A major storyline for the 2020-21 men’s college basketball season has been how signature blue-blood programs have been faltering, with Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State likely to miss the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina and Indiana as bubble teams and Kansas likely to miss a top-five seed for the first time in two decades.
Several of those blue-blood teams showed up Saturday to remind the nation why their losing warranted a big storyline in the first place.
No. 24 Kansas picked up a major rèsumè-boosting victory over No. 11 Texas Tech in a hard-fought Big 12 battle, while Kentucky – still likely to miss the NCAAs without an SEC Tournament win – looked like the team it was forecast to be as a preseason top-10team in its 70-55 victory over No. 20 Tennessee.
Michigan State is a longshot to reach the tournament as an at-large bid, but it took care of business with a 78-71 win over bubble team Indiana.
Here’s a look at all the winners and losers from Saturday’s action.
Kansas. The Jayhawks (17-7, 11-6) have now won five in a row following a 67-61 win over Texas Tech. This late surge helps offset a skid that saw KU lose five of seven. The common denominator in the wins has been David McCormack, who had 17 points and eight rebounds in the win over Texas Tech. Coach Bill Self’s team may have found its identity just in time (five KU players are averaging double figures), drawing Texas and Baylor next week to close out its Big 12 slate.
Alabama. The No. 9 Crimson Tide avoided what would have been an ugly résumé stain in a tight contest against SEC bottom-feeder Vanderbilt, but was able to hang on for an 82-78 win. Based on overall credentials, Alabama has a strong chance of vaulting to a No. 1 seed should one of the projected top seeds falter.
Illinois. The Fighting Illini (16-5, 12-3) looked like a Final Four threat in a 94-63 demolition of Minnesota. Ayo Dosunmu had another triple-double of 19 points 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Should one of the current No. 1 seeds stumble, Illinois could steal a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
Villanova. The Wildcats (14-3, 9-2), coming off an upset loss to Creighton last week, bounced back by fending off a win-hungry bubble team in Connecticut. Seventh-ranked ‘Nova escaped 68-60 and now stays in the mix for a No. 1 seed (the Wildcats are currently projected at No. 2) if it can keep winning in Big East play in these closing weeks. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 17 points and 11 rebounds in the win.
Michigan State. The Spartans (11-9, 5-9) still have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid and that’s because of playing in the country’s toughest conference (based on NET rankings). Beating Indiana in Big Ten play – in spite of 34 points from the Hoosiers’ Trayce Jackson-Davis – was a step in the right direction. A murderer’s row of six regular-season Big Ten games could make or break coach Tom Izzo’s team, with games against Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan.
Missouri. The No. 19 Tigers (14-6, 7-6) snapped a disastrous three-game losing streak by dispatching South Carolina 93-78. Coach Cuonzo Martin’s team was the last called in the selection committee’s top-16 bracket reveal last week so the overall portfolio is there, but this group isn’t exactly peaking heading into March. Checking back into the win column was necessary.
Florida. The Gators bounced back from a two-game losing streak with a much-needed 70-62 victory over over Georgia in SEC play. Currently forecast as a No. 7 seed on the projected bracket, this win means that UF can stay away from the bubble. More winning is needed but coach Mike White’s team is inching closer to safer seeding.
Tennessee. The Volunteers (15-6, 8-6) fell 70-55 against Kentucky and continue to slip in their projected NCAA tourney seeding (they’e hovering between a No. 4 and No. 5 seed now). Coach Rick Barnes’ team has lost two of three and now close out the SEC regular season next week against two basement teams in Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Texas Tech. The Red Raiders (14-7, 6-6) looked rusty in their loss to Kansas after missing several games due to postponements. Their rèsumè speaks for itself, and Texas Tech will likely stay in the No. 4 or No. 5 seed range. Coach Chris Beard steers this team with defense, as Tech has a top-20 efficiency rating in KenPom. Georgetown transfer Mac McClung gives this team enough offense to be a threat in March.
Texas. The Longhorns (13-6, 7-5) had won two in a row and had seemed to be rebounding from a three-game skid that offset such a strong start to 2020-21. But they coughed up a double-digit lead midway through the second half in an 84-82 loss to West Virginia, a team it had beaten earlier in the year. Texas had plummeted from a No. 2 seed to a No. 4 seed in the last month and now will likely slip to a No. 5 seed in the bracket.
Southern California. The Trojans (18-4, 12-3 Pac-12) saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end with a home loss to an Arizona team that had lost two straight. Free-throw shooting was a glaring difference in this one: the Wildcats went 19-for-23 (82.6%) on their free throws while USC went just 13-for-22 (59.1%) from the line. – Jace Evans
Virginia. The No. 8 Cavaliers (15-5, 11-3 ACC) lost their second consecutive game by the narrowest of margins against a Duke squad desperate for a win. The 66-65 setback drops UVA a half-game behind Florida State, which won Saturday, in the ACC standings. – Jace Evans
NCAA Tournament language explainer:
- NET stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, which is the barometer for the selection committee. It includes game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capping at 10 points per game), and net offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
- Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
- Quadrant 3 wins: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
- Quadrant 4 wins: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.