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Bubble Banter: Xavier, Alabama, Utah State with critical games

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The latest NBC Sports bracket projection can be found here.

WINNERS

MINNESOTA (NET: 56, SOS: 55): The Golden Gophers landed a massive, massive win on Tuesday night, as they picked off Purdue (11) in Minneapolis. It’s the third Q1 win for Richard Pitino’s and their second elite win in league play — they also beat Wisconsin (17) on the road. The Gophers are just 2-8 this season on the road, but they are sitting here on March 6th with a 19-11 record, 10 wins against Q1 and Q2 opponents and just one loss outside the top 100 — at Boston College (111), which is still a Q2 game. Minnesota entered the day sitting right around the play-in game on most projections, and this should be enough to get them on the right side of the bubble. They’re in a really good spot.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 41, SOS: 23): As hard as it may be to believe, Oklahoma entered the day sitting as a No. 9 seed in our latest bracket projection at NBC Sports despite the fact that they were 18-11 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12. That’s what happens when you have a pair Q1 wins, an 8-11 mark against Q1 and Q2, no bad losses and exactly zero games played against Q4 competition. Now add to that Tuesday night’s win — by 13 points over Kansas (16) at home. The Sooners play at Kansas State (27) on Saturday, and at this point, I think they are just about a lock to dance.

VCU (NET: 36, SOS: 42): The Rams did what they needed to do on Tuesday, absolutely drilling George Mason in Fairfax and heading back to Richmond needing nothing more than a win over Saint Joseph’s to just about lock up their bid. The Rams are 6-4 in Q1 and Q2 games, highlighted by a win at Texas (33), but they also have a pair of Q3 losses. I don’t know if they can withstand two more ugly losses, which is what just about every loss to an Atlantic 10 opponent is this season, but I do think they can get a bid with one.

LOSERS

ALABAMA (NET: 53, SOS: 21): The Crimson Tide whiffed on a major chance to land their third Q1 win of the season when they blew a double-digit lead at home against Auburn (20). They are now sitting at 17-13 overall with two Q1 wins and a 9-12 mark against Q1 and Q2. The loss to Georgia State (135) at home is bad, but the win over Kentucky (5) is good. They’re probably sitting in one of the play-in games at the moment, so there is definitely work left to do.

UTAH STATE (NET: 30, SOS: 100): The Aggies dodged a massive bullet on Tuesday night, going into Fort Collins with a share of the MWC title on the line and getting taken to overtime by Colorado State (185). But they got the win, and at this point, with Saturday’s win over Nevada (23) in the books and their regular season over, I think they’re dancing as long as they can avoid taking a bad loss in the MWC tournament.

XAVIER (NET: 70, SOS: 46): Xavier played its way back into the bubble picture thanks to a surprising five-game Big East winning streak. Momentum ran out for the Musketeers during a Tuesday road loss at Butler (59). Squandering a valuable Q1 opportunity against the Bulldogs, Xavier finds itself at 3-9 against Q1 teams and a solid 6-2 with Q2 opponents. Saturday’s home game against St. John’s (61) is now a must-win scenario for the Musketeers if they want to maintain any sort of bubble credibility — but that will likely only be a Q2 opportunity.

OLE MISS (NET: 37, SOS: 85): The Rebels missed on a chance to beat Kentucky (5) at home on Tuesday, but they still are in a good spot. They are 19-11 overall, but 10 of their 11 losses are against Q1 opponents, they swept Auburn (20) and they have a total of seven Q1 and Q2 wins. I would not recommend losing at Missouri (86) and in the first round of the SEC tournament, but I do think that all it would take is one more win to get the job done.

Bracketology: Race is on for No. 1 Seeds

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We’re just under two weeks away from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show, and the race is on for the coveted spots along the No. 1 seed line.

Gonzaga seems like a lock to lead the West Region.  At this point, a loss in the West Coast Conference tournament will do little to change the Zags’ overall profile.  What it would do, however, is send ripples along the bubble, because as we stand now, the WCC appears to be a one-bid league.

