Five Takeaways from Thursday’s Championship Week contests

1. Vanderbilt may have knocked itself out of the NCAA Tournament

The Commodores entered Thursday on the bubble, but safer than most in that position. All it had to do in order to avoid a long few days was pick up a win over SEC No. 12 seed Tennessee in the conference tournament. Avoid that landmine, lose to LSU on Friday, and all is probably OK. Just pass this single, relatively simple test over a team that you tower over height-wise, and the NCAA Tournament is within your grasp.

One problem: Vanderbilt failed the test.

Kevin Stallings and company fell to Tennessee 67-65, leaving it in one heck of a precarious NCAA Tournament position. The 19-13 Commodores are squarely on the bubble, with our own Jerry Palm projecting them as the second team OUT of his projected bracket. Maybe they make it, maybe they don’t, but one thing is clear.

The next few days are going to be extremely long in Nashville.

2. Michigan, Florida, George Washington take care of business on bubble

Unlike Vanderbilt, other bubble teams such as Michigan, George Washington and Florida took care of business Thursday and set themselves up for huge games Friday to give themselves a better shot at a bid.

Michigan defeated Northwestern in overtime after a 15-footer from Zak Irvin fell through the net. That set up a huge game for the Wolverines against Indiana. My guess is the Wolverines are still on the wrong side of the bubble, but get that win and things could change.

Florida defeated Arkansas in a relatively ugly 68-61 affair, but does Florida know any other kind of game this season? This sets up a game against Texas A&M, where the stakes absolutely could not be higher for the Gators. They might need to win two more to get into the dance at this point.

Finally, George Washington finished out the Jim Crews era at Saint Louis — more on that momentarily — with a 73-65 win. Saint Joseph’s is on the docket Friday. Palm currently projects George Washington in the field, but it’s pretty far from assured at this point given what GW has on its résumé loss-wise. A win over an NCAA tourney-quality St. Joe’s might clinch it.

3. Buddy Hield and Georges Niang give fans a classic in final matchup

Man, what a game this was, huh? Niang dropped 31 points on 18 shots with seven rebounds and five assists to keep Iowa State within striking distance, but in the end Buddy was just too much.

Hield went for 39 points on 14-of-21 shooting as Oklahoma defeated the Cyclones 79-76 in what will likely be the final matchup between these two in college hoops. The two just kept going back and forth in the second half. They scored 10 points in a row between the two of them once, and had three other separate runs of six points in a row. Just a tremendous show between two phenomenal competitors that also have immense respect for each other.

“I love him to death,” Hield said after the game. “I love him as a brother. I hope I see him in the NCAA Tournament.”

College basketball would be better off to see these two take each other on, say, in a Final Four. But if this was their last game, it was a heck of a show between two first-class seniors.

Looking forward to Friday, we get to see the Buddy show continue on the same day that fellow player of the year contender Denzel Valentine will play. You better believe that will be a big story.

Buddy and Georges faced off likely for the final time on Thursday. (USATSI)
Buddy and Georges faced off likely for the final time on Thursday. (USATSI)

4. Iowa is free-falling again under Fran McCaffery

Iowa has now dropped six of eight games after losing to Illinois 68-66. And these aren’t just road losses to good teams. They’ve fallen to Penn State, Ohio State and now Illinois, as well as home games against Indiana and Wisconsin. Simply put, it has been an equally bad stretch to finish the season as it was a good stretch in the middle of the year to reach the top five nationally.

It’s 2014 all over again for Iowa. Two years ago, the Hawkeyes dropped six of their final seven before falling in their opening-round NCAA Tournament game to Tennessee. Two times in three years isn’t a trend or anything, but it’s a bit startling and McCaffery and company need to figure out a way to turn things around before next week or else their great season is going to turn into disappointment.

5. Coaches begin to meet the chopping block

Four coaches were fired Thursday, and there will undoubtedly more coming. The biggest name of the group of coaches to meet their demise on Thursday was Eddie Jordan at Rutgers. Jordan went 3-33 in two years of Big Ten play, and overall only won eight conference games in his three years. Our own Gary Parrish gave you eight candidates that could replace Jordan at Rutgers.

The three others to see an end to their tenure were Jim Crews at Saint Louis, Donnie Jones at Central Florida and Brooks Thompson at Texas-San Antonio. The Saint Louis job is probably the most interesting of those three. St. Louis isn’t a bad basketball city and could be used as a solid recruiting base. Also, remember that this program was pretty successful just a few years ago under Rick Majerus and in the first two years of Crews’ tenure. Get the right guy in there, and this could really turn around in a hurry.


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