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College basketball chaos: Wednesday night was a study in moving parts

The continuing chaos of the 2016 college basketball season emerged in a number of striking ways on a wild Wednesday night which felt a little bit like March.

Fact No. 1: Penn State has now beaten both Indiana and Iowa at home this month.

Fact No. 2: Penn State has work to do to merely get into the… no, not the NCAA tournament, but the NIT.

Fact No. 3: La Salle is 2-11 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Explorers’ two wins have come against two of the top teams in the conference: Dayton and Saint Bonaventure. The Bonnies were a victim of the Explorers on Wednesday night in Philadelphia. As you can see, Penn State and La Salle are very similar to each other. They can struggle and yet take down formidable teams in their conferences, much as Oklahoma State has done to Kansas each of the last two seasons, and as Kansas State has done to Oklahoma each of the last two years.

That was just the beginning of Wednesday’s proceedings.

Iowa’s loss at Penn State and St. Bonaventure’s loss to La Salle occurred at or before the 7 p.m. Eastern time game window. The 9 Eastern window had not yet begun. In keeping with the disordered and cluttered condition of college basketball this season, opinions which might have been reasonable to articulate at the end of the 7 p.m. (or earlier) games didn’t hold as much weight once the 9 o’clock games had run their course.

Let’s show you exactly why that’s the case.

After Iowa lost to Penn State, the thought emerged that the Hawkeyes could lose a No. 1 seed:

Notice the use of the word “could.” That’s exactly right and entirely appropriate. It’s very possible this result will push Iowa off the 1 line on Selection Sunday.

However, for some, “could” becomes “did.”

“No. 1 seeds simply don’t lose at Penn State,” the thought process goes.

Historically, that thought might not be all that inaccurate. However… history doesn’t apply to this season, when a lot of things which never or rarely happened before are… well… they’re happening now.

You see, after Iowa lost in a 6:30 Eastern game, Oklahoma and North Carolina lost in the 9 Eastern window. Iowa could very well miss out on a No. 1 seed, but the Hawkeyes are competing with other teams, and those teams are losing as well. The top line isn’t nearly as powerful as it normally is; using previous years as precedent is not all that advisable.

Let’s put it this way in the race for No. 1 seeds: Making a statement about one team should be done in accordance with what other teams are doing. If the other seven teams competing for a place on one of the top two lines are rising, Iowa’s struggles would be more relevant to the seeding scramble. With OU and UNC losing on Wednesday, the Hawkeyes haven’t lost their chance for a top seed; they merely lost some ground, nothing more.

This last principle — evaluate teams in light of what others are doing — naturally applies to the bubble picture as well as the seeding question.

After Saint Bonaventure suffered that devastating loss to La Salle in the 7 Eastern window, LSU and Florida State both lost at home in the 9 Eastern window. LSU fell to Alabama, also a bubble team and an increasingly legitimate candidate for inclusion in the field of 68. Florida State suffered a particularly bad giveaway loss, falling to lowly Georgia Tech.

It remains true that Saint Bonaventure significantly hurt its profile. That is irrefutable and beyond dispute. What’s less clear is how badly the Bonnies’ CHANCES were hurt. With LSU and especially Florida State faltering, the Bonnies’ odds of getting in — which have to be assessed relative to what other teams achieve — didn’t necessarily fall off a cliff.

This is the study of moving parts, the annual dynamic in which resumes don’t merely shift in isolation, but in relationships with other resumes.

Welcome to late February. You know we’ll have some more involved conversations of this nature — many more — over the next three and a half weeks.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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