As the season hits its stretch run and the word “bubble” is used only slightly less than the word “the”, there will be numerous teams that see their NCAA Tournament chances slip away late in the year, sometimes in painful fashion.
While we sometimes wince while unable to turn away from watching those teams, what we really want to see are teams who play their way into the tourney, or at least make us take notice based on their accomplishments late in the season.
On that note, we introduce the Creighton Bluejays, a team almost certainly still out of the NCAA tourney if it were picked today, but one that is forcing us to pay more attention to it than we frankly thought we would have to by this time of year.
Creighton earned its best win yet on Tuesday, defeating fifth-ranked Xavier 70-56 in convincing fashion. The Bluejays got 32 points from Maurice Watson and led by double digits much of the game while also fighting off a Musketeers’ rally in the second half. Perhaps most impressive is that a Creighton team that was barely over a +1 for rebounding margin on the season was able to battle one of the best rebounding teams in the country to a virtual draw on the glass (40-39 in favor of Xavier).
Greg McDermott’s team now sits fourth in the Big East and has wins over Xavier, Butler and Georgetown all at home plus a win at Seton Hall. The Jays also have losses to teams like Oklahoma, Villanova (twice), Providence and Indiana, so they’re no stranger to playing top teams.
At this point, Creighton is a longshot for the NCAAs at best. A 2-5 record vs. the RPI top 50 and 3-8 vs. the top 100 are not the marks of an at-large resume. Frankly, it’s going to take a lot more than that to get into at-large consideration. And a 25-point loss to Villanova just a week earlier suggests we probably can’t count on wins like last night’s regularly the rest of the year. Anytime you’re in a league like the Big East, though, there always are plenty of opportunities to sharpen your resume late down the stretch, and upcoming road trips to Butler, Providence and Xavier provide exactly that for Creighton.
The Bluejays have certainly outplayed expectations for this season, which comes on the heels of last year’s tie for last in the Big East and overall losing record. Considering where it was just a year ago, it should be a happy March for Creighton, and that should be the case whether the season ends in the NCAA tourney, the NIT or another event.
- A dandy in the Big Ten saw Purdue edge Michigan State 82-81 in overtime, holding on after the Spartans rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit. Denzel Valentine came near a triple-double (27 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists), but the Boilermakers won the rebounding battle again, remaining the sole team in Division I to outrebound every opponent it has played thus far.
- Kansas avenged an earlier loss to West Virginia in style, shooting 56.1% and winning easily on the glass (33-25) in a 75-65 win. Don’t write off the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak just yet.
- Villanova’s first game ranked No. 1 was a success-an 86-59 win at DePaul.
- Miami (Fla.) held off Pittsburgh 65-63 in an eventful finish, as Angel Rodriguez improbably tipped in an offensive rebound with 1.4 seconds left.
- Duquesne continues to give Dayton a hard time. The Dukes led the Flyers at UD Arena by 12 points with less than six minutes left before the Dayton rallied for a 76-74 win. Duquesne also knocked off the Flyers late last season and continues to improve in the Atlantic 10.
- Kentucky is starting to tease again. The Wildcats blew out Georgia 82-48, holding the Bulldogs to 22% shooting.
- North Carolina trailed for much of the night but finally came back to beat Boston College 68-65. Roy Williams spent much of the second half of the game in the locker room after collapsing in the first half due to vertigo, something the coach has dealt with for years but never before had in a game.
- Wichita State got back on track with a 74-48 rout of Drake on the road, showing its depth once again. Fifteen different players played and 13 scored for the Shockers.
- Akron is emerging as the top team in the MAC. The Zips are now 9-2-two games better than any team in either the East or West Division-and 20-4 overall after an 83-68 win at Bowling Green. Akron is red-hot from three-point range-16 three-pointers now in each of its last two games.
- Start the night early with a good one in the Big East as Butler is at Seton Hall (6:30 p.m. EST, FS1). The Pirates have been growing up before our eyes, while the Bulldogs could really use this one.
- Important game in the SEC, as current leader LSU goes to South Carolina (7 p.m., ESPN2). Lot of size on the perimeter here-P.J. Dozier is a 6-foot-7 guard for the Gamecocks, while Ben Simmons is essentially a 6-10 guard too. Despite the gaudy record, South Carolina is still far from a lock for the NCAA Tournament, so holding serve at home here is key.
- Also in the SEC, Alabama is trying to creep into the bubble picture. A win at home against Texas A&M would help.
- Providence lost to Marquette at home in their first meeting. Now the Friars have to go to Milwaukee needing to get back on track (7 p.m., CBSSN).
- Key game in the Atlantic 10 as Saint Joseph’s goes to George Washington. The Hawks need a quality win, and one on the road would be even better, while the Colonials need to build off the win at VCU and, just as importantly, ignore many more losses.
- Just when South Dakota State has emerged from a tight pack to take the lead in the Summit League, the Jackrabbits get a tough road trip to Nebraska-Omaha in a battle of two old Division II North Central Conference rivals.
- Kansas State is coming off a home win over Oklahoma, and the Wildcats get another prime shot at Bramlage Coliseum with Baylor coming to town (8:15 p.m., ESPNews).
- Important game in the OVC, as two surprising teams meet with East Division leader Tennessee Tech goes down I-40 to face Tennessee State.
- Finally, Washington heads to Utah (9 p.m., ESPN2) for a fascinating contrast between the Utes’ size and the Huskies’ youth and energy.
Have a good Wednesday.