#4 North Carolina 69, NC State 67
There were a bunch of weird things in this game that NC State fans will surely be thinking about. CJ Leslie picked up his fourth foul with a little more than 8 minutes left in the game, and was inexplicably left in the game, where he fouled out on the next possession. I'm all for being more aggressive with playing guys in foul trouble (coaches harm their own chances of winning by being too strict about benching players with 2 fouls in the first half or 3 fouls early in the second half), but this was clearly a case where nobody on NC State recognized that he had picked up his fourth foul. Just a horrible goof. Down the stretch, it seemed like every 50/50 call went North Carolina's way, including a no-call on a potential charge by Kendall Marshall before the game winner, and a no-call on a potential hack of Richard Howell's final chance for NC State. I'm sure North Carolina fans can give an argument for why every one of these calls (and there were a bunch more) were the right ones, but when every 50/50 call is going to one team instead of the other it's unfortunate.
There are story lines about both teams coming out of this game. For North Carolina, the question is whether a win tomorrow over Florida State will earn them a 1 seed. Paradoxically, UNC fans should have rooted for Duke to win their game today. Beating Florida State just won't impress the Selection Committee as much. If they beat FSU they'll have a chance for a 1 seed, but it won't be a sure thing. With Missouri winning the Big 12 tournament and with either Ohio State or Michigan State winning the Big Ten tournament, either of those champions could move ahead of UNC. If the Tar Heels lose to Florida State, they'll definitely be a 2 seed.
As for NC State, the question is if they've done enough for an at-large bid. They went 9-7 in ACC play, but only went 1-8 against the RPI Top 50, with the one win coming over Texas. They also have bad losses to Stanford, Georgia Tech and Clemson. Their RPI is 47th, which is right around where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be (it was 46th coming into today). They are certainly right on the bubble, and they're either going to be one of the last teams into the field or one of the first teams out. There are a lot of eclectic resumes this year, as I keep saying, and it's somewhat hard to compare a resume like NC State has to a resume like Drexel or Washington. But compare it to a resume like Northwestern... are we really sure NC State's is better? NC State was two games better in conference play, but against a softer conference. Both have one win against the Top 50, but Northwestern's was much better. It's a tough call. I'll give it a closer look after all of the results are known tomorrow.
#1 Kentucky 74, #19 Florida 71
Florida led almost the entire first half, but Kentucky's interior advantage became too much of a factor in the second half. They dominated the boards (a 48.4 OR%), which helped them overcome white hot outside shooting from Florida (11-for-22 behind the arc). Florida lives and dies by the three, but when they are shooting like that they almost always win. The fact that they still lost this game tells you about the gap between these two teams. The Gators have lost four of five down the stretch, and will have to find a way to figure out what's happened to their defense or they won't last long in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky has effectively locked up the #1 overall seed. Even if they lose to Vanderbilt tomorrow, they should still be #1 overall. Of course, being #1 overall is meaningless the way the Selection Committee treats it. It means you're matched up with the fourth 1 seed in for the Final Four, instead of one of the other two 1 seeds. But the odds of all of the 1 seeds making the Final Four are so small as to make that meaningless. What really matters is the draw to get to the Final Four, and the last two seasons the #1 overall seed got stuck with by far the toughest path to the Final Four of the 1 seeds. Kentucky will hope it's not three years straight.
Florida went 10-6 in the SEC and finished 4-6 against the RPI Top 50. They beat Vanderbilt, Florida State and Alabama (twice), along with bad losses to Rutgers and Georgia. Their RPI is 28th, which is approximately where their Sagarin ELO_CHESS will be. They're probably looking at a 6 or 7 seed, but could fall to an 8 if the Selection Committee focuses on their poor play the past two weeks.
#8 Michigan State 65, #12 Wisconsin 52
Wisconsin led this game early, but a huge spurt by Michigan State blew this game open. The Spartans went a 10:30 stretch of the first half without missing a single shot from the field, which is even more remarkable when you remember that Wisconsin is second in the nation in eFG% against. With Michigan State's defense, it will be hard for any team to keep up with them if they shoot like that, even Ohio State tomorrow. Wisconsin's offense struggled with Michigan State's interior defense. Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz were held to a combined 0-for-6 on two-pointers, compared to 4-for-5 yesterday against Indiana. It just goes to show that Michigan State's interior defense is still very formidable, even without the injured Branden Dawson.
Michigan State remains in contention for a 1 seed, though it will be difficult with Missouri winning the Big 12 tournament title. The Spartans need to beat Ohio State tomorrow and would be helped in a big way if North Carolina loses to Florida State. Even if Michigan State loses tomorrow, they'll still be a 2 seed.
Wisconsin went 12-6 in Big Ten play and finished 11-7 against the RPI Top 100, with wins over Ohio State, UNLV, BYU, Purdue and Indiana (twice), along with a pair of iffy losses to Iowa. Their RPI is 22nd, though their Sagarin ELO_CHESS should still be inside the Top 15. They should be a 3 or 4 seed, and I'd personally lean toward a 3.