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Illinois and Syracuse regain form, Louisiana Tech and Baylor punch tickets to NIT
Caution employers: Work productivity may be down Thursday and Friday this week and next.
The wild ride continues as college basketball conference tournaments enter their most dramatic phase. Four games in one day in major conferences, championships in the one-bid leagues.
Athlon Sports will keep you up to date on the major news for the NCAA Tournament from the day’s games and what to watch in the day ahead.
MARCH 15 DAILY MARCH MADNESS TRACKER
And, this is why we liked Illinois in tournament play.
Against Minnesota, Brandon Paul had his highest-scoring game (25 points) and most field goals (10) since Dec. 8. That date is not insignificant. Paul had 35 points in the win that day over Gonzaga, now the No. 1 team in the country. True, Illinois needed Paul’s buzzer-beater to defeat Minnesota, but if the Illini can get D.J. Richardson going (2 of 12 against the Gophers), no one will want to face Illinois in the Tourney.
Should Cal be nervous?
Cal has looked like an NCAA Tournament lock for a few weeks, but the Bears now have reason to be nervous. Cal lost 79-69 in overtime to Utah, the 10th seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Why was Cal a lock in the first place? Defeating Arizona on the road, beating UCLA and Colorado at home, and sweeping Oregon plus no bad losses assembled a strong case. The wins over the Ducks aren’t as impressive, and now Cal has its worst loss of the season on the heels of losing to Stanford in the regular-season finale. Cal may still be in the field, but its seeding has taken a hit.
After shaking off a tough first half against Seton Hall, Syracuse pulled off its most impressive win since Feb. 4 over Notre Dame, if not since Jan. 19 at Louisville, by defeating Pittsburgh 62-59. James Southerland has been on fire for the Orange, scoring 20 in both Big East Tournament games. Should we buy into Syracuse again? Let’s wait to see if the ‘Cuse can crack 50 against Georgetown today.
Iowa State climbing, Oklahoma slipping
The Cyclones entered the Big 12 on the right side of the bubble, but they can probably rest easy after defeating Oklahoma 73-66 in the first round of the conference tournament. Iowa State picked up its second top-100 win away from Ames and its first over a prospective tournament team. Against upcoming opponent Kansas, Iowa State has been a matchup problem against the Jayhawks with its ability to shoot threes. Iowa State made 17 and 14 threes in the two losses to the Jayhawks. As for Oklahoma, the Sooners have damaged their seeding in recent weeks with losses to Texas, TCU and now in the first game in the Big 12 Tournament.
Baylor, see you in the NIT.
Baylor entered the Big 12 Tournament fighting for its postseason life. No one told Baylor. Despite a late surge, the Bears fell behind big early on the way to a 74-72 loss to Oklahoma State. Baylor fans may want to gripe about a disputable foul call that sent Phil Forte, a 91-percent free throw shooter, to the line for the game-winning shots, but the Bears' 18-point halftime deficit didn't help, either. The Bears’ slim NCAA Tournament hopes are gone. A popular preseason pick to win the Big 12, Baylor wraps up one of the most disappointing seasons in the country.
Louisiana Tech’s fade
At one point this season, the Bulldogs won 18 games in a row, including a 16-0 start in the WAC as of March 2. Louisiana Tech’s at-large credentials at the time were debatable -- a top-50 RPI, one top-50 win (Southern Miss), one sub-200 loss (McNeese State). That’s gone after a three-game losing streak to end the season. Tech lost on the road to New Mexico State and Denver to end the regular season and then to No. 9 seed UTSA in the WAC quarterfinals. Louisiana Tech is heading to the NIT.
Charlotte’s 68-63 win over Richmond in the Atlantic 10 first round may be more notable for officiating miscues than its impact on the bracket. Charlotte hit eight straight free throws to turn a three-point deficit into a five-point win in the final five seconds. First, Richmond fouled a Charlotte shooter before a shot. Charlotte made the front end of the one-and-one but as the ball went through the hoop, Richmond’s Derrick Williams became entangled with a Charlotte player and was called for a deadball technical foul, resulting in three more free throws (two for the technical, one for the second half of the one-and-one). Charlotte made all three to take the lead, and took a commanding lead when making four of seven (three attempts on a shot from halfcourt and four more on two technicals on Mooney).
KEY FRIDAY GAMES
All times Eastern
Virginia vs. NC State (2 p.m., ESPN2)
Atlantic 10 quarterfinals
Butler vs. La Salle (6:30 p.m.)
UMass vs. Temple (9 p.m.)
Big 12 semifinals
Iowa State vs. Kansas (6:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State (8:30, ESPNU)
Big East semifinals
Georgetown vs. Syracuse (7 p.m., ESPN)
Louisville vs. Notre Dame (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big Ten semifinals
Indiana vs. Illinois (noon, ESPN)
Wisconsin vs. Michigan (2:30 p.m., ESPN)
Mountain West semifinals
New Mexico vs. San Diego State (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
UNLV vs. Colorado State (11:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network)
UCLA vs. Arizona (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)
Tennessee vs. Alabama (3:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky (7:30 p.m. ESPNU)
Missouri vs. Ole Miss (10 p.m., ESPNU)
BY THE NUMBERS
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTED LOCKS (50)
ACC (4): Duke, Miami, NC State, North Carolina
Atlantic 10 (4): Butler, Saint Louis, Temple, VCU
Atlantic Sun (1): Florida Gulf Coast*
Big 12 (4): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Big East (8): Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova
Big South (1): Liberty*
Big Ten (6): Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Colonial (1): James Madison*
Horizon (1): Valparaiso*
Ivy (1): Harvard*
Missouri Valley (1): Creighton*
Mountain West (4): Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV
Northeast (1): LIU Brooklyn*
Ohio Valley (1): Belmont*
Patriot (1): Bucknell*
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA
SEC (2): Florida, Missouri
Southern (1): Davidson*
Summit (1): South Dakota State*
Sun Belt (1): Western Kentucky*
West Coast (1): Gonzaga
*clinched NCAA Tournament bid
ONE-BID LEAGUES (9)
America East, Big Sky, Big West, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Southland, SWAC, WAC
Note: Conference USA likely will be a one-bid league if Memphis wins its conference tournament.
THE BUBBLE: 15 teams for nine spots