Our quick thoughts on Saturday's results:
Eric Bledsoe has been lost in the shadow of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins for much of the season, but the Wildcats' "other freshman" was the difference-maker when Kentucky needed him most on Saturday. Bledsoe scored all of his 16 points after halftime - included eight straight points during a key two-minute stretch - to help the Wildcats pull away from Tennessee late and win 73-62 at an amped-up Rupp Arena. Wall finished 24 points for the Wildcats, who won despite a rare poor performance offensively from Cousins. The nation's top freshman post player had 10 rebounds, but scored just five points and was 1-for-8 from the line. Fortunately for Kentucky, Bledsoe picked up the slack, and helped the Wildcats stay alive in the chase for the No. 1 overall seed. Tennessee, meanwhile, suffered its second loss of the week (both tough road games) and will fall to a low 5/high 6 seed as a result. They're the third best team in the SEC right now, behind Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
No team did more to pad its resume on Saturday than Xavier, who picked up a ginormous OOC road win against Florida in Gainesville. Jason Love had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Jordan Crawford added 18 points at the Musketeers pulled away late after blowing a 16-point first half lead. Jamel McClean had some huge rebounds in that second half run for Xavier, and the Musketeers benefited from some awful free throw shooting from the Gators (12-for-23 for the game). The win will move Xavier from an 8 seed to at least a 7 seed next week, and it will drop Florida very, very close to the wrong side of the bubble. The Gators went 0-2 for the week, and as we already detailed after their loss to South Carolina, their schedule the rest of the way is pretty rough. They play at Mississippi next weekend in what will be a play-in game for next Monday's bracket.
So much for Dayton's chances at getting an at-large anytime in the near future. The Flyers, who were our last team out this past week, lost at Saint Louis in 68-65 in double OT on Saturday to fall to 6-4 in the crowded A-10. It was a crushing loss for the Flyers not only in terms of the bracket (they're now a game behind Saint Louis in conference), but because of how the game played out as well. They led by five with 44 seconds left, but Kyle Cassity's lay-up cut it to two, then Paul Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Saint Louis at chance to tie. Rather than foul, Dayton let the Bilikens get off a three, and Kwamain Mitchell banked in a miracle 30-footer to force OT. In the second OT, it was another three - this one by Cody Ellis with 41 seconds left - that proved to be the back-breaker. As a result of the loss, Dayton will stay on the outside of the bracket looking in, and they'll slide down the Last Four list by a couple of spots.
Also in the A-10, Temple blew out Rhode Island 78-56 in Philadelphia, thanks to its school-record 68.6% shooting from the field. While the result wasn't shocking, it puts a little more pressure on the Rams going forward as they try to avoid falling to the wrong side of the bubble. They've now lost two straight, they still only have one good win in conference (at Dayton), and they have only one good OOC win to hang their hat on (Oklahoma State). They also have a very dangerous game coming up on Tuesday at Saint Louis. We're not saying we're going to take URI out of the field next week, but it's safe to say we're watching them a little more closely than we were a couple of weeks ago.
The most important bubble battle of the day took place in the Big East, and result was huge for Marquette. The Golden Eagles beat visiting South Florida 63-52 in Milwaukee to earn their fifth straight conference win and to improve to 16-8 overall and 7-5 in the Big East. With their remaining schedule, it's tough to see Marquette not getting a bid (it's OK to put them in now, Lunardi). They host Pitt on Thursday and then play at Cincinnati in another huge bubble game next weekend. After that, though, they play at St. John's, at Seton Hall, and at home against Louisville and Notre Dame. They should get to 11-7, which will get them a bid. South Florida, meanwhile, has some work to do. Back-t0-back road losses have dropped them to 5-7 in conference and behind Cincinnati on the Big East bubble list. Beating the Bearcats at home on Tuesday is a must, and then they'll have to find a way to get to 10-8 to be in the running for a bid. They play at Villanova on Feb. 24, but the rest of their games (St. John's, Providence, at DePaul, UConn) are all very winnable.
UConn figured to get an inspirational lift from having Jim Calhoun back on the sideline. Instead, the Huskies turned in one of the most unimpressive performances of the Calhoun era. The Huskies were inept offensively against Cincinnati at the XL Center, shooting 34 percent in a 60-48 loss. Calhoun called the loss "embarrassing" and one of the worst in his 24 years at UConn. It dropped the Huskies to 4-8 in the Big East and off the Big East bubble entirely. Cincinnati, meanwhile, got back to .500 in conference and put themselves in the mix to get a bid next week. What might ultimately stand in their way in the end, though, is a schedule that is pretty brutal from here on out. The Bearcats play at South Florida in a huge bubble battle on Tuesday, and then (after home games with Marquette and DePaul) play at West Virginia, home against Villanova, and at Georgetown to finish up.
Maryland's run to the top of the ACC standings hit a pretty big road bump in Durham. The Terps got blown out by Duke 77-56 at Cameron Indoor - in what Coach K's 1,000th game as Duke's head coach - to fall to 6-3 in conference. (BTW, how about Jay Bilas picking the Terps in this one on College GameDay?) Jon Scheyer scored 22 points and Brian Zoubek had 16 points and 17 rebounds for the Blue Devils, who moved to 9-2 in the ACC with the win. They'll be on the 2 line again next week, while Maryland will likely be a 9.
