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Upset Weekend

   by Al McMordie - 03/02/2011


What a wild weekend last week in college basketball. Down goes No. 1 Duke! Down goes No. 4 San Diego State! No. 5 Texas blows a 22-point lead and loses at Colorado, No. 10 Arizona loses by 22 at UCLA, and top 20 teams Syracuse, Georgetown, Florida and Texas A&M all fell. And that all happened last Saturday!

Perhaps it's good to get a loss out of your system before tourney play kicks in, but the upsets littered the college basketball board last weekend. Motivation and home court played an enormous role.

Virginia Tech was at home and was on the NCAA tournament bubble as Selection Sunday approaches, so it put on a monster effort to take down top-ranked Duke, a 64-60 upset of the Blue Devils. It greatly improved the Hokies' chances of securing their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007. The thriller caused the fans to storm the court in celebration. There's an old wagering adage about going against a team off an emotional victory where fans storm the field or court. Keep in mind the Hokies play Boston College their next game, though they catch a break with it being at home.

Virginia Tech used defense to slow down Duke, and that's what UCLA did out west, holding explosive Arizona to 49 points and 31.5% shooting. Like Virginia Tech, it too did it with defense after allowing Arizona 85 points last month in a loss. Defense often shines in revenge situations or when the games have so much importance.

It was an emotional game for the Bruins on so many fronts. UCLA is tied for first place with Arizona after routing Wildcats and it was the last game in historic Pauley Pavilion, its basketball home of 46 years. UCLA delivered a 71-49 victory, holding the Wildcats to their lowest point total of the season. Normally stoic UCLA Coach Ben Howland cried in the locker room afterward and choked up twice when he met with the media. Keep an eye on UCLA these final two games, as they head out on the road at Washington and Washington State.

A similar occurrence took place in Colorado. With 33 points from sophomore guard Alec Burks and feeding off energy provided from a sold-out Coors Events Center, Colorado had a come-from-behind 91-89 victory over No. 5 Texas, knocking off a possible No. 1 seed. Colorado (18-11) trailed by as many as 22 points in the first half and was still down 48-33 at the break. At game's end, many of the 11,000-plus fans stormed the court.

Colorado defeated a top-five team for the first time since clipping then-No. 3 Texas in 2003 - which happens to be the last season in which the Buffs played in the NCAA Tournament. Colorado's next two games are at stumbling Iowa State and home against Nebraska, a revenge game against the Huskers.

In the Big East, No. 11 Georgetown lost at home to Syracuse, but it was more about injuries than emotion. The Hoyas lost senior point guard Chris Wright the previous game to a broken hand and is out for the season. He is averaging a team-leading 5.4 assists and ranks second in scoring with a 13.1 average. It was the first time he hadn't played in 93 games for Georgetown, their emotional leader and a huge loss. Georgetown finished with 16 turnovers and only 10 assists.

Asked about the offense's effectiveness without Wright, Georgetown guard Austin Freeman added, "At points, we were holding the ball a little bit too long, looking for something."

A team to fade or look at under the total? It was Georgetown's last home game of the season, and so tipoff was preceded by the traditional celebration of departing players. That’s another motivational theme to examine, teams honoring their outgoing seniors, such as UCLA did. It can give a big boost to the home team, provided they're healthy, which Georgetown was not.

Villanova had a chance to seize a pivotal Big East game at home Saturday, but St. John's surprised the No. 14 Wildcats in an impressive 81-68 rout allowing 40% shooting. The Wildcats (21-8, 9-7) lost for the fourth time in their last six games, part of a 0-6 ATS run. And then they REALLY pulled a clunker at Notre Dame for their 7th straight ATS defeat. They were favored in all but the game vs. the Irish! What gives with this team?
<> Coach Jay Wright tried to put the best face on an ugly week, and commented right before the Notre Dame game, "I feel like we're getting, believe it or not, a little bit better, but not good enough for this league," Well talk is cheap - and time is running out. Remember that tournament play is right around the corner and many teams are playing for seedings, first game byes and even double byes.

"This league is so hard, it's really hard to believe sometimes," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said last weekend. "One game is going to be the difference between fourth place and ninth place. If we lose this game, we're almost in ninth place. That's how messed up this whole thing is. It makes no sense." He makes a good point. It's certainly gut-check time in college basketball for many teams. Good luck, as always....Al McMordie.

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