Tulsa narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last year, and the Golden Hurricane looked destined for a similar fate after their first meeting with Temple this year. After a second matchup with the Owls, though, it’s safe to say a lot has changed.
Tulsa posted an impressive 74-55 win over Temple Tuesday night, continuing to put itself firmly in consideration for a spot in the Big Dance with its fifth win in six games. The Golden Hurricane also notched another quality win-technically not an RPI top 50 win, as the Owls were 55th entering the night and likely will slip some from there (down to 57th this morning)-but a win over the current American Athletic Conference leaders.
The manner in which this came about was rather jarring. Temple jumped out to an early 25-13 lead on the strength of five three-pointers as Tulsa came out in a 2-3 zone. The hosts then switched to a man-to-man defense and proceeded to outscore the Owls 61-30 the rest of the way, including a second half performance that was dominating in every way, and by the end left Temple attempting to come back with full-court pressure that the Golden Hurricane navigated with ease.
Tulsa’s recent surge started immediately after a disappointing 83-79 overtime loss at Temple on Feb. 4, a game where the Hurricane held a 12-point second half lead and led by five with less than 20 seconds left in regulation but were unable to close it out. Since then, TU has beaten Houston and Cincinnati at home, SMU on the road and lost by just two at Connecticut, a result certainly worthy of being dubbed a quality loss.
A big key for this senior-dominated team has been juco transfer Pat Birt, who is emerging as a serious scoring threat to be accounted for. Birt scored 23 last night, and while primarily a three-point bomber-73 of his 112 field goals are from there-he also showed the ability to drive as well as pull-up in the mid-range against the Owls. He’s a smooth left-handed scorer, yet is only the third-best one on the team-James Woodard (15 points, 8 assists, six rebounds on Tuesday) and Shaquille Harrison also are southpaws.
As far as Temple goes, this loss in itself isn’t horribly concerning, though perhaps the final margin is and most certainly it doesn’t help a team that dug itself enough of a hole earlier this year that it just can’t absorb many more defeats. This game again illustrates, though, just how hard it is to win on the road in conference play, and any team that can do it consistently must be noted.
The Owls were looking to complete a two-game sweep of a trip to the Southwest, having won at Houston just two days earlier. Traveling so far and winning both on the road against solid teams was a lot to ask and not an easy task in the least. Some of that is because Temple chooses to be a member of such a ridiculously far-flung league, and for that the school gets no sympathy, but few would’ve understood just what an accomplishment it would’ve been to win both, sweeping two games in three days against quality opponents halfway across the country.
- Kansas is almost home to yet another Big 12 title. The Jayhawks squeezed by Baylor 66-60 on the road, with Frank Mason scoring 19 points and KU’s defense slowing down the previously red-hot Johnathan Motley (eight points).
- It was a good night for some “bubble” teams, considerably less than that for others. In addition to Tulsa, Vanderbilt was the biggest winner while simultaneously delivering a blow to Florida with an 87-74 road win. The Commodores should still have a lot of work to do (contrary to some brackets that have them in now, as well as a few power ratings that have them rated hopelessly way too high) but this gets them back into the conversation. Meanwhile, the Gators are now sitting on the brink and likely cannot afford any more slip-ups in games they should win, of which this was one.
- Texas Tech flatlined for the night. The Red Raiders won, edging TCU 83-79, but were less than impressive doing it, falling behind by 12 at the half at home. Still, a win is a win and Tech needs to apologize to no one for that, considering…
- LSU and Clemson had what were flat-out bad nights. The Tigers were drilled at Arkansas 85-65, and it’s hard to see any way now that even the biggest Ben Simmons cheerleaders can pump up this team as a serious at-large candidate. Clemson’s Tigers, meanwhile, lost at Georgia Tech 75-73 for their fourth loss in six games, with three of them against teams that an NCAA at-large candidate simply needs to beat. It’s looking like NIT for Clemson, which had a very nice midseason run.
- Alabama’s evening wasn’t much to brag about either, as the Crimson Tide were beaten soundly by Kentucky 78-53, the lone saving grace being that the Wildcats have done this to more than one team of late. Retin Obasohan scored 29; the rest of Bama scored 24, or one point less than UK’s Jamal Murray scored himself.
- The MAC has become gradually more interesting again in the last week. First, Akron has now lost three of its last four, including an eye-opening 77-64 loss at division basement team Miami (Ohio) last night that now has three teams-Buffalo, Kent State and Ohio-just one game behind in the East Division. Second, Toledo toppled West Division leader Ball State 77-67, and now the Cardinals are just one game ahead of the Rockets and Central Michigan.
- The evening began with a low-scoring-but-entertaining game in the Sun Belt, where Georgia Southern edged Georgia State 54-52 in a rematch of last year’s conference tourney final.
- Michigan State drilled Ohio State 81-62 on the road, putting the brakes on talk starting to surface of the Buckeyes being a bubble team yet (only in a BCS conference can a team lose to Louisiana Tech and Texas-Arlington at home, be 1-7 vs. the top 50, have three sub-100 losses and be considered as making a push for NCAA tourney inclusion). Truthfully, though, OSU’s chances may have taken an even bigger hit earlier in the day when it was announced Jae’Sean Tate will miss the rest of the season with a left shoulder injury. Tate had started all 28 previous Buckeyes games and was averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 boards per game.
- Arizona State has slid towards the bottom of the Pac-12 after a promising non-conference season, and the Sun Devils announced on Tuesday that junior guard Andre Spight has left the program, leaving ASU with eight scholarship players the rest of the year. Spight played in 27 games this year and averaged 6.6 points per game, and in fact had scored 21 and 15 points in the team’s last two games.
- A monster top-5 showdown in the Big East has Villanova at Xavier (7 p.m. EST, FS1). You can almost throw away the result from their first meeting, a resounding Wildcats win which was played with something of a pall around it after Edmond Sumner suffered a scary injury early in the game. Sumner is back and the Musketeers are at home for this one. Which doesn’t guarantee success for X by any means, but if Villanova wins this one it will be one of the most impressive road wins by a top team all season.
- ACC biggies: Louisville is at Pittsburgh and North Carolina goes on the road against rival North Carolina State. The Panthers lost the first one vs. the Cardinals in ugly fashion. The Tar Heels are on upset alert: the trap is cleverly set for a Wolfpack win here, with UNC coming off a blowout of Miami.
- A host of Atlantic 10 NCAA tourney candidates need to win but face some tricky matchups. George Washington is on the road against a Richmond team it already lost to at home; St. Bonaventure hosts Duquesne, a solid mid-pack A-10 team that already beat the Bonnies; VCU is at old CAA rival George Mason, and Saint Joseph’s plays at Massachusetts, which proved capable recently in a win over VCU.
- Another important Big East game has Marquette at Creighton (9 p.m., CBSSN). Both are still relative longshots for the NCAA tourney, but the winner stays in the conversation.
- Key game for first-division positioning in the Missouri Valley as Southern Illinois plays at Illinois State.
- Wisconsin plays the team that looks like its first cousin when it goes to Iowa (9 p.m., BTN). The Badgers don’t need to win this one specifically, but probably could use this one or the trip to Purdue coming up.
- Arizona has re-emerged as the top team in the Pac-12, but now the Wildcats start a tough road trip, first going to Colorado (9 p.m., ESPN2). Also, Washington at Oregon State (11 p.m., ESPNU), and the Beavers need to hold serve this weekend.
- Good one in the Big West with dangerous Long Beach State at UC Irvine in the second meeting this year of the Black & Blue Rivalry.
Have a very nice Wednesday.