Two NCAA Tournament bids went out on Saturday night, one expected and one not necessarily expected at the beginning of the day. And for different reasons, you can’t blame either coach if they got a little emotional.
We start with the Ohio Valley Championship game, the one certainty when the day began. UT-Martin, who has never been to the NCAA Tournament, took on Austin Peay, the school that’s been there six times and has been among the signature programs in the conference for a long time. Head coach Dave Loos, who for a long time was also the athletic directory, turned 69 on Saturday and has been doing this for a long time. He is the winningest coach in Ohio Valley Conference history, having been at Austin Peay for 26 years; the conference’s other coaches have combined to be at their schools for 33 years. He’s seen a lot, and won a lot, but this one was clearly different for him.
It was different on the surface, as the Governors had fallen from grace and barely made the conference tournament to begin with. They finished eighth, with a 7-9 mark in conference play, a record that included a better mark on the road (4-4) than at home (3-5). They had to win two games just to reach the semifinals, where the top two teams got byes. The night before, they needed overtime to beat top seed Belmont, a team that has instantly become an annual contender along with Murray State since joining the conference four years ago, around the time the Governors went into a prolonged slump. They lost 20 or more games in three of the past four seasons.
So when Loos was clearly getting emotional in the final minutes of Saturday’s championship game, with the Governors about to take home the title, it all made sense. Of their five conference titles now, this one was the most unexpected, as they became the first No. 8 seed in OVC history to win it, beating UT-Martin 83-73 behind a big game from freshman Jared Savage, who had 24 points on 8-14 shooting from long range.
Meanwhile, in New York, Yale head coach James Jones seemed a little more composed, but you know there were some deep feelings. The Bulldogs’ story from a year ago is well-chronicled, and they were in an identical position coming into Saturday. In fact, they were on the road again this time, taking on a Columbia team that was in the hunt for the title until last weekend. The Bulldogs were looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1962.
Yale ran out to a 41-27 halftime lead and made it stand up in a 71-55 win over the Lions to clinch the Ivy League title outright, even as Princeton took care of Dartmouth 84-65. Jones thought about last year’s seniors, who had a tough ending that didn’t include any postseason play. His players thought about the guy who wasn’t there, Jack Montague, with whom they spent a few minutes before the game on FaceTime and have remained in touch. They care about their departed captain.
Like Loos, Jones is the dean of coaches in his league by a wide margin. (For Loos, though, there is a slight asterisk, as Belmont’s Rick Byrd has been there for 29 years, but they have only been in the OVC for four years.) He’s seen a lot in his time at the school, both at his school and in the league. On Saturday night, both shared the joy of winning, and it was not an ordinary victory for either coach.
Conference Tournament Round-up
- In the Big South Tournament semifinals, UNC Asheville dumped top seed High Point 80-69, sending the Panthers to the NIT, and Winthrop handled Gardner-Webb 82-69 in the other.
- In the CAA Tournament, Hofstra beat Drexel 80-67 to start the day, then William & Mary rode a 16-point halftime lead to a 79-64 victory over James Madison to complete the afternoon. In the evening, UNCW rallied from a 16-point deficit past College of Charleston 66-64, then Northeastern beat Towson 71-60.
- In the Horizon League Tournament, all four games were decided by double digits as Green Bay beat Cleveland State, Milwaukee knocked off Northern Kentucky, Wright State blew out UIC and Detroit beat Youngstown State.
- The MAAC will have a new champion, as two-time defending champion Manhattan lost to Siena 89-76 in the quarterfinals on Saturday. In the other quarterfinal on the day, Fairfield beat St. Peter’s 64-55.
- In the Missouri Valley Tournament, Wichita State now has to sweat out the next week and becomes a very interesting test case for the Selection Committee after Northern Iowa beat them 57-52. In the second semifinal, Evansville blew out Indiana State 68-42.
- The Northeast Conference Tournament semifinals saw both home teams win as Fairleigh Dickinson beat Mount St. Mary’s 80-75 and Wagner beat LIU Brooklyn 81-65.
- In the Southern Conference Tournament, regular season champion Chattanooga came back to beat Samford 50-54, then Western Carolina beat Wofford 88-83 in a double overtime thriller, East Tennessee State took care of Mercer 81-65 and Furman beat UNC Greensboro by the nearly identical score of 80-64.
- In the Summit League quarterfinals, IPFW beat South Dakota 86-70 and South Dakota State edged Oral Roberts 73-70.
- Quarterfinal action in the West Coast Conference Tournament began with BYU beating Santa Clara 72-60, then Pepperdine beat San Francisco 90-86 to complete the first session. The big second session saw Saint Mary’s rally from a halftime deficit to beat Loyola Marymount 60-48 and Gonzaga blew out Portland 92-67.
