No. 6 Gonzaga might have some new fans in Big Ten country.
A 74-54 win over BYU in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game Tuesday night gave the Bulldogs an automatic bid to the NCAAs. Gonzaga would have made the NCAA Tournament regardless, so the Zags’ victory opened one more precious at-large berth for other contenders.
Nebraska and Penn State can breathe easy, at least for one more night.
The Big Ten’s bubble teams can only watch now while other schools get a chance to impress the selection committee. It’s an excruciating wait until the bracket is announced this weekend because the Big Ten tourney ended Sunday after being moved up a week earlier than normal in order to play at Madison Square Garden in New York.
What can help the Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions is if the favorites win the automatic bids in the remaining conference tournaments in order to leave as many at-large berths open as possible.
Gonzaga did them a favor by blowing out BYU . The Cougars (24-10, 67 RPI) likely lost their only shot to get into the NCAAs.
Elsewhere on the bubble, Notre Dame and Syracuse each won on the first day of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament to keep their hopes alive. The schedule picks up Wednesday with the Big East, Big 12 and Pac-12 joining the conference tourney fray. Schools like Marquette, Oklahoma and Arizona State get their first cracks at strengthening resumes and making postseason runs to stay fresh in the minds of the members of the selection committee.
All Nebraska and Penn State can do is wait.
ON THE RISE
Notre Dame. The Irish (19-13, 69 RPI) had some nervous moments late in their three-point victory over 24-loss team Pittsburgh in the first round of the ACC Tournament. But Notre Dame did get 19 points and 33 minutes from star forward Bonzie Colson in his third game back from injury. Next up: a chance to get to 20 wins on Wednesday against Virginia Tech (21-10, 51 RPI). Unlike the 80-75 loss to the Hokies in late January, the Irish should have Colson and Matt Farrell for this rematch. Farrell missed the first game with a bad ankle.
Syracuse. Finally, an ACC tourney win for the Orange (20-12, 39 RPI). The 73-64 victory over Wake Forest sets up an important matchup for Syracuse on Wednesday against No. 12 North Carolina (22-9, 6 RPI). The Orange could use a win over a Top 10 RPI team to strengthen its chance to get back into the NCAAs after a one-year absence.
Saint Mary’s. The 20th-ranked Gaels (28-5, 43 RPI) might have been on safe ground no matter how BYU fared against Gonzaga on Tuesday night. At the very least, the Cougars’ loss means that the selection committee won’t have to weigh whether to take more than two WCC squads.
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers (22-10) won eight of their last nine in the regular season to finish fourth in the Big Ten. But the last impression that the Cornhuskers left on the selection committee was a loss to Michigan in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday. At No. 64 in the RPI, Nebraska’s lone win against Quadrant 1 teams (1-6) came against the Wolverines in January.
Penn State. See above. It’s hard to tell how the weeklong layoff between the conference tournament and Selection Sunday will have on Big Ten bubble teams. The Nittany Lions (21-13, 77 RPI) are 3-8 against Quadrant 1 teams, with all three victories against No. 17 Ohio State.
BYU. The Cougars were 2-3 against Quadrant 1 teams coming into Tuesday, and they couldn’t build on their biggest win of the season after defeating Saint Mary’s in the WCC semis.