NCAA Weekend Recap
Florida knocks down Kentucky; Baylor upsets Texas A&M.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
With most conference leaders facing bottom feeders, this weekend didn’t promise to come close to matching last weekend’s ridiculousness. But what it lacked in upset power, it made up for in revealing contests that provided some clarity as to who the real conference contenders might be in a month. Once you toss in a couple of non-conference bubble matchups that could be deciding factors on Selection Sunday, you have yourself a solid little weekend of college hoops.
No. 23 Florida 70 – No. 11 Kentucky 68: This isn’t as much of an upset as some have made it out to be. This one was in The Swamp, Kentucky has been sputtering, and Florida seems to be peaking right now. Probably the biggest positive to come out of this contest for Billy Donovan was the sudden balance that many thought would be the Gators’ biggest strength this season. Led by Chandler Parsons’s 17, each starter contributed at least eight points and attempted at least five shots. This Florida group is known for its inconsistency, so expect Kenny Boynton to put up at least 20 shots on Wednesday at South Carolina.
Baylor 76 – No. 16 Texas A&M 74 (OT): Is Baylor finally turning the corner, or is Texas A&M coming back down to Earth? Likely both. Perry Jones was lottery-bound this June regardless of how he played this season, but the rangiest of Baylor’s rangy athletes is playing like a top-3 pick. Baylor is now in the thick of the bubble conversation but can’t avoid any of the letdowns that have plagued it all season long. Texas A&M is safe for now, but is one loss away from a four-game losing streak and their own date with Mr. Bubble. The Aggies aren’t going to be outscoring anyone in the Big 12, so a return to the sturdy defense they opened the season with would be helpful.
Oregon 81 – No. 17 Washington 76: Two consecutive losses to the Oregon schools, three consecutive defeats overall … the memory of the Huskies’ blowout win over Arizona a few weeks ago (you know, the one that supposedly ended any debate of whether there would be a Pac-10 race this season) is fading quickly. No one said conference road play was easy, but league favorites are supposed to come out on top regardless. Washington’s defense has evaporated and classifying their effort as lackluster would be charitable. Assuming the Huskies avoid any more stupefying losses, Washington’s strong RPI and non-conference schedule will likely get it in the tournament. But their seed is in free-fall mode and their chances of a Pac-10 regular season title are going with it.
No. 22 Arizona 107 – Cal 105 (3OT): Slide over, UDub and Isaiah Thomas. Meet your new Pac-10 favorites and the conference’s new Mr. Clutch. A triple overtime win on the road over an underratedly tough Berkeley squad is impressive for Arizona but not quite as impressive as the performance of Wildcats’ point guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who had game tying buckets in regulation and the second overtime, and a go-ahead driving layup in the third overtime to carry Arizona to a huge win (which was made even bigger by Washington’s collapse in Oregon this weekend).
UCLA 66 – St. John’s 59: While Steve Lavin’s return to Westwood might have been overstated, this game was still perfectly bubblicious. UCLA had only one decent win going into the game (even if it is a very decent one – BYU) to its name, and St. John’s can only survive on the bubble with a gaudy RPI and a mediocre record for so long. A head-to-head non-conference victory over a fellow bubble team is gold on Selection Sunday. How shiny this win ends up looking for UCLA depends a lot on how St. John’s weathers the rest of the Big East. In other words, it could look as impressive as the BYU win or fairly so-so.
George Mason 62 – Old Dominion 45: Is the CAA a two-bid league? Three-bid league? Old Dominion could sneak in, but as of now, VCU and George Mason continue to make more legitimate arguments for at-large bids. Old Dominion is clearly falling off the pace in the conference, while Mason and VCU are streaking. Ryan Pearson’s 18 points and 11 boards lead Mason’s to its ninth consecutive victory. If both George Mason and VCU hold serve this week, a monster February 15th matchup in Richmond is on the horizon. Old Dominion is still completely capable of making a run in the CAA tournament, but an at-large push, while not out of the question, is getting dicey.
Memphis 62 – Gonzaga 58: This probably looked like an epic non-conference matchup on paper when it was originally scheduled. But this game might have been more meaningful because of each team’s recent struggles. Memphis registered its best non-conference win by far, but still blatantly has issues. The way it is playing in Conference USA will not impress the Selection Committee. A couple more losses in league (The Tigers already have three) and an at-large bid is history. Outside its remaining game(s) with Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga blew its last opportunity for a “quality” win. Even if it had beaten Memphis, I’m not sure that would’ve been enough to guarantee the Zags a tourney berth. This may finally be the year that Gonzaga actually needs the WCC’s automatic berth to be dancing again in March. Don’t be surprised if neither of these teams ends up in the field of 68.
Alabama 65 – Tennessee 60: Considering how forgettable its non-conference results were (losses to Iowa, St. Peter’s, Seton Hall, Providence) Alabama is making a potentially historic surge in the SEC West. I’m pulling for Alabama simply because the team would be a great March story, but someone in the SEC West has to emerge and win some games. Ironically, Alabama’s only conference loss came to SEC West peer Arkansas, and the Tide has knocked off SEC East teams Kentucky, South Carolina, and now Tennessee. If Alabama keeps winning and the bubble keeps weakening, who knows? But if RPI ends up being a deciding factor (‘Bama still sits at 96 despite having won 10 of 11 games), Alabama could be in for a very long Selection Sunday.
St. Bonaventure 64 – Duquesne 62: Duquesne’s bandwagon just got a little lighter. We’ll probably learn more about the Dukes after its upcoming game vs. Xavier than we did from their loss to St. Bonaventure. Sure, it’s not great to lose to the Bonnies (and this one could look ugly in a month when stacked up next to some other bubble resumes), but it’s also easy to forget this was Duquesne’s first conference loss. A win against the Musketeers and a lot will be forgiven.
No. 18 Wisconsin 82 – Michigan State 56: Despite its latest embarrassing loss, Michigan State is still clinging to the postseason bubble. Yep…the Spartans will be sweating out Selection Monday when the NIT selects from the NCAA Tournament’s leftovers. And with the schedule the Spartans face in the next couple of weeks, Tom Izzo will be lucky to sneak into the CBI. As badly as the Spartans are playing at the moment, it would be a miracle if the team finds a way to come out of this stretch without a sub-500 overall record. And I apologize for completely ignoring Wisconsin’s dominant performance, but it’s downright hilarious to imagine the situation Tom Izzo could find himself in in a month or so. The Master of March could be faced with the unfathomable challenge of motivating many players coming off consecutive Final Four appearances to be competitive in the CBI or the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. It’s unlikely Michigan State would even accept bids to these events, but you understand where I’m going with this. Labeling events as “epic” is usually hyperbolic, but the demise of this particular group of players fits that description perfectly.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.