The Rocky Road of Conference Play Starts Early

7 Jan

The transition from the smooth road of non-conference play to the bumps in the road that make up conference play was filled with turbulence for some on the first Saturday of 2013.  There were as many as nine unexpected outcomes as conference play got rolling for everyone.

The Big East hit the biggest potholes with three ranked teams, Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Cincinnati all falling to conference foes.

Pitt went into the RAC to face Rutgers, and while they only committed nine turnovers they also only shot 38% from the field with nearly half of their shot attempts (26 of 56) were from behind the 3-point line where they only converted eight.  They also allowed the Scarlet Knights to shoot 51% and outrebound them 31-21 in the 67-62 loss.

Georgetown saw their offensive struggles rear its ugly head in a 49-48 loss to Marquette.  Otto Porter, Markel Starks and Greg Whittington shot nearly 47% and combined for 44 points, the problem for the Hoyas is that the rest of the team shot 2-12.  This was the third game of the season, and the first loss where the Hoyas failed to score 50 points.

After being knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten by New Mexico, Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh on the road then hosted St. John’s on Saturday and were upset 53-52.  The Bearcats who average over 75 points per game and is 2nd in the nation in rebounding at nearly 45 a contest, shot an abysmal 31.7% and were outrebounded (albeit) by one 35-34.

The only ranked teams in the Big East to survive the first weekend were Syracuse and Notre Dame who beat South Florida and Seton Hall respectively.

The Big East wasn’t the only conference to have a ranked team get tripped up on Saturday.  In the Big 12 Kansas State held Le’Bryan Nash to just six points and Rodney Magruder netted 28 in a 73-67 win over Oklahoma State.  Meanwhile in the Big Ten, the surprise of the conference Illinois welcomed in eighth ranked Ohio State.  Even though the Buckeyes were 11-2 entering the game, in the highly-competitive Big Ten they were in desperate need of a signature win.  Their best win to date was a neutral-court win over Washington before Thanksgiving, they didn’t get the win as they were manhandled by the Illini 74-55.  The game wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated, Ohio State was down by as many as 26 in the 2nd half and three minutes into the game was the last time they were in one possession of Illinois at 9-6.

There were also a handful of head-scratching results across the rest of the college landscape on the opening Saturday of 2013.

In the Atlantic Sun one of the co-favorites Mercer went on the road to face 1-13 Kennesaw State, the Owls lone win came on the road in overtime at South Carolina State.  Mercer despite having four starters in double figures were stunned 83-75 thanks in large part to 32 points from Delbert Love and 21 from Markeith Cummings to lead Kennesaw State.   The Owls also made 38 free throws in the game and half of their 18 field goals came from behind the arc.  The Bears must now try and rebound with two road games against North Florida and Jacksonville who are also currently 2-1 in conference.

In the Northeast Conference the door was opened once king of the mountain Long Island lost star Julian Boyd for the season.  One of the teams hoping to step into the spotlight is Robert Morris who is no stranger to postseason play.  After falling to a much improved Bryant squad to open conference play, the Colonials hoped to rebound with a win over four-win Central Connecticut State at home.  RMU got 22 points from their best player Velton Jones but it wasn’t enough to get a win as Kyle Vinales had 34 in the upset for CCSU.  Suddenly the Colonials find themselves at 0-2 in the NEC and looking up at nearly everyone else in the conference.

Saturday also saw the struggles of two pre-season favorites in their respective conferences continue.   South Dakota State fell to 2-2 in the Summit League as they dropped a road contest to in-state rival  South Dakota 74-71 despite 26 points from Nate Wolters.

In the Sun Belt Tony Mitchell and North Texas dropped to 1-4 in conference as their season-long tailspin continued, surrendering 81 points to 2-8 Louisiana-Monroe at home in an 81-68 loss.

If the first full weekend of conference play is any indication of what we have in store, let’s all buckle up, it could be a wild and bumpy 7-8 weeks.



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