March Madness officially begins about three weeks from now but there has been plenty of madness throughout college basketball’s regular season and the past two days were no exception. We bid farewell to one of the great conference rivalries in all of sports along with more than 35,000 live spectators as Georgetown and Syracuse duked it out for the last time as Big East members. The Southeastern Conference, considered to be going through a “down year,” provided fans with two overtime games, one triple overtime game, and one quadruple overtime game. We also said goodbye to ESPN’s Bracketbusters event, the annual series of matchups of various mid-major teams vying for relevancy in the at-large discussion. Everyone, myself included, is anticipating the excitement and fanfare of the tournament beginning on March 19, but we still have plenty of great basketball games and interesting stories to come in the next three weeks. With that, let’s take a look back on the past weekend of college basketball.
BY THE NUMBERS:
15: total number of overtime periods played on Saturday
14: how many players scored 30+ points on Saturday. Also, the number of players who saw minutes in Marist’s blowout of VMI
13: assists dished out by 5’8″ Marist guard Isaiah Morton
112: points put up by Marist against VMI. The Red Foxes outscored the Keydets 56-37 in both halves
11: number of conference wins Towson, tied for 2nd in the CAA, now has. The Tigers finished last season 1-31 and are not eligible for post season play this year because of academic disqualifications.
10: numbers of games that went into overtime this weekend
19: rebounds pulled down by 6’5″ Stony Brook forward Tommy Brenton
8: number of Big East teams within 4 games of first place
7: blocks by Willie Cauley-Stein against Missouri, besting his career high by three
.672: Victor Oladipo’s shooting percentage from inside the arc. He is 117 for 174 for 2. Ridiculous.
5: steals and three-pointers made recorded by Otto Potter in his stunning display against Syracuse
4: number of SEC games that went to OT on Saturday
3: number of weeks until Selection Sunday
2002: the year it was the last time there was an OT, 2OT, 3OT, and 4OT game in a single day
1: the number of teams with a clear cut lock on a #1 seed at this point in time (Indiana)
0: Grambling State’s number of wins this season. The Tigers’ average scoring margin is -28.2.
ELEVEN LEADING PERFORMERS
1. Kendall Williams led New Mexico to a 91-82 road win over Colorado State and solidified their position atop the Mountain West Conference. The Junior guard put up 46 points with a shooting percentage of .750, knocking down 10 three-pointers, and making 12 of 17 free throws.
2. Christian Williams came out of nowhere and exploded for 44 points in Jackson State’s 90-71 victory at Mississippi Valley State. Williams was 13-16 (.813) overall, 7-6 (.875) from deep, and made all 11 of his shots from the stripe. The 6’1″ guard is averaging a FG% of .367 and a 3P% of .364 in his Senior season.
3. Elston Turner put up 33 of the Aggie’s 78 field goal attempts (42.3%) in Texas A&M’s 93-85 4OT loss to Tennessee. Turner, no stranger to taking shots, finished the night 16 of 33, going 1 for 5 from deep and made 5 of 5 free throws for a total of 38 points.
4. Trevor Releford carried the entire Alabama team on his back for 55 minutes but ultimately fell to LSU 97-94 in the third overtime period. The Junior had a team-high 3 assists and shot 77.8% while the rest of his team combined shot 36.2%. Releford put up 36 points going 14 for 18 from the field.
5. Tyler Brown hit 7 threes on his way to a 35 point, 10 rebound effort in Illinois State’s loss to Evansville on the road.
6. Corey Hawkins assisted the game-winning jumper in the UC Davis Aggie’s 79-78 Bracketbuster win over Northern Colorado and finished the night with 34 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. The Sophomore transfer from Arizona State has been on fire of late, hitting 16 of 27 (.593) three-pointers over the past four games.
7. Otto Porter Jr. had what was arguably the most impressive performance of the weekend. The Hoya’s star forward scored 57.8% of Georgetown’s points in their resounding 57-46 victory over Syracuse. Porter put up 33 points on 12-19 shooting, hitting 5 threes, pulled down 8 boards, and nabbed 5 steals. All of the Hoyas not named Porter went 7 of 35 (.200) from the field, but Otto’s sharp shooting brought the team average up to 35.2%.
8. Malik Story recorded his third 30+ point game of the season, hitting 7 treys and going for 33 points in Nevada’s 88-75 loss at San Diego State.
9. Trae Golden played 56 of 60 minutes in Tennessee’s quadruple overtime win and finished with 32 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
10. Jeff Early shot 64.7% and recorded 31 points and 12 rebounds in the Southern Illinois Salukis’ overtime victory over the Miami (OH) Redhawks. What’s even more impressive about his 12 rebounds is that he is only 6’1″ and is averaging 7.4 boards a game. Southern Illinois is a team I’m going to have to watch as soon as I have the opportunity to because of some perplexing and intriguing stats I noticed. The Salukis have an effective height of -6″ (347th, or, shortest in Division I) and an average height of 74.4 inches (346th) yet somehow have one of the highest 2-point component percentages (what percentage of points are made by 2’s) in the nation (59.2%) and allow opposing defenses to block a shot only 7.0% of the time which is the 15th lowest. Fun stuff.
