By Andrew Kahn
Joe Lunardi can finally get a good night’s sleep. Yesterday was Selection Sunday, meaning the field is set for this year’s NCAA Tournament. This weekend was college basketball’s last before the Big Dance, which starts tomorrow night with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. Here are the five big stories from the weekend.
In the second year of the 68-team Tournament field, the bubble babble was as loud as ever. When the bracket was released yesterday evening, however, the debate was relatively calm. That doesn’t mean fans of Seton Hall, Miami, and Drexel aren’t angry, but there weren’t too many surprises.
The biggest was Iona, which became only the second team in the 31-year history of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to receive an at-large bid. “I was 100 percent sure we’d be in the NCAA Tournament,” Iona guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones said after the bracket was announced. Outside of the selection committee, he may have been the only one.
For the first time ever, a regular season champ from one of the six major conferences failed to make the Big Dance: the Pac-12’s Washington. The Huskies finished the regular season in sole possession of first place at 14-4. But they were bounced in their first Pac-12 Tournament game and their pitiful nonconference performance did them no favors.
2. The Last Great Big East Tournament?
In the final Big East Tournament before conference defections take effect, Louisville gutted its way to a title in Madison Square Garden. The 94 total points in the Cardinals’ 50-44 win over Cincinnati on Saturday made for the lowest-scoring Big East championship game in history. The title wasn’t as impressive as UConn’s five wins in five days last year, but Rick Pitino’s squad won four games in four days, including three straight wins over NCAA Tourney teams.
3. Kentucky Loses in League
Vanderbilt had played mighty Kentucky, which entered yesterday’s SEC Championship undefeated in the conference, tough in their previous two meetings this season, and finally toppled the Wildcats, 71-64. Down seven with 5:04 remaining, Vandy outplayed Kentucky down the stretch, culminating with Kedren Johnson’s baseline drive and lay-up, plus the foul, to give Vandy the lead for good with 90 seconds left. Even with the loss, Kentucky was awarded the NCAA Tourney’s No. 1 overall seed.
4. Sparty’s Big Ten Sweep
After tying for the Big Ten regular season title, Michigan State beat Ohio State 68-64 yesterday to win the league tournament crown. Senior guard Brandon Wood hit four three-pointers and scored a career-high 21 points for the Spartans, who beat the Buckeyes just in time for the committee to slot Michigan State as a No. 1 seed in the Tournament. Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green’s three with 1:36 remaining was the dagger.
5. No Trophy for Tar Heel State
An ACC title typically goes through North Carolina or Duke. Florida State beat them both on consecutive days to win its first ACC Tournament since it joined the league in 1991. The Seminoles routed the Heels by 33 points in their regular season meeting and led by 16 in the first half of Sunday’s game. But not until P.J. Hairston’s difficult three-point attempt missed at the buzzer could Florida State exhale, escaping with an 85-82 victory. Those who question the significance of conference tournaments will note that North Carolina still received a No. 1 seed and will play the opening weekend in Greensboro.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for “ESPN the Magazine” and “The Wall Street Journal”. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.