If March doesn't truly become March until the first postseason buzzer beater drops, then consider this the official start of college basketball's most beloved month.
Third-seeded Bryant trailed sixth-seeded Sacred Heart by three points in the dying seconds of Wednesday night's Northeast Conference quarterfinal when Dan Garvin corralled the rebound of a Dyami Starks missed 3-pointer and saved it to Joe O'Shea. In desperation, the 6-foot-4 senior sank an off-balance 3-pointer from the left of the top of the key as the buzzer sounded, forcing overtime and enabling Bryant to escape with a 91-85 victory after the second extra session.
"I've done this 31 years, and there are certain games you never forget," Bryant coach Tim O'Shea told reporters after the game. "What was special today is this was a tournament game. You lose, you're done. To have that spectacular shot by my nephew, I'm not going to lie. It's really special."
The younger O'Shea is one of the big reasons Bryant (16-14, 12-6) finished tied for second in league play this season and has a realistic chance of securing an NCAA tournament bid. O'Shea averages 10.7 points per game this season and shoots 38.8 percent from beyond the arc. He had a team-high 23 points on Wednesday despite taking only 11 shots.
The victory was momentous for a Bryant program only six years removed from going 1-29 in its first full year as a member of the NEC and only four years removed from going 2-28 in its third year. The Bulldogs enjoyed a breakthrough 19-win 2012-13 season and have finished in the top three in their league each of the past three years, but they had lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament in 2013 and 2014.
(Thanks for the video, ABC6)
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With less than two weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
LSU's latest loss to a lesser-talented team damaged more than its chances of securing an at-large bid.
By falling 78-63 at home against rebuilding Tennessee on Wednesday night, the Tigers also may have torpedoed the hopes of an SEC rival.
The only RPI top 75 victories Texas A&M (20-9, 11-6) has this season came via a pair of victories over LSU during SEC play. That sweep could have been meaningful for the Aggies except the underachieving Tigers have fallen back to the bubble with bad league losses against Missouri, Auburn, Mississippi State and now Tennessee.
Many mock brackets still project Texas A&M to make the field as a No. 10 or 11 seed, but that seems very generous considering the Aggies' lack of quality wins. The best team they've beaten besides LSU is likely a Florida team with a 15-15 record, though it admittedly does count for something that they also haven't lost to any sub-100 RPI opponents.
Texas A&M's final SEC game is against Alabama, which won't help the Aggies much if they win but would be crushing if they lose. Regardless, Texas A&M would greatly benefit from a run in the SEC tournament that included a win or two against a quality opponent.
LSU's situation is slightly less dire in spite of its long list of bad losses. The Tigers (21-9, 10-7) may not have met expectation for a team with two future pro forwards and a talented backcourt, but they have nine RPI top 100 victories including a huge non-league win at West Virginia and a sweep of NCAA tournament-bound Ole Miss.
The lone remaining game for LSU is a visit to Arkansas. Win that, and the Tigers are surely safe. Lose, and they probably will need a win or two in the SEC tournament to head into Selection Sunday without any anxiety.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE WEDNESDAY
Oregon (23-8, 13-5 Pac-12): What Oregon has accomplished after a disastrous offseason is unfathomable in a lot of ways. The Ducks closed the regular season by winning at rival Oregon State to improve to 13-5 in the Pac-12 and to all but cement an NCAA tournament bid. Seven of Oregon's nine leading scorers from last season are no longer with the team, so it took the Ducks a while to jell this season. They only managed one notable non-league win — a victory over fellow bubble team Illinois — but they've developed rapidly over the course of Pac-12 play, winning nine of their final 10 games including a season-changing victory over Utah a couple weeks ago. Oregon will be the third seed in the Pac-12 tournament and will likely draw Oregon State or Arizona State in the quarterfinals. The Ducks should be fine regardless but even one Pac-12 tournament win will leave no doubt.
Miami (19-11, 9-8 ACC): In what was essentially an elimination game between two bubble teams, Miami edged Pittsburgh 67-63 in an arena where the Panthers seldom lose despite the absence of starting point guard Angel Rodriguez. Sheldon McClellan scored 20 points and Davon Reed added 19 to spark the Hurricanes to a badly needed top 100 RPI win. Miami still only has seven of those all season — a monumental win at Duke, two solid wins over Illinois and NC State and victories against Pitt, Clemson, Florida and Syracuse. Bad losses against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Eastern Kentucky also drag down the Hurricanes. The last remaining regular season game for Miami is a must-win against struggling Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes need that win and likely at least one more in the ACC tournament.
UCLA (19-12, 11-7 Pac-12): UCLA got the three home wins it absolutely had to have, following up last week's sweep against the Washington schools by defeating rival USC on Wednesday night, 85-74. That ensured the Bruins the No. 4 seed in next week's Pac-12 tournament and sets up a potentially massive quarterfinal between UCLA and likely No. 5 seed Stanford. A strong non-conference strength of schedule, a huge home win against Utah and a 3-1 record against fellow Pac-12 bubble teams Stanford and Oregon put UCLA in good position despite its 12 losses, but it's hard to see the Bruins making the NCAA tournament without at least winning one game in Las Vegas. A quarterfinal victory seems essential. A trip to the title game, and UCLA would be a near-lock.
Cincinnati (21-9, 12-5 AAC): Cincinnati entered Wednesday's game at Tulsa behind the Golden Hurricane in the American Athletic Conference standings but ahead of them in the NCAA tournament pecking order. The Bearcats flew home Wednesday night in exactly the same position. A 56-47 road win at Tulsa gives Cincinnati seven top 100 victories including a sweep of SMU and non-league victories against San Diego State and NC State. Bad losses against Tulane and East Carolina drag the Bearcats down, but this still seems like an NCAA tournament-caliber team and profile. Cincinnati can leave no doubt if it protects its home floor on Saturday against a Memphis team without Austin Nichols.
Other bubble winners: Illinois (defeated Nebraska 69-57), Boise State (defeated San Jose State 68-51), Colorado State (defeated Nevada 78-62), Oklahoma State (defeated TCU 82-70).
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL WEDNESDAY
Pittsburgh (19-12, 8-9 ACC): Why is Pittsburgh likely to miss the NCAA tournament despite victories over North Carolina and Notre Dame in conference play? Two reasons. 1. Jamie Dixon's weak non-conference schedule afforded the Panthers little margin for error in ACC play. 2. They squandered what little they had with brutal losses against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson. Pittsburgh had one final chance to rescue itself at home against fellow bubble team Miami, but the Panthers lost 67-63 on Wednesday night despite 22 points from Michael Young. Now the road to the NCAA tournament is an uphill climb. Pittsburgh probably needs to beat Florida State on Saturday, then make a deep ACC tournament run.
Tulsa (21-8, 14-3 AAC): Even though Tulsa entered Wednesday in sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference, its profile doesn't exactly scream NCAA tournament team. Of its five RPI top 100 wins, two are against fellow bubble team Temple, two are against mediocre Memphis and one came at home against underachieving UConn. The Golden Hurricane also have a horrendous loss to Oral Roberts and an even worse one against a Division II opponent. Tulsa blew a chance to help itself at home on Wednesday when it lost to Cincinnati 56-47. That might have quashed the Golden Hurricane's at-large hopes, though they can make things interesting by winning at SMU on Sunday, claiming the outright league title and doing some damage in the conference tournament.
Purdue (19-11, 11-6 Big Ten): Though Purdue was competitive at Ohio State and Michigan State its past two games, the Boilermakers didn't win either. They missed a chance to all but secure an NCAA bid on Wednesday night with a 72-66 loss to the Spartans that clinched Michigan State's spot in the field of 68. A sweep of Indiana and wins over Ohio State and Iowa helped Purdue rally from a thoroughly disappointing non-conference performance, but the Boilermakers aren't safe yet. They need one more win minimum, whether that's at home against Illinois this weekend or in the Big Ten tournament. And if they want to be truly sure they're safe, two more wins wouldn't be a bad idea.
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Romo had visited Duke weeks before the tournament and some believed his habit of early exits from the NFL playoffs rubbed off on the Blue Devils.
But there was Romo Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium amongst the Cameron Crazies cheering on the Blue Devils as they annhilated Wake Forest 94-51. The third-ranked Blue Devils won their 27th game with Romo looking on and look to be on their way to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Romo and his teammates DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten along with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, visited Duke this week to spend some time talking with coach Mike Krzyzewski. Garrett explained why they make such trips in the offseason during an interview with the Dallas Morning News last month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
“That’s a big part of what we do, encouraging our coaches to really be thoughtful about taking a trip,” Garrett told the Morning News.” We call it, ‘one-day, learning excursions.’ Go somewhere in football, outside of football, in town, out of town and try to spend some time with somebody who has been successful in what they do and hopefully we can learn from and come back and grow as an individual. Hopefully it helps us grow as a staff and as a football team. We’re going to do some of those things as this off-season progresses.”
