Tuesday’s college basketball slate featured a pair of top-10 matchups with No. 2 Michigan facing No. 4 Illinois and No. 3 Baylor facing No. 6 West Virgina, and while those turned out to be interesting games, we already know that all four teams involved will make the NCAA Tournament. That’s why the night’s true intrigue lay in a pair of bubble battles involving blue blood programs.
Duke, which entered as one of the “first four out,” in Jerry Palm’s Bracketology, dropped an 81-77 overtime decision at Georgia Tech. The loss is the second in a row for the Blue Devils, who are headed for another bubble battle on Saturday at rival North Carolina in the regular-season finale for both. Crushing as the defeat was for Duke, it was just as big of a victory for Georgia Tech, which snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Blue Devils dating back to 2010.
The Yellow Jackets are trying to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2010, and senior forward Moses Wright is doing everything can to make sure it happens. The 6-foot-10 Raleigh, North Carolina native continued his recent tear with a 29-point, 14-rebound performance. Wright is now averaging 24.8 points per game over Tech’s five-game winning streak.
Michigan State’s Aaron Henry was the hero of the night’s other bubble battle as the Spartans outlasted Indiana 64-58. The Spartans entered as a projected No. 11 seed, according to Palm, while the Hoosiers entered as a bubble team on the outside looking in. Let’s dive in to more from those games and the winners and losers from around the sport on a busy Tuesday night.
Loser: Struggling stars
Duke’s leading scorer Matthew Hurt fouled out with 6:14 left of the Blue Devils’ loss to Georgia Tech. It was the second straight game that Hurt has fouled out of — both losses for the Blue Devils. Hurt has finished with four or five fouls in nine of 21 games he’s played this season, which seems like a lot of foul trouble for a player who is not regularly bruising in the post on defense. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting but missed the most important moments of the game.
Indiana’s star Trayce Jackson-Davis has been phenomenal this season but turned in a dud as the Hoosiers lost their fourth straight. He made just 1-of-5 shots from the field and finished with nine points and four fouls, which limited him to 27 minutes. It’s the first time all season Jackson-Davis has failed to reach double figures, and the 27 minutes tied a season-low in a game when the Hoosiers desperately needed him to be at his best.
Winner: Alabama wins the Iron Basket
No. 8 Alabama had won four of its past five games entering Tuesday’s rivalry contest with Auburn. But the last two were a bit worrisome as the Crimson Tide lost by 15 at Arkansas and then struggled Saturday to squeak out a win over a mediocre Mississippi State team. It looked for a while against Auburn as if the spurt of sluggishness might continue as the Tigers hung with Alabama until midway through the second half. That’s when the Crimson Tide showed why they are the SEC champions and a projected No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A 3-pointer from John Petty Jr. sparked a 10-0 run that helped the Crimson Tide pull away for a 70-58 win. Now 20-6 (15-2 SEC) Alabama has reached the 20-win mark for just the second time in the past eight years and cut down the nets to commemorate the SEC title it secured on Saturday.
Loser: When Michigan falls, it falls hard
Michigan’s two losses this season have come by a combined 41 points after No. 4 Illinois smacked the No. 3 Wolverines 76-53 on Tuesday. Losing to Illinois is not shameful, but losing to it by 23 points at home while the Illini are without star guard Ayo Dosunmu? That’s concerning. The Wolverines had won seven straight before Tuesday night and remain on the projected No. 1 seed line, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm. Still, with games against rival Michigan State on Thursday and Sunday all that’s remaining on Michigan’s regular-season schedule, it’s worth wondering if some issues that were exposed against Illinois might linger into the postseason.
Winner: Illinois as a potential No. 1 seed
The Illini, on the other hand, come away looking great. Illinois has won 10 of its last 11 games and is thriving under the adversity of playing without Dosunmu. This team has emerged as the fourth projected No. 1 seed in Palm’s bracketology, and the performance against Michigan only solidified its position there heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at No. 7 Ohio State.
