It hasn’t been a great season for some of college basketball’s most storied programs. But on Saturday, some of the sport’s blue blood programs showed they aren’t dead yet.
Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State aren’t even in CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm’s Bubble Watch, but each of those won vs. a team either projected to make the bracket or are on the bubble. And other teams among the sport’s royalty including Kansas, a projected No. 5 seed, and UNC, one of the first four out of the field of 68 when the day started, also pulled off a big win.
While traditional powers had a good day, two teams from the Big Ten on the bubble did not.
Minnesota has been one of the most lethal teams in the country on its home court this year. It entered Saturday with a 13-1 record inside Williams Arena, and has managed to build out its burgeoning NCAA Tournament resume largely within the confines of its own venue. That’s what makes No. 5 Illinois’ 94-63 beatdown in Minneapolis all the more impressive. The Illini saw that record and, much like they have done the last month, crumpled it up and trampled over it.
For a Golden Gophers team on the tourney bubble, the loss — and the way in which they lost by such a hefty margin — could deal a brutal blow to their March Madness aspirations. They weren’t alone though, as fellow Big Ten member Indiana choked away a second-half lead to Michigan State on Saturday, suffering hit to its NCAA Tournament resume.
The Spartans are still a long ways from having a shot at making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, but the win at Indiana put Michigan State into the category of blue blood programs that showed they still have life.
Winner: Bluebloods still kicking
Kentucky deserves a tip of the cap for not caving entirely after falling to 5-13 overall earlier this month. Saturday’s 70-55 road win over No. 19 Tennessee, a No. 3 seed in Bracketology, got the Wildcats to 7-7 in league play and marked their first win over a ranked opponent this season. The Wildcats have scored 70 or more in six straight games.
Duke has also won three straight now after it edged No. 7 Virginia 66-65. The Blue Devils entered the day ranked No. 60 in the NET and not even on the Bracketology bubble. But don’t be surprised if they creep into the bubble conversation as they continue to flourish after the departure of Jalen Johnson.
Can we talk about Duke’s biggest rival real quick, too? North Carolina began the day as one of Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm’s “First Four Out” of the field of 68. But the Tar Heels thrashed Louisville 99-54 while shooting a ridiculous 60.9% from the floor to improve to 14-7 (8-5 ACC).
With Michigan State beating Indiana and No. 23 Kansas picking up a win over No. 15 Texas Tech, Saturday’s results felt more normal after season stocked with dismal results for historically proud programs. Duke, Michigan State and especially Kentucky still have a ton of work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. But at least for one day, they reclaimed their collective place as winners in the sport.
Loser: Minnesota in First Four Out and fading fast
When Minnesota handed Michigan its only loss of the season and improved to 11-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten back on Jan. 16, the Gophers rose all the way to No. 17 in the AP Top 25 poll. It felt like they were on the fast track to the NCAA Tournament. But after Saturday’s 94-63 home loss to Illinois, coach Richard Pitino’s squad is in trouble.
The Gophers have lost three in a row and six of their last eight to fall to 13-10 (6-10 Big Ten). They had already fallen to the “First 4 out” category, according to Palm’s Bracketology and will now have more ground to make up after their most lopsided defeat of the season. The Gophers played with star center Liam Robbins limited by an ankle injury and will need him back at full strength quickly if they are going to stop the bleeding.
Winner: Kansas keeps cruising along
If you weren’t completely convinced of No. 23 Kansas’ recent turnaround, I can’t say I blame you. Four of its five wins to open the month of February were against teams with one (!) combined win in Big 12 play, thanks to facing Iowa State and Kansas State twice. But KU showed Saturday in defeating No. 15 Texas Tech 67-61 that it has indeed turned a corner. It was an impressive defensive outing that showed how much better the Jayhawks are playing as they held leading scorer Mac McClung to 11 points.
Kansas, a No. 5 seed in Bracketology, still has a gauntlet of games to finish out regular season play with Texas and Baylor on tap ahead of postseason action, but this is a team right now that’s firing on all cylinders and slowly gaining confidence and momentum as it rumbles towards the most consequential section of the season.
“This is the most excited I’ve been about our team all year,” Self said after the game.
Loser: Indiana collapses in the second half
As the great William Shakespeare once said: “Indiana, Indiana, wherefore art thou second-half defense, Indiana?”
What a soothsayer that guy was!
The Hoosiers completely collapsed Saturday against Sparty in the second half in an eventual 78-71 loss. During that final 20 minutes, Michigan State scored 52 (!) second-half points, going 17-of-30 from the floor, 5-of-9 from 3-point range and committing only four turnovers. It turned a double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead at one point before settling on a seven-point victory.
