As college basketball took center stage on Saturday, it stood confidently in the spotlight and did not disappoint. Four top-10 teams took Ls. The Big East — a jumbled mess — was decided with a three-way tie. Rutgers finally — finally! — picked up a road win. And oh: maybe an NCAA Tournament berth, too.
Party like it’s 1991, Scarlet Knights.
Meanwhile, life on the bubble proved to be rather dangerous for everyone else. Texas Tech, UCLA, Indiana, Purdue and Texas all took deflating losses, failing to capitalize on opportunities to pad the resume ahead of Selection Sunday.
There were still plenty of winners, however. Kentucky — at the expense of a Florida flop — clinched a win with a short roster. Kansas — much to the chagrin of sliding Baylor — snagged the Big 12 regular-season crown outright with a Baylor loss … then crushed Texas Tech’s heart with a close win. And Virginia … well: Virginia may have broken No. 10 Louisville. (We’ll get to you, Cards.)
As for the rest, here’s a rundown of everything you need to know that happened in college hoops on Saturday.
Winner: Oregon takes outright Pac-12 title
Dana Altman’s squad secured at least a share of the Pac-12 title when UCLA lost to USC earlier in the day. But Oregon went ahead finished the job and took the outright title with an 80-67 win over Stanford. It’s hard to find anyone as consistent as the Ducks in this crazy college basketball season. They started the regular season at No. 15 in the AP Top 25 and are ending it at No. 13 with a third league championship in the last four seasons under their wings.
Winner: Rutgers picks up a road win
Rutgers hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991.
That drought may just end this year.
With the Scarlet Knights’ 71-68 overtime victory on the road against Purdue — just their second road win all season — it looks as if they may have a resume good enough to finally break through. If indeed they do make the field, Geo Baker deserves all the love after he forced OT with a clutch shot late in regulation — then hit what amounted to the game-icer in OT.
Loser: Florida’s epic collapse
I had my red flag at my side, prepared to raise it and wave it proudly about Kentucky, which looked destined to lose its second-straight after falling behind by 18 on the road to Florida. I’ve now dyed that flag blue and orange and named it after Mike White after the Gators imploded at home.
Somehow the Wildcats won 71-70 in stunning fashion. They did so without Ashton Hagans, who did not travel, and Immanuel Quickley fouling out in only 12 minutes of action. It was simultaneously an incredibly resilient and impressive showing from UK, and a collapse to end all collapses from Florida.
Winner: Wisconsin has at least a share of Big Ten
The No. 24 Badgers are Big Ten regular-season champions. That is not a sentence I envisioned typing a month ago after Wisconsin opened league play 6-6.
But what I also didn’t envision was Wisconsin winning out, topping it off with a 60-56 squeezer over Indiana on Saturday. The win guaranteed UW at least a share of the regular-season title — and potentially more, depending on how Michigan State and Maryland fare Sunday.
Loser: Auburn tops Tennessee
You know that feeling when you break up with your significant other, then your significant other goes on to date, say, the most successful person you know? That may be how Tennessee is feeling right about now. The Vols fell 85-63 to No. 17 Auburn on Saturday at the hands of ex-coach Bruce Pearl, who improved to 6-3 against his former-employer — including five-straight. Tennessee’s doing fine with Rick Barnes at the helm, to be sure, but Pearl’s doing yeoman’s work for an Auburn team that’s won 25+ games for three consecutive seasons under his watch. Ouch.
Winner: Kansas’ clinches outright Big 12 title
Kansas officially clinched the Big 12 regular season title outright early Saturday when Baylor — inexplicably — laid an egg on the road to West Virginia. (We’ll get to you, Baylor.) That happened before Kansas-Texas Tech went final … where the top-ranked Jayhawks went ahead and won for good measure 66-62 anyway. Incredible stat to come from this one: Kansas improves to 31-1 when Udoka Azubuike scores 15 or more points. One could make a case that he’s a legitimate National Player of the Year contender … and one would be right.
Loser: Seton Hall slips up again
On Wednesday, Seton Hall had a chance to ice the Big East title and lost at home to Villanova. On Saturday, Seton Hall had a chance to ice the Big East title and lost on the road to Creighton 77-60. So after several months of looking like the crème de la crème in the conference, the Pirates are now splitting the league’s regular season title three ways with Creighton and Villanova.
Oh, Creighton was ready to rub that in Seton Hall’s nose almost before the game event went final.
“I’m really pissed off that people are cutting down the nets and my guys are down there [in the locker room],” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said in his postgame radio via NJ.com.
More than just blowing the outright conference title, though, Seton Hall’s sliding the wrong direction at the wrong time. The Pirates have lost four of their last seven games and two straight leading into the postseason. Count me in as a believer in the Pirates’ outlook — I think Myles Powell and Co. can make a Final Four run (call me crazy!) — but the way this team has fallen is less than ideal for its immediate outlook entering the postseason.
Winner: West Virginia senior’s surprise proposal
Before West Virginia dismantled No. 4 Baylor 76-64, Mountaineers senior Chase Harler got a win of his own on senior day, proposing to his long-time girlfriend and making her his fiancée. Sorry: these never got old.
How about the announcer, by the way? Going with a “future fiancee” reference before Harler even got down a knee? That’s some confidence.
Loser: Indiana’s Miller goes on rant
Indiana lost a close one to Wisconsin. It surely stung for the Hoosiers and their coach Archie Miller. But only one handled it like a petulant child: Archie Miller.
