College basketball disguised itself as a soap opera on Saturday. On an afternoon where ranked teams were expected to cruise comfortably, there was instead a flood of General Hospital-like drama across the landscape of the sport, and particularly among its star cast of characters. Luke and Laura got nothing on what went down in Bloomington or Knoxville.
Among the numerous spectacles the afternoon provided was No. 6 Michigan State losing to Indiana (for a second time), No. 15 Kansas nearly stumbling against lowly Oklahoma State, and No. 19 Wisconsin, No. 13 LSU and No. 18 Florida State all grinding — but subsequently prevailing — through some closer-than-expected final minutes.
As always, there was no shortage of drama and we’re here to recap it all with a winners and losers style format from the day.
Winners: Gonzaga, Wofford flawless league runs
Gonzaga won 69-55 at rival Saint Mary’s late Saturday night, wrapping up the program’s fifth undefeated run through the WCC. It’s the most impressive WCC campaign ever for the Zags: they became the rare team to win all of their league games by double digits, and in fact the 27.0-point average margin of victory is the highest by any team in conference play since UNLV in 1991. That team was also the last one to go undefeated and beat all of its opponents by double digits. The 29-2 Zags are still comfortably on the No. 1 line, and may well be locked as a 1 regardless of what happens from now until Selection Sunday.
The only other team to go through its league without a loss this season is Wofford. The Terriers won 85-64 at Samford to improve to 26-4 and 18-0 in the SoCon, which rates as a top-12 league this season. The Terriers are up to No. 22 in KenPom, making them the highest-ranked team in that metric since Davidson in 2007-08.
Winner: Mountain West bid situation
Sure, Nevada losing 81-76 at Utah State was permanently damaging to the Wolf Pack’s hopes of getting a No. 4 seed, but it also got the league, practically, a lot closer to being a multi-bid conference. That’s normally the case for the Mountain West, but this is an abnormally bad year for the league. In fact, metrics rank it as the worst season in its 19-year history. But Nevada’s loss is Utah State and the Mountain West’s gain. The Aggies improved to 24-6 and got their first victory over a ranked team in 12 years.
Utah State would have won even had the play below not gone against Nevada, but check this out. Caleb Martin puts up a top-five dunk of the season, only to be negated due to a charge call. Absolute letter of the law, maybe this is a charge. Official needs to recognize the play here though and not reward a guy for leaping and not playing defense. When a play like this goes against the dunker, it’s a bad look for college basketball.
Loser: Ohio State’s outlook without its best player
The Buckeyes were throttled at Purdue, losing 86-51, one of their worst defeats in Big Ten play in the past decade. Now, Ohio State still projects as an NCAA Tournament team with some room to spare, but without Kaleb Wesson (indefinite suspension) there’s uncertainty ahead. OSU’s next game comes on the road against sub-par Northwestern and then it will close out the regular season at home vs. Wisconsin. Wesson will not play in either of those games, so OSU is vulnerable to losing both of them. If it does, it will be the ultimate bubble team heading into Big Ten conference play.
In that scenario (two more losses, 18-13 overall) it’s impossible to forecast whether OSU would need one or two wins in the Big Ten tourney with (or without) Wesson to feel comfortable, but regardless the bottom line is this: Ohio State can’t afford to lose out and think it’s in no matter what. Saturday’s loss was that ugly.
Winner: Virginia’s chance at the No. 1 overall seed
There’s something to be said not just for winning when expected, but winning by 24 when it’s expected you dominate an inferior opponent. That’s what the Wahoos did at home vs. Pitt, coming out on top 73-49 and improving to 26-0 this season against all teams not named Duke. UVA has now won at least 26 games five times in the past six seasons. The Cavs are vying with Gonzaga for the No. 1 overall seed. At this point, we think UVA has a slight edge. This is statistically the best per-possession offensive team Tony Bennett’s had at Virginia, too. The next game? It’s Monday at Syracuse. Should be a fascinating matchup, as it’s the only scheduled meeting between those two teams this season.
Winner: Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry
The teams are 1-1 vs. each other this season, the overall point differential plus-2 in Tennessee’s favor. The Vols exacted revenge on the Wildcats, winning 71-52 inside Thompson-Boling Arena. It was the best defensive performance Tennessee’s had all season. Plus, Jordan Bone put up 27 and made a mocker of Kentucky’s defense. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield as well. But big picture, this is a great thing for the SEC. Schofield attempted to slam home a dunk before time expired — but didn’t get it off in time. It was a statement from Schofield, who doesn’t run from confrontation.
When UK blitzed Tennessee two weeks ago, Kentucky fans were jeering Schofield as he walked off the floor. When that happened, he barked back, “Y’all gotta come to Knoxville.”
Tennessee backed up the talk. In doing so, it got a game up on UK in the SEC standings. The rivalry between these bordering states seems as strong as ever, which is a little surprising because both games haven’t been close. Ideally we’ll get a third tilt between this two in the SEC tournament. Such a matchup could wind up deciding if either winds up with a 1 seed on Selection Sunday.
Loser: Florida’s hideously mysterious campaign
The Gators had their five-game win streak snapped with a 61-55 home loss to a bad Georgia team. Mike White’s group wasn’t for sure expected to be top-25 quality, but this has been a letdown season for UF. Now at 17-12, Florida is on the wrong side of the bubble … and still has a home game vs. LSU and a road game against Kentucky to wrap the regular season. The opportunities are there, but the Gators are likely to be underdogs in both games. Both Florida and Bama took losses on Saturday (Bama falling at home to LSU) that put them on the outside looking in.
