The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best basketball action. It highly recommends John Gasaway's treatise on the historical origins and context of the Ratings Percentage Index. Essential reading.
I have a bad memory. It's one of the frustrating things about being my friend or girlfriend or close relative -- if you tell me something, I'll do my best, but there's a decent chance that if I don't write it down, I'll forget all about it.
So, yeah, there could have been a better night along the bubble in college hoops in the past, say, five years. There may have been a night with more bubble teams striving for late-season marquee wins or trying to avoid losses. There may have been a night with crazier results, more up and downs in a five-hour span. But if there was, well, I sure can't remember it. Can you?
Today's Morning After is really more like a mini-Bubble Watch, less a look at how Tuesday night's games unfolded and more at what those results mean for the various bubble teams therein. Let's begin, shall we?
The Marquee Wins
Seton Hall 73, No. 8 Georgetown 55: Bubble wins don't get much bigger than this. Seton Hall began the night smack dab on the cusp of the tournament, one of Joe Lunardi's last four in. Its résumé was the picture of mediocrity. Like so many of the teams around it on the S-Curve, it needed a big win, and with only Rutgers and DePaul left on the remaining schedule, Georgetown at home was this team's last big chance (at least before the Big East tournament) to distinguish itself from the batch of equally mediocre profiles on the bubble. Now, provided the Pirates don't do something crazy (like, say, losing to DePaul and Rutgers), they're almost certainly going to get in the tournament. It's really that simple.
Colorado State 71, No. 21 New Mexico 63: As big as Seton Hall's win was, this one may have been bigger. After all, the Pirates may have made the tournament even without the Georgetown win; it was hardly a sure thing, of course, but two more wins and a decent Big East tournament performance probably would have allowed them to sneak in, if only barely. But Colorado State? Colorado State couldn't merely maintain. It needed to do something drastic. Beating the conference leader, a squad that just dump-trucked UNLV days after winning at San Diego State, most certainly qualifies. Throughout the past two months, the Rams have owned the most inexplicably good computer numbers in the country. Much of that had to do with the true road game at Duke early in the season, not to mention the second-hand inflation accrued from brushing up against Southern Miss in the nonconference. Either way, it was easy to look at CSU's numbers and be dumbfounded. The best win was over San Diego State. Most of the losses weren't all that bad, but there were a lot of them (nine to be exact). Examining any portion of this team's résumé -- the 4-8 road/neutral record, the 1-4 mark against the RPI top 50, the second-best win coming against, say, Colorado? -- was mostly an exercise in wonder: How on Earth does this team have a top-30 RPI?
That question is still valid, but now Colorado State has another big win on its platter, one that should make those numbers feel more real. And those numbers are important, too. When the committee is flashing teams' nitty gritty sheets across its projection screen on Selection Sunday, it'll be looking at plenty of ugly RPI numbers. The Rams will look much less like a silly RPI outlier now.
Kansas State 78, No. 3 Missouri 68: First of all, what a win for the Wildcats. They punched Missouri in the mouth, received the Tigers' more-than-capable counter, absorbed it, and held on for the win in the end. Just impressive all the way around. What does it mean for the bubble? Less than either of the two wins above it. After K-State's win at Baylor on Saturday, it was difficult to imagine Frank Martin's team missing the tournament. This was already a solid, if unspectacular résumé, but on this bubble, "solid-slash-unspectacular" is probably good enough. But with this win, we might as well lock up Kansas State's bid. Few teams in the country will boast two marquee road wins like this team got this week. Now that's how you get in the tournament.
