Night Line: Seton Hall The Big Winner In a Huge ‘Bubble’ NightPosted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The NCAA Tournament ‘bubble’ is in perpetual motion during this time of year, as it expands or shrinks based on small conference qualifiers and new teams move in and out seemingly every day. Tuesday night was no different, as 10 different teams on the Bubble Watch tracker were in action against quality opponents. Of those, a total of five teams had home games against Top 20 opponents — the kind of must-win games that can add a great victory to a resume and build confidence down the stretch. Seton Hall and Colorado State were the only two teams to come out victorious at home against their talented foes, and the circumstances surrounding the Pirates’ win against No. 9 Georgetown should seal the deal for the Hall as an NCAA Tournament team.
The Pirates did on Tuesday what Northwestern, Mississippi State, and NC State couldn’t — beat a great team at home. Seton Hall dominated the Hoyas en route to a 73-55 win highlighted by senior Jordan Theodore’s massive night. The point guard had a career-high 29 points and five assists, including a perfect 5-5 night from behind the arc and 8-8 performance at the free-throw line. The Pirates have been up and down during Big East play, at one point losing six straight games and looking nothing like a postseason-worthy squad. But they’ve recovered to win four of their last five contests to improve to 19-9 overall and 8-8 in the Big East. Knocking off Georgetown was the team’s fourth top 50 win and propels them onto solid ground at the moment. With remaining games versus only Rutgers and at DePaul, the Hall is in great shape to simply take care of business against inferior opponents and lock up a bid.
Also on Tuesday, Kansas State went into Missouri and knocked off the No. 3 team in the country on the road, so why, you might ask, are the Wildcats not the biggest winners of the day? Well, this was a massive win for K-State and it can officially punch its ticket to the Big Dance now. But Frank Martin’s team was already in pretty good shape heading into the evening, and they were definitely not expected to win in this environment. So their victory was simply a bonus, and what a huge luxury it was. The Wildcats held the best offense in the country to just 38.3% overall field goal shooting and 8-26 from deep. Rodney McGruder scored 24 points in a huge night while a total of eight Wildcats made two or more field goals. K-State proved once again to be a physical defensive team that’s deep with athletes that can score against opponents that don’t put forth a similar kind of effort on defense.
Colorado State was the other bubble team on the night that defeated a ranked team, and it desperately needed this one. The Rams knocked off surging No. 16 New Mexico at home for their first great win of the season. Undersized junior forward Pierce Hornung had a massive night by denying the Lobos’ dominant forward Drew Gordon from repeating anything close to his 27-point, 20-rebound performance from Saturday. Gordon had just 13/6 while Hornung went for 13/15 in the win. Another team squarely on the bubble, CSU essentially controls its own destiny with such a difficult schedule to end the season. First was this home game against the Mountain West’s best team, and then comes two games against the next two in the conference’s top tier. The Rams play at San Diego State this weekend and come home for UNLV next week, followed by a road game at Air Force. So while Tuesday’s win was big for Colorado State, it has considerably more work to do to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Seton Hall’s win was the most significant victory of the night. In 40 minutes, the Pirates went from ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s ‘Last Four In’ list to a surefire entry into the field. That’ll happen when you defeat a top 10 opponent by 18 points, and their two remaining games are home to 12th place Rutgers and at last place DePaul. Fellow bubble teams NC State, Mississippi State, and Northwestern were in nearly identical situations as Seton Hall, sitting in or near the ‘Last Four In’ category with top 12 opponents entering their building. But the Wolfpack had no answer for No. 6 North Carolina’s high-powered offensive attack, the Bulldogs succumbed to a late run by No. 1 Kentucky, and the Wildcats could not contain No. 12 Michigan’s three-point barrage in overtime. The at-large bid situation will be changing daily until Selection Sunday, but there aren’t many opportunities to knock off top opponents in front of a home crowd. Because of the magnitude of their victory and their remaining schedule, Kevin Willard and Seton Hall got the biggest win of the night and may finally be able to rest easy for the first time all season.