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I Slept On It: Conference Play Is Officially Popping

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The first Saturday of the New Year was also the first truly busy one of the 2015-16 season. In this edition of my semi-regular series, I attempt to summarize the most important results by league.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

American Athletic

Temple (6-6, 1-1) followed its big win over Cincinnati by taking a 77-50 rout at the hands of visiting Houston (12-2, 2-0). Rob Gray Jr. scored 23 for the Cougars, who look to be a threat for the AAC crown. The No. 22 Bearcats (11-4, 1-1) held Tulsa (8-6, 0-2) to two points in the first nine minutes en route to a 76-57 win in the Queen City. SMU (13-0, 2-0), 17th this week and still ineligible for the postseason, remained perfect with an easy 72-58 home win over USF (3-12, 0-2).

UConn (10-3, 1-0) almost gave up a 19-point lead in New Orleans, but the Huskies survived a conference-opening road trip to Tulane (7-8, 0-1), 75-67. That's UConn's first win in a conference opener since 2012.

UCF (7-5, 1-0) topped East Carolina (8-6, 0-1), 71-68, in a matchup of two likely non-factors.

Atlantic 10

In the battle to become Florida's best non-conference win, Saint Joseph's (11-2, 1-0) sneaked past Richmond (8-5, 0-1) 77-73 at the Robins Center. Isaiah Miles scored 17 and grabbed 16 boards for the Hawks, who have to be considered a threat in a pretty open Atlantic 10 race, while DeAndre Bembry scored 16. Among the other contenders, Dayton(11-2, 1-0) picked up a close 66-58 win at Duquesne (10-4, 0-1). Charles Cooke did the most damage for UD on the afternoon, scoring 23 on a day when the usual suspects (Kendall Pollard, Scoochie Smith, and Dyshawn Pierre) were limited to a total of 13. Rhode Island (9-5, 1-0) picked up an 85-57 win over visiting Saint Louis (5-8, 0-1). VCU (9-5, 1-0) blasted in-state rival George Mason (6-8, 0-1), 71-47. However, defending regular season champ Davidson (8-4, 0-1) fell at St. Bonaventure (9-3, 1-0), 97-85.

ACC

Florida State (10-3, 0-1) finished its non-conference slate with a one-point win at Florida, but the Seminoles' momentum didn't last, as they fell to Clemson (8-6, 1-1) in Greenville, 84-75, despite getting 23 from Malik Beasley and 21 from Devon Bookert. Jordan Ropert led the Tigers with 23. Georgia Tech (10-4, 0-1) gave No. 7 North Carolina (13-2, 2-0) a game much of the way in Chapel Hill, but the Tar Heels pulled away late, 86-78, spearheaded by a half-dozen double-figure scorers, led by Joel Berry II's 19.

No. 13 Miami (12-1, 1-0) used a 47-point second half to defeat Syracuse (10-5, 0-2), 64-51, in Coral Gables. Sheldon McClellan contributed 22 to the Canes' cause, while the struggling Orange, who have gone 4-5 since winning the Battle 4 Atlantis, got 20 from Malachai Richardson. No. 15 Duke (12-2, 1-0) opened its league account with an easy 81-64 win at Boston College (7-7, 0-1). Brandon Ingram was another player who almost got a double double on Saturday, scoring 25 and ripping down 9 boards for the Blue Devils.

Fifth-ranked Virginia (11-1, 1-0) picked up where it left off at the end of the non-conference portion of its slate, picking apart Notre Dame (9-3, 0-1), 77-66. Malcolm Brogdon led the way for the Cavaliers with 24, while Anthony Gill scored 21.

Virginia Tech (9-5, 1-0) got its ACC schedule off to a surprisingly good start, topping North Carolina State (10-4, 0-1) by a 73-68 score after overtime in Blacksburg. The victory snapped a five-game Wolfpack win streak in the series.

Pittsburgh (12-1, 1-0) stepped out of conference play to bolster their non-conference profile with a big 92-58 win over UMES.

Big 12

No. 19 West Virginia (12-1, 1-0) needed 10 extra minutes to claim an 87-83 win at Kansas State (10-3, 0-1). Count that as a missed opportunity for the Wildcats, who will need to grab some quality wins in conference play to be considered for an at-large after loading up on fluff in November and December. Before all is said and done, Texas Tech (11-1, 1-0) will have to prove itself on the road to earn a bid, but the Red Raiders got off to a good start in Big 12 play, knocking down some clutch free throws late (27-30 from the line) to top Texas (8-5, 0-1), 82-74 in Lubbock. Devaughntah Williams scored 23 for Tech.

