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Ten Things To Know: College basketball’s wildest day of the season

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THAT WAS THE BEST DAY OF THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!!!

We had game-winners. We had upsets. We had game-winners that landed upsets. We had upsets that earned automatic bids. We even had a game-winner that landed an upset for a team that earned an automatic bid.

What a wild and wonderful day of basketball.

I can’t imagine a better way to put a bow on the regular season and get ready for tournament hoops.

Here are the ten things you need to know from Saturday.

1. UTAH STATE IS DANCING, BABY!!! SHOUTS TO SAM MERRILL.

Sam Merrill hit this shot to beat San Diego State, win the Mountain West tournament and earn Utah State an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

He scored 83 points in three games in Las Vegas this week. That’s pretty impressive.

2. BELMONT IS TOO, SHOUTS TO LIBERTY.

Belmont beat Murray Sate to win the Ohio Valley’s automatic bid, and they did it on this beautiful backdoor play drawn up by Casey Alexander:

The play, according to the broadcast, was called Liberty.

Might it be derived from this?

3. DID WEST VIRGINIA PUT NO. 4 BAYLOR’S 1-SEED IN JEOPARDY?

For weeks, the four projected No. 1 seeds in the 2020 NCAA tournament have stayed the same. Kansas and Baylor dominated the Big 12. They’ve seemingly been ranked in the top five all season. San Diego State and Gonzaga have mostly steamrolled their respective conferences on the West Coast.

After No. 4 Baylor’s road loss at West Virginia, however, the No. 1 seed line is intriguing for the first time in months.

With three losses in the last five games –including road losses to unranked TCU and West Virginia — the Bears aren’t exactly playing their best ball over the final few weeks.

If Baylor ends up with an early exit in next week’s Big 12 tournament could they be in trouble? That remains to be seen — especially after another potential No. 1 seed in San Diego State fell to Utah State on Saturday. But there are a few teams on the current No. 2 line who are knocking on the door. And it makes for a fun storyline to follow for the final week of the season.

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4. WE HAVE A THREE-WAY TIE ATOP THE BIG EAST

After Seton Hall beat Marquette in Milwaukee last weekend, the Pirates were sitting two games in front of both Villanova and Creighton in the Big East regular season standings with two games left to play.

Based on the way this season has gone, it should come as no surprise that the Pirates went ahead and lost to both Villanova and Creighton this week, meaning that we will be ending this season with a three-way tie for first in the league. Tri-champions, if you will.

And honestly, after watching three months worth of Big East basketball, that seems like the right outcome. Villanova, Creighton and Seton Hall all looked like clearly the best team in the league at different stretches during the year, and I am all the way here for four days in the world’s most famous arena to try and determine the one true champion of the Big East.

5. NO. 6 KENTUCKY LANDS MIRACLE COMEBACK WIN AT FLORIDA

A crazy week for Kentucky continued with the Wildcats taking an inspired SEC road win at Florida.

Finding themselves down 18 points, Kentucky used a furious rally — without two starting guards — to knock off one of the league’s most talented teams. Playing without Ashton Hagans (personal reasons) and with guard Immanuel Quickley limited to only 21 minutes before fouling out, the Wildcats manufactured an unlikely road win with their backs against the wall.

The final nine minutes saw Kentucky will their way into the lead. Quickley was glued to the bench with his disqualification. It was big man Nick Richards who shined the final 20 minutes. Going to work with Florida center Kerry Blackshear Jr. exiting with a wrist injury, Richards scored 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half.

A few days after blowing its own 17-point lead in an ugly home loss to Tennessee, this is one of the biggest wins of the season for Kentucky. Although the Wildcats comfortably claimed the SEC title awhile ago, Kentucky is still in the mix for a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And if Baylor continues its recent slide, and Kentucky can mount a run in the SEC tournament, this win could be a focal point.

6. DID WISCONSIN REALLY WIN A SHARE OF THE BIG TEN TITLE?

A month ago, it was easy to picture Wisconsin missing the NCAA tournament.

A blowout loss at Minnesota on Feb. 5 put the Badgers at 13-10 and a mediocre 6-6 in the Big Ten. Greg Gard’s ballclub were losers in four out of the last six games.

Even worse, off-the-court storylines overshadowed the on-court product.

Brad Davison became a national story with a low-blow against Iowa. That play resulted in a suspension. Kobe King, one of the team’s key perimeter scoring threats and a starter, shockingly transferred from the school with a month left in the season. A Wisconsin staff member resigned over the use of a racial epithet.

