A Stormy Day for the Top Teams in Men’s College Basketball
The calendar won’t flip to March until Tuesday, but Saturday featured a full menu of madness in men’s college basketball.
For the first time in the sport, the top six teams in The Associated Press poll, and seven of the top 10, lost on the same day. They all fell on the road in a blizzard of court-storming upsets. The A.P. poll began in the 1948-49 season.
No. 1 Gonzaga, a favorite to win the N.C.A.A. championship one year after it fell to Baylor in the title game, was the final team to lose during the stunning array of upsets, succumbing to No. 23 Saint Mary’s, 67-57, and triggering a wild celebration in Moraga, Calif. Saint Mary’s ended Gonzaga’s 17-game winning streak and beat a No. 1 team for the first time since it knocked off the Bulldogs in the 2019 West Coast Conference tournament final.
Earlier, No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Purdue, No. 5 Kansas, No. 6 Kentucky and No. 9 Texas Tech all lost. The seven top-10 losses on one day surpassed the previous record of six, which occurred five times, most recently on Feb. 4, 2017.
“It’s kind of life in late February and early March, especially on the road,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said. His team wrapped up its 10th straight W.C.C. regular-season title the previous weekend.
No. 7 Duke, which trounced Syracuse, 97-72, was the only top-10 team to win on Saturday. The game featured the two men’s coaches with the most career Division I wins, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, 75, who is retiring after the season, and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, 77.
The day of upsets reflected a season that is more wide open than a year ago, when Gonzaga and Baylor were the dominant teams and ended up meeting for the title. This season, at least 10 teams appear capable of cutting down the nets in New Orleans on April 4.
“It’s a combination of a bunch of factors,” said Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman, whose No. 18-ranked Razorbacks beat No. 6 Kentucky, 75-73. “It’s hard to win conference games whether it’s at home or on the road. There’s more parity in college basketball with the one-time transfer rule and the extra Covid eligibility year.”
More than 1,700 men’s college basketball players entered the N.C.A.A. transfer portal after last season, enabling teams to add older, experienced players in areas of need. The N.C.A.A. also granted players an extra year of eligibility in the wake of the pandemic.
The N.C.A.A. tournament’s field of 68 teams will be announced on March 13, and the flurry of losses could have implications for bracket. But for now, Gonzaga, Arizona and Kansas are being figured as No. 1 seeds, while No. 10 Baylor helped its case for a No. 1 seed by topping Kansas, 80-70.
Auburn, Kentucky, Purdue and Duke could all be in the mix for No. 2 seeds. Duke could still elevate itself to a No. 1 seed by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which runs from March 8 to 12 in Brooklyn.
The upsets played out in a variety of ways, from beatdowns to barnburners.
No. 2 Arizona was routed, 79-63, at unranked Colorado in the worst loss by a top-two team against an unranked opponent since No. 1 Virginia’s 20-point loss to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in the first round of the 2018 N.C.A.A. tournament.
No. 3 Auburn blew an 11-point second-half lead against No. 17 Tennessee and could not complete a late comeback, falling, 67-62. No. 4 Purdue lost to Michigan State, 68-65, when a Northeastern transfer, Tyson Walker, drained a 3-pointer in the final seconds. The victory gave Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo his 662nd career win in the Big Ten, tying him with the longtime Indiana coach Bob Knight for the most in league history.
No. 6 Kentucky lost at No. 18 Arkansas despite getting 30 points and 18 rebounds from Oscar Tshiebwe, a national player of the year candidate and West Virginia transfer. The Arkansas senior guard JD Notae, who transferred from Jacksonville ahead of the 2019-20 season, went for 30 points, 8 assists and a key block in the final seconds as the Razorbacks won for the 13th time in 14 games.
One year after losing to Baylor in the round of 8 of the N.C.A.A. tournament, Notae believes his team has as good a chance as anyone to win the whole thing. And why not?
“We can go win it all,” he said in an interview on CBS. “We lost to the champions last year and that stuck on us, and we just want to come back and go win it all now.”