As is usually the case, the first college basketball weekend after the Super Bowl was loaded with high-profile matchups, rivalry showdowns, and some ridiculous finishes.
Here are the 10 things you need to know from the most jam-packed weekend of the 2019-20 college hoops season to date.
1. Duke-North Carolina
We don’t need to rehash the two buzzer-beaters or the comedy of hours that set the stage for both to take place. We also don’t need to dive too deeply into how Saturday’s loss probably doomed any hope North Carolina had of salvaging something out of this mess of a season. What does need to be discussed is how the top-16 reveal earlier in the day showcased why this win for Duke might wind up being massively important.
Ever since the NCAA tournament Selection Committee abandoned the standard S-curve in favor of geographical preference for the top four seeds, the top line has typically been a battle for the East, South and Midwest regions, typically in that order. That’s looking like it won’t be the case in 2020. All four teams currently pegged as No. 1 seeds are schools located west of the Mississippi River. This resulted in a situation where on Saturday we found out that if the tournament began today, San Diego State, by virtue of being the “worst” No. 1 seed would be forced to play its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games at Madison Square Garden in New York.
We also discovered on Saturday that Duke is currently regarded as the strongest of the No. 2 seeds, which would also result in the Blue Devils heading to the Big Apple for the tournament’s second weekend. The Garden is like a second home for Coach K’s program, and the Dukies would almost certainly have a crowd advantage at MSG over whatever two teams it would play inside the building.
Duke already has two non-Quad 1 losses on its resume. Adding a third — North Carolina is currently No. 89 in the NET Rankings — would have almost certainly put the Devils behind at least Dayton and Louisville on the Committee’s updated seed list.
Winning round one with UNC may not ultimately wind up the difference between Duke getting New York and San Diego State as its one seed vs. Duke getting sent to the Midwest and having Baylor as its one seed, but for now at least, that’s precisely the situation.
2. Bob Knight back in Bloomington
On a college basketball weekend that saw nearly all of its ranked teams take care of business, the sport’s biggest upset may have been Bobby Knight finally returning to an Indiana game at Assembly Hall for the first time since being unceremoniously fired two decades ago. The eight minute halftime ceremony was touching, it was awkward, and it would have taken on a completely different tone had Knight punched Dick Vitale in the face, which seemed like it might happen for a brief moment.
Definitely thought Bob Knight was going to knock Dick Vitale smooth out on national television.— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) February 8, 2020
Oh, by the way, Purdue dominated its arch-rival and won a pretty big game for both teams, 74-62.
3. Seton Hall is running the Big East
Three weeks ago, the Big East appeared to have a strangle-hold on the title of “top to bottom, the most competitive conference in college basketball.” Instead, the league now has a 10-1 team at the top and a 1-10 team at the bottom.
The team at the bottom, of course, is DePaul. At the top is Seton Hall, which went on the road Saturday and took down Villanova, 70-64. The result of that win is that the Pirates are now a full three games ahead of everyone else in the Big East, and remain undefeated in conference road games.
Not only do Myles Powell and company look capable of becoming the first Seton Hall team since 2000 to make the Sweet 16, they look like they have the potential to be the Final Four-caliber squad Pirate fans have spent more than two decades waiting for.
Villanova, meanwhile, has suddenly dropped three straight and is in desperate need of finding its footing before this slide becomes a free fall.
4. Michigan State is reeling
Speaking of high-profile slides, preseason No. 1 Michigan State has now also lost three in a row following Saturday’s 77-68 setback at Michigan.
The good news if you’re a Sparty fan? MSU went through a three-game slide at almost this exact point in the season a year ago. They responded by winning 14 of their last 16 games on their way to winning the Big Ten regular-season title, the Big Ten tournament title, and a trip to the Final Four.
We’re likely going to know pretty quickly if recent history is going to repeat itself in 2020. The Spartans will hit the road to face Illinois — currently tied for second-place in the Big Ten — on Tuesday, and then host league-leading and ninth-ranked Maryland on Saturday.
5. Madness in the Missouri Valley
With all due respect to both of Duke’s buzzer-beaters, this from Southern Illinois was the most impressive finish to a game of the weekend.
That’s Ronnie Suggs with the ridiculous pass and Marcus Domask with the even more absurd catch and shoot to lift Southern Illinois past Missouri State. The Salukis continue to be one of the most pleasant surprises in all of mid-major basketball. Picked to finish dead last in the Missouri Valley Conference before the start of the season, they’re now 9-3 in the league, all alone in second place, and just one game behind first-place Northern Iowa.
