Despite loss, Miami still in charge; historic Big East finale; more hoops
Saturday night's schedule wasn't loaded with results of magnitude, but several games caught the eye and have significant NCAA tournament consequences. Earlier in the day? That's where the money was, with a series of great individual performances and compelling games. Miami escaped upsets in its last two games, but not today. It will be interesting to see the reaction to the Hurricanes' first ACC loss, as people continue to try to wrap their heads around Miami being a very good basketball team. If you missed any of the action, here's a quick roundup of the most meaningful results and why they matter:
The Hoyas went to the Carrier Dome and smothered the Orange in front of a school-record crowd of 35,012 in their final regular-season meeting at the Dome as Big East opponents. Georgetown snapped Syracuse's 38-game home winning streak, with the last 'Cuse loss at the Dome coming against ... the Hoyas on Feb. 9, 2011. Ironically, the Hoyas also broke a long streak Syracuse had in its old home, Manley Field House. Georgetown beat Syracuse there on Feb. 13, 1980 to snap Syracuse's then 57-game home winning streak. That was the final game in the Field House before the Orange moved into the Dome. The winning coach that night was John Thompson Jr., father of current Hoyas head man John Thompson III. Conference POY frontrunner Otto Porter had 33 points, eight rebounds and five steals in a monster effort that paced the victors. This was the latest in a lengthening list of bad perimeter shooting performances for the Orange, who were just 4-for-20 from behind the arc.
Quick takeaways: So, this deep in the season, we all expected the Hoyas to be leading the Big East, half a game up on Marquette, right? Thompson III deserves attention as a national COY candidate for the job he's done piecing this together, especially after losing Greg Whittington to eligibility issues. The Hoyas have now won nine in a row. The two teams play in the regular-season finale, too, in D.C. For the Orange, these long-distance woes are starting to become worrisome, as teams have established that the way to beat Syracuse is to make Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams try to beat you from the outside. With increasing frequency, they have been unable to do that. This loss also dents the Orange's designs on a No. 1 seed for the NCAAs, although if they end up as a No. 2 or even a No. 3 but land in the Washington, D.C. regional, that's not a bad consolation.
The Hurricanes had been asking for something like this for a couple of games and they ran into hot-shooting Home Wake Forest, a much different proposition than the Demon Deacons are on the road. C.J. Harris made all five of his three-point attempts to pace the Deacons with 23 points. Wake Forest shot 54.8 percent for the game.
Quick takeaways: Twitter's reaction to this result was both crazy and predictable. Bottom line: It's one game, and Miami's first loss with their full roster. The Hurricanes still lead the ACC by two games over Duke, and even with a loss in Cameron early next month, can win the league outright. Combine that with an ACC finals appearance and the 'Canes remain very much in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. The tournament has to have four of them, and it's not like we have a number of impeccable options. It's a bad performance from a team that's been struggling recently. Let's see what happens.
The Wildcats are one of the most enigmatic teams in the country, and they picked up a third high-quality home win for their at-large hopes. Darrun Hilliard poured in 22 for the winners. Only one Golden Eagle, Junior Cadougan (12 points), even scored in double figures. The loss drops Marquette out of a (virtual) tie for first in the Big East, ceding sole ownership to Georgetown.
Quick takeaways: Well, now what do you do with the Wildcats? If they can go 2-1 the rest of the way, that would give them (at least) one more big win to go with the three they have, albeit all at home. That's still a lot more than some bubble competitors will be showing. They'd also end up 11-7 in the Big East, which isn't a lock every year, but this year might show well enough to get in.
In the only BracketBusters game set to help up either winner, the Gaels grabbed what could be a really important home win. Matthew Dellavedova didn't deal an A+ game, but he still made five threes and dished out five assists in the win. The usually sharpshooting Bluejays made just 21-of-51 shots and went 5-for-18 from the arc.
Quick takeaways: This is easily Saint Mary's best win of the season, even with Creighton now having lost six of its last 11 games. Would this victory and a sweep of BYU be enough to get the Gaels in the dance without the auto bid? They'll be on the other side of the bracket from Gonzaga, so adding a win over the Bulldogs to an at-large resume is not possible. The two teams can only meet in the final.
As for Creighton, the Bluejays stemmed their Valley losing skid with two consecutive wins, but their seed is weakening rapidly. They'd be best advised to at least split at Bradley and vs. Wichita State to close out the regular season if they don't want to drop into the same type of situation as last season.
The Wildcats nabbed a crucial home win in overtime over road-struggler Missouri. Julius Mays and Alex Poythress combined for 45 points and 13 rebounds, offsetting 27 points and 10 assists from Missouri's Phil Pressey. The win moves Kentucky into a share of second place in the SEC with Alabama.
Quick takeaways: The Wildcats really had to have this one. After the fiasco at Tennessee in the first game without Nerlens Noel and scraping past a weak Vandy team, this one leaves a much better taste as far as potential at-large consideration. The hard work is far from done, though. After a home date with Mississippi State (which should be a win), the Cats are at Arkansas and Georgia and then home for Florida. This likely will come down to the SEC tournament, where an early exit could make for some nervous fans in Lexington. The Tigers should be OK in terms of NCAA selection, but shouldn't mess around down the stretch against mostly softer SEC completion.
