SB Nation college basketball editor Mike Rutherford's weekly walk around the college basketball world focuses in on the first Crosstown Classic since last year's brawl, Jim Boeheim's 900th win, and the best of the rest from the week that was.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said in the wake of his team's 60-45 victory over rival Xavier Wednesday night that he'd like to see the Crosstown
Shootout Classic remain at a neutral site for the foreseeable future.
It's hard to argue with him. College basketball doesn't have enough neutral site rivalry games, and the atmosphere inside the US Bank Arena on Wednesday was tremendous. Also, there were no incidents on or off the floor, which was the primary reason for the move away from campus sites.
The product on the court, however, was far from tremendous. Neither team shot better than 38 percent, and the Musketeers missed all but three of their 14 free-throw attempts. Still, more than anything else this felt like a situation where all parties concerned simply wanted to get the game over with so that the rivalry could put some distance between itself and last year's nasty brawl. In that regard, mission accomplished.
Also, Cincinnati's still undefeated. Seamlessly worked that one into the flow of the blurb.
Just about every aspect of Jim Boeheim's 900th win has been covered at length by this point, but I'm going with the fact that he's been at Syracuse for 37 years and never had a losing season as my personal favorite. That type of consistency, both in terms of success and having it at the same place for such a prolonged period, is unheard of.
Syracuse definitely picked a winner.
Well, you're not readin'.
Oregon's triple overtime loss to UTEP - which came within a shot of upsetting No. 21 UNLV two days earlier - on Wednesday means that the No. 16 team in SB Nation's power rankings has now lost in every week they've earned the distinction.
I'm now accepting offers from coaches and athletic directors looking to spare their teams of this honor. Preferable forms of bribes include financial and laffy taffy.
The Big East saw its remarkable 42-game winning streak come to an end on Wednesday night when Marquette could muster just 16 second half points in a 49-47 loss to previously 3-7 Green Bay. The Phoenix are coached by former Golden Eagle/Warrior star Brian Wardle.
It was the first time a Big East team had tasted defeat since Dec. 5.
One of the most interesting teams in the country to watch once conference play rolls around will be Providence.
The Friars were picked to finish last in the Big East by the league's coaches, haven't beaten anyone of note and already have losses to UMass and Penn State, but they've only been playing with five or six scholarship players all season. That changed on Tuesday when freshman Kris Dunn and Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson suited up for the first time.
Dunn, the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2012, had missed the entire season to date because of a shoulder injury. He came off the bench and stole the show in his debut, finishing with 13 assists in just 27 minutes. To put that in perspective, Louisville senior Peyton Siva - widely regarded as one of the best point guards in the country - set his career-high for assists with 12 against Florida International on Wednesday.
Johnson, for his part, played just 16 minutes but still finished second on the team with eight rebounds. The 6'10 sophomore figures to provide a huge boost inside for a Providence team that lacks a true center.
Toss in the return of injured star Vincent Council at some point over the next few weeks and it's difficult to see PC not proving at least a few of their preseason doubters wrong during league play.
Perhaps the bigger story from Providence's win over Colgate was the way the team paid tribute to the victims of last week's deadly shooting At Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. The Friars wore specially made green and white uniforms with "Sandy Hook" printed on the backs of the jerseys, and also left 26 empty seats at the Dunkin' Donuts Center to honor each victim.
"I wanted to do something to honor those victims," Providence coach Ed Cooley said after the game. "It was more about us thinking about people who are going through a time that none of us would want to go through. It made me feel really, really special that that was able to happen."
National scoring leader race update:
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh - 24.9 ppg
Erick Green, Virginia Tech - 24.8 ppg
Doug McDermott, Creighton - 23.7 ppg
Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State - 23.5 ppg
James Kinney, San Jose State - 22.6 ppg
A score that we all sort of brushed aside a month ago that seems more and more inexplicable as the weeks have gone by: Xavier 62, Butler 47.
The Musketeers dominated the ever-rare non-conference game between a pair of teams from the same conference, so much so that the final 15-point margin was actually a bit misleading. Since then, however, X has gone on to lose to Pacific, a very bad Vanderbilt team, and rival Cincinnati by 15. Butler's only other defeat came at the hands of undefeated Illinois in the Maui Invitational title game, and last Saturday they shocked No. 1 Indiana in the game of the season so far.
It'll be interesting to see if that tip-off marathon game proves to be a decent barometer of Butler's first season in the A-10, or just a complete outlier.
It's time for the first of this week's awards...
Best Bench Antic of the Week: Naadir Tharpe of Kansas doing The Robot.
The Mountain West continued to build on its solid start to the season by wrapping up a victory in its annual challenge with the Missouri Valley by a demanding final count of 6-3. All three of the league's ranked teams claimed wins, while the Valley's only top 25 squad - No. 11 Creighton - took an embarrassing 83-70 loss at home to Boise State.
The Mountain West now holds an all-time lead of 2-1-1 in the challenge.
It hasn't been a great year for mid-major teams looking to pick up non-conference wins powerful enough that they might be in the at-large discussion come early March, but it's time to take notice of what Bucknell is doing.
The Bison are off to their best start since the 1907-08 season at 11-1, and own wins over Purdue, George Mason, New Mexico State and Kent State. They have an opportunity to become even more of known quantity when they play at Missouri on Jan. 5.
Bucknell also boasts one of the best unknown players in the country in senior forward Mike Muscala. Muscala is averaging more combined points, rebounds and blocks than anyone in the country outside of Duke's Mason Plumlee.
Photo of the Week: "The Haunting of Kyle Wiltjer."
Well, Harrow's scared because his eyelids are jammed and Calipari's here. We need a live Lipscomb haunting to take the curse off Kyle's outside shot, and nobody seems to know what to get Anthony or Mike for their lottery pick present. Kentucky's dealing with some serious shit here.
