The rollercoaster ride that is North Carolina basketball has, in the span of six days, delivered whiplash to UNC fans. A brutal home loss to Marquette on Wednesday. A riveting recovery win over Florida State three days later. And now, a gut punch via Syracuse: a 72-70 loss to the Orange.
The bumpy ride dropping us here with this outcome should come as no surprise, yet it doesn't make it any easier for UNC to absorb. The Tar Heels were an 11 seed in Jerry Palm's bracket entering the day, riding high off a win over No. 11 Florida State. But Palm made clear that their inclusion came with a caveat that they are far from safe.
Falling to the Orange doesn't drastically hurt its tourney chances, but it is flirting dangerously with disaster now with margin for error quickly dwindling. If there's a silver lining here, it's that drama is bubbling around North Carolina -- the state. This now sets up a juicy regular-season finale Saturday against Duke that may be the most bubblicious battle of bluebloods all season, with both teams taking it down to the wire as they vye for at-large bids.
Speaking of rivalries, Bedlam on Monday night delivered the goods once again. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State again came down to the wire after going to OT on Saturday with OSU completing the sweep and buttressing its strong resume with another Quadrant 1 win. We'll get to that in a second. But first, some thoughts on UNC-Syracuse before a spin throughout the rest of the evening winners and losers from across the hoops landscape.
Loser: North Carolina's tourney profile takes hit
North Carolina moved from an 11 seed and in the field of 68 to Jerry Palm's "last four in" with its loss to Syracuse, replacing Georgia Tech. So, yes, still in the field for now but hanging by a thread. Turns out that committing 20 turnovers and making just four of 20 3-point attempts on Syracuse's home court does not do the tourney credentials much good.
Winner: Syracuse stays alive
There's a long list of teams on the bubble, and Syracuse's 72-70 win over North Carolina did well enough to keep it in that discussion. The Orange forced 20 turnovers against UNC and got a game-high 26 points from Buddy Boeheim, coach Jim Boeheim's son, who topped 1,000 career points.
Still, Cuse is 0-6 in Quad 1 opportunities and in need of not just wins but good wins. In 2021, a win over UNC is not that. Toppling the Tar Heels was important to keep its Big Dance dreams alive but its resume remains hollow.
Winner: Oklahoma State gets the Bedlam sweep
After playing 45 minutes of basketball against each other on Saturday, No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 17 Oklahoma State met again Monday evening and delivered another good one with OSU winning 79-75 to complete the sweep. It's the program's first sweep of OU since Trae Young's one-and-done season in 2017. It's an especially noteworthy one for OSU as it gives the Cowboys eight Quadrant 1 wins. That ties for the most among all college hoops teams this season with Illinois and Michigan -- both of which are projected No. 1 seeds in Jerry Palm's latest Bracketology.
Loser: Atlantic 10 at-large candidates
Having already won the A-10, St. Bonaventure entered its regular-season finale on Monday against Dayton simply needing to avoid a loss because, in the wise words of Jerry Palm, a loss would put its at-large hopes "in doubt." But the Bonnies did not cooperate with Mr Palm. Instead, they fell 55-52 in their lowest-scoring game of the season, dealing a significant blow to its at-large candidacy.
The loss was one of two brutal outcomes in the A-10 on Monday with Richmond falling 76-73 in a true stunner against St. Joseph's -- arguably the worst team in the league upending the preseason favorite. It came in brutal fashion, too, with Richmond's Matt Grace hitting a game-tying 3-pointer that came just after the final horn and was waved off. It's too early to draw sweeping conclusions from these outcomes, but it's a pretty crushing blow for two teams that entered the night with real hopes to sneak into the Big Dance without the golden ticket of winning the conference tournament.
Winner: Virginia finally gets back on track
There was no real danger of No. 21 Virginia, a No. 5 seed in Palm's bracket, falling out of the tournament picture. But three consecutive losses the last two weeks tossed it from ACC frontrunner to ACC runner-up in a hurry. It has been treading water, so getting back on track Monday against Miami in a 62-51 win -- even against Miami -- qualifies as a win for the reigning champs. Big confidence builder as it moves to its regular-season finale Saturday against Louisville.
Loser: Rutgers walks into Pinnacle Bank, tumbles hard
Maybe -- OK, definitely -- the most stunning outcome of Monday night: Nebraska 72, Rutgers 51.
Yes, Rutgers scored 51 points and lost to the worst team in the Big Ten by 21 points. It's Nebraska's largest win in league play since it beat, you guessed it, Rutgers by 34 points in January 2016.
Winner: Western Kentucky handles business vs. FIU
As expected, Western Kentucky handled business against FIU on Sunday, winning 91-58. The Hilltoppers followed that up with a 71-59 win against FIU on Monday to sweep the two-game series. Palm's read was that a loss would've wiped away their at-large hopes, and while a win doesn't lock them in, it absolutely keeps them in the bubble discussion. Winning the C-USA tourney may be the safe way to punch a ticket given its shaky credentials for an at-large.
Loser: Tubby Smith, High Point take Winthrop beatdown
Two days removed from a win over USC Upstate in the first round of the Big South Tournament, Tubby Smith's High Point Panthers found their low point, falling 83-54 to Winthrop in their largest loss of the season. The two teams met two weeks ago in a back-to-back series on High Point's home court with Winthrop taking both but doing so by only six and eight points, respectively. The 29-point margin of defeat is the program's largest since falling to Gardner Webb by 31 points last season. (That loss came two weeks after the two teams went to OT and Gardner Webb escaped with a win by three points.)
Winner: Oregon stays on hot streak
Do not look now -- especially if you're UCLA! -- but Oregon is making its run at the Pac-12 crown. The Ducks (17-5, 12-4 Pac 12) won their third consecutive game Monday, 80-69 over Arizona. It's their eighth win in nine games. Oregon, an 11 seed entering the day, has done well for its tourney prospects of late, but it's high time we acknowledge this team has some real goods. Chris Duarte scored 22 points and Eugene Omoruyi added 21 in the win over the Wildcats. There's some very legitimate star power that could sustain this team for a deep run. They seem to be hitting their stride and reaching full health at just the right time.