First off: welcome to March. Few sweeter words are uttered in the sports year.
In a sport where home teams win right about two-thirds of the time, road wins at any time of year in college basketball are extraordinary, no matter the competition. Road wins at the end of February mean even more (regardless of whether ‘Last 10’ is an official criteria of the selection committee, remember-the NCAA selection committee is made of humans). Road wins at the end of February against very good teams are like gold, pure treasures.
One of the biggest days of the regular season saw a number of NCAA Tournament hopefuls greatly enhance their chances of selection thanks to some huge performances on the road. The biggest blow was struck by BYU, which went to Gonzaga and came away with a 73-70 win over the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs, while Boise State, Dayton and Tulsa also were among the teams recording wins of various quality away from home.
BYU snapped the longest home winning streak in the country at 41 games. Its victory against Gonzaga was not just impressive for where it came, but for how the Cougars never trailed in the game. Despite shooting a lousy 16 of 29 from the foul line, Brigham Young could not have looked much better against a top-flight team, and it now gives the WCC at least a truly viable at-large contender besides the Zags.
Boise State’s win over San Diego State may not have been as glamorous, but it may end up being even more significant. The Broncos were on the edge of the field coming in, but should now be in with their 12th win in 13 games. Boise shut down the Aztecs’ 29-game winning streak at home, swept both games against SDSU this season and now is tied for first in the Mountain West, all this despite battling various injuries earlier in the season. A road game at hapless San Jose State and a home finale against Fresno State are all Leon Rice’s team needs to wrap up at least a share of the league title.
Dayton almost assuredly was already heading to the tourney before Saturday, but the Flyers left no doubt with a 59-55 win at VCU. Tulsa’s 74-72 overtime win at Memphis isn’t as meaty as the victories by the other three teams above, but it does keep the Golden Hurricane tied with SMU atop the American Athletic Conference, and does improve TU to 5-5 against the top 100 and 8-3 on the road.
The big road wins even extended beyond teams trying to just play their way into the bracket. Arizona’s 63-57 win at Utah, combined with Gonzaga’s loss, could certainly be the difference between a one or two seed in two weeks. North Carolina’s step-up performance in a 73-64 win at Miami (Fla.) was an important bounce back for a team that looked putrid just a few nights earlier against a North Carolina State team that was hammered by Boston College on Sunday. Even Louisville’s 81-59 blowout of Florida State should give people pause before writing off the Cardinals, as many seem to have done after a rocky last 10 days or so.
A few try to dismiss the importance of road games by noting that teams do not play road games in the NCAA Tournament, which is mostly true (but not completely; not with the pod system that gives too many teams virtual home games in the tourney, if a town close enough to them is hosting). However, tough teams do win in the NCAA Tournament, and tough teams win on the road, not just under optimum conditions.
- Hoopville czar Phil Kasiecki has his wrap-up of Saturday’s busy schedule here
- Kansas held out freshman Cliff Alexander from its eventual 69-64 win over Texas on Saturday because of an NCAA eligibility issue. Kansas did not release any more information and did not indicate if the extension would go any longer. On the surface, this sounds ominous, but these things often get cleaned up quickly and quietly.
(By the way, editorial comment: too much bellyaching about the lack of a foul call on the play involving Texas guard Isaiah Taylor late in the game. Contact like that is allowed all the time in college basketball. It probably should’ve been a foul, as there was a trip-inadvertent or not, it gave the defender an advantage-and there was some contact by both KU players, but Taylor also looked out of control, which makes it easy to see why it was not called. It was no worse of a no-call than dozens of others in every college game played today, and to claim otherwise is a smokescreen from the real issue from the game: that Texas once again did just enough to not win.)
- West Virginia star guard Juwan Staten missed the Mountaineers’ 78-66 loss to Baylor due to a knee injury suffered on Tuesday in his team’s win over Texas.
- A note from the Boise State/San Diego State game, where Dwayne Polee did not play due to “abnormal readings” on his heart monitor that led doctors to adjust his medication levels.
- Florida coach Billy Donovan picked up his 500th career win with the Gators’ 66-49 win over Tennessee. With teams playing more games than ever, sometimes it’s hard to know how excited to get about some of these win milestones anymore. All one needs to know about this record, though, is that Donovan and Bob Knight are the only two coaches to reach 500 wins before age 50.
SMU at Connecticut (2 p.m. EST, CBS) Despite gaudy record, Mustangs still don’t have a ton of brand name wins. This is another chance for SMU to make a statement, as well as for the Huskies to show they will be a tough out in the AAC tourney at home next week.
Michigan State at Wisconsin Badgers look to bounce back from their loss at Maryland, while Spartans also are coming off a home loss to Minnesota.
Oregon at Stanford (7 p.m. EST, FS1) With all the teams that won on Saturday, this is of capital importance for the Cardinal. Two teams that like to go up and down.
Purdue at Ohio State The Buckeyes will be in the NCAAs, and the Boilermakers are probably there too, but a win here just might seal it.
Pittsburgh at Wake Forest (6:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU) Panthers can’t afford a loss here.
Quinnipiac at Monmouth MAAC regular season is wrapping up. Jaspers can clinch third seed in conference tourney with a win here.
Have a great Sunday.