Yeah, college basketball is ready for March. Such was the message from Saturday’s thrill ride with its sharp turns and breathtaking drops.
Did you hear the one about the team that made 11 of 15 3-pointers and 31 of 36 free throws and led by 11 points with 55 seconds left . . . and lost? Happened to Michigan State at Iowa.
Did you hear the one about the former No. 1 playing in its own arena, where the crowd roar Saturday was measured at 123.2 decibels which is just under the noise level of a military jet taking off from an aircraft carrier, and where the home team had a 46-30 edge in rebounding and shot 21 more free throws . . . but still was flattened the second half? Happened to No. 5 Purdue against No. 17 Indiana.
Did you hear the one about the team that was 15-0 at home and 25 points up on its poor guests who limped into town with an 8-20 record . . . and lost? Biggest comeback in the history of the ACC. Happened to No. 13 Miami against Florida State.
Did you hear the one about the team that was 0-29 as an unranked visitor to its game site Saturday . . . but made it 1-29 on a 60-footer at the buzzer? Happened to Arizona State at No. 7 Arizona.
"HE GOT IT!!!". @dezcambridgejr sure did.@CBSSports #ForksUP /// #O2V pic.twitter.com/VMnU75tAch— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) February 25, 2023
Did you hear the one about the sleeping giant that had been swept three games in an early season tournament, started 4-8 in its conference . . . but just knocked off its second ranked opponent in five days? Happened to Villanova over No. 19 Creighton.
Did you hear the one about the formerly downtrodden program that defeated one of its nemesis in overtime for its 17th win of the season? Happened to San Jose State against Boise State, and the reason that needs mentioning is if the Spartans can get one more victory, they’ll have the most for the program in 42 years.
On and on it went Saturday, with a day that had college basketball constantly shaking its head in wonder.
Could Michigan State really let go of an 11-point lead in the final minute at Iowa? Sure, when the Hawkeyes hit five 3-pointers in the final 39 seconds of regulation to force overtime and then finish off shell-shocked Michigan State 112-106.
“Bleep-poor coaching,” Tom Izzo called it. Also, there were the two missed free throws, two offensive rebounds given up and one turnover in that final minute. Also, there was not fouling Iowa in the last seconds with a three-point lead, thereby allowing Payton Sandfort to tie the game from the arc. By then the Spartans should have been pretty sure that any 3-pointer out of the hands of someone in a Hawkeye uniform was probably going in.
Whatever it was, Iowa became only the fourth team ever to win a game after trailing by 11 or more points in the final minute. This is the same team, by the way, that came from 21 points behind earlier in the season to beat Indiana.
Question left over: How quickly Michigan State can forget this nightmare as it fights for position in March? There is no time to mourn. “I’ve been here long enough, I’ve had a lot of disappointments, I’ve had a lot of exciting times,” Izzo said. “Today will go down as one of the worst because I thought it was right in our hands.”
Could Purdue really go from being the top-ranked team in the nation to getting swept by its most ardent rival for the first time in 10 years, which would also mean four losses in six games? Sure, when Indiana freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino shreds the Boilermaker defense for 35 points, which was 12 more than Purdue’s three starting guards combined.
“It’s not something we want to have on our resume,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of the sweep. “But we do.”
The Boilermakers had lost only two of their past 36 games in Mackey Arena, by a total of six points. But this day, Indiana led by 13, won 79-71 and put 45 points on the Purdue defense in the second half. And the Hoosiers made all that trouble with only 10 points all night from All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis and none the first 28 minutes. Amazing. Almost as amazing as the fact these two old powers were meeting in Mackey both as ranked teams for the first time in 29 years.
Zach Edey rang up 26 points and 16 rebounds but he’s not getting a lot of help from the outside these days. In the four recent losses, Purdue shot under 24 percent from 3-point land. Question left over: Have the Boilermakers' rather slight freshman guards grown a little weary from the Big Ten meat grinder, and has the clanging of all those misses covered up the noise of the No. 1 seed possibly slipping away?
