Are you ready for March? The final Saturday of February made sure we all were. To quote the great George Costanza: You’re not in the mood? Well, you get in the mood!
What an exhilarating, entertaining, excitable, exhausting day that just was. Historic, too. It was ranked-team-as-roadkill Saturday. We’d never seen desecration at the top of the AP Top 25 poll like this. One by one, the highest-ranked squads in men’s college basketball were taken down. From the top on down, here’s the damage.
It is the first time the top six teams in the AP Top 25 lost on the same day. They flooded the floor in Moraga, California, as they did in Boulder, Colorado. Scenes of joy and shock as chaos reigned supreme. This is the glory and suspense of college hoops. It’s why we love it.
There’s more. No. 9 Texas Tech was also toppled at TCU 69-66. That makes for seven of the top nine teams that look an L, also a record. Have to believe Villanova couldn’t be more thrilled to not have a game scheduled this weekend. Meantime, Duke scooted up to Syracuse and put up one of its best games of the year, winning 97-72 over the Orange. Going into the day it was hard to envision a scenario in which the penultimate regular season weekend of Mike Krzyzewski’s career (when going up against a fellow legend in Jim Boeheim) could get put on the backburner to the backburner, but that’s exactly what happened.
No better way to loosen the muscles for March than with Saturday’s havoc, right?
So, what does it all mean? It means that tried-and-true cliché remains verifiable: it’s hard to win on the road in conference. It also means the top four or five seed lines in the NCAA Tournament are going to be strong … while also being vulnerable. Follow me here. The conversation that will likely come out of this memorable Saturday is that the national championship is anyone’s for the taking. All the top teams have weakness. They’re all gettable. And I get that.
But look beyond the losses and you’ll see how deep the sport is with teams that can win the title, then there’s another tier that is Final Four-capable. That group is probably almost 20-deep. And while Nos. 1-6 losing within hours of each other makes for a big headline, most of the teams that lost in the top of the polls were felled by legitimate foes. Gonzaga, Auburn, Kansas and Arkansas all were taken out by ranked teams. Even Purdue’s loss to Michigan State came against a Sparty club that’s comfortably in the NCAA Tournament and was atop the Big Ten standings a month ago.
Only Arizona’s 16-point loss at Colorado qualifies as a semi-shocker. In fact, Colorado got its first win over a top-two team since 1992, and the 16-point victory marked the largest margin for an unranked team over a top-two opponent since UMBC beat Virginia 74-54 in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Saint Mary’s beating Gonzaga? Yeah, a surprise — but not an outright stunner. The Gaels have been the foil for the Zags for more than a decade in the WCC. Still: it was Saint Mary’s first win in eight tries against GU. Gonzaga never led. It was SMC’s second win against a No. 1 team, the first coming in 2019 in the WCC title game against, of course, Gonzaga.
All this scoreboard cacophony is a great thing to head into March.
There were also great stories elsewhere, endings untied to upsets. Providence clinched its first regular season Big East championship in program history. The school’s former coach, Dave Gavitt, was the architect of the Big East. Providence, in effect, was the first member. Banner day in Rhode Island; Ed Cooley and the Friars are an incredible thing right now.
Another story with potential that got a boost: TCU has made once NCAA Tournament since 1998. The Frogs’ win over Texas Tech improved their chances drastically at getting back. We saw the unlikely, too: like this Florida State game-winner over Virginia.
I can’t help but wonder if we saw a team lose on Saturday that will ultimately not lose again the rest of the season. Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Purdue, Kansas and Kentucky are all good enough to take their slices of humble pie and then roll on a winning streak that could go all the way to New Orleans.
Just when you think you’ve got some of this sport figured out, it goes out and does its best to upend all notions of presumption and belief on who is beatable and who is a tier above the rest. Everyone’s good and nobody’s great. We think. Check back in two weeks, when Selection Sunday will be here and a bracket bursting with possibilities will still keep us guessing.
February is going out with so much pandemonium, it might as well be March. Sure feels like it.