It was a bit of a mixed bag of results for ranked teams in college basketball coming out of Saturday. No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Baylor, No. 4 Texas and No. 10 Tennessee all handled their business with wins. But six ranked teams — including five in the top 15 — weren’t so fortunate. It was part of a wacky day in college hoops that saw six ranked teams go down, causing upheaval that reverberated throughout the sport.
Among the surprising results: No. 7 Michigan lost to No. 23 Minnesota on the road 75-57, No. 8 Creighton was upset by unranked Butler in overtime 70-66, No. 12 Clemson was demolished by No. 18 Virginia 85-50, and No. 14 Illinois lost to No. 21 Ohio State at home 87-71.
To break it all down, we’ve rounded up the good, the bad and the ugly to give you this week’s winners and losers to emerge from the day that was.
Winners: Gonzaga’s dream season stays alive
No. 1 Gonzaga looked like it was in for a real fight on the road against a tough, talented Saint Mary’s squad. It fell behind by 10 points in the early going, and the Gaels came out swinging, powered by an early barrage of 3-pointers. Then Gonzaga — as it is inclined to do — did Gonzaga things. It closed the first half on a crushing 20-3 run in the final nine minutes, and the Zags had a cushion in the second half they didn’t wind up having to call on for support, winning 73-59.
The win keeps Gonzaga’s dream season alive, pushing it to 14-0 overall and to 5-0 in WCC play. No team since Indiana in 1975-1976 has gone undefeated in a season and won the national championship, but a road win over Saint Mary’s is a nice hurdle to clear as the Bulldogs inch ever-closer to that goal.
Loser: Clemson gets walloped at home
No. 12 Clemson had a chance to prove its mettle in a pivotal ACC showdown with No. 18 Virginia at home. Instead, it took a beatdown at the hands of the ‘Hoos at home, falling 85-50 and marking the second-biggest road win over a ranked team in NCAA history. (The biggest road win over a ranked opponent came in 1993, when UConn defeated No. 12 Virginia by 41 points, according to ESPN.)
The Tigers were 9-1 overall and 3-1 in ACC play entering the game with a chance to stay near the top of the league race. Now, though, Virginia sits atop the conference standings at 5-0 as one of only two unbeaten teams (along with Louisville) in ACC play.
Winner: Baylor stays undefeated with big road win
No. 2 Baylor had its biggest test in league play to date Saturday, facing No. 15 Texas Tech on the road. And it passed with flying colors, escaping with a 68-60 victory. The win kept Baylor (12-0, 5-0 Big 12) perfect on the season and further cemented its status as the top dog in the league. Even more impressive, it handled Tech — which beat a ranked Texas team on the road earlier in the week — with relatively little drama in the process.
Loser: Creighton lets lead crumble in upset loss at Butler
No. 8 Creighton entered Saturday fresh off of obliterating Seton Hall and St. John’s in consecutive games, with a six-game winning streak and a top-10 ranking to boot. It exited Saturday with its first loss in a month at the hands of Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse 70-66.
A flagrant foul by the Bluejays’ Denzel Mahoney was a key play as they let a 71-58 lead evaporate over the final 7 1/2 minutes, but credit the Bulldogs almost as much as a dock for Creighton as Butler scored the final seven points in overtime after trailing 66-62.
The Big East race remains crowded at the top with Villanova, UConn, Creighton and Seton Hall all bunching up, but this surprising stumble – with Creighton falling as a nearly double-digit favorite – throws the race into further upheaval.
Winners: Alabama’s hot start continues
The best team in the SEC might reside in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and it’s time we recognize that accordingly after the Crimson Tide demolished Arkansas 90-59. The win improved the Tide to 6-0 in SEC play, continuing the program’s best start since 1986-1987 when it opened league play 8-0. And at seven games (and counting), it’s also the longest winning streak for Alabama since the 2011-2012 season.
Even better news for the Tide, was the return of senior forward Herb Jones, who injured was listed as questionable for the game after injuring his finger in Tuesday’s win at Kentucky. Jones started and scored 13 points in 22 minutes.
“If Herb’s breathing and capable of playing, he’s playing,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said.
Winner: Texas’ Hepa makes good on rare opportunity
Kamaka Hepa played in 49 games over his first two seasons in the Texas program but had been on the outside of the Longhorns’ rotation this season until Saturday. With freshman forward Greg Brown out for undisclosed reasons against Kansas, Hepa was needed on the floor and delivered in a huge way. Making just his fourth appearance of the season, the junior scored a career-high 15 points on five made 3-pointers as the Longhorns rolled past the Wildcats 82-67. Hepa’s energy has been noticeable this season on the Texas bench as he’s provided consistent encouragement to his teammates during games played in front of empty or nearly empty gyms. Saturday was a nice reward for his dedication.
“I really, ultimately, want to see our team succeed,” Hepa said. “When our team succeeds, that means I succeed as well. So there’s no reason to pout about not playing, playing, making shots, not making shots. Whatever the case may be, I think it’s just that underlying love that I have for my coaches and that I have for my teammates and just the want for them to succeed, ultimately.”
