The Big 12 took a step toward parity — at least with the teams below No. 1 Baylor — on Saturday, when No. 25 Texas Tech knocked off No. 6 Kansas 75-67 to give the Jayhawks (12-2, 1-1 Big 12) just their second loss of the season. The Red Raiders (11-3, 1-1) were playing without Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kevin McCullar, their top two scorers who were both injured. But they outscored the Jayhawks 44-18 in the paint to notch an impressive league win under first-year coach Mark Adams.
The early read on the Big 12 was that it could be a top-heavy slugfest between Kansas and Baylor for the conference title, much as it was in 2020 when the Jayhawks and Bears were the only teams that finished better than .500 in league play. KU was 17-1 in conference games that year and edged out a 15-3 Baylor squad for the league title with ample space separating the second-place Bears and a chase pack that included Texas Tech among four 9-9 teams tied for third place.
There is still a chance that the top-ranked Bears could cruise to a dominant Big 12 record, but they at least looked mortal on Saturday in a 76-64 win at TCU. Baylor fell behind 40-31 in the first half before using a prolific second half run to create distance. With No. 14 Texas turning in a dud performance in a 64-51 loss at Oklahoma State, Kansas losing and TCU losing, Baylor is already the last unbeaten Big 12 team in conference play. Adding to the chaotic day in the league was No. 11 Iowa State taking a 79-66 loss at Oklahoma.
That’s pretty remarkable considering that three games is the most any league team has played and the fact that several teams have played fewer. Baylor may end up having its way, though that’s far from certain. But even if that’s the case, the league’s other nine appear destined for a brawl as the league standings take shape.
Winner: Texas Tech’s Bryson Williams steps up
Texas Tech forward Bryson Williams entered Saturday’s win over Kansas having played most of his best basketball this season against lower-tier competition. Considering the sixth-year college player’s previous stops were at Fresno State and UTEP, it made sense that there may be an adjustment period as he acclimated to regularly facing elite competition.
That adjustment period came to an end in emphatic fashion against the Jayhawks, as Williams poured in a team-high 22 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds during a marquee victory for the Red Raiders. For a player who’d struggled against the likes of Providence, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Iowa State, the performance was a revelation. And with Shannon and McCullar both out due to injury, the Red Raiders needed the production.
Winner: Miami is legit
It was easy to write off Miami’s 4-0 start in ACC play because the wins came by single-digits against Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest and Syracuse. It seemed likely — certain almost — that reality would come crashing down on the Hurricanes as they visited No. 2 Duke on Saturday. Instead, Miami handed the Blue Devils a 76-74 defeat to take sole possession of first place in the conference. With Louisville losing to Florida State on Saturday, the Hurricanes are the ACC’s last team unbeaten in league play.
The win over Duke was its first Quad 1 win of the season, and Miami can expect a serious bump in the NET rankings after beginning Saturday all the way down at No. 95. All of the sudden, a team that began the season 4-3 without any clear direction looks like an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad that may have something to say in the ACC race.
Loser: Colorado State falls for first time in a big way
No. 20 Colorado State finally played a true road game for the first time on Saturday, as the Rams put their unbeaten 11-0 record on the line at San Diego State. With CSU entering the day as one of the nation’s three unbeaten teams, the Rams had a slice of the day’s national spotlight as they took on the Aztecs. But it didn’t go well for Colorado State, as it fell victim to an elite SDSU defense in a 79-49 defeat.
CSU point guard Isaiah Stevens and leading scorer David Roddy combined for 36 of the Rams’ 49 points, but their teammates combined to shoot just 3 of 23 from the floor. Stevens entered the day as the Mountain West’s assists leader and the nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio but was held without an assist. Commendably, he turned the basketball over only twice. But a CSU team that entered shooting 42% from 3-point range — third in the nation — went just 3 for 20 for the game and 0 of 11 in the second half as the Aztecs turned a 36-32 halftime lead into an easy statement win.
