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Jack Freifelder | | January 2, 2017

Roundup: New Year's ushers in conference play

As the calendar year resets, a new beginning dawns on college basketball teams across the country. But that blissful moment between the free-for-all of the nonconference slate and the endearing rigidity of the conference schedule is gone, which means the margin for error has narrowed.

In some teams' cases the litmus tests come early and often — just ask Villanova, Gonzaga or Baylor, college basketball's three unbeatean teams. Although there's surely a lot of basketball to be played, the teams that make an early statement might have a chance to jump out in front of the pack.

Coaches and players alike have made their resolutions, but it remains to be seen who has the follow-through to make them come to fruition in 2017. The fun part for the fans will be dissecting it all and taking things in. gets you started with this week's roundup.

Need to know:

Monday: No Top 25 action,


  Michigan State Spartans forward Nick Ward (44) has helped steady the ship for head coach Tom Izzo.
This past week ushered in the return of conference play, which means cue the rivalries that keep fans warm in the winter time. And when it comes to basketball played in cities with blustery conditions, that means you’re likely talking about the Big Ten Conference. Tuesday saw eight teams hit the hardwood, albeit a few lopsided affairs on the docket, and the game of the night was definitely the matchup between Michigan State and Minnesota. Freshman forward Nick Ward led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds, teaming with senior guard Alvin Ellis III (20 points) to lead the effort for MSU. Ellis III made two free throws with 11 seconds left in overtime to clinch the victory. The real highlight of the night for the Spartans came after the game when Izzo’s mother Dorothy visited the team in the locker room. Man, Moms just make everything better.

RELATED: MSU gets pick-me-up from Tom Izzo's mom after W


  Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (24) pumped in 23 points and the game-winning 3-pointer against UCLA.
Hump day can be hard to get through sometimes, but any so-called college basketball fan would have been rip-roaring and ready to go with Wednesday’s slate in mind — including 14 of the AP Top 25 teams in action. If you only had time for a snippet of basketball on this day, it’s safe to say you likely saw some good run.


First off, the Cornhuskers of Nebraska started Big Ten play with a bang as they traveled to Assembly Hall to take on No. 16 Indiana. Sophomore guard Glynn Watson Jr. dropped 26 points to lead the effort, which helped Nebraska snap Indiana’s 26-game winning streak at home. Not a bad start to the conference slate for Nebraska head coach Tim Miles.

Next up, a dance between familiar faces in the ACC saw No. 12 Virginia emerge victorious as the Cavaliers squared off with No. 6 Louisville. It was a true team effort for Virginia and head coach Tony Bennett as nine of the team’s 10 rotation players tallied at least one bucket in a 61-53 win. It’s like music to Virginia fans’ ears when the team gives up less than 60 points this year (10-0), and given Virginia’s penchant for pummeling Louisville of late (three straight head-to-head wins) some are likely to be singing about how they left their hearts in Louisville. Whoops, wrong Tony Bennett, but it’s probably too old a reference for most of y’all anyway.

Last but certainly not least, a duel out west between No. 21 Oregon and No. 2 UCLA went down to the wire and didn’t disappoint those who stayed up late staving off the sandman’s spell. And boy it was a doozy of a track meet before the Ducks junior forward Dillon Brooks capped the game off in dramatic fashion with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Brooks, who seems to be rounding back into top form (much to the chagrin of opposing defenses), led all scorers in this one with 23 points. But it should be noted that it took a Herculean effort from Oregon to end UCLA’s run as an unbeaten. Mark this game down come tournament time as a real moment of growth for both teams.


It was pretty clear it’d be a rough-and-tumble brawl when St. John’s and Butler linked up on Thursday, but most would likely have pegged the experience of Butler to prevail over the youth of St. John’s. Not on this night though, as St. John’s busted a 16-game losing streak to ranked opponents behind 26 points from freshman guard Shamorie Ponds. Head coach Chris Mullin was 0-10 against ranked teams prior to the matchup with Butler, according to ESPN’s Stats and Information Group.

