What a crazy, topsy-turvy Saturday.
Outside of Kentucky pulling away in the final ten minutes upending Florida in the final home game of the season at Rupp Arena 67-50 (and becoming the fourth NCAA team since 1979 to finish the regular season undefeated). Meanwhile, Virginia lost on a last second bucket at Louisville and Kansas lost again–this time at Oklahoma.
I will go over my final Stock Up, Stock Down selections amongst the at-large teams in a bit.
Belmont survives back-and-forth affair with Murray State
For the second time in three seasons, the Belmont Bruins locked up the first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
An off-balance three point basket from beyond NBA court range by Taylor Barnette gave Belmont a 88-87 lead with 3.2 seconds on the clock. After three consecutive time outs by both coaches (2 by Rick Byrd of Belmont sandwiched around one by Murray State coach Steve Prohm), the final shot by T.J. Sapp from 45 feet failed to draw iron. The Racers had a 25 game winning streak entering the contest, but it was not to be their night.
This will be Belmont’s seventh appearance in the Big Dance since moving out of the small, tight-knit community that is the NAIA back in 1996-97. Did you know, Belmont is only second in overall three point shots made during this span of time–the leader has been Duke.
Some startling statistics about this game worth noting:
The Racers managed to outshoot Belmont for the game 52.4 percent (33 of 63) to 50.8 percent (33 of 65). Belmont won the rebounding battle 36-29.
The most telling stat was in made three-point baskets: Belmont converted 15 of 38 attempts from behind the arc (39.5 percent), while Murray State only mustered 11 makes out of 28 attempts for 39.3 percent.
A few more upsets of note amongst other conference tournaments
In the Southern Conference…
Furman (overall record of 10-21) upset the second seed of UT-Chattanooga converting 11 of 12 free throw attempts in the final minute, winning 69-67.
A much bigger upset occurred early in the afternoon in St. Louis.
Wichita State lost in the Missouri Valley semifinals to Illinois State 65-62 and pretty much kissed their chance at locking up a 4 seed good bye. Next up for the Redbirds, a date with Larry Bird Player of the Year Seth Tuttle and the rest of the Northern Iowa Panthers (2 p.m. Eastern time on CBS). UNI advanced with a comfortable 63-49 win over Loyola (Chicago).
In Las Vegas, Portland took out St. Mary’s (California) 69-52 in a West Coast Conference quarterfinal. Next up will be a game with the 2 seed of Brigham Young, who barely survived Santa Clara 78-76.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga trailed at the half against the Dons of San Francisco, but came back to win 81-72. Next up for the ‘Zags, a Monday night date with Pepperdine as the waves crashed the upset dreams of San Diego barely edging out the Toreros.
In the Horizon League at suddenly thawing Valparaiso, Indiana…
Wisconsin-Green Bay easily got past Illinois-Chicago in one semifinal, while Bryce Drew had more than his hands full as Valparaiso barely got past upset minded Cleveland State. The Crusaders won 58-53 and sets up a top 2 seed showdown on Monday night at the ARC (Athletics and Recreation Center) to settle the automatic bid for the Horizon League, 7 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN.
Ivy League will settle their automatic bid in one-game playoff
The City of Brotherly Love is known for their cheesesteak, the Phillie Phanatic mascot, Rocky Balboa, and you can add the Ivy League Championship game to that list.
Philadelphia and more specifically, the Palestra on the campus of Penn University will be the site next Saturday with Yale and Harvard locking horns for the third time this season. The winner gets the automatic bid in what will be a really crowded field on Automatic Bid Saturday, March 14.
Nearly 24 hours after Harvard’s shocking loss, a barrage of three-point shots (three by Siyani Chambers and two by Corbin Miller)–the Crimson pulled away in the second half to win by double digits on the road by a final score of 72-62.
Things looked pretty bleak about an hour later when Yale led 57-52 with 90 seconds left to play. A three pointer, followed by a turnover set up for an improbable ending as Dartmouth scored on a layup with .5 of a second left to upend Yale 59-58. The loss prevented the Bulldogs from winning their first outright Ivy League title outright for the first time since 1962.
Notre Dame and Purdue, for closing out their home seasons on a very strong note. The Boilers deserve extra kudos as they appear to have maybe sewn up the last at-large bid over Illinois (I say maybe in the slightest of whispers because there could be some ‘bid thieves’ if Illinois State wins the Missouri Valley on Sunday, thereby giving that league three bids instead of what everyone thinks will be just a two-bid league).
The Orange Crush got crushed even more, now knowing that their home court since the 1960’s of the State Farm Center in Champaign will be razed from the inside out to make way for a more sleek and ultramodern facility to hopefully be open in time for November 2016. The Illini will play their 2015-2016 home games in Springfield, their state capital.
North Carolina State, for continuing their long-standing tradition of playing Cinderella to a “T”. The latest victim was Syracuse, 71-57 in Raleigh. Not even Jim Boeheim met the media after the game, but did release a statement mentioning how “thrilled” he was to coach “this group of players.”
While the Orange fans lick their wounds and wait for the next time we switch our clocks back to Standard Time, it is time to talk about some other conference tournaments. But first, the inevitable fate of some other former bubble teams, in my latest edition of…
Pittsburgh. Talk about falling down on hard times. The Panthers had several chances these last six weeks to win a critical ACC game on the road and they simply couldn’t do it. Florida State won their biggest game of the year, 61-52 on Saturday.
Indiana, for losing on Senior Day to Michigan State 74-72. Tom Izzo and Morris the Cat should be best of friends, because they often get nine lives. And yes, Sparty has had that many chances to be off the bubble and yet, here they are–once again surviving and thriving well in pressure situations.
Unlike the last few years when Michigan State had a lot of depth, especially in the backcourt–this was a difficult year of transition for Gang Green. Injuries caught up with some of their star players, and most media experts began to doubt whether this team was for real when the Big Ten conference season began. But they still come up roses when the chips are down and that’s what separates the average teams to the stellar teams when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
Sunday’s action will have more women’s conference title games to be decided on the ESPN family of networks. However, there will be one final huge men’s game in the AAC–as Tulsa travels to SMU to take on the Mustangs (3 p.m. Eastern time on ESPNU).
My next blog will briefly touch on the automatic bids to be decided amongst the men as “Championship Week” is officially underway!