A wild Wednesday that was in college hoops brought us some intriguing matchups at all levels - a couple surprising road wins in the SEC (okay, varying degrees of surprising) that left Auburn once again alone atop the league race, a second half spanking in Des Moines, Iowa, to give Loyola (IL) sole possession of first place ("Chicago's Missouri Valley Team!!"), and a #MountainWestAfterDark thriller that saw Nevada's 13-game winning streak against conference foes snapped.
Let's zoom around the action...
The Big Boys
(Power 6 + AAC, A10, MWC, MVC & WCC)
Auburn 91, Missouri 73: No, I'm not being biased by kicking off the mashup with a Mizzou Tigers game - it was the clear-cut biggest game of the night per KenPom's FanMatch! Alas, it didn't go well for Tiger fans (well, one group of them), as Missouri's turnover woes flared up again like like Kanye's periodic bouts with total insanity (ok fine, those are pretty much constant). No specific player was chiefly responsible (no one had more than four of the team's 20 TOs) - the entire roster was laughably sloppy with the ball - but Cullen Van Leer's four turnovers in 11 minutes and Jeremiah Tilmon's three turnovers in 7 minutes (aside: what do you know, he was in foul trouble!) were especially egregious. After Mizzou pulled within 54-52, Auburn went on an 20-2 run that featured five turnovers, 1/4 shooting, and four Auburn made threes, and that was that.
Note: I'm sure CVL is a nice kid (or maybe not!), but the overwhelming evidence that he's not an SEC-caliber player continues to pile up, and it drives me insane.
Enough Mizzou negativity! Auburn was excellent in this game, and they continue to rise up both the national rankings and my own rankings of teams I enjoy watching. Their deep lineup of skilled, switchy athletes makes the defense a monster, forcing turnovers and funneling unsuspecting opponents into the Anfernee McLemore shot-blocking vortex (it took Kevin Puryear 5+ minutes to realize that the 6'7 guy guarding him could jump twice as high as him). Jared Harper also dipped his hand in gasoline and caught fire in the second half, torching any hopes of a Mizzou win.
Miami (FL) 78, Louisville 75 (OT): Had you told Mr. Kenneth Pomeroy that this game would have been 45 minutes instead of 40, he would nearly have hit the score on the head (his algorithms predicted 69-65 in regulation). Both teams scored nearly exactly one point per possession (1.03 for Miami, 0.99 for Louisville), as ultimately the brilliance of Lonnie Walker earned the 'Canes a win at home (giving undefeated-in-the-ACC Virginia a two-game conference lead in the process):
I mean, that hang-in-the-air + body control is just ridiculous.
Louisville's continued disinterest in the defensive glass hurt them again in this one, as Miami grabbed 18 offensive boards (41% of their misses - that is a LOT). The Cardinals' lack of dynamic creators was also highlighted, as they managed only 8 assists on 27 field goals - Quentin Snider is fine, but not elite, and their lack of a secondary creator was particularly glaring against someone like Chris Lykes (quietly a very key piece for Jimmy Larranaga's crew).
Xavier 89, Marquette 70: Heading into this one, I assumed the scoreboard operator would be getting a major workout in, and Vegas agreed (over/under was 165 points). The Musketeers held up their end of the bargain, but the Golden Eagles couldn't quite find the range against a Chris Mack defense that will let you shoot threes (opponents take 40.5% of their shots from deep, which ranks 274th in the country - higher rank = more threes allowed). Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey combined to go 4/16, and that spells doom for a Marquette team that relies so heavily on its two mini-mite bombers. Even more alarming: Howard missed not one, but two free throws, his first of the season, which drops him to a disappointing 59/61 (97%) on the year. Get in the gym, Markus.
After watching Marquette and, earlier in the season, Cincinnati go ice cold at the Cintas Center, my curiosity was piqued enough to check the numbers for away teams shooting in Xavier's gym. It turns out opponents are shooting 30% from deep against Xavier at Cintas (14 games), compared to 37% anywhere else (8 games). That matters, folks!
Wyoming 104, Nevada 103 (2 OT): I will admit I couldn't stay up for the full run of this one, but it seems like I should have. Four players played 45+ minutes (including a combined 95 minutes from the Martin family) as Wyoming knocked off the Mountain West-reigning Wolfpack. Our friend @CollegeHoopNews would have loved this one, as the teams combined to go 64/80 (80%) from the free throw line.
