What we learned: Teams that are hot, teams that are not

North Carolina goes on the road and gets huge win over Duke (2:17)

North Carolina gets a huge game from Cormac Ryan with 31 points as the Tar Heels sweep the season series with Duke. (2:17)

The penultimate weekend before the NCAA tournament is always one of the most fun on the college basketball calendar. There's a mix of regular-season contests, conference tournament action, high-profile showdowns and automatic bids being handed out.

This particular Saturday featured rematches from the memorable Feb. 3 slate: Kansas at Houston, Kentucky at Tennessee and North Carolina at Duke. How would the Cougars enact revenge for their most recent loss, the 13-point drubbing at the hands of the Jayhawks? Was Kentucky's February resurgence a harbinger of things to come or would the Volunteers' Dalton Knecht have one more statement performance left in him before the postseason? And the best rivalry in the sport with regular-season championship stakes on the line for UNC and Duke? We'll take it.

The schedule also had bubble dwellers fighting for their lives, tournament teams jockeying for seeding and the first NCAA tourney bid handed out in the Ohio Valley Conference. Who punched their ticket?

ESPN's Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello and Joe Lunardi break down the big storylines from the final Saturday of the 2023-24 regular season.

No. 1 Houston Cougars 76, No. 14 Kansas Jayhawks 46

Houston pads its lead on back-to-back buckets

Ja'Vier Francis slams it home over Hunter Dickinson, then seals the rock which the hands of Jamal Shead for a Cougars and-1.

Myron Medcalf: A few weeks ago, Bill Self was asked to compare his team's challenges with injuries -- Kevin McCullar Jr. had missed four of five games at that point because of a bone bruise in his knee -- to the situation he had when Joel Embiid suffered a back injury at the end of the 2013-14 season. Self said the two teams were in different situations, not because of talent, but because of the depth -- and the lack thereof with this season's group. Sure, the Jayhawks continue to wrestle with offensive lapses in key games against top teams, but when healthy, they've been able to keep up with teams such as UConn, Tennessee, Kentucky and, yes, Houston.

But Saturday's group, which had to play without Hunter Dickinson (shoulder) and McCullar (knee) for much of the game, does not have a Plan B. Its rotation is limited. That seems to be the greatest threat to KU's second-weekend aspirations in the NCAA tournament, especially if it has to move forward without two of its top players.

Jeff Borzello: For most of the past couple of months, the consensus across the sport has been that UConn is the most dominant team in the country and enters the postseason as the favorite to cut down the nets. Not so fast. Houston's performance on Saturday was as good a 40-minute showing as we've seen from anyone this season. The Cougars' defense can simply overwhelm teams and run them off the floor. Kansas shot 33% from the field, while Houston had 30 points off turnovers and 17 second-chance points. That's how Kelvin Sampson wants his teams to win, and when the Cougars can make shots on top of all that, they're a force.

Joe Lunardi's bracket impact: The big story here is Kansas. We have no choice but to drop the Jayhawks another seed line, this time as a No. 4. Pending player availability after the Big 12 tournament, Kansas could slide even further before the NCAA tournament begins. As for Houston, the Cougars stay in the running for the top overall seed with this big win. If Purdue loses at any point until Selection Sunday and Houston backs up its regular-season crown in the Big 12 tourney, it's hard to imagine the Cougars being denied.

No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats 85, No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers 81

Cormac Ryan's 3rd three forces an early Duke timeout

Cormac Ryan splashes a 3-pointer to put North Carolina up 11 and force a Duke timeout.

Medcalf: A loss to one of the hottest teams in America right now does not diminish Tennessee's Final Four potential. The Vols won the conference championship in one of the toughest leagues in America. And their best player, Dalton Knecht, couldn't do much more than he did on Saturday to help his team; it has become a common theme in Tennessee's toughest moments this season. The Northern Colorado transfer has averaged 26.7 points in his team's seven losses. Despite Knecht registering a career-high 40 points, Tennessee couldn't match Kentucky's offensive output. If the Vols end up in a back-and-forth game that demands the same kind of effort in the NCAA tournament, how much of the burden will Knecht have to carry? And will it be enough?