Winner: Providence’s Cooley gets 300th win
It seemed reasonable to expect that Providence coach Ed Cooley would reach 300 career victories this season considering that he entered the year, his 11th with the Friars, with 286 wins. But few would have predicted that Cooley would reach 300 this fast. It happened Saturday, when No. 16 Providence improved to 14-2 (4-1 Big East) with an 83-73 win over St. John’s. The Friars have been one of this season’s top surprise teams, and Saturday’s bounce-back outing after an 88-56 loss at Marquette on Tuesday was proof of his program’s resilience.
”When you do something you love and you’re at a place that you love and you work with people that give you the opportunity do this – it’s amazing. I never saw this coming at all,” Cooley said as he reflected on his 300th victory.
Loser: Arkansas is struggling
The Muss Bus has officially turned into a struggle bus. Arkansas and its third-year coach Eric Musselman, who has been mostly successful to this point in his tenure, dropped to 0-3 in SEC play with an 86-81 loss at Texas A&M on Saturday. The Razorbacks rose as high as No. 10 in late November amid a 9-0 start. But their record was inflated by a series of easy wins, and now that league play has arrived, they have been exposed.
Their league losses are to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and the Aggies, which are all mid-tier SEC teams, at best. The issue on Saturday was a defense that allowed Texas A&M to shoot 56% from the floor. JD Notae scored 31 points for the Razorbacks, but as has been the case too often this season, he shouldered too heavy for a team that is struggling mightily. The Aggies, meanwhile, are quietly off to a 13-2 (2-0 SEC) start.
Winner: Gonzaga returns
Remember Gonzaga? The No. 4 Bulldogs had not played since Dec. 28, and they hadn’t played anyone of significance since beating Texas Tech on Dec. 18. But the preseason No. 1 team returned to the floor with an offensively stunning 117-83 win over Pepperdine. The Waves are not a contender in the WCC, but the outing was nevertheless impressive considering Gonzaga’s long layoff. Six players scored between 12 and 19 points for the Zags, who outscored Pepperdine 68-32 in the paint.
Winner: Kentucky wins without Wheeler
Kentucky point guard Sahvir Wheeler, a Georgia transfer, did not get to face his old team on Saturday as he continues recovering from a hard fall taken after he ran into a screen at LSU on Tuesday. But the Wildcats handled business without him as they raced to a 92-77 win to get back on track following their 65-60 loss against the Tigers.
Wheeler’s replacement at the point guard position, TyTy Washington, set a Kentucky record for assists in a game with 17, including 11 in the second half as the Wildcats turned a 40-37 halftime advantage into a comfortable lead. Georgia (5-10, 0-2 SEC) is one of the nation’s worst power conference teams, so Kentucky was expected to win. But Washington’s 17-point, 17-assist outing and teammate Oscar Tshiebwe‘s 29-point, 17-rebound effort stood out as particularly impressive.
Loser: Uneven Alabama
Alabama’s inconsistency continued Saturday, when the No. 15 Crimson Tide dropped a 92-86 game against a Missouri team that had lost three of its last four games by 25 or more. This was the Tigers’ first game of 2022, and they seemed like a new team as Kobe Brown more than doubled his scoring average with a 30-point outing.
Winner: Chicago State snaps WAC skid
Chicago State picked up its first WAC victory since March 2018 as it knocked off California Baptist 58-56, thanks to a Brandon Betson jumper with three seconds left. The victory snapped a 33-game conference losing streak for the Cougars. First-year coach Gerald Gillion has guided the program to more victories this season (five) than it had in the last two seasons combined.
Winner: Bruins play!
No. 5 UCLA finally played its second Pac-12 game on Saturday after debuting in league play against Colorado back on Dec. 1. The Bruins weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders in a 60-52 win over Cal, but they did hold the Bears to 1 of 14 shooting from 3-point range. Before calling it an impressive defensive performance, consider that Cal’s Andre Kelly made 11 of 14 shots from the floor and helped keep the Bears within striking distance. Still, the Bruins get “winner” status for the fact that they finally got a league game in and got a win out of it.