Tennessee earns the final No. 1 seed today.  Kentucky and North Carolina are equally strong contenders.  And let’s not sleep on Michigan if the Wolverines win their rematch against Michigan State and surge to a Big 10 tournament title.  We also have another matchup between Duke and UNC as we await news about the availability of Zion Williamson.

NBC Sports Top 25 | Bubble Watch

On a housekeeping note … with conference tournaments beginning this week, we’ve eliminated the CAPS referring to automatic bids; those will be reserved now as teams officially punch their tickets (exceptions made for teams traditionally known by their acronym – such as VCU).

UPDATED: March 4, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Temple vs. Seton Hall
WEST REGION Minnesota vs. Arizona State
EAST REGION Iona vs. Norfolk State
WEST REGION Prairie View vs. St. Francis (PA)

EAST Washington, DC   WEST – Anaheim        
Columbia Salt Lake City
1) Virginia 1) Gonzaga
16) Iona / Norfolk St 16) Prairie View / St. Francis
8) Auburn 8) Syracuse
9) St. John’s 9) VCU
San Jose Hartford
5) Mississippi State 5) Kansas State
12) Temple / Seton Hall 12) Minnesota / Arizona St
4) Kansas 4) Florida State
13) UC-Irvine 13) Vermont
Jacksonville Tulsa
6) Villanova 6) Nevada
11) Texas 11) Florida
3) LSU 3) Texas Tech
14) Yale 14) Texas State
Des Moines Des Moines
7) Buffalo 7) Louisville
10) Utah State 10) TCU
2) Michigan State 2) Michigan
15) Loyola-Chicago 15) Montana
MIDWEST – Kansas City SOUTH – Louisville
Columbus Columbia
1) Tennessee 1) Duke
16) Campbell 16) Sam Houston St
8) Washington 8) Baylor
9) Oklahoma 9) Ole Miss
San Jose Hartford
5) Virginia Tech 5) Maryland
12) Lipscomb 12) Belmont
4) Wisconsin 4) Marquette
13) New Mexico St 13) Old Dominion
Salt Lake City Tulsa
6) Iowa State 6) Cincinnati
11) Alabama 11) NC State
3) Houston 3) Purdue
14) South Dakota St 14) Hofstra
Jacksonville Columbus
7) Wofford 7) Iowa
10) Ohio State 10) UCF
2) North Carolina 2) Kentucky
15) Colgate 15) Wright State

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Florida Minnesota Georgetown Providence
Texas Arizona State Clemson Memphis
NC State Temple Furman UNC-Greensboro
Alabama Seton Hall Xavier Creighton

TOP SEED LINE: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, and Tennessee

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): PURDUE, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas

SEC (8): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Campbell (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Colgate (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Xavier sends No. 17 Villanova to third straight loss, 66-54

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CINCINNATI — Xavier players ran to the student section to slap hands after their biggest win of the season. A couple of weeks ago, nobody could have anticipated them knocking off No. 17 Villanova by double digits.

Those low expectations made it all the sweeter.

Naji Marshall scored 17 points and Xavier used a big surge in the second half to rally past Villanova 66-54 Sunday , leaving the Wildcats with three straight losses in Big East play for the first time since the conference was reconfigured.

It was only Xavier’s second win against the Wildcats in the Big East.

“I’ve never beaten `Nova in my career,” junior point guard Quentin Goodin said. “Having all the doubters against us, I feel we proved a point today.”

The Musketeers (15-13, 7-8) won their fourth straight — matching their season high — and ended their run of lopsided losses against the Wildcats. Villanova (20-8, 11-4) had won five in a row against the Musketeers, including an 85-75 victory on Jan. 18.

That loss started a six-game Xavier losing streak that dropped the defending regular season champions to last in the Big East. Now they’re on their way back up.

“We’re a heck of a lot better than we were then — a lot,” coach Travis Steele said. “Dramatically.”

It showed in the big moments.

Marshall had seven points during a 17-0 run that gave Xavier its first lead midway through the second half. Marshall has been the catalyst during Xavier’s winning streak, averaging 20.5 points.

