It was an odd weekend of basketball. The games weren’t all that interesting — at least when compared to Friday night, for example — but there was plenty to talk about when scores started rolling in. Mainly, it was a weekend that had few storylines other than Pac-10/SEC incompetence and prep work for all of the holiday tournaments that start this week.
Pac-10 Nightmare Saturday.
Loyola Marymount 67, USC 59. Will this ultimately be the worst BCS team loss of the entire season? LMU won a total of three games last season, and while the Lions are undoubtedly better, there is absolutely no excuse for them to beat a Pac-10 team on their homecourt. Ever. We understand that Kevin O’Neill has virtually no depth at his disposal, but come on…
Sacramento State 65, Oregon State 63. Regression to the mean on OSU this year? All the great work Craig Robinson put in to make a horrid team competitive seems to have gone by the wayside this year, as the Beavers laid another stinker against a team they should easily handle at home. Down 22 at the half, OSU rallied back behind Seth Tarver’s 14/10, but it was too little too late. The Pac-10 RPI continues to sink.
Portland 88, Oregon 81. This is actually the one loss that should have been expected, as Portland is likely to be the better team this year. Nik Raivio had 24/8 and his frontcourt mate had 17/8 as they shredded the Duck defense for 53% from the field and 58% from deep. This will end up being a win that Portland will look favorably upon later this season.
More Upsets This Weekend.
VCU 82, #17 Oklahoma 69. This seemed like a trap game when reviewing schedules, and it turned out to be one. Willie Warren had a disastrous game, shooting only 3-14 (0-8 from three) and committing six turnovers in the outing. Freshmen Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin combined for 25/18/6 assts, but VCU’s stars Larry Sanders (17/4/3 blks) and Jay Gavin (20/5/3 assts) outperformed them in Jeff Capel’s return trip to his old coaching haunt.
Temple 71, Siena 67. The Saints found themselves on the wrong end of a 13-0 second half run by Temple that gave up their hard-earned halftime lead. Juan Fernandez led the Owls with 20/3 assts, but it was Siena’s poor three-point shooting (1-9) that ultimately doomed them in this game. Alex Franklin had 22/6 and Ryan Rossiter had 8/11, but Siena will need to play better in coming weeks to make a push for an at-large should they not win the MAAC Tournament.
Vermont 77, Rutgers 71. Vermont should be proud to have gone into a Big East arena of a team that some expect to make waves this season and get a big win. Marqus Blakely did everything — 17/9/2 assts/4 stls/5 blks — as UVM gutted out a hard-fought victory in Piscataway.
Kansas State 83, #21 Dayton 75. Really not much of an upset, but a good team was going to leave Puerto Rico 1-2, and Dayton is the unlucky recipient. Jacob Pullen had 26/5/4 assts for K-State, while Dayton’s Chris Wright came through with 15/10 on the other side.
A quiet day following the storm of the 24-hour marathon and on the eve of two tremendous CvC semifinal matchups tomorrow night in New York City…
Story of the Day. Butler Passes Its First Non-Conference Test. #10 Butler 67, Northwestern 54. It was a balanced effort last night for the Bulldogs who shook off a sluggish opener against Davidson to down the shorthanded Wildcats. Northwestern could have used leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Coble along with senior forward Jeff Ryan (both out with season-ending injuries) against a deeper Butler squad that saw five players notch nine points or better. The effort was led by sophomore point guard Shelvin Mack’s 15 points and eight assists while Gordon Hayward chipped in with 14 of his own. Butler was able to win despite shooting a lackluster 8-16 from the charity stripe, a statistic I’m sure coach Brad Stevens won’t ignore. Butler now has a road date with Evansville before departing for Anaheim next week. For mor e details from this one, our RTC Live post is on it.
Longhorn Domination (or Was It?). #3 Texas 73, Western Carolina 41. Dominating win for the Longhorns against weak competition, but 21 turnovers and 18-31 from the free throw line have to be concerning numbers for Rick Barnes. A balanced scoring effort last night with some highlights including Damion James ’18/7/2 on 4-9 FG, 2-3 3pt and 8-10 FT, Gary Johnson with 10 points on 4-4 FG and potential starting point guard J’Covan Brown with 10 points on 3-3 FG. Remember: the Longhorns still don’t have Jai Lucas eligible. This is still the second-best team in the nation in my humble estimation.
Another intriguing “opening” day of college hoops, as mostly everybody who didn’t play yesterday played today.
