Three teams (Belmont, Murray State and UNC Asheville) punched their tickets to the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
1. North Carolina jumps out to a big lead at Cameron, spoling Duke's Senior Day and winning the ACC regular season title.
Pouring salt in the wound of another isn't ever a good idea, and apparently the showing of a montage of big plays late in Duke's comeback win in Chapel Hill fired up UNC point guard Kendall Marshall. Marshall, and by extension his teammates, felt disrespected and as a result the Tar Heels had a little extra motivation to go along with the desire to beat their rival and win the ACC regular season crown. UNC jumped out to a 22-5 lead, withstood a Blue Devil rally in the second half and went on to win 88-70. Marshall led the way with 20 points and ten assists, knocking down seven of his fifteen shots from the field to make a defense that allowed him to shoot pay. In fact, Marshall was one of three starters to post a double-double, as Tyler Zeller (19 points, ten rebounds) and John Henson (13 points, ten rebounds) also had good nights.
All five starters finished in double figures for the Tar Heels, who also bludgeoned Duke on the glass 45-28 with 14 offensive rebounds. Mason (17 points, four rebounds) and Miles (16 points, 11 rebounds) Plumlee led the Blue Devils but the slow start landed them in a hole too deep to crawl out of. North Carolina did a better job of defending the three, and part of the battle was to make sure the Blue Devils didn't get the chance to attempt 36 as they did in Chapel Hill. Duke finished 6-for-21 from beyond the arc, and when combined with their 47.6% shooting inside of the arc that wasn't enough to withstand UNC shooting 60.3% from two and 54.5% overall. With both teams still in the fight for a one-seed in the NCAA tournament splitting the regular season series was key for North Carolina. One would think that an ACC tournament crown would be the "tiebreaker".
2. BYU gets outclassed by Gonzaga and now has to sweat out a week of action.
For the sake of the Cougars it may be a good thing if the selection committee got in some rest before they begin their week-long process of filling the 68-team field, because they did not look good in their WCC semifinal matchup with Gonzaga. The Bulldogs showed no ill effects of playing their first game of the tournament, coming out firing and jumping to a 12-4 lead by the first media timeout and leading by as many as 18 in the first half. BYU was able to close the margin to 12 at the half (38-26), but they were no match for Kevin Pangos and the Bulldogs in the second half as Gonzaga rolled to the 77-58 win. Pangos scored 30 points and dished out four assists, advancing the Bulldogs to the title game where they will play nemesis Saint Mary's, and the Zags limited BYU to 37.7% shooting on the night.
The question for BYU is how much damage does this defeat do to their NCAA tournament hopes. According to realtimerpi.com the Cougars entered Saturday with an RPI of 47, but their strength of schedule number (108) has to be a bit of a concern at this point. BYU does have three RPI Top 50 wins at this point, as they've beaten Oregon and Weber State in addition to Gonzaga, but two of those wins came at home and the Oregon win came in Salt Lake City. Saturday night notwithstanding BYU has the look of a tournament team, with Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock inside leading the way. But does the resume match up? That's a question that many will ponder over the next week.
3. Illinois State upsets Wichita State in the Missouri Valley semis, setting up a date with Creighton.
It was the situation that many bubble teams fear annually: a team not expected to go to the NCAA tournament makes a run in their conference tournament to possibly take an available bid off the board. Illinois State is 40 minutes away from doing just that as they beat top-seed Wichita State 65-64 in St. Louis. Tyler Brown led the way with 25 points and six rebounds, and his two free throws with 6.4 seconds remaining gave the Redbirds a 65-64 lead they would not relinquish. Garrett Stutz had a good look at the basket just before time expired but his shot fell short, eliminating the possibility of a third meeting between the Shockers and Creighton. But neither that nor the fate of bubble teams is (or should be) of concern to Illinois State, and Tim Jankovich also has Jackie Carmichael to call on inside. If the Redbirds get better on the boards (Wichita State grabbed 17 offensive rebounds) they'll have every chance of beating the Bluejays and winning the MVC tournament title.