As you'd expect for a double-overtime game, the win probability graph looks like OJ Simpson taking a lie detector test:
South Carolina 77, Florida 72: Didn't see this game, but Florida's continued (over)reliance on the three ball was once again their downfall. Like Marquette, they went 6/23 from bonus land, and despite Florida's clear talent advantage on the perimeter, that poor shooting allowed it to be a coin flip game down the stretch. Also, Chris Silva had 18 and 12, yet another big man to tear up the Gator interior. John Egbunu, come back soon!
Loyola (IL) 80, Drake 57: After a halftime score of 31-29 (Drake lead), it seemed we were going to get a great battle for Valley supremacy. However, the Ramblers closed the game on a 29-6 run to make this one a laugher, scoring on 7 out of 8 possessions at one point. Clayton Custer was brilliant (14 points 8 assists, 2 steals), and his importance to this Rambler squad can't be overstated - Loyola lost 3 of 4 games when he was hurt earlier this season, scoring just 0.85, 0.94, 1.02, and 0.92ppp without him. For reference - they just put up 1.16 on the road against the second-place team in the conference.
Drake still has to pleased with where they're at, though. Niko Medved has been outstanding in his first season at the helm, and Bulldog fans should enjoy him for however long they have him - the rising coaching star seems destined to move on to a bigger and better job in the next couple years.
Additional shouts to Illinois for getting their first Big Ten win, Cincinnati for holding Temple to an astounding 0.59ppp, and DePaul for winning a road conference game.
(All the other guys - yes, that includes you SWAC)
SoCon: East Tennessee State remained flawless atop the standings, taking down preseason darling Mercer (one of the most experienced teams in the country) in Johnson City. Jalan McCloud and Desonta Bradford look like the best backcourt in the league, and the Bucs won despite Matt's favorite player in the whole world (Peter Jurkin) laying an egg.
Elsewhere, UNC Greensboro downed Furman - the Paladins have lost the magic of Medved (now at Drake - see above), and Devin Sibley (last year's conference player of the year) has been mysteriously terrible in conference play. Sibley missed Furman's weekend game with a hand injury suffered against ETSU a week ago, and his return went terribly, as he shot 3/11 from the floor and fouled out in 22 minutes. Even before the injury, though, Sibley was playing far below his level from last year, and that has contributed to Furman falling out of the league's "Big 3" (ETSU, UNC-G, Wofford).
Summit - South Dakota 87, South Dakota St. 68: The home Coyotes dominated on both ends of the court in this one, as they opened up a double-digit lead with a 16-3 run early in the second half and never let it get close. Craig Smith's precise four-out motion offense worked well, as all four of the "out" parts of that offense had between 3 and 4 assists and the team only had 7 turnovers total. Triston Simpson, who struggled at times early in the year taking over the point guard role from grad transfer Trey Dickerson, played a superb game, and if he's able to keep up his strong conference play, the Coyotes may be able to take down their archrival come tournament time.
On the other end, junior college transfer Brandon Key was supposed to solve the point guard dilemma for the Jackrabbits, but he's been anything but "key" thus far, as his erratic shooting and turnover issues have outweighed the benefits of his admittedly deft passing. The best version of SDSU still likely involves Key emerging in conference play (Tevin King is more of a defender/caretaker at the PG position), but as we enter February, we may never see that version of TJ Otzelberger's squad.
America East - Vermont 61, Albany 50: Ho hum, Vermont took care of business. I mentioned Nevada's conference win streak above - Vermont has won 26 consecutive games against America East competition; their last loss was to Stony Brook in March 2016 (!) in the AEast title game, a game in which Jameel Warney had 43 points on 18/22 shooting from the field (!!!!!). Yes, I welcome any and all excuses to bring up Jameel Warney on this site.
Looking ahead, the Catamounts are off this weekend, but upcoming road tests at UMBC and the return game to Albany may be the only chances the league has to prevent a second straight 16-0 mark from the clear class of the conference.
Southland: Two key matchups from the league formerly known as Stephen F. Austin's plaything - the Lumberjacks fell 100-92 to Central Arkansas (behind Jordan Howard's 43 points for the Bears, who became the second member of his family to score 40 in a D-I game this year), and Nicholls beat Lamar on the road 79-74. The end result is that Nicholls, tabbed 10th in the league's preseason poll, now sits atop the standings at 7-1. Quick 3MW brag - my colleague Ky had them 4th, a much more accurate diagnosis of the Colonels' talent, especially with skilled transfers in Roddy Peters and Tevon Saddler.