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Mike Lopresti | | January 26, 2022

'How did that happen?' — 10 notable Tuesday college basketball games from a busy, weird night

Auburn continues to roll in SEC, stays atop Power 36 rankings

Know what Tuesday night was good for in college basketball? Provoking questions that start with the word how.

How . . .

Did Auburn get away with shooting 30 percent at Missouri? The Tigers escaped 55-54 by retrieving a lot of their missed shots; they had 25 offensive rebounds. Which begs another question. How does a team with 25 offensive rebounds score only seven second-chance points?

No matter, Auburn survived its first game in history as the No. 1 team, but got a taste in Columbia of the fiery road receptions that top ranking guarantees. “To get 25 offensive rebounds, we obviously played hard,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “We just didn’t play very well, and they had a lot to do with that.”

How . . .

Does an Arizona offense averaging nearly 89 points a game — with a season low of 73 — manage only 59 in a Pac-12 showdown? How does a rollicking team that passed its first three conference road tests by 25, 28 and 25 points show up in Pauley Pavilion and lose by 16? Well, the aroused UCLA defense was trying awfully hard to slow down the Wildcats. “I learned a long time ago effort matters,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said.

WHO'S IN?: Check out our bracket predictions for 2022 March Madness men's tournament

So now the two teams are tied at the top of the Pac-12, though they didn’t look very even Tuesday night. But let’s see what happens in eight days when they play in Tucson. Chances are it won’t be close, either way. Only three of Arizona’s 18 games have been decided by single digits.

How . . .

Did Illinois take the floor without two pre-season all-Big Tenners — All-American Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo — and knock off Michigan State 56-55? How did the Illini pull that off while getting outrebounded 41-27, outscored at the free throw line 14-3, and going the final 5:32 of the game without a point? Coach Brad Underwood was so sure of the reason, he wrote it on the locker room board so his Illini could see it. Culture win. This is the program that is 21-3 its last 24 games against Big Ten opponents, so that’s a lot of culture. Michigan State helped the cause Tuesday by shooting under 35 percent.

Curious stat about Illinois. The Illini were a lousy 3-for-7 in free throws but that doesn’t seem to matter. They have won six consecutive games when under 50 percent from the line.

How . . .

Did Georgetown ever get this leaky on defense? The Hoyas were steamrolled by Connecticut 96-73, leaving them 0-6 in the Big East. In those six defeats, they allowed 92, 72, 88, 83, 85 and 96 points. Somewhere along that rocky trail, coach Patrick Ewing said “Big John is rolling over in his grave.” His mentor John Thompson fashioned Georgetown into a fearsome defensive entity. In Ewing’s four seasons as a player, the Hoyas gave up 80 points only six times against Big East opponents in 74 games. They’ve done it five times this January.

"All Georgetown can do is keep grinding to get better, Ewing said. “There is no cavalry coming over the hill.”

How . . .

Does Clemson go an entire generation without winning at Duke? But then, lots of teams have that problem. Tuesday’s 71-69 result made it 20 Cameron losses in a row for the Tigers, but not without a stern argument. There were 17 lead changes. “They’re one play away from winning,” Mike Krzyzewski said.

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How . . .

Did Kentucky, that has accomplished famously so much the past decade on freshman phenom power, get to the stage where it turns its fate in a tight SEC game over to a 24-year-old? That’s the way it works for the Wildcats this season. Davidson graduate student transfer Kellan Grady scored eight points in overtime, including back-to-back 3-point daggers, to push Kentucky past Mississippi State 82-74.

His teammates call him granddad. “I embrace it,” Grady said. “There’s part of me that’s an old soul.” At Kentucky, there have been some seasons when old meant 19. Another Wildcat geezer, junior Oscar Tshiebwe, contributed 21 points and 22 rebounds, Kentucky’s first 20-20 game in 46 years.

All that gave John Calipari his 800th career win. “It means I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. And doing it pretty successfully. He reached 800 in 1,037 games. The only coaches to do it sooner are Adolph Rupp, Roy Williams and Dean Smith.

How . . .

Does any Big East team beat another Big East team 22 times in a row? Villanova can, and has against DePaul, and there is no end in sight after Tuesday’s 67-43 victory. It speaks to the Wildcats’ extraordinary consistency through the years, and the Blue Demons’ chronic struggles. The streak goes back to 2008, when Villanova’s top scorer Tuesday night, Justin Moore, was in first grade.

How . . .

Does any team survive playing four ranked conference opponents in 11 days? Answer: You don’t. Which is why Kansas State might have arrived in Waco on fumes and was blown away by Baylor 74-49. The Wildcats are 2-6 in the Big 12, but this was the first time in their six defeats they were not in the lead or tied in the second half.

TRANSFER TIGERS: How the transfer portal helped Auburn become the best team in basketball 

How . . .

Does a team win its biggest conference game of the season to date against a ranked opponent on Saturday, then lose to the ninth-place team in the league on Tuesday?

Step forward Missouri State. Clearly there were signs of a hangover from the signature win over No. 22 Loyola Chicago, as the Bears showed up at Indiana State, shot 40 percent, and were upset 76-72 by a team that had dropped four conference games in a row.

How . . .

Does a team have so many dramatic endings, its conference season is starting to feel like a miniseries? That’s William & Mary, who lost 74-73 Tuesday night on a Charleston basket with 1.1 seconds left. Not to be confused with the time the Tribe blew a 23-point lead and fell in overtime to James Madison. Or when they beat Northeastern by a point with three free throws on two different fouls in the last 1.3 seconds. Or scored four points in the last 15 seconds to stun Hofstra by a point.

William & Mary went 1-12 in its non-conference games. Its Colonial Athletic Association record of 3-4 — which could be 5-2 or could be 1-6 — has been a lot more interesting.

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