Selection Sunday on March 15 is looming and teams around the country have less and less time to make their mark.
Another competitive slate of men’s college basketball gave viewers great insight into which teams are trending upward and those that are falling flat, all emphasized by the CBS March Madness preview that named the top-16 seeds in the tournament as of Feb. 7.
One team that won’t be participating in March Madness barring a win in its conference tournament is North Carolina.
A miserable season for the Tar Heels got worse Saturday as they blew a 13-point lead over rival Duke with 4½ minutes to go en route to a crushing 98-96 overtime loss at the buzzer in Chapel Hill.
The No. 7 Blue Devils trailed 84-81 with just 4 seconds to go with guard Tre Jones at the free-throw line. Jones hit his first shot, then, with Duke down two, intentionally missed the second. He was able to secure the rebound and drained the game-tying basket to force overtime as time expired.
It was essentially a redux in overtime.
Trailing 96-95, Jones stepped to the free-throw line. He hit the first to tie the game, but missed the second. Duke secured the offensive rebound, and Jones let fly again for the potential game-winner. He missed, but Wendell Moore Jr. followed up the shot for an acrobatic lay-up as time expired.
“We didn’t have our best game tonight, but we continued to fight until the clock hit zero,” Jones said in his postgame interview. “And it took that entire time for us to get the win tonight.”
For Duke it was a miraculous win, all the more impressive considering Vernon Carey Jr. – who finished with 18 points – fouled out of the game in the stretch run. The wild win also keeps Duke (20-3, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) on the heels – along with No. 8 Florida State – of No. 5 Louisville, which won Saturday to improve to 12-1 in the ACC.
On the other side, there’s no way to view North Carolina other than as the biggest loser of the day. UNC’s season has been miserable – it is now 10-13 – but the Tar Heels led almost the entire game and still had several chances at a win that would have at least made the fan base happy. They couldn’t get it done.
Here are the rest of Saturday’s winners and losers across college basketball:
Seton Hall: The 13th-ranked Pirates planted their flag as the dominant team in the Big East with a 70-64 win at No. 12 Villanova, earning them a two-game lead in the conference. After relinquishing an early 20-10 lead that saw them down four points at halftime, Seton Hall maintained a slim lead in the game’s final 10 minutes to steal one in Philadelphia. Senior guard Myles Powell continued his strong season, notching a team-high 19 points points while his team held the Wildcats to just 36.1% shooting.
Auburn: In the battle of the Tigers, No. 10 Auburn squeaked out an overtime win, 91-90, at home over No.18 LSU. Down as much as 15 in the first half and nine with less than 90 seconds remaining, Auburn battled back to tie it in the final seconds. A 9-2 run to start to the extra session looked like the dagger, but it took a friendly bounce on J’Von McCormick’s last-second floater to finish the job. If it wasn’t already clear, this team knows how to win a close game, even with Charles Barkley in attendance.
Kentucky: Highlighted as a team “on the bubble” for a top-16 seed heading into March, the No. 16 Wildcats earned a much-needed 77-64 road win over Tennessee. They led almost the entire game, shot nearly 20% better from the floor than the Volunteers and had five players score in double figures. Head coach John Calipari will need consistency like this moving forward.
Florida State: In a game they were expected to win, the No. 8 Seminoles stomped the Hurricanes by 15 in the second half en route to a 99-81 win. Sixteen players hit the court for FSU and most made contributions on the way to a plus-23 rebounding advantage. This one was less about the team it beat but rather the fashion in which it dominated the final 20 minutes.
Dayton: It wasn’t the No. 6 Flyers’ best performance, particularly since they lost the second half by two in this 71-65 win over Saint Louis, but this marked the team’s 12th-straight win. They swept the season series against a decent Billikens team and forward Obi Toppin once again led the way with 17 points, three steals and three blocks.
Baylor: By fighting off a game Oklahoma State team, the No. 1 Bears secured their 20th straight victory. Every Baylor starter hit double-digits in scoring, led by Macio Teague’s 24 points, in the 78-70 Bears’ win.
Villanova: The soon-to-not-be No. 12 Wildcats are in a free fall. This 70-64 loss to Seton Hall marks the third straight for head coach Jay Wright and Co., although this was the best team they’ve faced in that stretch. They shot just 36.1%, were minus-11 on the glass and got only three points in 25 minutes from their bench. They have just eight regular season games to figure it out.
Michigan State: It’s becoming less optimistic that head coach Tom Izzo can turn around this No. 14 Spartans team. This 77-68 loss at Michigan marks the third-consecutive loss and fifth in the team’s last eight games. Even with guard Cassius Winston being one of the best players in the country, this team can’t hit a shot. They made just a third of their shots in this one.
West Virginia: The No. 11 Mountaineers played well through the game’s first 10 minutes but fell behind thereafter in a 69-59 loss at Oklahoma. A surprising two-seed in the March Madness bracket preview, this team simply went cold from the floor. They shot just 31.9%, which was too much to overcome despite forcing 19 turnovers.
LSU: After a 10-game winning streak, the Tigers have now fallen short in back-to-back games for the second time this season, with this 91-90 overtime loss to Auburn being the most heart-wrenching. It looked like they had the game won up six with a minute left, but a lack of focus let the lead evaporate and a poor start to overtime was too much to overcome. Guard Skylar Mays was stellar with 30 points, but he narrowly missed the winning 3-pointer at the end of regulation.
Contributing: Jace Evans