(1) Syracuse 56, NC State 55
There must be some supernatural force at work, something only the basketball gods know about, something us mortals don't understand. How else can one attempt to explain Syracuse surviving yet another close game? “Ridiculous” isn’t the right word. Neither is “lucky.”
The Orange are – forgive the cliché – winners. On Jan. 18, Syracuse trailed Pitt with less than three minutes to go at the Carrier Dome and won by five. They took down Duke in overtime on Feb. 1 in one of the most thrilling games of the season. They won at Pitt earlier this week on a running 35-footer at the buzzer from point guard Tyler Ennis. In conference play, Syracuse has won six games by single digits.
On Saturday, it looked like they would finally lose – like the late-game savvy they’ve displayed all season would finally betray them. With 15 seconds to go and the Orange trailing by one, Ennis committed an offensive foul on NC State point guard Cat Barber. Wolfpack forward T.J. Warren was fouled on the other end after a long inbounds pass.
NC State had a huge win against the No. 1 team in the country in its grasp. All it needed to do was protect the ball. But in this charmed season Syracuse is having, closing out a win against the Orange is more difficult than it should be. Pitt knows this. Now NC State does, too.
Orange forward Rakeem Christmas intercepted a pass from Barber and got the ball to Ennis, who fed Fair for what ended up being the game-winning layup to put the Orange up one with 6.7 seconds left. Of all of Syracuse’s close shaves this season, Saturday’s might have been the closest. The Orange deserved to lose. They shot 35.2 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. Ennis went 3-of-10 from the field for nine points and leading scorer Fair had 11 on 5-of-16.
But for whatever reason, Syracuse didn’t lose. The Orange are 25-0, 12-0 in the ACC and (barring an unexpected loss at home to Boston College on Wednesday) will take their undefeated record into Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 22 for one of the biggest games of the season. I don’t think Syracuse will win that game, but after Saturday’s miraculous escape, maybe I shouldn’t pick against Jim Boeheim’s team until it loses.
(8) Duke 69, Maryland 67
Maryland led by one with a little more than a minute remaining in Saturday’s game against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium when Blue Devils freshman Jabari Parker cut through the lane and skied for a thunderous one-handed jam. Duke held on after Maryland forward Charles Mitchell’s shot with less than 10 seconds to go rimmed out. This is the last time Duke and Maryland will face off as ACC opponents because the Terrapins will be in the Big Ten next season. Parker led the Blue Devils with 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Duke plays at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, two days before its make-up game at North Carolina.
Purdue 82, Indiana 64
A disappointing season for Indiana took another dismal turn Saturday as the Hoosiers were blown out by in-state rival Purdue at Mackey Arena. Indiana has now lost three consecutive games and isn’t remotely close to earning an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Boilermakers senior guard Sterling Carter scored a team-high 19 points.
Talk about humiliating.
Oklahoma 77, Oklahoma State 74
Oklahoma State woke up on Jan. 18 with a 15-2 record. It has since lost seven of its last eight games to fall to 16-9 and now sits in eighth place in the Big 12 standings. Of the three games Cowboys star point guard Marcus Smart will miss because of a suspension stemming from a physical confrontation with a fan at the end of last week’s Texas Tech game, Saturday’s home game against Oklahoma might have been the most winnable. But Oklahoma State couldn’t get it done despite getting 26 points and nine rebounds from senior guard Markel Brown. If the Cowboys lose at Baylor on Monday, they will need to win their last five games to finish with a .500 record in conference play. At least Oklahoma State fans can take solace in the fact that the selection committee will assess their team based on how it plays with Smart in the lineup.
Saint Joseph’s 75, La Salle 64
Since falling at Richmond on Jan. 25, the Hawks have won four of five games to move into a tie for third place in the Atlantic 10. They took down La Salle on the road Saturday after beating VCU at home earlier this week. Senior guard Langston Galloway paced the Hawks with 18 points. With a manageable schedule (at Rhode Island, Fordham, Dayton, at St. Bonaventure, at George Washington, La Salle) the rest of the way, Saint Joe’s could play itself into position to earn an at-large bid.
