Our quick thoughts on Thursday's results:
St. Mary's loss at Gonzaga wasn't all that shocking, but the final margin of victory certainly didn't help the Gaels' at-large hopes. The 'Zags outscored St. Mary's by 16 in the second half on Thursday night, en route to a convincing 80-61 win in Spokane. Elias Harris and Matt Bouldin combined for 37 points for Gonzaga, who will likely be a low 3/high 4 seed next week. The big story here, though, is St Mary's, and whether or not the Gaels will be able to get an at-large bid if they win out (their next two games are at Portland and at San Diego) and then lose to Gonzaga in the WCC final. If the bubble continues to be as soft as it is now, the answer to that question could very well be yes. What's working against the Gaels, though, is their recent history of not getting a bid without beating the 'Zags at least once (see last year), the fact that their OOC resume is good but not great, and the fact that several bid-stealers inevitably will arise - and potentially bump them - during Championship Week. We will continue to evaluate St. Mary's on a week-to-week basis, but right now, there's a better chance they get left out than they get invited in.
Rick Pitino spent the afternoon denying that he wants the Nets head coaching job. After Louisville's performance on Thursday night, Pitino may want to reconsider. The Cardinals played, well, pretty Nets-like in an ugly and potentially very damaging 74-55 loss to St. John's at The Garden. The Red Storm scored the first 12 points of the game and never looked back, building their lead to as many as 28 late in the second half. The only way the Cardinals will stay in our bracket next week is if they can pull off a miracle at the Carrier Dome on Sunday. (Their 1-6 road record doesn't give us much confidence in that happening.) The more likely scenario is that they finish the week out of the field and lumped into the bigger-than-ever Big East bubble.
Louisville wasn't the only Big East bubble team to lay an egg on Thursday night. Notre Dame, which picked up two nice wins last week over Cincinnati and South Florida, lost 90-87 against struggling Seton Hall in Newark. The Irish came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to make it close in the second half, but then Luke Harangody injured his right knee on a rebound attempt with just under nine minutes to play. Harangody checked back into the game a few minutes later, but then left for good. (No word yet on the severity of the injury.) Jeremy Hazell did his best Harangody impression in the All-American's absence, scoring 35 points and hitting eight threes. The loss drops Notre Dame to 6-6 in conference; they host St. John's on Sunday and then play at Louisville next Wednesday in an absolute must-win game for both teams.
The biggest bubble battle of the night (say that three times fast) took place in the SEC, and it was Mississippi State that came out the big winner. The Bulldogs completed a huge season sweep of in-state rival Mississippi, beating the Rebels 71-63 in Starkville. Ravern Johnson (18 points) was one of four players to score in double figures for Mississippi State, which moved to 5-4 in conference with the win. The Bulldogs will likely be in next week's field provided they can beat Auburn at home on Saturday. The Rebels, meanwhile, will probably be on the outside of next week's bracket looking in. Their upcoming schedule is nice (they have three straight home games against Vandy, Florida, and Auburn), but they have yet to show they can beat a tourney-caliber team in conference. They've now lost three of four and have the eighth best record in the SEC.
Is Cal finally ready to run away with the Pac-10? The Bears certainly played that way on Thursday night, as they blew out Washington at home to improve to 8-4 in conference. They're now one game up on Arizona State with six games to play and have an upcoming schedule that's about as easy as it gets. Their only remaining road games are against the three worst teams in the Pac-10 (Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford) and their toughest home game is against a Sun Devils team that they already beat in Tempe. A 13-5 finish should be enough to get Cal an at-large and a 12-6 finish would put them in pretty good shape provided they don't suffer an early exit in the Pac-10 tourney.
Butler clinched its fourth straight Horizon title on Wednesday night by winning at Youngstown State. Gordon Hayward had 22 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs, who may end up being one of the hardest teams for us to seed on Selection Sunday. Butler has a gaudy record but only one good OOC win (vs. Xavier) and beating Siena at home in their BracketBuster game probably won't help them all that much. We think they could max out as a 4 seed if everything breaks right, but as of now, we like them on the 5 line.
Of note: Minnesota lost at home to Michigan; Utah State won at Boise State; Charleston beat Elon at home; Oakland won at Southern Utah; Murray State won at Tennessee Tech to stay unbeaten in the Ohio Valley; Coastal Carolina lost at High Point; Lipscomb lost at USC Upstate; Robert Morris won at Central Connecticut State; Middle Tennessee State beat Denver at home.