Loser: Michigan State’s long-term prospects
Michigan State looked like it had a solid case of being the best team in the Big Ten — and maybe the country — when it opened the season 18-2 overall and 9-0 in the Big Ten. Then a three-game skid spanning from late January to early February put a wet blanket on that notion, as did Joshua Langford’s season-ending injury.
But Sparty bounced back! After that lull, they won their next five. That’s the good. The bad: they also lost Nick Ward, who remains out indefinitely with an injury. Saturday things took another less-promising turn, not only with a 63-62 loss to Indiana, but with news coming down that junior Kyle Ahrens could be down for the season. Ahrens has been a critical bench piece, and his absence will test Sparty’s depth even more.
Michigan State will have a puncher’s chance to make a deep run with Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid still leading the way, but for a team that looked both deep, talented and experienced in the fall to now lose another experienced member who was a reason for their surge, we’re seeing potentially a contender fall apart right before our eyes.
Winner: Kansas’ Big 12 streak hopes
The Jayhawks got a full 40 minutes worth of heartburn from Oklahoma State, but Bill Self wound up winning yet again vs. his alma mater. Kansas’ record improved to 22-7 and stayed a game back in the Big 12, behind Texas Tech and Kansas State (K-State’s lead pending its game Saturday night at home vs. Baylor) after winning 72-67.
The biggest takeaway for Kansas’ win was the play of freshman shooting guard Quentin Grimes. You might recall Grimes had a big game on the opening night of the season vs. Michigan State, when KU — then ranked No. 1 in America — won 92-87. He’s been up and down the entire season since, but he had 17 points, four boards and three assists and was truly critical to KU keeping stride with Oklahoma State. So because of that, the Jayhawks’ hopes of finishing atop the Big 12 for a 15th consecutive season are still alive.
Loser: Fran McCaffery
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was suspended two games after going after an official following a loss earlier in the week, and that’s not the worst of it. His team fell at home to Rutgers on Saturday, the first without McCaffery, making him one of the top losers of the day.
Bottom line: Iowa should not be losing to Rutgers. Especially not this season, and especially not at home. Whether the Hawkeyes would have lost with or without him is irrelevant. Not having him and taking this loss is a bad look.
Winner: AAC’s NCAA Tournament quota
Houston’s faint hopes of landing a No. 1 seed expired on Saturday, but for the AAC, the fact UCF won 69-64 over No. 8 Houston is a huge deal for the league. It was Houston’s only home loss of the season. It gave UCF its only Quad 1 win of the season — and unquestionably amounts to one of the 10 biggest victories by any team this season in college basketball. The Knights were a vintage bubble team heading into Saturday. With the win, they’re still not 100 percent in the clear but it seems more likely than not that Johnny Dawkins’ team will be one of the 68 when the bracket is revealed on March 17.
UCF hasn’t made the NCAAs since 2005. It’s a huge boon for that school but also the American, which now is well-positioned for three teams (at least) to make the field: UH, Cincinnati (which beat Memphis on Saturday night, 71-69) and UCF. Temple, which hosts Tulane on Sunday, is in the thick of the bubble picture as well.
Loser: Kentucky’s prospects of landing a No. 1 seed
Knocking down No. 1 Tennessee on Feb. 16 was a step in the right direction for Kentucky as it put together a 1 seed quality resume, but being knocked down handily by the Vols might be the event that costs them that opportunity. CBS Sports Bracketologist Jerry Palm dropped the Wildcats from a No. 1 to a No. 2 seed following their 71-52 loss to the Vols on Saturday, and vaulted Tennessee from a No. 2 to a No. 1. UK has two games remaining in the regular season — and the SEC Tournament — to make up ground it lost by missing on a potentially great resume-booster on Saturday.
Winner: Confidence in Duke’s White
Duke’s Jack White came into Saturday boasting one of the worst streaks in college basketball, having missed 28 (!!) consecutive 3-point attempts dating back to Jan. 12. Not even the Houston Rockets were that off in their Game 7 tilt against the Warriors in the Western Conference finals last spring!
But White finally had a breakthrough Saturday, ending his streak with a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the first half of Duke’s 87-57 win over Miami. He finished the day with nine points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.
Winner: Purdue’s Big Ten title hopes
Look at you, Purdue. Slow and steady might just win the race after all. All season long there’s been endless discussion about Michigan and Michigan State being the top dogs in the Big Ten, but after a 2-2 start in league play, the Boilermakers have quietly cruised to a 15-3 mark in the conference, tops in the league with two games to play.
Loser: Indiana fans rushing the court
There was a time not long ago when Indiana fans would only rush the court for big events. A national title, a conference title, maybe a win over a No. 1-ranked team. But the way this season has gone in Bloomington, IU fans have resorted to rushing the court after improving to above .500, which it did Saturday by ousting No. 6 Michigan State …
Winner: Hofstra captures Colonial
In winning 92-70 over Delaware on Saturday, Hofstra also won the CAA — its first outright regular season conference title since 2000-01 in the America East Conference.
Losers: Rims in Knoxville
Tennessee did not just finesse its way to a 71-52 win over Kentucky — it dominated. The Vols dunked and dashed their way to an easy victory, and the poor rims in Knoxville stood absolutely, positively no chance. It’s a wonder Admiral Schofield didn’t bring the entire goal down here:
Or that Jordan Bone didn’t break the glass here:
Incredibly, those were the only two dunks on the afternoon for UT in a rout. But the Vols found plenty of other easy opportunities around the rim, too, converting 18 points on layups and 28 points in the paint overall.
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UCF, Utah State, and Oklahoma added big victories to enhance their tournament resumes
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Williams was helped off the court just before half, but was fine after the game
The Vols are now 25-3 overall, 14-2 in the SEC and tied with LSU atop the league standings
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