BYU looks out for No. 1, Duke goes down, more Saturday thoughts
The battle in the Mountain West was the main story Saturday, but far from the only one. This was a huge moving day for a number of teams across the land. Here's a look at what it all means.
• BYU's win at San Diego State was huge. If the Cougars are going to shoot like that, they will be exceptionally hard to beat, but the bigger take-aways were the performance of Jimmer's supporting cast (he had nine assists to help offset a subpar shooting day) and how resilient the Cougars were in front of one of the most intense crowds anywhere this season. They had an answer for every SDSU push and may be giving other teams a blueprint on how to frustrate the Aztecs. SDSU's zone offense let it down Saturday, with significant credit to BYU's quick hands and feet.
In the bigger picture, BYU has now put itself in position for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. The Cougars should be strongly favored to win their next four games (home against New Mexico and Wyoming, then the 8-9 winner and maybe Colorado State in the Mountain West tournament. If they win out, I think they'll get there. As noted Saturday on Twitter, BYU has a whopping six top-25 RPI wins, which dwarfs that category's production from other top-seed candidates.
• We spent most of the afternoon wondering whether BYU could be a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Well, the path opened up a bit wider when Duke went down to defeat in Blacksburg, making the Blue Devils the second potential No. 1 seed to lose Saturday (after Texas).
The game wasn't a thing of beauty on the court, especially in the final minutes when the Hokies kept clanking free throws and the Blue Devils kept butchering possessions, but it's an enormous win for Virginia Tech's NCAA tournament hopes. The Hokies have been solid against decent opponents (7-0 against RPI 51-100 opponents) but were 0-5 vs. the top 50 before the game. Now they have the elusive marquee win to hang their hats on, but anyone who thinks this locks the Hokies into the NCAAs is mistaken. For now, this puts them on the right side of the bubble cutline, but they still need to close the deal.
Because of a weaker-than-expected ACC schedule, Duke's margin for error this season has been slimmer. With a visit to Chapel Hill left and a potential third meeting with North Carolina in the ACC tournament, it's no lock that the Blue Devils can win out from here. In fact, they'll probably be playing UNC for the ACC regular-season title next Saturday. If Duke can't run the table, there's a decent chance they'll end up on the 2-seed line on Selection Sunday.
• Two weeks ago, it seemed impossible, but thanks to San Diego's epic upset of St. Mary's that preceded Gonzaga's overtime win in Moraga on Thursday, the Zags have earned a share of the WCC title for an 11th straight season. St. Mary's draws the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, but the top two seeds (SMC, Gonzaga) both get double-byes and it's a neutral-site event in Las Vegas, so the difference between the two spots is very marginal.
• The Big 12 regular-season title is now up for grabs after Colorado stunned Texas in Boulder with a huge rally from 22 points down. The Buffaloes dropped 58 points on the nation's No. 1 defense in a second-half barrage that was surreal to watch.
Texas has shown a tendency to not close out games, but this was well beyond that. Colorado is really solid at home but a 33-point swing in about a half's worth of playing time? Alec Burks showed in the second half why a lot of people consider him an NBA lottery-level talent, but he got a lot of help, specifically from sharpshooting Levi Knutson. Texas also hurt itself again with its ongoing free-throw problems. Remember these danger signs in March.
The loss dropped Texas into a tie for the league lead with Kansas, even though the 'Horns still hold the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the league tournament. It also opens up even more discussion for the NCAA 1-seed line, with six teams now looking like they have a real chance for the four spots.
• Kansas State was another Big 12 team that cashed in against a ranked opponent Saturday, beating Missouri to further strengthen its at-large case. Yes, everyone beats Mizzou at home (the Tigers are now 1-6 on the road in league play), but this continues a good run of form for the Wildcats, who are starting to look more like the team most people expected them to be in November.
