Winners and Losers of Week 17 in College Basketball
The upset fairy was cold.
She'd been to Lawrence. She'd been to Durham. She'd been up and down the Great Lakes. Time for a sun-soaked getaway—a quick stopover in the tropics.
Coral Gables? Yeah, that'll do.
And with that, the second-ranked Miami Hurricanes became the latest top team to fall hard on the road. We'll dive into the U's belly flop and other major Week 17 college basketball developments in the latest installment of Winners-Losers.
And as always, add your W/L nominees below.
Winner: Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown
The last-ever conference meeting between Big East rivals Georgetown and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome was a portrait in Otto Porter Jr.
The do-everything Georgetown sophomore scored 33 of his team's 57 points in an 11-point road upset over the hated Orange, upstaging the game's latent nostalgia with an individual performance of the highest order.
The win, Georgetown's ninth a row, gave the Hoyas (21-4) sole possession of first place in the Big East. And for Porter Jr., it was the kind of standout performance that should give his dark-horse POY candidacy some serious juice.
Loser: Will Cherry, Montana
In a Saturday BracketBusters loss to Davidson, Montana guard Will Cherry re-injured the same right foot that kept out of the team's first seven games.
If the the injury is serious—and early indications are that it is—then the Grizzlies (19-6, 15-1) will be without their third-leading scorer, second-leading rebounder and leading assist man on a per-game basis.
It's a tough blow for Cherry—now in his final year with the program—and a tough blow for a Montana team that had its sights set on an early-round upset.
Winner: St. Mary's
Perennial West Coast Conference bridesmaid Saint Mary's came into BracketBusters weekend caught somewhere between the bubble and the fringe of lock-dom.
The computers said the Gaels (39 RPI, 37 BPI, 26 KenPom) were a tournament team, but Saint Mary's had yet to beat at an at-large-worthy team. And outside of conference foe Gonzaga, Randy Bennett's crew had yet to really play a team fitting that description.
Opportunity knocked this weekend in the form of the visiting Creighton Bluejays. Behind 19 points from senior Matthew Dellavedova, the Gaels roared to an eight-point win and now look like a good bet to make the field of 68 assuming they take care of their last two conference opponents.
Let's start with this: Wake Forest is a good home team.
The Demon Deacons have beaten Xavier, Virginia and North Carolina State at the Joel this year, and they gave Duke all it could handle in late January. Losing to Wake Forest is no great sin.
But for a Miami team feted as one of the nation's best, a 15-point loss to the Demon Deacons is a bitter pill. So too is the fact that it came on the heels of three straight flaccid performances against middle-of-the-pack ACC teams.
Taken together, it's been two weeks since we've seen this Hurricanes team play up to its lofty ranking. The win-loss ledger gives Miami (22-4) plenty of wiggle room and should keep Jim Larranaga's team in the conversation for a No. 1 seed.
But the eye test isn't so forgiving, and there's reason to expect more from Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji and the U's other leading men.
Winner: Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Maybe the stakes weren't Georgetown-Syracuse-final-game-in-the-Carrier-Dome high, but the Saturday showdown between New Mexico and Colorado State was plenty important. Both teams have been near the top of the Mountain West Conference all season, and the Lobos needed a win to maintain their hold on first place.
Junior guard Kendall Williams wasn't fazed.
New Mexico's leading scorer tallied 46 points in 33 minutes on a Mountain West-record 10 three-pointers to give his team a massive 91-82 road win. Taking into account environment, competitive significance and gross production, I'm not sure there's been a better individual performance all year.
Loser: Colorado State
Larry Eustachy's Rams have been on the fringe of national relevance for about a month now, but this week represented Colorado State's best chance to grab the spotlight.
With games lined up against UNLV (in Vegas) and New Mexico (at home), the Rams were in position to take control of a loaded Mountain West Conference.
Instead, Colorado State suffered two close losses, likely ending its two-week foray into the Top 25 and resetting the hype meter on what is still a promising season in Fort Collins.
Winner: Wichita State
The world forgot about Wichita State when the Shockers entered February on a three-game conference slide.
