The score was so stunning that it first appeared to be a mistake: Oral Roberts 78, No. 3 Kansas 71.
On Nov. 15, the Mid-Continent Conference's Golden Eagles beat the Jayhawks, whom Sports Illustrated had just proclaimed the country's No. 1 team, at venerable Allen Fieldhouse, where only three other nonconference teams had won in the past 13 years.
But what then appeared to be an aberration instead might have been part of a trend. So far this season, there have been 18 games in which a team ranked in the Associated Press top 25 has lost to an unranked opponent, and many have been genuine shockers. Four days after Oral Roberts's upset of Kansas, Old Dominion beat No. 8 Georgetown at McDonough Arena, where the Hoyas hadn't lost in 24 years (a stretch of 23 games).
The surprising results have been part of an unusually volatile first month of the college basketball season.
Georgetown (5-3), which hosts Oral Roberts (4-3) today at Verizon Center, and Kansas both have two losses to unranked teams; the Hoyas' two defeats caused them to drop out of the national rankings. Even defending national champion Florida has a loss to unranked Florida State.
"It's college basketball today," said Jim Boeheim, who is in his 31st season as Syracuse's coach. "Comparative scores are out the window now. To play that game is absolutely, patently almost absurd right now. You go through that game, and you've got Brown beating Providence, Providence beating BC [Boston College], BC beating Michigan State, Michigan State beating Bradley by 30, and Bradley beating DePaul by 20, and DePaul beat Kansas, and Kansas beat Florida. So is Brown better than Florida? . . .
"Basically it's more open than ever. We've been saying this probably every year for five years, but now there are more of those kind of teams than there used to be. Before there might have been two, three, four of those teams. Now there are probably 25."
Oral Roberts has two senior stars in Caleb Green and Ken Tutt. The Golden Eagles lost to top-seeded Memphis in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March, and their goal this season is to return to the tournament with a higher seed -- and their results against Kansas, Georgetown and Arkansas (their three big nonconference road trips) will be the key to that. They saw what mid-majors such as George Mason and No. 10 Wichita State did in the 2006 NCAA tournament.
"It's hard to pinpoint a reason, besides the fact that last year so many mid-majors had success in the NCAA tournament, and maybe that's given teams confidence," said Scott Sutton, who is in his eighth season as head coach of Oral Roberts. "And people may not realize how big of a deal this is, but we started playing [games] a week earlier this year. Veteran teams that have a lot more experience are going to be better early than teams with a lot of newcomers."
Marquette Coach Tom Crean, whose team beat Duke and lost to North Dakota State at home in a 12-day span, agreed. "I think everybody's excited to be playing games," Crean said. "But inside of that, you've got to do a lot of learning inside of the game."
Some of Marquette's players have since acknowledged that perhaps they didn't respect the Bison, who are in their third season in Division I, as much as they should have and that they didn't play with the same intensity they did against Duke. Marquette, which starts three sophomores and has been nationally ranked all season, is getting used to its higher profile and is learning how to close out games.
"As coaches and players, that residue of winning and leadership is handed down to where teams understand that they're going to get everybody's 'A' effort, 'A' execution, 'A' energy, and 'A' enthusiasm on any given night," Crean said. "That's what we have to learn as a team."
Green asked Sutton to schedule the game against the Jayhawks, and he said he was thrilled when he saw that the Golden Eagles would be making the trip to Georgetown, something he thought would never happen "in a million days."
"It's not hard at all for me or my teammates to get motivated for a game like this," Green said. "They're playing at home, they've got just about everything they need to win the ballgame, like the crowd. We don't feel like we've got pressure, so all we got to do is come in and play. This is a great opportunity for this program."
Sutton says that the 6-foot-8 Green is the most underrated player in the country, and that "if he was playing in the Big 12 or Big East, they'd be talking about him as a first or second team all-American. Green, who grew up in Tulsa, has averaged 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in his career, despite often facing double-teams.
In the 12 career games he has played against teams from one of the six power conferences, Green has posted eight double-doubles. One of them came two years ago against Georgetown in the Rainbow Classic; Green had 26 points (9-of-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds in Oral Roberts's 81-63 victory.
Three years ago, Green and Tutt earned first team all-conference honors, making them the first pair of freshmen from the same Division I school to be so honored in 73 years; they are both on pace to reach 2,000 career points, which would make them only the seventh pair of teammates in NCAA history to reach the milestone together.
Green had 20 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists against the Jayhawks, a performance that led Kansas Coach Bill Self to declare that Green was the best player on the floor, by far. Tutt scored 12 points and added six assists, and reserve Marchello Vealy made his first seven three-point shots en route to scoring 22 points.
"I think that's what happened at Kansas -- we had two really good players who were seniors, who had been on the road in tough places to play, and then we had a career night from a kid who came off of the bench," Sutton said. "There's not that much difference between a top 10 and I don't know what we are, a top 100 to 150 team."
The Hoyas have already learned that lesson.
"We don't talk about, we don't think about what name is across the chest," Coach John Thompson III said after the Hoyas beat James Madison by 36 on Tuesday night. "We lost to a CAA team, so we're in no position to start looking at conferences."