Borzello: There's no room left on the Kentucky-to-the-Final Four bandwagon. The Wildcats already have proved themselves as one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country, and they're only getting better as Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham get more time on the floor. But the defense continues to show flashes of being good enough to win games in the postseason. On the surface, allowing 81 points to Tennessee isn't eye-opening, but the Vols' 1.10 points per possession was one of their least efficient efforts in the past two months. If Ugonna Onyenso can stay on the floor and protect the rim, it adds a different dimension to Kentucky's team.

Lunardi's bracket impact: Tennessee is back in a virtual tie with Arizona and surging North Carolina for the fourth and final No. 1 seed. The Vols were in the driver's seat before Saturday, but they will now carry a little extra burden at the SEC tournament. Kentucky, meanwhile, continues to climb the seed list. The Wildcats are suddenly a 3-seed and no doubt a popular pick in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels 84, No. 9 Duke Blue Devils 79

Medcalf: Hubert Davis entered last February on a hot streak. His Tar Heels had won four in a row and were preparing to host Jeff Capel and Pitt. North Carolina lost that night, however, and started a 5-7 finish to conclude a disappointing season just a year after a run to the national title game. The Heels faced a 2-3 stretch that bled into mid-February this campaign, prompting questions once again about this team's ceiling. Instead of folding, however, UNC won six in a row -- including beating its chief rival to claim the ACC regular-season title outright. Davis' team now enters the postseason as a legitimate national title contender.

Borzello: When Davis went out and signed Cormac Ryan from the portal last spring, the Tar Heels were hoping for two things from the Notre Dame transfer: experience and 3-point shooting. Both came through loud and clear on Saturday. Ryan had 31 points, including six 3-pointers. He came up huge on the offensive end with RJ Davis struggling to make shots and Armando Bacot not finishing consistently on the interior. Ryan hit three early 3s to set the tone and give UNC an early lead, then he drained back-to-back 3s and four free throws in the final minutes to ice the game. That's a great sign for the Heels entering the postseason.

Lunardi's bracket impact: A Duke win would have given the ACC a pair of projected No. 2 seeds entering the conference tournament. Instead, the Blue Devils fall back to a 3-seed while the Tar Heels creep back into the conversation for a 1-seed. UNC will need an ACC tourney title -- and probably a little help -- to land on the NCAA's top line, but an effort like the one at Cameron Indoor Stadium makes all things possible.

Quick hits

Finally, some mid-major chalk

College basketball fans will get the Missouri Valley Conference championship matchup they wanted, with Indiana State and Drake winning their semifinal matchups. It's now the must-watch game on Sunday's slate, featuring the tourney's top two seeds, the two best players in the league in Robbie Avila and Tucker DeVries, and two coaches in Josh Schertz and Darian DeVries who will be regulars on the coaching carousel until they take bigger jobs. Indiana State and Drake split their regular-season meetings, and neither will be guaranteed an NCAA tournament bid if it loses in the title game. -- Borzello

Bluejays are getting hot

During its 7-1 run over the last eight games of the regular season, Creighton -- which defeated Villanova 69-67 in an early-Saturday afternoon thriller -- registered 120 points per 100 possessions four times. Greg McDermott's squad has momentum entering the postseason, and Baylor Scheierman (21.3 points per game, 52% from beyond the arc over the past three outings) has been a catalyst for that surge. -- Medcalf

Nova's bubble is bursting

What a brutal day for Villanova. In a near must-win situation, the Wildcats fell behind Creighton 27-5 and seemed dead in the water in Philadelphia. Instead, they climbed their way back into the game and finally tied it on three free throws from big man Eric Dixon inside 30 seconds to go in the second half. But Bluejays guard Trey Alexander had other ideas at the buzzer, and Villanova will enter the Big East tournament on the wrong side of the bubble for the second year in a row. -- Lunardi

Why Champ Week matters

TCU and Mississippi State have been comfortably in the NCAA tournament field for weeks, quietly in the middle of the bracket. But after Saturday, both teams would be smart to avoid a loss in the first game of their respective conference tournaments. TCU had a surprising home loss to UCF, meaning the Horned Frogs have now lost three of their past four games and six of their past 10. MSU fell at home to South Carolina in overtime to lose its fourth straight. One more win would be enough to secure a bid. But another loss? -- Borzello