Also falling into the "stay out of their own way" category is Virginia Tech, who seemed to play as if there work had been accomplished with Saturday's win over Duke. Enter Boston College, who showed the focus fitting of a team that knows it still needs wins in jumping out to an early 17-point lead and winning 76-61 in Blacksburg. Reggie Jackson scored 20 to lead the Eagles and Corey Raji added 19 and 12 rebounds to complete the season sweep. Steve Donahue's team closes out the regular season with Wake Forest at home while the Hokies visit Clemson in an important game for both. Not being in the room with the selection committee it's tough to pinpoint exactly what a team needs down the stretch, but it has to be noted that in addition to the win over Duke, Virginia Tech has been swept by both Boston College and Virginia. Those results can be just as damaging as a big win can be good for one's resume, but there's still time.
Alabama didn't do themselves many favors either, allowing a manageable game to get out of hand in the second half as Florida won 78-51 to clinch at least a share of the overall SEC title. Chandler Parsons, who has a very good case for SEC Player of the Year, led the Gators with 19 points and 11 rebounds and Vernon Macklin added 19 points of his own in the Gator romp. As for Alabama, it needs to be pointed out once again that their gaudy 11-4 league record is almost a case of "fool's gold"; three of those wins came against the East with only one (Tennessee) coming on the road. Those other two wins: South Carolina and Kentucky, who's 1-6 on the road in SEC play. Add in an underwhelming non-conference slate which includes an 0-3 Paradise Jam (Saint Peter's may be the best of the three losses with Seton Hall and Iowa being the others) and a loss at Providence and the Crimson Tide may need to at least get to the SEC Tournament final if not win the whole thing.
So much focus is placed on the need to pick up marquee wins that in quite a few cases the most basic rule to building a solid NCAA Tournament case is ignored: don't screw up and drop games you should win. Obviously Alabama's loss at Florida doesn't fall in that category, but the Baylor and Virginia Tech dropped the ball in games that did a lot more harm if lost than good if won. But all this hand-wringing could be a waste of time given the weakness of the back end of the at-large field. The teams who take care of business now will have little reason to worry on Selection Sunday, but that's something easier said than done.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Conference tournament play has its first upset victim: Liberty.
When Scott Cherry sat star guard Nick Barbour at the 9:56 mark High Point trailed two-seed Liberty 46-42. Someone needed to step up for the Panthers and who better to do so than Shay Shine, who scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half to lead High Point to a 66-60 quarterfinal victory. After a John Caleb Sanders layup with 10:42 remaining made the score 46-40 the Panthers went on a 12-0 run with Shine supplying 10 of those points. High Point shot 70.6% from the field in the second half, and Tehran Cox stepped up as well and finished with 11 points of his own.
"These two guys sitting next to me [Shay Shine and Tehran Cox] made some really big plays," said Coach Cherry. "Shay with some of the shots he made and Tehran with some of the plays he made late. We came here hungry, even though we didn't finish the season on a high note." (quote courtesy of Liberty Athletics)
Evan Gordon and Big South Player of the Year Jesse Sanders led the way offensively for Liberty but they combined to shoot 8-for-25, and as a team the Flames sot 39.4% in the final 20 minutes. Next up for High Point is UNC Asheville in the semifinals, and why can't they pull off another upset? Keep Barbour on the floor along with Shine and there isn't much limit to what they can accomplish.
2. BYU and North Carolina suffer personnel losses, with the Cougars' being impacted much more.
BYU and North Carolina received bad news on Tuesday with forward Brandon Davies (BYU) and wing Reggie Bullock (UNC) ruled out for the remainder of the season, but for drastically different reasons. Bullock's done because of a knee injury while Davies has been ruled out due to a violation of BYU's Honor Code. Not having Davies means that BYU has to rely even more on Noah Hartsock inside with their interior numbers already being diminished by the loss of Chris Collinsworth earlier in the season. So what does BYU do to make up for the loss of their leading rebounder?
Most likely Charles Abouo sees time at the four in a smaller lineup, and as a team the Cougars will need to rebound at a higher clip. As for North Carolina, Bullock's loss removes a solid bench option but he's just one of eight players averaging at least 14.5 minutes per game. Leslie McDonald could see an increase in his minutes off the bench or maybe head coach Roy Williams increases the minutes for Harrison Barnes. The Tar Heels don't lack for options in replacing their lost player, which is a good position to be in at this point in the season. Don't sell on BYU just yet (they host New Mexico tonight), but another frontcourt loss was exactly what the Cougars did not need.
3. Missouri completes a 1-7 conference road record with a loss at Nebraska.
For as much heat as Kentucky takes for their conference road struggles the talk about Missouri's woes have been quiet by comparison. Mike Anderson's team wrapped up a 1-7 road slate with a 69-58 loss at Nebraska as the Cornhuskers went on a 17-2 second half run to put the game away. The issue last night, as it has been in a number of games for Missouri was rebounding. Nebraska controlled the boards 35-24 in addition to outscoring the Tigers 14-2 in fast break points. The Huskers also shot 53.2% for the game, including 66.7% in the second half as they put the game away. The good news for Missouri: they won't have to play another road game the rest of the season. The bad news: if they run into a team that's effective on the boards the Tigers could find themselves headed home.
Top Three Games
1. (23) Kentucky 68, (20) Vanderbilt 66
Brandon Knight (17 points) and Terrence Jones (15, nine rebounds) may have led the Wildcats on the stat sheet but it was their lone senior who made the big play late. Josh Harrellson harassed Festus Ezeli into fumbling away a pass in the final seconds to preserve the victory and a 17-0 home record for Kentucky this season. Ezeli finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks to lead the Commodores.
2. North Texas 72, Arkansas-Little Rock 69
Shannon Shorter scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Mean Green to a win in the regular season finale for both despite leading scorer Josh White out with a foot injury. The win also earned North Texas the four-seed in the West Division for the upcoming Sun Belt Tournament. D'Andre Williams and Gus Leeper scored 11 points apiece to lead the Trojans.
3. High Point 66, Liberty 60
Three Notable Performances
1. G Jon Diebler (Ohio State)
Scored 30 points, making 10 of 12 shots from beyond the arc, to go along with five assists and three rebounds in the Buckeyes' 82-61 win at Penn State.
2. G Shay Shine (High Point)
Scored 20 of his game-high 26 points in the second half of High Point's 66-60 win at Liberty in a Big South quarterfinal.
3. G D.J. Cooper (Ohio)
25 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Bobcats' 80-55 win over Akron.