March is still a couple days away, but the madness arrived early in college basketball Saturday as seven top-10 teams from the AP Top 25, including each of the top six, lost. No. 4 Purdue fell first, but No. 6 Kentucky and No. 3 Auburn soon followed in an afternoon that highlighted how fluid the NCAA Tournament seeding scenarios remain with just over two weeks to go until Selection Sunday. By mid-evening, No. 2 Arizona, No. 5 Kansas and No. 9 Texas Tech were also among the fallen. Then, in the late night window, No. 1 Gonzaga suffered its first loss since Dec. 4 at St. Mary’s.
Amid all the big-picture chaos are several conference races that look different now. No. 10 Baylor’s 80-70 win over Kansas sets up the Bears (24-5, 12-4 Big 12) just one game behind the Jayhawks (23-5, 12-3) in the Big 12 loss column with one week to go in the regular season. If the Jayhawks slip up in two games against TCU or in their regular-season finale against Texas, then a Baylor team with games against Texas and Iowa State could be in position to steal a share of the conference crown.
Purdue’s 68-65 loss at Michigan State dropped it out of a tie for first in the Big Ten standings as Wisconsin assumed sole possession of the top spot with a win over Rutgers. Upheaval was found in the SEC as well, with No. 18 Arkansas keeping its hot streak alive with a 75-73 win over No. 6 Kentucky. It marks 13 wins in the last 14 games for the Razorbacks, which are now just one game out of first in the conference following No. 17 Tennessee’s 67-62 win over Auburn. The Tigers have now lost three of their last six and are clinging to a one-game lead on Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee entering the final week of the regular season in the SEC.
As the regular season hits the home stretch and conference tournaments approach, the stakes are high across the country. Let’s see who the winners and losers were from Saturday’s action.
Winner: Baylor gets revenge
Baylor got its revenge for an 83-59 loss at Kansas on Feb. 5 by handing the Jayhawks an 80-70 loss on Saturday that required quite a rally. Kansas led 28-15 in the first half as the Bears played without top 3-point shooter LJ Cryer once again due to injury. Baylor didn’t knock down a single 3-pointer in the first half, but it did close the half on a 14-4 run. Flo Thamba scored a career-high 18 points to lead Baylor as he continues to play an increased role with fellow big man Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua out for the season.
Freshman forward Jeremy Sochan also tied his career-high with 17 for the Bears. Given how injury-depleted the Bears have been during conference play, it was a great sign for this team that Thamba and Sochan could step up and carry a heavier load against an elite opponent like Kansas.
Loser: Gonzaga creates doubt
By falling behind 16 points and looking totally disjointed for large portions of an eventual 67-57 loss to St. Mary’s, Gonzaga gave credence to its critics. On the one hand, perhaps it was good for a team that has glided through the WCC slate with ease to be humbled entering the postseason. But there were some serious issues that surfaced in that game that renew the ever-present doubts over whether this program can finally get over the hump and win its first national title.
Loser: Arizona gets smacked
Arizona had a chance to clinch the Pac-12 with a victory over Colorado and an Oregon victory over USC. Instead, the Wildcats suffered a 79-63 loss at Colorado. The Buffs had just lost by 17 at home to a bad Arizona State team two days earlier, but they had no problem with an Arizona team that is projected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Bennedict Mathurin did not score in the second half for the Wildcats after getting 12 points in the first half. Good teams are allowed to lose road games against quality opponents on the road every now and then, but it was surprising to see Arizona lose by 16 against a Colorado team that entered just 1-6 in Quad 1 games.
Winner: Wisconsin takes first in the Big Ten
With Purdue’s loss, all No. 13 Wisconsin had to do in order to claim solo possession of first in the Big Ten was to beat Rutgers. That’s easier said than done, however. The Scarlet Knights had knocked off Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State in their last three home games entering Saturday’s showdown. Rutgers rallied from an 11-point deficit early in the second half to briefly take a late lead. But the Badgers closed it out to win 66-61 and claim the top spot in the league standings … for now at least. It’s been a revolving door atop the Big Ten this season and Wisconsin hosts none other than Purdue on Tuesday.
Winner: Arkansas is one of nation’s hottest team
Is Bud Walton Arena the toughest place to play in the country? What No. 18 Arkansas has done in its past three games inside the venue should put it in the conversation. The Hogs have knocked off Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky in their last three home games, and they are now in the running with those three for the SEC title as a result. Arkansas was fortunate to only play Auburn and Kentucky once in the regular season, both at home. But scheduling fortune aside, it’s clear the Razorbacks are hitting their stride and will be a threat again in the NCAA Tournament after reaching the Elite Eight last season.
Loser: Bettors who had the Razorbacks -2.5
Most fans left Bud Walton Arena rejoicing. But if you saw anyone in Razorbacks apparel scowling, or maybe even weeping, then this may be why: the Razorbacks were 2.5-point favorites with some sportsbooks. That looked like a great bet until Kentucky’s TyTy Washington banked in a 3-pointer at the final buzzer to make the final score 75-73. That is the definition of a bad beat.
