Everything that's real (and not real) from the weekend's games

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Monday, January 14, 2019

College basketball's highlights over the weekend included buzzer-beaters, major upsets and standout performances.

The weekend was filled with chaos.

On Saturday, four ranked teams lost home games -- three (Iowa State, Mississippi State and North Carolina) of them to unranked opponents.

So, let's dissect What's Real? and What's Fake? in college basketball:

Fake: Cam Reddish is an underdog

Please stop saying this.

Reddish, one of Duke's elite freshmen, hit the game-winning shot at Florida State on Saturday and suddenly became a candidate for a Disney movie after he helped the Blue Devils secure a signature win with Zion Williamson sidelined by an eye injury in the second half.

C'mon, folks. Reddish is not William Baldwin or Kevin Jonas.

He's a five-star wing who signed with Duke over Kentucky. At the Maui Invitational in November, an NBA exec called Reddish "the most talented player on the team... If he would stop bulls****ing." He's a fluid wing and projected top-10 pick who'd be an All-American candidate had he picked a school that didn't have Williamson and R.J. Barrett.

He's in a difficult spot because he's had to play a complementary role to Williamson and Barrett. That's not easy for a player who is accustomed to being a star. Williamson's eye injury in Saturday's win at Florida State gave Reddish the platform to showcase his potential.

If anything, his performance illustrated how a strong Duke team can become a great squad if Reddish (a 38 percent shooter this season) plays with the same efficiency (5-for-8 from the 3-point line at Florida State) he demonstrated throughout Saturday's win.

When Reddish signed with the Blue Devils, performances like the one he put together on Saturday were the expectation. He's a versatile threat with a bright future at the next level.

Yes, he's been overlooked in the Williamson/Barrett craze. Anyone who knows college basketball, however, was waiting for Reddish to deliver the way he did on Saturday.

He is not some two-star recruit who walked on at Duke and saved Saturday's game. He's just the No. 3 player on a team that might have the top two picks in this summer's NBA draft and another first-round pick named Tre Jones.

Saturday's effort wasn't surprising. Saturday's game was refreshing because Reddish finally put together a performance that showcased his skills.

Real: Kentucky players are learning to trust one another

On Saturday, Vanderbilt had a 16-4 lead at Kentucky in the first half.

The Wildcats had previously been in a similar spot multiple times throughout the season. They were down 29-10 midway through the first half of a 34-point loss to Duke in the Champions Classic. They were down 12-2 in the first half of a win over Texas A&M last week. In a loss to Alabama earlier this month, a two-point Kentucky lead at halftime turned into a six-point deficit two minutes into the second half.

So Saturday's 12-point deficit with 15:07 remaining in the first half against Vanderbilt was a test for this team. Would it collapse or regroup? The Wildcats' ability to outscore the Commodores 24-14 before the break demonstrated a resilience they had lacked during previous lulls.

"We just knew that as long as we stayed focused, don't get out of character, just keep playing defense, we'd get back into the game," Keldon Johnson said after the 56-47 win.

Johnson and Ashton Hagans are only 19 years old. John Calipari is still trying to find a formula for a frontcourt that needs Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery to play quality minutes. Tyler Herro can become a consistent and reliable shooter.

There are questions about this Kentucky team that the squad might not answer before the NCAA tournament. But Saturday's early challenges could have led to another loss. The Wildcats got the stops they needed and made the plays they had to en route to a win.

That's a sign of growth.

Fake: North Carolina will definitely figure it out

It's never a good idea to doubt a Roy Williams team. But Saturday's loss to Louisville, the worst home loss in the Williams era at North Carolina, magnified some of the concerns about this team. This is still a good squad that will have an edge in most matchups. But this year's Tar Heels aren't the physical, tough Tar Heels we've been accustomed to seeing under Williams.

Louisville kept them from taking advantage of second-chance opportunities and stalled their transition game on Saturday. The Tar Heels are also struggling to defend teams that push the pace and get buckets on fast breaks. Per Synergy Sports, they're ranked 246th in transition defense.

Luke Maye is 4-for-13 from beyond the arc in conference play a year after making 47 percent of his 3-point attempts in ACC action. Coby White is committing turnovers on 22.5 percent of his possessions, per KenPom.com. A team that can beat Gonzaga and North Carolina State on the road is a team that has the potential to compete for a national championship. That's still UNC's ceiling. But North Carolina has been overwhelmed in three lopsided losses to Michigan, Kentucky and Louisville.

Williams' track record suggests he'll fix the challenges.

Right now, however, a turnaround doesn't seem like a guarantee for the Tar Heels.