Looks like it worked. Wiltjer drilled 7-of-9 three-pointers against the Bisons after having misfired on 25 of his previous 30 attempts from deep.
Whatever you have to do, man.
Winless watch list:
Northern Kentucky (0-6)
Maryland-Eastern Shore (0-10)
St. Francis (PA) (0-9)
Mississippi Valley State (0-7)
Grambling State (0-8)
Previous club members Jackson State and Alabama State got out with wins over Seattle and Troy, respectively. The SWAC now has two teams without a win, and four who have won just once. The bottom six teams in the conference standings are a combined 4-52.
I'd like to see Feinstein turn that into a readable book.
Dunk(s) of the Week: Doug Anderson doing what Doug Anderson does against Syracuse.
The Detroit senior is the best dunker in the country, and it's not even close.
One of the biggest off-the-court surprises of the young season took place on Wednesday when South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow announced through text message that he was retiring, efective immediately.
"It has been a pleasure being the head coach here not once but twice. U of South Alabama has been good to my family and me. I hope the fans can remember the good times we had. The players will always be special. I hope the team can continue to win the conference games,'' Arrow texted.
No reason was given for Arrow's retirement.
"I'm sure the fans will wonder why and that's typical and understandable," USA athletic director Joel Erdmann said. "The fact of the matter is we have a man who has decided to retire and that is what is happening."
Arrow was 211-161 in 14 seasons at South Alabama, where he coached from 1987 to 1995 and again from 2007 to 2012. Assistant Jeff Price was named the interim coach for the rest of the season.
It's worth noting that Western Kentucky fired Ken McDonald in early January last season, and interim head coach Ray Harper went on to lead the Hilltoppers to the Sun Belt tournament title and a win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Or maybe it's not worth noting. Is anything worth noting? I don't know, I'll tell you in three months.
Worst facial hair of the young season? Going with Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos and his goatee.
It's thankfully gone now, but it SCREAMED "I'm way too comfortable in my new role of not being a freshman" when it was around in November.
Pangos' sophomore slump has extended from his face to the court, where his scoring average has dipped from 13.6 to 10.4, and his shooting percentages from both inside and outside the arc are down from a year ago. Now some of that is because Mark Few has put an added emphasis on production in the paint, but a lot of it is because Pangos just isn't shooting the ball that well. He's shot 50 percent or worse from the field in each of the Zags' past six games, and has had just one game this season where he's made more than half of his three-point attempts.
College kids: just say NOatee to the...dammit, that one felt bad leaving my fingertips. This is why I didn't get that job with DARE.
Tweet of the Week:
That would be Georgetown blog Casual Hoya offering up some reassurance to the other blogging members of the so-called "Catholic 7" Now Rutgers wants in.
Any and all Freshman of the Year talk right now has to begin and end with UNLV's Anthony Bennett.
Bennett scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Wednesday's 73-59 win over Northern Iowa, the fourth time he's posted at least 20 and 10 in a game. No other freshman has done it more than twice. His season averages of 19.4 points and 8.6 rebounds are even more impressive when you take into account the fact that he's averaging just 27.5 minutes per game.
Is John Groce the best coach...like, ever?
Not only does Groce have Illinois undefeated and ranked in the top ten, but the Ohio team he left behind is reeling without him. The Bobcats returned every key player from last season's Sweet 16 squad, but have lost four of their last five games and are back in a position where they'll have to win the MAC tournament to make the field of 68.
After an expected 6-0 start, Ohio has lost to Robert Morris, Memphis (by 26), Winthrop and UMass all in the month of December.
John Groce for Team USA in 2016.
Thanks to Fresno State's three-game losing streak, the Big East is now the only conference in America where every team has a winning record.
One of the sadder images of the season came Wednesday night when cameras continually showed Texas star Myck Kabongo celebrating his team's huge win over North Carolina with no knowledge that a Yahoo! report had just revealed that he would be suspended for the entire season by the NCAA.
Kabongo lied to the NCAA about who paid for an offseason workout and his relationship with an agent, which is a no-no. Still, it was in Kabongo's best interest after last season to at least explore the possibility of making the jump to the NBA, and since college athletes aren't paid, how does anyone expect him to pay for one of those necessary training sessions? Now he's in a postion where his NBA Draft stock has taken an immeasurable hit.
I'm not saying that Kabongo deserved to stroll into this season without serving any type of punishment, I'm just saying that forcing the kid to miss an entire season and basically wrecking his draft stock doesn't seem to be "looking out for his best interest."
At 5-5, Wake Forest is off to yet another underwhelming start to what figures to be yet another underwhelming season. Demon Deacon site Blogger So Dear says that what was once one of America's premier programs has fallen from grace because AD Ron Wellman sacrificed innovation for "culture."
Buzzer-Beater/Announcer Call of the Week: Stetson over FAU with Robbie Aaron on the call.
It's been a relatively light 14 days in college hoops, which is understandable considering that this is the week before Christmas and last week was finals week at most universities. Fans' patience will definitely be rewarded on Saturday, as a loaded slate of games will include:
No. 3 Syracuse vs. Temple (Noon/ESPN2)
No. 20 Michigan State vs. Texas (2 p.m./ESPN2)
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Kansas (4 p.m./CBS)
No. 10 Illinois vs. No. 12 Missouri (6 p.m./ESPN2)
No. 8 Florida vs. Kansas State (8 p.m./ESPN2)
There are few better excuses to do as little as possible on the Saturday before Christmas.
And finally, we end as we always do around here...with the Creepy Mascot Photo of the Week.
That would be Louisville's "Air Louie" keeping a disturbing eye on Peyton Siva and Wayne Blackshear during the Cardinals' blowout of UMKC.