UMass 67, George Washington 61
UMass had lost three of five heading into Saturday’s game at George Washington. The Minutemen were still in position to earn an at-large bid, but beating a possibly tourney-bound team on the road is a nice addition to their ledger. UMass senior Sampson Carter scored 20 points and grabbed four rebounds. The Minutemen have yet to face the league’s two top teams, Saint Louis and VCU. UMass hosts the former Feb. 21 and the latter March 8. The Colonials will need to beat either Richmond or Saint Louis on the road to avoid a three-game losing streak.
Missouri 75, Tennessee 70
We’ve reached that point of the season where every game bubble teams play will be analyzed on a granular level. Both Missouri and Tennessee could have used a win Saturday to improve their résumés, but it was the Tigers that eked out a five-point win behind 24 points from junior guard Jabari Brown. Missouri isn’t safe yet. It will need to avoid some potential pitfalls (Vanderbilt, at Alabama, at Georgia, Mississippi State, Texas A&M) and maybe notch a win in the SEC tournament. But this was an important result – not only because Missouri hasn’t racked up many quality Ws this season. The Vols are one of the teams that, like the Tigers, could find themselves on the bubble cutline on selection Sunday. Winning at the expense of a fellow bubble dweller is a good thing any way you look at it.
(10) Cincinnati 73, Houston 62
Cincinnati had seven days to stew over its 21-point blowout loss at SMU. A two-game losing streak looked possible for much of Saturday’s home tilt with Houston, but the Bearcats, led by 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting and six assists from senior guard Sean Kilpatrick, took a lead in the second half and held on for an 11-point win. Senior forward Justin Jackson added 13 points and five rebounds. Cincinnati leads Louisville by two games for first place in the American Athletic Conference. If the Bearcats (23-3, 12-1 AAC) can avoid slipping down the stretch, a top-four seed in the NCAAs looks within reach. Cincinnati is now 17-0 at home this season.
Georgia 61, Ole Miss 60
Take a peek at the SEC Standings. Go ahead. Does anything look weird to you? The Bulldogs, after beating Ole Miss Saturday at home, are alone in third place, one and a half games back of second-place Kentucky. The Rebels’ at-large hopes are fading fast, as they’ve now lost four of their last six games. Winning upcoming home games against Kentucky and Florida would be huge. The Bulldogs (14-10, 8-4 SEC) have now won four straight and lost just once at Stegeman Coliseum in SEC play. They play at Tennessee on Tuesday.
Marquette 81, Xavier 72
The Golden Eagles have played far worse than what was expected of them (they were picked first in the preseason Big East poll), but they’ve now won three consecutive games for the first time this season. On Saturday, Golden Eagles senior guard Jake Thomas scored 18 points and senior forward Jamil Wilson had 16 and five rebounds. The Musketeers would probably be in the field if it were selected and seeded today, but any bad losses could put them in dangerous territory. Xavier hosts DePaul on Wednesday before visiting Georgetown and St. John’s.
Five days after steamrolling Iowa State in Morgantown, West Virginia tried to beat another upper-tier Big 12 team on the road. Sophomore center Cameron Ridley scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds to power the Longhorns to a comfortable win. Texas’ next two games will be tough. It plays at Iowa State on Tuesday and at Kansas next Saturday. West Virginia can still play its way into position to earn an at-large bid, but a loss against Baylor at home next Saturday could be tough to overcome. The Mountaineers will also play road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma, as well as a home game against Kansas, before the end of the season.
Baylor has won two straight games after losing seven of eight. It needed two overtimes to get past Kansas State on Saturday. Junior forward Cory Jefferson led the Bears with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Baylor hosts reeling Oklahoma State on Monday before embarking on a tough two-game road swing at West Virginia and Texas. Kansas State hosts TCU on Wednesday.
The Cougars are shaping up to be an interesting bubble team. They won at Saint Mary’s on Saturday to move to 10-5 in the WCC. Whether the Cougars make the field of 68 could be decided on Thursday, when they host league kingpin Gonzaga. BYU senior guard Tyler Haws led all scorers with 18 points. Forward Eric Mika flashed a choke sign (https://twitter.com/CHJournal/statuses/434903070237945856) after Gaels guard Stephen Holt missed a free throw in the closing seconds.
An Auburn fan at the Auburn-Mississippi State game Saturday at Auburn Arena sank a 95-foot putt to win either a new car or $15,000 toward a new car. Auburn alum and PGA Champion Jason Dufner is smiling somewhere.