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:
Oklahoma State 85, No. 2Kansas 80
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.
Quick takeaways: This probably is the best road win for any team in the nation this season. Hardly anyone goes into Allen Fieldhouse and wins. It's a huge, huge chip for Oklahoma State as far as NCAA tournament selection and if Brown and Smart are going to continue playing at anything close to this level, it shouldn't be the last resounding win the Cowboys grab. Oklahoma State has made it through four very tough road games in the league (only Iowa State remains in terms of daunting challenges), so if the Cowboys can keep up their general home form, they should be OK for the field of 68.
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.
No. 14 Miami 79, No.19NC State 78
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.
Quick takeaways: Miami has six of its last 10 ACC games at home, and two of the four road games are at Clemson and Wake Forest. They have already won at UNC and now NC State. With Duke two games back in the loss column (along with Virginia), the Hurricanes are in extremely strong position to win the ACC and be a major factor in NCAA seeding and location ordering. Now fully healthy, this looks like a very good team and the committee will take into account personnel absence in all three losses.
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.
Pittsburgh 65, No. 6Syracuse 55
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.
Quick takeaways: Syracuse's lack of a bench is really hurting the Orange. They only went seven deep today and got absolutely nothing from Trevor Cooney and Baye Keita. James Southerland's eligibility absence isn't the only problem Syracuse has, but it continues to loom as a major factor. Spacing and perimeter shooting have been a significant issue since he's been gone, and the Orange shot 3-for-14 on three-pointers today in their latest weak effort from the arc. Not only is Syracuse's seed position slipping, but if this thinner roster is going to be a closer proxy of what they will have come March, then the selection committee could take them even further down the S-curve. What looked like a Final Four contender a couple of weeks ago now looks like a team straining at the seams to hold things together.
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.
California 58, No. 10Oregon 54
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.
Quick takeaways: With back-to-back losses in the Bay Area without Artis, the Ducks have given up their two-game lead in the Pac-12 and if his absence is prolonged, what was an unpredictable league already will devolve into mayhem at the top. Anyone's beatable, it appears. For NCAA tournament purposes, as long as Artis comes back and the team re-finds its prior form, Oregon will get a pass to an extent for these losses and should get seed-bump consideration based on their track record with their full team. Five of their next seven are at home, so maybe Oregon can slog along without their freshman ballhandler for a bit. Cal still has a good deal of work to do to be an NCAA tournament team.
Air Force 70, No. 22San Diego State 67
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.
Quick takeaways: San Diego State has now lost three games in the league and they haven't yet played any of the big road games (UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State). Having already lost at home to the Rebels and dropping road games at Wyoming and Air Force, they are now in a very difficult position in terms of a top league finish. In fairness, they were missing point guard Xavier Thames and shooter Chase Tapley gave it a go with a bad wrist, but missed all five of his three-point attempts. They're still going to be an NCAA tournament team, but the road won't be easy for them to finish with a good seed.
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:
Northern Iowa 57, No. 15Wichita State 52: The tenor of the Valley race changed radically this week as the Shockers were beaten twice and now fall a game behind league-leader Creighton with a trip to Omaha still remaining in the regular-season finale. Northern Iowa finally found a way to win one of the close games that's been escaping them this season, and continue to loom as a potentially dangerous Arch Madness foil. Anthony James was UNI's only double-digit scorer with 16 points. Carl Hall led the Shockers with 20.
North Carolina 72, Virginia Tech 60 (OT):The Tar Heels found themselves down 12-0 to start the game, clawed their way back, avoided a final shot in regulation from the Hokies' top player, Erick Green, and then put the game away in overtime to avoid what could have been a damaging loss. James Michael McAdoo came strong with a 22 and 10.
No. 5Duke 79, Florida State 60: In what has been a difficult place for the Blue Devils historically, they went down to Tallahassee and thumped the up-and-down Seminoles for a nice, confidence-boosting road win. This is the Blue Devils' first strong true road effort of the season. Florida State continues to sputter on and off and yet another home loss, even against a team with Duke's overall profile, is not good news for their NCAA hopes.