Story of the Day. Manny Harris Records Michigan’s Second Ever Triple Double. These triple-double things are spreading among Big Ten players, as Michigan guard Manny Harris today dropped 18/13/10 assts in 29 minutes in a 97-50 shellacking of D2 Northern Michigan. Does it matter that Harris had his historic night (Gary Grant in 1987 was UM’s only other) against a non-D1 school? Not to us — Harris is a tremendous player and a dime is a dime. Passing the ball should always be rewarded, and Harris did his best today to make his teammates happy. DeShawn Sims could only muster a dub-dub (22/10), but his biggest crime was one of omission, as in, zero assists — share the wealth a little bit, DeShawn! Harris’ achievement joins fellow Big Ten-er Evan Turner as the second player with a trip-dub in the last week, as the Ohio State star recorded his first on Monday. These Big Ten guys can play a little bit, which is once again why we expect the league to do some great things this year. Other than Turner and Harris, who’s next? Talor Battle? Robbie Hummel? Kalin Lucas?
photo credit: AP/Mike Ding
Upset of the Day. Cornell 71, Alabama 67. Another day, another SEC team embarrasses itself at home. Did anyone in Alabama care? Probably not. Don’t get us wrong here – Cornell is a fantastic Ivy League team with all five starters returning and gobs of game experience under their collective belt. And Alabama is dealing with a new coach, a new system and a fanbase that is on its best day mildly interested in basketball, to put it nicely. But an SEC team with two top 25-type players in its lineup should never lose this game at home (sorry, Goodman, but we disagree with you here). This is not to take anything at all away from Cornell, who completely deserved the win today and will assuredly push everyone on its schedule this year, BCS team or not. The Big Red shot 10-18 from three, and when Bama made a run to cut a 15-pt second half lead to two, Ryan Wittman (23/3), Louis Dale (13/4/5 assts) and Jeff Foote (17/7/3 blks) held steady down the stretch. When Anthony Grant gets this thing going later this year, and we honestly believe he will, this win alone will probably be worth an additional seed line for Cornell. Its first win over an SEC school since 1973 (!!) is quite simply a huge boon for this program, and the forty-plus excited comments on Cornell Sports Blog seems to confirm it. Congrats, fellas.
RTC Live. We were privileged to provide online coverage for four of the top mid-major programs in America today. Here are a couple of recaps.
Three more Coaches vs. Cancer games tonight, and exactly zero of them were good games. Here’s how bad it was. The three favorites — UNC, Syracuse and California — were collectively favored by 80 points in Vegas, and all three easily covered the spread. Still, that doesn’t mean that the games weren’t interesting. RTC Live was at Cal for the second time in three nights, and we were rewarded with some of the excellent long-range shooting that the Bears have become noted for. Let’s take a look at each game.
Rautins Gets His Revenge.Syracuse 100, Robert Morris 60. A sterling performance and total effort for the Orange tonight against a Colonials team that returned three starters from the NEC champions of a year ago. Andy Rautins, two nights after missing all six of his shot attempts and rolling his left ankle, drained seven treys on ten attempts against Robert Morris in the triple-digit Syracuse scoring output, just two three-balls shy of Gerry McNamara’s school record. Overall, Syracuse shot 13/26 from downtown after a 2/17 performance against Albany, including two from Mookie Jones, James Southerland and, most importantly, Wesley Johnson. Big man Arinze Onuaku had a field day in the paint against the outmanned Colonials (7-8 FG) and Rick Jackson (4-5 FG, 10 pts, 5 reb) continues to improve. As far as the ever-changing point guard competition, both Scoop Jardine (6 pts, 9 asst, 2 stl, 3 TO) and freshman Brandon Triche (4-5 FG, 4-4 FT, 12 pts, 7 asst, 1 TO) contributed stellar efforts. Coach Jim Boeheim even elected to play both points on the floor at the same time when Rautins took a breather, a trend you could very well see extend further into the season. Overall, Syracuse fans have to be pleased with impressive back-to-back efforts to begin the year after the stunning Le Moyne loss during the exhibition season. They’ll battle California in the semifinals of what should be a memorable 2K Sports Classic in NYC next weekend.