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At the end of a star-crossed season in which it has lost 10 conference games by nine or fewer points, Penn State received another ill-timed dose of misfortune Wednesday night.
The Nittany Lions were the victim of one of the most baffling foul calls of the season early in their 77-67 loss to Ohio State.
As senior forward Ross Travis was preparing to finish a fast break with an uncontested dunk, teammate D.J. Newbill was trailing the play. Somehow Newbill was whistled for an offensive foul negating the dunk even though, if anything, Ohio State forward Amir Williams shoved him out of the way.
That the call went against Newbill on senior night was especially cruel. The Penn State guard is already one of the nation's most unappreciated stars because he averages 20.4 points per game on a below-the-radar team that's 3-13 in the Big Ten and has no other double-digit scorers.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers was already unhappy with Big Ten referees after a loss to Maryland last month, earning a $10,000 fine and a public reprimand from the league office for his criticism. Chambers described this call on Jordan Dickerson the worst he'd ever seen in his life, though it's a safe bet he may revise that statement after the foul assessed to Newbill on Wednesday night.
Remarkably, the Newbill foul wasn't the worst bad luck Penn State experienced against the Buckeyes. Later in the game, Ohio State forward Sam Thompson scored an improbable basket when he leaped to defend a Nittany Lions inbound pass and the ball deflected off his outstretched right hand and into the basket.
The strangest thing about that play is how nonchalant everyone on the floor is about what happened. When it comes to Penn State basketball, perhaps bizarrely bad luck has just become the norm.
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Picture Hank Gathers on the basketball court, and one of the first things you'll inevitably remember is how strong he was.
The chiseled 6-foot-7 former Loyola Marymount star was a scoring and rebounding machine around the rim. He was the self-proclaimed strongest man in America, a scorer so automatic he earned the nickname "Hank the Bank," a future NBA star whose coach referred to him as a "walking thunderbolt."
Those qualities were part of the reason Gathers' death 25 years ago today was so sad and so shocking. On March 4, 1990, a 23-year-old man who was outwardly invincible slammed home a long lob pass during a game against Portland, then stumbled, collapsed and tragically never got up.
The death of Gathers still evokes strong feelings from the six-year-old son who barely got to know his dad and from the teammates who famously honored him with a stunning Elite Eight run that began just days after his death. They spoke to Yahoo Sports last year for the above video about Gathers' legacy and the 1990 NCAA tournament run.
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Thanks to an impressive list of quality wins that includes SMU, Butler, Maryland and Ohio State, Indiana has probably accomplished enough already this season to make the NCAA tournament without winning another game.
The Hoosiers appear unwisely hell-bent on testing that theory.
A non-competitive 77-63 home loss against Iowa on Tuesday night was Indiana's seventh loss in 11 games since cracking the national rankings on the morning of Jan. 23. All four of the Hoosiers' victories came over non-NCAA tournament contenders and the most recent three losses were home games against Purdue and the Hawkeyes and a road game at Northwestern.
Indiana (19-11, 9-8) still appears in virtually every mock bracket in spite of that stretch, but the Hoosiers would certainly be playing with fire if they lost their regular season finale against Michigan State on Saturday and again early in the Big Ten tournament. Although four victories against surefire NCAA tournament teams compares well with other bubble teams, Indiana's non-league strength of schedule was awful and it hasn't exactly left the strongest impression on the committee recently.
Even if the Hoosiers do make it, their play of late doesn't inspire much hope of a deep NCAA tournament run.
They already were the Big Ten's worst defensive team over the course of the regular season because of a lack of rim protectors in the paint or lockdown defenders at the wing position. Their effort level on defense has gotten even worse in recent games because they've let their uncharacteristically poor shooting affect them at both ends.
Indiana shot below 40 percent from the field against both Iowa and Northwestern, settling mostly for jump shots in both games and erratic shooting nights from Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and Troy Williams. The Wildcats shot over 50 percent from the field against Indiana and the Hawkeyes answered every Hoosiers basket and got to the free throw line 17 more times.
The 11-game slide has brought back all the negativity that Indiana's strong play previously had negated.
A vocal segment of Indiana fans are unhappy with Tom Crean because they do not feel the program should be in danger of missing the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons in his sixth and seventh year. They are especially displaced with some of the off-court issues that preceded this season and with his inability to land a suitable replacement after big man Noah Vonleh turned pro last year.
It was only six weeks ago that Indiana was back in the AP Top 25 and one of college basketball's feel-good stories. Now the Hoosiers once again feel more like a program teetering on the verge of crisis.
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When Saint Joseph's went from the fringes of the NCAA tournament picture to winning the Atlantic 10 tournament last March, it was bad news for bubble teams hoping to hear their names called on Selection Sunday.
The Hawks claimed an automatic NCAA tournament bid, forcing teams with stronger profiles from their league into the at-large pool and reducing the number of spots available to bubble teams by one.
This March, there will surely be an interloper or two that uses an unexpected league tournament run to make its way into the NCAA tournament field this season. Here's a look at some potential bid thieves that fans of potential bubble teams should watch out for during the next two weeks of conference tournament action.
1. UConn (17-11, 10-6): Even though UConn slid to the fringes of the bubble picture by suffering too many road losses in league play, the defending national champions have a pretty good chance to salvage their season next week. The American Athletic Conference tournament will take place in Hartford, where the Huskies should feel right at home. They've won their last seven home games including victories over the league's top three teams, Tulsa, SMU and Cincinnati. The key for UConn will be getting efficient perimeter scoring from others besides Ryan Boatright. Daniel Hamilton has enjoyed a solid freshman season, but he's shooting just 40 percent. Rodney Purvis has been a disappointment, but he is coming off a 28-point outburst against SMU.
2. Richmond (17-12, 10-6): One of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 has only six scholarship players. Another hasn't been the same since losing one of its standouts to a season-ending knee injury last month. A third is in its first year in the league and is still scrambling just to make the NCAA tournament. In a year in which the Atlantic 10 is clearly not as strong as it usually is, that leaves the door wide open for a surprise team to win its conference tournament. Rhode Island, UMass, George Washington and St. Bonaventure are all threats, but the team worth keeping an eye on the most is Richmond. The Spiders have won four straight, they swept the season series against rival VCU and they're the fourth highest-rated Atlantic 10 team in the KenPom rankings behind the Rams, Dayton and Davidson.
3. Illinois State (19-11, 11-7): In a year in which Wichita State and Northern Iowa have dominated the Missouri Valley Conference, Illinois State has emerged as by far the biggest threat among the rest of the league. The Redbirds actually will be the fourth seed at Arch Madness this week by virtue of losing a tiebreaker to Indiana State, but they're a very respectable No. 67 in the KenPom rankings and they're third in the league in both points per possession scored and surrendered. The question will be whether the Redbirds fare better against the league's two powerhouses, both of which swept the season series against Illinois State but survived close games to do it. One advantage Illinois State should have is on the glass because it is the Valley's best offensive rebounding team.
Three other dark horses:
Saint Mary's (21-8, 13-5): Gonzaga is the WCC's juggernaut and BYU is the top challenger, but the best of the rest in that league is the Gaels. They've split with the Cougars this season and led the Zags deep into the second half in Moraga 10 days ago. They also boast one of the nation's most undervalued players in Brad Waldow.
UNLV (16-13, 7-9): There's a chance leading scorer Rashad Vaughn returns from his torn meniscus in time for next week's Mountain West tournament. If so, the Rebels are a more of a threat to win the conference tournament on their home floor in what is clearly a down season for the Mountain West as a whole.
Northwestern (15-15, 6-11): Could the Wildcats make their first-ever NCAA tournament by going on an improbable Big Ten tournament run? It's a major long shot, yes, but they have played all the league's top teams close and have won five of six including upset victories over Indiana, Iowa and Michigan.
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They stormed back from six down late in the second half at LSU. They survived overtime against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. They thwarted Florida's spirited upset bid.
In a year in which Kentucky has needed to engineer some artful escapes against SEC opponents to preserve its undefeated record, the Wildcats saved one of their best for last.
Kentucky moved within one win of an unbeaten regular season with a 72-64 road victory over a Georgia team that had the Wildcats teetering several times in the second half. The Bulldogs shredded Kentucky's typically formidable defense most of the night by spreading the floor and attacking the rim, enabling them to open leads of nine with nine minutes to play and six with five minutes to play.
Just like it has in previous tests, Kentucky gathered itself and responded, this time seizing back control with a game-ending 16-2 surge. Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns scored a game-high 19 points for the Wildcats including the go-ahead basket with 2:53 to go when he recovered his own miss, absorbed contact and laid the ball in.
That Kentucky managed to win on the road despite shooting below 40 percent from the field and struggling on defense is a testament to its resilience. At this point, the top-ranked Wildcats have proven it's foolish to count them out of a game unless they have fewer points than their opponent and the clock reads triple zeroes.
It was Towns who showed the greatest resilience Tuesday night, bouncing back after drawing coach John Calipari's ire late in the second half when he lowered his shoulder and committed a charge in the post instead of kicking the ball out to a wide-open Tyler Ulis. Towns responded by scoring seven points in the final three minutes to help Kentucky put the game away.
