Five Storylines from Championship Week Thursday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. There were 60 games spread across 18 conference tournaments on Thursday — here’s the TL;DR version of what happened.

1. Who Wants to Make the NCAA Tournament? Anybody?

Monte Morris Lifted His Team to a Thrilling Comeback Win Over Texas (USA Today Images)

Monte Morris Lifted Iowa State to a Thrilling Comeback Win Over Texas (USA Today Images)

It was a big day for bubble teams all around the country, as many were facing possible “win-and-in” situations but a shocking number of them played like teams under suffocating pressure. Illinois looked downright disinterested in a blowout loss to Michigan. Texas got out to a big lead over Iowa State and had all but locked up a spot when it was up 10 points with under four minutes remaining, but the Longhorns crumbled late. Miami and NC State lost to better teams, but both came out flat. And two much-discussed SEC bubblers, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, found ways — for the Rebels, that way was fouling a desperation three-point shooter with a second left — to lose to Auburn and South Carolina, respectively. Even Iowa, though not really a bubble team, was awful in a Big Ten Tournament loss to Penn State. That makes wins for Indiana and UCLA (and off days for Purdue, LSU, and others) all the more important.

2. The Stage is Set in the ACC…

Upsets are fun. But really good basketball is even more fun, and that’s exactly what we’ll get in the ACC Tournament this evening. All four favorites held serve yesterday in Greensboro, giving us a regional-worthy treat between four top 20 teams. First we’ll get Virginia, which labored through its game yesterday with Florida State, taking on a North Carolina team that appears to be improving. The Tar Heels started slowly but were impressive for the final 25 minutes against Louisville on Thursday. The other semifinal pits Duke against Notre Dame, another fabulous matchup. Thursday wasn’t a memorable day at the ACC Tournament, but because of that outcome, Friday could be.

3. And in the Big 12…

The Big 12’s top seeds also took care of business yesterday, although the fashion in which they did so was far more dramatic. Iowa State rallied furiously against Texas to progress to the semifinals. There, the Cyclones will meet Oklahoma, a team with which they played two exhilarating Big Monday games this season. That’s the bottom half of the bracket. On the top half, Baylor used a late push to get past a shorthanded West Virginia team to secure its third shot at Kansas. The Bears lost a nail-biter to the Jayhawks in January and blew a double-figure lead at Allen Fieldhouse in February. The way both teams are playing, tonight might be their best opportunity yet.

4. Are Oregon and UCLA ready to Upend the Pac-12 Apple Cart?

Isaac Hamilton Had Himself a Game on Thursday in Las Vegas (USA Today Images)

Isaac Hamilton Had Himself a Game on Thursday in Las Vegas (USA Today Images)

For over three months, there were really only two nationally relevant teams in the Pac-12: Arizona and Utah. When those two met, it was a big deal; when they played another of the conference’s 10 other teams, it wasn’t. But both Oregon and UCLA exploded for more than 90 points on Thursday and will get their shots at the big boys Friday. Both are also coming on strong and will be tough outs in the NCAA Tournament — that is, in the Bruins’ case, if they manage to get there.

5. Xavier vs. Butler Capped off an Intriguing Day at the Big East Tourney

We expected two close games and two not-so-close games at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament, and that’s exactly what we got — it just wasn’t the same two of each that many foresaw. As anticipated, Villanova blew out Marquette. But rather unexpectedly, Georgetown struggled with Creighton. Meanwhile, Providence continued its unheralded ascent with a comfortable win over St. John’s. And then the cherry on top was a nightcap overtime thriller between Butler and Xavier, the only lower seed in this field to win on Thursday. Xavier vs. Georgetown will be one of the more interesting (and underrated) games on the slate today.

Henry Bushnell (39 Posts)

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