College basketball gave us a variety of flavors on Saturday, and every one of them had their own special zest. There were buzzer-beaters, upsets and ejections. There were comebacks, collapses and, yes — for you diehards out there — there was even a Conference USA upset mixed in.
Here are the highs and lows of the day that was, with a look at the biggest winners and losers to emerge from the dust.
Winner: Kentucky’s fan base can celebrate
The six-game skid Kentucky carried into Saturday’s road game against Mississippi State has, mercifully, been shed. That requires one long exhale for Big Blue Nation. But here’s the real joy if you’re rooting for Kentucky: More wins look imminently available because of how it won. Dontaie Allen put on a show in his breakout performance against the Bulldogs with a career performance, and that’s the stuff of legend that maybe, just maybe, can change the fortunes of a no-good, very-bad season. If nothing else, UK fans now have hope that this season may not be lost, after all. Given the state of things in Lexington the last few weeks, that should be considered a big win for Big Blue.
Loser: Start second-guessing Wildcats coach John Calipari
Kentucky’s backbreaking problem as a team this season has been its 3-point shooting struggles. Before Saturday it ranked next-to-last among all power programs in 3-point percentage, and for a team constructed around guards and wings, it’s been a huge problem. Now we know the solution, after Dontaie Allen dropped 23 points off the bench and hit 7-of-11 from 3-point range against the Bulldogs, very well could have been in the locker room all along. Calipari gets credit for recruit Allen, sure, but playing him a total of only 19 minutes all season (!!) prior to his breakout is nearing coaching malpractice.
“There’s been signs of this [from Dontaie],” Calipari said after the game, defending why Allen had not yet carved out a big role. “But, again, you’re playing behind some guys that, you’re proving now, they should be playing behind [Allen]. He changes our team. The reason we couldn’t score is because guys couldn’t make shots. Him being able to do that, I told the team after, he’s earned more minutes and some guys are going to end up having to play less.”
Winner: Creighton wins on late Bishop slam
Statistically, there was nothing impressive about Creighton star Christian Bishop’s outing Saturday against Providence. Bishop posted season-lows in scoring (five points) and rebounds (three), and he was as uninvolved in the offense as he’s been all season. Yet despite that, Bishop managed to go and totally redeem himself, Lloyd Christmas style, with a game-winning jam just before the buzzer that lifted the No. 11 Bluejays to a 67-65 win over the Friars.
Loser: DePaul can’t catch a break
No major conference team has been as snakebit as DePaul when it comes to COVID hurdles and college basketball scheduling. And as further proof of that, DePaul on Saturday had its road game at St. John’s canceled less than an hour before tip due to a postive test in the Red Storm program, effectively laying waste to a cross-country trip.
The Blue Demons have played just three games all season, fewer than any team within the Big East. Making the trek from Chicago to New York City only to have the game canceled in the final hour is yet another setback in a season full of them, and sure to deflate some morale in the process.
Winner: UF wins with ‘coach’ Keyontae Johnson on bench
Less than a month after collapsing on the court midgame against Florida State, Florida star Keyontae Johnson returned to the Gators bench on Saturday. With Johnson looking on in a player-coach role, Florida scooted past LSU 83-79, staving off a late Tigers run to improve to 5-1 on the season.
Johnson was hospitalized after his collapse and initially listed as being in critical condition, so it’s incredible to see him already back with the team.
Loser: Failure at Phog Allen
It wasn’t just that No. 3 Kansas lost on Saturday, or that it squandered an opportunity to claim a win over a fellow top-10 opponent. It was that Kansas got absolutely, positively obliterated at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Its 84-59 loss to No. 8 Texas goes down as the program’s worst home loss of the Bill Self era and ties for its worst home loss in school history.
“This is gonna be a year where the best team’s gonna win, regardless of which court you play on,” KU coach Bill Self said. “There was no doubt who the best team was today.”
Winner: Michigan State snaps its three-game losing streak
Perhaps a win over the team that finished last in league play last season isn’t cause for celebration, but No. 17’s Michigan State’s 84-77 win over Nebraska was meaningful nonetheless. It snapped a three-game losing streak for Sparty and finally — finally! — got them on the board in Big Ten play. They are now 1-3 in conference action, and it’s a small yet notable win as the team looks to keep its NCAA Tournament streak of 22 consecutive appearances alive. They return home for a two-game stand in East Lansing against Rutgers and Purdue over the next week, so it could be a spark to a new streak for the Spartans.