Wisconsin was in a major tailspin they couldn’t seem to correct. Then, something miraculous happened. Gard and the Badgers pulled it all together and rattled off eight straight Big Ten wins.

And here we stand, on March 7, with Wisconsin claiming a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with a 60-56 road win at Indiana. Down by eight with 8:52 left, the Badgers clamped down on defense and shut down the Indiana offense. Nate Reuvers paced four double-figure Wisconsin scorers with 17 points. It wasn’t flashy, but the Badgers found a way to get it done for another tough road win.

It’s part of one of the more remarkable turnarounds in college basketball this season. Wisconsin was facing as much off-court scrutiny as any team in the country. The Badgers were sluggish in the middle of a brutal Big Ten schedule.

This group rallied around each other and figured things out once King left the program. Now at a notable 16-5 since Ohio State transfer Micah Potter joined the lineup, the Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the country. And, depending on what Maryland and Michigan State do on Sunday, Wisconsin still has an outside chance at being outright Big Ten champs.

Who could have possibly seen this coming?

7. JONAH MATHEWS ENDED UCLA’S DREAM OF A PAC-12 TITLE

UCLA has finally taken the lead at USC thanks to a pair of Cody Riley free throws when Mathews, on his senior night, did this:

Thanks to Oregon’s win over Stanford on Saturday night, the Bruins dream of winning at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season title died a quick death.

8. FLORIDA STATE WON THE ACC, BUT DUKE AND VIRGINIA IMPRESSED

Duke looked as good as they have in a long time in a win over rival North Carolina on Saturday night, and Virginia won for the 10th time in their last 11 games by beating Louisville at home, but none of that mattered.

No. 7 Florida State blew out Boston College at home on Saturday, earning themselves the outright ACC regular season title, the first time they have won a regular season title since 1989. As hard as it may be to believe, Florida State, Miami, Virginia (four times) and North Carolina (five times) have won regular season ACC titles since the last time Duke won one.

9. RUTGERS IS DANCING

The biggest bubble news of the day came in West Lafayette, Indiana, when Rutgers knocked off Purdue in overtime. The Scarlet Knights got a road win they desperately needed, and it looks like they are headed for the NCAA tournament.

All of our bubble content can be found here.

10. TEXAS GETS TEXAS TECH IN A KNOCKOUT GAME IN THE BIG 12 TOURNAMENT

Texas and Texas Tech are both very much on the bubble right now. According to the latest Bracketology from our Dave Ommen, they are both sitting in a play-in game at this point.

They will play each other in the first round of the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday. That will be fun.

No. 6 Kentucky rallies from 18 down to stun Florida

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kentucky coach John Calipari went around the locker room at halftime and picked on just about everyone. His harshest criticism was directed toward star forward Nick Richards.

“Nick, you are so bad right now,” Calipari recalled. “We’re not going away from you, so you can either be the player you’ve been all year or look like this.”

Richards chose option No. 1. The junior scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, leading the way as the sixth-ranked Wildcats rallied from an 18-point deficit and stunned Florida 71-70 on Saturday.

The shorthanded Wildcats (25-6, 15-3 Southeastern Conference) needed the comeback to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time in nearly three months. They blew an 17-point lead against Tennessee on Tuesday night.

Richards, Keion Brooks Jr. and EJ Montgomery provided the spark in this one, helping make up for the absence of point guard Ashton Hagans.

Hagans didn’t make the trip three days after arguing with Calipari on the bench against the Volunteers.

“Just personal,” Calipari said. “Here’s what I’ll tell you about these kids: In the last three years, this has totally changed. What is on these players. … The clutter that they got to deal with, the lists, what’s out there, not being able to stay in the moment, the anxiety of worrying a year from now, everyone around them.

“And then you’re at Kentucky, where every game is someone’s Super Bowl, every game is sold out and now all of a sudden you start struggling four of five games and now you don’t know how to deal with stuff.”

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Calipari said he expects Hagans to return before next week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky is the No. 1 seed and opens play Friday following a double bye.

“Hopefully what you’ll see is an inspired young man,” Calipari said. “And if he doesn’t think he’s ready for that, then he’s not ready. We’re going to go without whoever we have.”

Kentucky showed a little depth without Hagans and guard Immanuel Quickley, who fouled out with about nine minutes remaining. Quickley finished with 12 points. Freshman guard Johnny Juzang scored 10 points while playing a season-high 32 minutes. But the frontcourt did most of the heavy lifting down the stretch.

