Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, March 4, 2013 at 9:27 AM
Okay, so the just-completed busy, busy, busy College Basketball weekend had a "hold-your-serve" element to it as the highly-ranked likes of Gonzaga, Duke and Michigan all won their home games - granted the 'Zags had a far easier time disposing of lowly Portland this past Saturday night than did these other elite hoop squads - but the emphasis we'd like to place here is on the weekend's biggest losers.
A/k/a, the Arizona Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers.
No doubt these two teams fit the profile of b-ballers - ranked #11 and #17, respectively, while heading into their weekend matchups - of squads that are counting on being between #2-thru-#4 NCAA Tournament seeds later this month but both stubbed their toes (and badly) this past weekend and so let's see what went wrong: Here's to the weekend's biggest losers ...
UCLA 74, ARIZONA 69 - Maybe the Wildcats' home loss to the archrival Uclans didn't draw quite the national attention of Duke's hang-on-for-dear-life 79-76 win against Miami but the fact of the matter is Arizona (23-6, 11-6 in Pac-12 play) severely damaged their own tourney fortunes as it marked the Wildcats' fourth loss in their last seven games overall.
As CBS studio analyst Seth Davis correctly stated in one TV segment on Sunday afternoon during the Michigan State at Michigan game, Arizona is going in the "wrong direction" at the most important time of the year.
Well said, Mr. Davis!
Arizona's latest "L" - the second time Sean Miller's crew was beaten this 2012-13 season by UCLA (and thus the first sweep in this series since 2008) - "featured" 16 turnovers by 'Zona who shot just 24-of-54 from the field (44.4 percent) and somehow lost despite canning 10-of-22 triples and out-rebounding the Bruins 34-to-24 at historic Pauley Pavilion. If nothing else, Miller likes how his club fought in this road tilt - take note that the Las Vegas line moved here from UCLA favored by 1 point to Arizona favored by 1½ points by game time - but Arizona is out of synch these days and searching for answers with just one more regular-season game to go and that's a tilt versus Arizona State.
Where does Arizona - the 11th-ranked team in the land heading into its latest setback -- stand right now in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding?
Well, consider that the Wildcats are in fourth place in a Pac-12 that figures to get six teams into the "Big Dance" and so snatching up a #1-thru-#4 seed right now practically is laughable unless the 'Cats can run the table right through next weekend's conference mini-tourney and also get some outside help from the other power conferences.
If anything, Arizona's weekend loss in Los Angeles - after losing 89-78 at USC last Wednesday night - has pushed the 'Cats back into a #5 or #6 seed right now ... talk about your lost weekends an your blown opportunity at revenge!
PURDUE 69, WISCONSIN 56 - Once upon a time the Big 10 folks had visions of as many as five or even six teams getting #1-thru-#4 NCAA Tournament seeds but Sunday's brutally bad Senior Day loss by the Wisky Badgers (20-9, 11-5 in Big 10 play) likely kayoed those plans ... once and for all.
Bo Ryan's club - a bloated 14 ½-point betting favorite against the Boilermakers - was outscored 38-20 following intermission that featured a rollicking 21-3 scoring surge by the Boilers. Let's just say Wisconsin was the gang that couldn't shoot straight as it missed its last 18 consecutive three-point attempts (and all 12 of 'em in the second half!) and when is the last time a Badgers team put up the following stats at home:
Wisconsin was out-boarded 36-to-26 by a smaller/less-physical Purdue team plus the Badgers nailed just 22-of-55 overall field-goal attempts (that's 40 percent) and made only eight trips to the foul line in all with just six makes - as opposed to Purdue going 11-of-17 from the charity stripe.