Georgia's three missed front ends of 1-and-1s in the last five minutes has to be the most frustrating part of the loss for coach Mark Fox. His offensive scheme was shrewd, his team played with effort and energy, his home crowd was loud and still it wasn't enough.
Had the Bulldogs managed to close out the game strong and spring the upset, they would have not only foiled Kentucky's bid for history but also secured their own place in the NCAA tournament. Instead they still probably need a win at Auburn on Saturday to feel good about their position entering the SEC tournament.
Kentucky meanwhile is one win away from a perfect 31-0 regular season. All that stands between the Wildcats and history is struggling Florida at Rupp Arena, and barring a surprise, Kentucky won't need an escape to win that one.
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Jamari Traylor saved senior night and helped Kansas win another Big 12 regular season championship outright on Tuesday with a huge second half that thwarted an historic upset bid from West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks took advantage of awful free throw shooting by the Moutaineers down the stretch to force overtime and win 76-69, getting revenge for a loss at West Virginia last month. West Virginia missed three of five free throws in the final 45 seconds of regulation and went 16-for-28 at the foul line in the game.
The Mountaineers raced to an 18-point lead in the first half made even more impressive because they were playing without leading scorer Juwan Staten and senior Gary Browne. Staten provided the winning layup, albeit controversial, against the Jayhawks in Morgantown.
West Virginia was trying to be the first team to beat Kansas on senior night in 32 years. It was also trying to end the Jayhawks’ 23-game home-court winning streak and become the first team to sweep Kansas in the regular season in Bill Self’s tenure as coach at KU.
But with Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Perry Ellis out of action after a teammate rolled into his leg late in the first half, Self had to lean heavily on Traylor, who came through with a performance Kansas fans won’t soon forget.
Traylor scored all of his 14 points in the second half and overtime and gave Kansas a strong presence in the post with Ellis out and Cliff Alexander missing another game with NCAA eligibility issues. Frank Mason also came up big on a night when the Jayhawks failed to make a 3-pointer. Kansas went 0-15 from behind the arc and did not attempt a 3-pointer in overtime. Mason scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
West Virginia not only struggled at the foul line, it struggled to put the ball in the basket period. The Mountaineers made only 22 of 63 field goal attempts but kept themselves in it in the second half by making 3-pointers. They were 9-for-25 behind the arc in the game.
The Mountaineers made one two-point field goal in the final 24 minutes of the game. Kansas celebrated another championship because of that fact probably more than any other.
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There's no need to wait until after the NCAA tournament to identify who the most coveted coach on the market will be this spring.
Dayton's Archie Miller has already secured that title by doing an even more remarkable job this season than he did last year when he led the Flyers to the Elite Eight.
When Miller had to dismiss his only two big men in December, it left Dayton with only six scholarship players and nobody taller than 6-foot-6. The Flyers responded by vowing not to make any excuses, reinventing themselves on the fly and exceeding all expectations.
Dayton's 75-59 rout of co-Atlantic 10 leader Rhode Island on Tuesday night moved the Flyers within one win of securing at least a share of their first conference title since joining the Atlantic 10 in the 1995-96 season. If Dayton (23-6, 13-4) wins at La Salle on Saturday, Davidson (21-6, 12-4) will have to win its final two games against VCU and at Duquesne just to forge a tie.
Tuesday's victory keeps Dayton on pace for about a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament with a chance to improve that if it keeps winning. Quality wins against VCU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Rhode Island aren't overly impressive, but the Flyers have a top 30 RPI because they've only suffered one sub-100 loss the entire season.
What's especially remarkable about what Dayton has accomplished this year is that its style of play is the antithesis of that of last year's team. Whereas last year's Flyers played an 11-man rotation featuring four players 6-foot-9 or taller, this year's team seldom plays more than seven guys and divides the bulk of the minutes among six.
The secret to Dayton's success the past couple months has been finding ways to exploit its quickness advantage on offense without getting pummeled in the paint or on the glass defensively.
Dayton is second in the Atlantic 10 in points per possession so far this season even though it gets little in transition and it seldom even bothers to try for offensive rebounds. When opponents have played man-to-man, Miller has taken advantage of Dayton's superior speed by spreading the floor, identifying the most favorable mismatch and attacking off the dribble. When opponents have gone zone to prevent those mismatches, Miller has a handful of skilled wings he can play in the high post and ask to shoot, drive or distribute.
Remarkably, Dayton is also third in the Atlantic 10 in points per possession surrendered and first in defensive rebounding percentage despite giving up a few inches in every game at both frontcourt positions. Dyshawn Pierre is averaging a team-high 8.0 rebounds, Kendall Pollard is averaging 5.6 and both guys are doing an admirable job defending bigger players.
"I'm not sure surprised is the word I'd use but I'm definitely proud," Miller told Yahoo Sports in January. "I'm proud of the way they've handled adversity. They have not budged. They have not moved. To be quite honest with you, they've stuck their chests out a little bit and they keep coming."
Dayton's surprising success should land Miller on the short list of candidates for national coach of the year along with John Calipari, Tony Bennett, Larry Krystkowiak and a handful of others. It also is sure to make him a popular figure with athletic directors seeking to hire a new basketball coach.
Last year, Miller reportedly received interest from the likes of Marquette and Wake Forest but opted to sign a longterm extension at Dayton instead. He'll probably have another difficult decision to make this spring, especially if name-brand jobs like Georgia Tech, Texas or Indiana were to come open.
From Louisiana Tech's Michael White, to Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson, to perennial candidates Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart, there are lots of coaches who should be hot names this spring.
Miller should be a lot of athletic director's first phone call though. With what he's accomplished at Dayton, he has earned that.
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Rutgers senior guard Myles Mack is 5-foot-10. It's important to know that while watching the accompanying video here because Mack is the guy Maryland star Dez Wells hurdled Tuesday night during the 10-ranked Terrapins' 60-50 victory.
The sight of Wells flying at him and then over him midway through the first half led Mack to get rid of the ball when it might have been to his advantage to drive to the basket. It's tough to blame the guy flinching just a bit.
It was just one of several jaw-dropping displays of athleticism from Wells during a performance in which he led his team to a victory with 20 points and 10 rebounds.It was Maryland's 25th victory of the season. You have to think NBA scouts and general managers will have a lot of interest in Wells this summer.
Dez Wells on tonight’s big baseline dunk: “I saw somebody going to take a charge and I said *shakes head* that’s his problem.” #Terps— Daniel Martin (@DMartinCSN) February 25, 2015
Is it too early to nominate Wells for next year's slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend?
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When a college basketball coach wants to demonstrate a prospect is a priority, he'll occasionally show up to one of that player's games with all three assistants in tow as a message that there's no one else the staff values more.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson even topped that on Monday night. The entire Razorbacks team joined him at Fayetteville High School to watch elite class of 2016 prospect Malik Monk.
The entire Razorback basketball team showed up to watch Malik Monk tonight. pic.twitter.com/IjQ9LRBYJG— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) March 3, 2015
Every Arkansas player sat side-by-side in the first row of the bleachers for Bentonville High School's lone visit to Fayetteville this season. Monk led Bentonville with a game-high 26 points, but Fayetteville pulled a 72-59 upset in the regular season finale for both teams.
The recruiting ploy from Arkansas reflects Monk's stature as one of the most coveted prospects to come out of the state in the past decade.
Monk, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard with impressive range and jaw-dropping athleticism, is Rivals.com's No. 5 prospect in his class. Many of the nation's top programs have offered Monk a scholarship, but Arkansas and Kentucky figure to be two of the top contenders to land him.
Video highlights of Malik Monk:
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Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins awakened the Cyclones from their game-long slumber with a technical foul that he now probably wishes he hadn't committed.
When Oklahoma's Ryan Spangler swatted a shot by Georges Niang out of bounds with his team leading by 20 points five minutes into the second half, Cousins shouted something profane in the direction of the Iowa State bench. Referees assessed a technical foul on Cousins for abusive language, igniting an unfathomable run from the Cyclones that propelled them to a 77-70 victory.
Iowa State scored on seven straight possessions immediately after the Cousins technical, stringing together stops and parlaying them into transition opportunities. The surge reached 22-0 when Dustin Hogue buried a corner 3-pointer to give the Cyclones their first lead of the game and 37-8 when Monte Morris sank a jumper to extend the advantage to nine with five minutes to go.
The best players on the floor during the comeback were Niang and Monte Morris, who thrived during a fast-paced, free-flowing second half and combined for 40 points after halftime. Before its improbable rally, Iowa State was in danger of losing three in a row and falling for the second straight time on its home floor for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Iowa State's victory ensured Kansas will win at least a share of the Big 12 crown for an astonishing 11th straight season. The only league title streak longer than that of the Jayhawks in college basketball history belongs to UCLA, which captured 13 straight from 1967-79.
