College Hoops Player of the Day for Saturday, March 3, 2012
As expected, Saturday turned out to be a monster day in college basketball, with three teams clinching spots in the NCAA tourney - UNC Asheville (Big South), Belmont (Atlantic Sun) and Murray State (Ohio Valley) - and #6 North Carolina dusting #4 Duke on the Blue Devils' home court, 88-70, to capture the ACC regular season title, a #1 seed in the conference tournament and a probable shot at a #1 seed in the NCAAs.
With the PAC-12 sublimated to the role of bystander this season, the neighboring West Coast conference has picked up the slack, producing four tournament-eligible teams, each of which produced wins on Saturday.
Colorado State and #17 UNLV beat Air Force and Wyoming, respectively, while New Mexico and San Diego State ended up sharing the regular-season title at 10-4, after splitting their two games during the season. New Mexico topped Boise State, 76-61, while the #20 Aztecs blew an 18-point lead but eventually turned back TCU in overtime, 98-91.
Sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin was 9-for-18 from the field with three 3-pointers and 14-17 from the line for a game high and career high 35 points, to go with 13 rebounds and five assists. It was Franklin's third straight double-double and fifth this season.
While the top four teams in the WCC have the resumes to reach the field of 68, the conference is guaranteed only one automatic bid, to the team that wins the upcoming conference tourney, though all four have a reasonable chance of heading to the Big Dance.
Elsewhere in the Top 25, Iowa State cemented their claim as a tourney team with an 80-72 win over #9 Baylor and #3 Kansas looked the part of a #1 tournament seed, taking apart Texas, 73-63, in the Big 12 regular season finale.
#7 Missouri easily dispatched Texas Tech, 81-59. #20 Temple took care of Fordham, 80-60.
In the Big East, #8 Marquette took care of business against #11 Georgetown, 83-69, earning themselves some time off with a double bye in the conference tourney which begins Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Georgetown, with the loss, will have to play an extra game in the tourney, finishing tied for 4th place in the standings with South Florida and Cincinnati, at 10-6, though the Bearcats held the tie-breaker and will get the double bye after dusting Villanova, 72-68, coupled with West Virginia's 50-44 win over South Florida.
#20 Notre Dame, third in the standings and #2 Syracuse hold the other two double byes. The Orange finished up their regular season undefeated at home with a 58-49 win over #19 Louisville that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates.
The bracket buster of the day belonged to Illinois State, who upended #15 Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference semi-final, 65-64. The Rewdbirds will face #25 Creighton in the final on Sunday, the winner receiving the automatic bid. Creighton pasted Evansville, 99-71, in the other semi-final.
Sunday's biggest game will be in the Big Ten, where #10 Ohio State invades #5 Michigan State, each team seeking a share of the regular season title. Opening tip is set for 4:00 pm ET.
NOTABLE: Besides the Atlantic Sun, Big South and Missouri Valley, the other remaining conferences outside the majors which will get one automatic bid are America East, Big Sky, Ivy, Horizon, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Sun Belt, Western Athletic. Most of these will be decided by tournament play. The Ivy League champion may be decided Sunday when Penn plays Princeton. The Quakers are 1/2 game behind Harvard in the standings and would tie the Crimson for first place in the conference with a win, forcing a one-game playoff.