Heels Win a Glorified Scrimmage. North Carolina 89, NC Central 42.The only question unanswered during the waning minutes of NC Central’s death march into Chapel Hill Wednesday night was whether Carolina could cover their 45.5-point spread. Although the 18 turnovers (including four from starting PG Larry Drew II) against this competition is still eye-opening, the Heels pretty much put an exclamation point on this one. The highlights: Tyler Zeller (who looks like Roy Williams’ most complete player in the early going) went 6-6 from the floor and added five boards, freshman backup point guard Dexter Strickland drained three treys, while elder statesmen Marcus Ginyard (17 pts, 3 reb, 3 asst, 3 stl, 7-10 FG) and Deon Thompson (13 pts, 6 reb, 5-9 FG) both chipped in on the cakewalk. Carolina invites Valparaiso to the Dean Dome before battling Ohio State in the 2K Sports Classic semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Cal Shakes off Detroit in Second Half. California 95, Detroit 61. Cal’s big three of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson outscored Detroit by themselves (62 pts on 17-32 FG, 7-14 3FG and 21-22 FT), using a strong second-half surge to put away the pesky Titans from Detroit tonight. It was clear after Monday night’s game that Randle was not pleased with his play, and tonight he started off quickly with 16 first half points to lead Cal until his teammates (most notably Christopher and Robertson) heated up. Cal’s defensive energy was significantly better than Monday night, holding Detroit to 35.7% shooting for the game, although often the Titans forced up bad shots making it easy for the Bear defense. And despite actually being smaller that the Titans inside the paint for much of the game, Cal dominated the boards (41-25). Our observation is that Detroit had some talent on the floor, especially the raw but capable Eli Holman (the IU transfer who threw a potted plant at or near Tom Crean 2 years ago), but it’s clear that the players haven’t quite figured out how to play together yet. As for Cal, it’ll be very interesting to see how they handle the trip to New York and the long Syracuse zone defense. You’d initially think that a great three-point shooting team would have an advantage against a zone, but it’s doubtful the Bears have seen such an athletic zone before.
On Tap Thursday (all times ET). Two games tomorrow night — one is in the CvC and the other is something called the Glenn Wilkes Classic.
James Madison @ Ohio State (BTN) – 7pm. This is worth watching just to see what Evan Turner can do again.
Georgia State @ NC State – 7pm. And the Sidney Lowe Watch begins.
Welcome back to RTC’s THIRD season covering college basketball with one of our old standbys, the nightly After the Buzzer feature. If you’re new here, the purpose of these nightly updates is to go a little deeper than game recaps. We’ll talk about the key games and storylines of each night of the regular season so that you can join the watercooler crew with some knowledge to throw around the next morning. Tonight we got the season underway with four opening round subregional games in the 2kSports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. None of the four favorites were every seriously threatened, but there were quite a few good storylines tonight.
Isiah’s debut. #4 North Carolina 88, Florida International 72. For a team picked last in their Sun Belt division and has just eight scholarship players on its roster, Isiah Thomas had his Florida International Golden Panthers putting up a respectable fight against the top-five Tar Heels in his much-anticipated coaching debut. The bright spots for the powder blues in the first post-Tyler Hansbrough era contest: Deon Thompson appears to be in for a fine year in the post, totaling 20 points and 10 boards on 7/11 FG while frontcourt mate Ed Davis used a slew of putbacks and easy buckets to complete his own double-double: 13/11/4 blks on 5/8 FG. The other big question mark heading into the season was whether Larry Drew could provide steady point guard play for UNC, and the sophomore put in a solid performance with 6/2 A:TO in 21 minutes, including a Lawson-esque coast-to-coast layup in the first half and a few pretty dishes to Thompson and John Henson for jams. The bad news: Even with the incredible turnover and rustiness of a season opener, Roy Williams cannot be pleased with a 26-turnover performance from his team against a Sun Belt foe (the most in any game coached by Williams at UNC), especially backup point guard Dexter Strickland’s five turnovers in 11 minutes. Also worth noting is Williams opting to go with a more experienced starting five with Thompson, Drew, Davis, Marcus Ginyard and William Graves getting the nod and Henson, Strickland, Tyler Zeller, Leslie McDonald and the Wear twins coming off the pine. This group is absurdly deep up front and, due to the high-impact departures, shouldn’t be expected to look like a world-beater in early November. They don’t.
