It’s hard to believe, but conference tournament season is just around the corner. We are just three weeks from Selection Sunday.
With teams fighting for regular season titles and positioning themselves for conference tournaments, yesterday might’ve been Statement Saturday across the country. It was a day when some teams made definitive declarations that they are the team to beat in their leagues. Others made definitive declarations that they weren’t going to allow another school to establish themselves as the team to beat in their league. Some did both.
Among the huge games Saturday matching teams at or near the top of their respective conference standings:
Kansas 67 Baylor 65 The Jayhawks just did what they do: pull out tough Big 12 games, and they are now very close to continuing their well-documented record and winning that 13th consecutive league title. The toughness in this program is probably something that is not appreciated as much as it should be.
North Carolina 65 Virginia 41 Carolina remained in first place in the ACC, and may have made inroads on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament by spanking the Cavaliers in Chapel Hill. UVA missed its first 17 three-point attempts (ouch) and UNC had the right mix of tempo on offense and challenge on defense to make the Wahoos look worse than just about anyone thought they could.
Winthrop 84 Liberty 67 The Eagles actually entered the day third in the Big South, one game behind co-leaders UNC Asheville and Liberty, but Winthrop knocked the Flames out of first in resounding fashion, shooting 50% and leading by at least 10 the entire second half. Compared to UNCA and Winthrop, Liberty is something of a newcomer at the top of the Big South, the Eagles treated them as such on Saturday.
Texas-Arlington 68 Georgia State 67 The Panthers had a prime opportunity to tighten up the Sun Belt standings once again, leading UTA by 15 midway through the second half. But the Mavericks came back and Erick Neal hit a 35-footer in the final seconds to give UT-Arlington its first lead of the second half and keep it one-half game ahead of the field.
Mount St. Mary’s 79 Fairleigh Dickinson 74 FDU is the defending Northeast Conference champions, but make no mistake: the Mountaineers are the team to beat this year. The Mount continues to hold a two-game lead on the field after this statement win, its 14th in 17 games after a 1-11 start.
UNC Greensboro 73 Furman 52 The Paladins had won 10 straight and had an opportunity at home to let it be known that they’re the odds-on favorite next month in what promises to be a terrific Southern Conference Tournament. Not so fast. The Spartans blew away Furman in the second half, helped by a 16-0 run, and the SoCon standings tightened up considerably.
North Dakota 77 Weber State 68 The Big Sky has been one of the best conference races no one knows about, and it got even better when UND went to Ogden and toppled the Wildcats to tie these two teams in the loss column in the standings. North Dakota now holds a half-game lead over Weber.
- Phil Kasiecki has his Saturday Notes recapping all of the day’s biggest games.
- A couple early TV offerings from the East, with George Washington at Duquesne (Noon Eastern, NBCSN) and Bucknell at Boston University (Noon, CBSSN).
- Maryland tries to extend Wisconsin’s skid and looks to improve to 8-1 in true road games when it faces the Badgers (1 p.m., CBS). A potential matchup between Melo Trimble and Bronson Koenig is unlikely to happen, as Koenig may be out again with a calf injury.
- The MAAC is a mess after Monmouth, as evidenced by the fact that Fairfield in sixth is just 1 1/2 games behind second-place cohabitants Iona and St. Peter’s, and the Stags can make up ground on the road at the Peacocks today.
- Georgetown tries to cause more trouble for its Big East brethren but faces a tough road trip halfway across the country to Creighton (3:30 p.m., FS1).
- Illinois State aims to keep pace with Wichita State in the MVC when it hosts Loyola (Ill.) on ESPNU (4 p.m.). Increasingly it’s looking like the Redbirds and Shockers are destined to finish with matching 17-1 records in league.
- Georgia Tech looks for another scalp at home when it welcomes Syracuse (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).
- Michigan and Minnesota play in maybe the game of the day, with the winner moving very close to locking up an NCAA bid (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).
Enjoy your Sunday.