The busiest day of the college basketball season to date doubled as the best of the season with buzzer-beaters, late-game drama, scoring explosions and everything in between filling a full day on the Saturday slate.
So who were the day's winners and losers? Well, turns out, there were . . . a lot of both categories. Five games were ranked vs. ranked matchups and 19 total ranked teams were in action. That led to some very good moments for many (Kansas and Gonzaga!), some low moments for others (Indiana!) and some painful moments for a select few. (Looking at you, UCF!)
We're still a couple of weeks away from conference play hitting full stride across the country, but the stakes were high in places like New York's Madison Square Garden, Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena and Birmingham, Alabama's Legacy Arena, where marquee matchups took place. The NCAA Tournament field won't be set for a few months, but Saturday's action will doubtlessly reverberate through the bracket come Selection Sunday.
Let's make some sense of the loaded Saturday with a look at some of the winners and losers from the most significant slate yet in the 2022-23 college basketball season.
Winner: Arizona's offense keeps humming
The day's most interesting matchup was between No. 6 Tennessee and No. 9 Arizona in the McKale Center, which featured the No. 1 defense (Tennessee) pitted against the No. 1 offense (Arizona). It was the Wildcats that took down the Volunteers in a 75-70 win, although Arizona had one its worst shooting outings of the season, finishing 5 of 24 from 3-point range, its third-worst by team percentage. However, Arizona got to the free-throw line 27 times — including 15 trips to the charity stripe in the second half — and converted on 24 of those attempts.
Arizona has at times this season been susceptible from over-relying on 3-point shooting and paying the price for living and dying by it with its only loss to Utah came after hitting a season-low 14.3% from beyond the arc. But the balance with which this team is constructed has by and large been a brutal threat for opponents. In the frontcourt vs. the Volunteers, Oumar Ballo and Azuola Tubelis combined for 37 points and 17 boards. In the backcourt, Courtney Ramey, Kerr Krissa and Pelle Larson teamed up for 38 points and 10 assists, with its ability to play both inside and out methodically picking apart the Vols' dynamic defense.
Winner: Kansas (and its social media team!)
No. 8 Kansas took a sledgehammer to the Vegas line and effectively obliterated pre-game expectations, covering the 5.5-point spread in which it was favored with ease in an 84-62 beatdown of No. 14 Indiana. That was the goods. Freshman Gradey Dick was nails with 20 points and five other KU players finished in double figures.
Then there was the real goods postgame that came from KU's social team. After the win, it fired off a tweet mocking an Indiana tweet and inserting Kansas into the mix. Savage, yet beautiful.
Loser: Indiana's slide continues
After a 7-0 start to open the season, culminating with a win over then-No. 18 North Carolina, the Hoosiers have hit a humbling month in the calendar with its loss to Kansas marking its third loss in its last four games. All three of those losses were by 14 or more points, with Saturday's 22-point margin in defeat its largest of the season.
"It hurts because I thought this week's practice was really competitive," IU coach Mike Woodson said. "We just weren't in the game. Somehow I gotta get this team to understand that when we play top notch teams, you've gotta give yourself a chance."
Indiana played its way out of it early with careless mistakes and turnovers, committing 23 on the road. Guard play has been a bit shaky of late with Jalen Hood-Schifino in and out of the lineup with injury so there's some wiggle room for IU to improve. (He played 30 minutes but had a team-high five turnovers.)
"Twenty-three turnovers against a really good team, that's 23 times you don't get an opportunity to score the ball. And they came in bunches," said Woodson. "That's something we've got to clean up because we're not a big turnover team."
Winner: Zags announce they're back
Early this season Gonzaga's been touch-and-go as a contender with some nice wins – over Kentucky, over Xavier – and some tough losses (to Texas and Purdue by a lot and to Baylor by a little.) But Saturday felt like a grand reawakening for the Zags. In a (semi) road environment, Gonzaga downed No. 4 Alabama – a team that has already beaten the AP-ranked No. 1 team twice this season, most recently Houston last weekend – by a final margin of 100-90. It marked the first time Gonzaga has ever scored 100 points against a top-five team and the first time since Duke in a 118-84 win in 2018 a team scored 100 points or more in regulation away from home, per Matt Eisenberg.
Winner: Bama's Brandon Miller flashes his stardom (again)
Just one week removed from his lowest-scoring game of the season last weekend – an eight-point outing in which he went 0-of-8 from the field against No. 1 Houston – Miller on Saturday turned in his most complete game of the season. It came in a loss, but it can't overshadow the impact he had on keeping Bama in it against Gonzaga. He was active on defense, assertive getting to his spots on offense and electric putting the basketball inside the hoop, finishing with 36 points – tied for the most in a game by a power conference player this season.