One of the most common non-bracket related questions we get asked is which team we like as a "sleeper" down the road in the NCAA tournament. The team we've been giving as an answer - Wake Forest - gave us even more reason to believe on Saturday night. The Demon Deacons (how are they not ranked yet, btw?) beat Georgia Tech 75-64 at home to improve 18-5 overall and 8-3 in the ACC, just one game behind first-place Duke. Wake has now won six of its past seven games and also has wins against Gonzaga (on the road), Xavier (which is looking better and better), and Richmond (also looking better by the day) on its resume. We have them seeded higher than most on the 4 line; they'll be at the top of that line at worst in Monday's bracket.
Oklahoma State cemented its place in next week's bracket by blowing out rival Oklahoma in Stillwater. James Anderson scored a career-high 31 points for the Cowboys in their 97-76 victory over the Sooners, which got them back to .500 in the Big XII. They play at Iowa State at and home against Baylor next week.
Thanks to their win over Mississippi at home on Thursday, all Mississippi State needed to do on Saturday was to beat Auburn at home to pretty much secure a bid in next week's bracket. The Bulldogs needed OT do it, but they got past the Tigers 85-75 in Starkville. Dee Bost scored a career-high 32 points in the win for Mississippi State, which welcomes Kentucky to town on Tuesday. An upset of the Wildcats (maybe a letdown game for Calipari's crew?) would do wonders for the Bulldogs long-term at-large hopes. A loss means they would have to go at worst 3-2 down the stretch and beat Tennessee at home in their season finale to feel good about their chances.
Does anyone want to win the Colonial? What was once a two-bid league with William & Mary leading the way is now an absolute mess - and it got even messier on Saturday night. Our auto bid this week out of the now one-bid Colonial (VCU) finished up an 0-2 week by losing 76-71 at (gulp) James Madison. The team that would have replaced them (Northeastern) scored 16 points in the first half and lost 53-52 at William & Mary on a Kendrix Brown jumper with seven seconds left. So who's in next week from the Colonial? That honor goes to our old friend Old Dominion, who is now tied for first in conference with Northeastern (after a win Saturday against George Mason) and who is now the only Colonial team with any shot at an at-large. The Monarchs will probably make their return as a 12 seed next week.
Conference USA is still going to be a two-bid league on Monday - but barely (and with a significant change in seeding). UTEP, which won its ninth straight game by beating East Carolina at home on Saturday, will be the highest seeded team out of the conference, and UAB will be behind them - and likely on the Last Four In list. The Blazers continued their shaky play of late by losing at home to Marshall on Saturday. It was UAB's third loss in its last four games and it dropped them, for the moment, into fourth place in conference. The good news for the Blazers - and the reason we will keep them in the field - is that their remaining schedule is not very difficult. We like their chances to win their next four games, and then they end with a game at home against Memphis and a road game at UTEP. If they can just win that Memphis game, they will be in good shape for an at-large heading into the C-USA tourney. Any slip-ups before that, though, and they'll be on the outside of the bracket looking in.
Cornell bounced back from its loss to Penn by picking up a hard-fought 48-45 win at Princeton. The Big Red are now tied in the loss column with the Tigers, who they play again on Jan. 26. In the meantime, they play at Harvard and at Dartmouth next week. Is anyone else rooting for a tie and a one-game playoff to decide the Ivy?
Against our better judgment, we put St. Mary's in our bracket last week as our last team in. It was more of an indictment on the rest of the bubble than anything else, but we also tried to convince ourselves that if the Gaels put up a good fight against Gonzaga on Thursday, we could keep them in and use their wins over Utah State, SDSU, and Northeastern as further proof that they were at-large worthy. That was the plan...until St. Mary's got blown out by the Zags in the second half, Northeastern lost, and to cap it all off, the Gaels lost 80-75 in OT at Portland on Saturday. Needless to say, they'll be back on the other side of the bubble on Monday.
San Diego State likely earned themselves a spot on the Last Eight Out list next week by beating UNLV 68-58 at home. Bill White had 19 points in the win for the Aztecs, who improved to 7-4 in the MWC. SDSU still isn't at-large worthy - even though they now have home wins over New Mexico and UNLV - because they have no OOC resume to speak of note on the road. They are going to have to win at BYU on Feb. 24 before we seriously consider them for a bid. The Runnin' Rebels, meanwhile, have now lost two in a row after beating BYU, and they'll see their seed drop a few lines as a result. They were the top 7 seed this week, but they'll be in the 9/10 range next week.
A big B101 fist bump goes out to Alcorn State, which won its first game of the season on Saturday night, beating Mississippi Valley State 55-54. Alcorn State trailed by five at the half, but made 11 of its 21 shots from the field after halftime to earn the victory. The Braves' win leaves Bryant University as the only D-I team without a victory. The Bulldogs, who have incredibly scored 60 or more points in a game just five times this season, hung tough but lost 52-42 at home to Northeast leader Robert Morris on Saturday to fall to 0-24 on the year. Their best chance at avoiding a winless season might be their next game - at Wagner (who's 4-23) on Thursday. If they lose out, they would be the first team to go winless since NJIT in '07-'08.
Of note: Northern Iowa lost at Bradley; Baylor beat Missouri 64-62 at home on an Ekpe Udoh tip-in with 1.6 seconds left; Virginia Tech beat Virginia at home; Kansas beat Iowa State at home; Texas A&M won at Texas Tech; Texas beat Nebraska at home; Kansas State beat Colorado at home; Villanova beat Providence at home; Purdue beat Iowa at home; Michigan State won at Penn State; Wisconsin beat Indiana at home; Clemson beat Miami at home; Vanderbilt beat LSU at home; Gonzaga beat San Diego at home; Butler won at Cleveland State; New Mexico won at Utah; BYU beat Air Force at home; Cal beat Washington State at home; Richmond won at St. Bonaventure; Utah State won at San Jose State.