The Big 12's two Top 25 showdowns played out quite differently. No. 2 Kansas (12-1, 1-0) had no trouble with No. 23 Baylor (10-3, 0-1) in Lawrence, blasting the Bears 102-74, powered by 24 from Wayne Selden Jr. and 17 points and six boards from Perry Ellis. The Jayhawks will meaning likely move into the top spot in the rankings heading into Monday's big showdown with Oklahoma, unbeaten and your new probable number two.

The third-ranked Sooners (12-0, 1-0) got the game everyone expected when they faced 11th-ranked Iowa State (11-2, 1-0) in Norman. Despite 29 points from Georges Niang, the Cyclones didn't have enough, falling 87-83. Buddy Hield scored 21 for the hosts, while Ryan Spangler tallied 20 and grabbed 11 boards.

In Stillwater, it was more of the same for TCU (8-5, 0-1), 69-48 losers at Oklahoma State (9-4, 1-0).

Big East

No. 9 Butler (11-3, 0-2) was the unlucky team to drop to 0-2 out of the Bulldogs' trip to No. 6 Xavier (13-1, 1-1), as the Musketeers dropped the hammer on the visitors, 88-69. Xavier was red hot from the field, hitting 56% of its attempts from the field. Seton Hall (12-2, 2-0) topped DePaul (6-8, 0-2) in an early 11 a.m. Eastern tip in Newark, 78-74, but not until sweating out three Billy Garrett Jr. free throws after the Pirates' Derrick Gordon fouled him right before the buzzer. Isaiah Whitehead scored 18 and dished out 9 assists for the Hall.

No. 12 Providence (14-1, 2-0) had no trouble with St. John's (7-8, 0-2), running all over the Red Storm, 83-65. Kris Dunn scored 26 and just missed a double-double by grabbing nine boards. This dunk was just one of his afternoon highlights.

Georgetown's (9-5, 2-0) mini-resurgence continued, as the Hoyas sent Marquette (10-4, 0-2) to a second straight defeat, 80-70, in the Nation's Capital. Five Georgetown players scored 10 or more, with Marcus Derrickson netting 16.

No. 16 Villanova (12-2, 2-0) used hot shooting €”with Jason Hart (25 points) and Daniel Ochefu (19) leading the way—to claim an 85-71 win at Creighton (10-5, 1-1) to wrap up the January 2nd Big East Marathon.

Big Ten

Michigan (12-3, 2-0) played without the injured Caris LeVert (left leg), but it didn't matter, as the Wolverines blew past Penn State (9-6, 0-2). Four of John Beilein's crew hit double-figures in scoring, led by Mark Donnal and Zak Irvin with 16. Wisconsin (9-6, 1-1) earned Greg Gard's first Big Ten win by drubbing Rutgers (6-9, 0-2), 79-57. Michigan State (14-1, 1-1) likely won't be on top of this coming week's rankings, but the Spartans did manage to win at the Barn without Denzel Valentine, topping Minnesota (6-8, 0-2) 69-61 in a game that was in doubt until the final minute.

Indiana (12-3, 2-0) won their second straight on the road, surviving a game Nebraska (8-7, 0-2) squad, 79-69 in Lincoln. Yogi Ferrell led the Hoosiers with 24, while Thomas Bryant tallied 19. The league's other Indiana school, 14th-ranked Purdue (13-2, 1-1) coughed up a 17-point halftime lead, falling to Iowa (11-3, 2-0) at Mackey by a 70-63 count. Jared Uthoff scored 25 for the Hawkeyes, who also took down MSU this week. Iowa hadn't won in West Lafayette since 2006.

No. 4 Maryland (13-1, 2-0) used a big first half to bury Northwestern (13-2, 1-1) in Evanston, 72-59. Melo Trimble contributed 24 points, eight boards, and seven dimes to the Terps' cause.

Mountain West

Boise State (10-4, 1-0), one of the conference's more likely at-large contenders (though the Broncos' case is a bit dicey), topped disappointing Colorado State (8-6, 0-1), 84-80, in the Mountain West opener for both. Air Force (10-4, 1-0) topped San Jose State (5-9, 0-2), 64-57, to win its league opener. Nevada (9-5, 1-1) picked up its first league win of the year, 71-68 over Wyoming (7-8, 0-2) in Reno.

