Saturday’s slate of college basketball slate kicked off with an early look at where things stand in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, as the annual bracket preview provided a glimpse at who the top 16 seeds were entering the day’s action. But just a few hours later, things began to shift as another weekend of upsets and tight finishes got rolling.
Missouri, Tennessee, West Virginia and Villanova — each featured among the top 16 — had all fallen by early evening, offering a nice reminder of just how fickle the art of Bracketology is at this time of year. But for every ranked team that falls victim to an upset, there is an eager counterpart in the win column looking to capitalize on the dwindling amount of regular season time to gear up for a postseason run.
The day featured plenty of big winners and big losers, so here’s a recap of some highlights from another full day of hoops.
Winner: Ohio State’s affirms its legitimacy
The same day that the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee revealed that Ohio State is in preliminary position to land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the No. 4 Buckeyes reinforced their legitimacy with a dominant 78-59 win over Indiana. Ohio State has now won six straight and nine of 10. If Michigan struggles during its return from a lengthy hiatus, watch out: this Buckeyes team could find itself in position to compete for a Big Ten title come the last week of the season.
Loser: Auburn keeps the monkey on its back
Auburn hadn’t won in Rupp Arena since 1988 — losing 18 straight in Lexington, Kentucky, during the span — and the Tigers couldn’t steal a win on Saturday, despite the Wildcats’ well-publicized woes. Kentucky hit 8-of-13 3-pointers during a 52-point second half to snap a four-game losing streak with an 82-80 victory and earn just its sixth win of the season. The Wildcats also held Auburn freshman Sharife Cooper to 14 points, which was his second-lowest scoring output of the season. The star guard made just 6-of-23 shots from the field, failed to reach the free-throw line for the first time this season and turned the ball over six times.
If there was ever a season to end a losing streak at Kentucky that’s been going on for more than 30 years, this was it, and the Tigers blew their chance.
Winner: Arkansas is coming on strong
Yeah, so about those Razorbacks. They aren’t ranked and haven’t been all year after playing a weak non-conference schedule. But Saturday’s 86-81 overtime win at No. 10 Missouri marked the sixth win in seven games for coach Eric Musselman’s squad. This team faded down the stretch last season, but it’s surging this time and looks like it could be dangerous in March. Now 16-5 (8-4 SEC), you can expect to see the Razorbacks emerging from bubble territory and possibly into the polls on Monday after their second Quad 1 victory helped answer any lingering questions about their legitimacy.
Winner: The Crimson Tide are flying
Alabama set a school record for most points in an SEC game in a 115-82 win over Georgia, thanks in large part to their 3-point shooting. The No. 11 Crimson Tide (17-5, 12-1 SEC) hit 18-of-30 from beyond the arc and actually attempted more 3-pointers than 2-pointers. But the 2-pointers they attempted were nearly all from the paint, as second-year coach Nate Oats continues to emphasize efficient shot-taking.
One shot attempt from freshman wing Darius Miles in the final minute that helped put the finishing touches on the record was particularly ambitious though. Miles, who played just four minutes, leapt from the edge of the paint and finished an emphatic dunk on 6-foot-9 Georgia defender Josh Taylor that sent the Crimson Tide bench into a frenzy.
It seemed that maybe, just maybe, Michigan State was getting back on track entering Saturday’s game with Iowa. The Spartans had won two straight heading into their home date with the struggling Hawkeyes and could cling to some hope of a miraculous late-season rally. But Saturday brought just another smack of reality for the Spartans, who fell to 10-8 (4-8 Big Ten) with an embarrassing 88-58 loss. The defeat constituted the worse suffered at the Breslin Center since it opened in 1989. Michigan State held Luka Garza, the nation’s leading scorer, to a season-low eight points on 3-of-11 shooting and it didn’t even matter. Iowa made 13-of-25 from 3-point range and reinforced that this Michigan State team is sorely lacking the talent on both ends to make the NCAA Tournament after it rose as high as No. 4 in the AP poll back in December.
