BC tops North Carolina despite Cole Anthony's return; Auburn gets big win over Kentucky

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Sunday, February 2, 2020

Another wild Saturday in a wild season for college basketball. Nothing makes sense, so Saturday's chaos should not be a surprise.

3 things from Saturday

Cole Anthony returns, can't save North Carolina from NIT talk

In his first action since mid-December, Anthony looked the part of a future NBA draft pick. After a slow start on Saturday (he missed his first five shots), Anthony had a major impact on the game. When the shots weren't falling, he drove hard and drew fouls. In the second half, he hit big 3-pointers and clutch shots. With 30 seconds to play, he looked like the hero with a go-ahead basket.

But his efforts weren't enough to stop Boston College, which won a thrilling 71-70 matchup in Chapel Hill on Jared Hamilton's late free throws. That's a Quad 4 home loss for a North Carolina team that looked like a future NIT participant in Anthony's return.

North Carolina was down double digits midway through the second half to an Eagles team that lost at Wake Forest by 18 points. To make matters worse for the Tar Heels, Brandon Robinson suffered a late injury and had to be helped off the floor.

The Tar Heels were 4-7 without Anthony. But there are no guarantees that they'll avoid missing their first NCAA tournament in 10 years now that he's back.

Is Auburn prepping for another run?

Last season, Auburn started off 13-6 (2-4 in SEC play) before losing just three more games on its way to SEC tournament title and Final Four runs. The Tigers' surprising effort altered the collegiate landscape.

They didn't surprise anyone this season after winning their first 15 games. But after back-to-back road losses to Alabama and Florida, it seemed as if a favorable schedule had enhanced Auburn's early record more than the talent on its roster.

That's why Saturday's 75-66 home victory over Kentucky mattered. It was Auburn's fourth win in a row and its biggest to date. The Tigers are now 6-2 in SEC play, and it's safe to wonder if we might see a repeat with another strong finish this season. They certainly weren't perfect. They connected on just 26% of their 3-point attempts on Saturday. But they dominated the offensive glass and committed just seven turnovers. Samir Doughty had 16 of his 23 points in the first 15 minutes.

Auburn might be prepping for another deep run in the NCAA tournament.

How a three-hour stretch changed the Big East race

The Big East turned what most expected to be a pedestrian early slate of college basketball into a wild stretch with a pair of games that kicked off the day. At 11 a.m. ET, Seton Hall, the Big East's current leader, got off to a rocky start at home, entering halftime with a double-digit deficit against a Xavier team that had started 2-6 in Big East play. The Musketeers held on as Myles Powell struggled in a 3-for-14 effort in the Pirates' first Big East loss.

After a noon tipoff, Creighton soared early at Villanova and maintained its dominance throughout the game, finishing with a 76-61 victory. By 2 p.m., two top Big East teams, both ranked in the top 10 nationally, had suffered home losses. And now the race is more interesting. Creighton has won five of its past six games. The Bluejays are in third place, a game behind Villanova and two behind Seton Hall.

Butler's home loss to Providence on Saturday helped Creighton's cause, too. Seton Hall and Villanova had opportunities to separate themselves in the league race Saturday. Instead, Creighton, after a wild day in the Big East, emerged as a serious contender.

3 things in the coming days

Illinois plays for sole possession of first place in the Big Ten

On Sunday, Brad Underwood's squad can seize control of the Big Ten race and sole possession of first place with a victory at Iowa. Just how everyone predicted this race prior to the season, right?

Illinois got a gift when Michigan State, which entered the weekend tied atop the conference standings, suffered a 64-63 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday, setting up a big-time showdown in Iowa City. For most Big Ten teams, the road has been a quagmire. But the Fighting Illini have managed to secure road wins over Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan. Those victories over Purdue and Wisconsin could prove pivotal in the final standings, since Michigan State lost to both teams on the road.

Kofi Cockburn & Co. will have their hands full with Luka Garza, but if Illinois extends its seven-game win streak with a victory Sunday, Underwood's squad will own the first-place slot in the competitive Big Ten.

A MEAC battle on national TV

LeVelle Moton's North Carolina Central squad has won the past three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournaments and the automatic berths for the NCAA tourney attached to them. The Eagles' Jibri Blount (20.1 points, 9.1 rebounds per game) is a four-time MEAC player of the week for an NCCU squad that's 5-2 in conference. Norfolk State is 6-1 in league play. They'll meet on Monday (7 p.m. ET on ESPNU) in Durham, North Carolina, in a great showcase for both schools and a great conference.

Quincy McKnight's MRI

This isn't a game, but it's as important as any development that will unfold in the coming days. On Saturday, McKnight was leading Seton Hall in scoring when he suffered a knee injury late in the loss to Xavier. He had landed awkwardly after a shot and limped off the court with assistance from two other players. After the game, Pirates coach Kevin Willard said it appeared McKnight, who is averaging 11.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG, had avoided any major damage to his knee. But he's expected to undergo an MRI in the next 48 hours. Seton Hall can't afford to lose him for a long stretch.

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