But it's New Mexico and San Diego State (both 9-6, 2-0) who lead the league by a half-game over the Broncos and Falcons. The Lobos ran past homestanding Fresno State (10-5, 1-1), 77-62, while the Aztecs picked up a tighter 70-67 road win at Utah State (9-4, 1-1).

SEC

Last season, Ole Miss (10-3, 0-1) took Kentucky to overtime at Rupp Arena. The Rebels weren't so fortunate this season, as the 10th-ranked Wildcats (11-2, 1-0) rolled this time around, 83-61, thanks to Tyler Ulis' 20 points and 10 assists and a 18-point, six-board night from Jamal Murray. No. 20 Texas A&M (11-2, 1-0) demolished Arkansas (6-7, 0-1) in College Station, 92-69. Five Aggies hit double figures in scoring, with Jalen Jones netting 28. KeVaughn Allen scored 18 to lead Florida (9-4, 1-0) comfortably past Georgia (7-4, 0-1), 77-63. That's 13 home wins over the Bulldogs in a row for the Gators, who needed a victory after being stunned by FSU on Tuesday.

LSU (8-5, 1-0), one of the biggest disappointments of November and December, showed that they still can be a contender, winning at Vanderbilt (8-4, 0-1), 90-82, thanks in no small part to 36 points and 14 boards from super-frosh Ben Simmons.

Auburn (7-5, 1-0) defeated Tennessee (7-6, 0-1), 83-77, in a matchup of teams not likely to be NCAA contenders.

Alabama (9-3) topped Norfolk State 68-49 to wrap up its non-conference slate, and Missouri (7-6) also defeated MEAC opposition handily, blowing out Savannah State 81-50. Undefeated South Carolina, ranked 24th, picked up their 13th win, and maybe one that will count as a quality one later on, by defeating Memphis (9-3, 1-0 AAC), 86-76 in Columbia.

Other Key Results

In the CAA, Northeastern (10-5, 2-0) remained perfect in the league, at the expense of UNC Wilmington (9-4, 1-1), who the Huskies defeated on the road 65-63, despite missing three players for the night. Towson (10-5, 1-1) was no match for Hofstra (10-4, 2-0), as the Pride clawed the Tigers, 90-58. William & Mary (9-4, 1-1) got to .500 in the league by dropping College of Charleston (9-4, 1-1), 78-70.

Valparaiso (11-3, 1-0) opened Horizon League play with a resounding 75-47 win over UIC (2-10, 0-1) Flames. Green Bay (8-5, 1-0) joined them by topping Northern Kentucky Norse (4-8, 0-1), 86-70, so did Oakland (9-5, 1-0), 86-68 winners at Cleveland State (5-9, 0-1), while Wright State (7-7, 1-0) topped Milwaukee (9-5, 1-0), 84-82, after overtime and Detroit (7-5, 1-0) defeated Youngstown State (5-9, 0-1), 96-87.

Iona (6-6, 3-0) moved a half-game up on St. Peter's in the MAAC race after topping Quinnipiac (4-8, 1-2), 78-66.

Evansville (13-2, 2-0) and Southern Illinois (13-2, 2-0) are out to an early lead in the Missouri Valley, though 1-0 Wichita State and Illinois State can join them with victories on Sunday. The Purple Aces sent Missouri State (4-10, 0-2) to another league loss, 76-59, while in the evening, the Salukis topped Northern Iowa (9-6, 1-1) in Carbondale, .75-73 The Panthers' at-large hopes are nearly gone at this point.

In an early Patriot League showdown, Bucknell (5-8, 2-0) defeated Army West Point (10-4, 1-1), 84-76, in West Point, thanks to this odd halftime stat line.

Chattanooga (12-2, 1-0) got more than it bargained for in its SoCon opener at The Citadel (7-7, 0-1), but the Mocs prevailed 84-78.

Little Rock (12-1, 2-0) remained at the top of the Sun Belt, thanks to a difficult 67-61 road win over Troy (5-8, 0-2). Fellow early season surprise UT Arlington (11-2, 2-0) had no trouble with Georgia Southern (4-8, 0-2), prevailing 92-72.

Might St Mary's (13-1, 4-0) be the true WCC favorite? The Gaels steamrolled San Diego (5-8, 0-2), 79-46, while Gonzaga (12-3, 4-0) needed OT to top San Francisco (8-6, 2-2), 102-94, a little more than 48 hours after they struggled at Santa Clara. BYU (10-5, 1-1) rebounded from its loss to the Gaels by defeating Pacific (3-10, 2-2), 81-67.

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