Our quick thoughts on Saturday's results:
Can you say Upset Saturday? That's what unfolded in about a six-hour stretch on Saturday, as both No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky were picked off on the road. Oklahoma State had little trouble with the top-ranked Jayhawks in Stillwater, and gave us one of the best court rushes of the season (albeit a few seconds early), in following their 85-77 win. The Cowboys are now sitting pretty and can worry more about what their seed will be on Selection Sunday than about their presence in the bracket. James Anderson was once again the hero for Oklahoma State, scoring 27 points and adding eight rebounds as the Cowboys led by as many as 19 in the first half and shot an incredible 60% from the field. The loss ruined Kansas' run at a perfect conference record, but the Jayhawks are still safely on the 1 line. In the end, this game helped the Big XII secure seven bids to the tourney for the first time in conference history.
If the selection committee is looking for big wins, they're going to love what they see when they look at Tennessee's resume. The Vols, who knocked off Kansas back on Jan. 10, beat their second 1 seed of the year on Saturday afternoon, upsetting 2nd-ranked Kentucky 74-65 in Knoxville. Tennessee led by as many as 16 in the first half and took an 11-point lead into the break, but Kentucky rallied to tie the game at 65-65 with 2:13 to play. Those were the last points the Wildcats would score, though, as the Vols went on a 9-0 run to end the game. J.P. Prince scored six of those nine points for Tennessee, who will likely sneak onto the 4 line in Monday's bracket despite losing at Florida earlier this week. Kentucky will still be on the 1 line, but they won't be hanging to that spot by much. Their resume is obviously impressive, but Duke does have three more Top 50 wins than Kentucky does to this point. The Wildcats are still a 1 for now, but they'll want to avoid any slip-ups next week (at Georgia, vs. Florida) if they want to stay there.
In case you were wondering: Saturday marked the first time No. 1 and No. 2 have lost on the same day in the regular season since Jan. 21, 2006, when No. 1 Duke lost at Georgetown and No. 2 Florida lost at Tennessee.
The new No. 1 team in the country (?) had no problem clinching a share of the Big East title on Saturday. In front of 37 trillion fans at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse blew out Villanova 95-77, and in the process, put themselves in line for their first No. 1 ranking since the '89-'90 season. Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku combined for 36 points and 17 rebounds and Wesley Johnson chipped in with 14 points and 10 boards for the Orange, who improved to 7-0 against ranked teams this season with the victory. They'll move up to the No. 2 overall seed in our bracket on Monday behind Kansas. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have now lost three of four and will likely be clinging to the last spot on the two line next week. Their last two games aren't easy (at Cincinnati, vs. West Virginia), and they might want to win them both if they want to avoid slipping to the 3 line heading into the Big East tourney.
Let the Virginia Tech debate begin - again. The Hokies dropped their third straight game in absolutely brutal fashion on Saturday, falling 104-100 in double overtime to Maryland in Blacksburg. Greivis Vasquez had the game of his life for the Terps, scoring 41 points (33 after halftime) and adding seven rebounds and six assists. Maryland appeared to have the game won at the end of regulation when Eric Hayes hit a long jumper to give the Terps a two-point lead with six seconds to go, but Tech's Malcolm Delaney drove the length of the floor and scored with less than a second to go to force OT. In the second OT, though, Delaney missed two huge free throws with 39 seconds left that would have tied the game. Maryland made five of six free throws after that to seal the win. The victory was the Terps' fifth in a row, and it will likely land them on the 6 line next week. If they can beat Duke in College Park on Wednesday, they'll probably end up sharing the ACC title with the Blue Devils (they finish with a game at Virginia) and they could enter the ACC tourney with a legitimate chance at a 4 seed.
The flip side of this game is what to do now with Virginia Tech. We've said all along that the Hokies needed to finish 10-6 to get an at-large, but after a killer 0-2 week, getting to 10 wins is going to have to include a win at Georgia Tech next weekend. It's not impossible to envision Virginia Tech winning that game, but their performance at BC earlier this week definitely gives us pause. No matter what our final decision on the Hokies is tomorrow night, we expect to answer a boatload of questions about them in the next few days. Some things, we guess, never change.
Harangody who? For the fourth straight game, the Irish were without their All-American forward, but for the second time this week against a Top 15 team, his absence didn't matter. On Wednesday, the victim was Pitt in South Bend, and on Saturday, Ben Hansbrough (21 points), Tim Abromaitis (19 points) and company pulled off a ginormous upset over 13th-ranked Georgetown in D.C. ND's convincing 78-64 win over the schizophrenic Hoyas puts them in great shape to get an at-large, and it immediately makes their game against UConn on Wednesday (on Senior Night no less) the biggest bubble battle of next week. The Irish's lack of an OOC resume is obviously a huge negative, but a 9-9 finish in the Big East (and Harangody's impending return) will no doubt get the attention of the committee. After their game against UConn, ND plays another huge game at Marquette next weekend. A 2-0 week would get them into the field heading into the Big East tourney, while a 1-1 week will have them squarely on the bubble going in. One Big East tourney win might be enough at that point; two wins would make them a lock. That could mean a nine-bid Big East in the end, provided UConn beats Louisville tomorrow and at worst splits its two road games next week.