To put into perspective Kansas' unparalleled consistency in the topsy-turvy one-and-done era, consider the sporadic struggles of some of college basketball's other blue bloods. UCLA is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the third time in six years. North Carolina settled for an NIT bid in 2010 and Kentucky did the same in 2013. Just when it seemed Indiana had returned to national prominence, the Hoosiers didn't qualify for any postseason tournament last year.
Iowa State had hoped to be the team to end Kansas' streak this season, but the Cyclones squandered their chance with a bad loss at Texas Tech on Jan. 24, a rare home loss against Baylor last Wednesday and an unexpected one-point loss at Kansas State two days ago. The Cyclones (21-8, 11-6) can still finish no worse than a tie for second place if they close the regular season with a victory at TCU on Saturday.
Had Oklahoma held its lead Monday night, the Sooners (20-9, 11-6) would have had a chance to either claim a share of the Big 12 title or win the league outright Saturday against Kansas depending on how the Jayhawks fared at home against West Virginia earlier in the week. Now the Sooners will have to hope that the Mountaineers can pull off a rare upset at Allen Fieldhouse to secure even a co-Big 12 title.
Cousins' technical foul was a big factor in Oklahoma letting that chance slip away, but it was far from the only reason the Sooners lost. They collectively wilted in the face of Iowa State's onslaught, surrendering 59 second-half points after giving up just 18 before halftime.
Oklahoma didn't play much defense in the second half, nor did it do much to keep Iowa State off the offensive glass. The Sooners compounded their problems by taking quick shots and committing turnovers, fueling the Cyclones in transition.
Monday night's outcome adds to the sense of mystery surrounding the non-Kansas portion of the Big 12's upper echelon.
Iowa State and Oklahoma both showed in stretches that they have the firepower to make a deep NCAA tournament run. The Cyclones and Sooners also showed in stretches that they can be complacent and listless enough to be potential early-round upset victims.
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Two weeks ago before Michigan hosting Michigan State in Ann Arbor, former Wolverine Nik Stauskas and former Spartan Draymond Green made a bet about the outcome and talked a little trash to each other on Twitter.
Both are in the NBA these days. Stauskas is a rookie with Sacramento and Green plays for Golden State.
The Spartans won and Stauskas was forced to pay up by wearing a Michigan State T-shirt and being photographed in it. Green posted the spoils of victory on his Instagram account for the world to see on Monday. He also gave Stauskas credit for being a standup guy.
Shoutout to nikstauskas11 in the 2014 Big Ten championship shirt that he took the L to them Spartan… https://t.co/2iUs1SVqjk— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) March 2, 2015
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The first time Texas had a chance to hold for the final shot on Monday night, the outcome was a contested 25-foot jumper from Jonathan Holmes that barely even drew iron.
The Longhorns were a bit more successful the second time.
With Texas and Baylor tied in the final seconds of overtime, Javan Felix drove right, drew the attention of the defense and zipped a cross-court pass to teammate Isaiah Taylor. Lester Medford and Taurean Prince got caught watching the ball and were slow to rotate, enabling Taylor to split them both off the dribble and sink a floater to give his team a potentially season-saving 61-59 victory.
Had Texas not overcome a 10-point deficit in the final seven minutes of regulation against the No. 14 team in the nation and then found a way to win in overtime, its flickering hopes of earning an at-large NCAA bid likely would have been snuffed out.
A loss would have dropped Texas to 6-11 in the Big 12 entering its regular season finale on Saturday against Kansas State. Only Florida State in 1998 and Iowa State in 1992 have ever received at-large bids despite finishing four games below .500 in league play, and the Longhorns didn't accomplish enough in November and December to join that list.
In reality, Texas (18-12) will still have work to do to make the NCAA tournament even if it wins its final Big 12 game to improve to 8-10 in the league.
Though the Longhorns have beaten West Virginia, Iowa and Baylor and have not lost to a single opponent that isn't an NCAA tournament contender, they're still just 3-11 against RPI top 50 opponents. To feel secure about its chances on Selection Sunday, Texas probably has to beat Kansas State on Saturday and reach the Big 12 title game the following weekend. To give themselves a realistic shot, the Longhorns better at least defeat the Wildcats and then reach the semis.
That the Longhorns are in this position is stunning considering all the players they have back from a team that won 24 games and reached the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament last season.
Every rotation player besides reserve guard Martez Walker returned this season and the Longhorns added elite 7-foot freshman Myles Turner to an already deep, talented frontcourt. They spent most of the first two months of the season in the top 10 in the polls despite the loss of Isaiah Taylor to a wrist injury, however, they have not fared well against rugged competition in Big 12 play. Five of Texas' six Big 12 wins prior to Monday night had come against Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State.
Texas won Monday despite surrendering 21 offensive rebounds to a Baylor team that is among the national leaders in that category. Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Holland and Felix each scored in double figures from the backcourt and the Longhorns held Baylor to just 33.3 percent shooting. Felix, Holmes and Holland each had 3-pointers during Texas' 16-6 surge to end regulation and force overtime.
The Longhorns' victory was marred by an incident during overtime that began with Taylor scrambling for a loose ball and catching an incidental elbow. No punches were thrown in the ensuing scuffle but a total of seven players were ejected for leaving their respective benches, four from Texas and three from Baylor.
Members of both teams jawed at one-another again as Baylor left the floor after postgame handshakes, a bad look for both under the circumstances.
The Bears had no reason to talk after losing a winnable game. And the Longhorns should just be happy their season still has a faint pulse.
(Thanks for the video, SBNation)
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A bombshell report from Duke's student newspaper Monday shed light on the school's mysterious decision to dismiss guard Rasheed Sulaimon five weeks ago.
Two female Duke students had accused Sulaimon of sexual assault during the 2013-14 school year, the Duke Chronicle reported.
Both students spoke with their peers about the alleged sexual assaults during a pair of off-campus retreats designed to promote open discussion of social issues, but neither formally reported them to the police nor to Duke's Office of Student Conduct. The fear of backlash from the Duke fan base was a factor in the decision the two female students made to not pursue the allegations, according to the Chronicle.
The allegations were brought to the attention of a team psychologist in March 2014, the Chronicle reported. High-ranking Duke officials, including the coaching staff and athletic director Kevin White, learned of the allegations later that month.
The Chronicle report raises several questions that Duke will have to answer in the coming days. Why did school officials wait nearly an entire year after learning of the allegations to dismiss Sulaimon? And why did they feel comfortable allowing him to remain enrolled in classes through the end of the spring semester?
Sulaimon is the first player coach Mike Krzyzewski has dismissed from the program during his tenure at Duke. Krzyzewski said at the time of the dismissal that Sulaimon had been "unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program."
“It is a privilege to represent Duke University and with that privilege comes the responsibility to conduct oneself in a certain manner," Krzyzewski said in a Jan. 29 statement. "After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”
Sulaimon averaged 11.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game during a promising freshman season, but his playing time and production diminished the past two years as other talented wings eclipsed him in Duke's rotation. The Blue Devils have not lost a game since his dismissal as Matt Jones and Justise Winslow have absorbed most of his playing time.
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The race for the NCAA tournament's final No. 1 seeds takes on greater importance than usual this season for one simple reason.
All the other contenders want to be spared the possibility of having to face top-ranked Kentucky until at least the Final Four.
While the unbeaten Wildcats have all but locked up the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed, the three remaining No. 1 seeds are still up for grabs entering the final week of the regular season. Below is a look at the seven contenders for those three spots in order of most likely to least likely to get one.
1. VIRGINIA (27-1, 15-1, RPI: 4, SOS: 18, KenPom: 3)
Five notable wins: at Notre Dame, at Maryland, at North Carolina, at VCU, Louisville
Remaining schedule: at Syracuse, at Louisville
Case for No. 1 seed: Even though their offense has not been as efficient since second-leading scorer Justin Anderson broke a finger in his left hand three weeks ago, Virginia has managed to keep winning and stay on track for a No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers are the only team in the nation besides Kentucky without a road loss. They've beaten four top 30 RPI teams away from home, they're 13-1 against the RPI top 100 and their only loss is against Duke in a game they controlled until the final minutes. If Virginia can win at Syracuse and Louisville this week, the Cavaliers will sew up a No. 1 seed no matter what happens in the ACC tournament. If they split this week and lose early in the ACC tournament, it could get a bit more tenuous, especially if Duke, Villanova and Arizona all win out.
2. DUKE (26-3, 13-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 11, KenPom: 8)
Five notable wins: at Virginia, at Wisconsin, at Louisville, Notre Dame, North Carolina
Losses: Miami, at NC State, at Notre Dame
Remaining schedule: Wake Forest, at North Carolina
Case for No. 1 seed: If the battle for the overall No. 1 seed merely came down to the best collection of quality wins, Duke might even be ahead of Kentucky. The Blue Devils have nine RPI top 50 victories so far this season including road wins at Virginia, Wisconsin, Louisville and St. John's. What has prevented Duke from wrapping up a No. 1 seed is the fact that losses to bubble teams Miami and NC State have the Blue Devils two games out of first place in the ACC. Could Duke lose the ACC regular season title to Virginia, fall in its conference tournament and still get a No. 1 seed? The caliber of its wins make it possible, but the Blue Devils would be putting themselves in jeopardy of dropping to the No. 2 line. The discrepancy between Duke's résumé and that of Villanova, Arizona, Wisconsin or Kansas might not be enough in that scenario to keep the Blue Devils ahead of a league champion from a power conference.
