- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best basketball action. Bubble Watch has officially taken it prisoner, so, yeah, it's more like the Afternoon After (which happens sometimes). In any case, I wanted to get to these games, specifically their implications. Look for more on Michigan State later in the day, and join us for our weekly Friday chat at 1 p.m. ET.
No. 4 Duke 78, NC State 73: By this point, you've already seen the Duke-NC State highlights. If you're a Duke fan, you've already had time to simultaneously embrace your young team's unique ability to resurrect itself and fret about the deficiencies (again: rebounding, defense) that bury them in the first place. If you're an NC State fan, well, I don't know, man. The only State fan I know is a CBS NFL blogger Will Brinson, and he was actually at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the game last night and ... yeah. Rough night. Poor NC State fans. I mean, how brutal is that loss?
The important question for this Wolfpack team now is whether this loss comes to define their season. And no, I don't mean that in a vague or overwrought "this is how we'll remember this team" sort of way. By the end of the first week of March, we may just be looking back at this game -- and the 20-point lead with 11 minutes, in Cameron no less -- as the one that decided NC State's NCAA tournament fate.
This morning, Joe Lunardi updated his bracket, and the Wolfpack are among the last four in. Their profile, per Friday's Bubble Watch, goes as follows: No. 49 RPI, No. 59 SOS, No. 24 nonconference SOS, 2-6 vs. RPI top 50, 5-6 vs. RPI top 100, with the best wins still coming over Texas (meh) and at Miami (better, but still meh). On this bubble, with so many teams with comparable résumés, a road win at Duke would have given this decent, but not great, profile the one thing it truly needs: a marquee win.
Now? NC State's world is much the same as it was before it came to Durham this week. With the exception of Thursday night's game -- text I received: "Did Sidney Lowe sneak back on to NC State's bench for the last 10 minutes?!" -- Mark Gottfried has done a really nice job with this team in his first season at the helm. Speaking of Lowe, he never went to an NCAA tournament in five years in Raliegh. Gottfried has already proven what a legitimate collegiate head coach (as opposed to a fond memory in a scarlet sport coat) can do with this group of players. Perhaps the tourney bid isn't needed to validate this team's effort. But man, would it be nice.
No. 21 Florida State 48, Virginia Tech 47: If you're anything like me -- i.e. you keep SportsCenter on in the background and most hours of the day -- here's another ending you've already seen more than a few times. So I won't spend much time on that. Instead, well, Florida State's offensive surge seems to have been a fluke.
Think about it. For the past two or three seasons, FSU has played magnificent defense and downright bad offense. That was the case for much of this season until the Tar Heels came to town on Jan. 14. After that 90-57 blowout win, FSU went on to trounce Maryland, put up a 50-point second half at Duke and throttle Wake Forest on the Demon Deacons' home floor. In those four games, the Seminoles averaged 1.2 points per possession. Those four games were part of FSU's seven-game ACC winning streak, the one that put them into contention with Duke and UNC, the league's two codified powers, in the midst of a suddenly surprising ACC race.
But take a closer look. The two ACC tilts that preceded the four-game flash (a loss to Clemson, a win at Virginia Tech) and the five that have come after it (wins over Georgia Tech, Virginia, Miami and Virginia Tech, and last week's loss at Boston College) have all featured much more typical FSU offense. All together, the Seminoles averaged .94 points per trip in those seven games. In Thursday night's home win, against a rather so-so Hokies defense, the Seminoles scored a whopping .87 points per trip.
For a while there, this offense was rolling. When you defend as well as FSU does year in and year out, you don't have to score in bunches -- but, for a moment there, we saw what would happen if FSU did. The sky became the limit. Alas, it seems this team's four great games of offense was just that: four great games of offense, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. This FSU team? We know it all too well.
Everywhere else: Michigan State was commanding in a home win over Wisconsin, more on which I'll be writing later. ... Gonzaga got out of Santa Clara without letting one slip, which is good news for its chances of holding on to a tie with Saint Mary's for WCC regular-season honors. ... West Virginia pounded Pitt at home; in case you're the last person on Earth waiting for Pittsburgh to "turn it around," it's time to let it go. ... Vanderbilt put 102 points up at Ole Miss, because apparently going from Kentucky's defense to Ole Miss' is like going from varsity to YMCA. ... Things got a little crazy in the Pac-12, where every game was basically close and Cal held on to get a three-point home win over Oregon, one both teams very much needed for at-large purposes. Oregon's hopes may be just about done. ... BYU escaped San Fransisco with a hu-yuge 85-84 win. Or, to be more accurate, a non-loss. ... And, last but not least, Iowa-Penn State apparently played a basketball game, where the final attendance figure, as Adam Jacobi said on Twitter, was "no." (Too funny.)