Georgetown, meanwhile, will likely fall to the 5 line (and maybe to the top of the 6 line) as a result of the loss. The Hoyas have great wins, but they have also lost games to South Florida, Rutgers, and now ND, over the past three weeks. They also have two tough games coming up next week against West Virginia in Morgantown and at home against a Cincinnati team playing for its at-large life. We still think the Hoyas are a dangerous team, but they are incredibly up-and-down, and if Austin Freeman doesn't score (he was limited to five points in 23 minutes Saturday because of an apparent illness), they sputter offensively.
New Mexico put to rest any debate over who the best team in the MWC is. The Lobos were able to complete a season sweep of BYU with an 83-81 road win, handing the Cougars their first home loss of the year. It just wasn't a good day overall for the Cougars, who shot just 28% from three and were without leading scorer Jimmer Fredette for all but one minute of the second half because of stomach problems. It was the first win for New Mexico in Provo since 2000, and it was the latest addition to the Lobos' already impressive resume. They improved to 6-0 against ranked opponents and picked up their seventh Top 50 win overall. The Lobos might be maxed out as a 3 seed, but if they can win out, it is within the realm of possibility that they sneak onto the 2 line.
Will the Pac-10 be a two-bid league on Selection Sunday? That question can't be answered just yet, but one thing got a lot clearer on Saturday: Cal looks more and more like it's going to be dancing. The Bears had no problem with Arizona State in a 62-46 win at home, and as a result they clinched at least a share of the Pac-10 title. They'll win the title outright if they can win at Stanford next Saturday or if the Sun Devils lose one of their last two games. If Cal wins the Pac-10 outright (and maybe even if they settle for a share), it's almost a guarantee that they will get an at-large. Their computer numbers (21 RPI, 3 SOS) are great, and for as bad as the Pac-10 has been, it's still a power conference that has made a habit of getting a little extra love from the committee. A potential at-large bid for Cal is extra interesting for us because we have to project ahead next week and - perhaps - put a second Pac-10 team in as a bid stealer. As good as Cal has been lately (they've now won six of seven), they have lost four road games in conference this season, and they are no shoo-in to win the Pac-10 tourney. If they do win the tourney, the Pac-10's only getting one bid. If not, the Pac-10 might get two bids after all.
It seems like only yesterday that we were fighting off complaint after complaint from A-10 fans who insisted that the league deserved six bids. Well, how does three bids sound? After Rhode Island's inexplicable loss at St. Bonaventure and Charlotte's awful performance at George Washington on Saturday, that's exactly how many bids the A-10 will have in our bracket on Monday. The Rams and 49ers have both lost four of their last five games now, and both will be lucky to stay on the Last Four Out list next week. (Don't worry, A-10 fans, they'll both still be in Jerry Palm's bracket on Monday; URI will be probably be a 9 seed or so.) These two teams play at Rhode Island on Wednesday in what is an at-large elimination game for the loser. The winner will still have some work to do to get back in the bracket and will be in the mix along with Dayton for the fourth (if there is one) A-10 bid. Given the way all three of the A-10 bubble teams are playing right now, we fully expect one of the Big Three (Temple, Xavier, Richmond) to win the conference tourney and keep the A-10 a three-bid league.
Just when we thought Florida was a safe bet for the tournament, they went out and lost 78-76 at Georgia. The Gators rallied after trailing by 15 at the half, and got 29 points out of Chandler Parsons, but it wasn't enough. They now need to pick up a win this week in order to finish 10-6 in conference and feel confident about their at-large chances going into the SEC tourney. Picking up that win won't be easy, though, with Vandy coming in and then a road trip to Lexington on tap. If they end up 0-2 next week, it will take two wins in the conference tourney to lock down a bid. As things stand now, that second game would be against Mississippi State in what could be an elimination game depending on how things shake out during Championship Week.
Don't count out Minnesota just yet. The Gophers pulled off a season-saving road win against Illinois on Saturday for their first significant true road win of the season. The Illini had a furious comeback after trailing by 19 late in the 2nd half but missed at the buzzer to lose 62-60. In true Big Ten fashion, neither team shot better than 42% and they only combined for 38 points in the first half. Illinois now falls dangerously close to the Last Four In list and they'll need to pick up a win this week against either Ohio State or Wisconsin to secure their bid. The Gophers are in great shape now to get to 10-8 in conference with games against Michigan and Iowa left, which would put them right in the thick of things headed into the conference tourney. A trip to the Big Ten tourney semis would then be enough for them to lock down a bid. Our toughest call tomorrow night will be whether or not to still include the Gophers as our last team in.
Head-scratcher of the day: North Carolina 77, Wake Forest 68. (The Demon Deacons, who have now lost three in a row, will probably drop to a 7 seed next week.)
Of note: Kansas State beat Missouri at home; Texas A&M beat Texas at home; Baylor won at Oklahoma; West Virginia held off Cincinnati at home; Pittsburgh won at St. John's; Ohio State beat Michigan at home; Vanderbilt won at Arkansas; Mississippi State won at South Carolina; Georgia Tech beat Boston College at home; Gonzaga beat San Francisco at home; UNLV won at Air Force; Northern Iowa beat Illinois State at home; UTEP beat Rice at home; Old Dominion beat VCU at home; Cornell beat Penn at home (the Big Red's magic number to win the Ivy League title is now one); UAB beat Tulane at home; St. Mary's beat Loyola Marymount at home; Dayton beat UMass at home; South Florida beat Providence at home; Saint Louis beat Duquesne at home; Mississippi won at Alabama.