3. VILLANOVA (27-2, 14-2, RPI: 3, SOS: 27, KenPom: 4)
Five notable wins: Providence (2), Butler (2), VCU, at St. John's, Georgetown
Losses: at Georgetown at Seton Hall
Remaining schedule: at Creighton, St. John's
Case for No. 1 seed: What gives Villanova a slight edge in the race for the final No. 1 seed at this point is that it has a greater number of quality wins than Arizona's and its losses aren't quite as ugly. Villanova is 10-1 against the RPI top 50 and boasts a three-game cushion in one of the nation's deepest conferences. The Big East champs did lose by 20 at Georgetown and in overtime at Seton Hall, but the Hoyas are a solid NCAA tournament team and the Pirates were on the verge of joining the AP Top 25 when they beat the Wildcats. Villanova should get a No. 1 seed if it wins out and it might even still get one with one more loss if one or two teams directly behind it in the pecking order also fall. The Wildcats would be in jeopardy of dropping to a No. 2 seed if they lose a game or two and Arizona or Wisconsin close strong.
4. ARIZONA (26-3, 14-2, RPI: 7, SOS: 53, KenPom: 2)
Five notable wins: Gonzaga, Utah (2), San Diego State, Oregon (2), at Stanford
Losses: at UNLV, at Oregon State, at Arizona State
Remaining schedule: Cal, Stanford
Case for No. 1 seed: What Arizona lacks in quantity of good wins it makes up for in quality. Its sweep of Utah and non-league victory over Gonzaga are better than any wins Villanova has tallied so far this season. The Wildcats' case suffers from taking three bad road losses. UNLV, Oregon State and Arizona State are all in the RPI top 100, but none of them have been in contention for an NCAA tournament bid at any time this season. To make up for that Arizona is probably going to have to beat Cal and Stanford at home, win the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas the following week and then hope someone ahead in the pecking order suffers a loss or two. A loss in the Pac-12 title game might not eliminate the Wildcats, but they would need Villanova, Duke or Virginia to implode over the next two weeks in that scenario.
5. WISCONSIN (26-3, 14-2, RPI: 6, SOS: 53, KenPom: 2)
Five notable wins: Oklahoma, Michigan State, Georgetown, Indiana, Iowa (2)
Losses: Duke, at Maryland, at Rutgers
Remaining schedule: at Minnesota, at Ohio State
Case for No. 1 seed: The quality of Wisconsin's victories doesn't compare favorably to what some of their fellow contenders have amassed, so the Badgers are going to have to pile up good wins the next two weeks to jump up from the No. 2 line. They probably need to win at Minnesota and Ohio State next week, capture the Big Ten tournament the following weekend and then see where they stand. One factor working in favor of Wisconsin is that the committee might excuse its terrible loss at Rutgers since national player of the year contender Frank Kaminsky didn't play. Another factor that might help the Badgers is motivation. If Wisconsin stays on the No. 2 line, they're most likely to wind up paired with Kentucky since the committee values geographic proximity over competitive balance and Madison is closest to the site of the Midwest Regional than any of the others.
6. GONZAGA (29-2, 17-1, RPI: 8, SOS: 77, KenPom: 7)
Five notable wins: SMU, St. John's, at UCLA, Georgia, at BYU
Losses: at Arizona, BYU
Remaining schedule: WCC tournament
Case for No. 1 seed: Gonzaga's modest strength of schedule was easier to overlook when its only loss came at Pac-12 champ Arizona in overtime, but Saturday's home loss to BYU likely removed the Zags from consideration for a No. 1 seed. They're now a modest 4-2 against the RPI top 50 and 8-2 against the RPI top 100, not nearly the number of wins some of the other teams on this list have. Nonetheless, Gonzaga still has an ironclad case for a No. 2 seed as long as it wins the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. The Zags are the only team who has beaten UCLA in Pauley Pavilion this season. They also boast quality wins over NCAA-tournament bound SMU, St. John's and Georgia. And while the WCC may not be as strong as the Big 12 or ACC, Gonzaga still won the RPI's ninth-rated conference by a whopping four games.
7. KANSAS (23-6, 12-4, RPI: 2, SOS: 1, KenPom: 12)
Five notable wins: Baylor (2), Utah, Oklahoma, Iowa State, at Georgetown
Losses: Kentucky, at Iowa State, at West Virginia, at Temple, at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State
Remaining schedule: West Virginia, at Oklahoma
Case for No. 1 seed: Even though Kansas has three times as many losses as Gonzaga or Villanova, it's still possible to make a case for the Jayhawks for a few reasons. They are No. 2 in the RPI, they boast the nation's strongest schedule and they still have a chance to sweep the regular season and tournament titles in the deepest league in the country. Let's say for the sake of argument that Kansas beats West Virginia and Oklahoma in its final two regular season games, defeats three more quality teams in the Big 12 tournament and enters Selection Sunday with a 28-6 record. Are you ready to declare that a team with 14 wins against the RPI top 50 and 20 against the RPI top 100 would have no chance at a No. 1 seed? I'm not, though I will concede that scenario is definitely a long shot. The Jayhawks must win out to have a chance and probably still need some teams ahead of them to take losses.
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Before BYU snapped third-ranked Gonzaga's 41-game home winning streak on Saturday night, the Cougars were an NCAA tournament-caliber team without an NCAA tournament-caliber résumé.
They had zero victories against RPI top 50 opponents. They had a pair of sub-100 RPI losses to Pepperdine and a third at San Diego. The most notable wins they had attained all season were at home against fellow bubble team Stanford and at home against likely NIT teams UMass and Saint Mary's.
One monumental road win in Spokane isn't a quick fix for those flaws in BYU's résumé, but it will force the selection committee to take a closer look at the Cougars. What they'll find is a profile that will test their philosophies and a team the eye test and computer numbers agree is probably better than its lack of notable victories suggests.
BYU is No. 26 in the KenPom rankings mostly because the use of margin of victory as a tool to determine a team's strength favors the Cougars.
Seventeen of BYU's 23 victories have come by 10 or more points this season and all eight of its losses have been by seven or less. They've dropped excruciatingly close games to some of the best teams they have faced, from overtime heartbreakers against NCAA tournament-bound San Diego State and Purdue in Maui, to a four-point loss to 13th-ranked Utah on Dec. 10, to a seven-point loss to Gonzaga in their first meeting on Dec. 27.
Will a strong KenPom ranking help BYU when the selection committee convenes? It can't hurt. The predictive tool is not part of the data on the team sheets handed to committee members, but they're free to bring it up when discussing the merits of bubble teams.
The ranking system that is used most often when the committee convenes also views BYU favorably. The Cougars are a solid No. 35 in the RPI primarily because they played one of the 20 strongest non-conference schedules in the nation and they're 8-3 in road games.
It's also worth noting BYU just looks like an NCAA tournament team when you watch them, an admittedly totally subjective statement that nonetheless probably counts for something to committee members tasked with making a basketball decision.
BYU boasts one of the nation's top scorers in Tyler Haws, triple-double record holder Kyle Collinsworth, good size in the paint and and an array of shooters on the perimeter. An indifference to defense and keeping opponents off the glass is the biggest reason the Cougars are a bubble team in spite of that wealth of talent, yet they've shown the ability to be competent defensively for stretches, most notably in holding Gonzaga to 43.9 percent shooting on Saturday night.
Ultimately, if the selection committee decides to reward teams with more quality wins, BYU should have no gripe. The Cougars had chances to help themselves in Maui or to beat Utah and Gonzaga on their home floor, and they lost. Close or not, that matters.
If bubble teams like Temple or Tulsa get in over BYU, however, thats where the Cougars would be justified in complaining.
The Owls have a very similar resume to BYU except their one RPI top 50 win came at home against Kansas back in December and their margin of defeat in their other six changes suggests that outcome was very much an outlier. Fellow American Athletic Conference contender Tulsa has two RPI top 50 wins, and you know who they're both against? Temple.
The WCC tournament will present BYU one chance to render all this discussion moot.
At best, the Cougars win three games, secure an automatic bid and spend a relaxing Selection Sunday wondering only what seed they'll get. At worse, the Cougars fall early, add a bad loss they can't afford to their résumé and hurt their chances of hearing their name called the following weekend.
And then there's the most plausible scenario, the one in which they reach the title game but fall to Gonzaga just like they did last year.
If that happens, let the great BYU debate begin.
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Gonzaga found one way to settle the debate over whether it deserves a No. 1 seed despite playing in a weaker league than the other contenders.