“We all need to be on one bus, all together on this,” Marshall said. “It’s not about individual play.”

Villanova struggled to hit shots during back-to-back road losses at St. John’s and Georgetown, and the poor shooting carried over. The Wildcats missed 11 consecutive shots during Xavier’s decisive run and were only 4 of 18 from beyond the arc in the second half, when they went more than 9 minutes without scoring.

“It seemed like a long time,” coach Jay Wright said. “I think we’re just not executing the way we want to, not getting any easy baskets off our defense, so it makes every shot monumental.”

Phil Booth had 12 points in the first half, when the Wildcats led by as many as nine points. Their 30-27 halftime lead ended a streak of three straight halves allowing at least 40 points. Booth made only one of his eight shots in the second half and finished with 14 points.

Marshall hit a floater and a 3-pointer as Xavier got its first lead, 49-44, midway through the second half and started its decisive run.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wildcats will plummet after their 85-73 loss at Georgetown on Wednesday — the most points they’d allowed this season — and the 12-point loss at Xavier. They’ve been ranked for six straight weeks.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: The loss to Xavier is telling. The Wildcats have won 11 of 13 since both have been in the Big East — the conference was reconfigured for the 2013-14 season. Their only other loss to Xavier during that span was 90-83 at the Cintas Center on Feb. 24, 2016, when Villanova was ranked No. 1.

Xavier: The winning streak has pulled the Musketeers out of the Big East basement and moved the defending regular season champions up to a tie for fourth place.

OLD TIMES

Both teams wore throwback jerseys reminiscent of their 1980s uniforms.

NO POINTS FOR `NOVA

Villanova’s 54 points were its fewest since a 73-46 loss to Michigan the third game of the season. In the last 2 1/2 games, the Wildcats have shot 34 percent from the field and 24.7 percent from beyond the arc.

PASCHALL BETTER

Eric Paschall led the Wildcats with 17 points. In his two previous games, he was only 6 of 22 from the field.

NOTHING FREE

Villanova shot only four free throws and made them all. Xavier was 10 of 18 from the line.

Monday Overreactions: P.J. Washington, Phil Booth and a rant about officiating

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: P.J. Washington, Kentucky

I’ve been on the “Kentucky is back!!!” bandwagon for more than a month at this point, ever since they took down North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

Over the course of the last nine days, the rest of the college basketball world has caught up. Last Saturday, Kentucky landed what we thought was their most impressive win to date, going into Auburn and picking off the Tigers, but that was before they put a 21 point win on Mississippi State in Rupp Arena and followed that up by taking out Kansas on Saturday.

Those wins put Kentucky firmly in the race to get a No. 1 seed — the Wildcats still have two games left against No. 1 Tennessee — and the man that they have to thank for those wins is P.J. Washington.

Washington has had something of an up-and-down season, but he was at his very best against the Bulldogs, finishing with 21 points, six boards and four blocks while knocking down three threes before following that up with a dominant 20 points, 13 boards and two blocks against the Jayhawks. His performance against Kansas was made doubly-impressive because he was the player that forced Kansas out of their small-ball lineup. Washington spent a lot of time guarding Marcus Garrett, who had averaged 17 points in his previous three games and managed a 1-for-9 shooting night with three turnovers against the Wildcats.

John Calipari has said it himself: When Washington plays like he’s Kentucky’s best player, that’s when the Wildcats can hit their ceiling.

We saw that in full this week.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Purdue Boilermakers

Talk about a statement win.

Purdue, who entered last week unranked despite being a top ten team on KenPom, went out and absolutely worked over No. 6 Michigan State on Sunday. The final score was 73-63, but at one point in the second half, Purdue was up 55-32. Making that win all the more impressive was the fact that Purdue got a 4-for-18 shooting performance out of Carsen Edwards, the guy we thought this team was going to live and die with this year.

Purdue also won at Ohio State last week, extending their winning streak to five games and pushing their record in Big Ten play to 7-2.

