How can you tell it's March? When the early-afternoon slate is packed with high-impact games and stars play like stars. Here's a quick rundown of the impactful results so far:
The Shockers opened the door with a surprise home loss midweek and the Bluejays walked right through it, winning at home to take the Missouri Valley regular-season crown by a game. The Bluejays shredded the Shockers' D, shooting 70.2 percent for the game and scoring nearly 1.5 points per possession. Doug McDermott was a stud again, making 15 of 18 shots on his way to a season-high 41-point effort. I'd be all for a third matchup of these two teams in St. Louis, but there's no guarantee either will make the Valley final the way this season has gone in that conference.
The Gators outscored the Crimson Tide 27-7 in the final 11:17 of the game to thwart the upset bid. The Tide scored two points over a nine-minute span to let a massive opportunity slip away. The Gators shot 22 of 26 from the line and got 11 minutes from Will Yeguete, which is a plus even with his modest stats on the afternoon.
Florida needs to use this stretch run to get fully healthy and back in rhythm. While this wasn't ultimately a "close game," it shows the concern over the Gators "clutchness" is overblown. This game ended up being double-digits because they completely throttled a decent opponent for the last quarter of the game. If the Gators can get back (or close to back) to hitting on all cylinders, there will be few teams in better shape (flaws and all) to make a run to the Final Four.
The newly (more) efficient Russ Smith had 18 points on just 11 shots and Luke Hancock stuck four big threes as the Cardinals took the Orange out late at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse was held to 35.7 percent shooting as its backcourt struggled again.
As for Syracuse, this is about the point where you have to admit they are what they are. Their starting guards combined for 5-for-21 shooting today. Before C.J. Fair made a 3-pointer in the final seconds when down by six, the Orange had made just 4 of 12 from behind the arc, with James Southerland hitting three of them. There's no mystery here. This team simply cannot shoot from the outside. Three of their primary 3-point shooters are under 30 percent for the season, with Brandon Triche having regressed badly as a senior.
Otherwise known as "What happens when a turnover-prone team that lacks athleticism meets Havoc on the road." The Rams scored at will off forced turnovers and the final score probably doesn't full represent the level of dominance over 40 minutes. This game was a TKO Round 1.
For VCU, well, this was a prototype performance. Feast on opposition weakness, force the ball free and convert in transition, then repeat ad nauseum. The win also helps solidify their NCAA résumé. It will be interesting to see how the A-10 is treated in the seeding process, as the best teams have really taken bites out of each other (with the exception of Saint Louis, which is mostly doing the biting these days).
Other notable results
-- No. 22 Marquette 72, No. 21 Notre Dame 64: The Golden Eagles throttled the Irish in the first half and took an impressive home win. The victory keeps them tied for second in the Big East, one loss behind Georgetown, which plays Rutgers at home later. Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule combined to shoot 14-of-18 from the field for 35 total points.
-- Maryland 67, Wake Forest 57: It's not the quality win(s) that Maryland needs, but the Terps needed to avoid more losses and got it done in a place where better teams have really struggled this season. Best guess in a vacuum: Terps need four more wins (in whatever combo) to make the NCAAs.
-- Memphis 76, Central Florida 67: Back in the cozy comfines of C-USA, the Tigers stayed perfect with a road win. There's not very much more they can prove to the committee this season. Winning out would give them a gaudy record without a ton of top-end substance behind it. Good team, so-so profile.
-- Oklahoma 86, Iowa State 69: A big, dominating win for the Sooners, who tied an NCAA record by going 34-for-34 from the free throw line. The Cyclones have to be careful. They're far from an NCAA lock at this point. A consummate solid team with a profile most notable for missed chances against Kansas, among others.
-- Georgia 78, Tennessee 68: The Vols' at-large push got dinged significantly when they were swept by the Bulldogs, this one in Athens. As
-- Cincinnati 61, UConn 56: The Bearcats held off the Huskies for an absolutely crucial win for their NCAA tournament hopes. UConn committed sloppy turnovers on two late possessions with a chance to at least tie.