Something was in the air last night. More than half of the Top 25 teams on the docket were upset, including two of the top five teams in the rankings. The madness of pivotal college basketball upsets may be starting a month early—maybe.
College basketball fans yearn for these moments, but they generally wait until March. It’s not rare when an underdog with a little or a lot to play for surprises a favorite during the regular season. However, the rankings aren’t usually this shaken in the mere span of hours. The upsets were more embarrassing than damaging for some, but others may have hurt their at-large resumes.
St. John’s isn’t a bad team, but Villanova is a very good team. The Wildcats suffered only their second loss of the season and their first in the BIG EAST. This upset may be more of an anomaly than a sign of concern. Villanova was held to 32.3 percent shooting and the Red Storm forced 17 turnovers. Both stats are well below the Wildcats’ season numbers. The team shoots 45.4 percent from the field and averages just 8.9 turnovers per game. They will be fine, and more than likely in the Final Four.
East Carolina played well at the beginning of the season but has had difficulty in American Athletic Conference matches. This doesn’t mean they weren’t capable of rediscovering that confidence and early-season efficiency. Much like Villanova, this was just a small glitch in Houston’s season. The Cougars had won eight-straight and play stingy enough defense to give Baylor or Gonzaga trouble. Houston leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 56 points per game. They also force almost 15 turnovers a game. The Pirates just played well, something they’re capable of doing. They shot almost 50 percent from the field and were productive on offense. With a 20-to-7 assist-to-turnover ratio, any team has a chance with that type of effectiveness. This also being Houston’s second loss of the season, the Cougars are still set to make a deep tournament run.
This was a game Creighton should have won. Georgetown has been horrid this year, especially in late-game situations. They’ve blown big leads against ranked teams as if it were a concrete character trait—pre-COVID-pause, at least. This may raise a question within the Bluejays’ program, though. Was it the Hoyas finally playing well down the stretch, or was it Creighton self-destructing? This loss was not only crushing but worrisome. Georgetown forced 15 turnovers and was 50 percent from the field, while the Bluejays shot under 50 percent for the fifth time in their last six games. The reason for concern is that the Hoyas don’t force many turnovers (10.1), and they also don’t shoot very well (42.4 percent)—plus, this game was in Omaha. Creighton has some work to do on both ends of the ball if they want to fare well in the tournament.
Virginia Tech has been playing well in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their league record is 7-3, and that includes last night’s upset loss to Pittsburgh. However, Pitt is having a solid season, and the Hokies’ big wins outweigh this loss. Panthers’ junior guard Xavier Johnson scored a career-high 32 points off the bench, and the team shot 50 percent as a whole. The match was pretty even, and Virginia Tech has no reason to be concerned. The Hookies are 4-0 against ranked teams this year, including wins against Villanova and Virginia. Their tournament chances and success still remain strong, and it will take a lot more to burst their bubble—if it even reaches that point.
South Carolina has had a rough season in regard to their standard, and it’s not entirely their fault. They’re one of many teams that have significantly been affected by the pandemic. They went about a month between games over the winter. The talent is there, but this is a game Florida should have won. The Gators’ interior play suffered the most, even though South Carolina’s strength is in the backcourt. The Gamecocks outscored Florida 50-30 in the paint, and the team snatched 13 offensive rebounds. The Gators sit at 6-4 in the Southeastern Conference and 10-5 overall. They should be fine, but with a tough SEC schedule remaining, Florida may fall into the bubble conversation. Five of their final eight games scheduled are against the top half of the SEC.
We should congratulate Alabama, Virginia, and Missouri for surviving such an unnerving evening of Top 25 college basketball. The Tide bounced back from their close loss to Oklahoma and handled LSU for the second time this season; the Cavaliers fended off a tough NC State squad on the road, and Missouri took advantage of a struggling Kentucky team.
No team is safe, however—especially this season. College basketball upsets will occur, but it’s better for the locks to stumble before tournament time. The programs on the bubble may have to transition from being the upsetted to becoming the upsetters.
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