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Five Thoughts On A Monster Weekend In College Basketball

The second weekend of December was easily the wildest one of the college basketball season so far. Mike Rutherford shares five thoughts on what went down.

1. Any chance for some sort of positive to be drawn from the nasty brawl between Xavier and Cincinnati was quashed on Saturday when each school dolled out its respective punishments.

The tale of the tape:

Cincinnati:

Yancy Gates - 6 games
Cheikh Mbodj - 6 games
Octavius Ellis - 6 games
Ge'Lawn Guyn - 1 game

Xavier:

Dezmine Wells - 4 games
Landon Amos - 4 games
Mark Lyons - 2 games
Tu Holloway- 1 game

The two most notable offenders in the melee were Gates and Mbodj, the former sucker punching Xavier center Kenny Frease (as well as throwing the basketball at Holloway and punching at least one more Musketeer in the face) and the latter stomping on Frease's head. The pair will be forced to miss a grand total of one Big East game, and non-conference contests against Wright State, Radford, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Chicago State and Oklahoma. Leonard Little thinks that's a light sentence.

To put it bluntly, the suspensions make UC head coach Mick Cronin's passionate and widely-praised postgame comments seem hollow. These were a pair of vicious blows to the head of an unsuspecting person. For a reminder of just how much damage one punch (or kick) can do, all you have to do is google "Kermit Washington."

What makes the punishment even more unfathomable is the LeGarrette Blount situation of two years ago and the way that it was handled. In that instance - where the Oregon running back punched a Boise State player in the aftermath of a Bronco victory - the opinion of the national media that Blount should be suspended for the remainder of the season was nearly immediate and unanimous. That move was made just two days later, a suspension which would ultimately total nine games. 

As for Xavier, it's impossible not to notice that the suspensions of Holloway and Lyons - the Musketeers' two leading scorers whose postgame comments drew nearly as much heat as the brawl itself - will allow each to take the floor when XU hosts Gonzaga on Dec. 31.

Each program had a chance to salvage at least a little face out of this mess, and each failed miserably.

2. A lesser negative of the situation at Xavier was that it detracted, however slightly, from the tremendous scene at Assembly Hall later on Saturday. 

The predictable postgame "Indiana is back talk" is almost certainly still a year premature (assuming "back" means a legitimate national title contender, or at least top 15 team), but there's no question the Hoosiers are on their way. This was an event that IU devoted a great deal of attention to, and the result could not have been more sweet.

The more important aspect of the game is what to make of Kentucky's performance. The easy answer is that they were beaten in a hostile environment by a good team for whom the game meant significantly more. Still, there are some issues that need to be addressed. Namely, what was up with Terrence Jones?

A lot of folks have written this off as another case of Jones shying away from the spotlight in a big game, but it can't be that simple. There were multiple possessions where Jones - a preseason All-American who finished the game with four points, one rebound and six turnovers - hardly moved at all. It certainly seemed as if Jones was dealing with either an illness or some sort of serious personal issue. He showed almost zero emotion, god or bad, and found himself on the bench when the game was on the line. Whatever the deal was needs to be resolved, because Kentucky can't win a national title without the guy who was supposed to be its leader and star contributing next-to-nothing.

3. It's rare that an upset of the No. 2 team in the country gets overlooked, but that's exactly what happened this weekend. Kansas' 78-67 victory over Ohio State figures to be one that's oft-discussed because of the fact that the Buckeyes were playing without player of the year front-runner Jared Sullinger.

In these situations, the winner almost always ends up being rewarded to a degree far higher than the loser is punished. My guess is the same will hold true in this instance. Kansas has a resume win that will sparkle from now until March, while Ohio State - assuming it continues to handle its business - will be largely unaffected by the 11-point defeat.

4. Murray State's 76-72 upset victory at Memphis Sunday has the Racers on the cusp of becoming one of the biggest stories in college basketball. You see, MSU is now 10-0 and likely to be favored in each one of its remaining regular season games.

A total of 16 teams have entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated, but the feat hasn't been achieved since UNLV did it in 1991. Saint Joseph's is the last team to complete a perfect regular season, running the table in 2004. The Hawks then promptly lost to Xavier by 20 in their Altantic 10 Tournament opener before making a run to the Elite Eight in the big dance.

The odds of Murray State running the table are minimal, but they may be as good as any team has had at this point of the season in quite some time. The Ohio Valley Conference appears to be on its way to an extremely down year, and the Racers' only remaining scheudled non-conference games are against Lipscomb and Arkansas State, both at home. They do have to play a BracketBusters game in February against an opponent to be named (almost certainly another elite mid-major if Murray's unbeaten and nationally ranked), but that game will also be played at home.

It's definitely little more than a pipe dream at this point, but the seeding of a 32-0 squad who might only have one or two wins over NCAA Tournament teams would be one of the most captivating Selection Sunday storylines in history.

5. We're a month in and I'm still feeling pretty good about all ten of my bold preseason predictions, especially now that No. 5 has been checked off.

5. The last unbeaten will be someone other than North Carolina, Kentucky or Ohio State

The Tar Heels, Wildcats and Buckeyes are the unquestioned top three teams in the country heading into the season, and deservedly so. Each has a first team preseason All-American, and each returns a handful of other key players from teams that were elite a year ago. Still, because of the difficulty of the trio's respective non-conference schedules - a move which should be applauded - it's hard to see any one of them making it deep into January without a loss.

Orlando Johnson, by the way, is third in the nation is scoring. Big West time is your time, OJ.