Since then, Gregg Marshall's team has reeled off five straight, including a beatdown of Detroit in BracketBusters. At 12-4 in the Missouri Valley Conference with a road date still to come at Creighton, the Shockers are in the enviable position of having another potential marquee win on their schedule without needing said win to secure a share of the regular-season league title.
And at this point, a second straight trip to the Big Dance is all but assured for the Shockers.
Loser: The State of Mississppi
Folk singer Phil Ochs once called Mississppi "the land you've torn out the heart of."
He was, of course, in no way referring to college basketball, but, hey, we'll make the leap.
Ole Miss, once a midseason darling at 17-2, hit rock bottom with a road loss to South Carolina; Southern Miss blew its at-large chances with a blowout road loss in Memphis; and Mississippi State, well, the Bulldogs are just a wreck.
In Rick Ray's first season at the helm, the Bulldogs are 7-19 and 2-12 in the SEC, including a recent 72-31 home loss to Vanderbilt. Making matters worse, Mississippi State recently suspended sophomore forward Roquez Johnson indefinitely. Johnson had been fourth on the team in scoring at 8.8 points per game.
Winner: North Carolina's Small Lineup
Cause and effect can be a slippery notion when operating in small sample sizes, but the North Carolina Tar Heels sure have looked a lot better since Coach Roy Williams switched to a smaller lineup featuring guards Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland and P.J. Hairston.
Carolina has now won three straight, punctuated by a Saturday payback win over NC State. In those three games, the Tar Heels reserve forwards have combined for just 74 minutes of playing time. Leslie McDonald, North Carolina's sixth man guard, has logged 54 minutes all on his own.
The only nominal big man left in Williams' starting lineup is James Michael McAdoo, and even he is more of a tweener.
So, what's been the difference?
Other than a renewed focus on the three ball, Carolina's guard-heavy lineup has done a much better job getting to the free-throw line. The Tar Heels' number of free-throw attempts as a percentage of field-goal attempts is exactly five percentage points higher over the past three games (33.3 percent) than it is over the course of the entire season (28.3 percent).
Loser: The College GameDay Bus Driver
In this episode of ESPN Undressed, we bring this you the following inside intel on the ESPN College GameDay bus (courtesy of USA Today).
Did you know...?
That GameDay hosts Rece Davis, Jalen Rose, Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas fly to the games instead of riding coach?
That the basketball bus is simply the college football GameDay bus with a different coat of paint?
That bus driver Bobby Stephens drive solo from location to location?
That the interior has six televisions?
OK, I think that's it.
The article was only like 400 words long.
Winner: Ohio State
The national focus will surely fall on Ohio State's eight-point home win over fourth-ranked Michigan State.
But I'd argue that a 71-45 victory of Minnesota on Wednesday was even more impressive.
It was Ohio State's largest margin of victory since January 2, and it came against a Golden Gophers team that ranks among the nation's top 25 in RPI (No. 17), BPI (No. 23) and Ken Pomeroy's pythagorean winning percentage metric (No. 19).
Tight wins over elite competition are nice and all—and they certainly help move the proverbial meter—but it'd been a long time since we saw this Buckeyes team thrash an opponent, much less a quality one like Minnesota. The Golden Gophers' 0.65 points per possession (per KenPom.com) was its lowest mark of the season.
Consider OSU back in the Final Four conversation.
Loser: Sidney Lowe
It's been a trying season for North Carolina State, with sky-high expectations going largely unmet under second-year coach Mark Gottfried.
But if Wolfpack fans are looking for solace, perhaps they can find it in the misery of former coach Sidney Lowe.
Lowe, now an assistant with the Utah Jazz, was arrested last Monday on charges of tax evasion, thereby qualifying him for the title of "worst ever state employee" and opening the literary flood gates for a deluge of "Lowe" puns.
Yes, Raleigh, things could always be worse.
Winner/Loser: Notre Dame/Cincinnati
The final game of this week's Big East schedule offered a startling contrast.
On one hand there was the host, Notre Dame, fresh off a massive road comeback against Pittsburgh—the kind of win that saves seasons and lifts eyebrows.
Then there was the visitor, Cincinnati, losers of two in a row and four of five.
Fittingly, the Fighting Irish surged to a 24-9 first-half lead and never looked back, winning 62-41. With the loss, Mick Cronin's Bearcats fall to 7-8 in Big East play.