CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Hello, March. You came early.
These top-10 upsets and crazy road finishes, surprising victors and disappointed favorites weren’t supposed to be here for another two months.
And yet, on the second weekend of January, as the country awaited the biggest college football game of the season whose rumblings probably drowned out the basketball noise, five top-10 teams suffered losses at the hands of unranked or lower-ranked teams.
First, on Saturday, it was No. 5 Louisville then No. 10 Texas. On Sunday afternoon, it was No. 2 Duke falling to NC State and then No. 4 Wisconsin loses to Rutgers, and finally on Sunday night when most had already fallen asleep, No. 7 Arizona fell victim to the road woes of four of its top-10 brethren, losing to Oregon State 58-56.
And like those games it wasn’t stolen or cheated from them. The team that played better won. That message came clear from Arizona coach Sean Miller.
“I credit Oregon State,” Miller said. “They earned their victory.”
The road is tough with a target on your back and this weekend was made no easier on the Wildcats who spent the weekend in Eugene after beating the Ducks 80-62 on Friday evening. Perhaps the lack of normalcy played a role as the Wildcats looked far from normal on the court on Sunday, too.
Point guard T.J. McConnell followed up his 21-point performance against Oregon with a 13-point output against the Beavers. Kaleb Tarczewski didn’t get a single rebound and didn’t score until the second half. Stanley Johnson snagged only three boards even with the benefit of a serious height advantage.
The Wildcats -- like the Blue Devils and Badgers, Cardinals and Longhorns -- didn’t look like themselves. Or rather, the opponent turned them into a team that wasn’t really within their true DNA.
In the first half Miller said it was “amazing” that Arizona held a lead at the half after shooting 6-of-23 from the floor (including 1-of-10 from range), but was happy with how the Wildcats finished from the stripe (8-of-10) and took care of the ball (two turnovers).
But the second half was an entirely different story.
The Wildcats were 11-of-22 from the floor and 3-of-7 from range while still committing only three turnovers in the second stanza. But the problems came when the Wildcats where on defense when they couldn’t seem to come up with an answer on the road for the Beavers during that half.
Oregon State’s perimeter players stepped up and after failing to reach the free throw line in the first half, the Beavers made 17 trips in the second.
“If we would’ve been able to get any kinds of stops we would’ve been able to open up a four-, six-, eight-point lead,” Miller said. “Because on offense we really did settle in.”
Overall, the Wildcats shot 12 percent below their field goal percentage, 13.5 percent below their 3-point field goal percentage and were out rebounded 32-26.
It won't just be the Wildcats' unlikely play that drops Arizona in the rankings. This weekend will surely shake the top 25.
But just halfway through the year it seems like nothing to be too upset about. If anything, there’s a slight reason to be grateful. The losses are coming early enough that these teams can right themselves and go their merry ways through their conferences schedules.
And for fans? Fans got some March Madness in January.
“This is an 18-game conference season,” Miller said. “You don’t win or lose a conference championship even on a single game, especially on the road.”
Miller is right. And if he wants anyone to back him up he can give a call to Mike Krzyzewski. Or Bo Ryan. Or Rick Pitino. Or Rick Barnes.
They’ll know exactly what he’s talking about.