6. Louisville breaks its Virginia curse
After losing nine straight games to Virginia, Louisville finally got over the hump against the reigning national champions on Saturday. As is typically the case when these two get together, the game was weird.
Virginia entered Saturday having not scored more than 65 points all season and ranked 348th in the country in three-point percentage (27.2 percent). It promptly canned 11-of-22 from beyond the arc and hung 73 points on a Louisville team that entered the day No. 18 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. None of it was enough, as the same Cavalier team that came into Saturday allowing opponents to score just 50.4 PPG let Louisville go off for 80. The previous high for an ACC foe against Virginia had been 63.
On Ken Pom, where massive ranking shifts are typically limited to the first two months of the season, Virginia’s offense jumped from No. 274 in the country to No. 228. Louisville’s offense moved from No. 15 to No. 8, and its defense fell from No. 18 all the way down to No. 31.
The projected final score for the game going into the day had been Louisville 59, Virginia 49.
7. Humanity in the Pac-12
Early in the second of what would ultimately be an 81-74 Colorado win, Stanford’s Oscar da Silva was momentarily knocked unconscious after being inadvertently elbowed by the Buffaloes’ Evan Battey. The elbow sent da Silva to the floor, where his head slammed against the court and began bleeding.
Battey, who suffered two seizures and a stroke in 2017, immediately broke down and began crying. Seconds later, players from both teams and both head coaches huddled on the floor to say a prayer for da Silva.
“I saw how shook up Evan was,’’ Colorado coach Tad Boyle told NCAA.com’s Andy Katz. “I told McKinley (Wright) to get them together. It was spontaneous, not choreographed. Both teams connected. Everybody who knows Evan knows how special person he is, a caring human being. He’s like that in his everyday life. Nobody appreciates being on the basketball court like him.’’
“Sportsmanship isn’t the right word (for what happened),’’ said Stanford coach Jerod Haase. “It was human decency. This was a human story, not sportsmanship. There were real emotions with real people. There was so much high character on both teams.’’
Da Silva, who is Stanford’s leading scorer, was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a head laceration and stitched up. There’s been no initial word on when he’ll be able to return to the court.
8. Auburn-LSU gets nuts
Until Duke-North Carolina happened, it didn’t seem like anything was going to be able to surpass the madness we saw in the battle for first place in the SEC between Auburn and LSU.
Though each team tried to give the game away at the end of both regulation and overtime, it was Auburn, which trailed by as many as 15, which walked away with the 91-90 OT win. The winning basket came off the hands of J’Von McCormick, who needs to practice his post-shot celebration for the next time this happens.
A+ shot by J’Von McCormick. F- celebration. pic.twitter.com/Q4acKE78ag— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) February 8, 2020
“Never leave your feet without a plan” is solid basketball advice for both in-game action, and break in the action celebrations. If you’re going for the mid-air bump, you better be damn sure your leaping partner is just as committed to the act as you are. If he’s not, you’re gonna end up looking like a small fish leaping out of water.
9. Gonzaga makes its case
We’re into the heart of the annual national debate over Gonzaga basketball. With the Zags once again sitting as a top contender to be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday, the “they’re actually good” and the “they don’t play in a real conference” sides have once again loaded themselves down with all the familiar ammo and are set to fire back and forth for the remaining few weeks of the regular season.
The “they’re actually good” side received a jolt late Saturday when Mark Few’s team went into UCU Pavilion and absolutely hammered arch-rival Saint Mary’s by 30. Gonzaga had five players score in double-figures, it led by 25 at halftime, and was never remotely threatened by a Gaels team that is No. 39 in the NET.
The Zags are now 25-1 overall, 11-0 in the West Coast Conference, and have won those 11 league games by an average of 20.6 points per contest.
10. Darrell Walker can dance
One of the best stories in college basketball right now outside of the power conferences is what Little Rock is doing in the Sun Belt. Picked to finish 11th in the 12 team conference before the start of the season, the Trojans are currently 12-2 in the league and in first place by a full three games.
After winning a 90-87 nail-biter over rival Arkansas State on Saturday, Little Rock head coach Darrell Walker had to let his guys know that he can still move.
Had to show the young fellas some real moves after a rivalry win. pic.twitter.com/rIHduCoOmh— Darrell Walker (@CoachWalker_LR) February 9, 2020
That’s the look of a head coach who hasn’t lost since Jan. 11.