Brooks hit a floater in the lane with 59 second remaining to cut the lead to 70-69. Florida answered with a shot-clock violation on the other end.

Brooks missed a driving baseline layup, and Montgomery’s tip-in was initially waived off as a cylinder violation. Officials reviewed it and gave Montgomery the basket with 11.8 seconds left for a 71-70 Wildcats’ lead, their first of the game.

Richards missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Florida a final chance to win it. But Andrew Nembhard’s 3-pointer bounced twice off the rim before missing, setting off Kentucky’s raucous celebration.

Richards was 1-for-6 shooting in the first half. He was 7 of 11 after the break.

“Coaches gave me the challenge to see if I could turn it around,” Richards said. “I took on that challenge. Obviously, we came out with a really big win.”

Scottie Lewis scored a career-high 19 for Florida (19-12, 11-7). Noah Locke added 14, and Keyontae Johnson 12. Florida led by 18 points with 11:48 left in the game.

The Gators played most of the second half with standout forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. Blackshear sprained his left wrist in the first half. He went to the locker room and returned with it heavily taped. He tried to play in the second half, but he ended up on the bench with it wrapped in ice.

Blackshear was scoreless for the first time all season. He had five rebounds. Without him, Kentucky had a much easier time in the paint.

“Obviously, that’s big for us, a big loss defensively and offensively,” Lewis said. “He’s someone that can go get an easy bucket for us.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats need Hagans back to make a deep postseason run. They’re simply not the same without arguably the league’s best perimeter defender and open-court playmakers.

Florida: The Gators have to wait and see their seeding. They will be either No. 4 or 5 depending on Mississippi State’s outcome tonight.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Gets an extended break before playing in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday in Nashville.

Florida: Awaits seeding in the SEC Tournament. Will begin play Thursday or Friday.

Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans out for Florida game due to personal reasons

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Ashton Hagans will miss Kentucky’s regular-season finale at Florida on Saturday.

Wildcats head coach John Calipari and Hagans both confirmed his absence on Twitter. The sophomore guard will sit out the matchup due to personal reasons. During Kentucky’s home loss to Tennessee on Tuesday, Hagans and Calipari appeared to exchange words on the sidelines. The Wildcats blew a 17-point lead and lost to the unranked Volunteers at Rupp Arena to snap an eight-game winning streak.

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Hagans has been a vital two-way presence for Kentucky this season. The 6-foot-3 guard is the team’s leader in assists and a standout perimeter defender. Hagans is averaging 11.5 points, 6.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Although Hagans has been a steady presence in the Kentucky starting lineup, he’s struggled with confidence on the offensive end at times this season. Hagans has only scored in double-figures six times over the past 12 games. His high point total in that span is only 12 points. And Hagans has become a non-factor as a perimeter shooter in that span by only shooting 4-for-23 from three-point range the past 12 games.

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Kentucky has been rolling even in the midst of Hagans’ offensive struggles. The Wildcats ran off a strong winning streak and locked up the SEC regular-season title the past several weeks. But if Kentucky is to make another deep run in March, they need Ashton Hagans to be on the floor and ready to go.

The SEC tournament now has an intriguing subplot next week as Hagans will likely re-join the team for the postseason stretch run. It’ll be interesting to see if this time away from the team can help the guard clear his head.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Tennessee stuns No. 6 Kentucky; Rutgers, Michigan State earn notable Big Ten wins

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Super Tuesday captured much of the nation’s attention as the schedule was light on college basketball action. Plenty of notable results still came through.

Tennessee stunned No. 6 Kentucky with a comeback road win at Rupp Arena. And in the Big Ten, Rutgers might have punched its NCAA tournament ticket with a win over No. 9 Maryland. Meanwhile, No. 16 Michigan State stayed hot with its third straight win over a top-20 team at No. 20 Penn State.

1. Tennessee stuns No. 6 Kentucky with second-half comeback road win

The night’s biggest upset belonged to Tennessee.

The Volunteers used an impressive second-half comeback to beat No. 6 Kentucky, 81-73, at Rupp Arena.

Tennessee was down by as many as 17 points. Trailing by 11 at the half, it looked like the Wildcats were completely in control. Riding an eight-game winning streak entering Tuesday night, Kentucky was a team peaking at just the right time before the postseason began. Now, after another puzzling loss to an unranked team at home this season, we just have additional question marks about how good (and consistent) this Wildcats team might actually be.

