The best story of the week is easily BYU senior walk-on Craig Cusick hitting a shot at the buzzer to beat Utah State on the same day he found out his father has cancer.
It would be heartwarming enough if the story ended there, but going just a little deeper makes the night that much more special.
First, the play wasn't designed for Cusick at all, the ball just sort of miraculously wound up in his hands and he made a big shot.
"Craig's got ice in his veins," Tyler Haws said at the same news conference. "Things don't get to him very easily. I remembert earlier in the year, he hit a couple game-winners in practice. That's the kind of person he is. He is calm in those situations and is ready to make a big shot."
Here's how Cusick described the shot:
"Hard to explain. As a player, you couldn't dream it any better. I was just fortunate. Coach called a great play. I saw that when Matt shot it that there was a chance that it was going to be a little bit short. I ran where I thought it was going to come off, and I was fortunate.the ball came to me. It's great that I made the shot, but I have to give credit to my teammates who pulled us through the rest of the way."
Second, this was a game that was supposed to be played two months ago. The only reason BYU was on the court Tuesday was that Utah State had been forced to postpone the original game after player Danny Berger had collapsed and stopped breathing during practice the day before. Berger wound up being Ok, and is working on getting back in playing shape.
Now I'm not saying I'm going out and converting to Mormonism today (I assume it's a 1-2 hour process I can complete somewhere downtown), but yeah, that's a pretty cool story. Also, thoughts and prayers go out to Craig's father and the rest of the Cusick family.
Another quick BYU note (CAN'T GET ENOUGH): Tyler Haws became just the second Cougar to eclipse the 1,000-point mark as a sophomore when he did so on Thursday night against Saint Mary's. The other player to achieve the feat? Danny Ainge.
The Cougars lost the game, however, allowing the Gaels to lock up the other bye to the WCC semifinals that wasn't already claimed by Gonzaga. If BYU wants to make it back to the dance it's going to have to win three games in three days in Vegas.
A quick look at the six remaining conference unbeatens and the likelihood of each finishing the regular season that way.
Miami (22-3, 13-0 ACC) - The toughest stretch of the season is behind the Hurricanes, but the toughest single game - a March 2 date at Duke - still lies ahead.
Memphis (22-3, 11-0 Conference USA) - The Tigers do have games remaining against the three best teams in the league outside of themselves, but with the state of C-USA being the way it is this season (awful), that's not exactly asking them to climb Mt. Everest.
Akron (21-4, 12-0 Mid-American) - The pressure of finishing the MAC slate undefeated doesn't seem to be phasing the Zips, who have won five of their last six games by eight points or more. Win the showdown at 10-1 Ohio, and this probably happens. I think the Bobcats are the superior team and hold serve at home though.
Norfolk State (17-10, 12-0 MEAC) - Kyle O'Quinn is gone, but the Spartans are making another big time postseason push. They'll be tested on Saturday at 7-4 Delaware State, and then finish the season with three home games against teams from the middle to the bottom half of the conference.
Gonzaga (25-2, 12-0) - The Zags have the added target of a top five national ranking, but that doesn't change the fact that they are five or six tiers above every other team in the West Coast Conference this season. Their only remaining road game is at BYU, which needs the win to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament. Still, the Bulldogs are the first choice in this race.
Louisiana Tech (23-3, 14-0 WAC) - More so than any other team on this list, the Bulldogs are up against it. Three of their final four conference games are against teams in the top four of the league, including consecutive road tilts at second-place Denver and third-place New Mexico State to end the year.
Predictions: Memphis, Gonzaga and Norfolk State make it happen. Miami, Akron and Louisiana Tech do not.
The most dominant team in the country since the start of conference play probably isn't on the list above.
Middle Tennessee State is 15-1 in the ordinarily parity-rich Sun Belt, and has won 12 of those 15 games by eight points or more, and 10 by double digits. The Blue Raiders only league loss was a 66-60 overtime setback at West Division-leading Arkansas State way back on Jan. 3.
MTSU knows the dangers of patting itself on the back right now. The Blue Raiders were in a similar position 12 months ago before a tough loss to Vandy knocked them out of at-large consideration and a stunning defeat against Arkansas State in the Sun Belt quarters relegated them to the NIT.
National scoring race update:
1. Erick Green, Virginia Tech (25.3 ppg)
2. Lamont "MoMo" Jones, Iona (22.9 ppg)
3. Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (22.8 ppg)
4. Doug McDermott, Creighton (22.5 ppg)
5. Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State (22.2 ppg)
Interesting(?) that a grand total of zero of those players find themselves on teams ranked in the top 25, and just one (Creighton) plays for a squad that likely won't have to win its conference tournament in order to go dancing.
Despite starting the month with a three-game losing streak, no team has done dancing better in February than Kansas.