Just what should we make of that performance and this Purdue team? I went in depth on that very subject in this week’s Top 25.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. THE CARNAGE ON THE BUBBLE THIS WEEK IS MORE EVIDENCE MID-MAJORS NEED SERIOUS AT-LARGE CONSIDERATION

This weekend was something of a disaster for teams that are sitting on or near the bubble right now. The full breakdown of everything that happened can be found here, but let’s take a look at just a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Indiana lost their sixth straight game, falling to 12-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten with two games against Michigan State, home dates with Purdue and Wisconsin and four total games against Iowa, Ohio State and Minnesota left.
  • Nebraska not only lost their third straight game and fifth game in their last seven, Isaac Copeland’s season came to an end when he tore his ACL.
  • Saint Louis lost at home when Jordan Goodwin missed two free throws down one point with 0.4 seconds left.
  • Arizona State lost at USC while Arizona was swept by USC and UCLA.
  • Texas lost at Georgia.
  • Fresno State got worked over by Colorado State in a game they really couldn’t afford to lose.
  • San Francisco dropped a roadie against San Diego.
  • Seton Hall was absolutely mollywhopped by Villanova in Philly, extending their losing streak to four games.
  • UCF got beaten at Memphis by 20 points. That loss is the first Q1 games that UCF has played.
  • Temple lost at home against Cincinnati, leaving them with just two potential Q1 wins the rest of the season.

I’ve gone on this rant before and I’ll probably go on this rant again before the season comes to a close, but with just how ugly some of these high-major conferences have become, can we please let this be the year where we give the best mid-majors their due?

(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The Pac-12 does not deserve more than two bids to the NCAA tournament, and they should only get two bids if someone other than Washington wins the automatic bid to the big dance. No one else in that league is close to good enough to get an at-large invite. The same can be said for the Mountain West and the WCC, who are arguably better leagues this season than the Pac-12 is. The American probably should be a two-bid league at this point as well. Houston has proven themselves to be one of the best teams in the country, and I have a feeling that Cincinnati will end up having a resume that is good enough to get a bid come Selection Sunday, but are we really buying into Temple and UCF here? The Knights have literally played a single Q1 game at this point in the year. Temple has only won one. The top two in the Big East are very, very good, but as of January 27th, eight of the ten teams in the conference are below .500 in league play. The Atlantic 10 does not have an at-large worthy team this year.

So let’s give the best mid-majors in the country a real shot at this.

Take Wofford, for example. They are currently 31st in NET with a win at South Carolina, who is 5-1 in SEC play. They play in the better-than-you-realize SoCon, a conference that currently has four teams in the top 85 of the NET. The Pac-12 also has just one top 50 team and only four in the top 70. They only have one Q1 win (at UNC Greensboro) but all four of their losses are Q1 losses. Would you rather see the Terriers and sharpshooter Fletcher Magee get slotted in a play-in game, or someone like Florida, whose sole accomplishment this season is being good enough to game the metrics by playing a whole bunch of good teams close?

Then there’s Murray State. They lost their only two Q1 games — at Auburn and at Alabama by a combined 11 points — and then got dropped in their only Q2 game because their superstar point guard Ja Morant twisted his ankle in the first minute against Belmont. We know how difficult it is to win on the road in college basketball. Kentucky, who we all think is a national title contender once again, lost at Alabama in a game they trailed by double-digits late in the second half and only won at Auburn by two. You don’t think a healthy Murray State could take down either of those schools — or two-thirds of the SEC, for that matter — playing in front of 8,600 fans at the CFSB Center?

Hell, let’s not forget about Belmont, who won at UCLA earlier this year and just this past week won at Murray State and at Austin Peay. The Bruins also swept Lipscomb, who sit at 41st in NET with wins at TCU and at SMU. Then there’s a team like Penn, who swept the Big 5 schools — including Villanova — to go along with wins at George Mason, Miami, at New Mexico and at Toledo. If they’re not so banged over the holiday period, we would be talking about the Quakers as one of the best mid-major in college hoops. Hofstra is on a 16 game winning streak with their only losses coming at Maryland, at VCU and at Marshall.

