The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not to make it awkward.
South Carolina 68, No. 1 Kentucky 62: There's nothing quite like your roommate coming home from work, glancing at the game you're watching, and asking who South Carolina's best player is and you telling him it's 31-points-per-game scorer Devan Downey ... and then watching as Downey hits a series of clutch down-the-stretch baskets one more unfathomable than the next. The fallaway three-point play? The extra-tight crossover on the left block? That probably-a-little-lucky-but-who-cares spin move through a sagging, slapping defense, ending with a teardrop high off the glass? Downey finished with 30 points on 9-for-29 shooting, but who cares? He got to the line all the time, and he made so many key buckets in crunch time that a few (OK, a ton of) early misses can be excused. If the average college basketball fan wanted to get to know this 5-foot-9 guy from South Carolina they'd been hearing about, well, there he is. He's pretty awesome, huh?
In the meantime, there are sure to be a flood of stories about why this is a good loss for Kentucky. That makes sense. It will disappoint Kentucky fans that their ascent to college basketball's upper crust has been derailed so quickly, but the more reasonable among them would have had to assume it would happen eventually. Upsets happen. All Kentucky can do is take the lessons from Tuesday night -- John Wall and Eric Bledsoe must protect the ball better; when DeMarcus Cousins has position, he needs the rock; help defense means stopping penetration and recovering to your man -- and apply them as they go on their quest for a national title. I'm not sure I buy the good loss theory. There are no such things as good losses. But there are plenty of good lessons to come from losses, and those are what Kentucky needs right now.
No. 5 Michigan State 57, Michigan 56: I have no allegiance to Michigan, other than my affection for a friend who went there, and that has nothing to do with Michigan basketball. (Plus, that friend broke our fantasy league's traveling trophy yesterday, so I couldn't care less about him right now. Such disrespect!) I attended a rival Big Ten school. But I have to admit I'm starting to feel a little bit sorry for Michigan fans. First their team is ranked in the top 15 at the beginning of the season. Then they have to suffer through 19 games of mediocre, lifeless basketball, nine of which the Wolverines lost. Then their best player is suspended for a date at Purdue. Then they welcome No. 5 Michigan State, play the Spartans tough for 40 minutes, lose a one-point lead on a Kalin Lucas jumper with 3.5 seconds left, and then rim out an inbound play that nearly got them a two-foot game-winner with less than a second left. I mean, yikes. Whether Michigan should be better than this or not is up for debate; whether their fans expected more and are now forced to face a 10-10 team is not.
But there is a silver lining here, however bleak it may be: Even if Michigan had won last night, it's not like they'd be in the tournament for sure. Heck, even if they'd won, converted the win into momentum, and finished the Big Ten regular season strong, there's no guarantee the committee will find the Wolverines worthy. Michigan will probably need to win the Big Ten tournament to get in the NCAA. Look on the bright side, Michigan fans: This loss, painful though it may be, doesn't really matter.
No. 13 Kansas State 76, Baylor 74: Smart money was on this being a close game, an eminently winnable one for Baylor if the Bears kept K-State off the free throw line. At the most crucial time, that didn't happen: LaceDarius Dunn fouled Jacob Pullen with eight seconds left to put the Wildcats guard on the free throw line, where Pullen knocked down the two game-winning shots to give K-State a steal of a win on the road. Baylor actually shot more free throws than Kansas State; the Bears also managed to keep turnovers low and rebound a decent portion of their offensive misses. The difference was in the shooting. Kansas State shot a 58.8 eFG percentage, while Baylor shot 43.2 eFG, and the Bears' solidity in other facets of the game wasn't enough to overcome a cold night in Waco.
Everywhere else: On a day when Clemson fans were talking about becoming an elite hoops program, this has to be a disappointing road loss at Boston College ... Maryland cruised over Miami, continuing the Terps' streak of efficient, impressive basketball in the ACC thus far ... West Virginia had few issues at DePaul ... UAB defended its place in the top 25 by topping Tulsa and taking full ownership of a wide-open C-USA ... This was probably NC State's best shot at toppling the hated Tar Heels in, what, five years? Unfortunately for the state's red-clad fans, it didn't happen, as UNC cruised to a 14-point win ... and Northwestern, despite its ugly efficiency profile, played Minnesota tough at Minnesota. The Wildcats are still, despite all odds, looking tourney-worthy.