"The Shelf Shuffle" is the best crisis-inspired dance since Lisa Turtle pulled off "The Sprain."
Quote of the Week:
An interaction from a Bilas/Raftery/McDonough game could probably win this every week, but the following exchange during Monday's Notre Dame/Pittsburgh game was particularly noteworthy.
Raftery: "You have to ride the hot player...Have you ever been ridden?"
Bilas: "Not as a hot player."
McDonough: "Yeah. Let's just move quickly ahead to further action due to time constraints."
When you think about big points in the Big South (and I know you think about them often), you think about VMI, but let's take a second to fully appreciate what Liberty and Longwood pulled off on Tuesday. The two teams, who sit at the bottom of the standings in the league's North Division, scored 55 combined points in the final 3:55 of the game.
Over that game-ending stretch, Longwood converted on 15-of-22 free-throws, while Liberty knocked down seven three-pointers to make continuing to foul a viable option. The Lancers (that's Longwood...heh) eventually pulled out a 102-101 win.
DePaul has ended each regular season since 2008 with no one to look down upon in the final Big East standings. With three weeks to go in the regular season, the Blue Demons find themselves at 2-11 in conference play, a full game and-a-half ahead of last-place South Florida.
Obviously, these are exciting times.
That excitement is part of the reason students have started showing up to home games wearing shirts that read "Fear the D." It's a saying that could be taken to mean "Fear the DePaul" or "Fear the Demons"...or "Fear the Dick."
It's the third interpretation that has a few higher-ups in the Windy City a bit uneasy, and which led to an exposé/explanation from the university's student newspaper on Monday.
Ok, but what isn't innuendo for penis these days? Embracing the filth is basically the only thing an institution that has D at the front of both its university and nickname can do. I think the best move here might be to play ignorant and allow something, anything, that generates a modicum of excitement around the basketball program to persist.
Three November scores that are almost impossible to process in February:
1. Florida Gulf Coast 63, Miami 51
No Durand Scott, Schmo Schmurand Schmott. I don't care if they were down four starters, a team good enough to be 13-0 in the ACC losing by 12 to a 19-9 Atlantic Sun team at any point in the season is mind-blowing.
2. Columbia 75, Villanova 57
The Wildcats have since knocked off a pair of top five teams in the same week and would find themselves in the NCAA Tournament if it began today. Columbia is 10-12 and tied for last place in the Ivy League. They would not find themselves in the NCAA Tournament if it began today.
3. Old Dominion 63, Virginia 61
As baffling as the previous two scores are, this one may take the cake...and then throw the cake in an old woman's face before singing "Bad Romance" because none of this makes any sense. Old Dominion is 4-23 and the worst team in an awful CAA. One of those four wins is over a Virginia squad that is currently tied for third in the ACC and more than likely going to wind up in the dance.
College basketball would be so much more fun if all those losses would have killed the defeated teams' shot at playing for the sport's top prize, though. Right, "Belkie" the Belk Bowl mascot?
Belkie gets it.
Late February and March haven't been the best times to play Louisville over the past few seasons, but if you're literally looking for the worst time to try and knock off Rick Pitino's squad, try 7 p.m. ET. The Cards are 8-0 when tipping off at 7 p.m. this season, a mark which will next be put to the test against Cincinnati on March 4.
Providence gave a forgettable performance in an 84-59 loss at Syracuse on Wednesday, but it will still be a night that star Vincent Council will never forget. The senior point guard dished out seven assists in the game, giving him 431 for his career. That pushed him past Sherman Douglas and his long-standing Big East record of 426, which was set back in 1989.
In league games this season, Council leads the Big East in both assists (7.7 per game) and assist-turnover ratio (2.7). He's also perhaps the biggest reason the Friars entered the Carrier Dome riding their first four-game conference winning streak since 2004.
In an effort to lighten things up, John Calipari had his Kentucky team play dodgeball on the Monday night before its game against Vanderbilt. The Cats won, 74-70, but the bigger (or at least more humorous) story became the reported dodgeball prowess of UK assistant John Robic.
Naturally, it didn't take long for Big Blue Nation to celebrate the tidbit.
I'm expecting some stellar signs on Saturday when College GameDay is inside Rupp Area for UK's game against Missouri.
Conference winless watch:
Penn State (8-18, 0-14 Big Ten)
Grambling State (0-23, 0-14 SWAC)
Every sports network or news outlet gives you a quirky or funny team that you should be rooting for in the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament (OMFG, South Dakota State calls themselves the Jackrabbits, how f---ing cute is that!?), but we're going to do you one better and tell you the team you should be living and dying with during the opening days of Championship Week.
You want Towson to win the CAA Tournament. You need Towson to win the CAA Tournament.