Boeheim gets win #800. #25 Syracuse 75, Albany 43. Coming off their embarrassing defeat in an exhibition contest at the hands of D2 Le Moyne, Syracuse needed to come out in their first actual game of the 2009-10 season and make a statement. Their 2-3 zone defense confused the Albany Great Danes all night and was the primary factor in garnering a 75-43 victory for Jim Boeheim’s 800th win, putting him on an esteemed list with only two other active coaches — Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun. Syracuse’s defense and superb athleticism forced Albany into 32 turnovers and only 27% shooting in a primarily ugly game that lacked much flow. Syracuse shot just 2/17 from outside themselves including a clunker from three-point specialist Andy Rautins (0/6, 0/4 3pt) who left the game midway through the 2nd half with a sprained ankle (3am update: doesn’t sound too serious, but he was wearing a walking boot after the game). The good: Scoop Jardine coupled a productive preseason into another stellar performance at the point tonight, totaling 12 points and 4 assists on 5/7 shooting with just one turnover while his main competition, Brandon Triche, had some moments but mainly struggled with six turnovers. Syracuse looks extremely athletic with Wes Johnson (who features a sick one-handed posterization on an unsuspecting Great Dane) around the perimeter and Rick Jackson swatting shots down low.
First Weekend Storylines. Like most of you guys, we figure we watched approximately 38 hours of basketball last weekend over the first four days of the NCAA Tournament. Since we were in Vegas taking advantage of the sportsbooks’ multiple huge-screen tvs, we pretty much saw pieces of every game on the dance card. Here are some of our thoughts and observations based on the sensory overload (speaking of sensory, that chick making bedroom eyes at the burger in the McDonald’s commercial is ridiculously difficult to remove from the internal hard drive).
Coach K, Your Filet o’ Sole Has Arrived. From our point of view, at least in terms of the elite teams of each conference, there was never any question that the Big East was much stronger than that of the ACC this year. The fact that anyone was even questioning this seemed odd. This year, the Big East had six teams (of seven bids) with a reasonable shot to make a run at the F4 – UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville, Villanova and Marquette, and the first five of that group is still standing (the most ever by a single conference in the Sweets, btw); the ACC had three (of seven bids) – Duke, UNC and Wake Forest, but only the twin towers of Tobacco Road royalty are left dancing. The simple fact of the matter is that the ACC’s middle – comprised of Clemson, Florida St., Maryland, BC and Virginia Tech (NIT) – were only “solid” teams that had significant weaknesses due to personnel or other issues. Conversely, the equivalent caliber teams from the Big East (with the notable exception of WVU) were left out of the Big Dance. This group includes Providence, Cincinnati, Georgetown and Notre Dame, and there shouldn’t be any dissent as to the fact that each of these teams would have competed for the middle of the ACC with the above group and several would have also earned bids on the basis of the occasional upset (see: Maryland and BC). Sitting where we are now, with five Big East teams a mere two wins away from the F4, it wouldn’t shock us to see all four slots filled by a BE team. This is still an unlikely scenario, but keep in mind that only Villanova is considered an underdog to reach the next round (Syracuse is a pick’em against Oklahoma), and all five of these teams are more than capable.
#1 Seeds. UConn looked absolutely dominant in its two games, and while not much can be discerned from a 56-pt dismantling of Chattanooga, the 92-66 beatdown of a Texas A&M team that was coming on strong must be viewed with awe. The Huskies will get the best team in the Big Ten next – Purdue – but we have trouble believing that the Boilers will challenge Jim Calhoun’s team at this point. Suddenly a #1/#2 matchup against Memphis in the regional finals looks very appealing. UNC bombed Radford in its first round game before riding a partisan crowd’s energy and Ty Lawson’s toe to a breakaway win over LSU in the second round, 84-70. The Heels should put away Gonzaga easily in the next round (we doubt Heytvelt will dominate Hansbrough this time around), but a regional final against either Oklahoma or Syracuse could present all kinds of problems for the Tar Heels. Louisville and Pittsburgh both struggled to put opponents away in both their first and second round games. Both of these teams sometimes have trouble scoring, and we have to wonder when a prolonged scoring drought against a good team will be enough to end their run to the title. Pitt should have a relatively easy go of it with its next game against Xavier, but we’re looking at Louisville’s next game against Arizona and wondering what might happen if the trio of Budinger, Wise and Hill are all making shots.
