College hoops to go: Every top 5 team falls on a wild weekend
It’s the last Saturday of February! With just 15 days until Selection Sunday, today’s 146 men’s Division I games (and in particular the four ranked team clashes) have added significance as teams seek to make their case to the Selection Committee of the NCAA.
Sports Illustrated will keep you updated all day with the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s busy slate and what it all means for March.
Gonzaga suffers first WCC loss in over two years
Until today, Gonzaga hadn’t even played a decided single-digit conference game. But the Bulldogs’ dominant reign in the WCC was stopped at least for one night by Saint Mary’s, who executed a marvelous game plan to suck the life out of one of the sport’s most explosive offenses. The Gaels limited Gonzaga to just 21 points in the first half to build a 15-point halftime advantage, then had enough shots in the second half to hold on even when Gonzaga pushed. The Bulldogs’ front-row duo of Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme combined for just 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting, one of the most impressive defensive performances of the season by any team. With all other projected seeds losing today, Gonzaga will likely remain the No. 1 seed and remain in the West region. And on the other hand, it’s a signature win for Saint Mary’s, who have built a very impressive resume and will jump a starting line or two with this victory.
Baylor’s frontcourt shines without Tchamwa Tchatchoua
Losing Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to a season-ending knee injury was devastating for Baylor, both because of his quality on both sides and the size of his leader for this Bears club. But in Baylor’s biggest game of the season so far, Scott Drew saw his other two frontcourt players strengthen in a big way. Freshman Jeremy Sochan played the best game of his young career, tying a career-high 17 points while also having a significant impact on defense. Veteran center Flo Thamba guarded Baylor early when Kansas threw a hay and scored 18 points in a career-best offensive performance. The win over the Jayhawks is a huge boost for Baylor’s hopes of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, especially given the four No. 1s in IFFriday’s update suffered losses on Saturday. Baylor now have more Q1 wins than any other team in the country with 11.
Arizona digs a hole too deep against Colorado
Tommy Lloyd’s Wildcats have had their share of slow starts and sleepy halves lately, but have relied on an explosive offense to turn the tide and pull away. Today was another story at altitude against Colorado. The Buffaloes forced the game into half court and never allowed Arizona to make a real push, limiting the Wildcats to just 26 points in the second half to claim the upset victory. The bigger implication for Arizona is that the loss essentially wipes out the Wildcats’ chance for the No. 1 seed and a chance to play in the West Region. But with so many other top-10 losses, the path to a No. 1 seed is still relatively straightforward for Lloyd’s side.
Arkansas dominance in Fayetteville continues
For the third time this month, Arkansas hosted an elite opponent and found a way to win. The Razorbacks put up an elite defensive effort in the first half and made timely shots late to knock Kentucky down, 75–73, completing an SEC trifecta in Fayetteville that also included wins over Auburn and Tennessee .
Hogs guard JD Notae made his case to be considered one of the best perimeter players in the sport, scoring 30 points and providing eight assists in one of the most impressive performances of the season by the main guard. And while Kentucky’s offense got going in the second half thanks to Oscar Tshiebwe’s 30 points, Arkansas’ defense once again went from strength to strength and slowed a nationally top-five ranked offense. by kenpom.
After starting 0–3 in SEC play and losing five of six games in late December and early January, Arkansas turned their season around and became one of the best teams in the nation. The Hogs are 13-1 since Jan. 8, including four against KenPom’s top 20 teams. Expect Razorbacks to be on line #4 in SI’s next support update.
Purdue’s flaws exposed again
There’s no doubt that Purdue’s talent level and offensive firepower give the Boilermakers a chance to beat just about anyone in college basketball. But Saturday’s road loss to a plummeting Michigan State team was another questionable performance from a team that often leaves you wanting more, especially on the defensive end.