  St. John's Red Storm guard Shamorie Ponds (2) was key in the Johnnies upset win over Butler.
The Johnnies shot the ball way above their season average (44.5 percent as a team, 167th in the nation) converting 54 percent of their field goals in this one. Call it a taste of Butler’s own medicine, as the Bulldogs are tied for 21st in the nation in field goal shooting (49.2 percent) and had an off night of their own. Maybe this will encourage St. John’s to schedule more high-profile matchups at Carnesecca Arena because the crowd was sure raucous for this contest.


  Oregon guard Dylan Ennis (31) has worked in tandem with forward Dillon Brooks to lead the Ducks.
With the return of conference play Pac-12 teams should be aware that there is a reinvigorated Oregon on the warpath. Lead man Dillon Brooks tallied a season-high 28 points alongside Dylan Ennis’ 20-point effort to pace the Ducks to a decisive 84-61 win over USC. The loss knocked USC from the ranks of college basketball’s unbeatens, but shouldn’t scare the Trojan faithful too much. Oregon is arguably one of the hottest teams in the country at this point, especially given the aforementioned buzzer-beater to down UCLA. Head coach Dana Altman will continue to ride the coattails of an offense that has three legitimate scoring options in Brooks, Ennis and the Canadian-bred forward Chris Boucher. Pac-12 beware. Let this be your PSA.

RELATED: Oregon’s big week


The week that was in college basketball hit a fever pitch on Saturday with a number of eye-popping finishes, including three impressive finals in the ACC. And that’s not even making mention of the unbeaten battle between Villanova and Creighton, or Louisville running past IU. Well, tackling things one at a time always works best. See some quick hits below:

  • Virginia Tech dumped Duke behind six players in double figures. Hokies guard Seth Allen finished off the ballgame with an off-the-backboard alley oop. | Watch
  • A signature win in the first year for Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner didn’t take long as freshman guard Josh Okogie (26 points) helped lead the Yellow Jackets to an upset win over UNC.
  • Louisville bested Indiana behind a career-high 25 points from sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell. Indiana struggled mightily from the field as the Cardinals raced to a 12-point halftime edge and never looked back.
  • Florida State traded 3-pointers with Virginia in the game’s final 30 seconds, but Dwayne Bacon (who scored 26 of his 29 points after halftime) and the ‘Noles proved to be too much for the Cavaliers.
  • The Wildcats are the sole unbeaten team in the Big East after Villanova’s Jalen Brunson put up a career-high 27 points to help dispatch Creighton.


Another day and another top tier team in the Big Ten falters. It took overtime at Mackey Arena, but the Golden Gophers of Minnesota toppled Purdue behind 31 points and 11 assists from junior guard Nate Mason.

  Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Nate Mason (2) led his team to a tough road victory on Sunday at Purdue.
After playing to a 73-all score in regulation, Minnesota doubled up Purdue in overtime 18-9 to seal the win. Despite being outrebounded by double digits, Minnesota and head coach Richard Pitino found a way to get the top side of the scoreboard in this match. Purdue's sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan tallied his fourth 20-point, 20-rebound game of the year in the loss — his third such performance in his last four outings. 

In other action:

Kent State beats Texas as tough year continues for Shaka Smart

Sophomore guard Jaylin Walker scored 16 of 24 points after halftime to pace the Golden Flashes to their first road win on Tuesday. Walker’s big night helped offset a poor shooting night from Kent State’s leading scorer Jimmy Hall. For Texas, the woes continue to mount in the form of high-profile losses. The road ahead may look daunting, but head coach Shaka Smart might have a few tricks up his sleeve. (A tough road loss at Kansas State on Friday is a step in the right direction. However, Texas has lost seven of its last 10 games.)

Deandre Harris’ big week for Nicholls

If you’re a fan of basketball in the Southland conference, then you’re likely keeping an eye on Stephen F Austin’s 26-game conference winning streak. However, Thomas Walkup no longer plays for the Lumberjacks, so there’s at least one other storyline grabbing some attention of late — the scoring prowess of Nicholls’ guard DeAndre Harris. The senior from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tallied back-to-back career-high scoring efforts with 35 and 42 points, respectively, in the Colonels’ two wins last week. He’s fourth in the Southland in scoring at 18 points a ballgame, but he’s doing it in just over 20 minutes of floor time a night. That's a remarkable scoring pace from the Colonels' elder statesman, which could come in handy in some of those Southland slugfests.

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