• St. John's is on fire and has a Big East player of the year candidate in guard Dwight Hardy, who has gone for at least 28 points in four of his last seven games. The Red Storm are surging toward a double-bye in the Big East tournament that will be on their home court and should be a top choice to win the event with how they've played at the Garden this season. If they somehow win their last five and take that crown, is a No. 2 seed unthinkable? I don't think it's crazy.
Meanwhile, Villanova is slumping terribly. Corey Fisher had one of the worst weeks for a good player in recent memory, shooting a combined 4-of-26 from the field in home losses to Syracuse and the Red Storm. Now the Wildcats travel to Notre Dame and Pitt and very well could enter the Big East tournament having lost six of their last eight and nine of 14. The Wildcats' seeding could nose dive and what looked like a promising campaign could again end on the first weekend of the NCAAs unless something changes quickly.
• Missouri State beat Wichita State for the second time this season and wrapped up the Missouri Valley title by a game over the Shockers. Unfortunately, those two head-to-head wins are the Bears' only two top-100 wins of the season, so they likely will need to take the auto bid in St. Louis to make the NCAAs. Wichita State's at-large hopes are completely done.
• The Horizon League picture was very nearly turned upside down but Youngstown State had a point-blank putback at the regulation buzzer somehow spin out and UW-Milwaukee won in overtime to grab the league's No. 1 seed and tournament-hosting responsibility. That's interesting news for bubble fans, as Butler (the league's No. 2 seed) also will get a double-bye into the league semis, but once there, very likely will have to handle Cleveland State for a third time this season and then there's a solid chance they'd have to win at Milwaukee, which routed the Bulldogs in the regular-season matchup there (and swept the season series). At-large hopes for the Bulldogs are still very touch and go, but this probably is the best possible setup for them should they need one.
• Not that it's a huge surprise, but Georgetown is going to struggle without Chris Wright and the Hoyas better hope he's healthy before the NCAA tournament. Their NCAA seeding will take a hit anyway, because the committee won't be able to assume he's 100 percent and the Hoyas have lost two straight without him and now could find themselves playing on the first day of the Big East tournament in a really needless game against a league minnow.
Conversely, Florida State jumped out on Miami and held off the 'Canes to move to 2-1 without Chris Singleton, which is good news for the Seminols' at-large hopes. They'll get credit for their accomplishments with him if they can keep looking decent without him.
• UCLA pounded Arizona and pulled into a share of first in the Pac-10. The Bruins are quietly playing very solid basketball. Arizona still has the schedule advantage as the Bruins make the Washington trip on the final weekend of the season while the Wildcats host the Oregon schools. Best guess is that Arizona wins the league by a game, but both teams will head to the NCAAs and are interested in placement. Arizona cannot play in the Tucson subregional it is hosting.
• Princeton is back on top in the two-team Ivy race after Harvard suffered a 70-69 loss at Yale. The Tigers are now a game in the loss column ahead of the Crimson, but the race is far from over. Harvard hosts both Penn and Princeton next weekend and can clinch at least a playoff with a sweep. Princeton also must play at archrival Penn after that, so there's a chance Harvard could still win the league outright. There's a solid chance for the first Ivy playoff (held at a neutral site) since 2002. The funny sidebar to this was Michigan fans immediately complaining on Twitter that former coach (and now-Harvard head man) Tommy Amaker was hurting them again. Harvard was one of Michigan's two RPI top-50 wins in its quest for an at-large.
• A bunch of teams suffered at-large hopes-crushing losses. Minnesota lost at home to Michigan and now has 10 Big Ten losses and very little hope since the Gophers have looked terrible without point guard Al Nolen. Alabama blew a 10-point lead and lost to Ole Miss, meaning the Tide likely need to win at least three in a row now (at Florida, vs. Georgia and a SEC quarterfinal vs. Kentucky/Tennessee/Georgia) just to have a legit argument for a bid. Memphis was destroyed at UTEP and really didn't look at all like an NCAA tournament team. VCU lost its fourth straight CAA game and pretty much ended its at-large chances with a distant fourth-place finish behind George Mason, Old Dominion and upstart Hofstra.