Purdue’s defense has made a habit of letting opposing players set up career games, and Spartan PG’s oft-maligned duo of AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker added to that tally today with some impressive performances. Hoggard controlled the game and made huge plays in the second half, while Walker hit all three winners. The pair combined for 19 points and 10 assists against just four turnovers in the game.
At the other end of the field, Boilermaker star guard Jaden Ivey scored 16 points but turned it over five times, the main culprit in what was Purdue’s worst game taking care of the ball this season. And again, Zach Edey was sidelined in critical moments due to foul issues despite dominating the block when down.
Yes, it’s hard to win on the road in the Big Ten. And yes, Michigan State has been playing much better than lately. Yet today was yet another reminder of the Boilermakers’ flaws, which will make them hard to believe in March.
Auburn needs more of its point guards
It’s really hard to win a national championship without good point guarding play, and right now Auburn needs more of its two best ball handlers. In today’s loss to Tennessee, the Tigers’ two point guards, Zep Jasper and Wendell Green, combined to shoot just 2 of 17 from the field and had just four assists to three turnovers. To break an elite defense like Tennessee’s, Auburn must get regular play from their running backs. Instead, the offense bogged down at times, with unnamed Tigers Jabari Smith and KD Johnson combining to shoot just 7 of 31 from the field. Meanwhile, it’s a huge win for the Vols, moving to 12–4 in the SEC and tied for second place, with Kentucky and Arkansas. Tennessee trailed 39-28 early in the second half before taking control late with a stifling defensive performance.
Xavier’s struggles continue
Xavier have now lost six of their seven games and eight of their last 11, following a nasty home loss to Seton Hall on Saturday. It’s part of what has become an annual trend of tough finishes for Xavier teams led by Travis Steele as the Musketeers collapsed late last year to miss the NCAA Tournament and also had tough finishes in 2020 and 2019. This year’s Xavier team has more room to go dancing than last year’s club, but what was once such a promising season has seemingly fallen by the wayside. The Musketeers should still find themselves on the field assuming they don’t lose at home to lowly Georgetown next week, but at one point this team was in talks for a top-four seed. Now he could end up wearing the colors of the road in the first round of the big dance.
- Dayton had been the subject of widespread attention despite a dreadful start to the season, but a 62-60 loss to La Salle means the Flyers need to win the Atlantic 10 tournament in two weeks to go dancing.
- North Carolina and Oklahoma each came out on top in must-win rivalry games for their NCAA tournament hopefuls, as the Tar Heels managed NC State and the Sooners survived in overtime against Oklahoma State. Both teams are still on the road for now, with North Carolina entering the day as SI’s second team and OU’s fifth team.
- With its seventh Big 12 win and 20th win overall, Iowa State is officially an NCAA Tournament lock after a narrow victory over Kansas State.
- Miami could have locked itself in the field with a victory over Virginia Tech, but the Hurricanes collapsed late to lose 71–70. However, the Canes should still dance without completely collapsing at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has a path, albeit a narrow one, to an overall after that first-quarter victory.
- Virginia must now win the ACC Tournament to go dancing after a home loss to Florida State.
- TCU’s huge win over Texas Tech cements the Horned Frogs’ place in the field, even as TCU sets a very tough schedule to close out the season.
- Loyola Chicago’s broader path thinned after losing in OT to Northern Iowa. It’s a Q2 loss, but the Ramblers will likely need to rock the MVC title game… and winning to secure the big automatic would be the safest route.
- Rutgers squandered a chance at home against Wisconsin, losing a third straight game since jumping into SI’s projected field last week. Wednesday’s game with Indiana in Bloomington could end up being something of a qualifying game for the NCAA Tournament Selection.
- Oregon really could have used a win over USC after entering the day among IF’s First four out. The loss doesn’t eliminate them from overall competition, but it does force the Ducks to make an important run in the Pac-12 tournament.
More college basketball coverage:
• Bracket Watch: Question bubbles loom as March approaches
• Buy or sell: will these March Madness predictions come true?
• Jabari Smith, probably the first choice, makes it look easy