Loser: DePaul gets put on blast
Three days after losing by 11 at Duquesne, things went from bad to worse for DePaul as the Blue Demons lost 83-45 at Northwestern. The Wildcats outscored DePaul 44-19 in the second half and forced 22 turnovers as the Blue Demons dropped to 6-6. Though he acknowledged that injuries have played a role in the team's poor play, athletic director DeWayne Peevy released a surprisingly scathing assessment of the program's performance in the aftermath of the 38-point loss.
"I'm very disappointed in our performance over the last 2 games," Peevy wrote in the first of a thread of tweets. "Blue Demon Nation deserves better. I know today was not what we were hoping for, and I understand if you are feeling frustrated and upset. I also want to thank you for your continued support and passion for our team."
Peevy's blunt assessment of the program is not a good sign for Blue Demons' coach Tony Stubblefield, who is 21-22 in his second season at DePaul.
Everyone knows our reality in regards to our roster situation with multiple injuries. Win or lose, that is no excuse for what we displayed the last two games and both our team and coaches know that. We have to bounce back with a better effort and regain your trust.— DeWayne Peevy (@BlueDemonsAD) December 17, 2022
Winner: Houston bounces back
Just a week after blowing a 15-point lead in the second half at home against Alabama in a loss that cost it the program's first No. 1 ranking since the 1982-83 season, No. 5 Houston took full advantage of an excellent redemption opportunity by beating No. 2 Virginia 69-61 on the road. Five players reached double figures for the Cougars, led by five-star freshman Jarace Walker with 17. Walker scored 13 in the second half and finished the game with seven rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal. The Cougars assisted on 17 of 25 made baskets and handled Virginia's notoriously solid defense in the second half without too much trouble and were especially solid down the stretch in a hostile environment.
Loser: UCF loses in heartbreaking fashion
Missouri led by 14 points in the second half but needed a miracle at the buzzer to beat UCF 68-66. Deandre Gholston banked in a 3-pointer from about 10 feet beyond the arc as time expired but only after D'moi Hodge slipped and fell with the basketball and to essentially roll it to Gholston. It was an absolutely heartbreaking finish for the Golden Knights after a 3-pointer from Jayhlon Young rimmed out with seven seconds remaining. If Young's jumper had gone down, it would have given UCF a four-point lead. Instead, the door remained open and Missouri took advantage in the miraculous final sequence.
Winner: North Carolina gets late heroics
North Carolina starters Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Armando Bacot each surpassed 20 points against No. 23 Ohio State, while Leaky Black embraced challenging defensive assignments. The fifth starter, Pete Nance, was relatively quiet except for when his team most desperately needed him. Nance hit a turnaround jumper off a side-inbounds pass from Black as time expired in regulation. Nance's miraculous make sent the first game of the CBS Sports Classic to overtime, which the Tar Heels went on to win 89-84.
Ohio State led most of the game and even had a 14-point edge at one point late in the first half. But after Nance's make at the buzzer, UNC dominated overtime by holding Ohio State to just 2 of 7 shooting in the extra period.
Loser: Kentucky is floundering
Kentucky's nonconference resume to this point is highlighted by a win over Michigan and losses to Michigan State, Gonzaga and now UCLA. The No. 16 Bruins for a 63-53 win in the CBS Sports Classic that dropped the No. 13 Wildcats to 7-3. Aside from the win over the Wolverines on Dec. 4 in London, there is nothing of any significance on the Wildcats' resume. Given Michigan's struggles, even that win is just mildly impressive.
If not for an offensive explosion in the second half from freshman wing Chris Livingston, the Wildcats might have been blown out by the Bruins. As it stands, they were held scoreless for the final 4:31 as star center Oscar Tshiebwe made just 4 of 12 shots from the floor and went 0 for 4 from the free-throw line.
Winner: Purdue hangs on
Purdue led Davidson by just a point with 11:30 remaining and never led by double-digits in the second half, but the No. 1 Boilermakers held on for a 69-61 win over the Wildcats. Zach Edey led the way with 29 points and 16 rebounds for Purdue, which will have a great chance to stay at No. 1 after it held the top spot for just one week last season after claiming it for the first time in program history.
But, if UConn has anything to say about it, the Boilermakers might relinquish the top spot even after winning both their games this week if enough of the AP Top 25 voters who voted for Virginia last week, switch their first-place votes to the Huskies instead of the Boilermakers.
Winner: UConn dominates again
No. 3 UConn improved to 12-0 with yet another dominant victory as the Huskies opened Big East play with a 68-46 thrashing of Butler on the road. All 12 of UConn's victories this season have come by double figures, including victories over power conference foes Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Florida and now Butler.
With No. 2 Virginia losing, the No. 1 Boilermakers barely surviving against Davidson and UConn dominating yet again, it stands to reason that the Huskies could challenge Purdue for No. 1 when the new AP Top 25 is released on Monday. Adama Sanogo led the way with 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Huskies on Saturday.