The (Big) Red Scare. #1 Kansas 71, Cornell 66. Normally, an early January game between a top-ranked Kansas squad and…well, pretty much any Ivy League school sounds about as thrilling as getting the measles twice. Tonight was different. Cornell came into Kansas’ dreaded Allen Fieldhouse already with a few wins over big-conference teams like Alabama, Massachusetts, and St. John’s. They were riding the momentum of a ten-game winning streak and could boast a kid in Ryan Wittman who is nothing close to a kept secret any more. Wittman (24/4/3 assts), a 6’6 long-range bomber averaging 19 PPG and 44% from distance, had appeared on various “best outside shooters” lists (including ours) and already had people wondering if Cornell was actually good enough to get in as an at-large team this year. But this is no ordinary place or opponent. This is Kansas, and this is Allen Fieldhouse, they of the 50-game home winning streak and current #1-ranking that, to be honest, hasn’t really been challenged yet. It was close from the start; neither team led by more than three in the first half, and Cornell actually led at the break by that margin. You still had the feeling, though, that this was one of those games in which Kansas would come out in the second half and end it early. We’ve all seen this game before, right? A team hangs around for a half by playing the best 20 minutes of basketball they’ve ever played, like Mike McD thinking he’s going to complete his run on Teddy KGB’s place. We all know it’s a matter of time until Kansas turns over the two aces and sends whatever upstart they’re facing back to law school, a bratty Gretchen Mol, and Joey Knish’s delivery truck, right? But when Cornell jumped on the Jayhawks to start the second half and extended their lead to eight, panic began to take root. With Kansas up 53-47 with 9:45 left, the calls, texts, and more frequent network updates started. When Kansas had still failed to reclaim the lead with under five minutes left, it was on. Upset alert. #1 is in trouble. And it’s an Ivy League team. I mean, come on — ESPN even broke off of a DUKE GAME to provide bonus coverage! Kansas, elevated by the home crowd, would eventually break free from Cornell’s expert control of the pace and take a 61-60 lead with 4:03 left, and you got the feeling that Cornell was done. They would actually take the lead once more at 64-63 with less than a minute left, but Sherron Collins decided it was time to take over. Handling the ball almost exclusively for Kansas, Collins (33/4/3) scored his team’s last eight points and four out of five FTs down the stretch. Give Cornell credit for going for the kill, though. Down 66-64, they found Wittman off a screen with 29 seconds left and he was never thinking about a two. He would miss that three, and a later one to tie, and Kansas would eventually prevail. This was probably the worst thing that could happen to the rest of the Big 12, since now Kansas has learned (if they weren’t aware before) not to take their position for granted, and they know there’s no such thing as a night off. Coaches secretly love these close games early in the season because it empowers and tempers your squad, making them tougher for eventual tournament games. As for Cornell…if the committee still considers “quality losses,” it doesn’t get much more quality than this one — to #1 Kansas, in their house, a 50-game home win streak on the line. The Big Red will probably gain Top 25 votes from this, and it should actually help their curb appeal. So, hands up, who wants to see Cornell opposite them as a first round opponent on Selection Sunday?? Yeah, we thought not.
Evan Turner Triumphantly Returns. Ohio State 79, Indiana 54. OSU wasn’t going to lose this game at home regardless of whether Turner played or not, but his presence on the court was apparent in terms of inspiring confidence in his teammates and his ability to share the ball. He played twenty minutes, contributed 8/4/5 assts while committing three fouls, but most importantly, he didn’t really appear rusty out there other than the first few sets. The only thing that kept him from playing more than half the game was early foul trouble, but the most important takeaway from this blowout game was that it was obvious to anyone who has watched the Buckeyes play without Turner that everyone else appeared comfortable again. Jon Diebler in particular was the primary beneficiary, as he had a 21/3 assts/3 stls night on 5-8 from three without having to worry about running the offense (along with William Buford) nearly as much. Turner said afterwards that the eight-week prognosis originally suggested by OSU officials was a bit of a hedge, and he was only out of commission for 4.5 weeks, but all that matters now is that Turner is back in the lineup and OSU should be back in contention for the Big Ten title and the Top 25 in short order.
Unreal Score of the Night. Seattle 99, Oregon State 48. Right now Craig Robinson’s numbers are looking even worse than his brother-in-law’s, as Seattle — barely a D1 school, as a brand-new Independent — came into Corvallis and obliterated the Beavers in their own building. A 58-21 second half is simply unconscionable for a Pac-10 team playing at home against a mid-major of any kind. Seriously, even Gonzaga with Adam Morrison, Dan Dickau and Austin Daye all starting shouldn’t be able to do what the Redhawks did to Oregon State tonight. Cameron Dollar should be proud of his team with road wins over Utah and OSU this season already, and circle 1/26 on your calendar as Seattle will visit crosstown rival Washington for another program-making shot at glory.