Big East Story Ends With a Twist
It took the perfect storm of another Connecticut loss to Pittsburgh, but Louisville completed its run through the Big East as conference champion. Capped by a 62-59 nail biter against West Virginia in Morgantown, the Cardinals rose from three non-conference losses that appeared to be awful at the time.
As it ends up, Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt, Minnesota was ranked for much of the season before a recent slide, and UNLV is on the bubble. A 33-point loss to Notre Dame in mid-February stands as the game that just doesn’t fit on the Cardinals’ resume, but it shouldn’t stop the Big East Champs from corralling a one or two seed.
Rick Pitino’s team watched from their hotel rooms as Sam Young-led Pittsburgh pulled out the brooms on Hasheem Thabeet and UConn in a 70-60 win. 14 points and 13 rebounds from the seven-footer weren’t enough to offset Young’s 31, even with senior guard LeVance Fields playing injured.
Out of contention for the title, Syracuse and Marquette faced off in a battle of point guards. Jerel McNeal poured in 25 and Johnny Flynn 24 in a 86-79 overtime win for the ‘Cuse, proving why the two earned Big East first and second-team honors, respectively.
Wake Forest Ascending Again
First, it was a move back into the top 10. Now, Wake Forest has won four-straight as well as locked down a two seed in the ACC Tournament.
Back in February, it was easy to say the Demon Deacons were tired, down, and ready to cash it in for the season. Now, Wake looks like the team that rose from No. 21 to No. 1 in a matter of weeks to begin the year, and it all revolves around how spectacular Jeff Teague decides to be on any given night.
In Wake Forest’s 96-88 win over Clemson, Teague scored 15 on near-perfect 5-of-7 shooting—good enough to beat the No. 18 team in the country.
State Shows Some Guts Against Purdue
Talk of the weekend revolved around No. 1 seeds, and with a sloppy yet convincing 62-51 win over Purdue, Michigan State is in the conversation. The Spartans had 20 turnovers and 20 fouls working against them, as well as mediocre free throw shooting at 68 percent.
Big 10-winning talent was on display as Kalin Lucas put 21 on the board and Goran Suton went for 11 points, 10 rebounds.
The regular season is over, and Tom Izzo’s club is playing their best ball of the year. After fighting through a difficult schedule and overcoming injuries, the Spartans are a lock for a two seed.
A number of mid-major tickets were punched last weekend, but it was a group of unexpected teams—Radford out of the Big South and Morehead State from the OVC—coming as the biggest surprises of the weekend.
For the better part of the year, VMI was the team to beat in the Big South. Travis and Chavis Holmes had the Keydets scoring close to 100 points per game, and with a “shoot before you turn it over” mentality, VMI was picked to win by most experts. Enter Radford; exit VMI.
Cornell clinched an easy bid from the Ivy League and Northern Iowa topped a down Missouri Valley Conference to gain an automatic berth to the tournament.
Creighton will be a no-show at the dance after being downed by Illinois State 73-49 in the MVC semifinals. The Blue Jays possessed talent, but were largely inconsistent throughout the season.
Early losses to Arkansas-Little Rock and Nebraska are killing Creighton’s RPI. Wichita State had the Blue Jays’ number, beating them in the regular season then running them down to the wire in the conference tournament.
Other Tournament Notes
Auburn has played itself into talk of earning an at-large bid with a win over LSU Saturday and South Carolina chalked up another victory. Also in the SEC, Kentucky can call it quits after losing to Florida.
Arizona seems fine to continue its tournament streak after knocking off Stanford. It will be a well-deserved trip after a tumultuous offseason.
In the midst of all that happened in the Big East (also, Cincinnati losing to Seton Hall knocks them out), national perception put Memphis back on the shelf in terms of a one seed. In the meantime, the Tigers finished another C-USA season undefeated in conference.
After losing to the College of Charleston, Davidson is left to sit and wait rather than play for an automatic bid out of the Southern Conference. With no big wins to speak of, consensus says the Wildcats might settle for allowing a different Cinderella make it to the Elite Eight.
North Dakota State ran through conference play 16-2 in its first season in Division I. The Bison advanced to the second round of Summit Conference Play with a come from behind victory over Centenary.
As an aside, only the final five minutes of North Carolina’s inspired victory of Duke was shown in the Louisville, Ky. area due to inclement weather. But if you’re reading this, you probably know UNC won a back and forth battle in Chapel Hill, 79-71. Coach K can still be seen sulking on the sidelines, head in hand with a disappointed look.