A slew of upsets rocked men's college basketball on Thursday, leaving the NCAA tournament picture even more muddled with regard to seeds and favorites.
Three teams from the top 25 in the AP poll—No. 17 Kentucky, No. 22 Ohio State and even 10th-ranked Saint Louis—all fell in thrillers to kick off the chaos. ESPN's Dana O'Neil summed it up best in the aftermath:
Duquesne beats Saint Louis. Penn State beat Ohio State. Arkansas beat Kentucky (on the road). I'm confused.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) February 28, 2014
The Wildcats suffered a home loss at Rupp Arena to SEC rival Arkansas 71-67 in overtime, while the Buckeyes failed to take care of a sub-par Penn State team on the road in losing 65-63.
After jumping out to a four-point halftime lead, heavily favored Saint Louis couldn't hold off Atlantic 10 adversary Duquesne, who rallied for a 46-point second-half flurry to down the Billikens 71-64. That was also Saint Louis' first loss in the conference for the 2013-14 season, dropping the hosts to 25-3 overall.
But that was not all. FOX 26's Mark Berman reports that Memphis fell to Houston:
Huge win for James Dickey & @UHCougarMBK over 21st-ranked Memphis. Houston gets the upset 77-68.— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 28, 2014
SportsCenter then reported that No. 20 Iowa fell to Indiana in Assembly Hall:
HOOSIER DADDY! Indiana knocks off No. 20 Iowa, 93-86. Will Sheehey leads the way with 30 Pts, 4 Ast.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 28, 2014
The Herald-Times reporter Dustin Dopirak notes that the Hoosiers' win was a special one for head coach Tom Crean:
That's Tom Crean's 100th win at Indiana.— Dustin Dopirak (@DustinDopirak) February 28, 2014
ESPN Stats and Info summed up Thursday night's madness perfectly:
5 of the 6 ranked teams in action lost Thursday. The odds of all 5 losing were just 0.015 percent - or one in 6,770 - according to BPI.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 28, 2014
With how much hype Kentucky has generated with its loaded recruiting class, the results have been far too mixed for the caliber of talent coach John Calipari is deploying on a nightly basis. Thursday was yet another test of adversity for a team full of blue chippers struggling to coexist for Big Blue Nation.
CBS Sports' Gary Parrish alluded to the team's underachieving status after the loss, noting that Kentucky (21-7, 11-4 in the SEC) could be as low as a ninth seed for March Madness:
This Kentucky team is gonna go down in history … as the most talented 9-seed of all-time.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) February 28, 2014
Twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison were a combined 7-of-27 shooting. The Wildcats continued their sloppy play with 18 turnovers, what's worse is that the Razorbacks had 20 turnovers of their own. Calipari was none too pleased with his guard play, per The Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker:
Calipari: "Our guard play was horrendous today." Says some point to shooting. "I'd tell you dribbling." http://t.co/FtmEyXFgwd— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) February 28, 2014
ESPN's Jay Williams believes that Arkansas, despite the poor execution at times, has shown enough grit and has enough quality wins to get a bid to the Big Dance:
Arkansas with wins over SMU, Minnesota & Kentucky (Twice?) would most definitely put them in the NCAA tourney barring a bad loss after.— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) February 28, 2014
Moving on to the Big Ten action, it was yet another disappointing loss for the Buckeyes, who had won six of seven games since losing to Penn State in overtime on Jan. 29. But the Nittany Lions had their number again—this time in State College.
Senior Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft had five of the team's 10 turnovers, and the rest of his teammates didn't play well enough to overcome Penn State. D.J. Newbill had his way with the Buckeyes in scoring a game-high 23 points to drive the underdogs' victorious effort.
Craft had never been so mad after a game in four years, according to Cleveland.com's Doug Lesmerises:
Just talked to Ohio State players. That is probably the angriest I've seen Aaron Craft after a game in four years.— Doug Lesmerises (@DougLesmerises) February 28, 2014
ESPN's Andy Katz provided his take on the two early upsets:
May not want to hear this but sometimes teams matchup well. Penn State sweeping Ohio State. Arkansas sweeping UK. LSU almost did it too.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) February 28, 2014
Finally, perhaps the biggest shocker was the Billikens suffering a severe letdown at the hands of an opponent that was 3-10 in the A-10 entering the evening. Dukes guard Micah Mason poured in 22 points, and Jerry Jones added 19 off the bench to overwhelm Saint Louis—usually a sound defensive squad.
Here are just some of the numbers to illustrate how unlikely Duquesne's dent into the Billikens' perfect conference record was, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Duquesne defeats No. 10 Saint Louis, 71-64. Duquesne wins on the road against a top-10 team for the 1st time since March 5, 1962.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 28, 2014
Duquesne entered Thursday's game at Saint Louis with only a 4.5% chance of winning, according to BPI.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 28, 2014
Which Thursday upset was most surprising?
As if there wasn't enough proof that anything can happen in college basketball—much less the win-or-go-home format of the conference and NCAA tournaments—Thursday's upsets were another strong reminder that it is indeed the case. But in a way, this confirms some of what we thought we knew.
Yes, like Dennis Green knew who the Chicago Bears were once upon a time, many college basketball analysts know Kentucky is fully capable of being the best team in the country—but more often than not, stuns with its shortcomings. The Buckeyes got off to a strong start this season, but continue to falter amid their conference schedule.
And the Saint Louis loss proves more than anything that March Madness has perhaps arrived a few days early. That's fine with regard to general entertainment value, but for those on the selection committee and the teams and fans on the losing ends of these games, these are trying times.
It's in these circumstances where true contenders bounce back from defeat, learn and grow from it and mount a strong push for the rest of the year. Whether or not the Wildcats and Buckeyes do that remains to be seen, but count on Saint Louis to overcome the disappointment and maintain its consistent level of play.