The biggest winner of Wednesday’s college basketball slate was college basketball itself. It was almost exactly a year ago at this time — with the major conference tournaments going through their early-round games — that the sports world came to a halt amid the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a year later, we are finally gearing up to crown some conference champions.
While teams are still immersed in rigorous protocols related to the virus and arenas are far from packed, the sport appears to be in better position now than it has at any point since this fateful week a year ago. To this point in conference tournament week, we’ve avoided the regular wave of cancellations/postponements that plagued the regular season, and no one with legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes has been forced to withdraw from a conference tournament.
In fact, there were some teams that desperately needed wins this week in action on Wednesday, such as Syracuse and Duke, that handled business in second-round ACC Tournament games. The Blue Devils and the Orange are among the top winners from the day’s action as we creep closer to our first real Selection Sunday since 2019.
Winner: Duke stays alive and bolsters its resume
With a resounding 70-56 victory over Louisville, Duke (13-11) notched its second tally in the win column in as many days at the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils still remain on the outside looking in of the NCAA Tournament, but they now eye a big test Thursday against Florida State, which would give them a Quad 1 win and move them closer to securing the league’s automatic berth. Less than a week ago, this Duke team had dropped three straight to close its regular season, but now it appears it is surging at an opportune time and making its bubble case far more interesting than expected.
Winner: Syracuse’s bubble hopes
With its NCAA Tournament at-large hopes hanging by a thread, Syracuse, which entered the ACC Tournament as one of Jerry Palm’s “last four in,” secured a much-needed victory to survive and advance in the league’s postseason bracket. Led by Buddy Boeheim’s 27 points, the Orange defeated NC State 89-68 in a surprisingly lopsided outcome that should give them momentum moving into a matchup Thursday against No. 16 Virginia. The bubble is plenty squishy right now so Cuse’s tourney hopes are no sure thing, but this was a crucial win to position them for a big Quad 1 opportunity against the reigning national champions in the ACC quarters.
Loser: Xavier wilts in a bubbly moment
The No. 7 seed Musketeers led by as much as 19 in the first half before carrying a 40-26 lead into the break against No. 10 seed Butler in the first round of the Big East Tournament. It looked like Xavier might cruise to a crucial victory in its quest to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Butler roared back and won 70-69 in overtime. The Musketeers entered the day as one of the “last four in” for the Big Dance, according to Palm’s Bracketology, but a loss to the Bulldogs (10-14) could have a fatal impact on their NCAA Tournament chances.
Winner: Miami becoming a likable underdog
The biggest upset of the day in major conference postseason play went down in the ACC when Miami, the 13 seed, upended 5 seed Clemson 67-64. The Hurricanes have been gashed by injuries and misfortunes all season — they played with just six scholarship players! — so to see them oust a surefire tourney team at less than full strength showed some serious mettle (and reflected quite poorly on Clemson). Miami’s got a long road ahead to ACC title contention — with Georgia Tech standing in its way next — but this team is a fun, plucky underdog with heart and hustle that already has two wins in the ACC Tournament under its belt. So long as Isaiah Wong keeps his hot streak rolling (he’s scored 20 points in consecutive games), this team’s got a shot at serving as spoiler.
Loser: Marquette lays an egg in Big East Tournament
The first game of the Big East Tournament hit with a resounding thud. That’s because, while Georgetown showed up for the game, Marquette seemingly forgot it was game day. Or at least they played like they did. The Golden Eagles mustered a season-low 49 points in their 19-point loss to the Hoyas. The defeat secured the program’s first losing season (13-14) since 2014-15 — the first year Wojo took the reins of the program from Buzz Williams.
Winner: Wyoming explodes for record-setting day in MWC
The Wyoming Cowboys rode comfortably to a 111-80 win over San Jose State in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Wednesday. The offensive explosion marked the third most in a game in tournament history and the most in a tournament game since 2002. It also marked the second-most total points for the school in at least a decade, finishing only behind the 114 points it scored in a 2018 loss to New Mexico. They’ll need all that firepower to return Thursday as they take on San Diego State, which it lost to in the regular season twice by 30 and 27 points, respectively.
Winner: Iona beats No. 1 seed Siena
First-year coach Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels are now two wins away from reaching the NCAA Tournament after knocking off No. 1 seed Siena 55-52 in the MAAC Tournament quarterfinals. Iona is the No. 9 seed in the tournament, but that’s a bit misleading. The MAAC seeded teams by total number of conference victories rather than winning percentage. After going 6-3 in league play, Iona is proving to be legit despite playing an abbreviated regular season slate. Next up for the Gaels is a semifinal matchup on Friday with the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between No. 4 seed Marist and No. 5 seed Niagara.
Though we’ve avoided any large-scale disasters so far this week because of COVID-19 issues, one NCAA Tournament bubble team may be feeling the impact of the virus on its roster this week. Wichita State, which is a projected No. 9 seed in Palm’s Bracketology but still on the bubble, will be without two players at the AAC Tournament. Coach Isaac Brown revealed the looming absences to media on Wednesday, but he didn’t say which two players the No. 1 seed Shockers will be missing when they begin play in Friday’s quarterfinals against the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 8 seed USF and No. 9 seed Temple.
Winner: Loyola (MD) is a true cinderella
We’re used to Loyola Chicago playing the role of cinderella in March, but how about Loyola Maryland? The Greyhounds finished just 4-10 during Patriot League play but are headed to Sunday’s title game against No. 2 seed Colgate after knocking off No. 4 seed Army 67-63 in a semifinal game on Wednesday. That victory followed a 76-68 win over No. 1 seed Navy in the quarterfinals. Taking down No. 2 seed Colgate and making the NCAA Tournament would put the cherry on top, but this has already been a great run for a program in the midst of its eighth straight losing season.
Loser: Washington finishes worst season in nearly 30 years
The Washington Huskies have been nothing if not consistent this season as one of the least effective major conference teams in college basketball, so it was fitting that their season met an end Wednesday night with a one-and-done showing the Pac-12 tourney. The loss — a 98-95 defeat at the hands of Utah — sealed a 5-20 season for the Huskies, the fewest wins for the program since the Pac-10 became the Pac-12. The five wins also marks the fewest for the Huskies since a 5-22 campaign in 1993-1994.