Loser: West Virginia’s problems could be just beginning
After West Virginia sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe stepped away from the program earlier this week, Bob Huggins was blunt in his assessment for what it meant for the team moving forward.
“What do we going forward? We’re going to win more games,” he said. “I think this gives us an opportunity to be able to spread the floor a little bit more. Gives Derek [Culver] a lot more room to work down there.”
A one game sample size suggests that might’ve been an erroneous assessment. No. 9 West Virginia got sideswiped by unranked Oklahoma 75-71 and two key stats stick out: West Virginia lost the rebounding battle for just the third time all season, and West Virginia had one block combined as a team. Tshiebwe’s absence in the frontcourt is already being felt, and a tough schedule ahead — with a road game against Oklahoma State and tilts against top-10 Texas and Baylor — suggest it might not get much better in Morgantown.
Winner: Texas shows off talent
Kansas is one of the big losers of the day, so by extension, Texas is one of our big winners. The eighth-ranked Longhorns dominated KU on the road and claimed their first win inside Allen Fieldhouse in 10 seasons, never trailing and looking every bit the part of the Big 12’s most talented team.
Winner: Leaky Black’s heroics lifts Tar Heels
North Carolina narrowly avoided its worst start to ACC play since the 2013-14 season when, on Saturday, Leaky Black put his superhero cape on and saved the damn day. With time winding down and UNC trailing 65-64, Black attacked the rack and scored the go-ahead jumper off the glass to give the Tar Heels the final 66-65 edge.
Black finished the day with eight points and four boards, giving his team the final dagger in what was a see-saw game down to the very end.
Loser: San Diego State squanders big lead
Losing by three points as a 9.5-point favorite won’t typically get you a spot as a loser in our column. But losing by three points as a 9.5-point favorite the way San Diego State lost …. and we’ve got no choice. Here’s what CBS Sports’ David Cobb wrote on the historic SDSU meltdown and the equally historic Colorado State comeback from 26 points down to win 70-67 .
Winner: Conference USA drama
Conference USA looks like — and still is — Western Kentucky’s to lose. But the Hilltoppers took a surprising loss Saturday on the road to Charlotte, falling 75-71 in an outcome that may prove pivotal in the league’s race down the road. The loss comes just a day after WKU won 67-63 in the same venue against the same team, a setback that puts it among the six 1-1 teams in league play this season. Rice currently stands alone atop the C-USA standings at 2-0.
Loser: Tennessee’s topped at home by Bama
The dream of an undefeated season died at home for No. 7 Tennessee as Alabama came to Knoxville, Tennessee, and dumped them 71-63 in one of the most surprising outcomes of the day on Saturday. The Vols struggled to find a rhythm shooting the rock — they finished 4-of-21 from 3-point range — whereas the Tide went 10-of-20 from deep to pull off the upset.
Loser: Rutgers’ free-throw woes
No. 14 Rutgers was 4 of 12 from the free-throw line against No. 10 Iowa but still had the ball with a chance to take the lead with under 10 seconds to play against the Hawkeyes. But with time winding down, Myles Johnson tried going up for a potential go-ahead jumper and just lost the handle. Iowa made a free throw on the other end off a foul, and defended Rutgers’ shot at the buzzer well enough to survive a 77-75 scare. Rutgers will be just fine — I still think this is one of the best teams in the Big Ten — but no sugarcoating the fact that this was a brutal way to watch a top-10 win opportunity slip away.
Winner: Cowboys keep pace in Big 12
With star freshman Cade Cunningham fouled out in overtime, Oklahoma State managed to claim its first conference win of the season over No. 13 Texas Tech 82-77. The win snaps a two-game skid for the Cowboys after a 6-0 start to the season and puts them back on track to stay alive in the Big 12 hunt. It should also serve as a confidence-booster as they nearly upchucked a double-digit lead and showed some serious mettle down the stretch with balanced contributions from several non-Cunningham Cowboys.