Six OTs. Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT). Every once in a while there’s a game where as you’re watching it you just know something amazing is going to happen. Maybe it’s the bounce the players have on the court or the electricity in the air of the crowd. Maybe it’s the way a seven-foot-three giant outhustles a guy half his size for a loose ball on the floor, or the way a shooter comes hard off a curl to drill a 28-footer like it was a floater in the lane. It’s unclear how you know what you know, but you know that you’re witnessing something special, and you’re not alone – everyone in the joint can sense it, and the fans watching from home feel it too. There are only a few games in our personal history that we can remember having that sensation. The Laettner game was one – we realized it when UK started nailing threes all over the place to erase the 12-pt Duke lead in the blink of an eye. The Arizona-Gonzaga second round game in 2003 was another. Tonight’s Syracuse-UConn game was the latest.
Games like this, you don’t just watch. All the senses are engaged. You breathe them. You taste them. Even better, these games breathe you. They inhale the collective emotions and anxieties of everyone in the building, and like a living organism, emit a beautiful poetry of synaptic orgasmica. The final game time was just shy of four hours (an absurd length for a hoops game), but the second half and OTs felt like about fifteen minutes. It’s like nestling up with a loved one or stumbling across your favorite movie on TNT. Time no longer matters. That’s how you know. Our Big East correspondent, Rob Dauster, was live-blogging this game from his Blackberry inside MSG tonight, and reading through his posts is like reading the wild scribblings of a man reaching hoops nirvana (and exhaustion). There was one post that he made that absolutely crystallized this game for everyone tonight – “Every single person is standing in this gym.” Because that’s what it comes down to: the crowd, the players, the gym – all in unison, all making magic happen. For what it’s worth, Rob, every single person at home was standing too.
Now let’s get to the game itself. Obviously, we’ve been saying all year that Syracuse has F4 talent. The problem has been that they haven’t been able to maximize that talent, but the Orange are now showing signs that they’re starting to figure it out. This SU team has a swagger that we haven’t seen since the G-Mac days, but the key difference is that Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins are far more talented than McNamara’s last two teams. We fully expect the Orange to have nothing left in the tank for WVU tomorrow night, but we’d be utterly shocked if this team laid an egg in next week’s NCAAs. The Cuse plays hard, and we just have a sneaky suspicion this year that they’re going to make some noise in this year’s Tourney (Flynn’s Charles Smith impression notwithstanding).
As for UConn, they had three possessions in the first five OTs to win the game, and each time they dribbled the ball around and forced up some horrible shot. Even the play that gave them the tie to send it to OT before Devendorf’s absurd three at the end of regulation was off of a broken play. This is indicative of the same problem that has plagued this group of Huskies since they got to Storrs – they’re just not clutch. Here we are discussing a group of juniors that spent several weeks at #1 this year, and they’ve yet to win a postseason game. Not one! Husky fans are going to get angry at us and declare that they were able to win some meaningless game against Gonzaga or whoever during the regular season… but they’re UConn, an elite program, and they should know better than that. Legacies are built in March (that’s how Calhoun built his), and this group of players remains suspect until they prove once and for all that they can play championship level basketball in tournament formats. We’re still waiting on it.
After 70 Mins of Action, Syracuse Moves On (photo credit: NYT)
There are so many games today, we thought it would be worth a quick look at the afternoon sessions that have already concluded to see what’s going on out there, especially as it relates to BubbleLand.
Reminder: keep in mind that RTC Live’s correspondents are simul-blogging from both the Atlantic 10 and WAC today, so be sure to check those guys out.
Minnesota – Classic bubble team at this point with a 10-9 Big Ten record, 6-6 in their last twelve games, 9-9 against the RPI top 100, RPI in the low 40s and no bad losses. A win against Michigan St. on Friday leaves no doubt. A loss… and Minny is playing with fire.
Virginia Tech – Their game against Miami today had all the markings of a knockout game, with both teams holding identical conference records and similar RPIs. How do you justify a team getting put in that has lost six of eight, though? VT still needs to beat Carolina tomorrow.
Baylor – The Bears aren’t sniffing the bubble, but they’re looking very interesting as a possibility of this year’s Georgia. We referred to this in last night’s ATB – they simply outworked Kansas for this one. If they can survive the OU-Mizzou winner, they can cut down the nets in this thing.
Kentucky – Maybe the news that Patrick Patterson is returning next season inspired the Cats, but they’ll have their work cut out tomorrow against LSU. They need that game and more this weekend.
Michigan – this easy win over Iowa probably puts Michigan safely in. Their high-level numbers look exceptionally similar to Minnesotas, but where UM’s profile takes off is six wins against the RPI Top 50, including Duke and UCLA.