4. Chalk rules in the CAA semis, setting up a massive battle between George Mason and VCU.
Many have joined the "two bids for the CAA" campaig, citing the gaudy records of Drexel, VCU and George Mason as one reason why. All three needed to reach the semis to make that goal a possibility, and along with four-seed Old Dominion they all took care of business on Saturday. George Mason needed a Bryon Allen reverse in the final seconds to beat Georgia State 54-52 while Drexel and VCU would both pull away in their wins over UNCW and Northeastern. That sets up a critical battle between VCU and George Mason on Sunday afternoon, with the winner likely having the best case for an at-large bid, and Drexel takes on ODU in what should be a slugfest. Getting two bids may be tough given strength of schedule numbers but with numerous bubble teams stumbling down the stretch the door remains open, and that's the least the CAA can ask for at this point.
5. Seton Hall wraps up an 0-2 finish against teams they were expected to beat, casting doubt on their NCAA tournament hopes.
One of those stumbling bubble teams is Seton Hall, and all the Pirates had to do was beat Rutgers and DePaul in their last two games heading into the Big East Championship. Last Saturday they fell to Rutgers at home in overtime, and things got even worse a week later as the Pirates were blown out by the Blue Demons 86-58. Kevin Willard's team just never seemed ready to go, trailing by 13 at the half and things would only get worse from there. Jamee Crockett led four DePaul players in double figures with 21 points and as a team the Blue Demons put on a clinic offensively, assisting on 23 of their 29 made baskets and shooting 53.7% from the field. Now Seton Hall has to get things going in New York, beginning with a first round matchup with a Providence team capable of beating just about anyone (they beat Louisville by 33 earlier this season) despite their lack of depth. Seton Hall has the opportunity to leave a better impression, but after Saturday's debacle there may be doubt as to whether or not the Pirates can take advantage.
1. Two teams to watch in next week's Pac-12 tournament are Oregon and UCLA as both enter the event playing well. The Ducks embarrassed Utah 92-46 in their regular season finale, jumping out to a 32-2 lead and never looking back. As for UCLA, they came back to beat Washington 75-69 to cap a 2-0 week that was kickstarted by a negative story in Sports Illustrated. Given the wide-open nature of the league it wouldn't be a shock if either of these teams put together a run. Oh, that loss didn't help the Huskies one bit from a bubble standpoint.
2. Butler won't have the opportunity to make another trip to the NCAA tournament this season, as they fell 65-46 at top-seed Valparaiso in the Horizon League semifinals. Horizon League Player of the Year Ryan Broekhoff led the Crusaders with 19 points and 16 rebounds as VU jumped out early and never looked back. This ends an impressive run for Brad Stevens' program, but the combination of a strong recruiting class and Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clark will give the Bulldogs a nice boost next season.
3. Higher-seeded teams advanced in three of the four quarterfinals in the Metro Atlantic with the lone exception being six-seed Siena, who beat three-seed Manhattan 84-82 in an overtime thriller. Owen Wignot's three with eight seconds remaining sent the game into overtime, and the Saints navigated a five minutes that would have wilted most teams that lack depth as they do. Mitch Buonaguro's team takes on Loyola (MD) in one semi while Fairfield and Iona meet on the other side of the bracket.
4. Memphis went on the road and beat Tulsa 78-66 to clinch the outright Conference USA title, and don't be surprised if Josh Pastner's team ends up in the Sweet 16 either. Will Barton scored 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the way but a key factor in their recent success has been the play of Chris Crawford. His steadying influence (seven assists, zero turnovers on Saturday) has allowed Joe Jackson to simply go out and make plays, and while the turnovers for Jackson are still an issue (six against Tulsa) the emergence of Crawford has helped buffer the impact.