A win for IU would probably have thrust it onto the safe side of the tourney bubble entering a tough closing stretch. Instead, as Jerry Palm noted, IU is on the outside looking in with Rutgers, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue to close the regular season.
Winner: Syracuse gets a bubbly comeback
Syracuse could ill-afford a Quad 2 home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, but it looked like the Orange were headed for one when they fell behind by 20 points early in the second half. That’s when Buddy Boeheim started taking over to lead the program’s biggest comeback of the past decade. The junior guard scored 17 of his career-high 29 points in the final 11:10 to help Syracuse rally for a 75-67 victory to stay on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Orange (13-6, 7-5 ACC) likely still have work to do if they are going to make the field of 68, but they have now won four of their last five, and their electric finish on Saturday could be a nice springboard entering the stretch run. Syracuse outscored the Fighting Irish (9-11, 6-8 ACC) 40-12 to finish the game.
Loser: Miami takes worst home beating since 2014
There are very few teams this season who have been more ravaged by the combination of injuries and COVID-10 disruptions than Miami. So it’s hard to go too hard on the Hurricanes despite frequently twisting winds in Coral Gables. But falling 87-60 at home to Georgia Tech was the cherry on top of a nasty, foul-tasting season, as it qualified as the Yellow Jackets’ largest margin of victory ever in an ACC road game. For Miami, it’s the biggest margin of defeat at home since Dec. 19, 2014, when it fell 72-44 to Eastern Kentucky.
Winner: Ryan Daly soars for Saint Joseph’s
Playing in his first game in two months, Saint Joseph’s star Ryan Daly returned with a force on Saturday to lead the Hawks to their first win in A-10 play after opening league action 0-9. Daly tied a season high with 30 points in 39 minutes of action as they defeated La Salle 91-82. It was Saint Joseph’s second win on the season and first since a Jan. 9 escape over Albany.
Winner: Villanova fends off frisky UConn, stays atop Big East
After eight weeks in the top five of the AP Top 25 poll, Villanova fell to No. 10 this week following a 16-point loss at Creighton last Saturday. In their first game since, the Wildcats bounced back nicely by handling UConn 68-60 and denying the Huskies a marquee victory. The Wildcats (14-3, 9-2 Big East) trailed 42-41 with 14:07 left but closed strong thanks to stars Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The duo combined for 37 of Villanova’s 68 points.
The Wildcats are a No. 2 seed in the latest Bracketology.
Loser: Longhorns suffer Texas-sized collapse at home
Texas led West Virginia by as many as 19 points in the second half, only to see it crumble down the stretch in an eventual 84-82 defeat. That, in itself, is suboptimal for a Texas team that hasn’t been able to conjure up its early-season mojo over the last month. But the way in which it fell apart is especially concerning.
It really started coming apart just minutes into the second half when Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey got into an on-court verbal sparring session, which led to the two being separated. From there, West Virginia, a No. 3 seed in Bracketology, mounted a 34-18 run to close the game, and successfully stopped a potential game-winning and a game-tying shot in the closing seconds.
Texas, a No. 4 seed in Bracketology, is no doubt still in the tourney field with its strong resume, but the loss was the least troubling on-court development in Austin, Texas. And the loss was pretty darn troubling.
Winner: Noah Williams has a career game
Williams, a Washington State sophomore guard poured in 40 points to lead the Cougars to an 85-76 win over Stanford in triple overtime. Williams needed 35 shots to reach that total, but his 8-of-18 mark from 3-point range — including one that forced the first OT — propelled his team to one of its best wins of the season.
The loss was particularly brutal for Stanford, which entered the day as one of the “First Four Out” of the NCAA Tournament field, according to Palm. Williams is the first Washington State player to reach 40 points since Klay Thompson scored 43 in 2011.
Winner: Teams capturing league titles
Cleveland State and Wright State both won Saturday to clinch a share of the Horizon League regular-season title, and the milestone carries particular weight for a Cleveland State program that had struggled through five straight losing seasons in the conference before this year. The Vikings outscored Purdue Fort Wayne by 20 points in the second half on Saturday, overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit.
Remember UMBC? The Retrievers — best known for their historic upset of Virginia in 2018 as a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament — clinched the America East regular season title this weekend. It’s actually UMBC’s first regular season league title since the 2007-08 season. Perhaps we’ll see the Retrievers back in the Big Dance.
Belmont also looks like a good bet to make the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins secured the OVC regular season title with a 90-66 win over Tennessee Tech. It’s the program’s 12th league title in the last 16 years.