First of all, it's a program that is still best-known for losing 41 straight games, a historic streak that wasn't snapped until Jan. 28 of last year. That's right, just a little over a year ago, the team that is currently in second place in the Colonial was in the midst of a 40+ game losing streak. The Tigers, who are 15-13 right now, finished last season 1-30. How fantastic would it be for that group of players to make the big dance?
You should have been on the bandwagon before you finished the end of the last paragraph, but if you're still holding out...Bill Murray routinely shows up to Towson home games and is one of the team's biggest supporters. Why? His son is one of the Tigers' assistant coaches. Luke Murray joined Pat Skerry's staff in the spring of 2011, and is widely-regarded as one of the top young assistants in the country. He's a legitimate hoop head who's paved a road for himself without the aid of his last name.
The final reason to join Team Tigers for the second week of March is that they have a legitimate chance to win this thing. The CAA is as wide open (and as down) as it's been in a decade, and Towson - which enters the weekend tied with Delaware for second place at 10-5 - has just as much of a shot at earning the league's auto-bid as anyone.
We need Team Towson shirts, and we need them fast.
It doesn't make up for the fact that they've been banned from any type of postseason play because of low APR scores, but few teams have had a more exciting regular season than Connecticut The Huskies have gone to overtime on five different occasions, and are 4-1 in those games, with their lone loss coming to Marquette on New Year's Day.
The biggest reason for the stellar mark is point guard Shabazz Napier, who has scored a remarkable 45 points in 29 minutes and 40 seconds of overtime play. He scored 11 in the extra period on Thursday as the Huskies topped Cincinnati, 73-66.
There are just four teams remaining in college basketball that haven't lost a game by double-digits: Indiana, Kansas, Louisville and Colorado State.
The Rams have the country's longest home-court winning streak at 27 games, and are just three victories away from setting the school record for wins. They're also doing all of this under first-year head coach Larry Eutsachy, who you may remember has a little bit of a past. Expect to read plenty about this team in the coming weeks.
Picture of the week:
Given the climate on the court between Oklahoma State and Kansas during KU's thrilling double OT win, I can't imagine this brave young soul had an ideal viewing experience. If you're reading this, feel free to shoot me a message and tell your story. I'm sure it's entertaining.
The rapid falls out of the national rankings by both Creighton and Wichita State were brutal, but no team has been more victimized by the Missouri Valley grind than Indiana State. The Sycamores played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country and own neutral court wins over Miami and Ole Miss, but a 9-7 mark in league play leaves a triumph at Arch Madness as their only route into the NCAA Tournament.
Our stellar bold prediction run here took a bit of a hit this week, but it's still standing proud with an enviable 4-2 mark.
Butler over Indiana
Providence over Cincinnati
Illinois over Indiana
Maryland over Duke
Dayton over Xavier
Virginia over Miami
Will there be another shot taken on Saturday? I don't know, you'll just have to stay tuned and see.
But seriously, I don't know. I haven't even thought about it.
The computers still love Florida to bits and pieces, but the Gator fan base has expressed some serious concern over a late-game collapse against Missouri that was eerily similar to the team's loss at Arizona earlier this season and against Louisville in last year's Elite Eight. The loss dropped Billy Donovan's record to 58-75 in games decided by five points or less over 17 seasons at Florida. He's also won two national championships. The "S" in Ulysses S. Grant didn't stand for anything.
Sometimes when I start spurting out facts I have a hard time stopping. My wife says it happens to all guys. I'm not married.
It's a bad year for BracketBusters, but it's also the final year for BracketBusters, which means you should watch at least a few minutes out of sheer respect.
Here are the games on TV this weekend with the teams most worth watching - that haven't been mentioned yet - highlighted (I realize this is breaking First 68 protocol, but...yeah, I don't have an excuse, it's hard hitting 68 right on the button):
Friday, Feb. 22
North Dakota State at Akron, ESPN2, 7 ET
Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State, ESPNU, 9 ET
Saturday, Feb. 23
Iona at Indiana State, ESPNU, 11 a.m. ET
Eastern Kentucky at Valparaiso, ESPNU, 1 ET
Canisius at Vermont, ESPN3, 1 ET
Pacific at Western Michigan, ESPN3, 2 ET
Montana at Davidson, ESPNU, 3 ET
Northwestern State at Niagara, ESPN3, 3 ET
Detroit at Wichita State, ESPN/2, 4 ET
Creighton at Saint Mary's, ESPN/2, 6 ET
South Dakota State at Murray State, ESPN2, 8 ET
Denver at Northern Iowa, ESPN3, 8 ET
Ohio at Belmont, ESPN2, 10 ET
We end this First 68 as we end all First 68s, with the Creepy Mascot Photo of the Week:
Congrats to Boston College on its second big win this week.