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What we learned on a packed Tuesday night

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This is ONLY December (!), and as our site patriarch pointed out, last night was dizzying.

Here’s some of what we learned on a packed December night.

Gonzaga will be fine, but Villanova is a beast.

The Bulldogs have more than proven themselves after the PK80 success and explosion against Creighton last Friday night. Things, however, didn’t go well in their showcase game against Villanova in the Jimmy V Classic. Jay Wright’s machine shot better than any team has against the Zags this season, and ultimately opened up what was a close game for much of the first half in an 88-72 win. Here’s what our friends at the Slipper Still Fits said about the loss:

Villanova was simply the more balanced and composed side, in full control on both ends of the floor and capable of countering each Gonzaga blow. The Bulldogs simply had too many empty performances from key players as Johnathan Williams III (5pts, 4 rebounds and sat for long stretches of the game due to foul trouble before fouling out with 5 minutes left in the game), Killian Tillie (6 points, 4 turnovers), and Rui Hachimura all struggled to get any traction in the game.

There’s nothing wrong with a little sentiment.

Or a lot of sentiment. VCU and Texas played an exciting game at the Siegel Center, which saw the Rams stage a massive second half rally to come up just short. But the story of the night, of course, was Shaka Smart’s return to a place he coached for six seasons. It was a great atmosphere befitting the level that Smart helped VCU reach.

Sure, it would’ve been great to see the Rams finish off the comeback, but at the end of the day there wasn’t much to be unhappy about.

Nevada let a big opportunity slip away.

With that No. 22 next to their name, the Wolf Pack stormed out of the gates in Lubbock. They led Texas Tech by as many as 11 points in the second half, and by five points with 2:21 left in the game. The Red Raiders would ultimately come back and win in overtime, costing Nevada a resume-building win against a Big 12 team that just missed landing in the most recent AP Poll.

How does that affect the at-large dream? The Wolf Pack have that win against Rhode Island (with E.C. Matthews, no less), and four road wins. Their profile will also not tank with the remaining non-conference schedule, with solid-if-not-spectacular games against UC Davis and Southern Illinois. But according to friend of the site and bracket expert Eli Boettger, Friday at TCU is a must win.

South Dakota State has one high ceiling.

The Jacks succumbed to a late 16-1 rally in Wichita and lost to the Shockers after leading for much of game, and scoring more points (85) than any opponent in Koch Arena since the 2003-04 season. It’s not a novel take, but with Mike Daum (31 points, 7-12 3FG) and a coach unafraid to keep up the offensive pace, SDSU can be as exciting a team as there is in the country.

“Part of what gave us the advantage is playing loose and free and scoring the ball,” SDSU coach TJ Otzelberger said.”What has been successful for us is not trying to slow that down, so we kept our foot on the gas. Yet that speeds up the tempo of the game up and that’s what they were trying to do, create more possessions in the second half.

“If you get the lead by blitzing, we don’t want to go to the prevent defense.”

The thrill factor should only get better as point guard Brandon Key — a JuCo transfer — and freshman shooting guard David Jenkins continue to develop. The Jacks, already holding that win at Ole Miss, have another shot at a power conference road win on Dec. 15 at Colorado.

Tyler Hall is human.

Hall has a career scoring average of 20.7 points per game and will one day see his jersey in the Montana State rafters. But the junior was held scoreless (0 points, 0-9 FG) for the first time in his illustrious career in a 75-48 loss at Central Michigan.

How about that seemingly unlikely culprit? The Chippewas finished 345th in KenPom defensive efficiency last season while Marcus Keene was lighting up scoreboards. They’ve improved significantly this season (220th), and now sit at 7-2, knocking off their second top-200 KenPom opponent.

Don’t forget about Winthrop in the Big South.

The Eagles have had a somewhat nondescript start to the year, particularly since a 5-4 record is buoyed by three games against non-Div. I teams. Meanwhile, Liberty has done exciting things like win at the buzzer at Georgia State and UNC Asheville put a scare into Vanderbilt.

But don’t count out Winthrop, even with Keon Johnson gone. Senior forward Xavier Cooks dropped in 31 points as the Eagles challenged a solid Georgia team in Athens in an 87-82 loss. Winthrop has just two non-conference games left, including a trip to VCU on Dec. 19. We won’t know much about the Eagles heading into Big South play, but on Tuesday night they certainly looked like they’ll be a factor.