By Andrew Kahn
Saturday’s slate was incredible, and some of the biggest and best games are recapped below. In many conferences, regular season concluded this past weekend, meaning the league tournaments are set to begin (some as early as tomorrow). March is here!
Wichita avenged its only Missouri Valley Conference loss of the season on Saturday, beating Northern Iowa 74-60 to win its second straight league title. Gregg Marshall said it was the biggest home game his team has ever played: UNI was ranked 10th, Wichita 11th, and ESPN’s College GameDay was in town. When the Shockers lost to the Panthers on Jan. 31, Seth Tuttle was unstoppable (29 points) and Ron Baker struggled. Baker scored from all over this time, leading five Shockers in double-figures with 17. Wichita shot 49 percent as a team. Tuttle, UNI’s 6’8” star, was 6 of 8 from the field and dished out six assists, but his touches were limited. “We tried to throw a lot of guys at him and get him out of a rhythm,” Marshall said. Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet, perhaps the best backcourt in the country, combined for 14 assists and no turnovers as the Shockers posted the most efficient offensive performance of the season against UNI.
Later that night, in another raucous environment between highly-ranked teams, the home team held Arizona to 17 of 51 shooting (33 percent) and 2 of 12 from deep, yet lost the game 63-57. Just like in the first match-up, the Wildcats dominated the boards and had an advantage at the free throw line. Arizona attempted 37 free throws; Utah’s Jakob Poeltl fouled out in only 12 minutes of game time and reserve forward Brekkott Chapman also fouled out. This game was close throughout, and Utah led 57-55 with just under two minutes remaining. That’s when Arizona’s Gabe York rebounded his own free throw miss—a cardinal sin for an opposing team—and laid it in to give the lead. Utah never scored again, missing an open lay-up that would have kept them alive. It was Utah’s first home loss of the season.
Upset in WCC
Another long home winning streak—the longest in the nation, in fact—came to an end even later on Saturday night, as BYU upset No. 3 Gonzaga 73-70. The Zags had won 41 straight at home. Tied at half, BYU led by eight before Gary Bell Jr.’s three with 1:57 left started a mini-run that got Gonzaga within one. Kyle Wiltjer’s half-court shot hit the rim as time expired. Tyler Haws, the fourth-leading scorer in the country, had just 10 points on 3 of 11 shooting, but the Cougars never panicked. Gonzaga had long ago clinched the West Coast Conference regular season title, but the loss may cost it a No. 1 seed, while the “bubbly” BYU notched a huge victory.
Thirteen conferences have wrapped up regular season play and are ready to begin tournaments that determine automatic bids to the Big Dance. Bubble teams should keep an eye on the aforementioned Missouri Valley and WCC, where bid stealers lurk. Fans looking for an edge in bracket challenges should watch the Horizon, where Valparaiso heads a handful of potentially dangerous teams, MAAC (Iona), Southern (Wofford), and Ohio Valley (Murray) tournaments.
Top freshman sits
Kansas freshman Cliff Alexander, the No. 4 overall recruit in the country, sat out Saturday’s win against Texas as the school looks into an eligibility concern raised by the NCAA. Alexander has not had the impact of other top-ranked freshman, averaging 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Jayhawks. He is a starter, but his minutes had shrunk the previous three games.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.