11. Chavaughn Lewis stuffed the stat sheet in Marist’s pounding of VMI. Lewis recorded 30 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, and 1 block.
TEN TEAMS THAT NEEDED A WIN AND GOT ONE
1. Kentucky (19-8, 10-4 SEC) RPI: 46
Kentucky beat Missouri in OT at Rupp Arena for their first top-50 RPI win and to keep their at-large hopes alive and well. Willie Cauley-Stein stepped up defensively in the absence of Nerlens Noel and the other starting four all scored in double figures.
How the rest of the season pans out (KenPom.com win probability in parentheses)…
Mississippi State (98%)
2. Villanova (18-10, 9-6 Big East) RPI: 54
Villanova beat a ranked team at home for the third time this season (Louisville, Syracuse) by besting Marquette 60-56. Four Wildcats scored in double figures and ‘Nova finished with a turnover margin of +9. This win was especially important for Jay Wright’s at-large hopes considering the tough stretch of games the Cats have to close out the season.
@Seton Hall (59%)
3. St. Mary’s (24-5, 12-2 WCC) RPI: 43
The Gaels’ worthiness of an at-large big has been in question because of their weak non-conference schedule so their 74-66 win over Creighton was necessary to implant themselves more firmly into the discussion. The Gaels had 4 players score in double figures and out-rebounded the Bluejays 36-23. This was St. Mary’s first win over a top-50 RPI team.
Santa Clara (85%)
4. Indiana State (17-11, 9-7 MVC) RPI: 59
In the midst of a 3-game losing streak, the Sycamores need this win over Iona (65-64) to have any hopes at all of remaining on the bubble. Indiana State has one of the more perplexing tournament resumes with 3 wins over top-50 teams, 5 losses to sub-100 teams, and 1 loss to a sub-200 team. Dawson Cummings won the game with a layup in the final seconds and was one of four players to score in double figures. Yes, the 4 players in double figures pattern is intentional. Perhaps teams work better together when there is more at stake? I don’t know for sure, but I would say yes.
5. California (18-9, 10-5 PAC12) RPI: 45
The Golden Bears started the game with two free free throws (freer throws?) because an Oregon State player was called for a technical for dunking during warm-ups. It ended up making the difference in Cal’s 60-59 victory and put Mike Montgomery’s team at 5 good wins in a row. Only two players scored in double figures but it was certainly a team effort to get the win considering star guard-forward Allen Crabbe was held to only 6 points. Cal is now solidly in contention for an at-large bid because of their winning ways this month.
6. Oklahoma (18-8, 9-5 Big 12) RPI: 19
Lon Kruger has quietly put together a tournament resume very-much worthy of an at-large bid with no sub-100 losses, 8 top-100 wins, and 2 top-50 wins. Oklahoma most likely would have made the tournament even if they had lost to Baylor, but at this point in the season no one can afford to lose anything. The Sooners beat Baylor 90-76 with 4 players scoring in double figures and are now tied with Iowa State for 4th in a tight but top-heavy Big 12 race.
Iowa State (61%)
West Virginia (85%)
@Texas Christian (92%)
7. Temple (19-8, 8-5 A10) RPI: 41
The Owls traveled to Charlotte and pounded the 49ers 71-51, holding the home team to only 4 assists and 27.4% from the field. Temple has been squarely in the middle of the bubble for some time and can not afford more than one loss in the remainder of the season if they need an at-large bid to get into the tournament. This win also keeps them within reach of a top-4 finish in the A10 which would give the team a coveted first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Rhode Island (86%)
Virginia Commonwealth (42%)
8. La Salle (19-7, 9-4 A10) RPI: 37
La Salle took down Rhode Island on the road 72-65 to remain at 4th place in the Atlantic 10 standings. If La Salle finishes the regular season in the top 4 and doesn’t perform poorly in the conference tournament then they should have a pretty good chance of being selected as an at-large team. La Salle had 4 players in double figures.
George Washington (82%)
Saint Louis (27%)
9. Virginia Commonwealth (22-6, 10-3 A10) RPI: 36
The Rams, coming off a beat down at Saint Louis, beat Xavier at the Cintas Center 75-71 after overcoming a 17-point deficit in the second half. This was also only the second time that Xavier has lost at the Cintas Center in conference play, so this win was both important and impressive. This win solidified VCU’s at-large profile and leaves them at 2nd place in the A10. The Rams had 4 players in double figures and won even with a field goal percentage margin of -13.3.
10. Ohio State (20-7, 10-5 Big 10) RPI: 19
Thad Matta wasn’t in any danger of missing the tournament field this season, but picking up another quality win by besting Michigan State 68-60 could certainly help them in their seeding position. This win was also necessary to stay within reach of a top-4 finish in the Big 10 which is hugely beneficial by giving teams a bye in the first round of the conference tournament. Aaron Craft, not know for his offensive prowess, led the Buckeyes with a season-high and career-high 21 points.