Game of the Day: Bucknell 64, Lafayette 56
There was only one automatic berth to be earned Wednesday and it was Bucknell’s after winning the Patriot League championship. As expected, center Mike Muscala was the centerpiece for the Bison with another double-double, his 22nd of the year. Bucknell will now wait until Selection Sunday to see who it draws in the NCAA tournament, but you can be assured that no high-major team is hoping to have to face them in the Round of 64.
Bucknell already went to Purdue to start the season and got a five-point win in West Lafayette, then followed that up with a solid wins over George Mason and La Salle. The Bison also played Missouri down to the wire, losing 66-64 on the road Jan. 5.
Syracuse needed to break out of its offensive slump and it did Wednesday night. The key to it was James Southerland, who stretched out the Pirate defense by hitting 6-of-9 from three-point range. With Southerland spacing the floor and Michael Carter-Williams dishing out 14 assists, Brandon Triche was able to get back in a groove with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The task will be more difficult Thursday against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinal, though, a team that features one of the nation’s toughest defenses.
Villanova’s win Wednesday made Selection Sunday a lot more comfortable, regardless of what happens from here on out in the Big East tournament. Had the Wildcats lost to St. John’s, their resume would likely still have been strong enough to make the tournament, but they would have had to sweat it out a bit. Now coach Jay Wright & Co. can relax and see where they end up.
Norfolk State was the talk of college basketball last season when it entered the NCAA tournament as a 15-seed and knocked off No. 2 Missouri. It carried that momentum into this season, even without star Kyle O’Quinn, and ran the table for a perfect 16-0 record in the MEAC. But in the MEAC tournament, the Spartans were plagued by poor shooting and lost to No. 8 seed Bethune-Cookman, effectively ending their quest for another NCAA tournament berth.
1. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (34 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds)
Arizona State needed a win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive and the man who has been the motor behind the Sun Devils’ resurgence was at it again against Stanford. Carson’s 34 points helped ASU outlast the Cardinal in overtime.
2. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (23 points, 10-of-14 FG, 7 rebounds)
Bennett was too much for an Air Force interior attack that couldn’t contain the National Freshman of the Year candidate. Bennett was getting to the rim and dunking with power, but was perhaps most impressive on the defensive end. He is often criticized for his play on that end of the floor, but he played with energy around the rim and stepping out toward the perimeter Wednesday.
3. Mike Muscala, Bucknell (20 points, 11 rebounds)
Muscala is a pro prospect because he can put up a double-double every night. He had another Wednesday to help his team clinch an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
1. Grambling State (32 percent FG, Finish season 0-28)
The Tigers looked like they had a chance to get their first win of the season and advance in the SWAC tournament, but were unable to come together late to pull out a win against Alabama A&M. Despite the loss, there is one bright spot, if you’d like to call it that. Wednesday’s loss was the first by single digits this season.
2. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (2 points, 1-of-6 FG)
He still managed to grab nine rebounds, but Cooley was limited on the offensive end Wednesday night. Tom Knight produced to fill in the gaps with 18 points, but the Irish will need Cooley to get back on track if they want to advance in the Big East tournament.
3. Jamal Branch, St. John’s (2 points, 0-of-3 FG, 1 assists, 5 TOs)
Branch has steadily gotten more minutes at the point guard spot since becoming eligible after transferring from Texas A&M. Wednesday night, though, he was not at his best. The normally crafty guard with a high basketball IQ turned the ball over five times with just one assist.