It’s one of the most forgotten nights of the college hoops season, easily the most forgotten Saturday night of the season in the weeks after NFL Divisional Playoff Saturday.
The Saturday night of NBA All-Star Weekend belongs to the league’s slam dunk contest. This is true in any year, but it’s especially the case when the dunk contest delivers, as it did in Toronto.
America runs on dunkin’.
You’re talking about the dunk contest. Your friends are as well. No problem.
Let’s make sure you realize what happened in college basketball while the country was fueled by Aaron Gordon’s incredible acrobatics and creativity.
Four games stood out from the pack when the All-Star festivities had begun to claim the nation’s attention (at least among sports fans who didn’t care to watch a presidential debate).
Starting in chronological order, California defeated Oregon State in a Pac-12 bubble battle in Berkeley. The Pac-12 mantra is, on one hand, simple: Sweep your homestands, split on the road. Oregon State achieved just that in its two-game trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, so you might think the Beavers should be satisfied with their work. On the other hand, given Stanford’s struggles, a win against the Trees and a loss to the Bears might not move the needle as much as the Beavers hope it will.
Oregon State hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1990. The Beavers figure to remain squarely on the bubble for the next month, but one part of “bubble life” which is always tenuous is that other competitors might make upward movements. The margins are small for teams that are especially close to the cut line, so Oregon State will likely need to give the Selection Committee a “value-added” accomplishment if it’s going to put on its Dancing shoes in four weeks. Cal, which is not a lock just yet, certainly took a huge step toward the field of 68 with a home sweep of the Oregon schools.
Next on our tour of games you might have missed while groovin’ and funkin’ with the dunkin’ in Toronto, Connecticut edged Tulsa, 75-73, in Storrs. Tulsa inserted itself into the bubble picture by winning at SMU earlier in the week. The Golden Hurricane could have dramatically improved their position with yet another road win, but a 14-of-25 performance at the foul line sabotaged their efforts.
A Connecticut team which gacked away a road win at Temple earlier in the week was able to bounce back, but the labored quality of this win — it could have been achieved so much more easily — serves as a perfect representation of the AAC season. The league’s best team, SMU, is ineligible for the postseason, so it’s a mad scramble for at-large spots and conference tournament seedings in The American. Tulsa didn’t get the result it wanted in New England, but if Pat Birt (6-of-9 from three-point range, 24 points against UConn) continues to shoot at a high level, the Golden Hurricane should feel optimistic about their prospects in the coming weeks.
Moving along, the third game on our Dunk Contest College Hoops Tour featured a narrow escape by Creighton in Milwaukee against Marquette. The birdie bubble battle between the Bluejays and the Golden Eagles was magnified by each team’s conquest earlier in the week. Creighton strengthened its bubble position with a win over Xavier, while Marquette (much like Tulsa versus SMU) moved from the periphery of the conversation to a much more central position on the bubble. Much as Tulsa needed a win more than UConn did (though not by a large margin), Marquette needed this game more than Creighton. Chances still exist for Wojo’s Wonderboys to make a run at a Dance card, but Marquette can’t let many more of these bubble games slip through its fingers.
Creighton is steadily firming up its position as we speak, but there’s way too much basketball left in the season to make definitive pronouncement about the Jays’ place in the field of 68.
Our final two stops on Saturday night take us to Texas.
First, in Waco, Texas, the homestanding Baylor Bears were ambushed by the white-hot Texas Tech Red Raiders. Tubby Smith’s team shot 58 percent from the field, scoring 51 points in the second half en route to an 84-66 win no one anticipated. Texas Tech manipulated the RPI to perfection this season, and as a result, a Big 12 record that’s close to .500 could get Tubby back to the tournament. The Red Raiders are 5-7 in the Big 12. If they can finish 8-10 and win a first-round game in the Big 12 Tournament, they’ll be right on the cut line at worst when Selection Sunday arrives.
Last but not least in this survey of dunk-night college hoops, SMU reminded us why it (like Louisville) will be a favorite team of Bubble Nation over the next three weeks. The Mustangs won’t occupy a spot in the Big Dance, but they can certainly make life more difficult for other aspiring tournament teams. SMU allowed Tulsa back into the March picture, as mentioned above, but the Ponies repaid bubble teams by pushing Gonzaga away from the at-large pool in a 69-60 decision. Nic Moore’s foul trouble is what hurt SMU more than anything else in the loss to Tulsa. He stayed on the court for more minutes against the Zags, and now the kings of the West Coast Conference have to deliver the goods in Las Vegas (in early March) if they want to return to America’s favorite tournament.
You enjoyed the slam dunk contest, I’m sure. Don’t say you weren’t given a review of the relevant college basketball results you might have missed.