Some sad news came out late and in the midst of all the fun: Oakland guard Max Hooper lost his father, Chip, who had bravely battled cancer. Chip Hooper was able to see Max play on Senior Night in a well-chronicled story that provided a heart-warming moment. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Chip Hooper at this time.
A number of noteworthy regular season games remained on Saturday. Among the key results: North Carolina beat Duke 76-72 to win the ACC regular season title outright; Utah beat Colorado 57-55 to take the No. 2 spot in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament; Kentucky handled LSU 94-77, Texas A&M beat Vanderbilt 76-67 and Georgia beat Alabama 70-63 in key SEC bubble games; and the Big West ended with a tie at the top as UC Irvine beat UC Riverside 76-66 and Long Beach State rallied to beat Hawaii 74-72, but Hawaii will still take the No. 1 seed into the conference tournament.
The Atlantic 10 finished its regular season with three teams tying for the regular season title. That was the result from St. Bonaventure beating Saint Louis and Dayton edging VCU in overtime, leaving all three teams tied with a 14-4 record. Dayton won the tiebreakers to take the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament, while VCU is the No. 2 seed and St. Bonaventure No. 3.
Duke lost its regular season finale to arch-rival North Carolina 76-72, but the Blue Devils suffered a bigger loss: senior forward Amile Jefferson. Out since December with a broken foot, what had been suspected became official as team officials said he is done for the season, though they will seek a hardship waiver that would allow him to return next season. A key to their frontcourt, he averaged a double-double with 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game before the injury.
LSU‘s loss to Kentucky, after which players spoke of leadership issues, was bad enough on Saturday. Adding insult to injury was news that freshman sensation Ben Simmons is ineligible for the Wooden Award, reportedly due to academics. ESPN.com reported that the school did not certify him to be eligible for the award. Simmons did not start the Tigers’ game against Tennessee two weeks ago because of an academic issue.
Illinois head coach John Groce got what sounds good in theory but often proves otherwise – the dreaded “vote of confidence” from his boss, new athletic director Josh Whitman. While not a guarantee of anything, that Whitman even did that gives you a sense of the pressure Groce is under as the Illini have declined ever since reaching the NCAA Tournament in his first season at the helm. The are about the miss the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, the first time that has happened in almost four decades, and are on the verge of their first losing season since 2007-08. Injuries haven’t helped, but off-court issues also haven’t helped. Whitman fired head football coach Bill Cubit on Saturday, so it appears Groce is safe for now, but he likely enters next season on the hot seat.
Staying in the Big Ten and the subject of coaches, Wisconsin issued a statement to the woman that former head coach Bo Ryan had an extramarital affair with that there was not enough evidence to warrant any punishment of the former coach. According to ESPN, who obtained the letter, the school did not find any evidence where an expense for her was paid for by the school. The school investigated after receiving an e-mail from the woman last year, and Ryan said it was not related to his decision to retire earlier this season, a decision he admitted was timed so as to give Greg Gard an opportunity to coach the team.
Boston College completed a tough few months on Saturday, losing 66-50 to Clemson at home. The Eagles finish the regular season winless in ACC play, and this comes after the football team also did not win an ACC game. It marks the first time since Georgia in 1943-44 that a Power 5 school went winless in both sports in conference play in the same academic year.
Only a little better was Rutgers, who avoided going winless in Big Ten play by blowing out visiting Minnesota 75-52. The Scarlet Knights had a 40-15 halftime lead and never looked back.
Three more NCAA Tournament bids go out today to highlight the action, and all but one final regular season game is also on tap.
- The Atlantic Sun championship game has Stetson visiting Florida Gulf Coast. If Stetson wins, regular season champion North Florida will get the conference’s bid as Stetson is ineligible due to a low APR score.
- In the Big South championship game, UNC Asheville takes on Winthrop.
- The Missouri Valley championship game has Northern Iowa taking on Evansville.
- In semifinal action, the CAA Tournament will have a repeat of last season’s matchups as Hofstra takes on William & Mary in the first game, then UNCW takes on Northeastern. We can only hope that the first game is at least as memorable as the semifinal between those two teams was a year ago.
- The Horizon League Tournament has quarterfinal action with Green Bay taking on Milwaukee and Wright State facing Detroit.
- Semifinal action is on tap in the MAAC Tournament as Monmouth takes on Fairfield and Iona takes on Siena.
- The Patriot League has its semifinals with No. 9 Holy Cross at No. 4 Army followed by No. 6 American at No. 2 Lehigh.
- The Southern Conference semifinals start with Chattanooga taking on Western Carolina, then Furman takes on East Tennessee State.
- The Summit League has the second half of its quarterfinals: No. 4 IUPUI vs. No. 5 North Dakota State, followed by No. 3 Omaha vs. No. 6 Denver.
- To close out the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati hosts SMU.
- The Big Ten finishes up with Maryland at Indiana and Wisconsin at Purdue.