The college basketball season might just be a few weeks old, but top-ranked teams have been dropping like flies. And another one is sure to go down on Saturday night, when two of the best teams in the country hook up in Las Vegas.
The upsets began early this season, with teams like Kansas, Arizona, Boston College, and Georgetown going down to defeat. And the surprises continued this past week in a big way, with North Carolina, Gonzaga, and Wisconsin taking early-season hits.
The Kansas Jayhawks have had a recent history of losing early in the season, at home to lesser competition no less. And it happened again a couple of Wednesdays ago when KU, rightfully ranked among the Top 3 in most polls, went down at the hands of the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles 78-71 at Allen Fieldhouse. The ‘Hawks have since won three games, including a 64-46 decision over Ball State on Friday night, setting up a huge early-season clash when Kansas takes on the defending champion Florida Gators Saturday night in the Toyota Invitational in Las Vegas (10:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2).
Florida, on the other hand, has avoided any early-season stumbles, winning its first five games by an average of 42 points. The Gators, though, haven’t played anybody worth mentioning yet, and only two of their five games have been lined. They’ve shown a killer instinct, though, as was evident in their 93-44 win over Chattanooga, when the Gators scored the final 23 points of the game.
Friday night, Florida crushed Western Kentucky 101-68 as 13 ½-point favorites, giving Gators-and-over backers a winning two-teamer.
The North Carolina Tar Heels, ranked along with Florida and Kansas in almost every Top 3 in the country, escaped the upset bid of Winthrop last week, holding off the Eagles 73-66 but failing to cover as 12-point public chalk. N.C. then fell to an inspired Gonzaga team Wednesday in an NIT Season Tip-Off semi-final 82-74. The Heels did bounce back to beat Tennessee 101-87 Friday night, covering the spread as nine-point favorites. North Carolina now gets ready for another showdown, this time against the Ohio State Buckeyes Wednesday night as part of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.
After beating the Tar Heels, Gonzaga, in turn, got beat by the Butler Bulldogs 79-71 Friday night for that NIT Tip-Off title. Butler, clearly the most interesting story of this young college basketball season, is 6-0 and has already beaten Indiana, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and the Zags. The Sagarin ratings at USAToday.com rank the Bulldogs second in the nation as of Saturday morning, ahead of every Division 1 team except Florida.
Butler wastes no time in getting back into action; the Bulldogs host the 4-1 Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday night.
The Wisconsin Badgers, ranked in most Top 10s and expected to battle Ohio State for the Big 10 title this season, proved they weren’t immune to the upset bug when they fell to the (Southwest) Missouri State Bears 66-64 Friday in South Padre Island, Texas. Yes, it might have been an upset, but Wisconsin was only favored by four points over the MVC’s Bears. Missouri State, now 4-0, takes on Oklahoma State for the South Padre Invitational title Saturday afternoon, while the 4-1 Badgers take on the 4-1 Auburn Tigers for the consolation crown.
In other Saturday action, 2-1 George Mason visits 1-1 Creighton, 3-0 Wichita State visits 2-0 LSU, and 5-0 Bradley takes on 6-0 Illinois.
Sunday, 5-1 Gonzaga hosts a 1-3 Idaho team, 4-0 Connecticut hosts 2-1 Albany, and 4-0 George Washington visits 2-1 Providence.