Nothing can match the excitement level of the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament, but the Thursday of Championship Week comes pretty darn close to doing that every year. This year was no exception. There were a ton of crazy games, wild finishes, and a slew of upsets on Thursday that affected teams at the top of the bracket (Syracuse, Villanova, Pittsburgh) as well teams fighting for their lives on the bubble (Memphis, UAB, Arizona State).
Here's a quick conference-by-conference breakdown of what happened and what it means in terms of bids and seeding with just 72 hours until the Selection Show:
In the ACC...
The most important result from Greensboro on Thursday was Georgia Tech's win over North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets were the last team in our field before heading into their ACC opener - despite a 7-9 conference record - because we at least liked their chances to beat the Tar Heels. Now comes the hard part: a date with Maryland in the quarters on Friday. We aren't that confident in Georgia Tech's ability to win that game considering how the Terps have played of late, but with the bubble collapsing the way it is, it's very conceivable that a close loss is all that the Yellow Jackets need. Their wins are better than any other bubble team's wins right now, and that should push them over the top if need be. In other first round action Thursday, Wake Forest got blown out by Miami to put an exclamation point on their year-end free-fall. The Demon Deacons lost five of six down the stretch, and as a result, they are down to a 10 seed in our latest field. Clemson also suffered a head-sratching loss to N.C. State on Thursday and dropped from a 7 to an 8. Miami's win over Wake sets up a Virginia Tech-Miami quarterfinal game on Friday that Hokie fans have to love. With one more win, Virginia Tech will almost certainly be dancing.
In the Big East...
The double bye jinx was in full effect in Madison Square Garden on Thursday, as top-seeded Syracuse, second-seeded Pittsburgh, and fourth-seeded Villanova all lost. West Virginia came close to joining that list, but Da'Sean Butler's banked-in three at the buzzer gave the Mountaineers a wild 54-51 win over Cincinnati. Despite their loss, Syracuse is still safe on the 1 line because they won the regular season Big East title by two games. Pitt, meanwhile, dropped down from a 3 seed to a 4 as a result of their loss to Notre Dame. The Irish have now won six in a row and are up to an 8 seed in our latest field. That's a seed line below Marquette, which jumped up from a 9 to a 7 by beating 'Nova. The Wildcats are clinging onto the final spot on the 3 line for now, but they very well could fall to a 4 depending on how teams like Wisconsin, Georgetown, Baylor, and others do from here on out.
In the Big 12...
To say the Big 12 tournament has lacked the drama of the Big East tournament would be an understatement. The top four seeds all advanced in relatively easy fashion on Thursday, highlighted by top-seeded Kansas' win over Texas Tech. Next up for the Jayhawks is Texas A&M, which took care of Nebraska in its quarterfinal game. The other two quarterfinal games were both 19-point blowouts: Kansas State beat Oklahoma State 83-64 and Baylor beat Texas (for the third time this season) 86-67. If A&M can upset Kansas on Friday, they'll move up to the 4 line, and they would be joined there by Baylor if the Bears can get past the second-seeded Wildcats.
In the Big Ten...
All eyes are going to be on the Big Ten on Friday as Illinois and Minnesota will try to pull off upsets and play their way into the field. The Golden Gophers kept their at-large hopes alive by beating Penn State in their Big Ten opener on Thursday. Next up is a quarterfinal match-up with Michigan State. With a win, Minnesota is in. With a loss, they'll be bound for the NIT. That same mantra might also apply to Illinois, which plays Wisconsin in another quarterfinal. The Illini may just need that win to get in, but their 13 losses and poor RPI might make it necessary for them to at least play a close game against Ohio State in the semis to get in. In the two other games today, Purdue faces Northwestern and the top-seeded Buckeyes take on Michigan.
The craziness of C-USA has to be right up there with the Big East results. How much money could you have made by betting we would see a Houston-Southern Miss semifinal? UAB's late season collapse is now complete after they got absolutely blown out by Southern Mississippi and Memphis lost any hope they had of snatching an at large bid dropping a heart-breaker to Houston (on of all things a double-dribble call). We're still going to play the odds and say that there has to be a bid-stealer out there somewhere, and we put Tulsa in today's bracket as the auto bid as a result. The Golden Hurricane play UTEP on Friday, and we think they have a good chance to win since the game is in their backyard.
In the MWC...