Winner: The Pac-12 title race shaping up for great finish
Oregon’s 63-61 victory over Arizona was the Ducks’ third straight and keeps them in the race for the Pac-12 title along with USC, UCLA and Colorado. With leading scorer Chris Duarte back at full speed and last year’s third-leading scorer Will Richardson back in the lineup after a December hand surgery, the Ducks are beginning to hit their stride. Duarte hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds left against the Wildcats. Last year, it was UCLA that finished the season on a tear to make the Pac-12 championship race interesting. Oregon looks like it’s going to play that role this season. But a game against Colorado on Thursday looms large among two teams jockeying to keep pace with the Trojans and Bruins.
Loser: Idaho falls to 0-17 with overtime loss
It’s hard to feel sympathy for vandals, but the Idaho Vandals get our heartfelt condolences for what happened to them on Saturday. They entered their game at Idaho State with an 0-16 record, having lost their past eight games by double-digits. But it looked like the misery might end until Idaho State’s Daxton Carr hit a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left to force overtime. From there, the Vandals were outscored 10-4 and dropped to 0-17 after a 64-58 loss in overtime. That’s just brutal.
Winner: Oklahoma is a force in the Big 12
After a 2-3 start to Big 12 play, it looked like Oklahoma might be doomed to repeat last year’s 9-9 Big 12 record as they scrapped through a tough league by alternating between wins and losses. But this Sooners team just continues to surprise, with Saturday’s 91-90 double-overtime win at No. 14 West Virginia serving as the latest reminder that this is not a team to be trifled with. That’s seven wins in the last eight games for coach Lon Kruger’s squad, a stretch that includes four victories over teams that were ranked in the top-15 at the time of the game. All five of Oklahoma’s starters reached double-figures as the No. 12 Sooners validated their spot as a No. 3 seed in Saturday’s bracket preview.
There was a time in mid-January when it looked like the Bulldogs were rallying to put an 0-2 start behind them and compete for their second NCAA Tournament berth under sixth-year coach Ben Howland. But after Saturday’s embarrassing 72-51 home loss to Vanderbilt, it’s painfully clear Mississippi State still isn’t there yet. The loss was the Bulldogs’ sixth in their last eight games, and that it came against lowly Vanderbilt only added to the frustration.
Winner: Northeastern has a banner day
Northeastern is off to an 8-1 start in the Colonial Athletic Association after Tyson Walker’s career-high 36 points lifted the Huskies to a 76-67 win over Towson for coach Bill Coen’s 250th game at the school. The victory tied Coen with legendary former Northeastern and UConn coach Jim Calhoun for first all-time on the school’s wins list, according to the school’s sports information department.
Winner: Loyola smacked Drake in MVC showdown
The No. 22 Loyola Chicago Ramblers, they of 2018 legend for their Final Four run, are proving deserving of their return to the national spotlight. Ranked in the AP poll for the first time this season, the Ramblers scored a big 81-54 win at Drake on Saturday behind a ridiculously efficient offensive performance. Loyola Chicago made 63.4% of its shots and outscored the Bulldogs 50-20 in the second half to secure the team’s first Quad 1 victory of the season. Drake (19-2, 10-2 Missouri Valley Conference) played with star ShanQuan Hemphill, who might be out for the season with a broken foot. Hemphill leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and was a key in Drake’s 18-0 start. But Loyola Chicago’s win was still as close to a statement victory as can be made in the MVC this season.
Loser: Colorado’s bid for Pac-12 supremacy
With three straight Pac-12 victories under its belt, Colorado entered Saturday’s game at lowly Cal with a 10-4 league record and a real shot, it seemed, at competing for the conference title. If nothing else, the Buffaloes looked destined for their best-ever season in league play under 11th-year coach Tad Boyle. But after a surprising 71-62 loss against the Bears, it seems the Buffaloes may still be bumping their heads against the ceiling of mediocrity as they so often do. The Buffs were just one spot out of the AP poll this past Monday and looked destined to finally enter it for the first time this season until the ugly loss to a Bears team that entered on a seven-game losing streak. All of the sudden, playing conference powers Oregon, USC and UCLA in three of its final four scheduled regular season games appears a bit more daunting for this squad.