It’s no news that college basketball is one big wad of fickle fate this season. Or that nobody is so good that they can’t look bad, and the rankings remind you of a curvy country road after an ice storm. But we just had a day that really showed it.
Saturday. Seven top-25 teams in the Associated Press poll lost — including three of the top-5. Six were hammered by double digits by unranked opponents, which according to ESPN Stats, had never happened on the same day in the history of the AP poll. And that’s going back to 1948-49.
It was nearly even worse. Two other ranked teams needed overtime to escape, two more had to rally after being down by double digits, another eked by after trailing by five points inside of two minutes, and three more were unsettled until the final minutes.
Let us, then, tour the tumult, noon to midnight, in the order the games happened . . .
No. 14 Villanova 61, Connecticut 55
First game of the day involving a ranked team, and first scare of the day. The Wildcats had to switch to a zone in the second half — “we were kind of desperate” Jay Wright would later say — to hold back the Huskies, who shot 49 percent to Villanova’s 38.8. The Wildcats didn’t get in front to stay until the final three minutes, and needed late 3-pointers from Jermaine Samuels, who is becoming one of Wright’s main game-swingers. He did the same thing to Kansas. This was a stout effort on the road from improving UConn, and a warning shot for next season, when the Huskies rejoin the Big East. “People better get us now,” coach Dan Hurley said.
No. 2 Baylor 75, Oklahoma State 68
Baylor had won 13 in a row to leapfrog up the rankings, trailing barely 22 out of 360 minutes in its past nine games. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State was 0-4 in the Big 12. An early Saturday afternoon stroll in Stillwater for the Bears, right? Wrong. They were down 12 points with 14 minutes left. It took 14 second-half points from reserve Devonte Bandoo — who had scored 107 all season coming in — to get Baylor to only its second 5-0 Big 12 start in history.
Penn State 90, No. 21 Ohio State 76
Once upon a time, the Buckeyes beat Kentucky to go 11-1. But that was light years ago. This was Ohio State’s fifth loss in six games, and the defense that did not allow nine of its first 11 opponents to reach 60 — remember when Villanova managed only 51? North Carolina 49? — was shredded by the Nittany Lions. Maybe this will explain the split personality of the Buckeyes’ season: They beat Penn State by 32 on Dec. 7, so in six weeks, there was a 46-point turnaround between the two teams. For Ohio State, it’s deja oh-oh. The Buckeyes started last season 12-1, then went 6-12 the next 18 games.
No. 18 Seton Hall 82, St. John’s 79
Know the last time Seton Hall was 6-0 in the Big East and 4-0 on the road? Never. But it took work to get there. The Pirates were down 13 points after a perfectly awful first half in Madison Square Garden that included 15 turnovers, but then it was time for Myles Powell to restore order. The All-American scored 23 of his 29 points after halftime, including the go-ahead 3-point play with 1:38 left. He also became the fifth Pirate ever to reach 2000 career points, which is why no one could pry the game ball out of his hands at the end. This one is a keeper.
DePaul 79, No. 5 Butler 66
DePaul was 0-4 in the Big East, with the four defeats by 20 total points, and had not beaten a top-5 team in 14 years. Butler had won 19 games in a row against Chicago area schools — DePaul, Loyola, UIC and Northwestern — going back to 2007. Never mind any of that now, because this was all DePaul. The week began with Butler 15-1 and sitting in its highest in-season poll spot in history. Now the Bulldogs have lost two games in four days, and must next go to Villanova.
No. 9 Florida State 83, Miami 79, OT
If you don’t get the Seminoles in 40 minutes, you don’t get them at all. This was their ninth consecutive overtime victory. Miami led by nine with just over five minutes to go, but was doomed by 24 turnovers, including three possessions in a row in overtime. “A four-point victory in my mind is an ACC blowout,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. His team now shares the league lead. By the way, four teams received first-place votes in the ACC preseason voting, and the Seminoles weren’t one of them.
Florida 69, No. 4 Auburn 47
Freshman Omar Payne’s averages for Florida before Saturday: 4.3 points and 4.1 rebounds a game. He probably didn’t take up much space in Auburn’s game plan for the Gators. He will next time, after 19 points, 11 rebounds and 9-for-9 shooting. In four days, the Tigers have gone from one of the nation’s last two unbeatens to back-to-back whippings by a combined 42 points. They shot 28.8 percent in those two games with only 15 assists. “It’s the time of year we should be trying to elevate our play, and we’re not,” coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game radio show. “When you’re ranked fourth in the country, there’s a huge price on your head.”
No. 17 Maryland 57, Purdue 50
Maryland had an 18-point lead sliced to three with just under four minutes left. That happens when you shoot 28 percent the second half and miss all nine 3-pointers. But the Terrapins held on, and are now 11-0 at home. Not to be confused with their 0-4 record in true road games.
No. 6 Kansas 66, Texas 57
The game was tied at 54, and then the Jayhawks finally put away the Longhorns. Good thing for Kansas, Devon Dotson was back. He missed the Oklahoma game last week with a hip pointer, but played 39 minutes in this one and scored 21 points, including the Jayhawks’ last seven. They’re having some long-distance issues. They made only two 3-pointers, the fourth game this season they’ve had three or fewer.
Kansas State 84, No. 12 West Virginia 68
West Virginia’s shiny 14-2 record didn’t mean much in Manhattan. Kansas State was 0-4 in the Big 12 but the desperate-for-a-win Wildcats forced 18 Mountaineers turnovers, shot 59 percent, and led by as many as 24. West Virginia did have a 41-26 advantage in points off the bench, but that’s SOP. The Mountaineers’ are outscoring their opponents 494-271 in bench points this season.
