It’s the final Saturday of February! With just 15 days to go until Selection Sunday, the 146 Division I men’s games today (and especially the four matchups between ranked teams) have extra meaning as teams look to make their cases to the NCAA’s selection committee.
Sports Illustrated breaks down the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s loaded slate and what it all means for March.
Gonzaga Takes First WCC Loss in Over Two Years
Until today, Gonzaga hadn’t even played a conference game decided by single digits. But the Bulldogs’ dominant reign in the WCC was stopped at least for a night by Saint Mary’s, which executed a marvelous game plan to suck the life out of one of the sport’s most explosive offenses. The Gaels limited Gonzaga to just 21 first-half points to get out to a 15-point halftime edge, then made enough shots in the second half to hold on even as Gonzaga made its push. The Bulldogs’ frontcourt duo of Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme combined for just 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting, one of the most impressive defensive performances of the season by any team. With every other projected top seed losing today, Gonzaga will likely stay put as the No. 1 overall seed and stay in the West Regional. And on the other side, it’s a signature win for Saint Mary’s, which has built a highly impressive résumé and will jump a seed line or two with this win.
Baylor’s Frontcourt Shines Without Tchamwa Tchatchoua
Losing Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to a season-ending knee injury felt devastating for Baylor—both because of how good he was on both ends and because of how big a leader he is for this Bears club. But in Baylor’s biggest game of the season to date, Scott Drew saw his other two frontcourt players step up in big ways. Freshman Jeremy Sochan played the finest game of his young career, matching a career-high 17 points while making a significant impact defensively as well. Veteran center Flo Thamba kept Baylor in it early when Kansas threw a haymaker and posted 18 points of his own in the best offensive performance in his career. The win over the Jayhawks is a huge boost to Baylor’s hopes of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, particularly considering all of the four No. 1’s in SI’s Friday update took losses Saturday. Baylor now has more Q1 wins than any other team in the country with 11.
Arizona Digs Too Deep A Hole vs. Colorado
Tommy Lloyd’s Wildcats have had their share of slow starts and sleepy halves lately, but have relied on an explosive offense to turn things around and pull away. Today was a different story at altitude against Colorado. The Buffaloes forced the game into the halfcourt and never allowed Arizona to make a true push, limiting the Wildcats to just 26 second-half points to pull the upset victory. The biggest implication for Arizona is the loss essentially wipes away the Wildcats’ chance for the No. 1 overall seed and a chance to play in the West Regional. But with so many other losses in the top 10, the path to a No. 1 seed is still relatively straight for Lloyd’s team.
Arkansas’s Dominance in Fayetteville Continues
For the third time this month, Arkansas hosted an elite opponent and found a way to win. The Razorbacks put together an elite defensive effort in the first half and made timely shots late to knock off Kentucky, 75–73, completing an SEC trifecta in Fayetteville that also included wins over Auburn and Tennessee.
Hogs guard JD Notae made his case to be considered one of the best perimeter players in the sport, pouring in 30 points and dishing out eight assists in one of the most impressive performances of the season by the lead guard. And while Kentucky’s offense got going in the second half thanks to 30 points from Oscar Tshiebwe, the Arkansas defense once again stepped up and slowed down an offense ranked in the top five nationally per KenPom.
After starting 0–3 in SEC play and losing five of six games in late December and early January, Arkansas has turned its season around and has become one of the best teams in the country. The Hogs are 13–1 since Jan. 8, with four of those wins coming against top-20 KenPom teams. Expect the Razorbacks to be on the No. 4 line in SI’s next bracket update.
Purdue’s Flaws Exposed Again
There’s no question that Purdue’s talent level and offensive firepower give the Boilermakers a chance to beat pretty much anyone in college basketball. But Saturday’s road loss against a Michigan State team in freefall was yet another questionable performance from a team that often leaves you wanting more, particularly on the defensive end.