John Fulkerson deserves a massive amount of credit for Tennessee’s win. Soundly outplaying Kentucky’s talented group of big men, Fulkerson finished with 27 points and and six rebounds on 10-for-15 shooting. Fulkerson was tough to guard one-on-one and his established presence inside helped Josiah Jordan-James (16 points), Yves Pons (15 points) and Jordan Bowden (11 points) all get going.

Kentucky looked disjointed at times during the second half as they completely derailed after a promising start. Tyrese Maxey had a solid night with 21 points. But Maxey didn’t have a lot of consistent help. Immanuel Quickley (14 points on 4-for-14 shooting) and Nick Richards (12 points) both had issues scoring in the half court. And Kentucky’s bench only accounted for a handful of points as nobody else stepped up.

In the grand scheme of things, this outcome probably doesn’t have many direct implications on the NCAA tournament. Tennessee still has to likely win the SEC tournament to even sniff the NCAA tournament. And Kentucky was always going to have a difficult time catching up to the current projected No. 1 seeds — barring an unforeseen collapse.

The biggest takeaway here is that Kentucky is still capable of mental lapses against mediocre teams that can cost them games.

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2. Rutgers earns its biggest win of the season over No. 9 Maryland

The Scarlet Knights might be dancing for the first time since 1991.

Rutgers earned its biggest win of the season with a decisive 78-67 win over No. 9 Maryland. A No. 11 seed in CBT’s latest Bracketology, Rutgers was stuck in last-four-byes status before Tuesday night’s win. Losing four of five entering Tuesday, Steve Pikell’s club needed to stop its recent freefall. But with another high-quality Q1 home win, the Scarlet Knights should breath a little easier entering the home stretch.

Jacob Young (17 points), Montez Mathis (15 points) and Geo Baker (11 points) led a balanced effort for Rutgers. Shooting an efficient 7-for-16 from three-point range, the Scarlet Knights limited themselves to seven turnovers on offense.

Maryland’s cold shooting also didn’t hurt. The Terps couldn’t buy a bucket from deep, going 6-for-32 from the floor. Besides for Anthony Cowan Jr. (19 points) and a late solid stretch from Jalen Smith (16 points), Maryland’s offense had a mediocre evening.

Now that Rutgers has secured this victory, its Big Ten finale against Purdue this weekend won’t be a dreaded must-win bubble-versus-bubble game. And with Purdue winning at Iowa on Tuesday night, the Boilermakers should enter that game with plenty of confidence. Obviously, the Scarlet Knights would like to win that one and keep momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament. But now that doesn’t feel like a must-win for Rutgers as much as it did before.

But the Rutgers court storm on Tuesday was well-deserved for its long-suffering fanbase. This is a season that fans of that program have waited decades for.

CBT Bracketology

3. No. 16 Michigan State rallies to get past No. 20 Penn State

Izzo in March…

Michigan State continued its late-season surge with an impressive comeback road win over Penn State. Trailing by 15 at the half, the Spartans scored as many points the first 10 minutes of the second half (31) as they had in the entire first half. With Maryland’s loss to Rutgers, Michigan State is now tied with the Terps for the Big Ten conference lead with both teams at 13-6.

Xavier Tillman Sr. put together a monster double-double of 23 points and 15 rebounds. Senior point guard Cassius Winston chipped in an efficient 14 points and seven assists. Perhaps most importantly, Michigan State’s defense showed up in the second half.

After Penn State blitzed the Spartans in the first half with 10 three-pointers, Michigan State didn’t allow a triple during the second half.

Michigan State now has four straight wins with three straight victories coming against top-20 teams. The last two of those wins came on the road.

Although Michigan State was sluggish at times during the season after being ranked No. 1 this preseason, this is currently one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball. The Spartans will get yet another ranked matchup in their regular-season finale when they host Ohio State this weekend.

Tennessee stuns No. 6 Kentucky with comeback road win

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Fulkerson scored a career-high 27 points, and Yves Pons made several key jumpers down the stretch as Tennessee rallied from a 17-point deficit to upset No. 6 Kentucky 81-73 on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (24-6, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) appeared in control leading 51-34 early in the second half before the Volunteers (17-13, 9-8) outscored them 29-9 over 10:09 to lead 63-60. Kentucky tied it at 63, but Pons answered with a 3-pointer and Fulkerson added two free throws to stay ahead.

