Two of Indiana’s first four games against Big Ten opponents are ranked in the top five of the Associated Press Poll. On Tuesday, Indiana fell in overtime 83-80 to one of the four that isn’t, Illinois.
The Hoosiers pulled ahead of the Illini by one with just under seven minutes to go after sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell, who finished with a career-high 30 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 43 minutes, hit a three-point shot. But Indiana didn’t score another field goal until Ferrell hit another three with three seconds left in the extra period to push the Hoosiers within one (The Hoosiers shot 1-for-8 overall in overtime). It was too little too late, as Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice sank two free throws to seal the win.
It’s baffling that Indiana went nearly 12 minutes of game time without a made basket. The Hoosiers’ offense isn’t one of the nation’s best -- it ranks 124th in points scored per 100 possessions, according to Kenpom.com -- but that’s no excuse for their lack of execution on that end of the floor in crunch time. Had Indiana converted just one or two field goals down the stretch, it might well have closed this game out before overtime.
For Illinois, a fringe top-25 team, this is a nice way to start Big Ten play. John Groce’s team looks capable of playing itself into position to earn at at-large NCAA Tournament bid. Wins like this -- along with its recent neutral court victory over Missouri -- show why. The Illini host Penn State Saturday before a tough road trip to Wisconsin on Jan. 8.
"They're (Illinois) going to be really good for a long time,” Indiana coach Tom Crean told reporters after the game. “What I saw in our team today is we have a chance to be very good, too.”
Ferrell was brilliant, as he has been throughout much of this season; his points per game average (7.6 to 16.8), field goal percentage (40.3 to 44.0) and three-point field goal percentage (30.3 to 42.7) have increased considerably. He seems to have made the proverbial “sophomore leap.” But he didn’t get enough help Tuesday from his supporting cast. Freshman Noah Vonleh was the only other Hoosier to score in double figures (16 points).
After losing to every notable non-conference opponent they have faced -- No. 17 UConn, No. 2 Syracuse and Notre Dame -- Indiana missed an opportunity for a needed signature win nationally and in the Big Ten. The conference, which Kenpom ranks as the toughest league in the country, offers few “easy” wins." Still, it’s probably too early for Indiana to panic about its NCAA Tournament chances, because there will be plenty of opportunities to earn quality wins over the next two months -- starting with a home game Saturday against No. 5 Michigan State.
Still, this is game Indiana, if not for its catastrophically-timed cold streak, could and should have had. It will need to re-group quickly for the Spartans, a conference and national championship contender.
UConn falls to Houston
After starting the season 9-0, No. 17 UConn has now lost two of its last four games, including Tuesday night's American Athletic Conference opener at Houston. The Huskies fell 75-71 in front of a sparse crowd at Hofheinz Pavilion. National Player of the Year candidate Shabazz Napier scored 27 points but missed a potential tying lay-up with four seconds to go after Houston’s TaShawn Thomas hit a pair of free throws to put the Cougars up two. The Huskies entered Tuesday night shooting 43.1 percent from three-point range, the sixth-highest percentage in the country, but shot just 7-for-22 (31. 8 percent) from deep against Houston. Napier hit just three of his nine attempts from distance. The Huskies will need to bounce back from this setback and prepare for a tough game on Saturday at 10-2 SMU. UConn looked like one of the best teams in the country early in the season, but it could undermine its hot start if it doesn’t get back on track soon. And games at No. 18 Memphis (Jan. 16) and against No. 14 Louisville (Jan. 18) are fast approaching.
UConn, welcome to Conference USA!
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) January 1, 2014
-- The team picked to finish first in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, Marquette, sustained its sixth loss (tied with DePaul for the most among Big East teams) of the season Tuesday night at Creighton 67-49. The Golden Eagles struggled to contain Bluejays two-time first-team All-American forward Doug McDermott, who scored 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds, and guard Jahenns Manigat, who finished with 16 points and added six rebounds and six assists. The consensus heading into the season was that Buzz Williams’ team was good enough to earn a favorable NCAA Tournament seed. At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether the Golden Eagles -- who have made the Tournament in all five years of Williams’ tenure to date -- will miss the Big Dance altogether. They have some serious ground to make up over the next two-plus months of conference play.