Things went perfectly for the MWC on Thursday. The top four seeds moved on, UNLV wrapped up its bid with a win over Utah, and San Diego State hung on to beat Colorado State. At this point, three bids is a lock and four bids looks like a safe bet. SDSU would be a lock if they beat New Mexico in the semis, but they should be in good shape with a close loss. as well. If the Aztecs do suffer a blowout loss, and ifbubble teams in the SEC, Big Ten, and A-10 step up, then the Aztecs could get snubbed again. We'll be the first to admit that we didn't see things developing the way they have over the past few weeks to enable the MWC to get four bids.
In the Pac-10...
So much for that elimination game between Washington and Arizona State. The Sun Devils didn't hold up their end of the deal by losing to Stanford. There are two things that we know about the Pac-10 right now: Cal is a lock and Washington is the only other team with at-large hopes. What we don't know is whether there will be one, two, or three teams from the Pac-10 dancing. If Washington were to lose to Stanford and if Cal wins the tourney then it would still be possible for the league to get one bid (that's unlikely). The most likely scenario is for Washington and Cal to both win their semifinal games, and then for both teams to get in regardless of who wins the title. Another possible scenario would be for UCLA to beat Cal and then beat Washington in the final. The league would then get three bids as the Huskies would grab one of the final at-large bids because of their two Top 25 wins.
In the SEC...
There were no big surprises on the first day of the SEC tourney. Florida avoided a bad loss by beating Auburn, so they should now be safe. Tennseess was able to take down LSU, which is good for Mississippi since they need a big conference win to secure their bid. Friday should be a very interesting day in the SEC. Mississippi and Mississippi State will both be fighting for their tourney lives. Also, Vanderbilt and Tennessee have great opportunities to improve their seeds with a run to the final or by winning the whole thing.
Elsewhere, Utah State beat Boise State to advance to the WAC semis, there they will face Louisiana Tech. In the MAC, top-seeded Kent State was upset by Ohio 81-64. The Golden Flashes are not at-large worthy and have been replaced in the bracket by Akron - a 98-87 winner over Eastern Michigan in double OT.
Last Four In
San Diego State, Washington, Georgia Tech, Mississippi
Last Four Out
Illinois, Minnesota, Seton Hall, Mississippi State
Next Four Out
South Florida, Arizona State, Saint Louis, Memphis
Big East (8), ACC (7), Big 12 (7), SEC (5), Big Ten (4), MWC (4), A-10 (3), C-USA (2), Pac-10 (2), WCC (2)
America East - Vermont
ACC - Duke, Maryland, Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech
Atlantic Sun - East Tennessee State
A-10 - Temple, Xavier, Richmond
Big East - Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Louisville
Big Sky - Montana
Big South - Winthrop
Big Ten - Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Big 12 - Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri
Big West - UC-Santa Barbara
Colonial - Old Dominion
Conference USA - Tulsa, UTEP
Horizon - Butler
Ivy - Cornell
MAAC - Siena
MAC - Akron
MEAC - Morgan State
MVC - Northern Iowa
MWC - New Mexico, BYU, UNLV, San Diego State
Northeast - Robert Morris
Ohio Valley - Murray State
Pac-10 - California, Washington
Patriot - Lehigh
SEC - Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi
Southern - Wofford
Southland - Sam Houston State
Summit - Oakland
Sun Belt - North Texas
SWAC - Arkansas-Pine Bluff
WAC - Utah State
WCC - St. Mary's, Gonzaga
Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse
Purdue, West Virginia, Ohio State, Kansas State
New Mexico, Temple, Michigan State, Villanova
Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Maryland
Baylor, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Butler
Texas A&M, Xavier, BYU, Richmond
Gonzaga, Florida State, Texas, Marquette
Notre Dame, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma State, Clemson
Missouri, California, UNLV, Utah State
Wake Forest, Louisville, St. Mary's, Old Dominion
UTEP, Florida, Virginia Tech, Cornell
Siena, San Diego State, Washington, Georgia Tech
Mississippi, Tulsa, Murray State, Oakland
Akron, Wofford, UC-Santa Barbara, Montana
Sam Houston State, Morgan State, North Texas, Vermont
East Tennessee State, Winthrop, Robert Morris, Lehigh (Play-In Game), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Play-In Game)
(Bracket courtesy Matt Reeves)
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