The Zags suffered a 73-70 home loss to BYU on Saturday night that likely removes them from consideration barring a flurry of setbacks from other top teams.
Though Gonzaga boasts a 29-2 record and quality non-league victories over SMU, St. John's, Georgia and UCLA, the Zags' eight top 100 RPI wins are the fewest among the nation's elite teams. That's not Gonzaga's fault since it did its best to assemble a formidable non-conference schedule, but it's a byproduct of playing in the RPI's ninth strongest league.
Whereas it was easier to overlook the flaws in Gonzaga's resumé when its lone loss was in overtime at Pac-12-leading Arizona in December, a loss at home to a BYU team that was on the fringes of the bubble picture prior to Saturday changes that. The Zags can still get a No. 2 seed if they win the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, perhaps in the West if Arizona either ascends to the No. 1 line or suffers another loss or two and drops below Gonzaga in the pecking order.
Regardless, the key to Gonzaga shedding its reputation as postseason underachievers this March isn't its seeding or even staying out West. The Zags have to get back to the level they were playing at before a February slump characterized by close calls and uninspired play.
They trailed into the second half against Pepperdine on Feb. 14 on a night when their offense high-powered offense didn't click. They struggled to put lowly Pacific away five nights later despite 45 points from Kyle Wiltjer. Then they had to end the game on a 29-9 run at Saint Mary's last Saturday to eke out a 10-point road win.
Gonzaga tried to follow that same script against BYU, but the Cougars were a little too good and a little too desperate to let it happen. They knew they needed this victory to have a realistic chance of securing an NCAA bid without winning the WCC tournament.
The all-around brilliance of Kyle Collinsworth and the outside shooting of Chase Fischer and Skyler Halford propelled BYU to an 11-point lead with eight minutes remaining before Byron Wesley and Domantas Sabonis led the Zags back. Wesley had 17 points and Sabonis had 12, but Wiltjer finished with only four points on 2-for-11 shooting and none of the other Gonzaga standouts scored in double figures.
The best chance for Gonzaga came when BYU fouled Eric McClellan intentionally with six seconds remaining after Tyler Haws missed a pair of free throws that kept the lead at three. McCllellan made both free throws despite trying to miss the second on purpose, a blunder that cost Gonzaga the chance to get a tip-in and force overtime.
While Gonzaga's recent play is alarming, there's a chance this loss will help refocus the Zags just in time for the postseason. There's also a chance Gonzaga knows its season will be judged by how it fares in March and it simply has struggled to motivate itself during the last few week of the regular season.
Regardless, while a chance for the program's second No. 1 seed in three years may be gone, all of the Zags' other goals are still out there for them to seize. They just have to get back to the high-intensity level of play they demonstrated the first few months of the season.
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Three times in the final 75 seconds of the Pac-12's game of the year, Utah had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
Seventh-ranked Arizona emerged with an enormous 63-57 road win and clinched at least a share of the Pac-12 title because each time its defense held.
Utah had to settle for an errant Brandon Taylor 3-pointer on its first chance since star Delon Wright gave up the ball early in the possession and was content to be a spectator. Wright did not make the same mistake on the Utes' second chance, but when the All-American candidate shed T.J. McConnell via a ball screen and attacked Kaleb Tarczewski off the dribble, the Arizona center was able to recover quickly enough to contest his potential go-ahead layup at the rim.
The deficit was three with 22 seconds remaining when Utah began its final meaningful possession by trying to run the same high screen-and-roll for Wright that it had attempted only seconds earlier. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson forced a Utah timeout by helping off his man to foil the play. Then Gabe York swatted away Taylor's corner 3-point attempt off the inbound play. Lastly, Arizona benefited from some good fortune as Taylor beat a hard-closing York off the dribble but missed a wide-open layup to seal Utah's fate.
Arizona's victory gives it a two-game lead over the 13th-ranked Utes with two games to play, meaning the Wildcats (26-3, 14-2) can clinch an outright league title with a single win against either Cal or Stanford next week in Tucson. They're already guaranteed the No. 1 seed in next month's Pac-12 tournament by virtue of their season sweep of the Utes (22-6, 12-4).
The possibility of a No. 1 seed that seemed like such a long shot entering play Saturday night suddenly no longer appears impossible with Gonzaga falling at home to BYU. Arizona probably bypasses the Zags in the pecking order with that outcome. The Wildcats could earn the No. 1 seed in the West for the second straight year if they win out and fellow contender Villanova stumbles at least once more down the stretch.
If Arizona were to get that No. 1 seed, its latest victory will be a huge reason.
Utah entered play Saturday night unbeaten at home, having defeated its eight previous Pac-12 opponents in Salt Lake City by an average of 24.6 points per game. Arizona reversed that Saturday night despite sinking only one third of its field goal attempts and getting a nightmarish 3 of 19 shooting performance from leading scorer Stanley Johnson.
Tarczewski had a strong 13-point, six-rebound night and three other Wildcats scored in double figures against Utah's formidable defense, but it was reserve guard Gabe York who made the biggest offensive play of the night for Arizona. When Utah didn't box out the shooter on a free throw attempt in the final two minutes, York got his own miss and scored a layup to give the Wildcats the lead they worked so hard to protect the next three possessions.
Though this is Arizona's best offense under Miller, the Wildcats' inability to score easily against the best defenses they've faced remains a red flag entering the NCAA tournament. That's been a big reason Arizona hasn't been to the Final Four under Miller despite three Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights.
Nonetheless, this year's Arizona team is a Final Four threat for the same reason last year's team came within one basket of getting there. The Wildcats are strong-willed and defensive-oriented enough to win on nights like Saturday when their offense isn't there.
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Boise State overcame a lot of history Saturday night to earn what could prove to be a milestone victory at San Diego State.
The Broncos won for the first time at San Diego State 56-46 and ended the Aztecs’ 29-game home court winning streak as well as their 47-game home winning streak when leading at halftime at Viejas Arena. It was the first road win against a ranked opponent for the Broncos since 2012 and only the second win against a ranked opponent in 20 such games under coach Leon Rice.
The victory gave Boise State a season sweep in the series with Aztecs. So while the teams are tied atop the Mountain West standings, the Broncos hold an edge. That advantage is buoyed by the fact that Boise State’s final two regular season games are against San Jose State and Fresno State while the Aztecs must face tougher challenges against UNLV and Nevada.
Boise State’s win was even more impressive because it played a midweek game against New Mexico while San Diego State had a week off to prepare. The Broncos have won 12 of their past 13 games after starting conference play in an 0-3 hole.
San Diego State played without senior Dwayne Polee who suffered a setback in his battle with an irregular heartbeat. The Aztecs just couldn’t put the ball through the net in the final minutes. They missed eight of their final nine shots in the game and scored only three points in the final five minutes.
Senior guard Derrick Marks scored 18 for Boise State and forward James Webb III had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but the Broncos bench might have made the difference with four players combined to score 19 points against one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
The victory at San Diego State was the fourth first-time road win of the season for the Broncos. Prior to this season they had never won at New Mexico, Utah State, UNLV or San Diego State. Now Rice can boast of wins at each of those road venues.
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At the end of disappointing season in which his team isn't even in contention for the NCAA tournament, Memphis big man Shaq Goodwin is still running the floor hard. His reward Saturday night was to be on the receiving end of a SportsCenter-worthy alley-oop pass. Instead of attempting a contested layup late in the first half against Tulsa, Memphis guard Trahson Burrell spotted a trailing Goodwin out of the corner of his eye and lobbed a pass off the glass. The 6-foot-9 junior showed excellent recognition and finished the play with a two-handed flush. One of the reasons Memphis is only 17-12 is that Goodwin hasn't performed to his potential, but he enjoyed one of his better games of the season against Tulsa. He scored 17 points and pulled down six rebounds, but the Tigers blew a late lead in regulation and lost 74-72 in overtime.
Previous Dunk of the Year nominees:
• Jerian Grant ruins a Yellowjacket's day
• LMU's Evan Payne soars
• Wyoming's Jason McManamin takes flight
• Buffalo's Justin Moss throws down ferocious slam
• Sam Thompson's inbound slam
• Lift off for Wyoming's Josh Adams
• Demetrius Jackson puts a 7-footer in a poster
• Cliff Alexander destroys Oklahoma State
• Montrezl Harrell's stretching alley-oop slam
• High Point guard's soaring one-handed alley-oop
• Le'Bryan Nash lays waste to Texas defender
• Jalen Reynolds' off-glass alley-oop
• Norman Powell splits double team, jams
• Jarell Martin goes through the legs
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If Texas doesn’t make the NCAA tournament, it will have plenty of moments to regret from the past month during a late-season slide.
If Kansas wins its 11th consecutive Big 12 Conference regular season title, it certainly will have earned it. But it also will be because a few things went its way at key times and others didn’t take advantage of some of the Jayhawks’ stumbles.
One of those defining moments for both teams came late in their meeting Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in 69-64 Kansas win.