Kansas – Obviously, not in terms of the bubble, but KU probably dropped a seed line today. Whereas previous to this afternoon, they were talked about as a 2/3 on the S-curve, this may have dropped the Jayhawks to a 3/4.
Clemson – It’s really not good to lose to the last-place team in the conference in the first round of the ACC Tourney. Clemson is an NCAA team, but with four Ls in their last five games, they’ve swooned themselves into possibly an 8/9 seed range.
UAB – Believe it or not, UAB is still in the conversation with today’s one-point win over Southern Miss. The Blazers’ RPI is in the low 40s, but they’re 0-5 against the top 50. If the Blazers can get to the Memphis game on Saturday and just give the Tigers a good run on national tv, that might be enough.
Providence – Providence shot 2-17 from three and 33% overall in an ugly game that, had they won, may have been enough to get them into the NCAAs. Given their 70+ RPI, the question for the Friars is whether an overall 11-9 Big East record is sufficient when they played the top four seeds six times.
Arizona – Chase Budinger’s 3-15 shooting sunk the Wildcats, who should be feeling rather nervous about extending their 24-season streak of NCAA appearances right now. They’ve now lost five of six, and if they do make it in, they’re starting at a double-digit seed.
Kansas St. – Denis Clemente picked the wrong afternoon to go ice cold (4-20). The Cats had a nice second half of the season to get itself on the bubble, but they really, really could have used what was a winnable game against Texas today. Our gut says they’re going to end up on the outside looking in.
Miami (FL) – The Hurricanes aren’t dead, but they’re on life support. They needed this game just as much as Virginia Tech did, and they soiled the bed with a flat 35% shooting performance with no player reaching double figures.
Northwestern – The Cats gave a nice run at their first-ever NCAA bid, but 8-11 in the Big Ten and a 70ish RPI isn’t going to get it done. They really needed a solid run in Indy to make this happen. The NIT will be a nice consolation, though.
Redefining The Zone. Texas Tech 88, Texas A&M 83. Mike Singletary set a new career-high tonight in Texas Tech’s first round Big 12 Tournament game against Texas A&M… in the last ten minutes of the game. That’s right, Singletary caught lightning in his shooting hand, as he exploded for 29 straight points (9-10 FG; 8-10 FT) in the last quarter of the game (previous career high: 25) as he brought his team back from a 21-pt second half deficit. His performance was the second-longest such conflagration of consecutive points, ranking only behind (you know this one, right?) Bill Mlkvy from Temple fifty-eight years ago, who threw up an ungodly 54 in a row in a game against Wilkes. Courtesy of ESPN FC, we got to see the second half of this one, and we’re glad we did. Singletary didn’t look particularly quick or athletic or smooth – he just hit nearly everything he threw up at the rim. Oh, and did we mention that he didn’t even start the game tonight – maybe Pat Knight should just play him in the final ten minutes of the game from now on. Texas A&M, on the other hand, may have just watched its NCAA dreams die with their second-half gag (Mark Turgeon, double-team the guy torching your defense!!!) tonight. Probably not, though – the Aggies’ RPI is still strong, and they did finish hot down the stretch.
Other Important Bubble Games.
Providence 83, Depaul 74. PC allowed the Blue Demons to hang around in this one, and by virtue of playing the 0-18 team, they probably didn’t help their RPI or SOS any… but a win is a win, and with the win comes the opportunity to play #1 seed Louisville in the Big East quarters tomorrow. The good news for the Friars is that Louisville is lifetime 1-3 in this tournament, but the bad news is that the only team that has beaten them all three times has been Pittsburgh.
Baylor 65, Nebraska 49. NU probably didn’t have much of a case for an NCAA bid, but this loss solidifies their exclusion. The more important question is whether Baylor can salvage their extremely disappointing season by going on a run to win the Big 12 title. They will play #1 seed Kansas tomorrow, and although highly unlikely, KU is still a rather young team and could be vulnerable.
Oklahoma St. 81, Iowa St. 67. OSU will get a chance to renew bedlam with Oklahoma tomorrow based on their handling of ISU tonight. The Pokes were already in solid RPI position, but this win ensures their bid. Now it’s a question of seeding, and with two hard-fought Ls to Oklahoma already, will the third time be the charm?
West Virginia 74, Notre Dame 62. ND meekly slithered into the night (NIT) with their loss to WVU today. The Irish really needed a strong run into the late rounds of the Big East Tournament, and instead they couldn’t out-physical a team that thrives on that style of play today. Alex Ruoff had 25 pts and Devin Ebanks had 7/18 in the winning effort; the Mountaineers will get Pittsburgh tomorrow in what is sure to be a slugfest.