Winner: TCU improves tourney standing, takes down Texas Tech
TCU, a projected No. 10 seed in CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm’s bracket, but on the bubble, scored a huge 69-66 win at home over No. 9 Texas Tech that might just do the job for its at-large chances. It’s a significant one for the Horned Frogs with a grueling closing stretch that could have gotten ugly, but downing the Red Raiders — led by Mike Miles Jr.‘s 26 points — might just be the win that unofficially gets them in. We’ll see. Kansas (twice) and West Virginia on deck to close the regular season certainly looks less daunting and less pressure-packed with this win.
Winner: Michigan State stops skid with huge home win
Michigan State was on a three-game losing streak and had lost five of its last six as it prepared to host No. 4 Purdue on Saturday. The Spartans had fallen from Big Ten title contention into a worrisome tailspin highlighted by an 86-60 loss at Iowa on Tuesday. But it was a different story Saturday as the Spartans forced 17 turnovers, including 10 in the second half as MSU coach Tom Izzo tied former Indiana coach Bob Knight for most wins among Big Ten coaches (662) in the Spartans’ 68-65 victory after a clutch 3-pointer by Tyson Walker that you have to see.
Winner: Chicago State pulls off huge upset
One of the worst teams in the WAC beat the best team in the WAC in a stunner on Saturday as Chicago State – 6-22 entering the weekend and riding a nine-game losing streak – took down New Mexico State 61-59. The Aggies (23-5) were favored by 17 points (!), making it one of the biggest upsets of the season – and it was done in dramatic fashion, no less.
Loser: West Virginia has lost 13 of 14
On Jan. 11, West Virginia was 13-2 overall, 2-1 in Big 12 play and – by all indications – on track towards another NCAA Tournament appearance under the great coaching of Bob Huggins. But boy, oh boy, have things spiraled since. The Mountaineers have dropped 13 of their last 14 games since that point, and Saturday was another one-possession loss – their second of the week – in an 82-81 home loss to Texas.
“We got up 10, then did some dumb things,” Huggins said after the game. “Tried to make plays that weren’t there.”`
Winner: Shorthanded UCLA destroys Oregon State
Without the services of star Johnny Juzang, No. 12 UCLA destroyed Pac-12 foe Oregon State 94-55 in its largest win of the season. The Bruins – which lost earlier in the week to Oregon – were favored by only 12.5 points, but went 13 of 20 from 3-point range and 34 of 58 from the field to rebound emphatically in the win column.
Loser: Miami implodes vs. Virginia Tech
Miami entered Saturday as a projected No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament, per Palm’s Bracketology and looked to be on its way to a nice win over Virginia Tech when disaster struck. The Hurricanes average fewer turnovers than anyone in the ACC but committed a catastrophic turnover while leading 70-68 with 16 seconds left. The miscue led to a 3-pointer from Virginia Tech’s Darius Maddox that lifted the Hokies to a 71-70 victory. It marks the first Quad 1 win of the season for the Hokies, which have won eight of their last nine to keep their at-large hopes from fading entirely.
Winner: Murray State rallies, goes 18-0 in OVC play
No. 19 Murray State needed just one more win to complete an 18-0 run through the Ohio Valley Conference. But the Racers trailed Southeast Missouri State by 12 with six minutes to go and were in danger of adding an ugly Quad 4 loss to an otherwise great resume. But that’s when they showed their championship mettle. Murray State closed on a 20-6 run to complete its regular season 28-2. The Racers’ resume is strong enough that they should make the Big Dance even if they don’t win the OVC Tournament.
Loser: Virginia‘s NCAA hopes vanish after FSU buzzer-beater
Florida State guard Matthew Cleveland buried a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Seminoles to a 64-63 win over Virginia. The outcome should end any lingering hope of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid for the Cavaliers, which are now 17-12 (11-8 ACC). It’s been a rough year for FSU, which had lost eight of its last nine entering the game and been slammed by injuries.
Winner: Tennessee adds another big win
No. 17 Tennessee has now defeated three teams in the top six of the AP Top 25 rankings after rallying from an 11-point deficit to beat No. 3 Auburn 67-62. With victories over Arizona and Kentucky as well, the Volunteers have a clean resume featuring no losses outside Quad 1. With the win, the Vols also stayed in the mix for a share of the SEC title. If Arkansas can keep winning, it wouldn’t a shock to see each of the SEC’s top four teams earn No. 4 seeds or better in the NCAA Tournament.
Loser: Xavier fading at wrong time
Xavier dropped its fourth straight game, falling 82-66 at home against Seton Hall. The Musketeers (17-11, 7-10 Big East) entered as a projected No. 9 seed in Palm’s Bracketology but might want to stop sliding soon. Jared Rhoden sored a career-high 30 for the Pirates (18-9, 9-8).
Winner: Coach K gets honored
Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell tour got real on Saturday as he led the Blue Devils against Syracuse and close friend Jim Boeheim inside the Carrier Dome for the final time. The commemorative photo and new award in Krzyzewski’s honor that the program announced in a pregame ceremony amounted to the most grand gesture made yet by an opponent in Krzyzewski’s 42nd and final season. The Orange were also kind enough to let the no. 7 Blue Devils win 97-72. Read more on the Syracuse tribute and Coach K’s farewell tour at this link.