[Programming note: The Day After is being replaced with Week/Weekend in Review on Mondays and Fridays. It’ll work better this way.]
The 3 most appealing games (according to FanMatchTM):
1) Duke 76, Louisville 71 . (Saturday) The Cardinals were playing without Gorgui Dieng—who Coach K wisely referred to as “the big guy” or something like that after the game, presumably deferring on the pronunciation – and Louisville could have used him. The Krzyzewski/Pitino reunion produced a compelling tight game, even though Louisville led for just one possession of the second half.
2) Duke 89, Minnesota 71 . (Thursday) This is the game that forced me to take notice of Duke. The Gophers would go on to beat Memphis and Stanford, so it’s quite possible they’re a top 25 team themselves.
3) Duke 67, VCU 58 . (Friday) Hey, it’s not my fault the Battle 4 Atlantis organizers decided to make Duke run a gauntlet of teams that has to be one of the most difficult in the history of preseason tournaments. We’ll see more diversity in this space on Friday. In the meantime, know that no other human-ranked team has played anything close to the schedule Duke has thus far.
The 3 biggest upsets:
1) #217 Cal Poly (5%) 70, #18 UCLA 68. (Sunday) The Pac-12 Network has become the home of program-defining victories, or at least close calls. Unfortunately for the network, it isn’t the Pac-12 teams doing the program-defining. The Bruins avoided a major upset by narrowly escaping UC Irvine at Pauley Pavilion two weeks ago, but that was pre-Shabazz. Last night, they had no such luck, or excuse, against the Mustangs. This qualifies both as the upset of the year to date (D-I on D-I games only) and as comeback of the year. UCLA had the ball up 51-33 with 12:02 to go. Feel free to press the panic button on UCLA’s season. Sure, they’ll finish high in the Pac-12 and they’ll get to the tournament, but without substantial improvement, a deep run in the tournament is a longshot.
2) #155 College of Charleston (7%) 63, #19 Baylor 59. (Saturday) This one flew under the radar with tournament action occupying national TV slots that weren’t otherwise taken by football games on Saturday. The Baylor offense has become the Pierre Jackson Show this season and while it’s possible that will work, it has failed rather dramatically in the Bears’ two losses so far.
3) #160 Northeastern (12%) 74, #23 Belmont 71. (Friday) Like UCLA, Belmont had a comfortable second half lead (55-39, 12:38 left) and proceeded to implode. These Bruins somehow found a way to lose while making 12-of-21 3-point attempts. (Ian Clark went 9-of-11 himself.) It helped that Northeastern grabbed 54% of its own misses enroute to scoring 1.20 points per possession.
The 3 craziest comebacks:
1) Cal Poly (0.2%) over UCLA. (Sunday) See the upset section.
2) Fairleigh Dickinson (0.3%) over Delaware State. (Saturday) The Knights were down 59-52 with 35 seconds left but closed the game with possessions worth 3, 2, 3, and 3 to win it 63-62. Kinu Rochford scored the winner with a second left after rebounding his teammate’s missed free throw. I wish there was video for this one since FDU had to go the length of the court in five seconds for the winning points, and got fouled in doing so.
3) Northeastern (0.8%) over Belmont. (Friday) See the upset section.
Unbeatens remaining: 33. If you want to get ahead of the curve on the annual “this team could go unbeaten” story (even though, as always, the chances are remote), #2 Gonzaga may well be favored in every game until the NCAA tournament. Their most likely loss appears to be a roadie at Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve.
Winless teams remaining: 15.
This week’s most appealing games (according to FanMatchTM):
1) #7 Ohio State at #8 Duke. (Wednesday, 9 ET, ESPN) OK, I swear there will be more diversity here eventually. Duke’s in the middle of brutal stretch, you know? I haven’t run the kPOY calculations yet because it’s kind of early, but I expect Deshaun Thomas would be in a close race with Cody Zeller at the top. Duke has more of a balanced attacked, and interestingly, they so far have refused to rebound. Let’s see if that continues.
2) #9 Kentucky at #20 Notre Dame. (Thursday, 7 ET, ESPN2) The story surrounding Kentucky will be the Ryan Harrow saga until it stops being a saga. But Jack Cooley, the Irish’s offensive-rebounding cyborg, is secretly relishing the opportunities he may have against a Wildcat team that hasn’t been all that effective preventing second chances, something that Harrow in unlikely to impact.
3) #13 Minnesota at #46 Florida State. (Tuesday, 7:15 ET, ESPN2) This one’s probably pretty far down on most people’s lists of compelling games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But it should be competitive and a good learning experience for the viewer. So take notes! Florida State is no longer blocking shots or relying on defense at all, for that matter. It’s just weird. Minnesota might be able to cause all sorts of problems for the top of the Big Ten when it comes to The Barn. But I’m not completely sold yet. A win here would close the deal.