Sunday’s college basketball slate featured a little bit of everything as the regular season came to an end, mid-major conference tournaments rolled on and major conference tournament brackets got solidified. With buzzer-beaters, emotional senior day moments and some controversy as part of the action, it was a reminder that March is upon us in full force.
Only one game featured two ranked teams, but it delivered in a big way as No. 5 Iowa took down No. 25 Wisconsin 77-73 in the regular season finale for both. Though the referees stole part of the spotlight — there were 24 fouls called in the second half — one performance stood out above the rest.
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That performance belonged national player of the year frontrunner Luka Garza, who finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds in his final game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That effort helped Iowa (20-7, 14-6 Big Ten) solidify its place as a projected No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in Jerry Palm’s Bracketology entering the Big Ten Tournament.
It also made what happened after the game all the more appropriate. More on that in just a second as we start to dissect the winners and losers from an important day in college hoops
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The Hawkeyes announced Sunday that they will retire Garza’s No. 55 in a fitting tribute to the nation’s leading scorer and Iowa’s all-time leading scorer. The postgame ceremony offered a reminder of college basketball’s beauty. There is some skepticism over how Garza’s game will translate to the NBA. But where he becomes an All-Star or struggles to stick on a professional roster, he’ll always be a legend at Iowa, and no one will ever wear his uniform again.
Garza wasn’t the only player on an elite team who enjoyed a historic senior day moment on Sunday. Baylor guard MaCio Teague set a Big 12 record with 10 made 3-pointers as he led the No. 3 Bears to an 88-73 win over No. 18 Texas Tech during his final game at the Ferrell Center. Teague finished with 35 points, including 26 in the second half as he propelled the Bears — a projected No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament — into the postseason.
Loser: Memphis’ at-large hopes are ripped away
Memphis entered Sunday’s game at No. 9 Houston on the NCAA Tournament bubble, according to Palm, but needing a victory over the Cougars to sustain their hopes of an at-large bid. The Tigers had their dreams of dancing ripped away in brutal fashion when Houston’s Tramon Mark banked in a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Cougars to a 67-64 victory. The outcome likely means that Memphis will need to win the AAC Tournament in order to make the Big Dance.
Winner: Loyola Chicago wins Arch Madness
The Ramblers are headed back to the NCAA Tournament as the automatic qualifier out of the Missouri Valley Conference after knocking off Drake 75-65 in the MVC Tournament title game. Cameron Krutwig and Braden Norris led Loyola Chicago with 20 points apiece. If Krutwig’s name sounds familiar, it should. He was a key contributor on the 2018 Final Four team as a freshman, and this team looks plenty capable of advancing in the NCAA Tournament once again. Palm had the Ramblers projected as a No. 12 seed entering the day. Any potential No. 5 seeds interested in facing them? Didn’t think so.
Winner: Winthrop wins Big South
Speaking of mid-major teams with the chops to wreak havoc in the NCAA Tournament, how about Winthrop? The Eagles will enter the event with a 23-1 record after thrashing Campbell 80-53 in the Big South Tournament title game. With a roster featuring several veterans, a rotation that goes 11 deep and a coach in Pat Kelsey whose been in the Big Dance before, this team could be dangerous. The Eagles were a projected No. 13 seed by Palm at the beginning of the day, but they are another team that no one will want to play.
Winner: Tennessee finishes strong
The Volunteers haven’t won consecutive games since Feb. 6 and Feb. 10, but they haven’t lost consecutive games in that stretch, either. Their alternation between wins and losses continued Sunday as they pulled out a 65-54 win over Florida in a battle of projected No. 6 seeds. The Volunteers (17-7, 10-7 SEC) trailed by 14 in the first half but played suffocating defense in the second half to give seniors Yves Pons and John Fulkerson a nice sendoff at the end an up-and-down regular season. Winning was particularly significant for the Vols, though, because it earned them a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.
Winner: Oregon takes the Pac-12 title
How about a tip of the cap to Oregon? The Ducks needed a win over Oregon State on Sunday night to repeat as the Pac-12 regular season champions and they delivered with an 8-67 win to lock up the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. All five starters reached double figures for Oregon (19-5, 14-4 Pac-12)
Loser: Injuries loom large on last day of regular season
There is no word yet on how severe either injury is, but No. 2 Michigan and No. 5 Iowa each saw key players suffer injuries. Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp, the team’s second-leading scorer behind Garza, left the Hawkeyes’ win over Wisconsin in the first half and did not return after suffering an ankle injury. The same happened to Michigan senior guard Eli Brooks, who was spotted in a boot after leaving the Wolverines’ loss at Michigan State after an early ankle injury.
Winner: Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament chances
Without Brooks, Michigan struggled to replicate its 69-50 victory over Michigan State from Thursday. The Spartans won Sunday’s rematch 70-64, securing a critical win for their NCAA Tournament resume. Michigan State was a projected No. 11 seed entering the day but should be able to take a deep breath before beginning Big Ten Tournament play against Maryland on Thursday.
Loser: Officials at the CAA Tournament
As the No. 1 seed in the CAA Tournament, James Madison entered Sunday’s league tournament quarterfinal game projected as a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament by Palm. The Dukes’ standing in the Bracketology was predicated on them winning the CAA Tournament, though, and it turns out the league’s automatic bid will be going to someone else.
That’s because JMU suffered a 72-71 to No. 8 seed Elon in controversial fashion as the Dukes were whistled for two costly technical fouls. The first came when Zach Jacobs committed the sportsmanship atrocity of the century by yelling “and one” after he drew a foul on a first-half bucket. JMU overcame that dose of authoritarianism from the referees to open up a 15-point lead early in the second half. But then JMU coach Mark Byington was called for a technical with 1:13 left. That sent Elon to the free-throw line, where it took a late lead.
Winner: Penn State completes a furious rally
Maryland could just as easily be dubbed a “loser” here, but let’s give credit to the Nittany Lions for overcoming a 16-point deficit on the road and beating the Terrapins 66-61. In particular, Seth Lundy deserves some adulation for filling it up with 31 points off the bench on 11-of-18 shooting. That must be a career-high for a sophomore averaging 9.4 points per game, right? Wrong. Lundy scored 32 in a win over VCU earlier this season. After the resignation of coach Pat Chambers before the season, this has been a trying year for the Nittany Lions (10-13, 7-12 Big Ten), but Sunday’s win will be one to remember.