When it came to trying to make the biggest splash, Wednesday night was a virtual game of ‘Can You Top This?’ across the college basketball landscape.
Multiple teams came up with big wins. Really big wins. As in, the type of wins that some may point to in mid-March as the decider that may have put them in the NCAA Tournament. And just when we thought one team had made the biggest statement of the night, another made its best attempt to one-up the others.
It started early, with Butler withstanding a red-hot 20 minutes from Isaiah Whitehead to defeat Seton Hall on the road 81-75. Whitehead hit seven three-pointers in the first half alone, but the best it did the Pirates was a halftime tie. The Bulldogs put the clamps on him in the second half, got a lead and held it the rest of the way for their third straight win, a stretch that has put them right back in the thick of the tourney conversation, and just when it appeared they were ready to exit.
While that was finishing, Saint Joseph’s was taking control on the road at George Washington in stunning fashion, eventually going on to an 84-66 statement win over the Colonials. The Hawks winning on the road shouldn’t have surprised, as it’s what they do-a perfect 9-0 mark in road games this year. GW was just coming off a big Atlantic 10 road win at VCU itself, though. SJU doing this to such a veteran team in its own gym was huge, to say nothing of this being the Hawks’ best win of the season. A team that has had a relatively thin resume got a big boost.
As that finished, Alabama also was stepping up to formally announce its at-large candidacy with a 63-62 win over Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide have come a long, long way since an 80-48 loss at Dayton in November (so brutal that it wasn’t as close as that final score), and they also have a collection of high-end wins that few can argue with-Notre Dame, South Carolina and Wichita State among them. There’s still work to do, as a 5-6 SEC record indicates, but not nearly as much as many expected in Avery Johnson’s first year.
Marquette and Providence should’ve been finishing their contest at about the same time as Alabama and Saint Joe’s did theirs, but it took quite a bit longer. The Golden Eagles finally finished off the Friars, though, winning 96-91 in double overtime to sweep both games against Providence this year. Marquette won despite 42 points from Ben Bentil to add to a growing collection of quality wins that also is weighed down for the time being by a 5-7 Big East mark. The Golden Eagles are hanging around, though, and have a schedule conducive to making more noise. (Also, in regards to this game and the Bama/A&M contest, it must be said: it’s time to be a bit concerned about the Aggies and Friars.)
As of Wednesday morning, Tulsa probably wasn’t particularly close to being a bubble team, but that changed after an 82-77 win over SMU that very, very few saw coming. The Golden Hurricane shot a robust 58.5% for a big-time road win (which perhaps shouldn’t be that surprising, as it came with TU wearing its far superior blue road uniforms, as opposed to its dreary “human bruise” black unis with blue lettering). Tulsa is making us take a closer look, and it now has wins against Connecticut, SMU and Wichita State, enough to at least start catching the eyes of some important people. Such as the types who select teams for big basketball tournaments.
Finally, Texas Tech’s game Wednesday against Iowa State had the feeling of being the Red Raiders’ last stand coming in. A team that played well out of conference, Tech has seen the losses mount in the rugged Big 12 and has slipped to the fringe of NCAA tourney consideration. Just when we were ready to count them out, though, the Red Raiders still have a pulse after their 85-82 overtime win over the Cyclones, going ahead for good in OT with a banked in three-pointer from 35 feet out by Keenan Evans at the end of the shot clock. Even if Texas Tech does not realize all of its postseason dreams, let it be remembered that this was the team’s fourth Big 12 win of the season, already more than it had all of last year.
- It’s been a tough year for the Mountain West to say the least, and Wednesday night may go down as one of its worst nights yet. First, Colorado State defeated Boise State 97-93 in double overtime, but not before Boise’s James Webb hit a running three-pointer at the end of the first overtime that was controversially waved off, as many reviews after the game indicated the shot should have counted. Then, Fresno State edged San Diego State 58-57, dealing a serious blow to the league’s only team with any reasonable NCAA at-large hopes, and the Bulldogs did it despite missing forwards Torren Jones (medical issue) and Karachi Edo (wrist injury), the team’s top two rebounders and No. 2 and No. 3 scorers, respectively.
- Enough primary results are in on this college basketball season to call it: South Carolina is going to the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks could theoretically still give us a “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment yet, but it’s highly unlikely after a 94-83 win over LSU that moved them to 21-3 and into a tie for first in the SEC.
- Utah tripped up Washington 90-82 to further the logjam in the Pac-12, where seven teams in the middle of the pack are now separated by one loss.
- An important showdown in the OVC turned into no contest as Tennessee State dominated the second half to rout Tennessee Tech going away, 85-55. The Tigers may be the best comeback story of this season, and Belmont now holds sole possession of first in the OVC East after an 81-73 win over Jacksonville State, with Tech and TSU both one loss back.
- Start the night early with a rare chance to St. Francis (Pa.) on national TV. The Red Flash are Northeast Conference tri-leaders and travel to face in-state foe Robert Morris (5 p.m. EST, ESPNU).
- Perhaps the biggest game of the night is in the American, where Connecticut travels to Temple (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Owls won the first meeting, and a win here would officially launch them into serious NCAA at-large discussion.
- A similar game in the ACC as Florida State goes to Syracuse. A road win will do a lot to solidify the Seminoles’ postseason chances, but the hosts may need this one even more.
- The best game of the night as far as heavy hitters has Iowa at Indiana (9 p.m., ESPN) in the first of two meetings over the next three weeks. Despite its gaudy 19-5 record, the Hoosiers really need to take advantage of opportunities like this for some quality wins.
- Another team that could really use some big wins: California. The Golden Bears really need road wins, but a victory at home against Oregon would also do the trick (9 p.m., ESPN2).
- Hofstra drilled William & Mary in their first meeting this year. Far more likely this second time in Williamsburg would be a game like their CAA tourney semifinal last year, which the Tribe won in two overtimes.
- Arkansas-Little Rock puts its 21-2 record on the line with a tough road trip to Louisiana-Monroe for a matchup of two tough defensive teams. ULM already has a significant win over an upstart, having defeated Tennessee-Chattanooga back in November.
- Finally, we’ve had to wait for some time for it, but the first of two meetings in the Big West between UC Irvine and Hawaii takes place on the island. Insomniacs, get ready for the 1 a.m. tip-off on the East Coast (come to think of it, this game would’ve made for a perfect midnight snack on national TV).
Wishing all a terrific Thursday.