Last season, Evansville won 11 games and lost in the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Voters in the league’s preseason poll this year picked the Purple Aces to finish eighth in the conference standings.
On Tuesday, however, Evansville upset No. 1 Kentucky on the road.
College basketball is back.
Three things from Tuesday
Evansville is the story of the night after upset over No. 1 team
Evansville just pulled off the regular season’s version of No. 16 UMBC’s victory over No. 1 Virginia in the 2018 NCAA tournament. After his team’s loss to Evansville, John Calipari admitted that second-year coach Walter McCarty, a star on the 1995-96 Kentucky team that won a national title under Rick Pitino, “outcoached” him.
A 25-point underdog (tying the third-largest upset in the past 15 seasons, per ESPN Stats & Information research), Evansville snapped Kentucky’s streak of 52 wins over unranked opponents at home.
This is a huge moment for Evansville, which went 1-8 in its final nine games of the 2018-19 season. This win should propel the program and stamp McCarty’s status as a coach on the rise. The stars of Evansville’s first victory over a No. 1 team? K.J. Riley (18 points), a former junior college standout, and Sam Cunliffe (17 points), who is at his third school (previously Kansas and Arizona State) since the 2016-17 season.
Would Kentucky win the same game 99 out of 100 times? Maybe. But who cares? An Evansville squad picked to finish in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley Conference just beat the No. 1 team on the road. That’s why college basketball is one of America’s most captivating sports.
“They are a great team, the toughest team to play us,” McCarty said. “But I believe in my guys. I told them, ‘We’re gonna go in there and get them. We’re gonna surprise some people today.’ I told them, ‘This is a great day to be a Purple Ace. Let’s go do it.'”
Every doubt you have about Kentucky is valid
After his Wildcats’ historic loss, perhaps the worst loss of Calipari’s career, the longtime coach cited concerns about his team’s toughness.
“If we [would’ve] somehow pulled it out, it would have been unfair,” Calipari said. “Because they were the tougher team, they made shots, and that’s tough to do in this building. Give credit to Walter. He had his team better prepared than I had my team. They deserved to win.”
But conversations about toughness often ignore the tangible problems that plague a team. Yes, it was odd to see a Kentucky team that failed to capitalize on Evansville’s late mistakes, including its multiple shot-clock violations in the final minutes.
Greater concerns, however, exist. Whom will the Wildcats turn to when the game is on the line? We’ve been led to believe that Kentucky would always have multiple options in those scenarios, such as Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington, Devin Booker, Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Jamal Murray in the past. Tyrese Maxey (15 points, 5-for-12 shooting Tuesday) is the best option this season, but Calipari failed to find a spark in those closing moments. That was odd to see.
The Wildcats secured just 23% of their offensive rebound attempts, too. This is a program that has finished within the top 20 in offensive rebounding rate on KenPom.com seven times in Calipari’s career. When it isn’t making shots and struggles to control the offensive glass, Kentucky looks vulnerable.
Evansville registered just 0.96 points per possession and made just 38.3% of its shots and still won because Kentucky was worse (0.91 PPP, 37% from the field, 11 turnovers in the first half). Will the Wildcats improve? Calipari’s teams always do. But this loss will sting for a stretch. At a minimum, we know how bad things can get for a Kentucky team that’s still searching for an identity.
Payton Pritchard has ice in his veins as he hits nothing but net for a 3-pointer for Oregon late in the second half.
Oregon punctuates its contender status by topping Memphis
Dana Altman’s 2019-20 squad secured a significant win Tuesday over Memphis. James Wiseman‘s early foul trouble (two fouls, zero points in five minutes of action in the first half) was a key storyline in his team’s 82-74 loss to Oregon at the Phil Knight Invitational. But the Ducks were the superior program against a young opponent.
The Ducks had the poise and personnel to deal with Memphis’ size. Payton Pritchard hit big shots down the stretch. Grad transfers Shakur Juiston (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Anthony Mathis (4-for-5 from the 3-point line) carried the team.
Wiseman (14 points, 12 rebounds) still recorded a double-double, and even without him, Memphis played with a lot of heart on the road in what was essentially a home game for Oregon in Portland. But Oregon looked like a polished group that has already incorporated its new faces in the first few weeks of the season.
Memphis will continue to mature, but Oregon’s versatility and balance led to an impressive victory for Altman’s squad.
Three things we’re looking forward to Wednesday
BBN trying to make sense of Tuesday’s result
Kentucky’s fan base is one of the most passionate collections of supporters in college sports. Big Blue Nation is obsessed with its favorite team, which is why the next 24 hours will be worth watching. If the immediate Twitter fallout is an indication of what’s ahead, then prepare to hear everything from “Calipari is still a great coach” to “Calipari should be fired before the weekend.”
Ignore all of it. At some point, BBN will recuperate and get back to its unyielding support of its program and its coach. On Wednesday, however, just let the fans vent.
Ohio State, Villanova face off in Columbus
When No. 10 Villanova challenges No. 16 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, we’ll see a matchup between a pair of teams that could win the Big East and Big Ten titles, respectively, even though they weren’t picked to finish atop their leagues in their preseason polls.
Jay Wright’s squad is missing the familiar faces of recent years, but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a five-star recruit who had 24 points in the team’s season-opening win over Army. Villanova reloads as well as any team in America, and a victory over a good Ohio State team would prove as much. But the Buckeyes, anchored by Kaleb Wesson, could strengthen their résumé and change the conversation about the Big Ten title race with a win. This is a great matchup.
Markus Howard, Marquette vs. Purdue
Purdue, coming off a tough home loss to Texas, will travel to Milwaukee for a game against Marquette. In his team’s season-opening 88-53 win over Loyola (Maryland), Howard finished with 38 points (7-for-10 from the 3-point line) and established a career scoring record at Marquette.
Last season, Purdue would have turned to Carsen Edwards to match Howard’s firepower. Who plays that role for the Boilermakers now? That’s what coach Matt Painter is trying to figure out.