The second round of the ACC Tournament produced a matchup between old Big East rivals in Pittsburgh and Syracuse on Wednesday that many believed would be an NCAA Tournament eliminator.
They certainly played like their postseason fates were on the line.
Cameron Johnson scored a career-high 24 points off the bench as the Panthers built a 14-point lead, only to watch it evaporate down the stretch. But a series of critical plays by James Robinson down the stretch were enough to allow coach Jamie Dixon’s team to escape with a 72-71 victory.
“We still got work to do,” said Robinson, who made a steal with the game tied 68-all, then scored the final four points as the Panthers (21-10) made Selection Sunday just a bit more bearable.
Meanwhile, the Orange (19-13) have already begun their campaign for an at-large bid.
“I know we’ve beaten four teams in the top 30 or 35 in the country. We’ve beaten eight teams in the top 100,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “If there’s teams better than that, so be it.”
Boeheim bristled when asked whether the selection committee should consider that the Orange went 4-5 — and lost to lowly St. John’s — while he was serving a nine-game suspension earlier this season.
“I have read where some people think we should be punished by the basketball committee as well. I think we’ve had our punishment,” Boeheim said. “The players on this team didn’t do anything wrong, were not involved in anything. They should be evaluated on how well they played when they played their best.”
Boeheim appears to have the support of committee chairman Joe Castiglione, who said on a conference call with reporters that his absence would be taken into consideration.
“We look at coach availability and player availability roughly the same,” Castiglione said. “We know they played better with him on the sidelines, of course. But again, all those games throughout the entire year — it will all be taken into consideration. We just can’t discount or marginalize a game.”
There was other movement on the NCAA Tournament bubble Wednesday. Here’s a look at it:
ON THE RISE
Washington. The Huskies (18-13) routed Stanford in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament. But after a late swoon, they almost certainly need to beat top-seeded Oregon in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
Colorado. Sticking in the Pac-12, the Buffaloes (22-10) likely locked up their spot in the NCAA dance merely by avoiding an upset by Washington State in the conference tournament Wednesday.
Southern California. We see a trend here? Yet another Pac-12 team helped its hopes, this time with the Trojans (21-11) rolling over rival UCLA. If USC wasn’t an NCAA lock before, it is now.
Marquette. Henry Ellenson’s big game helped the Golden Eagles (20-12) hold off St. John’s in the Big East Tournament. But it may take a win over No. 2 seed Xavier to feel good about Marquette’s chances.
Florida State. The Seminoles (19-13) lost to fellow bubble team Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament’s second round, and that 8-10 conference record could come back to haunt them on Sunday.
Clemson. The Tigers (17-14) blew an 18-point lead and lost to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, a meltdown that mirrored their season. Clemson lost six of its last nine to slide off the NCAA bubble.
UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels (18-14) needed to make a big run in the Mountain West Tournament. Instead, they lost to Air Force in triple overtime in a defeat that should relegate them to the NIT.
Texas Tech. The Red Raiders (19-12) lost to TCU, which won just twice in the Big 12 this season, in the opening round of the conference tournament. They had strong wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor, but a loss to the Horned Frogs could stick out in the committee’s minds.
“The body of work we put in throughout the year, strength of schedule, wins we’ve had, I think we have a very good shot at getting in,” Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said. “We obviously didn’t help ourselves tonight, but TCU — you get into a tournament like this, somebody is going to get beat.”