-- Over the past few years under former coach Brad Stevens, NCAA Tournament darling Butler showed a flair for the dramatic. There was plenty of drama Tuesday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse, as the Bulldogs took No. 11 Villanova to the wire before falling 76-73 in overtime. Sophomore guard Kellen Dunham, who finished with 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting and 5-of-5 from three, hit a jumper with 21 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. But the Bulldogs couldn’t make up a five-point deficit in the extra period, despite a Dunham lay-up with 15 seconds to go that cut the Wildcats’ lead to one. At 10-3, Butler has yet to notch a marquee win this season, but it has come close on several occasions, including two-point losses to No. 6 Oklahoma State and LSU in the Old Spice Classic and Tuesday’s loss. New coach Brandon Miller has his team playing better than most expected (the Bulldogs were picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll) after it lost Stevens to the Boston Celtics and its best player, forward Roosevelt Jones, for the season with a wrist injury. Butler doesn’t yet have the résumé of a team deserving of an at-large tournament bid, but if it keeps playing this well, it could build one.
-- Guard Joseph Bertrand flushed home a reverse, two-handed alley-oop dunk late in the second half of the Illini’s win over Indiana.
Via Youtube user IlliniProductionsHD
-- Two of the Big Ten’s top teams played road games against inferior conference opponents Tuesday. No. 5 Michigan State overcame a seven-point halftime deficit and got 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and nine rebounds from G/F Branden Dawson in a 79-63 win over Penn State. Meanwhile, Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the No. 3 Buckeyes past Purdue 78-69. Ohio State will play Michigan State in East Lansing on Jan. 7.
-- One day after announcing that junior forward Chane Behanan had been dismissed from the team for violating university policy, No. 14 Louisville drubbed Central Florida 90-65 in its American Athletic Conference opener. Guard Russ Smith led the Cardinals with 24 points, nine assists and four steals and forward Montrezl Harrell -- one of the players Louisville will need to step up to help offset the impact of Behanan’s dismissal -- added 15 and 8.
-- In beating Atlantic 10 contender George Washington 72-55 on Tuesday, Kansas State extended its winning streak to eight games. Guard Shane Southwell paced the Wildcats with a game-high 21 points and five assists, and forward Thomas Gipson added 12 points and eight rebounds. After losing three of its first five games, Kansas State seems to be hitting its stride just in time for a big-time showdown in Manhattan with No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Cowboys announced Tuesday that forward Michael Cobbins will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his Achilles’ tendon.
-- Seton Hall opened Big East play Tuesday by edging Providence in double overtime 81-80 at the Dunkin Donuts Center. Forward Patrick Auda hit five three throws in the second extra period to help the Pirates rebound after frittering away a 12-point, second-half lead. This was a nice win for Seton Hall, who was picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll.
-- ACC championship contenders No. 2 Syracuse, No. 7 Duke and No. 19 North Carolina played their final non-conference tune-up games on Tuesday. Forward Jerami Grant scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds to help the Orange cruise against Eastern Michigan 70-48. Freshman Jabari Parker scored less than 20 points (12) for just the third time this season, but the Blue Devils still managed to dominate Elon (86-48). And junior forward James Michael McAdoo turned in an efficient shooting night, going 11-for-14 for 23 points to help the Tar Heels make easy work of UNC-Wilmington 84-51. Duke and Syracuse open ACC play on Saturday when they face Notre Dame and Miami, respectively, while North Carolina will host Wake Forest on Sunday.
-- No. 13 Iowa State dusted off a perfect non-conference season Tuesday night when it thrashed Northern Illinois 99-63. The Cyclones will be tested several times over the next month, as they face home games against No. 9 Baylor (Jan. 7), No. 16 Kansas (Jan. 13) and 10-3 Kansas State (Jan. 25); and road tests at 11-2 Oklahoma (Jan. 11), 11-2 Texas (Jan. 18) and the Jayhawks (Jan. 29).
-- No. 22 Iowa began Big Ten play Tuesday by beating Nebraska 67-57. Guard Roy Devyn Marble led the Hawkeyes with 15 and eight rebounds. The Hawkeyes have a great chance to notch a statement win on Saturday, when they play at Wisconsin.
-- Xavier picked up its fourth consecutive win over a power conference opponent on Tuesday when it topped St. John’s 70-60 in its Big East opener. The Musketeers face four challenging games over the next two-plus weeks: Butler (Jan. 4), Marquette (Jan. 9), at Creighton (Jan. 12), Georgetown (Jan. 15). -- Guards Geron Johnson and Joe Jackson combined for 37 points to ease Memphis past South Florida 88-73 on Tuesday. So far this season, the Tigers are 10-2, their only losses coming against Oklahoma State and Florida. Up next for Josh Pastner’s team is a tough two-game stretch beginning with a home game Saturday against Cincinnati and closing with a Jan. 9 trip to Louisville.