10 Takeaways: Big East oddities, a buzzer-beater and the final No. 1 seed

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Who wants that last 1?

Duke stumbled. Purdue was shocked. And Texas barely got by Baylor. Those three are the popular candidates to join Ohio State, Pitt and Kansas as the top seeds for the NCAA tournament but can’t seem to get it together down the stretch.

The Devils lost their chance at the ACC crown when rival North Carolina put on an impressive display at home. Even if they win the ACC tournament, Duke’s odds for a 1 seed took a hit given their average résumé. (Not to mention the ACC’s sub-par season dings them.)

The Boilermakers had a gimmie game at Iowa, yet somehow lost to the Big Ten’s worst team. Best they’ll get now seems to be a 2. And the Longhorns? Get back to me when they snap out of their funk (I’m looking at you Jordan Hamilton.)

Meanwhile, BYU and San Diego State stayed kept their places (2 and 3) with the chance to move up thanks to workmanlike wins.

That leaves … Notre Dame.

The Irish won at UConn – even more impressive considering they didn’t have point guard Ben Hansbrough for most of the stretch run – boosting their profile even more. It’s looking more and more like they’ll be the fourth No. 1 seed. Here’s a team comparison:

How to lock it up? Avoid a one-game exit from the Big East tournament. Given that tourney’s unpredictable nature, that’s not a given. But why would that be any different from the rest of this crazy season?

Big East? More like the Big Two
If the 1 seed discussion wasn’t enough indication, here’s more. It wasn’t pretty, but Pitt clinched the conference crown by beating Villanova. Notre Dame won at UConn. Those two have a combined seven conference losses. Third place has six. Here’s what I mean:

Louisville lost to West Virginia, Cincinnati crushed Georgetown, and Seton Hall dumped Marquette, further bunching the conference’s middle class together. St. John’s struggled at home vs. South Florida. Syracuse rolled, but it played DePaul. At home. So it should’ve won by 48. The Panthers (27-4) and Irish (25-5) are the class of a league that’s bound for 11 NCAA tournament bids. And they might be the only ones capable of making the Elite Eight.

They punched their tickets
Belmont did what it’s done all season and rolled past an Atlantic Sun opponent, clinching its fourth title in six years. UNC Asheville upended the Big South’s top seed, Coastal Carolina, for its first NCAA bid since 2003. And Morehead State rode its rebounding fiend, Kenneth Faried, to the Ohio Valley crown. (Princeton missed its chance when it lost to Harvard, setting up a possible playoff for their tourney bid.) Welcome to the Big Dance, you three. May you stay as long as you can.

Beware those bid thieves
When Butler plays Milwaukee for the Horizon League championship, it’s gonna make teams like Virginia Tech, Washington State and Alabama very nervous. The Bulldogs should make the field of 68, but if Milwaukee takes the title, it could result in two bids for the conference and boot one of those other bubble teams. (Of course, it could boot Butler, too, but hey, go with me.) Another to watch? VCU in the CAA. George Mason and ODU are in the field now, but VCU could join ‘em by pulling off two more victories.

Are you a believer?                      
Florida won its first outright SEC title since 2007, the same year it repeated as national champs. Arizona clinched the Pac-10 outright, the first time the Wildcats have done that since 2005, when it also reached the Elite Eight. Both teams are ranked in the Top 15, but neither have much support when it comes to making a deep NCAA tournament run. Much of that comes from winning conferences that are having down years and a lack of truly impressive wins. Yet the Gators are laden with experience and talent, while Arizona has a future NBA lottery pick in Derrick Williams. That makes them two of the bigger wild cards in March. And two of the more tantalizing teams.

BYU not back in business yet
The Cougars’ rough week – the public outcry over Brandon Davies’ dismissal was probably more frustrating than the home loss to New Mexico – nearly got worse. BYU lead MWC cellar dweller Wyoming by just three points at halftime, raising fears that the team might drop to a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Jimmer Fredette and Charles Abouo solved that problem by going off in the second half for a102-78 victory (Fredette scored 38, while Abouo opened the second half on a tear), but questions remains about BYU. It’s 28-3 but still not the same team without Davies. It’ll need a strong MWC tournament to quiet any naysayers before the Big Dance.

Jayhawks ‘D’ up
Kansas outlasted No. 22 Missouri, 70-66, on Saturday, clinching its seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title outright. Combine that outcome with the Tigers’ road issues, and there’s concern for their odds of winning a couple NCAA tournament games. The other NCAA tournament spin? No. 2 Kansas won a game with its defense. The Jayhawks have killed it on offense this season thanks to their absurdly consistent offense, yet the defense got it done Saturday. The Tigers missed 20 3-pointers, shot 29 percent from the field, a season worst. Credit a defense that forced Missouri into rushed shots and dumb decisions. Not that Kansas played smart, but that’s another post…

The best tourney going
If you’re ever in St. Louis for the first weekend of March, get tickets to Arch Madness. You’re guaranteed to see close games and upsets. Three of Friday’s four games were decided by three points or less, while Wichita State – the conference’s best team in terms of efficiency marginfell in the semis. Now it’s Indiana State vs. Missouri State for the title. And the Big Dance ticket.

Maybe C-USA isn’t a one-bid league
UAB clinched its first outright league title when it crushed East Carolina on Saturday night, putting it in the driver’s seat for the conference tournament. More promising for C-USA is that Memphis beat Tulane, giving the Tigers 22 wins and perhaps the best non-conference NCAA tournament résumé. If those two meet in the conference championship game, it’s possible they could both go dancing.

And finally, some Madness!
Selection Sunday is still days away, but VCU’s Jamie Skeen gave us a taste of what’s to come. His buzzer-beater – a spinning, off-the glass shot – capped a 62-60 win over Drexel that sent the Rams to the CAA tournament semifinals. It’s not Bryce Drew, but it’s still fabulous. Watch and love.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDYPdt76SlM]

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