As we hit the second half of February, the college basketball season is officially on its stretch run. With that, talk about “bubble” teams will dominate the sport for the next month.
When one is on the topic of teams on the fence, they had best make time for Providence. Don’t look now, but Ed Cooley’s team has started making a move, and its schedule suggests it may not be going away any time soon.
Providence added to its collection of quality wins on Wednesday with a 75-63 win over Xavier. PC trailed by two at halftime but owned the second half, to the point of leading by 18 in the final minutes before cruising home. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock were again the difference makers, with Cartwright scoring 17 and adding five assists from the point and Bullock doing his typical work inside and out with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Friars now have wins over Butler, Marquette, Seton Hall and Xavier, plus a non-conference W over Rhode Island (albeit a diminishing one after URI was stunned at home by Fordham 53-43 last night). For a team that had lost five of six and appeared to be going nowhere just over a month ago, Providence has worked its way to being at least in the discussion for the NCAAs now.
Perhaps even more tantalizing is the schedule down the stretch offers opportunities to improve its lot even more. PC’s slate includes a trip to Creighton, a home game against DePaul and a road trip to St. John’s, plus a home date with Marquette with a chance to sweep their season series. It’s a mix of attainable wins to pad the win total, opportunities to elbow out competition for a bid, plus a shot at a name road win that in conjunction with the other games maybe would just about lock up a spot.
The table is set, and every opportunity is there for the Friars to play their way into the tourney. Among other bubble squads Tuesday:
- Also in the Big East, Seton Hall got a big win with an 87-81 thriller at home against Creighton. Khadeen Carrington lit it up for 41 points in a game the Pirates just about needed, with a very tough schedule to finish the regular season. Also, experience prevailed over youth in the outstanding battle in the pivot, with veteran Angel Delgado outplaying freshman Justin Patton.
- Iowa State continues to be up, down and back up again. The Cyclones won at Kansas, lost to Texas, and now have a road win at Kansas State after winning 87-79 last night. Reserve Solomon Young got the start and scored 18 points, more than 14 points over his average. For K-State, this is an opportunity lost at home, and the Wildcats can’t let many more slip away as that non-conference schedule isn’t getting any better. Also in the Big 12: Oklahoma State got another road win, edging TCU 71-68 for its fourth straight win in the Big 12 away from home. The Horned Frogs are another team to keep an eye on as the season approaches the finish line; TCU has had a very nice season but could easily play its way out of the bracket yet.
- Arkansas is a team whose resume, frankly, seems better than its results feel, but the Razorbacks picked up a key win with an 83-76 win at South Carolina. The Hogs shot 53.6% for their 19th win and just might be better than just about anyone thinks. Also, the Gamecocks are doing some serious damage to their seed for the NCAAs with these two home losses in the last week.
- Minnesota is getting close to locking up a bid, while Indiana is just about done. The Golden Gophers got a rebound basket from Akeem Springs with three seconds left for a 75-74 win. It hasn’t been talked about a lot, but Richard Pitino has done a very nice job with the Gophers this year.
- We mentioned it above, but Rhode Island: yikes. You can just about completely take the Rams off your at-large board by now; this is a team that just hasn’t shown anything in 26 games suggested a sustained run is coming in the final month.
- Expect the hype around Duke to build to stratospheric heights again after the Blue Devils shut down Virginia for a 65-55 win on the road. Jayson Tatum erupted for 28 points and Duke won a game in which it made only 19 field goals.
- It’s getting harder and harder to doubt Maryland. The Terrapins just keep setting them up and knocking them down, and that says something. The most recent win is a 74-64 victory at Northwestern, where Melo Trimble scored a career-best 32 and the Terps led by as many as 20. One had to wonder how the Wildcats would handle this one, coming off the high of the win at Wisconsin on Sunday, and clearly it’s a team still with work to do even as it likely will cash its NCAA Tournament ticket this year.
- Fresh off a huge win over Cincinnati on Saturday, SMU nearly slipped on a banana peel, finally coming back for an 80-75 win at home against Tulane in a game the Mustangs trailed in by 15 at the half.
- Miami defeated Georgia Tech 70-61 to improve to 17-8, and the Hurricanes did it without point guard Ja’Quan Newton, who has been suspended for three games for violation of team rules. Newton is averaging 15 points and nearly four rebounds and four assists per game, and his loss is a significant one for an already thin team.
- Illinois State got star forward MiKyle McIntosh back faster than most suspected, and he played a role with nine points in a narrow 67-66 win on the road in the MVC at Missouri State. The Redbirds and Wichita State are still in a drag race for the top spot in the Valley after the Shockers handled Southern Illinois 87-68.
- Furman stayed in first in the Southern Conference and has won 10 in a row for the first time in 37 years after beating Western Carolina 74-62. Not coincidentally, 37 years is the length of the Paladins’ NCAA Tournament drought, but increasingly this team looks very capable of ending that even in a tough SoCon this year.
- Florida enforcer John Egbunu will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, suffered Tuesday night in the Gators’ win at Auburn. Egbunu was averaging 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this year, and he is the latest on a growing list of players who have been lost for the season due to ACL tears. Not good.
- A report came out from the Coloradoan newspaper on Wednesday that Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy was reportedly recommended for termination by the school back in 2013-14 after an investigation revealed “a culture of intimidation” and “emotional abuse.” While the report was touted as some kind of bombshell last night, the truth is there was little inside it that suggested anything much more than a college basketball coach that yells a lot and breaks clipboards, which hardly makes Eustachy unique to most of his coaching brethren. CSU knew exactly what it was getting with Eustachy-an old-fashioned coach with a tough-love approach-and it’s likely because of this that it did not fire him. Colorado State hasn’t seen this as anything more than something to be monitored since that several-years-old report which is frankly old news. Those on the outside shouldn’t see it as anything more than that, either.
- An important game in the Big Ten starts the night with Wisconsin at Michigan (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN). The Badgers need to get healthy and break out of their offensive funk, while the Wolverines have been devastating at times at home.
- UAB goes to Marshall (7 p.m., CBSSN), a matchup of two of the five teams separated by one-half game in Conference USA. Also, another in C-USA-and the second half of a league TV doubleheader-is Middle Tennessee State with a tricky one on the road at Western Kentucky (9 p.m., CBSSN).
- Mount St. Mary’s has begun to run away from the rest of the NEC. Wagner is capable of helping keep the Mountaineers within sight, though, and hosts tonight.
- Sam Houston State is one game behind Southland leader New Orleans, and the Bearkats are at a Houston Baptist team that already knocked them off once.
- Utah goes to Oregon (9 p.m., ESPN), where the Utes will try to put their beef to work inside again to finish off their near-upset of the Ducks at home a few weeks ago.
- Undefeated Gonzaga hosts San Francisco, a team that can get hot from three but was shut down by BYU (yes, BYU) in its last game.
- Surprisingly, Morehead State-under interim coach Preston Spradlin-is one of the hottest teams in the OVC, and the Eagles get a TV date when they travel to Tennessee State (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- Surprise Big West leader UC Davis is at Long Beach State, where the 49ers-two games back of the Aggies now-could really tighten up the league race with a win.
Have a very nice Thursday.