Pons then added consecutive jumpers to make it 72-66 with 1:48 left. Nick Richards’ two free throws cut the lead to four, but Josiah-Jordan James put back his missed jumper to make it a six-point game again with 1:05 left.

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James then made three free throws and Santiago Vescovi added two more in the final minutes to seal Tennessee’s second consecutive victory and just its sixth at Rupp Arena. Pons finished with 15 points.

Fulkerson made 10 of 15 from the field and all seven free throws to top his previous best of 25 against South Carolina on Feb. 15.

Tyrese Maxey had 21 points and Immanuel Quickley 15 for Kentucky.

UP NEXT

Tennessee seeks a season split at home Saturday against No. 17 Auburn, which is tied for second with LSU.

Kentucky aims to complete a season sweep on Saturday at Florida, which looks to regroup from a loss to the Volunteers.

No. 8 Kentucky holds off Texas A&M

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Immanuel Quickley swears he had no idea he’d made a career-best eight 3-pointers on Tuesday night until he looked at the boxscore after the game.

“I really thought I had four and then I looked at it and said, `I don’t remember any of those,” he said.

Quickley also set a career-high with 30 points thanks to his hot long-range shooting to lead No. 8 Kentucky to its seventh straight win, 69-60, over Texas A&M.

While he didn’t seem to be aware of what kind of night he was having, his teammates certainly were.

“Super hot, super hot fire,” EJ Montgomery said. “If you touch him, you’re going to get burned.”

Quickley is the first Kentucky player with consecutive games with at least 25 points since Malik Monk in 2017. The sophomore scored 26 in a win over Florida on Saturday.

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Kentucky (23-5, 13-2 Southeastern Conference) was up by 13 and the Aggies hadn’t made a field goal in more than eight minutes when Quenton Jackson ended the drought with a dunk with about 6 minutes to go. That was the start of a 8-2 run by Texas A&M that cut the lead to 57-50 with about 4 minutes left.

Quickley ended the run with a jump shot and hit another 3-pointer after a free throw from Josh Nebo to make it 62-51 with about 90 seconds left to secure the victory. He was equally effective in the first half, making consecutive 3-pointers that thwarted another Texas A&M spurt.

While Quickley’s teammates raved about his big night, coach John Calipari was reticent to do so to the point that a reporter finally asked him why he was downplaying the performance.

“No, man, he had 30,” Calipari said. “It’s big. I love it. I don’t know what you want me to say. He made shots.”

Though Calipari finally lauded Quickley, it didn’t come until after he’d complained about what he did on one play before halftime.

“At halftime, I wanted to choke him because we set up a play for Nate (Sestina) to shoot a 3 and he was wide open and (Quickley) shot a ball,” Calipari said. “I went crazy. Are you kidding me?”

Wendell Mitchell had 18 points for Texas A&M (14-13, 8-7), which had a three-game winning streak snapped. The Aggies have lost nine straight games to ranked opponents, with their last win against a team in the Top 25 coming on March 18, 2018, when they beat No. 10 North Carolina.

Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said they executed their defensive plan well, but that it just didn’t work out because of Quickley’s performance.

“Our premise defensively is to do everything we can do to keep the ball out of the paint,” he said. “We want to force the team to shoot more 3s than normal.”

He said he didn’t consider changing that philosophy even when Quickley got going.

“There were just too many times we were just a second late,” he said.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Quickley, the SEC’s player of the week last week, seems to get better every game and is peaking at the right time. His ability to knock down 3s makes it difficult to slow him and the Wildcats down. It was his third straight game with 20 points or more and his 17th in a row with at least 10.

Texas A&M: The Aggies had discovered some offense during their winning streak but had trouble scoring Tuesday and finished with their worst offensive performance of the season. They’ll need to figure out how to be more effective on offense if they hope to close the regular season strong.

25-POINT CLUB

The Wildcats have had five players score 25 points or more this season for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Quickley is joined by Montgomery, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards and Hagans in the 25-point club. Calipari believes having so many players who have shown that capability will help his team in the postseason.

“In the tournament, if someone gets hot for your team and they know they can do it because they’ve done it one time, or twice or three times, that guy may help you win and advance in a game you weren’t going to win,” he said.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts Auburn on Saturday after losing to the Tigers 75-66 on Feb. 1.

Texas A&M: Visits LSU on Saturday. The Aggies lost to the Tigers 89-85 in overtime in their first meeting this season.