Monday Madness: Best & worst of the weekend

The nation's elite taste defeat, a newly-interesting rivalry gets ugly, and Michael Jordan meets his match as conference play gets underway. Here is the best and worst of the college basketball weekend that was:



Notre Dame 79, Duke 77: Luck had avoided the Irish in the weeks leading up to their ACC debut. On Dec. 21, Notre Dame blew an eight-point lead in 50 seconds to Ohio State. The next day, leading scorer Jerian Grant was dismissed from the university for academic issues. A week later, the Irish needed overtime to beat Canisius. So things were looking bad with star-studded Duke rolling into South Bend, but the Irish pulled it together Saturday and pulled off the upset. Eric Atkins led the way with 19 points and sparked the 20-4 second-half run that turned a 10-point deficit into a lead the Irish wouldn't relinquish. Jabari Parker will want to forget this game. Playing not too far from his Chicago hometown, the freshman was 2-for-10 from the field for a season-low seven points, was benched in the second half, and he got dunked on by Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton on a play that looked like Kirk Hinrich dunking on Carmelo Anthony.

San Diego State 61, Kansas 57: I don't put much stock in nonconference home winning streaks. If they have the pull to do it, most D-I teams save their truly tough nonconference matchups for neutral sites and rarely take risks with their home schedule. So I was much less impressed by Kansas' 68-game streak as I was by how San Diego State snapped it. Xavier Thames, the Aztecs' breakout star, was like Bob Cousy in Blue Chips shooting free throws down the stretch, calmly sinking four in a row to seal the win. Thames (16 pts) was also key for a SDSU defense that harassed KU into 20 percent shooting in the first half and under 30 percent shooting for the game.

Kansas State 74, Oklahoma State 71: According to the die-hard Kansas fans I know -- and apparently there's no such thing as a Kansas fan who isn't a die-hard -- this was not a good weekend for Phog Nation. On Friday, rival Missouri was in the headlines after its Cotton Bowl win. On Sunday, KU lost. And in between, little brother K-State stepped into the spotlight with Saturday's upset over Big 12 contender Oklahoma State. The Wildcats took the fight to Cowboys star Marcus Smart, pressing and pushing the powerful PG to the brink. Smart (15 pts, 6 rebs) got himself in foul trouble in the first half, and even on his best highlight of the second half -- a monster dunk over two K-State defenders -- he got a tech for hanging on the rim and slapping the backboard. Smart still had a chance to send the game to overtime, but his running three at the buzzer wasn't close.

SMU 74, UConn 65: Larry Brown is on fire. (Hold the old-man indigestion jokes.) In less than a year he's signed 2013 McDonald's All-American Keith Frazier and 2014 All-American-to-be Emmanuel Mudiay, he's packed SMU's Moody Coliseum for its first sellout since 2001, and on Saturday he guided the Mustangs to their first win over a ranked opponent since 2003. SMU guards Nic Moore (20 pts) and Nick Russell (14 pts) led the Mustangs offense, and helped in the defensive effort against UConn star Shabazz Napier, who took just one shot in the first half and was held to 12 points (2-9 FG) overall.



Gary Harris, Michigan State: Even Harris' mistakes turned into highlights during Saturday's win over Indiana. One time he missed a three from the wing, and after the Hoosiers got the rebound, stole the outlet pass and made an and-one reverse layup. The 6-4 sophomore finished with 26 points, five threes and five steals.

Doug McDermott, Creighton: Experts will try to fit McDermott into the Kyle Korver just-a-shooter role come NBA draft time, but the 6-8 senior is too good for that. He showed his all-around game in Saturday's win over Seton Hall, putting up 30 points (only two threes), 10 rebounds and five assists.

Kyle Anderson, UCLA: Speaking of versatile, nobody in college basketball defines that better than Anderson. The 6-9 sophomore is a point guard in a small forward's body. He has one triple-double this season and has come close on six or seven other occasions, including Sunday's 23-point, 12-rebound, 5-assist line against USC.

Jabari Brown, Missouri: Three years ago Brown was a Jordan Brand All-American and a major recruiting win for Oregon. But he left the Ducks just two games into his freshman season and resurfaced at Mizzou, where he's averaging over 18 points for the 12-2 Tigers. The 6-5 junior guard scored 22 in Saturday's win over Long Beach State.



Majok Majok, Ball State: With long arms and a high vertical, Majok plays bigger than his 6-9 frame. The senior forward from Australia via South Sudan is averaging a double-double and helped the Cardinals snap a seven-game losing streak with 25 points and 18 boards in just 25 minutes against Oakland City on Friday.

Cory Jefferson, Baylor: If you're a college basketball fan, you hope things work out at the next level for Jefferson. He graduated from Baylor after his redshirt junior season, but decided to come back as a fifth-year senior. That included a summer stint with Team USA at the World University Games. If the 6-9 power forward -- who put up 13 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two three-pointers in Friday's win over Savannah State -- can get himself drafted in the first round, it'll be a good example for players who are afraid to stay in college for four or five years and hurt their pro stock.

Semaj Christon, Xavier: A projected first-round NBA pick on a lot of mock drafts coming into the season, Christon's stock was dropping as he struggled for the better part of December. But the explosively athletic 6-3 point guard got back on track in Saturday's win over Butler, finishing with 20 points, eight assists and three steals.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Is DSV is the Hoyas' most talented backcourt scorer since Allen Iverson? Maybe it's more like Victor Page. Or Austin Freeman. Whatever the case, the 6-3 sophomore has provided much-needed offense for G'town, like in Saturday's win over St. John's when he scored 31 points and hit six threes. He also helped bottle up Red Storm star guard D'Angelo Harrison, who finished with four points on 1-for-12 shooting.