This is my play to the NCAA tournament selection committee: The NET rankings tell you everything you need to know about these teams. They are all ranked in the top 75. Most are ranked in the top 50. They are good enough. Don’t punish them because the big boys won’t play them on the road and because they happen to inhabit a conference on the outskirts of college basketball relevance.

2. WE NEED TO HAVE A REAL CONVERSATION ABOUT COLLEGE HOOPS OFFICIATING

It’s not great, and there were a couple more instances this weekend of poor officiating influencing the outcome of a game. Take Marquette-Xavier, for example. With just under four minutes left, Xavier head coach Travis Steele was upset that he did not get a foul call on a Naji Marshall jumper, and in a two-point game he was hit with a technical foul. That gave two points to the Golden Eagles on free throws, and in the aftermath of that whistle — which the rest of the officiating crew knew was bogus — the next three calls were very borderline and all went in favor of the Musketeers. One of the three fouled out Marquette’s starting center.

On the other side of the country, in a game where New Mexico led with 30 seconds left, a phantom over-and-back was called that gave the ball back to Utah State, who promptly hit a three with 1.6 seconds left to win.

I could probably do this all day.

The truth is this: There were 150 Division I games played on Saturday. That means that there were 450 different referees working a difficult job. It’s hard enough for the best in the business to get calls right, let alone the 425th-best referee. That’s just something that coaches are going to have to accept. There’s human error in that business, and there are going to be more human errors with more humans working.

But part of the issue is that some coaches don’t treat referees like humans.

I’ve never really understood why it is acceptable for coaches to act the way they do on the sidelines. They scream, they yell, they curse, they show up and they try to embarrass the adults that are calling these games, and then they have the audacity to acted shocked when the grown-ups they have spent the better part of two hours disrespecting gets a bang-bang play wrong.

It’s even worse when coaches play the victim card for getting a technical foul on the 27th F-bomb that they hurled at an official.

If you don’t act like a jackass and you won’t get treated like a jackass.

(David Purdy/Getty Images)

3. LINDELL WIGGINTON WAKING UP IS A DIFFERENCE-MAKER

The Iowa State star has spent the better part of this season stuck somewhere between a shooting funk and the training room as a foot injury kept him out of the lineup for a month and, to date, and moved him out of Iowa State’s starting lineup.

The truth is that he’s probably the most talented scorer that the Cyclones have, but when you’re shooting under 35 percent from the floor, you aren’t going to play all that much for a top 20 team. On Saturday, however, he popped out of his shooting slump, scoring 18 points while shooting 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from three in a win at Ole Miss. If the Cyclones can get Wigginton back to being the guy that averaging better than 16 points as a freshman, they become a much more dangerous basketball team.

4. PHIL BOOTH WILL PLAY IN THE NBA

He probably won’t be a first round pick and he may not even get drafted this year, but I’m convinced that Booth is going to be the next Villanova star to find a long and profitable career as an NBA role player. He’s always been an efficient player but this year, he’s taken it to another level. He’s averaging 18.7 points, 3.9 assists and 3.8 boards while shooting 42.1 percent from three on more than seven attempts per game. He can play the point. He can defend bigger guards. He understands what it takes to play a role. He’s a proven winner. He just turned 23, so he’ll be ready to contribute the second he signs a pro contract.

In an era where versatility, playmaking and shooting is prioritized, Booth is a guy that you have to be a fan of.

5. THE WORST THING INDIANA DID THIS YEAR WAS BLOW OUT MARQUETTE EARLY IN THE YEAR

I wrote this on Friday night, after Indiana lost their sixth straight game, but I think it bears repeating. Here is my full take on what is going on with these Hoosiers:

Beating Marquette the way that he did (96-73) was the worst thing that could have happened to Archie Miller this season because, when combined when Romeo-mania coming into the program, it set expectations much higher than they should have been. The truth is that this is a team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores alongside Juwan Morgan. One of those freshmen is Indiana’s starting point guard, and he wasn’t a top 100 prospect. They are shooting 25 percent from three in Big Ten play and are 13-for-75 from three the last four games.