Texas trailed by two points with 12.4 seconds remaining. Guard Isaiah Taylor, who was simply unstoppable at times earlier in the game, brought the ball up the floor and spun into the lane trying to attack the basket.
He appeared to be fouled by Kansas guard Frank Mason III, who bumped him with his body, and Perry Ellis, who reached back and hacked Taylor on the arm. There was no foul called and there should have been.
There is no way of knowing if Taylor would have made his free throws to tie the game or if Kansas would have came back down the floor and hit a game-winner.Taylor was 5-for-6 at the foul line and scored 17 points to lead the Longhorns.
Maybe it would have taken overtime. The problem is we didn’t get to see any of those possible outcomes because the men with the whistles missed a call they should have made.
The result Saturday definitely compounds the frustrations at Texas because the Longhorns proved they’re capable of competing at a high level with one of the nation’s better teams in a hostile environment. It makes a 3-7 record over the past 10 games that much more confounding.
Kansas escaped with a hard-fought win playing for the first time without freshman Cliff Alexander, who is sitting out for an indefinite period of time while Kansas and the NCAA look into an eligibility issue involving Alexander.
Ellis came up huge in the game scoring 28 points with 13 rebounds in a battle with a strong Texas frontcourt. Kelly Oubre Jr. added 15 points and Mason scored 12. Kansas also managed to overcome going without a field goal over the final 5 minutes of the first half.
The Jayhawks remain atop the Big 12 standings at 12-4 with two games remaining. Oklahoma is one game behind. Those teams face each other in the regular season finale next week in a game that could decide the league's champion.
(Thanks for the video CollegeBasketballTalk)
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ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's appearance on the network early Saturday caused people on social media to wonder whether he was wearing a hairpiece. Apparently, something about the look of his hair caught the attention of viewers more than previous shows.
Lunardi needs to fire his toupee guy pic.twitter.com/MyK0CjyFD8— Rob Preslan (@RPreslan) February 28, 2015
Lunardi decided to set the record straight and made a video with college basketball analyst Miles Simon in which Simon tugs on Lunardi's hair to prove to people its real. Good to see Lunardi having a little fun with the speculation.
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Eyes pointed down court and right arm cocked behind his head, Fred VanVleet looked like a quarterback who had just spotted a receiver breaking free down field.
The Wichita State point guard lobbed a length-of-the-floor pass to Tekele Cotton, who caught it, took one dribble and unleashed a powerful windmill slam that served as an ideal exclamation point for the Shockers' biggest victory of the season.
By defeating Valley co-leader Northern Iowa 74-60 on Saturday afternoon at Koch Arena, Wichita State secured its second consecutive league championship and avenged its only conference loss of the season. The Panthers had throttled the Shockers last month in Cedar Falls to move into a first-place tie and set up a winner-take-all showdown in Saturday's regular season finale.
If Wichita State hasnt received anywhere near the attention this season as it did during its unbeaten regular season a year ago, the Shockers' performance on Saturday was a reminder that it's not wise to forget about them entering March. The graduation of Cleanthony Early has left a void in the frontcourt, but the nation's 11th-ranked team can still be dangerous because of the backcourt of VanVleet, Cotton and Ron Baker.
Wichita State reversed the outcome from its first game against Wichita State because it was able to speed up the tempo and attack before Northern Iowa's vaunted defense could get set. The Shockers forced only 10 turnovers with their pressure defense just like the first matchup, but their guards were more intent on turning steals and missed shots into fast-break chances this time against a methodical Panthers team that allows the fourth fewest points nationally.
Transition buckets, unselfish passing and deadly perimeter shooting enabled Wichita State to become only the second Valley team to score more than 60 points against Northern Iowa this season. Baker led five players in double figures with 17 points as the Shockers shot 49.1 percent from the field and finished with 19 assists compared to only three turnovers.
Northern Iowa showed tenacity and character reeling off a 16-2 surge to slice an 18-point deficit to four midway through the second half, but the Panthers could not generate enough stops to get any closer. Two huge Evan Wessell corner 3-pointers helped Wichita State extend the lead, as did one from VanVleet a few possessions later.
Wichita State's victory bolsters its case for a potential No. 4 or 5 seed when the bracket is unveiled on Selection Sunday. Though Northern Iowa is the first surefire NCAA tournament team that the Shockers have defeated this season, they're 27-3 overall, they have seven RPI top 100 victories and their losses are by one at Utah, by six against George Washington and by 16 against the Panthers.
Northern Iowa (27-3, 16-2) also still has a case for a No. 4 or 5 seed if it can win a potential rubber match against the Shockers in next weekend's Arch Madness title game — and make no mistake, there's a very good chance these teams will meet for a third time.
The Shockers and Panthers are not only the class of the Valley this season but also two teams who will be very tough outs in March.
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No. 6 Villanova started slow Saturday on the road at Xavier where more than a few ranked teams have struggled in recent years.
But guard Ryan Arcidiacono scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half and Villanova won the Big East regular season title while bolstering its case for a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 78-66 victory over the Musketeers.
The Wildcats trailed by seven at halftime and allowed Xavier to shoot nearly 60 percent in the first 20 minutes. The Musketeers sank seven 3-pointers in the half hoping to notch their best win of the season and give the selection committee something to consider when doling out at-large berths, but they couldn’t pull off the upset.
It’s not that Xavier is lacking quality wins. It had four victories over ranked opponents entering the game, but a victory over the Wildcats would have been impressive.
Credit goes to Villanova returning to form on the defensive end in the second half and Arcidiacono making timely shots. Dylan Ennis led Villanova with 16 points and made four of his nine 3-point attempts and Kris Jenkins came off the bench with 14 points, including four more threes.
Forward Jayvaughn Pinkston scored just four points and grabbed only three rebounds less than 24 hours after a report that he had violated the terms of his probabtion from a 2010 assault case
The Wildcats earned their 27th win with just two losses, both of which came in Big East games. They also won their eighth road game of the season and won by a double-digit margin for the fourth straight game.
As long as the Wildcats don’t slip up in their final two conference games at Creighton and at home against surging St. John’s and then go deep in the Big East tournament, it will be difficult to keep them out of one of the top seeds next month.
Xavier is now sliding toward the bubble at 18-12 and 8-9 in conference play after missing a chance to secure a first-round bye in the Big East tournament. Unless the Musketeers can find a way to win their final two regular season games and the conference tournament, they will have at least 13 losses on their resume when the selection committee looks their way.
That certainly isn’t a disqualification, but things would look a bit better had Xavier pulled off the upset on senior day.
Myles Davis did provide this memorable highlight in the first half when things were going the Musketeers’ way.
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With less than three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
Maybe NC State only plays well when its backs are against the wall. Maybe NC State really enjoys visiting Dayton in mid-March.
Whatever the reason, the Wolfpack seem to be drawn to the bubble like a magnet to steel.
Only four days after a victory at rival North Carolina appeared to solidify NC State as an NCAA tournament team, the Wolfpack tumbled back toward the cutline with a humbling 79-63 loss at last-place Boston College. They never led the entire game and fell behind by as many as 23 points against an Eagles team that entered play with only one ACC victory and hadn't won a game in over a month.
If huge wins over the Tar Heels, Louisville and Duke had NC State trending toward a No. 8 or 9 seed prior to Saturday's loss, the Wolfpack (17-12, 8-8) can no longer feel so secure now. Eight RPI top 100 victories probably would keep NC State in the field as of today, but the Wolfpack no longer have much margin for error with a road game at Clemson and a home game against Syracuse left before the ACC tournament.
If NC State wins both those games and avoids a bad opening-round loss in the ACC tournament, it will likely wrap up a bid no matter how it fares in the ACC quarterfinals. If the Wolfpack suffer a loss in their next two games, merely making the ACC quarterfinals may not be enough to leave them feeling safe on Selection Sunday.
To get the wins it needs, NC State will certainly have to play better than it did Saturday when it was listless and lackadaisical from start to finish. The Wolfpack sank less than one third of their shots at one end and surrendered 24 points to Boston College star Olivier Hanlan and 56.4 percent shooting to the Eagles as a team at the other end.
The bubble is certainly a familiar place for an NC State team that has made the field as a No. 11, No. 8 and No. 12 seed the past three years despite entering the NCAA tournament with double-digit losses each of those seasons.
A more relaxing Selection Sunday appeared possible for NC State after the North Carolina win. No so much anymore.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE SATURDAY
BYU (23-8, 13-5 WCC): BYU was an NCAA tournament-caliber team without an NCAA tournament-caliber profile entering play Saturday. By ending Gonzaga's three-year home win streak with a 73-70 victory, the Cougars took a huge step toward changing that. The win over the Zags represents BYU's lone RPI top 50 win this season, but the Cougars do have decent wins over Stanford, UMass and Saint Mary's to go with it. They're also in the KenPom top 30 due in part to a slew of near-misses against Utah, San Diego State and Purdue, among others. Whether the committee overlooks BYU's lack of quality wins and focuses on other aspects of its profile will go a long way toward determining the Cougars' fate. They probably have to get to the WCC title game and face Gonzaga there to have a decent shot at an at-large.
