With the Winter Olympics beginning in Vancouver and NBA All-Star Weekend revving up in Dallas, much of the oxygen in the sports world was devoted to those two events in some combination on Friday night. And yet, it was the college basketball that was breath-taking.
Pittsburgh, erstwhile whipping boy around these parts, continued its stellar play in the Big East, defeating West Virginia, 98-95. Oh, and in triple overtime. Oh, and only after Ashton Gibbs hit a three off a ridiculous fire-drill play to send the game to overtime, then missed two free throws that would have given the Panthers a four-point lead in overtime, then hit a three to begin the second overtime, then made two free throws with 11 seconds left in triple overtime that gave Pitt its winning margin. Of course, Darryl Bryant -- who capitalized on Gibbs' missed free throw with a three with three seconds left in the first overtime -- had to miss a terrible shot at the end of that third overtime to finally put the game to bed. But that one bad shot doesn't diminish a game that saw the Mountaineers rally from a 10-point second half deficit, nine ties in overtime, and no lead greater than five points in extra frames. The Backyard Brawl definitely delivered on its name, and I didn't do it justice.
And that's probably not the most important game played on Friday night.
That honor would have to go to either Penn's upset of Cornell, which improbably puts Princeton atop of the Ivy League for at least one day, or Siena's loss to Niagara, which dashed the Saints' chances of running the MAAC conference schedule. Those are the results that could change the NCAA Tournament field, rather than just top-line seeding.
Pitt and West Virginia are well to the good side of the bubble. Cornell and Siena are not. But each may just be able to wrangle an at-large bid.
Cornell garnering that bid even though the Big Red ultimately lose the Ivy League to either Harvard or Princeton is a prospect that squeezes out a bubble team. (Losing to 3-15 Penn, though, is a black mark on a tournament resume.) Likewise, Siena showing weakness means that the MAAC auto-bid, which should be the Saints' to lose, may well go to another team. The Saints would find themselves playing on the bubble without an auto-bid, but Jerry Palm and CBS are both high on them, and they could also swipe a spot from a lesser team.
Basically, while you were watching a festival of colors and culture or an orgy of unfettered offense, college basketball had probably the game of the year and two of the more seismic upsets of this season occur on one night. Not bad for toiling in obscurity, huh?â†µ
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