Painter wants to avoid panic. “I believe in their ability to shoot the basketball. We’ve just got to be better. I didn’t have anybody on our basketball team trying to miss,” he said. “What are you going to do, give a speech about it? You’ve got to stay process-based and you’ve got to keep working and you’ve got to keep putting in the time and our guys do that. I’m supportive of them and I stand behind them and I think we’re going to be better because of it.
“It’s the only way to do it . . instead of yelling and screaming and going crazy because guys are doing what you asked them and they’re playing hard, they just missed open shots. That’s not going to get you anywhere.”
MORE UPSETS: See every top-25 upset from Saturday
Could Arizona really be beaten by a Hail Mary at home? Sure, when Arizona State blows past the Wildcats with a 21-10 surge in the final 6:30, the crescendo a Desmond Cambridge Jr. bomb from beyond the halfcourt line at the buzzer. “If I’m being completely honest, I make those all the time,” Cambridge said. “But that shot, I did not think it was going in. I just wanted it to be a nice miss and have everyone go ‘ooooo.’ When it went in, I could literally only scream.”
Question left over: Did the 20-9 Sun Devils just get their hands on an NCAA tournament invitation 60 feet from the basket?
Could Villanova, who last month lost to 10th place DePaul and ninth place Butler in four days, really win at Xavier and then come home to whip Creighton by 12 points in the same week? Sure, with star Justin Moore finally back in the lineup after a long Achilles tendon injury layoff, and Eric Dixon going for a career 31 points.
Fair warning to the rest of the Big East and maybe beyond: Here comes Villanova. “A buzz saw,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott called the Wildcats. “You can see growth every game. Frankly, I was afraid of this.”
Question left over: Now that Villanova is above .500 for the first time since early January at 15-14, could the Wildcats truly make a bubble run at the end? Villanova came into Saturday 1-9 in quad 1 games and way down at No, 83 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, just above Santa Clara. So the Wildcats have miles to go after the rocky start for coach Kyle Neptune in the post-Jay Wright era.
But Villanova is healthy now -- at least one of its top six scorers was missing the first 24 games and two were out for 12 of them – and the Wildcats still have chances against Seton Hall and Connecticut to shine up the resume. Then maybe a long run in the Big East tournament. That suddenly seems doable. A week ago, it didn’t. “We just had to grow as a team,” Neptune said. “Thank God our guys have continued to get better and better. Our goal is always to be the best team we can be by the end. Hopefully we can reach that goal.”
Could Florida State, loser of seven of its last eight games (including by 23 points at home to Miami), really come from 25 points behind in the last 19 ½ minutes to stun the Hurricanes on their own floor? Sure, when the Seminoles follow 37.5-percent shooting in the first half with 67.7 percent shooting in the second, and finish the job on Matthew Cleveland’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. Cleveland had two points at halftime, 18 after that.
“We showed a little bit about who we are,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. As a reward, the Seminoles put off a school record-tying 21st loss for at least a few more days.
Question left over: Could Florida State, with a historic rally as second wind, become a real pain in the bubble for ACC teams badly in need of closing wins to woo the selection committee? We’ll find out starting Monday when they host North Carolina.
Speak of the devil – or actually the Tar Heels -- Saturday was also the day a desperate North Carolina team upset No. 6 Virginia 71-63, freeing the Tar Heels from further questions about their 0-9 record against quad 1 teams.
And Clemson, a team that a week ago lost to 3-23 Louisville for its fourth loss in five games, showed up at hot North Carolina State and romped 96-71, the Tigers most lopsided win over the Wolfpack since 1940. Clemson also recently rolled over Syracuse 91-73, so in one week the Tigers have gone from allegedly crumbling to scoring 90 points in consecutive ACC games for the first time in 47 years.,
And league leader Kansas was at home but barely held off ninth place West Virginia. While Iowa State, who a month ago was making big noise after beating five ranked opponents, lost at home to last place Oklahoma for its seventh loss in nine games. So it goes nightly in the Big 12.
And finally Detroit Mercy’s Antoine Davis scored 34 points in a loss to Wright State. That leaves him 63 points behind Pete Maravich’s all-time Division I scoring record. Detroit Mercy opens its Horizon League tournament at home Tuesday against Purdue Fort Wayne and almost certainly needs to advance if Davis is to catch Maravich. It’d be quite the way to ring out February.
And then comes March.