should schedule only top-10 teams at home. They improved to 13-1 against that category since the Petersen Events Center opened. Pitt throttled the Syracuse offense (with the exception of C.J. Fair) and pounded the shorthanded Orange on the glass, collecting around 50 percent of their offensive rebound chances. Trey Woodall spearheaded a balanced effort with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Fair led the Orange with 20 points. Syracuse shot just 36.7 percent from the field.
For the Panthers, this is their best win of the season, one to add to the road rout of Georgetown on their ledger. It was a consummate Pitt team performance -- no standout star, crush it on the glass, D it up to wear down a foe. No Panther took more than seven shots in the game. They're moving smartly up the seed curve and, with the relative recent troubles at Syracuse and Louisville, maybe can aim a bit higher than expected in the Big East standings, too.
The Ducks' struggles without point guard Dominic Artis, still out with a foot injury, continued as they committed 22 turnovers in a sloppy loss at Cal. The Golden Bears won despite shooting just 35.6 percent from the field and 4-for-17 from the arc. Neither team had a player score more than 14 points.
The Falcons, picked last in the league's preseason poll, continue their surprising ascent in the ultracompetitive Mountain West, and will be playing for a share of first place Wednesday at New Mexico after pulling the upset at Clune. I was lucky enough to be at the game today. It was an excellent ballgame where both stars came strong and both teams played to their relative strengths. Jamaal Franklin had a 25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Mike Lyons went for a 20-5-4 (and one dented scoreboard after a celebratory heave of the basketball). Air Force went 12-for-30 from 3 while SDSU was only 2-for-19 and missed two of them on the final possession.
Can Air Force be the mystery team everyone is worried about down the stretch of the selection process? The Falcons continue to improve and grabbed a really rare win for their program over a ranked team. Dave Pilipovic is also starting to have more depth to play with as AFA's well-regarded sophomore class is starting to emerge. The bench played 57 minutes today and provided 22 points, which is much, much more production than they were getting early in the season. The Falcons, one of the more entertaining watches in the country thanks to their tempo increase this season, now may have to be taken seriously as an NCAA tournament hopeful.
Other results of note: