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Mike Lopresti | | December 20, 2015

Basketball's surprising Saturday

  Jakob Poeltl's 19 points and 14 rebounds helped the Utes hand No. 7 Duke an overtime loss on Saturday.

On the sixth day before Christmas, college basketball gave to us – six geese a laying?

No, six overtime games. And upset defeats for four of the top 10 ranked teams.

And a mess of other intrigue.

Saturday was a feast – right down to Utah dining on Duke a l’Orange. And when all 95 games were over, these were some of the things we’d learned:

Northern Iowa has become the baddest giant-killer in the land . . .

The 7-3 Panthers polished off No. 5 Iowa State 81-79, just as they had done to No. 1 North Carolina in November. Guard Wes Washpun had his sure hands in both, with 49 points, 19 assists and 18-for-29 shooting against the big guys. Meanwhile, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson has become Iowa State’s worst nightmare; he’s 6-2 against the Cyclones, with both losses in overtime. So the question is, how’d Northern Iowa lose by 15 to Richmond and 19 to New Mexico?

Kentucky has issues . . .

One of them Skal Labissiere, who was supposed to be showing why he’d be going No. 1 in the NBA draft by now. Labissiere was 1-for-7 in Saturday’s 74-67 loss to Ohio State, 0-for-2 the game before that, and is 6-for-20 the past five outings, averaging but four points. Not exactly taking the sport by storm. Jamal Murray had 33 points against the Buckeyes, but everyone else in a Wildcat uniform combined for 34, and down went Kentucky, just as it did to UCLA. This time last year, they were talking unbeaten season, but John Calipari’s freshmen are actually sometimes looking like freshmen. A novel idea in Lexington ``These guys have just played basketball in the past. Now we’ve got to teach them how to win,’’ Calipari said. ``We’re not a team that’s going to beat people by 25. This isn’t a year ago.’’

Ohio State has a pulse . . .

See the Kentucky score. This by a 6-5 Buckeye team whose season resume includes a four-game losing streak, and 20-point drubbing by Connecticut. ``We had nothing to lose,’’ Ohio State’s Marc Loving said, and wasn’t that the truth? But Thad Matta has found a lineup that has gone 6-2.

Oklahoma is rolling . . .

The Sooners’ 87-74 dispatching of Creighton put into focus why Oklahoma is looking every bit of 8-0. Put a defense that has allowed only 34.3 percent shooting with the offense of Buddy Hield, who scored 33 to push his average to 23.5. ``Last year he was a shooter,’’ Creighton coach Greg McDermott said of Hield. ``This year he’s a basketball player.’’

Georgetown is not . . .

A 1-3 start, and now consecutive home losses to Monmouth and UNC-Asheville to stand at 6-5. Holy Hoyas, what is going on? “We’re in a bad place right now,’’ said coach John Thompson III. ``We have to pull ourselves out of it.’’

Duke ails when Grayson Allen is misfiring . . .

The Blue Devils certainly missed Amile Jefferson inside for Saturday’s 77-75 overtime loss to Utah. But also telling were Allen’s shooting woes. In the Blue Devils’ nine victories, he is hitting 53.3 percent and averaging 23.1 points. In the losses to Kentucky and Utah, he was 5-for-29 with 13 total points. Mike Krzyzewski is still tinkering with combinations. This was his fifth different starting lineup.

North Carolina manages, no matter who’s in the training room . . .

The Tar Heels are missing Kennedy Meeks, just as they once missed Marcus Paige. But Brice Johnson has gone for 25 and 27 points the past two games, the latter leading Saturday’s 89-76 win over UCLA. Carolina doesn’t beat itself, either, averaging 10.5 turnovers and outscoring opponents 174-97 in points off turnovers including 24-7 against the Bruins.

Virginia’s defense is not getting any more cuddly . . .

The Cavaliers gave up 75 points for the first time in nearly a full year, to Villanova, but still held the Wildcats scoreless in two different four-plus minute stretches Saturday to move to an 86-75 victory. That makes 11 and 16 point margins in back-to-back wins over ranked opponents; Villanova and West Virginia.

Michigan State is beatable . . .

At least in hockey. The Spartans took both men’s and women’s basketball teams and the hockey squad to Northeastern for a weekend sports gala. The No. 1 ranked men’s basketball team had no problem, with a 20-point win in ancient Matthews Arena – which was built in 1910, hosted the first-ever home games for both the Celtics and Bruins, as well as rallies for both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Then they took away the court Saturday, prepared the ice, and the hockey Spartans lost 2-1. Denzel Valentine apparently can’t skate.

Karma might be smiling at Northwestern . . .

The 10-1 Wildcats are now 3-0 in overtime games, after beating DePaul Saturday 78-70. Their assist-to-turnover ratio the past four games is 85-34. Is that long awaited first NCAA Tournament bid a possible dream? Or will Big Ten play kill it? Again?

Oakland has Michigan State’s attention . . .

Or at least its 5-9 guard Kay Felder, should. Felder scored 38 points in Oakland’s 97-83 torching of Washington, put in 34 the game before that, and hasn’t been held under 20 yet this season. The 7-3 Golden Grizzles play the No. 1 Spartans Tuesday.

Notre Dame needs a bench . . .

The Irish faded in an 80-73 loss to Indiana, after leading by 16. Could they need more bodies? In their three defeats, they have been outscored 49-7 in bench points.  Being thin is no way to go marching into the ACC schedule.

Indiana can play defense . . .

Just when the boos were starting to be noticeable at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Hoosiers hardened up a zone against Notre Dame, came from 16 points back, and got the win they’ve been looking for all this puzzling season. Everyone knows they can score against a tank platoon. But could they stop anybody? Not Duke, or Wake Forest, or UNLV.   ``That’s how you get better. You learn how to get better with in the game, and it usually comes the old-fashioned way; at the defensive end and rebounding,’’ coach Tom Crean said. ``As I said to them, `You can bottle it up and it becomes part of who you are, or you can forget about and it just becomes a one-game experience, and it was a great win.’’

Louisville has this Western Kentucky series down cold . . .

The Cardinals lead the series 40-39 after Saturday’s 78-56 win. Sounds like a heated rivalry. Not lately. Louisville has won 24 of the last 27 meetings. The Cardinals were up to their customary defensive mischief, taking an opponent averaging 79 points a game and holding it to 16 in the first half.

If you don’t get Texas in the first 38 minutes and 58 seconds, you don’t get the Longhorns at all . . .

Eight days after Javan Felix’ jumper beat North Carolina at the buzzer, Isaiah Taylor’s floating layup with under two seconds left did the same thing to Stanford. That makes six wins in a row. Texas is on the move, in Shaka Smart, Year 1.

The Ben Simmons show goes on . . .

LSU’s slovenly 6-4 start has cooled the national mania a tad, but Simmons is still averaging 18.7 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists, after a 24-9-7 performance in Saturday’s 100-77 rout of Oral Roberts. If there is a number that needs to be higher, it might be his 12.6 shots a game. Two of the Tigers defeats were in overtime, another by one point. More Ben late might be an idea.

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In Purdue’s case, size does not matter.

Not Saturday, anyway. Neither the 7-foot tandem of Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons nor the fact 6-9 freshman Caleb Swanigan had a double-double six minutes into the second half atoned for 18 turnovers or Butler’s 15 offensive rebounds, as the previously unbeaten and largely untouched Boilermakers fell to the Bulldogs 74-68. “A recipe for disaster,’’ guard Rapheal Davis called that turnover total. ``They played tougher today,’’ said Purdue coach Matt Painter, adding he is anxious to see if the toughness picks up in time for Vanderbilt Tuesday, and the Big Ten season. Suddenly, that 11-0 record sprung a leak. ``We’ve got experienced guys playing like they’re not experienced. You’re going to get beat.’’

Butler is king of Indiana . . .

Looked that way Saturday, as the Bulldogs dispatched of Purdue even with leading scorer Kellen Dunham going 0-for-12 (kudos to Davis’ defense), even with 39.7 percent shooting, even with a perfectly awful 16-for-26 from the free throw line. The Bulldogs were gritty, but also inspired, as Andrew Smith – who played for the Butler Final Four teams and is now in a very tough fight with aggressive leukemia – watched from a box. ``Our guys knew exactly where he was,’’ coach Chris Holtmann said.

Texas A&M is hard on its old Big 12 cousins . . .

When the Aggies blew past Baylor 80-61, it made them 3-0 against their former conference comrades this season, adding in Texas and Kansas State. The Big 12, where every team has a winning record, is 79-19 after Saturday. So 16 percent of the league defeats is Texas A&M-delivered.

One last holiday greeting. Last week before the Crossroads Classic – Indiana vs. Notre Dame, Purdue vs. Butler – Irish coach Mike Brey said Notre Dame has been the most consistent program in the state and ``it ain’t even close.’’

Really? What about Butler’s two national championship game appearances and seven NCAA Tournament bids in the past nine years? Holtmann had a response for Brey Saturday.

"I want to handle this the right way. I am just a small, small part – and honored to be a small part – of what this program has accomplished. But my response would be – and I’m partly sticking up for a close friend of mine in Brad Stevens -- check your facts.’’

All in all, Quite a day.

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