Elijah Wilson, Coastal Carolina: You want exclusive company? Wilson shares the single-game scoring record (42) at Laney High School in North Carolina with none other than Michael Jordan. The 6-4 guard has made an immediate impact in college, leading the team in scoring (15.2 ppg) and getting a team-high 19 in Friday's win over Central Connecticut State. Wilson scored 25 against Minnesota earlier this season, had 16 against Clemson and 14 against Ole Miss.

Cameron Forte, Georgia: In a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs, Forte has shown signs of being a future impact player in the SEC. In just 13 minutes of playing time in Friday's blowout loss to George Washington, the 6-7 forward had 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting and eight rebounds.

Que Johnson, Washington State: Three days after his whole team scored 25 points in an embarrassing loss to Arizona, Johnson personally did his part in getting the Cougars' offense back on track by scoring 18 against Arizona State on Sunday. It wasn't enough for a win, but at least the team won't have to stop wearing WSU Basketball gear on campus.

Bryce Alford, UCLA: Just like Shane McMahon going all-out with top-rope elbow drops and suicide dives to advance Vince McMahon's agenda in the ring, son Bryce Alford came off the bench in father Steve Alford's biggest game so far as head coach at UCLA and rained 20 points on USC on Sunday, hitting four threes.



Arizona: After laying the smack down (60-25) on a Washington State team that would've been overmatched even if they weren't missing two starters, the top-ranked Wildcats passed their first real Pac-12 test in Saturday's win over Washington. Although Arizona was taller and more talented than the Huskies at every position, UW outmuscled UA and was ahead on the scoreboard midway through the second half. But great teams adapt. Unable to push through UW, Arizona went over them. Back-to-back dunks by Aaron Gordon (18 pts, 11 rebs) and Nick Johnson (24 pts) gave the Wildcats the lead, and clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch allowed them to hang on and stay undefeated.

Colorado: Why not? The Buffaloes' only two losses were to ranked teams (Baylor and Oklahoma State) on neutral sites, they beat Kansas and Harvard, and on Sunday handed Oregon its first loss. It was no secret going into the season how good junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie is, but backcourt mate Askia Booker has been a pleasant surprise. Booker, who beat Kansas with a buzzer-beater last month, scored a career-high 27 points against the Ducks while Dinwiddie dropped 23 points.

Iowa State: Through Sunday, there were six undefeated teams in D-I (Arizona, Ohio State, Syracuse, Wichita State, Wisconsin and Iowa State) and the Cyclones were definitely the one nobody would have picked to be in that position in the preseason. Fred Hoiberg's chronically underrated group is led by senior forward Melvin Ejim and sophomore forward Georges Niang, who scored 17 and 16 points, respectively, in Saturday's Big 12 opener against Texas Tech. The Cyclones are also (as usual) getting contributions from transfers, namely ex-Marshall point guard DeAndre Kane, who leads the team in assists while averaging 15 points per game.

Gonzaga: Are you ready to buy into the Zags again? Last season's No. 1 ranking and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney pulled Gonzaga out of the underdog role. (At least for now. Ask St. Joseph's and Jameer Nelson if they can go back there.) And no one seemed to take Gonzaga seriously after an early tournament exit and losing star center Kelly Olynyk to the NBA, but this year the Bulldogs are not to be written off. The front line is strong, featuring burly 6-9 senior Sam Dower and 7-1 sophomore Przemek Karnowski. Three-point sniper Kevin Pangos and basketball royalty David Stockton will carry the backcourt while defensive ace Gary Bell recovers from a broken hand. Gonzaga is 14-2 following Saturday's rout of Pacific and four games into their annual romp through the West Coast Conference. They'll have another sparkling record come tournament time, and should land another single-digit seed.



Cornell: While there are six undefeated D-I teams in the country, only one team still has a zero on the other side of the ledger. The Big Red dropped to 0-13 with Saturday's blowout loss to St. Bonaventure, and have one more game left -- a winnable one against the Oberlin College Yeomen -- before getting into the Ivy League schedule.

USC: Sure, new Trojans coach Andy Enfield stoked the flames of the USC-UCLA rivalry with some potshots and offseason smack talk, but guess who gets to pay the price for Enfield getting a 107-73 rout hung on his neck by the Bruins on Sunday? The Trojans got blasted early and never recovered.

South Carolina: You might have checked Friday's scoreboard, noticed the Gamecocks managed a close win over South Carolina State, and thought nothing of it, since rivalry games can always be close. Except South Carolina State isn't South Carolina's rival; they're a mid-major team that the SEC-certified Gamecocks are supposed to run off the floor. That's why Frank Martin, a.k.a. The Most Frightening Coach in America, wasn't happy following Friday's 82-75 win. "We got totally outplayed and I was caught completely off-guard," Martin said. "The guys were great in practice the last couple of days but for whatever reason we did what we did today. We had no business winning."

Virginia Military Institute: The Keydets should be brought up on conduct-unbecoming charges after what they did to poor D-III Washington College in Saturday's 128-54 throttling. Remember Weinberg's rant from A Few Good Men: "They beat up on a weakling; that's all they did. The rest is just smoke-filled coffee-house crap. They tortured and tormented a weaker kid. They didn't like him. So, they killed him. And why? Because he couldn't run very fast."



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