There were two extraordinary games over the weekend. Butler upset No. 1 Indiana and Arizona won a thrilling contest with Florida in a showdown between top-10 teams. Both games were played at March Madness levels. Unfortunately, much of the news this past weekend came away from the court. Here’s a review of the events that caught our eyes.
1. Butler is better than the movies
I’m not sure Hollywood will ever make a basketball movie better than “Hoosiers.” But I am pretty certain Butler and coach Brad Stevens will keep coming up with scripts that are more dramatic than anything on the silver screen.
The Butler did it again Saturday, upsetting No. 1 Indiana 88-86 in Indianapolis. This time it was Alex Barlow, a 5-foot-11 walk-on, driving to the basket and hitting a running, spinning 6-foot jumper with 2.4 seconds left in overtime.
Was Barlow an unlikely hero? Absolutely. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed Butler and Stevens, or basketball in the state of Indiana. Barlow reportedly came to Butler to learn how to coach basketball from Stevens. And in this game, after three key Butler players had fouled out, Stevens trusted his walk-on and put the ball in his hands.
Barlow has a good teacher. The Bulldogs are 8-2 and have top-10 victories over North Carolina and Indiana.
2. Arizona has chemistry and toughness
It’s not the easiest thing for a coach to bring in a transfer at point guard. When Mark Lyons came to Arizona from Xavier, no one doubted his ability, but some thought there would be chemistry issues for the Wildcats.
Point guard Mark Lyons is fitting in just fine at Arizona.
Lyons worked hard to prevent that, and after Saturday it seems all that talk can be put to rest. Lyons made a contested layup with seven seconds left as Arizona defeated Florida 65-64 in a game that looked and felt like an NCAA tournament contest. Sean Miller’s team trailed by 11 in the second half and was down six with 56 seconds left.
“I think we outplayed them most of the game, but that doesn’t matter,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s a 40-minute game and they outplayed us at the end, when it mattered most.”
Lyons was in that famous brawl between Xavier and Cincinnati last season. He’s a redshirt senior who graduated from Xavier. And he has brought some toughness and swagger to a very good Arizona team.
3. Emotions are raw in the Big East
Conference realignment has dealt a devastating blow to the Big East Conference. It started with the departure decisions by Syracuse and Pittsburgh 15 months ago and it has been one thing after another leading up to Saturday’s official announcement that the “Catholic 7” will leave the Big East to pursue a new basketball conference.
Check out Ken Davis' latest college basketball power rankings at FOXSports.com.
Suddenly Connecticut, Cincinnati and South Florida are the only full members of the Big East remaining at this time. No one is sure about the future. Emotions have become frayed.
“I don’t blame them (for leaving),” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told Cincinnati.com on Saturday. “It’s a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this and the money that one sport apparently is swinging around and swaying universities to make the decisions. We’re sitting here in a state where the state school is 800 miles from its closest road game. It’s ridiculous. Don’t tell me that people care about student-athletes. ... If it’s all about this much money and money grabbing, the players need to get paid.”
4. Rice getting second chance at Rutgers
The first piece of news from Rutgers was that coach Mike Rice had received a three-game suspension without pay in addition to a $50,000 fine. Then the Newark Star-Ledger reported the penalties were a result of Rice throwing basketballs at players’ heads during a practice in his first or second season at Rutgers. Sources also told the newspaper that the 43-year-old coach used abusive language towards players that “went beyond the allowable limit for a head coach at the university.”
Rutgers is standing by head coach Mike Rice after his recent suspension.
Over the weekend, it was reported Rice will attend anger management classes and sensitivity training for his extreme behavior. The penalties came after an internal investigation by the athletic department. When he returns on Dec. 29, Rice will have an independent monitor watching at practice.
Athletic director Tim Pernetti said he remains committed to Rice and the university is dealing with the “pattern” of behavior in a “very proactive manner.”
Rice is scheduled to return Jan. 2 at Syracuse. Associate head coach David Cox replaces Rice for the next three games.
5. Heavy hearts at UConn
The Connecticut Huskies return to action Monday night after a break for final exams and they will do so with heavy hearts. The UConn campus in Storrs is about 80 miles from Newtown, site of the tragic massacre Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“That could have been any of our kids that got on that bus that day,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “I walk my daughter to the bus every day. Twenty families didn’t get their son or daughter back. It’s just tough. I stressed to (the players) to go home and love your family, because you never know if it’s going to be your day.”
There will be a moment of silence before Monday’s game in Hartford against Maryland Eastern Shore. The team hopes to have memorial patches to wear in time for this game.
“My (2-year-old) niece comes to every single (UConn) game,” guard Shabazz Napier said Sunday after practice at Gampel Pavilion. “She’s a bundle of joy. I just went to her birthday party a few months ago. She calls me Uncle Bazz. I love that girl. I had to give my sister a call and let her know I wanted to talk to my niece.”
Information from Associated Press reports was included in this report.