Last week saw an abundance of top-ranked teams fall to conference rivals on the road. First it was Kansas. Next it was Pittsburgh, followed closely by Texas. Finally on Sunday, it was Ohio State—again.
For Pittsburgh and Ohio State, the losses came to teams playing extremely good basketball of late—St. John’s and Purdue. Both teams are not only certain to show up in the NCAA tournament next month, they could each receive pretty high seeds as well.
For the two Big 12 teams—Kansas and Texas—the losses came to teams whose tournament hopes were reaching near-desperation mode.
Kansas State entered their game against Kansas at just 4-6 in Big 12 play, and a loss to the No. 1 Jayhawks on their home court may have just about taken them out of the bubble discussion for good.
Nebraska went into their game with No. 2 Texas on Saturday in a pretty similar position—with a 5-6 record in the Big 12. Texas was set to take over the nation’s top spot if they could take care of business in Lincoln. The Huskers went into the game tied with Kansas State and Colorado for sixth place. Not a great place to be in a league that may have a maximum of five teams invited to the dance.
Fittingly, both teams stepped up and played their best games of the season. They each fed off their ravenous home crowds to force the top-ranked teams out of their games.
Kansas State defeated Kansas by an impressive 16-point margin. Nebraska took down Texas by three, keeping them from grabbing the ceremonial No. 1 ranking.
For both Kansas State and Nebraska, these wins become their showcase victories. They are the kind of wins that few teams around the country can claim. More importantly, they are wins that virtually none of their other bubble-brethren own.
Given this fact, how much of an advantage does that give Kansas State and Nebraska when stacked against other bubble teams such as Boston College or Memphis?
On one hand, the win the Wildcats and Huskers scored this past week is just that—one win. It is merely one game out of about 30 they will play for the season. They must help justify the accomplishment by beating a few other quality teams during the season.
One game does not a season make. To help show this, look at some of the teams who pulled off similar feats in recent years.
In 2009, Virginia Tech—the perennial bubble team from the ACC—went into Wake Forest, then the No. 1 team in the country. The Hokies handed Wake their first loss of the season, and seemed to have the necessary signature win in their pocket.
However, Virginia Tech could not capitalize on the win, finishing just 7-9 in the ACC. The league received seven tournament bids that season, but the Hokies were left on the outside despite beating No. 1. In fairness, Wake Forest never quite recovered after losing that game.
In 2008 another ACC team—Maryland—also beat the nation’s No. 1 on their home court. The Terrapins went into Chapel Hill and beat North Carolina, dealing the Tar Heels their first loss of the season.
Just like Virginia Tech, Maryland was inconsistent throughout the season. The Terps managed to also beat Duke that season, but lost to teams such as American University and Ohio. They lost 14 games overall with an 8-8 record in the ACC.
Despite beating No. 1, on their own court, Maryland did not do enough to justify that the win was more than a flash in the pan for the season.
In 2006, Florida State—just as they did earlier this year— knocked off then No. 1 Duke in Tallahassee. FSU had slightly more success than the other ACC teams mentioned, finishing in fifth place with a record of 9-7 in the conference.
However, just like the other two, the 'Noles were left out of the NCAA tournament. Their absence was perhaps more questionable than the other two, but ultimately they were unable to defeat any of the other teams from the ACC who made the tournament.
There are obvious similarities between these recent examples and this year’s K-State and Nebraska teams. Both of them are heading towards .500 finishes in their conference this season. Neither has many other quality wins to back up the win over a top team.
On this point, Nebraska does have a legitimate win over Texas A&M. However, they do not have a whole lot else—especially away from home. K-State has a couple decent wins over Virginia Tech and Gonzaga, but Kansas is their only win this season over a solid NCAA tournament team.
Both teams still have good opportunities to pick up another good win or two heading into the Big 12 tournament.
K-State and Nebraska will actually go head-to-head Wednesday, in Lincoln. The Wildcats won the first meeting of the season in Manhattan, so this may be important for Nebraska. Each team also plays Missouri at home, and K-State travels down to Austin to play Texas.
The opportunities are there for each to back up their big wins and earn their spot in the field of 68. The next two weeks will tell whether one or both of these teams can take advantage.