With first place on the line in Columbus the expectation was that #11 Michigan State and #3 Ohio State would play a tight, physical affair. And that's exactly what it was, with the visitors from East Lansing seeming to be the more comfortable of the two teams in the first half. Michigan State shot 46.9% from the field but the reason for their 35-25 lead at the half was their defense, as they limited Ohio State to 33.3% and forced eight turnovers.
As the streak grew longer, it seemed as if it became a foregone conclusion in the eyes of many that Murray State would simply run through the Ohio Valley Conference on their way to a Sears BracketBusters contest against Saint Mary's. Steve Prohm's head coaching career got off to a dream start, as the Racers won 23 straight games with Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole leading the way. That run came to an end on Thursday night as the Racers fell 72-68 to a Tennessee State team that relied on balance to grab their eighth win in the last nine games.
A week after being outclassed at home by first-place Saint Mary's there was no ignoring the importance of BYU's game against Gonzaga, especially if the Cougars were to remain alive in the race for second place in the WCC. Dave Rose's team responded as good teams should, taking control of the game with an 11-4 run to close out the first half on their way to an 83-73 victory. The frontcourt matchup proved to be the difference as BYU's duo of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies outplayed Elias Harris and Robert Sacre, with Hartsock's 24 points and 14 rebounds leading the way.
While they're likely a long shot to get back into contention for the WCC regular season title, Dave Rose's BYU (18-6, 6-3) need to make sure they at the very least finish no worse than fourth in the conference. With the setup for the WCC Tournament being what it is the top two seeds receive byes to the semifinals while the third and fourth seeds get a bye to the quarterfinals.
STANFORD (15-5, 5-3 Pac-12) AT CALIFORNIA (16-5, 6-2 Pac-12)
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. local)/Fox Sports Network
Remember the concerns late in non-conference play that Vanderbilt was destined to be one of the country's biggest busts? Don't look now but Kevin Stallings' Commodores won their eighth straight game on Thursday night, beating Alabama 69-59 in Tuscaloosa to remain tied atop the SEC with Kentucky (4-0). Alabama shot 26.5% from the field in the first half and trailed 26-19 at the half, and a 17-4 run over a five-minute stretch pushed the Vanderbilt lead out to 23 points at 58-35 with 8:12 remaining.
Following Shabazz Napier's game-tying three-pointer most coaches would choose to call a timeout to draw up a play, risking the chance of the defense aligning and taking away the primary scoring option. But with the man he wanted to take the final shot already in possession of the basketball, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin decided against calling a timeout and as a result his Bearcats are now 5-1 in the Big East.
With the SEC making the move away from two divisions, games such as the one between Vanderbilt (13-4, 3-0) and Alabama (13-4, 2-1) take on added importance in the race for one of those four first-round byes in the SEC Tournament. And while both teams presently have the look of NCAA Tournament clubs, there's nothing wrong with picking up another resume-building result.
Thursday was a big night for the Virginia Cavaliers as they were looking for their first win at Duke since 1995, and a victory over the sixth-ranked Blue Devils would raise their ceiling even higher.