The postseason is just a couple days old, and already it’s been one wild ride for the Pac-12.
For a time, that ride felt like about 24 straight hours on a rodeo bronc, with lots of bucking and bumps and spinning out of control after Tuesday and most of Wednesday. Life finally settled down for the league late Wednesday night, though, when USC pulled of the type of comeback that seems to be a mark of the NCAA Tournament First Four, storming back from 17 down in the second half to defeat Providence 75-71 and advance into the main draw.
In a bizarre game that recalled BYU’s coming back from 25 points down to defeat Iona in a First Four contest five years ago, the Trojans controlled the first few minutes, then saw the Friars dominate the rest of the first half and take a 46-29 lead early in the second half. Then, the teams changed roles again, with USC taking the lead with more than 6 1/2 minutes left and never slowing down, as Bennie Boatwright scored a career-best 24 and Southern California advanced to a rematch with an SMU team it already defeated earlier this season.
The Trojans’ win brought some light after a lousy previous 24 hours. It started with two ugly, ugly losses in the NIT Tuesday night, as Boise State won at Utah 73-68, rallying late on Utah’s home court while also having the louder crowd of the two teams-on the road-and then Cal State Bakersfield raced to a huge lead and then held off top-seeded California 73-66.
The latter was an especially disinterested effort from the Golden Bears, with leaders Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird not even playing due to reported injuries and Cal getting flat-out smoked from the outset by the Roadrunners. It played like a team with one foot out the door ready for the offseason, and whether that was true or not, we found out Wednesday that’s exactly where coach Cuonzo Martin was at that point, as he resigned from his position at California to take over at Missouri.
Just a few hours later, the conference had a second coaching vacancy as Washington fired Lorenzo Romar after 15 seasons and a miserable 9-22 mark this year. The news got even more bizarre not long after, when it was announced that Martin planned to hire Huskies assistant Michael Porter Sr. to his staff at Missouri. Porter is the father of Michael Porter Jr., arguably the most touted recruit in the 2017-18 class and who was committed to Washington.
The departure of Porter from Washington might’ve happened anyway, but his move to Mizzou makes it highly likely that the Huskies’ current prize recruiting class will fall apart, barring a major surprise. It’s a significant blow to the league’s attempt next year to improve from a league dominated by three teams this year and that was barely able to get a fourth team in the NCAA Tournament.
Incidentally, the Pac-12’s tough time even continued in the NIT last night, as Central Florida knocked out Colorado 79-74, putting all three of the league’s teams out of that event in the first round. USC’s win Wednesday helped salve some wounds, though, and it won’t take much to get things looking back up again, with Arizona, Oregon and UCLA primed to make long postseason runs.
- The first NCAA tourney game on Wednesday was another good one, with UC Davis holding off North Carolina Central 67-63 to get a matchup with Kansas on Friday. While the task is daunting, the Aggies are more like a 15 seed than a play-in team-the Big West is a better league than numbers suggested this year (numbers that were understanding, by the way, after an awful non-conference season for the league) and last year’s champion (Hawaii) advanced to the round of 32. UC Davis has enough experience and talent to give a respectable account against the Jayhawks.
- The NIT first round concluded, with still more surprises. Two more No. 7 seeds won as Belmont won at Georgia 78-69 and Akron defeated Houston 78-75. Texas-Arlington also made 6 seeds 4-for-4 in the first round against 3 seeds, winning a shootout at BYU 105-89 to advance to host a second round matchup with Akron in a quadrant that also includes Cal State Bakersfield and Colorado State. Crazy. Other results the rest of the night were more normal, including top seeds Iowa (87-75 over South Dakota), Syracuse (90-77 over UNC Greensboro) and Illinois State (hot-shooting 85-71 victors against UC Irvine) winning plus TCU holding off Fresno State 66-59.
- The CBI opened with seven games, and five home teams won, including Rice over San Francisco 85-76 and Wyoming outrunning Eastern Washington 91-81. Road winners were Loyola (Md.)-a surprising 73-58 victor at George Mason-and Utah Valley, which scored another for the WAC with a 74-49 rout at Georgia Southern.
- Four more CIT games were played. Most notably, Maryland-Baltimore County got its first-ever win in a Division I postseason tourney with an 88-83 win over Fairfield.
- Portland State will not retain head coach Tyler Geving, who spent the past eight years with the Vikings after replacing Ken Bone (was it really that long ago?). Geving had a 112-133 record in eight years, topping out with a CIT appearance in 2014.
- The NCAA Tournament as most of us really know it-as a 64-team event-tips off. CBS seems to prefer showing all of its 1 and 2 seeds and big names on Friday, so it typically results in Thursday featuring the far better slate of the two days, and that is certainly the case today. Lots of 4/13 and 5/12 games with the possibility for upsets or at least competitive games, the latter of which is really all that we ask for.
- Notre Dame tips off the tournament for the second time in three years when it faces Princeton in a 5/12 game, while another tipping soon after is a classic contrast of styles between Virginia and UNC Wilmington. Soon after that, Butler takes on Winthrop in Milwaukee in a promising 4/13 game. Other good games in the day sessions include Florida against East Tennessee State, Minnesota against way underseeded Middle Tennessee State and Northwestern making its tourney debut against Vanderbilt.
- The night games include defending champion Villanova beginning its defense against Mount St. Mary’s, Saint Mary’s in an appealing matchup with VCU, Wisconsin facing Virginia Tech in Buffalo, plus Iowa State facing Nevada. Also, watch that 3/14 game between Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast, especially as this Seminoles team is light on NCAA tourney experience.
- The CIT continues with five more first round games, all of them with some regional appeal. Southern Conference tri-champion Furman stays in state to face South Carolina Upstate; St. Peter’s at Albany is a very nice matchup; UNC Asheville and Tennessee-Martin both were near the top of the Big South and Ohio Valley, respectively; Lamar and Texas State matches former Southland rivals, and Weber State goes to play much-improved Cal State Fullerton, the type of team that should really enjoy the postseason opportunity.
- The final first round game in the CBI has Stony Brook at Illinois-Chicago.
Enjoy Thursday, one of the great days on the sports calendar.