No. 9 Gonzaga 83, No. 12 Tennessee 74
Bruce Pearl will have to wait until at least Wednesday to get his 400th career win. Gonzaga avenged last season’s 10-point loss to Tennessee in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic.
Just as Tennessee cut the lead to six with just over a minute-and-a-half to play, Gonzaga extended it on two Micah Downs free throws and a two-handed flush by Jeremy Pargo, sealing the victory for the Bulldogs.
So what’s the bad news for the Volunteers (besides their first loss of the season)? Things only get tougher.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few bragged on having the most demanding non-conference schedule in the nation after winning the Old Spice Classic, but with Marquette, Kansas, a rematch with the Bulldogs, and a showdown at Memphis, it might be Tennessee claiming the toughest non-conference slate in the country.
Tennessee and Gonzaga meet again on Jan. 7 in Knoxville, perhaps the most hostile environment the Bulldogs will see after knocking off the guys wearing orange with white headbands for the early season title in Orlando.
No. 19 Wake Forest 87, Baylor 74
In the first meeting between the Bears and the Demon Deacons, it was the superior talent of Wake Forest shining through in the end for the 76 Classic in Anaheim Championship.
Wake Forest extended its lead to double digits midway through the second half, but similar to Gonzaga-Tennessee, Baylor’s desperate efforts to close the lead ended in a convincing on-paper defeat.
Despite the loss, expect Baylor to enter the polls this week after knocking off Arizona State 87-78 last Friday. With Curtis Jerrells, sky’s the limit for the Bears.
Talented Wake Forest sophomore Jeff Teague wasn’t Wake Forest's go-to guy against Baylor, but Teague was what kept the Demon Deacons in the tournament. A powerful dunk in the early rounds gave Teague highlight play to go along with his all-tournament team position.
In-state Battles Worth Mentioning
No. 1 North Carolina 116, NC-Asheville 48
Minus Tyler Hansbrough, the Tar Heels put five players in double figures, scored over 100 points and held their opponent to under 50 for the first time this season. With Michigan State going down easily to Maryland and finishing fifth in the Old Spice Classic, it's looking more and more like North Carolina will fly into ACC play unscathed.
Western Kentucky 68, No. 3 Louisville 54
The team that went streaking into the round of 16 with Courtney Lee in control and Ty Rogers hitting the long ball has disbanded, and the defending Sun Belt Champions extended their legacy as the proverbial stepping stone of coaches with the exit of Darrin Horn to South Carolina. Regardless, Western Kentucky made Louisville look mortal on a neutral court in Nashville.
After a rough start with losses to Houston and Murray State, the Hilltoppers are back on track at 3-2 with homegrown talents A.J. Slaughter and Steffphon Pettigrew—players Rick Pitino passed up for “superior” Northeast talent.
No. 16 Xavier 60, Miami (Oh.) 53
The Red hawks exposed UCLA in a close contest less than two weeks ago, but their slowdown style of play wasn't enough to stop Xavier from turning on the afterburners and recovering from a 10-2 deficit early in the game. The Musketeers are one of the hottest teams in the country and will be forced to contend with only Dayton in the Atlantic 10 this season.
Butler 75, Evansville 59
At 5-0, Butler is looking like a shoe-in to take the Horizon League's tournament bid. The Bulldogs' program is moving ever closer to the standards of fellow mid-majors Gonzaga and Xavier, having visited the NCAA Tournament six of the last 11 years.
A few teams across the country are still looking for their first win in college basketball's third weekend. The following match-ups featured teams both batting O-fer so far this season—making half of the listed below better off than the Detroit Lions:
Monmouth 55, New Jersey Tech 47
Jackson State 69, New Jersey Central 49
Grambling 72, Morehead State 71
Gardner-Webb 74, Virginia's-Wise 47
New Orleans 61, Southern 57
Player of the Weekend
Rob Lowery, a junior college transfer player out of Forestville, MD, shattered his averages and set personal bests while scoring 21 points for Dayton in an upset over No. 15 Marquette. Prior to Saturday, Lowery averaged 4.6 points and recorded only 75 total minutes on the floor. Lowery's 21 points were just part of Dayton's bench effort that helped it knock of Marquette while playing the same uptempo style as the Eagles.
How surprising was Lowery's performance? Type his name in Google, and you're more likely to hear about Rob Lowery, vocalist for the 1964 band “The Galaxies,” than a 6'2" junior guard at Dayton.
Early Season Tournaments
Without them, we would have nothing. Maui, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Anaheim, New York and the many other early season destinations for basketball invitational tournaments have created the best games on TV so far.
This past week, it was easy to be thankful for Notre Dame-Texas, Oklahoma-Purdue and Gonzaga-Tennessee—all created from daring teams expecting to face another ranked opponent for the title of “NIT Season Tip-Off Champion.” Those banners should hang well.
College basketball fans can consider themselves lucky rankings really don't matter at this point in the season, even if the polls are out and judging on a weekly basis. Early losers like UCLA, Louisville, and Michigan State would already be playing for something less than first place if basketball took up the corrupt BCS football system.
More games and an emphasis on what really counts—quality wins and performance down the stretch—make for a fair system of deciding who should play in the postseason. Nearly every football game played at this point in the season is irrelevant in terms of deciding a champion (outside of Oklahoma and Alabama), but nobody gets left out in March.
So while the drama of Oklahoma and Texas unfolds in the BCS, basketball can wait for conference tournaments and a legitimate selection committee. It's a good thing someone figured out assistant coaches filling out a ballot between Monday morning film sessions isn't the best way to decide a champion.