Loser: Wisconsin is reeling
Wisconsin hit its stride at this time last season, winning eight straight games to close the regular season as co-champions of the Big Ten. The returning production from that team is why the Badgers began the season ranked No. 7 in the AP poll and rose as high as No. 4 early in the season. But the lessons learned from last year’s stretch run are not translating to this year’s team. No. 23 Wisconsin has now lost four of its last five games after Tuesday night’s 73-69 loss at No. 23 Purdue. The Badgers (16-10, 10-9 Big Ten) entered the night as a projected No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will be fine on Selection Sunday, but the late-season struggles of a senior-laden roster are confounding.
Winner: Baylor is back
In its first two games back following a three-week break due to COVID-19 protocols, No. 3 Baylor simply did not look like the team that emerged as a serious national title contender during an undefeated start. Well, the Bears got their mojo back Tuesday in a 94-89 overtime win at No. 6 West Virginia, even if the defense was a bit lacking at times. Baylor finally started fast again and also enjoyed its best 3-point shooting performance since the restart. The Bears also got welcome contribution off the bench after the Baylor reserves provided just five total points in the Kansas loss, Matthew Mayer provided 18 himself on Tuesday, including 15 in the second half after West Virginia surged ahead 50-43.
Loser: Xavier’s sense of security after a loss to Georgetown
Xavier tried its best to mount an epic second half comeback to erase a 19-point deficit and avoid an embarrassing loss to Georgetown. But in the end, the Musketeers came up short, falling 72-66 to the Hoyas in a game they will wish they had back. Xavier (13-6, 6-6 Big East) has now lost four of its last six games after an 11-2 start. The Musketeers entered Tuesday’s action as a projected No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to Palm. But don’t be surprised if Xavier shows up on the bubble entering what feels like a must-win regular-season finale at Marquette on Saturday.
Loser: Kentucky’s offense is bad again
Kentucky reached 70 points in six straight games during February and won three straight at one point as it seemed the Wildcats were finally figuring things out. Not so fast. UK is on yet another losing streak after Tuesday’s 70-62 loss at Ole Miss. The Wildcats (8-15, 7-9 SEC) shot just 37.5% from the floor, 25% from 3-point range and made just 15-of-25 free throws. Those offensive struggles? They haven’t been cured entirely. It’s too bad Ole Miss lost at Vanderbilt on Saturday, because otherwise this would have been a nice bubble win for the Rebels (14-10, 9-8). But with just a rematch against the Commodores remaining on their regular-season slate, it doesn’t look like an at-large bid is in the cards for coach Kermit Davis’ squad.
Winner: Arkansas keeps destroying people
Arkansas’ offense has been good this season, but it had only reached 100 points once until it thrashed South Carolina 101-73 on Tuesday. The Razorbacks’ previous high of 100 came against Central Arkansas came back in December, but to reach the century mark against a league foe shows just how well Arkansas is playing. The Razorbacks are now 20-5 (12-4 SEC) and have won 10 straight SEC games. Three players surpassed 20 points against the Gamecocks, led by Moses Moody. The freshman wing poured in 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting and may be running away with the race for SEC Freshman of the Year.
Loser: Wake Forest is depressingly bad
The Demon Deacons are making programs that didn’t make coaching changes last offseason look smart. Wake Forest fired Danny Manning and replaced him with Steve Forbes amid the pandemic. To put it mildly, it’s been a struggle this year, and it only got worse on Tuesday in a 70-57 loss to Pittsburgh. Wake Forest (6-14, 3-14 ACC) has now lost six ACC games in a row for the second time this season and have lost five straight games by double-digits. The frustrating part about Tuesday’s loss is that it came against a Pittsburgh (10-10, 6-9) team that had lost five straight.
As Palm noted in Tuesday’s Bubble Watch, nothing good could come from Boise State’s regular season finale on Tuesday against a Fresno State team ranked No. 202 in the NET. Ultimately, something disastrous occurred for the Broncos, who lost 67-64 after entering as one of Palm’s “last four in.” Boise State had been 13-0 in games against Quad 3 and 4 competition. But the loss to Fresno State will count as a crushing Quad 4 defeat.