The truth is that this team is and always was going to be closer to what they’ve been the last month than what they were against Marquette.

And frankly, it’s not quite disaster territory just yet. Those six losses were: at Michigan, at Maryland, Nebraska, at Purdue, at Northwestern, Michigan.

That’s brutal for anyone, let alone a young team that has totally and completely lost any semblance of confidence they had in November.

Yes, Indiana lacks leadership. Yes, Romeo has looked like a freshman far too often. No, Archie Miller has not done a good job with this team. But can we stop pretending like this is the 2008 team going into the tank? Indiana wasn’t ranked in the preseason top 25 for a reason, and you’re seeing it now.

Saturday’s Things To Know: The Big 12 rolls, Kentucky’s back, Justin Robinson breaks out

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PLAYERS OF THE DAY: Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

Robinson had the game of his life on Saturday afternoon.

The senior point guard, who has spent much of this season overshadowed by the emergence of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, scored 24 of his 35 points in the first half, hit nine of his 13 threes and handed out eight assists as No. 10 Virginia Tech bounced back from a couple of embarrassing losses at Virginia and at North Carolina to mollywhop Syracuse in Blacksburg.

The Hokies jumped out to an early double-digit lead, pushed the lead to 19 points by halftime and ended up cruising through the second half as the Syracuse zone had no answer for their ability to pass the ball and shoot over the top of the Orange defenders.

This was exactly the kind of win that Buzz Williams’ team needed to get their confidence back and headed in the right direction.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Kentucky Wildcats

It doesn’t get much better than knocking off a top ten team and getting the nation back on your bandwagon. We wrote about about No. 8 Kentucky beating No. 9 Kansas right here.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Braxton Beverly, N.C. State

The Wolfpack trailed 67-61 with 20 seconds left. After four missed free throws from Marcquise Reed, Braxton Beverly hit this shot to give N.C. State the win:

EXTRA ONIONS: The Hausers

And we all thought that Markus Howard was the bucket-getter for Marquette.

Well, he still is. He had 31 points today. But just as important as those 31 points were the 41 points and 14 boards that Sam and Joey Hauser combined for as No. 12 Marquette erased an 11-point deficit late in the second half on Saturday. There wasn’t a single shot that stood out, but that duo made big shot after big shot, and then hit clutch free throws down the stretch to ice the win.

With those two playing as well as they have been playing, Marquette is looking more and more like a serious Final Four threat.

SATURDAY WAS A GOOD DAY FOR …

THE BIG 12: Thanks to an impressive feat of scheduling, the Big 12 was able to cruise past the SEC in the Big 12/SEC Challenge thanks in large part to the fact that three of the top five teams in the SEC — No. 16 Auburn, No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 25 LSU — were not playing in the event. Kansas-Kentucky was a thriller, and Iowa State-Ole Miss had some intrigue even if it didn’t live up to it, but beyond that, the slate as a whole was something of a snooze.

But it worked out for the Big 12. They won the event 6-4.

THE BIG THREE: It’s not exactly surprising given the competition that they were playing, but No. 1 Tennessee, No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Duke all cruised to blowout wins. Tennessee was challenged early by West Virginia, Duke was challenged a little longer by Georgia Tech, but overall there wasn’t much of a sweat.

QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON: Weatherspoon finished with 27 points, scoring 20 in the second half as No. 22 Mississippi State landed a much-needed win over No. 16 Auburn, 92-84.

LINDELL WIGGINTON: It has been awhile since we’ve seen Wigginton play like the guy that was arguably the best returning guard in the Big 12 this season, but he did on Saturday. Wigginton scored 18 points in 21 minutes off the bench, shooting 7-for-10 from three and making three threes to help Iowa State land a win at Ole Miss. Getting Wigginton and Cameron Lard playing better is the key to the Cyclones reaching their season.

SATURDAY WAS A BAD DAY FOR …

KANSAS STATE: The Wildcats had won five straight games, turning their season around and setting themselves on a course as one of college basketball’s biggest sleepers, and then the SEC/Big 12 Challenge comes along and Kansas State goes and loses to Texas A&M, who entered this game with a 7-10 record having lost six of their last seven. That’s not ideal.

