Wednesday night had top-10 teams in action, a win-by-charge and lots of bubble action. The most intriguing result of the night, however, came in the Big East, which remains one of the more interesting races across the country. That’s where we start with what you need to know from around the country:
THE BIG EAST ISN’T MARQUETTE’S YET
Where, or where, to begin with what went down at the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night. Is it the redemption story? The out-of-nowhere star turn? What about the upstart falling to the traditional power? Or the conference title race remaining shy of the finish line?
There’s a lot to talk about from Villanova’s 67-61 victory over 10th-ranked Marquette, that much is for sure.
Let’s start with the star-from-nowhere.
Jermaine Samuels, a sophomore from Franklin, Mass., absolutely went bonkers. Nuts. Crazy. Insane. Wild. Coocoo. Twenty-nine points on 10 of 19 shooting with nine rebounds is a great night regardless of context, but it’s the circumstances that makes Samuels’ night so compelling. Not only was it a monster game for Villanova (we’ll get to that), but Samuels basically had been invisible lately for the Wildcats. He scored exactly zero points in the last three games. The last time he went for double figures was Jan. 13. His season-high for shot attempts was nine, set in Nova’s season-opening rout of Morgan State. He took more shots against the Golden Eagles than he had in the previous 10 games combined. Villanova desperately needed him, too, as Eric Paschall and Phil Booth combined to go 5 of 27. Thank goodness for Jermaine Samuels, apparently.
How about Villanova’s resurgence from a three-game losing streak and four losses in their last five games? Now, any reaction to that slide was probably a bit overblown considering that all four Ls came on the road, and how many teams ever play three-straight road games in conference play? Still, double-digit losses to Xavier and Georgetown, wherever the games are played, aren’t going to be leave any team feeling overly confident heading into March. Not only Villanova put a stop to that slide, they did so with a win over a top-10 team and gave themselves a chance to win the Big East.
Now, that’s not exactly the loftiest of goals for a program that’s won two national titles in three years, but it’s something after the last couple weeks they’ve put together. If Samuels suddenly is a viable third scoring option, well, maybe it’ll be a more interesting March for Villanova than it looked destined to be during this skid.
For Marquette, it was a missed opportunity in their first Big East loss to a non-St. John’s team. They had their chances in the final minutes to wrestle away control from the Wildcats, but simply couldn’t get over the hurdles placed in front of them. Holding Pachall and Booth in check while Markus Howard goes for 25 points on 19 shots in Philadelphia should be a winning formula. With zero offensive help for Howard beyond Sam and Joey Hauser, along with Samuels’ big night, though, it wasn’t enough.
Which brings us to the big picture. The Big East remains undecided.
Marquette is still in the driver’s seat with a 12-3 mark while Villanova is a half-game back at 12-4. The Golden Eagles finish with home games against Creighton and Georgetown sandwiched around a trip to Seton Hall. Jay Wright’s team has a home tilt against Butler this weekend before the regular-season finale at Seton Hall. If both teams take care of business at home, the Big East title might be decided in Newark.
Texas led by 19 in the second half. The Longhorns made 15 of 27 from 3. They had the lead and the ball with seven seconds left.
Yet the Longhorns left Waco with an 84-83 loss.
Not great for a team living on the bubble, which Rob Dauster breaks down in some detail here.
Maybe more interesting than Texas’ troubles in Shaka Smart’s fourth year in Austin is the inexplicable resilience of Baylor. The Bears were supposed to be bad this season, lost arguably their best player in Tristan Clark and yet are somehow still a player for the Big 12 title with three games to play.
Mario Kegler scored 24 points, Devonte Bandoo had 18, Jared Butler 15 and Mark Vital 13 while the Bears grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, the formula they’ve ridden to a 10-5 conference record, one game behind leaders Texas Tech and Kansas State. The Bears still have road games against Kansas State and Kansas so they’ll probably slip back, but it’s astounding they’re even in this position. Scott Drew is your Big 12 coach of the year.
PENN STATE STAYS HOT
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Penn State was 0-10 in the Big Ten, with Pat Chambers’ 0-for getting to the NCAA tournament with the Nittany Lions the least of their worries, respectability being close to the top of the list.
Don’t look now, though, but Penn State won its third-straight with a 78-61 win over No. 17 Maryland in which they led 42-20 at halftime. The Nittany Lions have now won five of seven since that winless start.
When you’re at the bottom, there’s literally nowhere to go than up, but credit Penn State for figuring out how to pull itself out of the tailspin here.