The first Sunday of March delivered the goods across college basketball, showcasing what this month in this sport is all about.
In the early afternoon window, Houston’s Jamal Shead kept the Cougars at the top of the country with a game-winning buzzer-beater for a road win over Memphis. For all intents and purposes, Kelvin Sampson’s 29-2 team locked up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Moments later, fighting for its NCAA Tournament life, Penn State rallied from 16 down to shock Maryland at the horn on a Camren Wynter game-winner.
While some were closing out the regular season, the opening tickets to the big dance continued to get punched, with a couple of conference tournament champions reflecting the beauty of the madness.
Kennesaw State joined NCAA Division I in 2009. Three years ago, the Owls won only one game in the entire season, the first at the helm for head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim. On Sunday afternoon, Abdur-Rahim was cutting down the nets at the KSU Convocation Center as the Owls finished off a 67-66 win over Liberty, claiming the ASUN tournament title and booking the program’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
[NCAA Tournament bid trackers: Men | Women]
Meanwhile, in Charlotte, UNC Asheville trailed Campbell by 14 with just over seven minutes on the clock in the Big South Championship Game. Four years ago, the Bulldogs were a 4-27 team, so Mike Morrell’s program had been in a hole many times before. They got their reward on Sunday, with 6-foot-10 senior Drew Pember putting up 29 points and charging UNC Asheville to a stunning 77-73 victory. The Bulldogs are going dancing for the first time since 2016.
Five of the 32 automatic bid spots have been finalized, with FDU (NEC), Drake (MVC) and Southeast Missouri State (OVC) joining the Owls and Bulldogs.
It truly is the most wonderful time of year! With that, our coverage in the days leading up to Selection Sunday kicks off with a fresh top 15.
1. Houston (29-2)
The Cougars trailed by five with just more than six minutes on the clock in a hostile road atmosphere, but Shead, Jarace Walker and Marcus Sasser combined to go on a 10-0 run to retake control and Kelvin Sampson’s team hung on for an 11th straight win.
2. Kansas (25-6)
The Jayhawks’ seven-game winning streak was halted by Texas on Saturday on the Longhorns’ Senior Day in Austin. We won’t fault Bill Self’s team for that loss. One indicator of Kansas’ success is Dajuan Harris Jr.’s production. He was held to just five points by the Longhorns. When he scores at least six, Kansas is 19-0.
3. UCLA (27-4)
The Bruins should be getting 1-seed consideration by the selection committee having won 10 straight games. Jaime Jaquez Jr. led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s top-10 win over Arizona.
4. Purdue (26-5)
The Boilermakers responded from the loss to Indiana with a road win over a desperate Wisconsin team, followed by a 76-71 victory over Illinois on Sunday. Matt Painter has talked about Purdue’s offense having balance and different sources of scoring beyond Zach Edey. In the win over the Illini, Brandon Newman had a season-high 19 points and Braden Smith scored 15.
5. Marquette (25-6)
The Big East regular-season champions enter the conference tournament having won six in a row behind the best player in the league this season, Tyler Kolek (246 assists to just 76 turnovers). Marquette will play the winner of St. John’s/Butler in the Big East quarterfinals, Thursday at noon ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app.
6. Alabama (26-5)
After winning three straight games by five points or fewer and struggling defensively, the Crimson Tide stumbled vs. Texas A&M on Saturday, 67-61. One issue to monitor with Alabama: the Tide can fall too much in love with the perimeter. In the loss to the Aggies, Nate Oats’ team shot 7-for-36 from downtown.
7. Texas (23-8)
The Longhorns ended Kansas’ winning streak with an impressive 75-59 win on Saturday, getting 20 points from Tyrese Hunter and 23 from Sir’Jabari Rice off the bench. Rice has averaged 17.2 points per game over the last 11, emerging as a key weapon.
8. UConn (24-7)
The Huskies are red-hot, having won five in a row and eight of their last nine. They look like a dark horse to reach Houston this April, although it shouldn’t be that surprising considering they started the season 14-0. Jordan Hawkins‘ 24 points powered Connecticut past Villanova on FOX Primetime Hoops Saturday night, 71-59.
UConn ends regular season with fifth straight win
Jordan Hawkins carried the Huskies to a 71-59 win against Villanova on Saturday night.
9. Arizona (25-6)
The Wildcats stay in the top 10 despite a loss to a national title contender in UCLA. Tommy Lloyd’s team has elite bigs with Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo, but the guard play can be inconsistent. In the last four games, Courtney Ramey has shot 15-for-43 from the floor.
10. Gonzaga (26-5)
Maybe we were too harsh on the Zags earlier in the season? Perhaps! Mark Few’s team has won seven in a row entering the WCC semifinals, and Drew Timme is averaging 23 PPG over his last four contests.
11. Baylor (22-9)
The Bears put up a clunker on Saturday, but maybe it could turn out to be a proper reality check ahead of the Big 12 Tournament. The issue? The opponent is the same for their conference tournament opener on Thursday: Iowa State! I predict the Bears will get revenge despite a pair of losses by 15 points to the Cyclones this season.
12. Miami (24-6)
The top seed in the ACC Tournament, the Hurricanes beat Pitt on Saturday despite Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack combining to shoot 5-for-21 from the floor. That’s because Jordan Miller and Norchad Omier are just as solid, combining for 33 points and 21 rebounds in the victory, while Wooga Poplar got hot from distance with six triples. This is a team that I fully believe can reach the Elite Eight again.
13. Xavier (23-8)
Sean Miller challenged the Musketeers to respond from a one-point loss and change the script from past seasons heading into the Big East Tournament. Behind Colby Jones, Xavier has done just that. The junior totaled 49 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists in two wins this past week. The Musketeers take on the winner of Seton Hall/DePaul in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app.
14. Kansas State (23-8)
Despite an eight-point loss to West Virginia on Saturday, the Wildcats still enter the Big 12 Tournament having won four of their last five games. Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson are such a nightmare to guard, combining for 48 points against the Mountaineers. K-State gets TCU on Thursday night in Kansas City.
15. Duke (23-8)
Yes, the Blue Devils cap off my power rankings! Jon Scheyer’s team has won six straight games, and they have the talent to beat anybody on their best day because they defend, and because the freshmen have grown tremendously. Against a North Carolina team that was fighting for its life on Saturday, Kyle Filipowski went for 22 points and 13 rebounds in the gutsy 62-57 win in Chapel Hill. Duke may not be a great perimeter shooting team. They may have some things to still figure out. But this team is playing its best at the right time, and Scheyer deserves credit in Year 1.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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