The Bad (And Occasionally Sad) Losses
No. 13 Michigan 67, Northwestern 55: How brutal must it be to be a Northwestern fan? I mean, can you even imagine? (Actually, Cubs fans, never mind. Don't answer that.) The Wildcats needed this win. Oh, did they need it. It wasn't unfair to call this the biggest game in recent program history, the one that, if won, could have given the school its first-ever NCAA tournament berth. And so what does Northwestern do? Take Michigan to overtime ... just before collapsing in the extra period and losing by 12. "Ouch" doesn't even begin to describe it. The Wildcats are right on the bubble. They have one big win (Michigan State) to their name, a great strength-of-schedule number (10) and a solid RPI figure. They also now have a 2-7 record against the RPI top 50 and a 5-11 record against the top 100. Combine that with the 6-9 Big Ten record and 5-7 road/neutral mark, and it's no wonder this team's bid is so shaky. The good news? Northwestern still has one big marquee chance left: Next Wednesday, Ohio State comes to town. But NU may have to win that one -- and, oh yeah, avoid treacherous bubble-bursting losses at Penn State and Iowa -- to get over the hump. But make no mistake: This game was the best chance Northwestern had, and it just barely missed it. Brutal. Just brutal.
UMass 80, Xavier 73: XU got a big win Saturday, topping rival Dayton in overtime, a game that gave it a much better chance of avoiding bubble trouble in the final weeks of the season. Now? Losing to UMass is hardly a crime -- that's a solid Minutemen team, one that's not completely out of the bubble picture -- but the last thing Xavier needs now is blasé losses to decent-but-not-great A-10 foes. Fortunately for Chris Mack's team, that win at Vanderbilt is still on the ledger. Plus, the computer numbers are still OK. But the Musketeers have shown plenty of collapse potential pretty much all season, and they may have to get a really difficult win at Saint Louis next week to feel safe about their chances.
No. 1 Kentucky 73, Mississippi State 64: How good is this Kentucky team? Mississippi State was great for much of Tuesday night's loss, but when UK turns it up that extra half-notch -- when the defense starts locking down and the Wildcats start rolling on offense -- they're just something to see. It's incredible. In any case, losing to UK is hardly going to push Mississippi State off the bubble. I think we can all forgive it for getting a bunch of shots blocked by Anthony Davis, because, well, that happens to everybody. But this was a major missed opportunity. A win would have sealed MSU's deal. Instead, this was the Bulldogs' fourth loss in a row (the other three: home to Georgia, at LSU, at Auburn), a streak that has made what once seemed like a surefire bid suddenly questionable -- the nonconference SOS number is particularly bad -- and trending in the wrong direction each day. A loss at Alabama Saturday, and all of a sudden, we might be talking about this team missing the tournament. Yikes.
No. 7 North Carolina 86, NC State 74: When NC State led Duke by 20 points last week, the Wolfpack's once-long-shot bid seemed very, very real. A week later, and NC State is right back where it started. The win at Duke would have been marquee. A win against Florida State Saturday would have qualified. And Tuesday night's home game versus North Carolina -- which featured a clinical 22-point, 13-rebound, zero-turnover performance from UNC point guard Kendall Marshall -- was another big marquee chance and, ultimately, another loss. Without a win in any of these three, NC State's next best chance comes at home versus Miami, a fellow bubble team but hardly a big-time opponent. If the Pack don't survive at Clemson and at Virginia Tech, it won't matter anyway. That Duke meltdown may haunt this team forever.
Maryland 75, Miami 70: Speaking of Miami, the Hurricanes entered Tuesday night as one of Joe Lunardi's last four teams in the field. By the time this game was over, they were one of the first four out. A loss on the road to Maryland isn't devastating, but other than a win at Duke -- and a great win it is -- this team's profile just doesn't have a whole lot going on. Florida State comes to town Sunday, and with a game at NC State to follow (plus a non-needle-mover against Boston College to close out the season), that's basically a must-win.
No. 9 Ohio State 83, Illinois 67: Being on the wrong side of a rout in Columbus is nothing to be ashamed about. In a different world, or a different season even, Illinois could have taken its lumps and moved on. But in 2012, if Illinois' at-large chances weren't dead already -- and Saturday's 23-point loss at Nebraska may have done the trick anyway -- they are now. Tuesday night's defeat was the Illini's ninth in 10 games. The ongoing Bruce Weber saga (short version: dude's getting canned) lords over this team, and at this point, unless the Illini go crazy in the Big Ten tournament, the NCAA will be eager to avoid the hot mess this once-promising team has become. Sad stuff, really. Not as sad as Northwestern, of course. But sad.