Fake: John Beilein's comments comparing Michigan/Michigan State to Duke/UNC are crazy

It's fine to disagree with the opinion of Michigan's head coach, who recently said to a reporter: "The way Michigan and Michigan State have been playing basketball in these last six or seven years... it's not different than Duke and North Carolina."

Let's assume he's referencing the last 5-10 years. Since the 2008-09 season, North Carolina and Duke have won four national titles and appeared in five national title games. Michigan State and Michigan have reached two national title games, both by the Wolverines, and five Final Fours in that span.

National titles are viewed as the ultimate mark of success in college basketball, and a Big Ten team has not won the championship since Michigan State's run in 2000. By that barometer, Beilein's comments seem odd. On a more diverse scale, though, he's on the mark.

Duke hasn't won a regular-season ACC title since 2010. North Carolina has won two of the last three. Michigan (2014) and Michigan State (2018) have won two Big Ten titles in the last four years.

Michigan State and Michigan have nine 26-win seasons combined since 2012-13, and North Carolina and Duke have the same combined number. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have a significant edge in the number of players they've sent to the NBA.

But Michigan State and Michigan have been two of the best teams in America in recent years -- legitimate powerhouses.

They haven't earned rings recently, but that can't be the lone tool we use to measure a program's status. The 2014-15 Kentucky team didn't win the title and most people believe the Wildcats were America's best team that season. Does anyone believe Connecticut in 2011 and 2014 was actually the best team in America during those years? No.

Beilein is just saying the collective success of Michigan State and Michigan in recent years is comparable to the success of Duke and North Carolina. And, within that stretch, he's right.

Real: The sleepers have arrived

Most of the major leagues in college basketball have already identified their frontrunners. But the past weekend's action also elevated potential contenders that could shake up races.

Maryland fans don't want to hear this, but the Terps haven't lost since Dec. 22. And their three losses this season, all to quality teams, came by 11 combined points. In Friday's 78-75 win over Indiana, Maryland's only matchup against the Hoosiers this season, Bruno Fernando finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds, his ninth double-double of the season. Mark Turgeon has a top-15 offense, too.

In the ACC, Louisville made a statement with a convincing, lopsided road win over North Carolina on Saturday. Sure, the Cards face a gauntlet of NCAA tournament teams in league play. But here's the benefit of Chris Mack's upcoming conference schedule: he'll only face Duke (home), Florida State, North Carolina State (home) and Virginia Tech once apiece. Could the Cardinals climb into the ACC's top tier? It's not a crazy thought after the team's win over UNC on Saturday.

Ole Miss is 3-0 in league play after Saturday's win at Mississippi State. Kermit Davis' team has wins over MSU, Auburn and Vanderbilt by an average margin of nearly 10 points. Breein Tyree has made 82 percent of his free throws. And his Ole Miss squad will only play Kentucky and Tennessee one time each this season -- both home games.

In the Big 12, Dean Wade is back for a Kansas State team that won at Iowa State on Saturday and continues to play top-five defense. Oregon State is playing top-10 interior defense in a Pac-12 that's wide open.

Yeah, it's early, but the list of contenders in the Power Five leagues expanded during this weekend's action.

Fake: Tennessee went too far with the Gator Chomp on Saturday

After Tennessee's win at Florida on Saturday, the Vols did the Gator Chomp toward Florida's fans. Some suggested the Vols were classless for making that gesture.

That's just silly. Per Admiral Schofield, Gators fans said things to the Vols that were "very disrespectful" and "inhumane." He also said the comments weren't just coming from students but from older fans, too.

That's why I thoroughly enjoyed that late-game Gator Chomp. Florida deserved it. It wasn't an egregious act. It was payback. And that has to be an allowable element of college basketball -- it not, we should all just find something else to watch and enjoy.

The Vols hadn't won a game at Florida since the 2011-12 season. So they had a little fun at Florida fans' expense. And that's fine. It's not classless. It's not wrong. It didn't cross any lines. It was within the boundaries of proper postgame celebrations following a win over a rival.

Also, did anyone have sympathy for the opponents that had to endure the Gator Chomp as Billy Donovan's squad won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007? What about the Gator Chomps as Florida won behind Mike Miller? Or Jason Williams? Anyone remember those? Were those fans wrong for using that gesture to taunt opponents during games or to gloat after big wins? Because I can't recall any admonishment of overzealous Florida players, coaches or fans who basked in that patented celebration in the school's richest years.

Yeah, Tennessee did the Gator Chomp. And if the team gets the chance, I hope the Vols do it again because that's what makes this game fun and enjoyable.

Chill out, everyone. And let me know when Joakim Noah apologizes for all the times he used the Gator Chomp throughout his career with Florida.

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