Purdue’s defense has made a habit of letting opposing ballhandlers put up career games, and the oft-maligned Spartan PG duo of AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker added to that tally today with impressive performances. Hoggard controlled the game and made huge plays in the second half, while Walker hit the game-winning three. The pair combined for 19 points and 10 assists compared to just four turnovers in the game.
On the other end of the floor, star Boilermaker guard Jaden Ivey scored 16 points but turned it over five times, the main culprit in what was Purdue’s worst game taking care of the ball this season. And yet again, Zach Edey was sidelined in critical moments due to foul trouble despite being dominant on the block when on the floor.
Yes, it’s hard to win on the road in the Big Ten. And yes, Michigan State played much better than it has lately. Still, today was yet another reminder of the Boilermakers’ flaws, which will make them hard to trust in March.
Auburn Needs More From Its Point Guards
It’s really hard to win a national championship without good point guard play, and right now Auburn needs more from its two top ballhandlers. In today’s loss to Tennessee, the Tigers’ two point guards, Zep Jasper and Wendell Green, combined to shoot just 2-of-17 from the field and had only four assists compared to three turnovers. To crack an elite defense like Tennessee’s, Auburn has to get steady play from its ballhandlers. Instead, the offense bogged down at times, with Tigers not named Jabari Smith and K.D. Johnson combining to shoot just 7-of-31 from the field. Meanwhile, it’s a huge win for the Vols, who move to 12–4 in the SEC and into a tie for second, with Kentucky and Arkansas. Tennessee trailed 39–28 early in the second half before taking control late thanks to a stifling defensive performance.
Xavier’s Struggles Continue
Xavier has now lost six of seven, and eight of its last 11 games, after an ugly home loss to Seton Hall Saturday. It’s part of what’s become an annual trend of rough finishes for Travis Steele-led Xavier teams as the Musketeers fell apart late last year to miss the NCAA tournament and also had rough finishes in 2020 and 2019. This year’s Xavier team has more breathing room to go dancing than last year’s club, but what was once such a promising season has seemingly fallen by the wayside. The Musketeers should still find themselves in the field assuming they don’t lose at home to lowly Georgetown next week, but at one point this team was in the conversation for a top-four seed. Now it could wind up wearing road colors in the first round of the Big Dance.
- Dayton had surged into at-large consideration despite an awful start to the season, but a 62–60 loss to La Salle means the Flyers need to win the Atlantic 10 tournament in two weeks to go dancing.
- North Carolina and Oklahoma each came out on top in must-win rivalry games for their NCAA tournament hopes, as the Tar Heels handled NC State and the Sooners survived in overtime against Oklahoma State. Both teams are still on the outside looking in as of now, with North Carolina entering the day as SI’s second team out and OU the fifth team out.
- With their seventh Big 12 win and 20th victory overall, Iowa State is officially an NCAA tournament lock after a narrow win over Kansas State.
- Miami could have locked itself into the field with a win over Virginia Tech, but the Hurricanes fell apart late to lose 71–70. Still, the Canes should still dance without a complete late-season collapse. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has a path, albeit a narrow one, to an at-large after this Q1 win.
- Virginia now needs to win the ACC tournament to go dancing after a home loss to Florida State.
- TCU’s huge win over Texas Tech cements the Horned Frogs’ place in the field, even with TCU staring down a very difficult schedule to close the season.
- Loyola Chicago’s at-large path got thinner after losing in OT to Northern Iowa. It's a Q2 loss, but the Ramblers now likely to need to make the MVC title game to dance…and winning to secure the automatic big would be the safer route.
- Rutgers missed an opportunity at home to Wisconsin, dropping a third consecutive game since jumping into SI's projected field last week. Wednesday's matchup with Indiana in Bloomington could end up being something of a play-in game for NCAA tournament selection.
- Oregon could have really used a win against USC after entering the day among SI’s First Four Out. The loss doesn’t eliminate them from at-large contention, but it leaves the Ducks needing to make a significant run in the Pac-12 tournament.
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