Not a marquee opponent, but another massive win margin for the Bulldogs, who moved to 27-2 and are definitely for real, regardless of what you think about the West Coast Conference. Was Kelly Olynyk super-efficient with 14 points (on five shots) and nine rebounds? Or do the seven turnovers rank a grade drop?
Quick takeaways: With what's happening elsewhere around the country, the Zags (as suggested a couple weeks ago) could end up with a No. 1 seed, joining Memphis and Saint Joseph's on the list of recent "non-power conference" top seeds. With that would come the beneficial draw and location assignments -- Gonzaga likely would end up on a San Jose/Los Angeles path -- and the pressure of fulfilling expectations after falling short of them several times under Mark Few. The average 1-seed wins 3.3 games in an NCAA tournament, so that would mean Elite Eight (or better) would be the breakout goal.
The bulk of the nation is finally catching on that the Tigers have improved a lot since their flop in The Bahamas over Thanksgiving. They easily handled the league's second-best team for the second time this season, shooting 50 percent from the field, making 11 of 24 from the arc and putting five guys in double figures.
Quick takeaways: The Tigers clinched at least a share of the league title and will be the No. 1 seed in the C-USA tournament in Tulsa. They should find themselves safely into the NCAA tournament regardless of the auto-bid situation, but if they do take the league tournament, C-USA likely will be a one-bid league again. The Golden Eagles had to get this one to have any real chance for an at-large safety net.
The Crimson Tide had an apparent game-winner in the first overtime come just after the buzzer and fell in triple overtime for a damaging loss for their at-large hopes. Trevor Releford poured in 36 points for the Tide in the losing effort.
Quick takeaways: The Crimson Tide will retain at least a share of second place in the SEC (pending Kentucky's home game with Missouri later), but that's a deceptive position with the schedule they have played and the losses they have taken. Now there's even more pressure on the forthcoming road games at Florida and Mississippi, as this was a step back in a "compiler profile" based on bulk over quality.
The Rams rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to grab an important road win for their overall profile and keep pressure on Saint Louis atop the A-10. The Rams forced 22 turnovers, which was enough despite making only 8 of 28 from three-point range. Troy Daniels made five of the threes on the way to a team-high 19 points.
Quick takeaways: It's not a top-50 win, but it's a win the Rams needed in the middle of their very tough stretch run. Despite the overall record and strong positioning in the Atlantic 10, VCU doesn't have very much in the impressive win category as far as NCAA seeding.
Kendall Williams exploded for an arena-record 46 points on a Mountain West Conference record 10 threes (on 13 attempts) to lead the Lobos to a huge road win. Alex Kirk chipped in with an impactful 19 points and 10 rebounds for New Mexico. Colorado State had three 20-plus point scorers, but it wasn't enough as the Lobos closed the game on a 27-12 run.
Quick takeaways: With the win, the Lobos put a hammerlock on the Mountain West race. They're now two games ahead of the Rams with four to play and swept the season series, so the Lobos almost certainly will be the 1-seed in the Mountain West tournament. The job's not done yet, but the Lobos now can start to turn one eye toward March and possible seeding and location in the NCAAs. Colorado State had an 0-2 week with a prior two-point loss at UNLV, but it looks the part of a legitimate team that can win games in the NCAA tournament. It will be important for the Rams to hold on to second place, as the dropoff between the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds in the conference tourney could be pretty sizable.
This was a big home win and resume boost for the Tar Heels and the latest in a growing number of disappointing showings for the mercurial Wolfpack. Reggie Bullock busted the Pack for 22 points (including five threes) and 13 rebounds. Marcus Paige made a couple of big plays down the stretch on his way to 14 points and eight assists.
Quick takeaways: The Tar Heels really needed this win to boost their NCAA tournament credentials. They can add this victory to the home win over UNLV on the mantel and then worry about closing out ACC play in a solid way. Their final four games are no cakewalk, so this was a badly needed W. The Wolfpack drop to a really disappointing 8-6 in the league. They're going to be in the NCAAs, but they're really living more on rep than actual accomplishment at this point. They haven't handled most of their big opportunities this season, and their seed will reflect that come March.
Not to be outdone by Alabama-LSU, the Vols and Aggies went one extra bonus session before Tennessee pulled out the road win. Four players played at least 53 minutes in the contest. Trae Golden led the winners with 32 points. Elston Howard, who dropped 40 on Kentucky at Rupp earlier this season, had 38 points but needed 33 shots to get them for A&M.
Quick takeaways: There's a ways to go, but don't count out Tennessee as a possible at-large sleeper out of the SEC. It now gets Florida at home and also host Missouri in the season finale. If the Vols can get those two and at least one of the road games at Auburn or Georgia, they'd be in position to use the SEC tournament to make a run at a spot in the field of 68. They've also beaten Wichita State, Xavier and UMass out of conference.