MISSOURI: The Tigers led No. 25 LSU by 14 points with 2:08 left, and not only did they managed to find a way to get to overtime, but they lost in overtime and failed to cover 5.5 points. This was a bad beat for Missouri and the people that bet on them.

TRAVIS STEELE: It’s bad enough that Xavier blew an 11 point second half lead and lost at home to No. 12 Marquette, but part of the reason that the Musketeers lost is that Steele, with 3:34 left in the game, was hit with a technical foul right after Marquette had regained the lead. He’s had better days.

ISAAC COPELAND: Not only did Nebraska lose at home to Ohio State, the third straight loss for the Huskers as they fight for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they suffered a much more significant loss: Isaac Copeland is done for the year after tearing his ACL, and he tore it going up for a meaningless dunk after he was called for a travel. Just brutal.

JORDAN GOODWIN: The Billikens might have lost their chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on Saturday with a 54-53 loss to Davidson, and that loss was due to Jordan Goodwin missing a pair of free throws with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock. That’s a tough one to swallow.

FINAL THOUGHT

Overall, I know the Big Ten is a good basketball conference.

There are two very real national title contenders at the top of the league in Michigan and Michigan State, and they legit.

But beyond that, what are we talking about here?

Because the further we get into the season, the more that I am starting to believe that there is a giant mass of mediocrity in the league once you get past the top two teams.

We all thought Maryland was the team that was going to emerge as the contender to the Michigan schools, but after getting worked by the Wolverines, the Terps turned around and lost to Illinois on Saturday. That’s not good. Neither is the emergence of Wisconsin as potentially the third-best team in the conference after they had a string of losing four out of five, including a home game to Minnesota and a pair of games where they couldn’t crack 15 first half points. Purdue has looked great in metrics like KenPom and NET, but that’s largely due to the number of close losses they have against the likes of Florida State, Virginia Tech and Texas. I don’t trust Iowa or Minnesota. Ohio State just snapped a five-game losing streak against Nebraska, who is on a three-game losing streak. Indiana has lost six in a row.

I fully expect at least nine teams from the Big Ten to get to the NCAA tournament because the Pac-12 is awful, the Mountain West only has one potential at-large team and the Atlantic 10 has none. The bids have to come from somewhere.

But that doesn’t mean I think that those teams are going to be great once they get there.

Howard rallies No. 12 Marquette over Xavier 87-72

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CINCINNATI — Markus Howard scored 19 of his 31 points down the stretch Saturday as No. 12 Marquette rallied to beat Xavier 87-82 for its seventh consecutive win.

Joey Hauser added 21 points and Sam Hauser had 20 to help Marquette (18-3, 7-1 Big East) overcome Xavier’s best offensive showing of the season.

After Xavier (11-10, 3-5) pulled ahead 58-47 with 14 minutes left, Howard hit a pair of baskets that started the comeback. His long 3-pointer put Marquette ahead 79-71 with 1:59 left, and his two free throws with 9.1 seconds left closed it out.

Paul Scruggs scored 21 points for Xavier, and Tyrique Jones matched his career high with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

The teams set a wide-open pace from the outset, with Xavier hitting 8 of 11 shots and Marquette 7 of 14. Play wasn’t stopped for the first timeout until the 10:40 mark with the Musketeers ahead 22-18. They led by as many as seven before Marquette pulled even 39-39 for halftime .

Xavier’s Naji Marshall guarded Howard until an injured right shoulder — hurt in the last game — forced him to the bench with 2:21 left in the opening half. He returned for the start of the second half and hit a pair of 3s as Xavier built its 11-point lead.

BIG PICTURE

Marquette: The Golden Eagles’ winning streak is their longest in league play since they took seven straight in 2011-12. The No. 12 ranking is their highest since the 2012-13 season.

Xavier: The Musketeers played their best game on offense but continued to struggle in the closing minutes of close games. They fell to 9-4 at the Cintas Center, where they lost one time last season.