College Hoops Thursday Recap: Good Day For Bubble Teams
Boston College and Virginia Tech got the job done in Greensboro, taking care of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech respectively to advance to Friday's quarterfinals. There wasn't a whole lot to see in either contest from a suspense standpoint but that should change as the Eagles face Clemson and Virginia Tech takes on Florida State in important matchups today. And while further down the list according to many, Maryland kept their hopes alive with a win over NC State that they made more difficult than they had to. Next up for the Terrapins is a matchup with Duke, and a win there would go a long way in reviving their slim NCAA Tournament hopes.
In the SEC Tournament there was really one game to keep a keen eye on, with Georgia expected to take out Auburn on their way to a matchup with Alabama on Friday afternoon. The Bulldogs did just that, beating the Tigers 69-51 and setting up a massive contest with the Crimson Tide on Friday afternoon. And then there's the case of Colorado, who beat Kansas State for the third time in the Big 12 quarters to set up a semifinal matchup with Kansas and likely punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Cory Higgins scored 28 points and Alec Burks added 24, six rebounds and five assists for the Buffaloes.
Lastly there are those who simply survived, with Michigan State and Memphis hanging on to keep themselves afloat. Given the overall strength of schedule for the Spartans they're likely in good shape, but that could have been thrown into doubt with a loss to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. And Memphis had to beat Southern Miss in the Conference USA quarterfinals, with that tournament possibly coming down to a showdown between the Tigers and host UTEP on Saturday. How many of these teams actually make the field of 68 remains to be seen, but the longer clubs can put off having to plead their case the better off they are. Keep winning.
Other Notable Happenings
1. UConn notches a big win while St. John's suffers a key personnel loss.
Thursday's 76-74 win over top-seed Pittsburgh in the Big East quarterfinals may be the latest sign that the kids will be alright for Jim Calhoun. Kemba Walker will get the majority of the attention for his 22 points, capped by a filthy step-back jumper as time expired to win the game. But there are other positives to be found in this win for UConn, who moves on to face Syracuse in the semifinals on Friday. Jeremy Lamb scored 17 points and Alex Oriakhi rebounded from a foul-prone start to finish with 13 points and seven rebounds. Shabazz Napier scored 10 points off the bench and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel grabbed a critical offensive rebound to set up the final sequence. But most importantly the Huskies rose to the challenge with regards to their toughness, something that did not happen when these two played in the Big East opener for both on December 28th. They're maturing at just the right time.
On the other side of the coin is St. John's, whose loss of senior wing D.J. Kennedy far outweighs their 79-70 loss to Syracuse that was closer than the score would indicate. Kennedy went down in the first half with a knee injury, immediately motioning to the bench that something was wrong. And after an MRI on Thursday night the fears of the program were confirmed: a torn ACL that will keep Kennedy out of the upcoming NCAA Tournament. But the Red Storm were also able to go with a different look, going big with Justin Brownlee, Justin Burrell and Sean Evans across the front line. The key for St. John's next week: improve on the boards. One day after giving up 18 offensive rebounds in their win over Rutgers, St. John's gave up 16 to Syracuse (C.J. Fair had seven). And while he may have had just one of those offensive boards that didn't stop Fab Melo from having the performance of his career with 12 points (Brandon Triche led the way with 22, six rebounds and five assists). Losing Kennedy is big for St. John's but for a senior class that's overcome quite a bit it's just one more hurdle they're capable of clearing.
2. BYU and New Mexico win, setting up Round Three in Las Vegas.
Opportunities to play your way into the NCAA Tournament abound this time of the year, and with their win over Colorado State on Thursday the New Mexico Lobos get one more shot at BYU. Steve Alford's team won both regular season meetings for the second consecutive season, and their size with A.J. Hardeman and Drew Gordon can give the Cougars fits due to their depleted numbers up front. Gordon grabbed 13 rebounds and Hardeman nine against Colorado State, and Kendall Williams scored 16 points to lead the Lobos despite cold afternoons from Dairese Gary and Phillip McDonald. McDonald has played well against BYU this season, scoring 26 in the win in Provo, and given how BYU struggled to put away TCU on Thursday it would not be a surprise if New Mexico were to beat them a third time.
3. Moments of brain lock doom both Oklahoma State and Virginia.
Two teams blew golden opportunities to advance on Thursday, with Oklahoma State's final play netting nothing more than a challenged three despite their being down by just one point (63-62). With a win the Cowboys get the chance to play for a spot in the Big 12 title game and possibly work their way into the at-large discussion. Instead, they're most likely headed to the NIT. But Virginia took the cake with the collapse of the day (Akron did blow a 20-point lead but at least they found a way to win), fumbling away a 10-point lead with 42 seconds remaining in regulation. Miami was able to get the game to overtime and even had a chance to win it but Julian Gamble's shot from mid-court fell short at the horn, winning 69-62 over a Cavalier team that looked thoroughly defeated at the end of regulation. At 16-15 an NIT berth is possible but given the number of regular season champions who have lost in their conference tournaments those chances may not be as good as hoped.
Top Three Games
1. Connecticut 76, Pittsburgh 74
2. Akron 82, Miami (Ohio) 75 (2OT)
Akron led by as many as 20 points in regulation before having to survive to get the game into overtime. But the RedHawks missed their final eight free throws to suffer a crushing defeat in a MAC quarterfinal. Brett McClanahan scored 20 points to lead the Zips while Orlando Williams (16 points) and Julian Mavunga (14 points, 18 rebounds) led Miami.
3. Washington 89, Washington State 87
Klay Thompson (Pac-10 Tournament record 43 points) was sensational all game but it wasn't enough to combat the big shots provided by Isaiah Thomas and C.J. Wilcox in the final game of the night in Los Angeles. Thomas finished with 21 points, 11 assists and three steals to lead the Huskies.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Klay Thompson (Washington State)
43 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Cougars' 89-87 loss to rival Washington in the Pac-10 quarters.
2. G Juice Thompson (Northwestern)
35 points, four rebounds and four assists in the Wildcats' 75-65 win over Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
3. G Aaron Johnson (UAB)
39 points, four rebounds and four assists in the Blazers' 75-70 overtime loss to East Carolina in the Conference USA quarters.