Here’s the message from the past weekend, as the regular season concluded and the conference tournaments began:
Good luck, all you poor souls on the NCAA Tournament selection committee. You’re going to need it, sorting out and seeding all... this.
The past few days underlined just how hard it has been to come to a conclusion about anything this season, since what happened yesterday will change today, and then again tomorrow. How expectations didn’t matter much. And how the margin is so narrow between good news and bad.
In the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, the top three seeds went 0-3. That included Northern Iowa, who stormed into the event as the favorite, having finished a glowing 25-5 regular-season record with a 27-point thrashing of Drake. The Panthers promptly lost their first tournament game by 21 points — to Drake. That was a 48-point swing in seven days. Bradley beat Valparaiso in the championship game, the No. 4 seed over No. 7. How 2020ish was that?
In the Mountain West, Utah State went nearly 13 minutes without a field goal in the first half to fall behind San Diego State by 16 points — but won the tournament and NCAA bid on a Sam Merrill 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left. The final score was 59-56. In two season victories over Utah State, San Diego State had scored 80 and 77. And now the Aztecs, once 26-0, have lost two recent games, leading some to question if their No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament might be wobbly. But, gee, they’re only a pair of three-point losses from being perfect, so what to think?
In the Ohio Valley Conference, Belmont and Murray State shared the season title and then faced one another for the tournament title. It came down to a Belmont backdoor layup with four seconds left.
Liberty won the Atlantic Sun tournament, and did anyone notice the Flames are 30-4 and the second team — with San Diego State — to hit 30 victories? Bracket-buster alert.
Winthrop won the Big South tournament; the same team that started the season 4-7.
The Big Ten ended up with three co-champions, including Wisconsin — who in early February was 13-10 and 6-6 in the league and had just been rocked by the sudden decision to transfer of its second leading scorer. Then the Badgers won their last eight games.
The Big East had three co-champions, too. That included Creighton, who had been picked to finish seventh.
So did the American. One of the three was Tulsa, who came in 10th in the preseason poll.
The ACC had a three-way tie for second, all behind the Florida State Seminoles, who had never before won a regular-season championship, in nearly three decades in the league. Meanwhile, North Carolina — who has won 32 of them — finished in a three-way tie for last.
The Big 12 had a four-way tie for third. That included West Virginia, who not long ago had lost six of seven, but on Saturday whipped Baylor by 12 points. The Bears’ other three defeats this season came by a combined nine points.
Kentucky’s surge had been led by a three-guard attack, but on Saturday, the Wildcats got only 21 total minutes from two of them — between Immanuel Quickley’s foul problems and Ashton Hagans being away for a personal issue. The Wildcats still came from 18 behind in the second half to win 71-70 at Florida.
Duke swept North Carolina with considerable help from Justin Robinson, a walk-on graduate student who — until this month — had scored 63 points in four years as a Blue Devil, and played only 63 minutes all season. But in the 11th hour of his career, he has suddenly found his way into Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation and scored 10 and 13 points against North Carolina State and North Carolina. “It’s better than Rudy,” Krzyzewski said. P.S. That’s David Robinson’s son.
Life on the NCAA Tournament bubble was particularly chaotic over the weekend.
Cincinnati beat Temple 64-63 on a Trevon Scott tip-in with 2.8 seconds left. That means in the Bearcats’ final 10 American conference season games, they played four in overtime, and four more were decided by one, two or three points.
A five-game winning streak had surging Texas thinking about an NCAA bid. The Longhorns were rolling. Then they lost by 22 points at home to Oklahoma State.
UCLA was one second from an eighth consecutive victory, clinching at least a share of the Pac-12 season title, and adding to its argument for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. And then USC’s Jonah Mathews buried a 3-pointer. The winning Trojans were nothing if not consistent with their shooting — 41 percent from the field, 41 percent in 3-pointers, 41 percent from the free-throw line. Oregon ended up the outright Pac-12 champion, having won four league games in overtime.
Xavier lost 72-71 to Butler on a Kamar Baldwin 3-pointer in the final two seconds, the 18th lead change of the game. Now the Musketeers will have to woo the committee in the Big East tournament.
Oklahoma came from 19 points behind in the second half to win at TCU on an Austin Reaves jumper at 0.5 seconds — the last of his 41 points.
As a Big Ten member, Rutgers had been 0-4 at Purdue, losing by an average of 23 points. The Scarlet Knights were also 1-8 on the road this season. Wasn’t Mackey Arena the last place they wanted to be on this crucial weekend? Nope. They went overtime to beat the Boilermakers for their first 20-win regular season in 37 years, and might have secured their first NCAA tournament bid since 1991.
Meanwhile, that left Purdue 16-15 and tied for 10th place in the Big Ten. An easy cross-off for the committee, correct? But then there was the 29-point shellacking of Virginia... the fact Michigan State and Wisconsin were part of the Big Ten title trio and the Boilermakers crunched them by 29 and 19... the sweep of Iowa and Indiana.
See the problem? Would you want to be in the committee room this week, with millions looking over your shoulder, and a mess of a season to figure out?