Syracuse wraps up stellar regular season; more Snap Judgments
No. 2 Syracuse stifled No. 19 Louisville to cap a notable regular season
Georgetown struggled vs. Marquette, but the Hoyas are still a March threat
Plus: Illinois State surprises, Iowa State thrives, Vols surge and more
Here's a quick roundup of Saturday's slate of college hoops:
No. 2 Syracuse 58, No. 19 Louisville 49: [RECAP | BOX] Brandon Triche had 18 points and Dion Waiters added 13 as Syracuse wrapped up arguably the best regular season of any Big East team in recent history. The Orange tied the conference record for league wins in a season with 17. The only blemish on their record came without Fab Melo, the seven-foot sophomore that anchors their defense.
At this point, it's pretty clear cut that the Orange are the nation's best team this side of Kentucky, and it's probably not all that close.
Syracuse can be downright stifling defensively. Against Louisville, the Orange held the Cardinals to 2-of-23 shooting and, once again, making the Cardinals look like a high school junior varsity team offensively.
The obvious issue with Syracuse is defensive rebounding. For a team with the front line size that Syracuse has to routinely get beaten up on the offensive glass is troublesome. But as long as it is blocking shots around the rim and forcing turnovers that lead to fast breaks, second chance points become less of a concern.
The beauty of this Syracuse team is that despite all of the talent it has, there are no egos. Who is scoring and who is playing crunch-time minutes is irrelevant as long as the Orange are winning games. How many teams in the country would a) have Dion Waiters and CJ Fair coming off the bench and b) have Dion Waiters and CJ Fair perfectly fine coming off the bench? Not many -- I don't think it's a stretch to say none.
The unity of this group can be summed up in one quote from Scoop Jardine. The Syracuse point guard celebrated his Senior Night on Saturday and did so without scoring a single point. For some, that would be an issue. Not Jardine. "I'd rather go out like I did," he said, "having zero points and a big win against a Louisville team that we hardly beat throughout my years than to have 30 points and a loss. That's not who I am."
That's not who this team is, either.
No. 8 Marquette 83, No. 11 Georgetown 69: [RECAP | BOX] Marquette shook off an ugly loss at Cincinnati on Wednesday by sandblasting Georgetown in Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. The Golden Eagles were up by 10 at the half and pushed the lead to as much as 17. Marquette looked every bit the part of a Final Four contender, using a stifling press to turn Georgetown over 15 times and force the Hoyas into 39.7 percent shooting from the floor. What was more impressive, however, was the way that Marquette was able to score in transition. It can run the floor as well as any team in the country.
I'm not sure that anyone in the country is playing as well as Jae Crowder is right now. He went for 26 points, 14 boards, five steals and three assists against Georgetown, meaning that in the last six games, he is now averaging 24.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.0 spg and 2.5 apg.
Georgetown certainly did not play its best game, but this is still a roster that has the pieces to make a run in March. The Hoyas are a very good defensive team thanks to the athleticism and versatility they have up and down their line up, but they are susceptible to a more physical team. Otto Porter and Greg Whittington are freshmen. Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson don't like contact. Jason Clark is a terrific basketball player, but he's not a natural point guard. Marquette personifies toughness, and it showed.
Thanks to two free throws from Tyler Brown with 6.4 seconds left -- and a pair of missed jumpers from Garrett Stutz and Toure' Murry -- the Redbirds were able to upset the Shockers and put the fear of a burst bubble into the hearts of every team currently sitting on the cutline. No. 25 Creighton ran through Evansville in the other semifinal, meaning that Illinois State will be taking the court on Sunday with a chance to win the MVC's automatic bid. Creighton is a lock for the tournament, meaning that the Bluejays just became the most popular team in the country. If they lose, an at-large bid disappears.
As far as Wichita State is concerned, its performance shouldn't be considered anything other than a by-product of the madness. The Shockers were the hottest team in the country coming in. They thoroughly dominated a competitive MVC and peaked at the end of the season. I'll chalk this loss up to Wichita's 34.9 percent shooting from the floor.
No. 12 Murray State 54, Tennessee State 52: [RECAP | BOX] Jewaun Long scored on a running layup with 4.4 seconds left on the clock as the Racers survived a gritty Tennessee State team and an off-night from star Isaiah Canaan to earn the Ohio Valley's automatic bid to the tournament. The Racers look like they are probably destined to get somewhere around a four or a five seed, which means that they may end up being a trendy upset pick. Canaan is a legitimate All-America candidate, but when he is off, this is a group that doesn't have a ton of other scoring options and lacks size on the inside. That said, how often does Canaan shoot 4-of-13 from the field and 1-of-6 from three?
