You smell that sweet, sweet nectar? That's the unmistakable aroma of March breezing through the air. It may still be days away on the calendar, but college basketball for all intents and purposes has flipped to March mode, with Saturday delivering highlights, buzzer-beaters and general mayhem of all varieties like only college basketball can.
If drama is your flavor, Iowa and Fran McCaffery gave us plenty on that front. McCaffery had an all-time strange staredown with an official late in the second half with the game seemingly in Michigan State's hands -- only for the Hawkeyes to dig out of a late double-digit deficit, force overtime and defeat the Spartans 112-106.
If buzzer-beaters and late-breaking drama are more your style, Arizona State served up one of the best of the season in its rivalry tilt vs. No. 7 Arizona. Inside the McKale Center, ASU's Devan Cambridge launched off one foot from beyond halfcourt to down the Wildcats, 89-88, as the final horn sounded. Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley described the postgame scene as "euphoria," but not before savagely waving goodbye to the Arizona faithful as he walked off the floor.
If buzzer-beaters and comebacks are more your style, then Florida State by golly delivered big on both fronts. FSU dug out of a 25-point deficit (!) to stun No. 13 Miami 85-84 marking the largest comeback in ACC history. Matthew Cleveland punctuated the come-from-behind win in style with a jumper at the buzzer.
Of course if you're just a fan of college basketball in general, then you already know this but I'll state the obvious: you've found the right spot. This is a safe place to nerd out over your fandom with a look at the day's winners and losers as we recap all the chaos the day provided.
Loser: WCC's No. 1 seed still TBD
No. 12 Gonzaga clinched a share of the WCC title with a 77-68 revenge victory over No. 15 Saint Mary's after the Gaels won the first meeting in an overtime thriller earlier this month. Both teams finished the season 14-2 in WCC action. Since both also lost to Loyola Marymount in addition to each other, the tiebreaker for who will be the No. 1 seed in the WCC Tournament will be determined by the team with the highest ranking in the NET on Sunday. The Gaels entered the game ranked No. 7 in the NET while the Zags entered ranked No. 10.
Either way, both teams get a bye to the semifinals of the event and will be on a collision course to face each other in the tournament title game for what would be a compelling rubber match between a pair of teams destined for quality seedings in the NCAA Tournament. But, really? After 16 WCC games, the NET is going to decide who gets the top seed?
Jelly 🍇 pic.twitter.com/GrA8vkCG4l— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) February 26, 2023
Winner: Kentucky rounding into form
Remember when Kentucky was 10-6 overall and 1-3 in SEC play and UK fans wanted John Calipari gone? That feels like a loooooonng time ago now. Kentucky still hasn't quite reached top-five levels like its preseason ranking suggested it could, but the Wildcats are rounding into form and playing their best basketball as the postseason looms with their 86-54 drubbing of Auburn giving them their fourth consecutive win dating back to two weeks ago.
"People tried to talk us out of the NCAA Tournament. They tried," Calipari said. "'They're out, they're done, they're awful, they're this.' It's never really over when you have a tournament that has an automatic bid. I kept convincing them that what they say has no effect on what we're about to do."
21 PTS for @ToniooReeves with 18 in the 2nd half 🔥🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/zd6Art9Lom— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 26, 2023
Loser: Virginia keeps limping
After an embarrassing 15-point loss at Boston College on Wednesday, No. 6 Virginia produced another road dud by losing 71-63 at North Carolina in a game the Tar Heels mostly dominated. Even before the two-game losing streak, the Cavaliers scraped out narrow victories against ACC bottom feeders Louisville and Notre Dame. As a No. 4 seed in Jerry Palm's Bracketology entering the day, Virginia is on track to be the ACC's highest-seeded team in the Big Dance. But there has been nothing about Virginia's recent performance that suggests this team is going to carry the banner for the conference very far in March.
Winner: North Carolina shows life
On the flip side, UNC showed some life after entering the day as one of Palm's "First Four Out" of the projected field of 68. On the heels of a narrow road win over Notre Dame and with their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance, the Tar Heels made 10 of 22 attempts from 3-point range behind a standout performance from Pete Nance. The Northwestern transfer hit all four of his attempts from beyond the arc and led all scorers with 22 points in a game that Virginia never led.
Ya love to see it 😎— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) February 26, 2023
Loser: Miami blows 25-point lead to FSU
No. 13 Miami needed a victory to stay in control of its own destiny within the ACC regular-season title chase. Instead, it suffered a historic 85-84 defeat. Florida State shot 67.7% from the floor in the second half and outscored Miami 10-0 in points off turnovers after the break as the usually sure-handed Hurricanes wilted under pressure. You can chalk Matthew Cleveland's buzzer-beater up to bad luck, but the second half effort on the whole was more than just a stroke of misfortune. As a result, the 'Canes missed out on a golden chance to increase its league title chances.