Loser: Syracuse’s defense was the pits
The vaunted Syracuse zone defense has been a staple of Jim Boeheim’s success over the years. It’s difficult to prepare for, infuriating to manage, and often times a difference-maker in even matchups. But it completely crumbled Saturday, as Pitt hung a 96-76 loss on the Orange — including scoring 64 points in the first half and leaving Boeheim searching for answers.
“Every position struggled,” Boeheim said. “We struggled at every position defensively. Complete team breakdown defensively.
“Our defense was probably the worst since I’ve been here,” he added. “64 points [in the second half]. That’s a lot of points.”
You know Boeheim, a master technician and a Hall of Famer with title-winning credentials, has an adjustment or two up in his sleeve. Or at least you’d think. [Narrator: He might not.]
“We don’t have answer,” he said moments later, responding to how the defense can improve. “We’re playing the best group we have.”
Winner: Ohio State holds on to get road win
No. 21 Ohio State went on the road and stole one away from No. 14 Illinois in impressive fashion, returning home with an 87-81 win over the Illini. They trailed for fewer than 30 seconds of game time and led for nearly 38 minutes of game action, using a 43-38 lead to cruise.
But it wasn’t without controversy as Ohio State benefitted from a crucial no-call late in the game. Illinois cut the margin to 83-81 on a long 3-pointer by Adam Miller with with 15.5 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds play, it appeared Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. stepped out of bounds with the ball, but officials didn’t make a call on the possible infraction and Illinois was forced to foul.
It’s the Buckeyes’ second win over a ranked foe in its last three games, and it not-so-quietly propels them into the mix of the Big Ten race.
Losers: Fans subjected to watching Kentucky vs. Auburn
Bless your heart, Kentucky and Auburn fans, for enduring the offensive atrocity that was the first half of Auburn’s 66-59 victory vs. Kentucky. You’re troopers. But might I recommend a trip to the optometrist? That couldn’t have been good on your eyes if you stared at it too long.
The two teams totaled a mere 46 first-half points on a combined 16-of-57 shooting, and it didn’t get much better after halftime, either. The scoring did pick up in the second half – Auburn scored 45 in the final 20 minutes and Kentucky 34 – but it was far from an offensive clinic. There were 32 total turnovers, a total of nine 3-pointers made (on 41 combined attempts) and a dreadful 23 shots made by each team, with 60 attempts coming from Auburn’s side and 57 from Kentucky’s side.
“We missed wide-open shots. We had our chances,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I’m disappointed in what we did.”
Winner: Tristan da Silva gets the edge on brother
Colorado defeated Stanford 77-64, and Buffaloes forward Tristan da Silva got an even bigger prize: A win over his brother. The Buffs freshman got the edge over brother Oscar da Silva, a senior for the Cardinal, and did so in a game in which he knocked down his first career 3-pointer in dramatic fashion just before halftime.
Loser: North Carolina falls to depleted Seminoles
Florida State was without star freshman Scottie Barnes, the team’s second-leading scorer and assists leader, and leading scorer M.J. Walker rolled his ankle midgame (though he did return). And yet the Seminoles still cruised past North Carolina 82-75 improving to 3-1 in ACC play and pushing the Tar Heels to 3-3 in league play.
UNC shot it well from 3-point range, finishing 10 of 24 from 3-point range, and was in it to the end, but it ultimately missed on a chance to score a huge road win over a team that’s been lights out at home all season.
“I just want us to play better,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We’re dribbling the ball across the top of the key, or across the 3-point line, waiting until the shot clock gets down to 10 seconds. That’s the biggest thing: We’ve got to be more efficient on the offensive end.”
Winner: UCLA’s hot Pac-12 start not stopping
UCLA’s brilliant start to conference play rolled right along Saturday. With an 81-76 win over Washington, the Bruins improved to 7-0 in Pac-12 play, topping the league standings. That marks the program’s best start in conference games since the 1993-1994 season, and gets it within reach of an 8-0 start, which it has not done since 1982-1983. It can do so if it handles business on the road against Cal this upcoming Thursday.
Loser: Arizona State’s skid continues
Arizona State has two potential first-round talents in Joshua Christopher and Marcus Bagley, as well as an All-Pac-12 caliber talent in Remy Martin. Yet the results in Tempe continue to fall short of the amassed talent level, as ASU dropped a surprising one Saturday with an 80-79 road loss to Oregon State. It’s the Sun Devils’ fourth straight loss, and one that drops it ever-closer to the basement of the league standings. They’re one of only two teams in the league who have just one Pac-12 win on their resume, and if not for Washington (1-11, 0-7 Pac-12), they very well could be the cellar-dwellar in a season where they were picked in the preseason to finish second behind UCLA.
Loser: American finally plays, falls in OT
One of the only two teams in college basketball who had yet to play a game this season, American finally made its 2020-2021 debut Saturday … and lost a heartbreaker. The Eagles fell 87-86 to Navy in overtime. Fortunately, they’ve got another crack at Navy on Sunday, but after starting the season two months later than most teams, that’s a brutal debut to the season.