It's safe to say Ryan's guys lost more than a little aggression after the pre-game Senior Day festivities had worn off as guard Ben Brust drilled just 3-of-10 FG tries and F/C Jared Berggren and forward Mike Bruesewitz combined to hit just 5-of-18 shots from the floor and suddenly a Badgers team that once harbored hopes of landing either a #1 or #2 NCAA Tourney seed now must deal with the reality that it is only 7-5 SU (straight-up) overall since that gigantic 64-59 upset win at Indiana way back on January 15th ... and now doesn't that seem like eons ago?
The major damage done to Wisconsin with this latest loss is this: The Badgers - save for winning the upcoming Big 10 Tournament in Chicago - likely have said their final goodbyes to a #1-thru-4 seed and could be piled into the mix with teams such as aforementioned Arizona, New Mexico, Marquette and Pittsburgh battling for a #5 seed although things could get worse before they get better for the gang from Madison as it still has remaining road games at Michigan State and at Penn State before the mini-tourney begins on Thursday, March 14th. You can still feel the sting of Sunday's loss, right Badgers?
Now, here's a quick look back at other key weekend games ...
DUKE 79, MIAMI 76 - No doubt you saw the video clip where Blue Devils' head coach Mike Krzyzewski called Ryan Kelly's 36-point performance "a game for the ages" but can you really comprehend the fact this sweet-stroking dude canned 7-of-9 trifectas while playing his first game since early January? Kelly's right foot injury healed up nicely - and Duke's odds of winning it all just skyrocketed along with his timely return. Don't 'ya think?
LOUISVILLE 58, SYRACUSE 53 - Maybe G Luke Hancock wasn't considered a key cog for Rick Pitino's crew before this Big East game tipped off last Saturday afternoon but his dagger-like triple from deep in the corner with 50 seconds left stunned the 'Cuse who shot 35.7 percent from the floor. Maybe the folks who claim Louisville is the best team in this league are right.
MICHIGAN 58, MICHIGAN STATE 57 - Now that we know (for sure) that Wolverines point guard Trey Burke is one of the country's most dynamic do-everything players (see 21 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and two very late-game steals) the $64,000 question with this maize-and-blue bunch is can they get enough scoring punch from the other parts of this team to ride Burke's back to the Final Four? Sure would like to see Tim Hardaway Jr. attempt some "wiser" shots - something game analyst Bill Raftery discussed when Michigan started to shoot itself out of the game during a first-half scoring drought.
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Editor-s Note: The College Basketball Conference Tournaments - or mini-tournies, as we like to call'em - are right around the corner and that means lots of weekday action. Keep up on the daily schedules and remember to call us after 11 a.m. ET on weekdays where there are afternoon tilts. The Horizon Conference will tip off the mini-tourney proceedings next Tuesday but please check for game times.
Now, let's take some quick-hitter looks at a pair of College Basketball Conference Tournaments that will tip off this week ...
HORIZON LEAGUE (begins Tuesday at higher seeded teams) - Mark down Valparaiso as the slight favorite over Detroit here but keep in mind Bryce Drew's Valpo Crusaders (24-7) only have two players with double-digit scoring averages and so an "off night" for either Ryan Broekhoff (16.2 ppg) or Kevin Van Wijk (12.8 ppg) could kayo 'em from this mini-tourney.
The Favorite: Valparaiso
The Dark Horse: Wisconsin-Green Bay
WEST COAST CONFERENCE (begins Wednesday) - Now that Gonzaga (29-2) has dusted off all 16 WCC foes in regular-season play, the 'Zags will look to seal the deal on an NCAA Tournament #1 seed with a mini-tourney title here and the league's top offensive and defensive crew probably only will have one tough tilt to deal with here and that's a title-game showdown against either Saint Mary's or BYU - and the 'Zags would rather play a more mechanical BYU bunch, if you really want to know. Big man Kelly Olynyk (17.7 ppg and 7.0 rpg) is first-team All-America timber but let's see if he can handle all of the double teams that come at him this week.
The Favorite: Gonzaga
The Dark Horse: San Francisco
NOTE: Lots more College B-Ball Conference Tournament action in the next edition of Jim Sez.