A major story line 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 story line 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 forecasted to be as a preseason top-10team in its 70-55 victory over No. 20 Tennessee.
Michigan State is a long-shot 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 Jayhawks forward David McCormack (33) reacts after scoring against Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Mac McClung (0) and guard Kevin McCullar (right) during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. (Photo: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports)
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.
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 UConn. 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 last several 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 team 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.
Missouri Tigers guard Xavier Pinson (1) drives to the basket against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena. (Photo: Jeff Blake, USA TODAY Sports)
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 bracket p
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.
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