Asked after the game about what the loss meant for IU’s chances to get to the Big Dance, Miller tried turning the tables by throwing a tantrum about Bracketology experts, likening them to Sesame Street characters before saying one national Bracketology expert needs to go back to his “trash can” — you guessed it, another Sesame Street reference.
“It’s like, if you watch Sesame Street, you listen to the guys on Sesame Street, it’s a children show,” Miller said. “Every bracketologist is a children’s show. Bottom line, we know (what) our resume is, strength of record, and that’s undeniable. It’s a top-25 strength of record. You don’t not put in a top-25 strength-of-record team with the wins that we have. Somebody’s going to have to answer some questions.”
Look, I get it. Miller has a problem with Bracketologists. And to be fair: Bracketology is an inexact science. He has a right to have a problem with it. But to name names, throw a hissy fit and generally act in such a condescending manner is a bad look for no one but him. He accomplished nothing except some bad publicity. So to that I say: congrats! Mission accomplished.
Winner: Virginia’s resurrection
On Jan. 20, Virginia was 4-4 in ACC play, 12-6 overall, and trending towards the NIT — less than a year removed from winning the national championship. Yet as we sit here on March 7, that same Virginia team has won 11 of its last 12, surged from off the tourney radar to firmly in the fold and emerged as a legitimate threat to make a run this March. Here’s live footage of ACC opponents realizing UVA is back, baby, back:
Virginia’s latest victim was No. 10 Louisville on Saturday. After falling behind by eight early, UVA’s defense stepped up then eventually suffocated Louisville down the stretch, en route 57-54 win. That NIT-bound Virginia team? It’s NCAA Tournament-bound and will finish the season just a game back from winning the league’s regular season. Take a bow, Tony Bennett. This is your best coaching job yet.
Loser: UCLA takes tough loss to rival USC
UCLA’s rise from Pac-12 punching bag to title threat has been remarkable, but to quote the great Jerry Palm on Saturday morning, “The Bruins are not out of the woods yet.” A gut-wrenching 54-52 loss to USC certainly doesn’t help, either.
As Palm put it: “A loss at USC doesn’t necessarily eliminate them yet, but might put them in the position of being the lowest rated at-large team ever.” A precarious spot for the Bruins as their regular season revival ends in disappointing fashion. After Oregon took care of Stanford, the loss ended up being the difference between a Pac-12 title and a runner-up finish for the Bruins.
Winner: Florida State captures ACC crown
Shouts to this brilliant bald-headed ball coach right here:
That’s Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, perpetually the most underrated coach in America after the No. 7 Seminoles defeated Boston College 80-62 to win the ACC regular-season title outright — FSU’s first in program history. It’s the program’s first regular-season championship since winning the Metro in 1989 (!), and fifth all-time.
Loser: North Carolina
North Carolina and Duke is one of the all-time great (if not the greatest) rivalries in sports. And yet Saturday, Duke-UNC went down as a ho-hum top-15 casually smacking an unranked team by 13 points, the Blue Devils coming out victorious, 89-76.
And with that, it’s official: UNC finishes last-place in the ACC regular season standings with a shared 6-14 conference record with Wake Forest and Pitt. The Tar Heels are the 14 seed in the ACC Tournament next week. If they’re going to go from last place to ACC tourney winners, they’ll have to beat Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Louisville … just to get to the semifinals.
Winner: Dayton’s Toppin is flying high
I’m ready to call it. Sorry Luka Garza, sorry Myles Powell, sorry Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson and every other contender: it’s over.
I will hear no other argument. Dayton smashed the A-10 with a perfect 18-0 record. And it did so while boasting a historically efficient offense while riding Toppin, and while taking a 20-game winning streak into the postseason. Oh, and for good measure, Toppin did so with style.
Toppin finished with 27 points, five boards, five assists and two steals to help Dayton to cap its perfect record in A-10 play.
Loser: San Diego State’s chances at a No. 1 seed
Tournament seeding remains fluid, but San Diego State’s 59-56 loss to Utah State in the Mountain West Tournament title game on Saturday bumped the Aztecs from a projected No. 1 seed to a projected No. 2 seed for the Big Dance, according to Jerry Palm. (Keep in mind: tournament seeding a week from Selection Sunday is fluid. Did I mention seeding is fluid?)
SDSU was already dealing with a slim margin of error, and it’s possible this loss bumps them down a full seed line if Dayton keeps rolling and Kansas, Gonzaga and Baylor don’t fall flat on their faces over the next week. After opening the season 26-0, SDSU’s gotta be kicking itself with two losses in its last six that could potentially cost it a spot on the 1 line.
Winner: Villanova and Creighton grab share of Big East
What’s Seton Hall’s blown conference championship is a shared conference crown for Seton Hall, Villanova and Creighton — the result of a wacky Saturday that saw Seton Hall fall to Creighton and Villanova — barely! — survive a road test against Georgetown. It’s Creighton’s first regular season title since 2013 and Villanova’s sixth (!) since 2014.
Winner: Baldwin does it for Baldwin
Pro tip: do not go under a ball screen on Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. Like, ever. But especially don’t go under when he has 33 points, the ball in his hands and a chance to hit a go-ahead game-winner. Otherwise, he’ll do this:
Baldwin finished with 36 big ones, going 5 of 7 from 3-point range and dragging the Bulldogs to a win by scoring 11 points in the final five minutes as Butler escaped 72-71 over Xavier.