It was a great weekend to be a college basketball fan in the state of Kansas. The Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State Wildcats made a joyful noise and gave their fans a couple of early Christmas presents. In a rematch from last year’s Final Four, Kansas won its first true road test of the season at Ohio State. And in Kansas City, K-State stunned Florida. Throw in Missouri’s victory over Illinois and it seemed like an old school Big Eight party thrown by Ted Owens, Jack Hartman and Norm Stewart.
Here are five things we learned this weekend:
Kansas can handle the road
Ranked No. 9 going into the weekend, the Jayhawks had been dominating opponents at Allen Fieldhouse, ripping apart Colorado, Belmont and Richmond in consecutive outings in Lawrence. Prior to that, they had won three times just down the road in the friendly confines of the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Saturday’s game against then-No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus was KU’s first true road game, and freshman Ben McLemore (22 points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block) and the Jayhawks responded in style with a 74-66 victory over the Buckeyes. Kansas coach Bill Self admitted he had concerns but other than a first-half stretch when the Jayhawks were bothered by turnovers, they controlled the game and held Ohio State to only 30.8 percent from the field.
“We were really good except for about a three-minute stretch in the first half when they went on a (14-0) run,” Self said. “Other than that stretch, that was a pretty good 35 minutes we played out there.”
Ohio State, which went 2-for-18 from 3-point range in the second half, has lost to Kansas three times in just more than a year.
Maybe Bruce Weber can get some love
Kansas State fans weren’t exactly embracing their new coach, despite the fact Bruce Weber was off to an 8-2 start in Manhattan. Saturday’s 67-61 victory over then-No. 8 Florida seems to have changed that.
Perhaps the win over Florida will help Bruce Weber gain favor in Manhattan.
Think of everything Weber has been through in recent months. Fired at Illinois, and then hired to replace the energetic, emotional and successful Frank Martin at K-State, Weber wasn’t winning any popularity contests. More than 16,000 fans -- most of them wearing purple -- showed up at Kansas City’s Sprint Center to see if a third chance at a big-time opponent might be a charm. And it was.
K-State had lost to Michigan and Gonzaga -- nothing to be ashamed of -- but Wildcats fans were craving effort and energy. The team provided that and much more, building a 33-23 halftime lead and then turning back the Gators with excellent defense in the second half.
Junior guard Will Spradling, playing close to his home in Overland Park, Kan., had a career game with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. Maybe the Wildcats finally are understanding Weber’s motion offense.
“The thing I challenged them with is we had to compete for 40 minutes, just to give ourselves a chance,” Weber said.
And now K-State fans might give Weber more of a chance.
Missouri might be the SEC favorite
There are a couple of factors at work here.
First, the Tigers are top-10 material, as evidenced by their 82-73 victory over then-No. 10 Illinois in the annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi gave Mizzou control inside and Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon, has provided instant offense since becoming eligible. Those three and Phil Pressey combined to hand Illinois its first loss of the season.
Check out Ken Davis' latest college basketball power rankings at FOXSports.com.
The other factor is how pathetic the SEC appears to be. While Missouri, in its rookie season with the SEC, represented well, LSU lost to Marquettte 84-80, Alabama lost at home to Mercer 66-59, Southern defeated Texas A&M 53-51, Indiana State defeated Ole Miss 87-85 in overtime, Kansas State beat Florida, and Winthrop beat Auburn 74-67.
With Florida losing two of three and Kentucky struggling with its youth, the Tigers are the only team headed in the right direction at this point in the season. Missouri plays at UCLA on Friday night, so we will find out soon if they can handle the prosperity.
Syracuse is no longer undefeated -- but Wyoming hasn’t lost a game
The hangover from Jim Boeheim’s 900th victory was not attractive for Syracuse. The Orange couldn’t contain Khalif Wyatt, couldn’t hit free throws and did a poor job on the boards in losing their first game of the season, 83-79 to Temple on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse had its 52-game regular-season nonconference winning streak snapped. It didn’t have to be that way, but Syracuse was just 19 of 34 from the line and Temple hit 29 of 36.
Ironically, all three coaches who have reached 900 wins (Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Boeheim) have lost their next game. That’s just a bit odd, isn’t it?
Illinois and New Mexico also fell from the ranks of the undefeated on Saturday. Illinois, of course, fell to Missouri. New Mexico dropped to 12-1 after a 70-65 loss to South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are 10-4 and 1-0 in the Summit.
So, the only unbeaten teams remaining are Duke, Michigan, Arizona, Cincinnati and Wyoming. No kidding. Wyoming is 12-0 heading into a Jan. 2 game at SMU (9-4). Three of Wyoming’s next four games are on the road.
The addition of transfer Khem Birch gives UNLV even more to be excited about.
Khem Birch is coming to town
And you thought it was Santa Claus. Out in Las Vegas, everyone is excited about the arrival of Khem Birch, who has just become eligible after transferring from Pittsburgh to UNLV and has arrived bearing a variety of gifts.
Saturday in UNLV’s 89-74 victory over Canisius, Birch had 20 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots for the Rebels, who entered the game ranked No. 21. It was his third game since becoming eligible at UNLV (11-1).
Even with injured forward Mike Moser out of the lineup, the Rebels remain a difficult team to match with freshman forward Anthony Bennett playing well and now the addition of Birch.
“He’s always been a defensive post presence, but he’s worked extremely hard on his offensive post game with our assistant coaches after practice,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “And it’s great when a young man, who’s worked as hard as he has, (gets to) see the reward.”
Birch is averaging 11.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in three games.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.