On the Big East bubble, Notre Dame, Marquette and Louisville all stepped forward. The Fighting Irish beat Georgetown on the road. There’s time for the Hoyas to change their destiny, but this is a very disappointing team right now. They should have been playing championship-type games right now, but instead keep coughing up games at home. Marquette & Louisville won thrillers today, against Seton Hall & UConn respectively. Winning on the road against a fellow bubble contender today probably means Louisville is in. Marquette has to be pretty close.
And Marquette’s in-state rival Wisconsin was one of a couple teams who had reason to be cheered by events in the Big Ten. Purdue showed just how much they are going to miss Robbie Hummel, losing at home to Michigan State. The Spartans absolutely annihilated the Boilermakers on the boards, winning the battle 46-20. It was enough to overcome serious turnover problems. Purdue could have taken control of the conference race, but instead fell into a three-way tie with Michigan State & Ohio State. And Wisconsin? The Badgers are hanging alive, a game back in a race that’s calling to mind 2002, when the league championship ended up in a four-way car accident.
Around the rest of the country…
Maryland won’t go away quietly, and clings doggedly to Duke’s heel. The Terrapins had to go triple overtime on Saturday in Blacksburg, but managed to survive Virginia Tech 104-100. Greivis Vazquez showed why he should be on the first tier of candidates for ACC Player of the Year when he poured in 41 points to lead the Terps. Maryland remains a game back of Duke, who held serve tonight at Virginia. These two are now set for a huge showdown in College Park on Wednesday night.
Cal secured a historic victory at home over Arizona State. As we discussed on Friday, the win game them a share of the program’s first conference championship since JFK was president and Casey Stengel was entering his last year managing the Yankees. They turned in a defensive gem in beating the Sun Devils 62-46. Arizona State made only one free throw and was 3-of-22 from behind the arc. Derek Glasser, the top offensive threat, was 1-of-8 from the field for two points. Cal does not play on Thursday, and can secure the outright crown on Saturday against Stanford.
Kentucky’s loss to Tennessee has made this race temporarily interesting again, as the Wildcats are back to a one-game lead and could lose an outright title if they lose next week. But that’s unlikely. What’s more interesting is the bubble battle going on here. Ole Miss got a tough win over Alabama, and Mississippi State beat South Carolina to advance their case. It’s Florida who slipped up, dropping a 78-76 heartbreaker to archrival Georgia. The Bulldogs shot 57 percent from the floor and got 20 points and 7 rebounds from Trey Thompkins, someone who deserves to be in the discussion for SEC Player of the Year. It was enough to overcome 11 three-pointers by Florida and 29 points from Chandler Parsons. Both of these teams are Kentucky’s opponents next week, so they have a chance to impact the conference race. But for Florida the concern is more immediate—they can’t have a third straight late-season slide knock them out of the big dance and their game with Kentucky next Sunday is in Lexington. Urgency is the order of the day in Gainesville.
Kansas’ loss to Oklahoma State mattered more to the Cowboys than to the Jayhawks. Kansas is still two games up in the conference race, but Okie State probably delivered the knockout blow in their February push for the NCAA Tournament and James Anderson delivered a huge statement in his push to be Big 12 Player of the Year. Anderson, whom I believe should be a runaway winner for the individual award, had 27 points and 8 rebounds. Matt Pilgrim, whose consistency has been a key hallmark of the Cowboy surge, had 18 points and 6 boards. Oklahoma State shot 60 percent from the floor, but this wasn’t just a hot-shooting day. They also won the rebounding battle 36-26. Huge win for a hot team.
Texas A&M solidified its own resume with a decisive win over Texas. The collapse of the Longhorns, while less dramatic than that of North Carolina, is more stunning. The Tar Heels were rebuilding from the start, even if no one expected it to be this severe. Texas had all the pieces in place, at least so it seemed. Two of those pieces, point guard Avery Bradley and post man Dexter Pittman, combined for 12 points on Saturday. The Longhorns are still going to make the NCAA Tournament, so they have a chance at revival, but this team is getting worse by the game.
Tomorrow we’ll set the stage for the regular season’s final week by looking at all the games for the next four days that will impact championship races. And on Wednesday there will be a closer examination of the bubble.