Where New York, D.C. and Fargo intersect
College basketball's sheer unpredictability was on display Saturday as three prohibitive favorites all went down in defeat. In fact, the only thing we can say for sure right now is that the Big East is the strongest conference top to bottom, writes Andy Katz.
Naturally, Georgetown fans rushed the MCI Center's court when the Hoyas pulled the rug out from under top-ranked Duke. So, too, did the St. John's faithful when the Red Storm took out undefeated Pitt earlier Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
North Dakota State?
Had there been any fans making the trip from Fargo, they probably would have passed out at the Kohl Center from sheer shock.
"We didn't know what to do," North Dakota State assistant coach Saul Phillips said following the Bison's stunning 62-55 victory over Wisconsin. It put an end to the Badgers' 27-game non-conference homecourt winning streak.
"We were supposed to act like we've been here before but we hadn't," Phillips said by phone from Madison. "Our guys just went numb."
The Bison, who now have authored the season's biggest upset, have had their moments in 2005-06, winning a tournament at Montana State by beating the host school as well as Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference.
"Beating Montana State in front of 4,000 people was a big deal for our first true road win," said NDSU head coach Tim Miles, speaking by phone during the team's eight-hour bus trip back to Fargo.
The Bison had a simple gameplan: to pack it in against the Badgers. It worked, as Wisconsin shot 4-for-27 from 3-point range.
"We thought if we're going to get beat then get beat on 3s, so we absolutely swarmed it inside," Miles said.
Miles took another like-minded gamble last season when he chose to redshirt five freshmen, promising them they would have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament as seniors when NDSU's provisional status ends. Think about that: The Bison beat the Badgers with a starting lineup of four redshirt freshmen and a junior college transfer.
"This raises our profile, hopefully helps recruiting, but it may not help scheduling. But what the heck," Miles said. NDSU landed the game with Wisconsin because Phillips had been an assistant coach under Bo Ryan. The Bison got their $35,000 guaranteed check for the game, Miles said, a game that was scheduled this week because the Badgers had a bye week in the Big Ten.
NDSU's hope is to gain membership into the Big Sky or Mid-Continent at some point, but for now the Bison have entered into a scheduling consortium of home-and-home games in the same season with fellow independents South Dakota State, IPFW, Texas Pan-American and Utah Valley State. But we digress here.
The reality is that the Badgers can lose to a North Dakota State and still win the Big Ten. On the other side of the court, the win for the Bison won't get them into the NCAAs because they're not eligible.
As for St. John's, its win over Pittsburgh will do wonders for their hope of gaining a Big East tournament bid after self-imposing a penalty that prevented them from playing in the postseason last year.
"This shows we're heading in the same direction," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said while en route back to Queens. "We've won three [Big East] games by staying consistent and not doing something wild like making 10 3s."
St. John's beat Louisville, which was playing without Taquan Dean, earlier in the week. The Red Storm's other Big East win came at South Florida.
The Red Storm won the game on a day they finally honored their past legends like Chris Mullin. Roberts said Mullin came into the locker room after the game to talk to the team and congratulate them on their efforts.
Meanwhile, it was an Old School day in D.C., where John Thompson saw his son, JT3, coach the Hoyas past Duke to prevent the Blue Devils from starting 18-0 for the first time. It also was Georgetown's first win over a No. 1 team since the infamous "Sweater Game" against St. John's on Feb. 27, 1985.
The Hoyas' victory is yet another example of the Big East flashing its unmatched depth (sorry, but the Big East has wrestled away the honor of deepest conference from the Big Ten after the Badgers' bust Saturday). A check of the standings shows it's not inconceivable to think that nine to 10 teams will be in contention for an NCAA bid.
The Hoyas (12-4, 3-2) are seventh at the moment. Wow! And West Virginia proved that the Big East has not just two, but three legitimate Final Four teams along with Connecticut and Villanova. The Mountaineers have beaten Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, Villanova in Philadelphia and UCLA in Pauley Pavilion after Saturday's 60-56 win. Senior guard Mike Gansey continues to make a case for Big East player of the year, not just first-team all league. Gansey scored 24 points and picked UCLA's Jordan Farmar in the final seconds to preserve the win.
Meanwhile, Kentucky needed a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo with less than 2 seconds remaining to beat South Carolina at Rupp Arena to avoid a 1-3 start and an 0-3 record in the SEC at home. But they won. So, for another day, all is well in Lexington.
But who would have thought that Fargo would share in college hoops hysteria with fans in New York City and Washington on the same day? Likely no one.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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