With this buzzer beater, Florida State records its largest halftime comeback against a ranked team in the last 40 seasons 🤯— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) February 25, 2023
🎥: @WillManso pic.twitter.com/gEjPIGv9EJ
Winner: Kansas takes first place
West Virginia injected a scare into No. 3 Kansas on Saturday, but the Jayhawks survived for a 76-74 win to take sole possession of first-place in the Big 12 standings. All five starters reached double figures for KU in a game that featured a combined 40 turnovers, 15 lead changes and nine ties. But even ugly wins count. The Jayhawks close against Texas Tech on Tuesday and at Texas on Saturday. The Longhorns are one game behind KU after losing to Baylor, so there's a good chance the regular season finale between the Jayhawks and Longhorns will have serious conference title implications.
that's a threeeeeeee pic.twitter.com/vWsbnztCvl— Kansas Men’s Basketball (@KUHoops) February 25, 2023
Loser: Baylor gets injury scare
No. 9 Baylor got revenge on No. 8 Texas for an earlier loss to the Longhorns in an 81-72 victory. But the Bears paid a price as star freshman guard Keynote George left the game with an apparent ankle injury midway through the first half and did not return. In his absence, guards Dale Bonner and Langston Love each reached double figures off the bench. However, George is Baylor's leading scorer, and his health will be critical to the Bears in the postseason.
Winner: Villanova's Dixon lights-up Creighton
The Big East Tournament was already shaping up to be a slugfest behind the strength of the conference's top five teams, all of whom are safely projected as NCAA Tournament squads. Now, after a 79-67 win over No. 19 Creighton, you can officially add Villanova to the list of squads who make the Big East Tournament a must-see event.
The Wildcats (15-14, 9-9 Big East) are nowhere near the NCAA Tournament bubble but have won five of their last six. With back-to-back wins over Xavier and the Bluejays, this team suddenly looks like the type of team you don't want to face in the league tournament. While the return of veteran guard Justin Moore from an Achilles injury has helped first-year coach Kyle Neptune get Villanova headed in the right direction over the last few weeks, Saturday's hero was Eric Dixon. The 6-foot-8 bruiser set a new career-high by seven points by dropping 31 on 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Dixon hit more 3-pointers by himself than Creighton did as a team.
🔥 @BigEballer_ is HOTT! @novambb with the lead over No. 19 Creighton pic.twitter.com/5WnukbRbDR— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 25, 2023
Loser: Alabama makes another blunder
Alabama coach Nate Oats spent most of the week apologizing after describing Brandon Miller's connection to a January murder -- in which he's accused of delivering a friend's gun to him that was later used in a killing -- as a "wrong place at the wrong time" situation. He continued that theme Saturday by scrambling in his postgame press conference after the No. 2 Crimson Tide's 86-83 victory vs. Arkansas, this time for Brandon Miller's pregame introduction routine in which he was patted-down by a teammate.
"It was brought to my attention after the game about our pregame introductions. Think that's something that's been going on all year. I don't really know, I don't watch our introductions," Oats said. "I'm drawing up plays during that time. Regardless, it's not appropriate, it's been addressed and I can assure you it will not happen again the remainder of this year."
Alabama was led by Miller's 24 points.
Winner: Hurley brothers get big wins
UConn coach Dan Hurley and Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley both secured big wins on Saturday over St. John's and Arizona, respectively. The No. 18 Huskies won 95-86 at Madison Square Garden, avenging their loss to the Red Storm earlier in the season, while the Sun Devils stunned No. 7 Arizona in one of the wildest finishes of the season inside the McKale Center:
DOWN GOES NO. 7 ARIZONA‼️@SunDevilHoops WINS IT AT THE BUZZER 😱😱 pic.twitter.com/qJus7icYDO— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) February 25, 2023
The wins meant different things for the brothers, of course. For UConn it meant a necessary win to maintain course as a projected No. 3 seed. For Arizona State, it's a win that likely keeps it near the bubble and in the tourney discussion as March approaches.
Loser: Iowa State's slump takes ugly turn
After starting 4-0 in Big 12 play, No. 23 Iowa State is just 4-8 since then after taking a 61-50 home loss to last-place Oklahoma. The Cyclones shot a horrendous 31% from the floor and mustered just five second-chance points off all the misses. ISU actually led 28-23 at halftime before going ice cold with a 7 of 26 shooting performance after the break. The Sooners extended their lead to 15 points down the stretch while shooting 56.5% in the second half against an Iowa State defense that is typically stingy.
Iowa State is not in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but five losses in the last six games are doing the Cyclones no favors in the seeding conversation as it continues to slip down the stretch. This team made the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed last season after entering the Big Dance on a three-game losing streak. Pulling off a similar turnaround two seasons in a row will require this team to identify some more consistent sources of offense.
𝐃𝐮𝐧𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐃𝐮𝐨 💪@OtegaOweh 🤝 @SamGodwin__ pic.twitter.com/s3AHnKLJ2F— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) February 25, 2023
Winner: Jalen Hood-Schifino carries IU
No. 17 Indiana completed a season sweep of No. 5 Purdue with a 79-71 road win as Jalen Hood-Schifino exploded for a career-high 35 points. The freshman guard carried the Hoosiers in the first half with 23 points and never left the floor as IU snapped a seven-game losing streak inside Mackey Arena. The Hoosiers are a projected No. 5 seed in Jerry Palm's Bracketology, and Hood-Schifino's rising stardom should make them a trendy pick to make noise in the Big Dance.
