Kentucky crushed without Noel, OSU streaking, more hoops
In the midst of a personal doubleheader in the Centennial State, a relatively quiet afternoon around the nation unfolded. Nonetheless, there were some impactful results that continue to shape what we'll see come the middle of March. Here's the best of what happened so far, and why it matters:
Tennessee 88, No. 25 Kentucky 58
A dreadful week for Kentucky concluded in spectacularly awful fashion, as the Wildcats were crushed in Knoxville in their first game after losing Nerlens Noel for the season. The Volunteers jumped out to a 35-12 lead and never looked back.
Quick takeaways: It's only one game, but it's the first game without their special shot blocker and the first game the NCAA selection committee will be looking at extra hard to see what this Kentucky team is without Noel. That determination will decide the Wildcats' at-large fate, and this was a horrific first impression. They're going to have to take advantage of this three-game homestand on tap to reestablish their credibility as an at-large because their profile even with Noel wasn't all that good. It could be an interesting and/or very long next few weeks for Big Blue Nation, based on initial evidence.
No. 17 Oklahoma State 84, Oklahoma 79 (OT)
A big win in Bedlam for the Cowboys, who wasted an early 11-point lead and had to rally from an 11-point second-half deficit. Marcus Smart had another huge game with 28 points and seven rebounds.
Quick takeaways: With the win, the Cowboys continue to control their own destiny in the Big 12. They're tied for first in the loss column with both Kansas schools and get both the Jayhawks (on Wednesday) and Wildcats at home down the stretch. I probably have had the Cowboys a bit underseeded in our weekly bracket projection. Now on a seven game winning streak, they're positioning themselves for a very solid NCAA seed.
No. 24 Colorado State 89, Air Force 86
The Rams staved off the Falcons in a pulsating in-state showdown and remain tied in the loss column with New Mexico for the Mountain West lead. In a typically balanced effort, all five Rams starters were in double digits, led by standout lead guard Dorian Green who had 22. That was (barely) enough to offset a career-high 45 points from Air Force's Michael Lyons, who went 17-for-25 from the field.
Quick takeaways: I suggested a few weeks ago that Colorado State could very well win the hypercompetitive Mountain West, and here they are. They are at UNLV next and then host New Mexico next Saturday. The final four in league play are very reasonable by this league's standards, so even a split here (beating UNM) at home may end up being enough for the outright title. Long way to go, though.
The Falcons really needed this home win to go with the San Diego State and UNLV wins as they started to build an at-large profile. They still get New Mexico at home, but will have to do some work on the road now to be truly viable.
No. 18 Marquette 79, No. 16 Pittsburgh 69
The Golden Eagles ran their home winning streak to 23 with a nice win over surging Pitt, reclaiming a share of first place in the Big East in the process. Vander Blue had an ultra-efficient 19 points and six rebounds for the winners, who led by 13 at the half and were comfortable on the way to the finish line.
Quick takeaways: These are the types of games that create separation, not only in the league but also in the NCAA seed curve for the tournament. Both Marquette and Pitt were in the 4/5 seed range in this past week's projection, and with a number of sites in the Midwest, pushing farther up the curve may end up being a big plus for the Golden Eagles.
Providence 71, No. 21 Notre Dame 54
Kadeem Betts had 20 points and Vincent Council had a rare rebounds/assists double-double as the Friars ripped the Irish in Providence. Irish OT hero Garrick Sherman had 12 points for Notre Dame.
Quick takeaways: The Friars are playing better basketball and have some talented individuals, but a 17-point loss in this spot is not a good look for the Irish. And there's no rest for the (really) weary as the Irish play at Pitt Monday night. That's a really rough spot after the week the Irish have had.
North Carolina 93, Virginia 81
The Tar Heels withstood early searing-hot Virginia shooting and roped in a very crucial home win for their at-large hopes. P.J. Hairston was huge, ripping six triples on his way to a game-high 29 points. Joe Harris poured in 27 for Virginia on 10-for-13 shooting.
Quick takeaways: North Carolina really needed to get this one at home. This also closes the standings gap between them and Virginia in the ACC, which is the type of confusion they need to create in order for the committee to perhaps prefer their modest-but-normal profile over that of the Cavaliers, with their stronger wins and slew of bad losses.
Creighton 71, Evansville 68
The Bluejays escaped with a three-point win to end a three-game losing streak that was starting to edge them toward bubble nervousness. Doug McDermott had 21 and 10 for the Bluejays and Evansville star Colt Ryan finished just 3-for-18 from the field, although he had 10 assists.
Quick takeaways: Creighton badly needed to avoid yet another Valley loss with the schedule they have remaining. They remain, for now, a loss behind Wichita State and host the Shockers in the final regular-season game. They also have to play at Saint Mary's in Bracket Busters next Saturday and at Bradley. Indiana State's loss today makes it much less likely that Creighton and Wichita State could meet in the Valley semis, which is a good development for both of those teams.
Other notable results:
-- Both Bucknell and Lehigh were upset in the Patriot League, which means the two remain tied for first place and Lehigh, with the home game against the Bison remaining (and having won at Bucknell) remains in best position for the 1-seed and home-court advantage in the conference tournament.
-- Indiana State lost again in the Missouri Valley, making their at-large hopes even thinner. Arch Madness is going to be one of the most crucial tournaments to watch for bubble stuff.
-- La Salle won again in the Atlantic 10 and remains "that team not enough people are talking about" in terms of an at-large from that conference. The Explorers may be Philadelphia's best hope to keep its "at least one team in the NCAAs every year" streak going.
-- Dayton beat Xavier, making both fan bases miserable.