Memphis 78, Tulsa 66: [RECAP | BOX] Will Barton had 30 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals as the Tigers cruised to a Conference USA regular season title. Joe Jackson added 16 points and five assists while Wesley Witherspoon went for 13 points and nine boards.
Memphis is one of the most underrated teams in the country right now. Because of its struggles early in the season and thanks to a conference that turned out to be underwhelming, Memphis has slid along under the national radar. Barton has had an All-America-caliber year, Jackson is playing some of his best basketball and guys like Witherspoon and Tarik Black seem to be finally living up to their talent level. And don't forget, Adonis Thomas -- who has been out for a month with an ankle injury -- might end up rejoining the team before the season is over.
Iowa State 80, No. 9 Baylor 72: [RECAP | BOX] Scott Christopherson had 23 points and six assists to lead five players in double figures as the Cyclones ended all that doubt they will be an NCAA Tournament team while earning the three-seed in the Big 12 tournament next week. This season was a resounding success for ISU, a team with a roster stocked with transfers, led by second-year head coach Fred Hoiberg.
Pierre Jackson had 35 points for the Bears in the loss, and while Perry Jones III had a double-double, he didn't get to the foul line a single time against a smaller ISU team. That says all you need to know about him as a player.
Tennessee 68, Vanderbilt 61: [RECAP | BOX] The Vols won for the eighth time in their last nine games on the strength of 18 points from Cam Tatum and 11 points and 14 boards from Jarnell Stokes, putting them someplace no one thought they would be back in November -- tied for third in the SEC. Crazier still? If Florida loses to Kentucky on Sunday, Tennessee will be the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. This group still has some work to do if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament, but if the Vols can string together a couple of wins in New Orleans, they have a chance. Remember -- Stokes didn't join the team until midway through the season.
UCLA 75, Washington 69: [RECAP | BOX] UCLA overcame a hot start by the Huskies to win its second straight game since SI's George Dohrmann exposed the program's troubles last week. Lazeric Jones had 20 points -- including a pair of big buckets down the stretch -- while Tyler Lamb added 14 points, six boards, five assists and four steals. It will be interesting to see if UCLA can turn these two wins into a streak in the Pac-12 tournament. How ironic would it be if an article surrounding UCLA's struggles brought the team together and changed its season?
It should also be noted that this was a loss Washington probably could not afford in its quest to earn an at-large bid to the tournament.
This is a group with the talent to make the Sweet 16 but an NCAA profile that may end up keeping them out of the tournament.
Cincinnati 72, Villanova 68: If the win over Marquette on Wednesday wasn't enough, Cincinnati should be able to feel pretty comfortable about their at-large status after knocking off the Wildcats. The win locked up the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament, meaning Cincinnati earns the final double-bye.
Marshall 79, Southern Miss 75: The Golden Eagles have now lost three of their last five games and may have played their way out of the NCAA Tournament picture. They still have a strong computer profile (a top 20 RPI) and nine top 100 wins, but more work needs to be done.
UConn 74, Pittsburgh 65: Jim Calhoun returned to the UConn bench on Saturday as the Huskies avoided blowing a 15-point lead to hang on and beat the Panthers in what may have been the final home game that Calhoun ever coaches. They also kept themselves alive for a spot on the right side of the bubble.
West Virginia 50, South Florida 44: South Florida had a chance to earn itself a double-bye in the Big East. Instead, it may have played its way into a win or two just to have a real chance of getting an at-large bid. The Mountaineers, who were led by 18 points from Kevin Jones, probably need a win in the Big East to get a bid.
Mississippi State 79, Arkansas 59: After snapping its five-game losing streak in overtime against South Carolina, Mississippi State followed that up with a convincing win over Arkansas to keep its bubble hopes alive for yet another day. The SEC Tournament is shaking out to be quite a mess, but the one thing that we know for certain is that the Bulldogs probably want to win a game or two to feel safe come Selection Sunday.
DePaul 86, Seton Hall 58: All Seton Hall needed to do to lock up its own bid was beat DePaul and Rutgers. It lost to Rutgers in overtime and got drilled by DePaul. The Pirates are in bad shape.
No. 3 Kansas 73, Texas 63: A win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse would have secured a bid for Texas. A win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse is also one of the toughest goals to achieve in this sport. J'Covan Brown had 33 in the loss for the Longhorns, who are probably a couple of wins away from the Big Dance right now.
Northwestern 70, Iowa 66: Finally, Northwestern landed itself a close win. After suffering what felt like its 15th heartbreaking loss of the season on Wednesday, the Wildcats kept themselves in contention for a bid by erasing a 15-point, first-half deficit on the road.
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