Went to bed Saturday night after watching college basketball for more than 11 hours straight. My television viewing included all or part of eight games, concluding with that instant classic between Gonzaga and Butler.
Woke up Sunday morning thinking it must be March. It felt as if the Madness had already begun. If you missed the excitement, shame on you. There was enough good stuff to write a book, but we focus on the five most important things.
As we get closer and closer to March, we are reminded of the fact that these are the final days of the Big East, as we have known and loved it. It seems it is in the hands of Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino to give us one, final great memory.
Louisville and Syracuse were picked to finish Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference preseason poll, and Saturday’s game between the then-No. 1 Cardinals and the then-No. 6 Orange did nothing to change that forecast.
Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams were heroic in their roles as Syracuse won 70-68 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Pitino, who admitted to being “pissed” during a classic press conference after the game, would argue the Cardinals gave it away.
It’s true -- Russ Smith and Peyton Siva did not execute down the stretch. But the great pace and big plays in the game left us wanting more. Louisville visits Syracuse on March 2 and the Cardinals could certainly return the favor by winning at the Carrier Dome. After that, a third helping at the Big East tournament in New York would be nice.
And, who knows, perhaps the two are destined to meet in the NCAA tournament as well -- before they take off for the ACC.
Hinkle, Butler and a Basketball Jones
Can we just erase that term “mid-major” from the basketball dictionary? Never been fond of the term, and when it comes to Gonzaga vs. Butler, there is plenty of proof that the expression is simply outdated.
Roosevelt Jones' last-second heroics powered Butler past Gonzaga.
This isn’t football, and we should know by now that there is excellent, high-quality, athletic ball being played with a high basketball IQ outside the BCS conferences. Saturday night, the Bulldogs and the other Bulldogs came together in Hinkle Fieldhouse and the proud, old building gave us another sample of magic.
Roosevelt Jones, fresh off the bench where he had been suffering with a pulled muscle in his back, transformed himself into Jimmy Chitwood from “Hoosiers” and hit a floater in the lane at the buzzer to give Butler a 64-63 win over Gonzaga. Jones heard the Gonzaga coaches telling David Stockton to lob an in-bounds pass over the head of 7-foot center Kelly Olynyk. Jones positioned himself for the steal that led to the winning basket.
It’s a moment we will be replaying over and over until the Final Four and beyond. Butler is on a magical run and these are two outstanding teams. We haven’t heard the last of either squad.
Florida is dominating and dangerous
It’s hard to believe Missouri’s Laurence Bowers would have changed things significantly in Gainesville on Saturday. Florida staged a start-to-finish blowout of the Tigers, winning 83-52 and making a dominant statement that the SEC will run through the Gators this season.
Billy Donovan’s team has had all kinds of injury problems, and this game was supposed to match the two contenders in the SEC. Missouri will have to work some magic to get back into the race. The next big showdown for the Gators will come against Ole Miss on Feb. 2.
Check out Ken Davis' latest college basketball power rankings at FOXSports.com.
The Gators not only play smothering defense, but Florida’s offense is a well-oiled machine as well. The most recent NCAA team statistics have Florida third in scoring defense (51.7 points per game), second in scoring margin (22.1 points per game), and fifth in field-goal percentage defense (36.1 percent). The last time Florida gave up more than 61 points was that 67-61 loss to Kansas State in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 22.
The Gators are shaping into a legit Final Four contender. And Missouri? Well, it was just embarrassing.
Oregon is sitting pretty in the Pac-12
Arizona went to Oregon and lost. Now Oregon traveled to UCLA and won. The Ducks (16-2, 5-0 Pac-12) are not only one of the biggest surprises in college basketball, they are the team to beat in the Pac-12 now. With victories over the two teams expected to battle for first in the conference, Dana Altman’s team is in the driver’s seat. The Ducks are 5-0 in league play for the first time in 39 years.
Remember the name Arsalan Kazemi, the Iranian native who transferred from Rice. He’s a senior forward averaging 8.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.1 steals. Kazemi is an absolute force on defense. Damyean Dotson, Tony Woods, E.J. Singler, Carlos Emory and Dominic Artis all average 10.3 points or more.
Arsalan Kazemi and Oregon look like the team to beat in the Pac-12.
The Ducks’ resume includes a win over UNLV, but Oregon doesn’t have to play Arizona or UCLA again this season. Any list of coach of the year candidates better include Altman. The guy has done an amazing job putting this team together.
The Longhorns have a streak of 14 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament. It looks like a safe bet that will end. Texas can’t finish out games and that means the streak is finished. Texas fell to 8-9 overall and 0-4 in the Big 12 on Saturday when No. 4 Kansas rallied for a 64-59 victory in Austin.
Let’s be optimistic and say things will get better when suspended point guard Myck Kabongo returns. Let’s say the Longhorns will win nine of their last 14 games and finish 9-9 in conference play -- just like last season. That would give Texas an overall record of 17-14 heading into the Big 12 tournament, a mark that wouldn’t be bubble-worthy. Rick Barnes would have to find a way to win the Big 12 tournament at that point and it’s going to be hard for a team that keeps giving away late leads.
Sheldon McClellan was impressive attacking the basket Saturday, Texas led by 11 with 15 minutes left, and Kansas shot just 39 percent against the Longhorns. Not sure if that was a product of Texas defense. It seems the Jayhawks are in an offensive funk -- but still finding ways to win.
It’s just the opposite for Texas. The four-game losing streak is the longest at Texas since Barnes’ first season in 1998-99.
“We do a lot of things well,” Barnes said after the game. “But we don’t win because we don’t do it when the game is on the line.”