Our quick thoughts on Wednesday's results:
If Minnesota ends up not making the tournament, there are going to be a lot of sleepless nights in Minneapolis spent lamenting what happened in The Barn on Wednesday night. Minnesota had a four point lead against Purdue with 1:46 to play, an injured Robbie Hummel was watching the game from the Boilermakers bench, and the Gophers looked liked they were about to get the marquee win they so desperately needed. But that's when Keaton Grant took over. The senior guard scored five points in the game's final 40 seconds, including the go-ahead basket with 7.7 seconds left, as the 3rd-ranked Boilers handed the Gophers a heartbreaking 59-58 loss. After Grant's basket, Minnesota had one final shot for the win, but Devoe Joseph missed a jumper, and Damian Johnson's tip-in of Joseph's miss came just after the final buzzer sounded.
The loss is obviously a brutal one for Minnesota - especially considering how close they came - and it puts a serious dent into their recently resurgent at-large chances. One of the main reasons we had the Gophers in the field this week is that we loved their chances to upset the Boilers, given how well they played at home against Wisconsin last week. With that chance blown, Minnesota is now going to have to win its last three regular season games to be in the mix for a bid. They play at Illinois on Saturday, and then at Michigan and at home against Iowa next week. If they can upset the Illini, the Gophers will be a tough call for us on Sunday night. We would like their chances to win out at that point, but they would be far from a sure thing.
(The silver lining for us on Wednesday night was that two of the other teams we could have put in instead of Minnesota this week also lost. Dayton dropped another A-10 road game at Temple, and San Diego State, who many bracketologists put in as an easy-way-out quick-fix this week, lost by 14 at BYU. Looking ahead, we still aren't crazy about Charlotte's chances and we still don't see how St. Mary's will end up getting a bid in the end, either. That means we may have to get a little creative Sunday night - if Minnesota loses at Illinois - in the way we fill that open backet spot.)
The win was huge for Purdue in terms of seeding and in terms of the Big Ten standings, but it may have come with a pretty hefty price tag. Hummel left the game with just over seven minutes to play in the first half after his right knee gave out on a drive to the basket. (There's no word yet on the extent of the injury.) The Boilers deserve a lot of credit for finding a way to win in Hummel's absence - they went scoreless for nearly 10 minutes during one stretch after he left - but if he's out for any length of time, their national championship hopes will take a serious hit. They weren't that deep as it was, and now their bench might have gotten a lot, lot thinner.
After four straight Big East wins, Pitt was probably due to lose a game in conference. Still, no one saw a performance like Wednesday night coming. The 16th-ranked Panthers trailed by as many as 24 points in the second half and lost 68-54 to a struggling Notre Dame team that had lost seven of 10 coming in and that was playing once again without Luke Harangody. The Irish won the game because of their long-distance shooting - they went 10-of-18 from behind the three-point line, while Pitt was just 4-of-18. With the win, Notre Dame improved to 7-8 in conference and crept up ever so slightly on the overcrowded Big East bubble. They still have to play at Georgetown on Saturday and at Marquette next week, with a huge home game against UConn sandwiched in the middle. The best the Irish can probably hope for is a 9-9 finish, which means they'd have to win two or more games in the Big East tourney to be in the at-large mix.
Pitt wasn't the only power conference team to get blown out on Wednesday night. Virginia Tech got knocked back to earth a little bit - by Boston College of all teams - in an ugly 80-60 loss to the Eagles in Chestnut Hill. The loss was the Hokies' second straight in conference and it makes their game at home against Maryland on Saturday that much more important. With their well-documented weak OOC schedule, Virginia Tech can't afford a three-game losing streak down the stretch. If they get by the Terps, they'll almost certainly get to 10-6 in conference, which will be enough to get them a bid. If they lose, they might be on the Last Four In list next week, and they'd run the risk of a road loss to Georgia Tech in their season finale potentially ruining their at-large hopes.
Marquette looks like it's finally found a recipe for winning close games: get the ball to Jimmy Butler. The junior swingman, who hit a game-winning shot for the Golden Eagles against UConn back on Jan. 30, was the late-game hero again on Wednesday night, hitting a 17-foot jumper at the buzzer to give Marquette a 63-61 victory over St. John's at Carnasecca Arena. Butler finished with 18 points for the Golden Eagles, who have played in 12 games this season that have been decided by five points or less. They're now 9-6 in the Big East with another road test coming this weekend at Seton Hall. After that game, Marquette returns home for two huge bubble games against Louisville and Notre Dame next week. A 2-1 record in those games would definitely get the Golden Eagles a bid; if they win just one of the three, they'll probably need two Big East tourney wins to feel safe come Selection Sunday.
Four of the seven Big XII bids faced off against each other on Wednesday night, and in true Big XII style, both home teams came out on top. LaceDarious Dunn scored 23 points and hit some big threes late as Baylor held Texas A&M 70-66 in Waco, and Dexter Pittman had 16 points and eight boards as Texas pulled away in the second half to beat Oklahoma State 69-59. For the Bears, Aggies, and Longhorns, these results matter only in terms of seeding. For Oklahoma State, it means they now have to win two of their last three games to avoid falling to the wrong side of the bubble heading into the Big XII tourney. The Cowboys welcome top-ranked Kansas to Stillwater on Saturday and then finish up with games at Texas A&M and at home against Nebraska next week. Two wins would get them to 9-7 and put them in pretty good shape. If they just get one, they'd have to win a pair of Big XII tourney games to get in.
It took Maryland a little while to wake up, but once Greivis Vasquez and Co. got going, the Terps had no problem pulling away from Clemson Wednesday in College Park. Vasquez had 15 points and 13 assists, and Sean Mosley added 20 points, as Maryland rallied from 15 down in the first half to beat the Tigers 88-79. It was the fourth straight ACC victory for Maryland, who is still undefeated at home in conference, and it kept them within a game of Duke in the race for the ACC regular season title. The Terps host the Blue Devils next Wednesday, in between road games at Virginia Tech and at Virginia. Clemson, meanwhile, has now lost four straight ACC road games and sits at 7-6 in conference with three tough games left to play. They play at Florida State on Sunday, home against Georgia Tech on Tuesday, and at Wake in their season finale next weekend. Two wins would clinch them an at-large, and one win would mean they'd probably have to win two ACC tourney games to feel safe.
Saint Louis finally lost an A-10 home game on Wednesday night, falling 73-71 to Xavier. The Bilikens led by six at the half, but the Musketeers went on an early 16-0 run in the second half to take control of the game. Jordan Crawford finished with 26 points for Xavier, which improved to 11-2 in the A-10 with the victory. They host Richmond on Sunday in what is their last real test of the regular season (they finish with games at Fordham and vs. St. Bonaventure). A 3-0 finish could net Xavier the A-10 title and perhaps a spot on the top of the 5 line heading into the A-10 tourney. Saint Louis, meanwhile, slips out of the at-large discussion for the moment as a result of the loss, but they have two more chances next week to get back in the mix (vs. Temple, at Dayton).
Of note: Villanova beat South Florida at home; Ohio State won at Penn State; Florida State won at North Carolina; Missouri beat Colorado at home; Mississippi State beat Alabama at home; UNLV beat TCU at home; UTEP won at Southern Miss; UAB won at UCF; Charlotte beat St. Joseph's at home; Cincinnati beat DePaul at home.