Tuesday's college basketball slate served as an excellent appetizer for what's ahead during conference tournament week as we build toward Selection Sunday on CBS. Five teams punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference tournament title games, the nation's No. 1 team got a scare and the ACC kicked off its tournament with Duke taking the floor as the No. 10 seed.
The Blue Devils thrashed No. 15 seed Boston College 86-51 to kick off their quest for an improbable five-day run through the event, but the biggest moment of the ACC Tournament's first day came in the nightcap. That moment belonged to No. 11 seed Notre Dame and guard Trey Wertz. More on that in a moment as we get to the winners and losers from a full day of postseason basketball.
Winner: Gonzaga rallies vs BYU, stays undefeated
The only remaining undefeated team in college basketball entering Tuesday was No. 1 Gonzaga. And for a while in Las Vegas, it appeared that list would shrink to zero, as BYU led the top-ranked Bulldogs by as many as 14 in the WCC title game. But the Zags did what they always do, shaking an early slump to come roaring back to a 88-78 win to improve to 26-0. Freshman guard Jalen Suggs played the role of hero during the comeback victory with 23 points. Get used to that name, because Suggs has the intangibles to become a legend during the NCAA Tournament, and he proved Tuesday that he can shine in the spotlight. With the victory, Gonzaga essentially clenches the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Winner: Notre Dame at the buzzer
When Daivien Williamson hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game for Wake Forest with 7:20 left, the No. 14 seed Demon Deacons took a 75-63 lead, and it appeared they would live to fight another day. The Fighting Irish had other plans, though. Notre Dame capped a 17-2 run to close the game when Wertz drilled a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to give his team a dramatic 80-77 victory. Wertz made 4-of-5 from 3-point range during the game to redeem himself after a rough outing in Notre Dame's upset victory over Florida State on Saturday. His final shot propelled the Fighting Irish on to face No. 6 seed North Carolina in Wednesday's second round.
Trey Wertz 𝘾𝘼𝙇𝙇𝙀𝘿 𝙂𝘼𝙈𝙀! @NDmbb | @_TDub3 pic.twitter.com/R1xy6QhzT0— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) March 10, 2021
Winner: Rick Pitno's Iona squad picks up a win
Don't call it a comeback, but in his first postseason college basketball game since 2017 at Louisville, Rick Pitino directed Iona to a 72-48 victory over Quinnipiac in the opening round of the MAAC Tournament. The No. 9 seed Gaels now advance to a Wednesday quarterfinal with No. 1 seed Siena. Before you dismiss Iona's chances at pulling an upset against its top-seeded foe, consider this: the MAAC did its tournament seeding by the number of total conference wins. Had it been seeded by league winning percentage, Iona would have been the No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed after going 6-3 in league play during the regular season. So yeah, maybe don't sleep on Pitino's squad
Loser: Pittsburgh's rebuild has a long way to go
After an 8-2 start that included a 4-1 beginning to ACC play, it felt like Pittsburgh might be turning a corner in coach Jeff Capel's third season. But after getting bounced in the first round of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday, Pittsburgh clearly still has a long way to go. With injuries, transfers and COVID-19 issues plaguing the Panthers, they lost 10 of their final 12 games to finish with a losing record for a fifth straight season. Former coach Kevin Stallings left a lot of rubble after the 2017-18 season and Capel is still searching for a foothold as Pittsburgh tries to climb out of the wreckage.
Winner: Duke plays some of its best basketball
Duke's struggles this season have required a recalibration of expectations for the program that make Tuesday's result worthy of "winner" treatment. Normally, the Blue Devils thrashing a disastrously bad Boston College team by 35 points would warrant a shoulder shrug. But they get applause for doing it Tuesday, especially since it was just three days after a 91-73 loss to North Carolina that relegated Duke to the No. 10 seed in the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils (12-11) likely still need to win four more games in four days this week to make the NCAA Tournament. But Tuesday's 15-of-32 effort from the 3-point line was a start, and strong showings by freshmen DJ Steward and Mark Williams were a tantalizing reminder of the potential that has been there with this team all along.
Maybe, just maybe, this team is ready to have a little fun to close a season full of adversity.
JB x Gold x Buck. Elite post-game exclusive after the 🦅 win. 🎤 pic.twitter.com/ikWYT5eFNa— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 10, 2021
Loser: Iowa overlooks Roy Marble
The Hawkeyes did the right thing on Sunday by retiring star center Luka Garza's No. 55 jersey after his last game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. In the process, they apparently offended the family of another all-time great. Athletic director Gary Barta issued an apology Tuesday to the family of Roy Marble, who held the program's all-time scoring record before Garza broke it last month. Marble's No. 23 jersey has never been retired, even though he led the program during a strong run in the late 1980s.
"We have learned since Sunday that Roy Marble's family was hurt and feeling disrespected since that day," Barta said, according to the Associated Press. "I just want to take a moment and share that absolutely that disrespect was unintentional and to publicly apologize for that."
Winner: Mount St. Mary's clinches NEC
Mount St. Mary's clinched the NEC on Tuesday when it defeated Bryant 73-68 in the NEC title game. It's the sixth time in school history the Mountaineers have clinched the league's automatic bid to punch a ticket to the Big Dance, and it marks the first time under 36-year-old (and third-year) coach Dan Engelstad. This is a program with a ton of proud history at the Division I level rightfully earning a place at the table among the big dogs.
WE ARE GOING DANCING!— NEC CHAMPS 🏆 - MOUNT MBB (@MountHoops) March 10, 2021
FINAL: Mount 73 Bryant 68#ClimbTHEMOUNTain pic.twitter.com/KeSGu9jPCv
Winner: other automatic bids clinched
In addition to Mount St. Mary's and Gonzaga, three others clinched their bids on Tuesday, and the other three will all be going dancing for the first time in over a decade. Drexel snapped the longest drought of the bunch by solidifying its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1996 with a 63-56 win over Elon in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament final. Cleveland State will be going for the first time since 2009 after beating Oakland 80-69 in the Horizon League final. Then, Oral Roberts avoided a second-half collapse to beat North Dakota State 75-72 after leading 45-20 at halftime to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.