14 Down, 51 To Go...
#13 – Robert Morris (24-10, 15-3 NEC). Dallas Green instantly became a NEC legend tonight as his shot from the baseline after scooping a loose ball off the floor was the game-winner that sent RMU to it’s sixth NCAA Tournament, but its first since 1992. It was his only basket of the game, and even his coach said “oh no” when the ball scooted to his direction. Much-maligned Mezie Nwigwe scored three points in eighteen minutes of play.
RMU Begins Celebrating (Gene Puskar/AP)
Projected Seed: #14
Something to Remember: Although it didn’t show tonight (4-14), the Colonials are a strong three-point shooting team, averaging 39.1% throughout the season. They hit nine against Miami (FL) in an 8-pt road loss.
#14 – Portland St. (23-9, 11-5 Big Sky). PSU nearly let their second consecutive Big Sky title get away from them tonight, as they allowed upstart Montana St. to come back from ten pts down late to tie the game. But it was Julius Thomas’ dunk with 3.5 seconds remaining that gave the Vikings the lead back and a strong defensive effort on the ensuing MSU possession ensured that Jeremiah Dominguez and company will make a return appearance in the Big Dance.
Projected Seed: #14
STR: Beware. This team is an experienced squad that lost by one point at Pac-10 champion Washington and beat Gonzaga by seven. #1 Kansas ripped them last season, but they should have a higher seed this time around, and if they can catch a somewhat limited offensive opponent, they have a chance to pull the upset.
Other QnD Tourney Updates.
A10. St. Louis, St. Joseph’s, Duquesne and Richmond all advanced to the quarterfinals tomorrow. RTC Live is there with College Chalktalk live-blogging all of the action. The best game of the day Thursday will likely be the streaking Richmond Spiders (6 of 7) taking on Dayton.
Big 12. The only other game not covered so far was Texas’ win against Colorado. There are some juicy matchups in Oklahoma City tomorrow, but we’re most looking forward to the third incarnation of Bedlam – OU vs. OSU in a true neutral venue. OSU just might do this one.
Big East. Marquette had an easy time with St. John’s and Syracuse got into a bunchastuff with Seton Hall before finally pulling away late. We’re going to say it right here, right now. Tomorrow’s quarterfinal round is the greatest collection of teams in a conference tournament’s quarterfinals round EVER. There are four teams with realistic F4 chances and seven teams with legitimate S16 possibilities. Providence is the only weak link, and they managed to beat a #1 team this season. All of the games are worth watching (damn you, Dauster), but we’re most excited about the Marquette-Villanova game at 2:30 EDT so we can see how to parse these two teams.
Big West. Two minor upsets with UC Davis and UC Riverside today, but this league is completely wide open. Don’t be surprised if an eight-seed wins this thing.
CUSA. Over in the Retread Conference, Rice (Ben Braun), S. Miss (Larry Eustachy), Tulane and Houston (Tom Penders) all advanced today. The best game tomorrow is the Houston-UTEP matchup.
MEAC. No upsets in this league tonight, as all the higher seeds but one (who will play tomorrow) advanced to the semifinals.
Mountain West. In the opening round game, Air Force knocked off Colorado St. Tomorrow keep an eye on UNLV-San Diego St., a game with potential bubble implications depending on how deep the winner of this one goes.
Pac-10. Stanford and Wazzu advanced to the quarterfinals tonight. Several good games in the quarters tomorrow, but we’re most interested to see how UCLA responds after its loss a couple of weeks ago to Wazzu, who they’ll play again tomorrow night.
SWAC. The top two seeds in the SWAC advanced tonight. Two other quarterfinal games continue tomorrow.
ACC. The first round matchup of Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech holds the most interest, as both teams have been slumping down the stretch, but have enough talent to turn things around in short order.
Big 10. The first round begins tomorrow, and clearly the best game here is the Northwestern-Minnesota game. Neither team will get in from winning this one, but they will assuredly be out if they lose it.
MAC. The MAC continues with its quarters after a day off as well. No idea which game to keep an eye on here. None whatsoever.
SEC. None of the first round games are very good, but if you must pick one, go with Kentucky’s attempt to win 4-in-4 to keep the NCAA streak alive, starting with Ole Miss.
Southland. The quarterfinals begin, and Stephen F. Austin is the favorite.
