College basketball winners and losers: Kentucky shows mettle down the stretch but the NCAA's No. 4 seeds wilted
The news was not so good for the last teams in the NCAA's early bracket
Saturday's loaded slate of college hoops delivered on the drama we've all come to expect night in and night out from this wacky sport. We had several unranked teams topple ranked foes, we saw conference races tighten, and best of all, March Madness' outlook brightened. With just a small taste of some Saturday madness in mid-February, your juices should be flowing as tourney time fast approaches.
To break it all down we've divvied out the day's biggest winners and losers, starting with the buzziest news of the day that came off the court.
Winner: Strength of schedule
For the third consecutive season, the NCAA Tournament selection committee unveiled its in a Bracket Preview show that aired Saturday morning on CBS. The big winner? None other than Strength of Schedule!
"Very close margin," committee chair Bernard Muir said of Duke earning the No. 1 overall seed over Tennessee, the latter which is currently ranked No. 1 in the polls. "But strength of schedule won out."
Duke is 20-2 with a two-point neutral court loss to Gonzaga in November, and a four-point overtime home loss to unranked Syracuse last month (for now). Tennessee, meanwhile, is 21-1 with its lone loss coming in overtime to preseason No. 1 Kansas on a neutral court back in November. Most would agree the Vols have the better resume of the two, but strength of schedule for the Blue Devils -- 5 wins over ranked foes, as opposed to UT's 1-1 record against ranked teams -- ultimately gave them the edge.
Loser: NET rankings
The NCAA's rankings tool, the NET (NCAA's Evaluation Tool ranking), is new this season.
Someone might want to alert the NCAA about this development.
Virginia Tech (ranked 10th in the NET) and Texas Tech (ranked 16th) were nowhere to be found in the listing the top 16 seeds as they currently stand. And Virginia, Gonzaga, Houston, Wisconsin and Louisville also have fair gripes, as all were ranked higher in the NET than they were in the top 16 seeds as determined by the selection committee.
Winner: The skip
Just when you thought the skip was dead -- along with the yo-yo, scrunchies and bucket hats -- Tennessee star Admiral Schofield singlehandedly revived it Saturday by two-hand jamming and skipping all the way back to the bench. The skip is back, folks! (And so is the poncho?!)
Loser: No. 4 seeds
The curse of the No, 4 seed is real. Very, very real.
Of the four who were named Saturday by the selection committee, three -- yes, three -- took losses just hours later. Those four seeds are Louisville, Iowa State and Wisconsin. (Shouts to Nevada, the final four seed, by bucking the trend and beating the tar out of New Mexico.)
Winner: Kentucky's mettle
Coming into Saturday with a nine-game winning streak, it would have been acceptable -- and hey, maybe even expected -- if UK had fallen short to a Mississippi State team that so badly needed a quality win to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes afloat. But Kentucky not only took care of business, winning 71-67, it did so by holding off a motivated Bulldogs team that made a strong push towards the end. UK is a force to be reckoned with, and is shaping up to be the preseason top-5 club we had all projected it to be.
Loser: William & Mary
Hofstra star Justin Wright-Foreman has made it routine to blast teams for 30+ points; he's eclipsed the mark six times before Saturday. But what he did against William & Mary -- and what he continues to do against William & Mary! -- you just have to feel a little bad.
Wright-Foreman dropped 48 points on them Saturday in a 93-87 win. In his last six showings against the CAA foe, he's averaging a cool 34.2 points per game -- with five 30+ point showings dating back to the 2016-17 season. Ouch!
Loser: College basketball
Duke has two of the top 5 players in college basketball this season in Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. It also has an insanely reliable point guard in Tre Jones, a projected top-5 pick in Cameron Reddish, and enough ancillary pieces to be dangerous.
And when those pieces are clicking, oh boy, do they click.
Saturday we saw what that looked like on the court as the Blue Devils handed No. 3 Virginia a 10 point loss in one of the most impressive performances of the season. Duke went 13 of 21 from the 3-point line -- against the best 3-point defense in the land -- and looked utterly unbeatable. If this is the version we see of Duke moving forward, college basketball might as well pack its bags and prepare for the 2019 season.
Tille has only played in Gonzaga's past nine games after missing the first half of the regular season with a stress fracture in his ankle.
Winner: Big 12 leader Kansas . . State?
Kansas State -- not Kansas -- sits atop the Big 12 standings after Saturday's developments. Those results included Kansas State taking out Baylor, Texas Tech doing the same on the road against Oklahoma, Iowa State dropping a stunner at home to TCU, and Kansas beating Oklahoma State.
The Wildcats are the only two-loss team in the league, and there are four four-loss teams that trail them.
Winner: Big shot Luke Maye
For a former walk-on, UNC star Luke Maye sure has a knack for coming up big in gigantic moments.
We saw that in a huge moment in 2017 when he hit the game-winner to push Carolina past Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, and Saturday, we saw it again as he pushed UNC to overtime when things looked quite bleak against Miami.
Maye would finish with 20 points and UNC, despite struggling at home with the lowly Hurricanes, went on to win 88-85.
Loser: Gonzaga's title hopes
After being dubbed a No. 1 seed earlier in the day, Gonzaga's title hoops may have taken a hit with the news that Killian Tillie, an integral piece for the Bulldogs, will miss the rest of the regular season with a partially torn plantar fascia. Gonzaga coach Mark Few is "hopeful" he can return for postseason play, but with that injury, there is no guarantee he'll be able to be full go by then.
Winner: Nevada gets its revenge
Nevada's most lopsided (and only) loss of the season came by 27 points on Jan. 5 at New Mexico. The Wolf Pack gave the Lobos a taste of their own medicine Saturday by beating them down by 29 in Reno. Complete and total thumping for Nevada.
Winner: Belmont star Dylan Windler
Two of the most intriguing mid-major NBA draft prospects come from the OVC. Most know about Murray State star Ja Morant, a projected top 5 pick, but Belmont star Dylan Windler is quietly flying under the radar.
He shouldn't be.
Windler scored a career-high 41 points and added 12 rebounds Saturday as the Bruins scored their seventh straight win. It's his fifth 30+ point outing this season, and it's translating to wins, too: Belmont and Austin Peay are both 10-2 in the OVC and the Bruins are the co-favorite alongside Murray State, who they beat head-to-head in January.
Loser: The "foul up three" crowd
Tough day for the majority of folks who (I think, smartly) believe you should foul if you possess a three point lead late in the second half. Because less than 10 seconds after UCLA followed that plan, this happened:
Now, this was an extreme example of what can go wrong when fouling up 3 fails. Utah made the free throws it needed to make, made the buzzer-beater it had to have, and also got UCLA to miss a free throw in the final six seconds to get a shot. But still, a brutal way to go down. Proof that even a mostly bulletproof theory of fouling up 3 isn't completely without its flaws.
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