We're watching something special here tonight. ⭐@jalenhs x @IndianaMBB pic.twitter.com/0izi978lnJ— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) February 26, 2023
Loser: McCaffery goes full Heisenberg
Iowa's miraculous comeback win over Michigan State in which it dug out of a double-digit deficit with just over a minute left to win 112-106 in overtime was nearly overshadowed in absurdity by the antics of Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery. McCaffery was hit with a technical with two minutes left in regulation for arguing with a foul call, and with just over 90 seconds left in regulation and his team seemingly out of it, he made the official who blew the whistle on him know how he felt by going full Heisenberg in a truly bizarre and awkward staredown. The only commentary missing here is McCaffery demanding the official say his name.
Fran McCaffrey is a freak pic.twitter.com/qa2u0WWD2e— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) February 25, 2023
McCaffery and Iowa went on to make a flurry of 3-pointers late to force overtime and win by two possessions in the extra period, but the hot-tempered Hawkeyes coach did so while acting childish and unprofessional towards an officiating crew that for the most part called a fair game.
Winner: Conference titles secured
It's not March yet, but some nets were cut down across the country on Saturday. Hofstra captured a share of the CAA title with College of Charleston and clinched the No. 1 seed in the CAA Tournament by crushing Northeastern 84-52. Second-year coach and revered alum Speedy Claxton has worked wonders with the Pride in his two years leading the program.
Congratulations Coach @speeddeamon and @HofstraMBB !! @CAASports Regular Season Champions . # Pride ! pic.twitter.com/QxBTdcmwOw— Jay Wright (@CoachJayWright) February 25, 2023
Oral Roberts already had the Summit League crown wrapped up, but the Eagles completed a perfect 18-0 run through league play with a 69-65 win over South Dakota State. For comparison's sake, ORU was just 10-5 in league play during the 2020-21 season when it went on to reach the Sweet 16. The star of that team, guard Max Abmas, is still around racking up points.
Merrimack is still ineligible for the postseason as it finishes the final season of its mandated four-year probationary period amid the transition to Division I. But for the second time in that time, the Warriors are the NEC champions after an 80-59 win over LIU.
Much further south, FAU clinched its first Conference USA title with a 75-49 win over UTEP. A week still remains in the regular season for the Owls, but Saturday was the optimum time to celebrate as the win capped a perfect 17-0 record for the program at home before FAU closes the regular season at Rice and Louisiana Tech next week.
The moment we were crowned Champions 🏆#WinningInParadise pic.twitter.com/neIpGnur4x— FAU Men's Basketball (@FAUMBB) February 25, 2023
The stakes were high for Saturday's game between Furman and Samford as Samford could claim an outright league title and the No. 1 seed for the Southern Conference Tournament with a win. But the Paladins spoiled those plans, stole a share of the league crown and took the No. 1 seed for themselves with a 93-79 road win. Furman has consistently been among the SoCon's best squads under sixth-year coach Bob Richey and has yet another golden opportunity to snap an NCAA Tournament drought that stretches all the way back to 1980.
CHAMPIONSHIP JOY! 💍 #AllDIN #BetterTogether pic.twitter.com/mKuzNyXBA5— Furman Basketball (@FurmanHoops) February 25, 2023
Loser: Texas Tech blows it late vs. TCU
Never say never -- not in the always-unpredictable Big 12, especially -- but Texas Tech's tourney hopes took a turn for the worse Saturday after blowing a lead late to No. 24 TCU. Following four-straight wins in league play, the Red Raiders were on the verge of a fifth with a lead in the final 10 seconds before giving up a pair of free throws to TCU that sealed their fate in an 83-82 loss.
WInner: Duke rounding into form
Duke quietly continues to improve at the right time as the Blue Devils knocked off Virginia Tech 81-65 for their fourth straight win on Saturday. Now 21-8 (12-6 ACC), Duke has won seven of its past nine games and is getting substantive contributions from several freshmen, four of whom reached double digits against the Hokies. First-year coach Jon Scheyer's squad is not ranked, projected as a No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament and still has work to do in order to secure a double-bye for the ACC Tournament. But this squad is loaded with talent, and that talent appears to be finding its way. With junior guard Jeremy Roach quarterbacking the young rotation -- he led all scorers with 19 against Virginia Tech -- the Blue Devils are rounding into form.
D LIVE REVERSE. He's got 8 points / 4 boards.— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) February 26, 2023
📺 ESPN pic.twitter.com/TndbI624sd
Loser: Eastern Washington falls
The nation's longest winning streak came to an end as Idaho State upset Eastern Washington 71-63 to end the Eagles' streak at 18 games. Idaho State was just 10-19 entering the day but got 28 points on 9 of 14 shooting from Brock Mackenzie to end EWU's hopes of an undefeated run through Big Sky play.