Arizona 75, No. 20 Colorado 54
Between Arizona’s 39-25 rebounding dominance and its 52 percent shooting in the second half, Colorado didn’t have a chance. “We pride ourselves on defense and rebounding,” Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle said, “and we didn’t do either one.”
No. 23 Texas Tech 72, Iowa State 52
It was a big week for Kyler Edwards, who had 22 points against Iowa State and 24 against Kansas State. This, by a sophomore guard who was averaging just over nine the first three Big 12 games.
Houston 65, No. 16 Wichita State 54
Wichita State entered the week on a nine-game winning streak that pushed the Shockers into the top-25. But then came a 12-point loss at Temple, followed by this thumping at home, as Houston’s defense carried the day. The Cougars swatted nine shots, and Wichita State hit only 30 percent. That took care of a 14-game home court winning streak, and probably the Shockers’ spot in the polls, too. “We don’t have to worry about rankings anymore, and streaks and whatnot,” coach Gregg Marshall said. “We just need to worry about being a good basketball team.”
No. 10 Kentucky 73, Arkansas 66
By the end, Kentucky had five players in double figures and a road win in a difficult venue to visit. A fine pain antidote for whatever happened against South Carolina. What the Wildcats didn’t have was their head coach, John Calipari having been booted with just over eight minutes left after two technical fouls. Maybe the Razorbacks would have preferred he stayed, since the whole to-do seemed to light a small-sized inferno beneath Kentucky’s players. Down three at the time, the Wildcats promptly went on a 17-2 run to take control of the game. If they get on some kind of run, will it have started with Calipari’s empty seat in Fayetteville?
No. 8 Oregon 64, Washington 61 OT
Poor Washington. The Huskies got an all-world game from Isaiah Stewart — 25 points and 19 rebounds — and built up a 16-point lead midway through the second half. When that melted, they were still tied in the final seconds of overtime, but then Payton Pritchard launched a shot from another area code and buried the 26-foot 3-pointer at 3.4 seconds left. Oregon has become the Drama Ducks, beating Washington, Arizona and Michigan in overtime, losing to Gonzaga in OT, and coming from 19 points back against Seton Hall to win by two.
No. 25 Creighton 78, Providence 74
Sure, Creighton could have lost at home. The Bluejays were down five points with 90 seconds to go, thanks mostly to David Duke’s 36-point day for Providence. That would have been four defeats in five games, which certainly sounds like trouble for anyone’s NCAA tournament plans. But then Ty-Shon Alexander, playing on a banged-up knee, hit a 3-pointer and added another basket. Marcus Zegarowski, who didn’t start because of a dizzy spell during warmups, sank a game-winning 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left. Game saved, crisis averted.
No. 24 Illinois 75, Northwestern 71
The Illini had to labor to shake off their in-state rival, and go to 5-2 in league play. It’s the first time in eight years they’ve been three games above .500 in the Big Ten. But here’s an even more startling number: Guard Trent Frazier didn’t have a turnover for the sixth consecutive game. He has now played more than 193 minutes since his last boo-boo on Dec. 21 against Missouri.
No. 11 Louisville 79, No. 3 Duke 73
Surely, not again. A year ago, Louisville blew a 23-point lead and lost to Duke. Here the Cardinals were Saturday, with a 15-point advantage that had evaporated. They lose this one, and they might need Sigmund Freud on the bench they next time they play the Blue Devils. But no, they turned up the defense and persevered to send the rest of the ACC and nation a message. You go into Durham and outmuscle Duke, you really have something. You’re right up there with Stephen F. Austin. Some numbers of Louisville’s victory: Freshman David Johnson, who came in with a 3.7 scoring average, putting up 17 points in the first half. And hello to you, Cameron Crazies. Duke shooting only 37 percent, and Louisville outscoring the Blue Devils 44-30 in the paint and 39-5 in bench points. It was not a place for the meek. “That was a brutal game,” Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “The most physical game we’ve been involved in . . . in years.”
QUIETING CAMERON: Louisville leaves Durham with huge road win
No. 7 San Diego State 68, Nevada 55
Yeah, college basketball’s last unbeaten team was down two at halftime, but that issue was quickly resolved. The lead grew as large as 19 in the second half, and the night was stress-free enough that the Aztecs never used a timeout. The record is 19-0, and counting.
No. 1 Gonzaga 92, BYU 69
Sometime around midnight Eastern time, the long Saturday came to an end with Gonzaga’s 34th home court victory in a row. But what’s this about a Filip Petrusev injury? The Zags’ top scorer had to leave the game in the second half with an ankle sprain, but that means they just turned to their other five guys who average in double figures. Since that five-point victory/wake-up call against Pepperdine, Gonzaga has won its past four conference games by 44, 25, 50 and 23 points. Don’t expect a vacancy in the No. 1 ranking anytime soon. “They’re obviously the best team in America,” BYU coach Mark Pope said.
He sounded pretty certain. But as this day proved — again— nothing much is certain in college basketball. Pac-12 leader Stanford blew a 21-point lead in the second half at USC. Utah State lost a 19-point lead in the final six minutes at Boise State. Vanderbilt took 25 3-pointers against Tennessee and missed them all. The Commodores hadn’t gone scoreless from that line in 1,080 games, since the shot was introduced in 1986. How can March not be a mess?