You just can’t write them off yet.
If there was any temptation to dismiss the NCAA Tournament chances of Georgetown, North Carolina State and UNLV, all three provided reasons Tuesday why you shouldn’t do that yet. The night was emblematic of this never-count-a-team-out season, as these perennial NCAA Tournament contenders earned unlikely victories.
Georgetown has had a largely disappointing year littered with close losses to good teams (Maryland, Duke, Villanova) as well as stunners at home (Radford, Monmouth, UNC Asheville), but the Hoyas got their first breakout win by defeating Xavier 81-72 on the road. Tre Campbell-a 3.5 point per game scorer coming in-delivered a career-high 21 points, the Hoyas outrebounded one of the best teams on the boards in the country and held the fort the entire second half in hostile territory to hand the Musketeers just their second loss this year. Undoubtedly, Georgetown is capable of more of this, and the Big East schedule will allow plenty of opportunities to get the quality wins needed for March.
N.C. State will have an abundance of chances to improve its resume over the month and a half too, but the Wolfpack gave us little reason to worry about it before their 78-61 road demolition of Pittsburgh. Cat Barber has been a blast to watch all year-and indeed, he scored 31 in this game-but his team was 1-7 against RPI top 100 teams before Tuesday.
State led by 25 points at halftime, and reminded us again that Mark Gottfried teams are always capable of surprising at any time. Should the Wolfpack overcome their 0-5 ACC start and get back to .500 in the league by the end of the year, they’ll be square on the bubble again as Selection Sunday nears.
UNLV won at Utah State 80-68 behind 21 points from Derrick Jones and another good game from Stephen Zimmerman (12 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks). While the Runnin’ Rebels are the more talented team, this result likely would’ve been reversed a couple weeks earlier, but the team is now 3-0 since Dave Rice was fired and Todd Simon took over on an interim basis.
Who knows if the coaching change has made the difference, or if this is just a good team that got its cage rattled a bit and is returning to the level it should be at. Remember: this was still a team that got off to a very good 7-1 start that included wins over Indiana and Oregon. There really was little explanation for that string of six losses in eight games; UNLV has the talent to be a top 25 team, and with a road game at Nevada and then home games against Boise State and San Diego State on deck, three more wins would have more and more seeing just that.
- As if the Big 12 wasn’t tough enough already, the top teams have an emerging problem as Oklahoma State continues to show big improvement. The Cowboys beat Kansas in stunningly easy fashion, 87-68, as Jawun Evans scored 22 points and added six rebounds and eight assists. OSU shot 50% and hit 23 of 26 from the free throw line.
- SMU moved to 18-0 with a hard-earned 77-73 win over Houston. Much like their game against Cincinnati 12 days earlier, the Mustangs-still going just seven deep- made winning plays down the stretch, seizing control after the Cougars led much of the second half.
- Providence swept the season series against Butler with another close win, this one a 71-68 victory at home. Kris Dunn was fairly quiet (nine points, five rebounds, seven assists) but Rodney Bullock scored 16 points to support Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds). The Bulldogs are one team that can’t wait to get out of Big East play and into the NCAA Tournament, though at 2-4 in league play there’s increasing work to do to get there.
- Virginia held off Clemson 69-62, doing it with offense-the Cavaliers hit 54.3% from the field, which his good because the Tigers shot 45.3%. Still some work to do for UVA, but there’s time.
- Maryland defeated Northwestern 62-56 in overtime, as the Wildcats gave an admirable effort in a game that was tied 48-48 at the end of regulation. Melo Trimble scored 18 for the Terrapins.
- Dayton showed again why it is a legit Sweet 16-level team, blowing out to a 27-point halftime lead at St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies made it respectable with a 61-point second half but ran out of time, falling 85-79.
- Texas A&M disposed of LSU 71-57, using a 16-3 run midway through the second half to break open a tie game. Jalen Jones scored 20, while no player scored more than 12 for the Tigers, who shot just 37.3% and committed a ghastly 19 turnovers.
- South Carolina just would not lose. The Gamecocks trailed Mississippi by 11 with just over five minutes left in regulation but rallied to send the game into overtime and eventually beat the Rebels 77-74. Another key road win for Frank Martin’s team.
- Evansville is now 17-3 after a 74-66 win over Loyola (Ill.) that was not as close as the final score. Egidijus Mockevicius piled up 23 points and 20 rebounds as the Purple Aces continue to take care o business in the MVC.
- San Diego State outlasted Fresno State 73-67 in overtime to stay undefeated in the Mountain West, but not before the Bulldogs’ Cezar Guerrero hit one of the best game-tying three-pointers one will ever see, a fall-away turnaround triple off one foot from the right corner at the regulation buzzer to tie it.
- California has suffered a significant blow as senior guard Tyrone Wallace will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand, as announced Tuesday. Wallace leads the team with 15.4 points and 4.5 assists per game. The Golden Bears are already looking like that talented team whose bubble could burst because of their road/neutral struggles (1-6 away from Haas Pavilion) and this won’t help, though it should be noted Cal’s schedule is extremely friendly over the next 3 1/2 weeks, with five of its next seven at home.
- Forget about the rankings-the biggest event of the night takes place at the Palestra, where the Philadelphia Big 5 celebrates its 60th anniversary with a doubleheader. Temple and La Salle meet in the first game (7 p.m. EST, CBSSN), with Saint Joseph’s at Penn in the second. If it’s anything like last year’s meeting, the game between the Owls and Explorers will feature the Big 5 tradition of streamers; Temple coach Fran Dunphy and La Salle coach John Giannini agreed to have their players intentionally step over the line on their foul shots after the obligatory technicals in their game last year after both teams’ fans littered the floor, a wonderful gesture to the tradition of these games. The only negative of the night for those of us who can’t be there is that CBS Sports Network is only televising the first game, not both.
- Seton Hall’s overtime home win over Villanova last year was one of the most memorable games of the 2014-15 regular season. The Pirates have been up and down since then, and that includes this year, but their win at Providence this past weekend shows they’re very capable of making the Wildcats’ night tough again (9 p.m., CBSSN).
- Just another night in the Big 12: Texas is at West Virginia (7 p.m., ESPNU), where the not-quite-Havoc (but still pushing the tempo pretty good) Longhorns take on Press Virginia.
- Wake Forest has started to slide in the ACC, not good news going into a trip to North Carolina (7 p.m., ESPN2). Meanwhile, Florida State tries to back up its win over Virginia when it goes to Louisville (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- Wichita State and Northern Iowa just doesn’t have quite the clout it did last year, when both were in the top 20, but the Shockers lead the MVC again while the Panthers with their wins over North Carolina and Iowa State are clearly dangerous. Especially at home.
- UNC Asheville is the surprise leader in the Big South. The Bulldogs have a tough road game, though, going to High Point, which along with also-surprising Gardner-Webb is hot on UNCA’s heels.
- Just another night in the Pac-12, but we’re reaching the swing portion of the season for a number of teams, Washington and UCLA chief among them. The Huskies are still tied for first at 4-1 after splitting the Arizona trip, and now they have two more at home starting with Colorado tonight. The Bruins are 2-3 in conference and now make the Oregon trip, with the first being Oregon State (11 p.m., ESPNU).
Have a terrific Wednesday.