The Morning After is our semi-daily look at last night's best basketball action. Try not to make it awkward.
No. 2 Kentucky 81, Mississippi State 75: The most obviously intriguing part of Tuesday night's Kentucky-Mississippi State match up -- at least before the game began -- was the interior battle between two of the country's best big men, Jarvis Varnado and DeMarcus Cousins. By the end of regulation, that was no longer the case. Varnado was on the bench, thanks to five fouls. Cousins was on the floor, grabbing rebounds and dominating in the paint. And the game had become so much more.
It's always tough playing Kentucky (duh, Eamonn, thanks for the brilliant analysis); it's even tougher when your all-world defensive player and team-leading rebounder gets his fifth foul with plenty of time left in the second half (hey, you're welcome). Really, Mississippi State deserves credit just for pushing the game to overtime, because it was unlikely they'd make it that far after Varnado's foul-out. They did, though, and they gave us a thrilling game in the meantime, pushing Cousins and John Wall and Patrick Patterson to their best in a hard-fought SEC road win.
A few other notes:
1. Mississippi State fans celebrated their team's loss by throwing water bottles and other junk onto the floor. Combined with their racist and God-knows-what-else text messages to DeMarcus Cousins before the game, this was not a particularly strong national showing for the denizens of Starkville. Seriously, guys? Water bottles?
2. Kentucky fans will be happy to see Patrick Patterson playing well again. After drawing criticism earlier this season, Patterson looked like a dominant big man at times on Tuesday night; his contributions made the whole Varnado-Cousins faceoff a moot point.
3. John Calipari used all three of his remaining timeouts in the last six seconds of regulation, which resulted in a double-teamed DeAndre Liggins hoisting a prayer (which, to his credit, almost fell) from the baseline corner as time expired. I'm guessing this is not the shot Calipari wanted, but you'd think with all those timeouts, the Cats would have been able to get something better.
In any case, great game. Kentucky rolls on. State completes a valiant effort in a near-loss to an uber-talented, highly-ranked team. And Mississippi State fans get to spend some much-needed time in the corner. Everybody wins. (Well, you know, except Mississippi State. They actually, like, literally lost. But you know what I mean.)
Virginia Tech 87, No. 25 Wake Forest 83: Virginia Tech couldn't get no respect. This is the Hokies' fault -- building a 20-4 record against one of the worst schedules in recent memory (No. 340 in strength of schedule, to be exact) has a lot to do with scheduling; you almost have to try to play a non-conference slate as bad as Va. Tech's. I mean, just look at it. It's ... it's breathtaking. And not in a good way.
Nevermind that, now. The Hokies may have started their season with dreck, but they're ending with their most difficult and important games, and so far, so good.
It wasn't just that Virginia Tech won; it's how. Trailing by 11 with 16 minutes to play, Malcolm Delaney led his Hokies on a comeback, scoring 10 of his 31 points (he finished with nine rebounds, too), making big bucket after big bucket to get his team its all-important second win over a top 50 RPI team. As big as this game was for the Hokies' national respect, it should do just as much for Delaney's -- the guard just so happens to be leading the ACC in scoring at 21.2 points per game. I bet you didn't know that. What I didn't know was whether to believe in Virginia Tech. Another win or two like Tuesday night's, and we won't have a choice.
Everywhere else: Weirdly enough, Indiana was out-everything'd (not an actual word, but let's roll with it) by Michigan State last night but managed to hang tough until the second half, when the light-years-more-talented Spartans eventually pulled away ... Without suspended Jordan Eglseder, UNI rolled Creighton to clinch the MVC regular-season crown ... Baylor might have sealed its own tourney fate (in) as well as Texas Tech's (out; hey, this is turning into an episode of Project Runway), as the Bears gave the Raiders their seventh conference loss ... Meanwhile, two teams moving in relatively opposite directions in the Big East did exactly that Tuesday night, as South Florida edged Cincinnati ... and, not to rub any more salt in UNC fans' wounds, but you know it's bad when ESPN anchors stop during your highlight to talk about how much they're not used to seeing this sort of scoreline. Ouch. (Also: "Ed Davis, 0 points." Double ouch!)