#22 Marquette 72, #21 Notre Dame 64
Notre Dame actually did a nice job of fighting back in this game. Marquette led by as many as 16 points in the first half of this game, and Jerian Grant managed to pull the Irish within 6 with around 30 seconds to go, but it was just a bit too large of a deficit to overcome. Grant and Eric Atkins both played awfully well for Notre Dame, in fact. Grant finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while Atkins had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
The difference in this game was the Marquette front line. They pushed around the Notre Dame front line all day, and dominated the paint. Chris Otule led the way with 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting. Overall, Marquette hit 65% of their two-pointers, compared to just 46% for Notre Dame. Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman were both shut out, with a combined 0 points and 3 rebounds in 34 minutes. This is nothing new for Marquette. They lead the Big East in 2P% in conference play (53%), but are 12th in 3P% (28%). And defensively, they are 5th in 2P% against (44%) while second-to-worst in 3PA/FGA ratio.
Now 12-4 in Big East play, Marquette is only a half game back of Georgetown in the Big East standings. This win also clinches a double-bye in the Big East tournament. With their Sagarin ELO_SCORE moving closer to 10th, Marquette can make a good case that if the season ended now they'd be a 3 seed, though they'd more likely be a 4. And if Marquette can win the Big East tournament? A 2 seed is not out of the question. Marquette's final two regular season games will be on the road, at Rutgers on Tuesday and at St. John's next Saturday. Considering the fact that they are only 3-6 this season in true road games (compared to their 16-0 home record), neither of those games is a total gimme.
The Irish fall to 10-6 in Big East play, with a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will still be in the Top 25 tomorrow. So despite their bad RPI (45th), Notre Dame is not really at risk of falling to the bubble. They'd have to lose every remaining game between now and Selection Sunday for the bubble to be an issue. At this point they're playing for NCAA Tournament seed only. They'll play St. John's or Tuesday, followed by a road game at Louisville. Taking care of business against the Johnnies will probably be necessary to lock up a single-bye in the Big East tournament.
Georgia 78, Tennessee 68
Tennessee came into this game on a six game winning streak, right off of a huge victory over Florida. This was definitely not what they needed. Just a terrible loss to a bad Georgia team at a really bad time for the Vols.The one person you can't blame this on is Jordan McRae, who scored 35 points with 8-for-11 shooting behind the arc (a 93.3 eFG% overall). But his teammates? They combined for 33 points and a 31.0 eFG%. Georgia was led by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (25 points), who is quietly improving on his strong freshman season. It is not an understatement to say that he is the entire Georgia offense. Every defense tries to do everything they can to stop him and only him, yet he is still scoring 17.7 points per game, with a 54.2 eFG%.
Tennessee will hang their hat on that big upset of Florida. But besides that, they have only two quality wins (Kentucky and Wichita State), with a pair of bad losses to Georgia and only a 12-11 record against the RPI Top 200. Their 9-7 record in a down SEC is also a problem, as is a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will join their RPI outside the Top 50 tomorrow. If the season ended now, I'm pretty certain that Tennessee would be an NIT team. Unless they win their final two regular season games, they're going to have a lot of work to do in the SEC tournament. They'll be on the road at Auburn on Wednesday, followed by a home game against Missouri next Saturday.
Georgia is still below .500 this season, but they're now 8-8 in the SEC, which is yet another reminder of how bad the SEC is this season. One win in their final two games will clinch a bye to the SEC tournament second round. They'll play Kentucky on Thursday, followed by a road game at Alabama on Saturday.
Oklahoma 86, Iowa State 69
This was a classic bubble battle, though very far from an "elimination game". I still think both of these teams will make the NCAA Tournament, but both really could have used the win here. Oklahoma won this game behind a really clean game with strong execution on both ends of the floor. They committed only 5 turnovers, allowed only 1 Iowa State offensive rebound, and hit a startling 34-for-34 at the free throw line - tying the all-time record for most FTs made in a Division I game without a miss (they tied 1981 UC Irvine and 1990 Samford). Shooting can come and go, but if you hit your freebies and prevent free possessions for your opponent, you're probably going to be in pretty good shape. By the way, Iowa State came into this game with the single best FT% defense in the Big 12 (63.4% in conference play). So much for that.
Sam Grooms led Oklahoma's offense with 19 points, 6 assists and only 1 turnover. Romero Osby dominated the paint with 22 points and 9 rebounds. But I don't think that it's fair to say that Iowa State was badly outplayed. Oklahoma is a strong free throw shooting team (74%), but even if they had hit at that clip here today they'd have only won by 8 points instead of 17, and the final score would have better represented how close this game looked to me.
Oklahoma moves to 10-6 in Big 12 play with this win, with a 9-8 record against the RPI Top 100 and a Sagarin ELO_SCORE that will move close to 30th tomorrow. A split in their final two regular season games will probably be enough to put them in the NCAA Tournament. They will play West Virginia on Wednesday, followed by a road game at TCU on Saturday. A loss in either of those games would be a pretty big upset, to say the least.
Iowa State drops to 9-7 in Big 12 play, with wins over Oklahoma, Baylor (twice) and BYU, along with bad losses to Texas and Texas Tech. Their 5-8 record against the RPI Top 100 is not good, but their Sagarin ELO_SCORE should still be inside the Top 50. If the season ended now they'd probably be one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament, but with very little room to spare. To stay in, they need to win at least one of their final two regular season games (vs Oklahoma on Wednesday, at West Virginia on Saturday) and then need to do work in the Big 12 tournament. Even if they win both of their final regular season games, they still will need to win at least one Big 12 tournament game to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday.