Thursday, March 5, 2009
Strange times could get stranger
By Pat Forde ESPN.com
If the first week of March has told us anything so far, it's this:
The second week of March could be one of the craziest of all time.
Next week is when the major conferences hold their tournaments. And given the results from Tumultuous Tuesday and Weird Wednesday, there could be coast-to-coast anarchy.
St. John's likely put the nail in Georgetown's postseason coffin on Tuesday.
At this point, we've leaped into the great wide open.
The dregs of the big leagues have risen up and assailed both the power teams and the bubble teams, throwing the entire NCAA tournament selection process into turmoil. Or perhaps they made it really easy for the selection committee by unmasking several teams as unfit for inclusion or a top seed.
Here are the results of the two-day peasant revolt:
South Florida lost six straight to reach the 20-defeat depths -- but that didn't prevent the Bulls from beating Cincinnati on Tuesday in Tampa to perhaps seal the Bearcats' NIT fate.
St. John's (6-11 in the Big East) officially rendered Georgetown uninvitable to the Big Dance by coming from 15 points down in the second half to beat the nose-diving Hoyas in New York.
That was Tuesday.
On Wednesday, things got really strange.
Georgia Tech, the 2-13 cellar dweller in the Atlantic Coast Conference, might have terminated Miami's at-large candidacy by beating the Hurricanes in Atlanta.
North Carolina State, an NIT-at-best outfit with a 6-9 ACC record, did comparable damage to Boston College's NCAA hopes with a victory in Raleigh.
Texas Tech (3-12 in the Big 12) owned defending national champion and league leader Kansas for 40 minutes in Lubbock. The Red Raiders had lost six straight games coming in, and the Jayhawks had won five straight.
But if Kansas forfeited any claim to a No. 1 NCAA seed with that loss, Oklahoma might have done the same by being dominated at Missouri. (At least the Tigers are an NCAA tournament team, unlike any of the above winners.) The Sooners were never closer than seven points over the final 16 minutes in losing for the third time in their past four games. And this time, the "Blake Griffin Is Injured" card was not in play.
And then there were the teams that spoiled Senior Night by gagging away home games.
Purdue was beaten in Mackey Arena by Northwestern, which actually has butted into the bubble conversation and is in search of its first NCAA bid.
LSU won the Southeastern Conference title Saturday in Rupp Arena at Kentucky, then flopped in Baton Rouge against a Vanderbilt team that was 1-6 on the road in league play. The Tigers led 2-0, then never again.
"People were so surprised," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "Well, Vanderbilt's a good basketball team. And our margin for error is very slim."
That much is true -- the Tigers are 13-2 in league play but hardly have been blowing out opponents.
The Bulldogs left Rupp Arena as happy campers after taking down Kentucky.
That wasn't the only shocker in the SEC. Georgia, so bad all season that it got coach Dennis Felton fired weeks ago, went into Rupp Arena and won a game Kentucky absolutely had to have to keep at-large hopes alive. The Bulldogs scored 90 points, their highest total since Dec. 28 against North Carolina A&T, in improving to, ahem, 3-12 in the league.
Kentucky beat Georgia by 23 in January in Athens, leading interim Georgia coach Pete Herrmann to suspect the Cats had a false sense of security this time around.
"Kentucky had the feeling that we were atrocious and not very good," Herrmann said. "We gave them that feeling by playing so poorly."
Now it's Kentucky that's feeling atrocious. If the Cats don't win the SEC tournament, they'll be forced to decide whether they can hold their nose and accept their first NIT bid since 1979. Which is like asking the rich thoroughbred owners in the bluegrass to shovel their own horse manure.
Here's another appalling possibility for the chairman of the selection committee, SEC commissioner Mike Slive: What if the SEC is a two-bid league? What if it's LSU and whichever flawed team wins the Eastern Division?
That could be decided Thursday night, when co-leaders Tennessee and South Carolina play in Columbia. Taking both the Volunteers and Gamecocks is an option -- just not an overly appealing one.
But given the events Wednesday, a whole lot of SEC teams have to be feeling like they can win the league tournament in Tampa.
"It was such a wild night," Herrmann said. "Everyone's eyes maybe will open a little more."
Herrmann was speaking specifically about the SEC but might as well have been talking about the nation as a whole. Everyone's eyes should be open like Malcolm McDowell's in "A Clockwork Orange," waiting to see what happens next.
What we now have is a college basketball landscape with very few givens. But we do know this:
Aside from the power base in the Big East and the ACC, nobody is making much of a case for a No. 1 seed. Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Louisville from the Big East and North Carolina and Duke from the ACC still are winning games.
Michigan State remains in the conversation but nearly added its name to the upset list Tuesday when the Spartans barely wheezed past 6-23 Indiana, 64-59. Memphis is absolutely rolling, but with a 2-2 record against Big East teams (none of them in the league's top five), it's hard to put the Tigers ahead of anyone from that conference. Nobody in the Pac-10 has fewer than four conference losses and seven losses overall.
So the committee might be left with the possibility of something it's never done before: doling out three No. 1 seeds to the same league. Try doing that and giving them all geographic priority.
It's a strange concept -- but these are strange times we're living in. And they could get stranger with each passing day for the rest of March.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.