WAC. The WAC is picking back up after a day off in its quarterfinal round. Remember that RTC Live will be there for the Utah St. vs. Fresno St. game, which should be the most interesting game of this round.
From 850 the Buzz, apparently the usage of the word “unanimous” is a little ambiguous at the ACC offices in Greensboro these days, depending on who the player is they’re trying to promote (FSU’s Toney Douglas vs. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough).
Now… on to the three dance tickets punched tonight.
# 10 – North Dakota St. (26-6, 16-2). NDSU is going to get a lot of national attention in the next week by virtue of the fact that this was their first eligible year in D1, and several players including star guard Ben Woodside redshirted their freshmen seasons to have the shot at the NCAAs they’re enjoying tonight, but remember that our very own John Stevens was all over this story before anybody – way back in mid-December when Woodside ripped the nets apart for 60 big ones. Tonight it looked as if their long-sought-after dream was dead, as the Summit League regular season champs found themselves down ten points with nine minutes remaining in the title game. Slow and steady, the Bison worked itself back into the game, and after Oakland’s Keith Benson tied the game with a dunk with 0:12 remaining, the ball was put into Woodside’s hands and the rest is history, 66-64.
Projected Seed: #13
Something to Remember: NDSU has the fifth most efficient offense in the country, and it’s predicated on great shooting and ballhandling. The Bison are #5 in three-point shooting at 41% and they are #11 in fewest turnovers per game. Whichever #4 or #5 seed gets this team had best bring their defense.
#11 – Cleveland St. (25-10, 12-6). Bubble teams all over America were cursing Gary Waters’ Cleveland St. Vikings tonight, as their Horizon League automatic bid earned over at-large lock Butler took one of the 34 available spots away from some hopeful team. Was it Creighton? Florida? St. Mary’s? We’ll never know for sure, but CSU held Butler stars Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward to a combined 21/12, and in so doing was able to make just enough plays on the defensive end down the stretch to get the upset win over Butler, 57-54 in their house. RTC Live had the liveblog coverage here, but if you were lucky enough to see the television coverage, you saw a team in Cleveland St. that wanted this game just a smidge more than their HL counterparts. The Vikings’ NCAA bid is their first since 1986.
Projected Seed: #14
STR: Cleveland St. played Kansas St. and West Virginia tough in losses earlier this year, and of course they beat Syracuse on the ridiculous 75-footer, so this is a team that won’t be intimidated as an underdog in the first round of the NCAAs.
#12 – Western Kentucky (24-8, 15-3). WKU started this Sun Belt title game on an 11-0 run, but South Alabama wasn’t going to just give the Hilltoppers the game so easily, as the Jags fought back to tie and even briefly take the lead in this one for a period in the mid-second half. But WKU, led by AJ Slaughter’s 18 pts and Stephffon Pettigrew’s 15/7, was not going to be denied, and Ken McDonald should be commended for the excellent job he’s done with a team that lost its star backcourt of Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton (not to mention head coach Darrin Horn). Western Kentucky earned its 21st trip to the NCAA Tournament and its second in a row tonight.
Projected Seed: #11
STR: This is an unpredictable team. Although they finished the season winning eleven of their last twelve games, earlier in the season the Toppers lost by 28 to Murray St., 32 to Evansville and 28 to Mississippi St. They also defeated Louisville by 12. This is probably why WKU ranks #265 in Pomeroy’s consistency statistic.
QnD Conf Tourney Updates.
Big East. Did you hear that the sixteen-team Big East Tourney started today? Georgetown and Cincinnati must not have gotten that memo, because neither team showed up for its own funeral, losing first-round games to the dregs – St. John’s and Depaul, respectively. Yes, Depaul, the same team that was 0-18 in the regular season. At least Seton Hall managed to beat S. Florida and Notre Dame kept its disappointing season alive for another day.
MAC. The MAC first round was today, and there were no major upsets. CMU, Kent, Ohio and Akron all advanced.
MEAC. The MEAC also began today, and the two higher seeds Hampton and FAMU advanced.
WAC. Another opening round, where Fresno St. “upset” the higher seeded Hawaii.
For Tomorrow’s Viewing Pleasure. We’re starting to get serious now. The Big Sky and NEC hold its title games Wednesday, and the A10, Big 12, Big West, CUSA, Mountain West, Pac-10 and SWAC get it started. We’re rapidly approaching bracket nirvana.