5. In a matchup of two teams perceived to be on the bubble, West Virginia beat USF 50-44 in Tampa to pick up a much-needed road victory. Neither team shot well (WVU shot 28.8%, USF 39.5%) but the Mountaineers were able to grab 12 offensive boards and Kevin Jones posted another double-double with 18 points and 11 boards. USF's the six-seed in the Big East Championship next week, and they're going to have some work to do at MSG.
6. Speaking of the Big East, Jim Calhoun made his return to the sidelines and provided a spark to his team as UConn beat Pittsburgh 74-65. Roscoe Smith made some huge plays late to help the Huskies hold off the Panthers and Shabazz Napier finished with 23 points, six rebounds and four steals. UConn begins their Big East Championship with a game against DePaul, but unlike last year's team there's no Kemba walking through that door. But at least they have their coach back.
7. Iowa State scored 50 second half points, erasing a seven-point halftime deficit to beat Baylor 80-72 and grab the three-seed in next week's Big 12 tournament. Scott Christopherson led the Cyclones with 23 points and six assists, and while Bill Self will most likely win Big 12 Coach of the Year (and rightfully so) an argument can be made for Fred Hoiberg as well.
8. The top two seeds in the Patriot League will meet on Wednesday night as both Bucknell and Lehigh won their semifinal matchups by wide margins. C.J. McCollum put up 27, ten and six assists in Lehigh's 85-66 win over American, and Bucknell beat Lafayette 79-52 thanks in part to 18 points apiece from Mike Muscala and Joe Willman. The two teams split their two regular season meetings with the road team winning both, and it was a McCollum dagger in the final seconds that made the difference in Lewisburg.
9. The North Division of the Southern Conference didn't have the best-looking records at the end of the regular season but three teams from that division make up the final four in that tournament. The lone exception is overall champion Davidson, who beat Furman 73-54. UNCG and Western Carolina meet in one semi while the Wildcats will take on Elon, who beat Georgia Southern in the nightcap 65-58.
10. Jamaal Franklin was outstanding for San Diego State on Saturday, accounting for 35 points, 13 rebounds and five assists as the Aztecs handed TCU their first home conference loss this season in overtime (98-92). The win, combined with New Mexico's 78-61 win over Boise State, means a shared conference title and it's anyone guess who will grab the automatic bid. One would think that the Mountain West is in line to receive four bids come Selection Sunday.
11. Harvard wrapped up a share of the Ivy League title as they beat Cornell 67-63. Penn remained tied in the loss column with their 68-47 win over Yale, and all that stands between the Quakers and a one-game playoff is bitter rival Princeton. That won't be a walk in the park for Zack Rosen and company to say the least.
12. One of the biggest questions going into the SEC tournament is whether or not Tennessee can make a run at an at-large bid. To think that this would have been a topic for discussion back in December would have been borderline absurd, but Cuonzo Martin's team is a different one since the addition of Jarnell Stokes. The Vols beat Vanderbilt 68-61, led by Cameron Tautm's 18 points and Trae Golden's 17, five rebounds and four assists.
13. Northwestern avoided what would have been a damaging blow to their NCAA tournament hopes as they beat Iowa 70-66 in Iowa City. The Wildcats did what they needed to do (at minimum) in their final three games, which was beat Penn State and Iowa (their loss was to Ohio State at home), and that keeps them alive heading into the Big Ten tournament.
14. There's just one undefeated (in conference play) team remaining in college basketball as Long Beach State, Ut-Arlington and Utah Valley all dropped their first conference games on Saturday. This comes just days after Mississippi Valley State lost their SWAC finale, leaving Kentucky as the lone undefeated. The Wildcats take on Florida Sunday afternoon in Gainesville.
15. Dominique Morrison shot just 2-for-11 from the field but thanks to Michael Craion and company Oral Roberts was able to withstand an IPFW challenge, winning 71-67 in a Summit League quarterfinal. Craion scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Warren Niles scored a team-high 17 as the Golden Eagles escaped.