This weekend was just what California needed. Although Sunday was not the bigger game of the two for the Golden Bears, it was still important all the same, and their already strong NCAA Tournament candidacy got a big boost this weekend.
Washington State was within striking distance of the Golden Bears at the half, down just 40-31, but Cal blew open the game as the second half went on and routed the host Cougars 80-62. It capped off a sweep of the Washington schools on the road, and for a Cal team that had struggled on the road, this was just what they needed to take care of any remaining knocks on their resume.
Three nights earlier, Cal won at Washington, a win of more quality, but more importantly, a win on the road. The Golden Bears haven’t lost at Haas Pavilion all season (a perfect 16-0), and they’ve been an excellent defensive team (opponents shoot 39 percent from the field against them), but they had yet to beat a Pac-12 team on the road and only had one other road win all year (a 78-72 win at Wyoming in early December). While their overall resume is pretty good, a road win or two would have enhanced it nicely. Now they have that.
Much was expected of this team before the season, and for good reason. They already returned a nice nucleus that featured guards Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird, and then added two McDonald’s All-Americans in Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Rabb was someone everyone knew they were pursuing hotly; few had any remote idea that they were also going hard after Brown, who leads them in scoring and is second in rebounding. They were, and they landed him. Suddenly the expectations went through the roof.
The Golden Bears have hardly been a disappointment, but they haven’t exactly blown the roof off of college basketball this season, either. In non-conference, they scored some good, not great, wins, the best of which may well be Saint Mary’s – a bubble team. They lost to San Diego State and Richmond in the Las Vegas Invitational, then later at Virginia. Their best wins are in conference, but it helps that the Pac-12 is deep and well-balanced.
At this point, only a collapse will keep the Golden Bears out of the tournament. They host UCLA and USC, then play the Arizona schools on the road. There are no real land mines left as far as potential bad losses go, unless they face Washington State in the conference tournament. They have now shown they can win on the road. Cuonzo Martin and his staff may not be living up to perhaps inflated expectations set for this team, but they are a good team that we will see in March, and as good as they are defensively and with freshmen who will now have a full regular season under their belt, who knows how far they can go.
Seton Hall barely beat St. John’s 62-61, blowing a 19-point lead along the way, but the big story came as soon as the game was over. In the handshake line, a scrum broke out, but it never got too out of control and disciplinary action from the Big East office would seem unlikely.
A few other games had noticeable bubble impacts. Maryland turned back Michigan 86-82, Tulsa avoided a bad loss by knocking off UCF 75-67, Utah beat USC 80-69 and Temple rallied to beat Houston 69-66 on the road.
Boston University brought a six-game winning streak into Sojka Pavilion and had a chance to draw even atop the Patriot League. But Bucknell had other ideas, breaking the game open in the second half and blowing out the Terriers 80-59 behind 21 points from Chris Hass. The other team right behind the Bison, Lehigh, took care of arch-rival Lafayette 73-61 to remain a game back.
Stony Brook became the first team in the country to clinch at least an NIT bid as they beat Maine 75-56 to clinch the America East regular season title. Along the way, stud big man Jameel Warney became the third player in conference history to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career. The Seawolves have been here before, though, winning three other regular season titles but never reaching the NCAA Tournament. One of these days, that has to change, and perhaps in Warney’s final go-round it will happen.
A little after that, Wichita State joined them in that category, blowing out Indiana State 84-51 in Terre Haute to clinch the Missouri Valley regular season title. San Diego State clinched a share of the Mountain West title with a 78-56 romp at San Jose State, with a chance to clinch it outright at Wyoming on Wednesday night.
Illinois‘ 69-60 loss at Wisconsin is perhaps a microcosm of John Groce’s tenure as head coach at the school. It started out with a lot of promise, and they led 29-24 at halftime, but it was all downhill after that, as the Badgers took over in the second half. With a new athletic director on board, and the downward momentum as they are almost certain to miss the NCAA Tournament again, you have to wonder if Groce is on borrowed time there.
Normally, a game between two bottom teams doesn’t get much attention all by itself, and few outside of diehard Wake Forest and Boston College fans probably tuned into their matchup on Sunday night. But of note in Wake Forest’s 74-48 rout of the Eagles was that they ran out to a 29-2 lead to start the game, composed of scoring the first 14 points and then another 15 unanswered. It’s been a long season for the Eagles, who are still winless in ACC play as Jim Christian and his staff are caught in a tough personnel cycle right now. Wake Forest was without their best player, big man Devin Thomas, who they suspended for two games.
A typically light slate is on tap, but a few very good games are in the mix.
- A big ACC matchup takes place early on with Miami trying to bounce back from a thrashing in Chapel Hill as they host Virginia.
- In Big 12 play, Kansas State hosts Texas, then the marquee matchup comes as Iowa State visits West Virginia.
- In the MAAC, Iona visits Siena in a big second-place showdown, with the Saints having won the first meeting in New Rochelle.
- A busy Southland slate features Incarnate Word at Houston Baptist.