Boise State (22-7, 12-4 MWC): Could the Mountain West possibly get three NCAA tournament bids in a down year for that conference? It's suddenly conceivable after Boise State snapped first-place San Diego State's 29-game home winning streak Saturday night to get the marquee win it needed and move into a tie for the conference lead. The Broncos are certainly no lock, but they now boast a season sweep of the Aztecs to go along with a home win over Colorado State. That's enough to earn Boise State consideration despite bad losses to Fresno State and Loyola (Ill.). Finishing the season with wins over San Jose State and Fresno State is a must for the Broncos. Then they'll probably need at least one win in the Mountain West tournament as well.
St. John's (20-9, 9-7 Big East): It's getting tougher to envision St. John's not making the NCAA tournament. The Red Storm have overcome a 1-4 start to Big East play with six wins in their last seven games culminating in an 81-70 victory over Georgetown on Saturday in their home finale. Nine RPI top 100 victories including sweeps of both Providence and Xavier have St. John's trending toward a No. 9 seed or so entering the final week of the regular season. If the Johnnies can win at either Marquette or Villanova next week, they may be securely in the field of 68 regardless of how they fare in the Big East tournament.
Dayton (22-6, 12-4 A-10): It's a disservice to Dayton to list the Flyers as a bubble team any longer. They're likely playing for seeding from this point forward after a 59-55 win at Atlantic 10 co-leader VCU. Despite only having six scholarship players and nobody taller than 6-foot-6, Dayton could take the outright lead in the Atlantic 10 if it beats Rhode Island at home Tuesday and Davidson loses one of its next two. The Flyers have quality wins against Texas A&M, Ole Miss and now VCU and no bad losses besides a head-scratcher against Duquesne earlier this month. That's a strong enough profile to get Dayton off the bubble and trending toward a No. 8 seed or so.
LSU (21-8, 10-6 SEC): The Tigers crept closer to securing an NCAA tournament bid by picking up a quality win on Saturday in Baton Rouge. They rallied to defeat fellow bubble team Ole Miss 73-63, completing a season sweep of the Rebels. Horrible league losses against Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State weigh down LSU's profile, but the Tigers are 10-5 against the RPI top 100 including an outstanding win at West Virginia back in December. They have a home game against Tennessee and a road game at Arkansas left before the SEC tournament. Win one, and they should feel pretty confident.
Other bubble winners: Rhode Island (59-56 at La Salle); Georgia (68-44 vs. Missouri); Cincinnati (63-47 at Tulane); Illinois (86-60 vs. Northwestern); Davidson (77-66 vs. George Washington) Texas A&M (80-55 vs. Auburn).
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL SATURDAY
Texas (17-12, 6-10 Big 12): The monumental win Texas needed was within reach when the Longhorns built a six-point lead midway through the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. Perry Ellis then scored 12 of his 28 points in the final nine minutes to lead Kansas to a 69-64 victory and to push Texas to the brink of the NIT. A Longhorns team that spent the first two months of the season in the top 10 is now 1-11 against the RPI top 50 and four games below .500 in league play. All of their losses are to good teams, but that won't matter if they don't get some more wins. Victories at home against Baylor and Kansas State to end the regular season are a must, as is a run in the Big 12 tournament. Anything short of that and Texas will likely be hosting an NIT game in a couple weeks.
Ole Miss (19-10, 10-6 SEC): There's no shame for Ole Miss in losing at LSU on Saturday, but it does reduce the Rebels' margin for error the rest of the way. Quality wins against Arkansas, Cincinnati, Oregon and Texas A&M should keep Ole Miss on the right side of the bubble for now, but ugly losses to Charleston Southern, TCU and Western Kentucky keep the Rebels from getting too comfortable. Yahoo's Brad Evans projects Ole Miss as a No. 10 seed at this point, and that sounds about right to me as well. If the Rebels can close with wins at Alabama and at home against Vanderbilt, they'll be fine.
Xavier (18-12, 8-9 Big East): Had Xavier held a nine-point second-half lead against first-place Villanova on Saturday afternoon, the Musketeers would have wrapped up an NCAA tournament bid. Instead they allowed the Wildcats to bury a barrage of second-half threes and storm back for a 78-66 victory to clinch the Big East title. Where does Xavier stand now with only a game at Creighton left before the Big East tournament? Still in decent shape thanks to a season sweep of Georgetown and single wins over Butler, Providence and Cincinnati. The Musketeers have four losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 too, but as long as they don't fall to Creighton in their regular season finale, they have a good chance to slip into the field no matter what they do in the Big East tournament.
Miami (18-11, 8-8 ACC): A vulnerable, fading North Carolina team seemed ripe for Miami to pick off, but the Hurricanes couldn't get the big win they needed. Brice Johnson scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Tar Heels pushed Miami further from the cutline with a 73-64 road victory. The Hurricanes have two road games left before the ACC tournament, one at fellow bubble team Pittsburgh and the other at Virginia Tech. Both are critical for Miami unless it wants to have to make a deep ACC tournament run. A win over Duke boosts Miami's chances, but the Hurricanes have only six RPI top 100 wins, and two of those are Florida and Clemson. Plus, Miami has some bad losses, by 28 against Eastern Kentucky and by 20 against Georgia Tech especially.
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The most action-packed day of the college basketball regular season could be Saturday if the most highly anticipated matchups live up to the hype.
Arizona visits Utah with first place in the Pac-12 on the line. Northern Iowa and Wichita State square off in a winner-take-all Valley showdown. And unbeaten Kentucky faces maybe its toughest test in SEC play when 18th-ranked Arkansas puts its seven-game win streak on the line.
Below is a look at those three games and some of the other noteworthy games from this weekend's slate:
1. Arizona at Utah (Saturday, 9 p.m. EST): If Arizona wins at Utah on Saturday night, it will be one of the most impressive victories any team has notched all season. The 13th-ranked Utes are 16-0 at home so far this year and have won their eight Pac-12 home games by an average of 24.6 points. They'll also be very motivated Saturday since they're only one game back of the Wildcats in the Pac-12 standings and they were blown out in Tucson in the first meeting between the two teams. Arizona won that game 69-51 because three of its stars delivered brilliant games. T.J. McConnell was aggressive looking for his own shot and scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half to rally the Wildcats from an early deficit. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played exceptional defense on Utah guard Delon Wright, holding the All-American candidate to a put-back and a free throw in the final 36 minutes. And Stanley Johnson caught fire after a scoreless first half and delivered the knockout blow in the form of 18 second-half points.
2. Northern Iowa at Wichita State (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): Tenth-ranked Northern sent a message that the Valley has more than one formidable team this season when it dusted Wichita State 70-54 last month in Cedar Falls. Now the 11th-ranked Shockers will try to avenge that loss in a highly anticipated regular season-ending showdown between the Valley's two co-leaders. Having its home crowd behind it will surely help Wichita State, but the Shockers need to get the pace of the game more in their favor too. They shot only 35.4 percent from the field because they generated hardly any transition points, they got almost no production from their frontcourt and stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet needed 22 shots to combine for 30 points. Methodical yet efficient Northern Iowa had no trouble breaking full-court pressure and shredded Wichita State's half-court defense too as Seth Tuttle sank 9 of 13 shots from the field and 10 of 13 from the foul line. Guard Wes Washspun also torched the Shockers off the screen and roll, adding 16 points of his own.
3. Arkansas at Kentucky (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): The only matchup of the year between the SEC's two best teams will take place Saturday at Rupp Arena. The 18th-ranked Razorbacks have won seven straight this season and three straight against Kentucky, which means you can bet they'll have the undefeated Wildcats' full attention. For Arkansas to stay competitive in Lexington, where Kentucky has lost only four times during John Calipari's tenure, the Razorbacks will have to force turnovers with their pressure defense and turn them into transition chances before the Wildcats' defense is set. Arkansas forces 16.6 turnovers per game, the most in the SEC. It would also help the Razorbacks to shoot well from the perimeter and to hit the offensive glass hard because points in the paint are almost always hard to come by against Kentucky.
Other noteworthy games:
North Carolina at Miami (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): Having already dropped five of their last seven games to fall out of contention in the ACC, the Tar Heels head to Coral Gables to face a Miami team desperate for a big win to get it on the right side of the bubble. The Hurricanes desperately need the Angel Rodriguez who scored 25 points on Florida State on Wednesday night rather than the one shooting 21.4 percent over his previous 11 games.
Villanova at Xavier (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): For Villanova to get one of the last No. 1 seeds, the Wildcats may have to run the table. Their toughest remaining regular season test likely comes Saturday against a Xavier team that has won four of its last six and is playing better defense than it was earlier in the season when it fell 88-75 in Philadelphia.
Dayton at VCU (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): Four losses in eight games have made VCU's bid to win Shaka Smart's first regular season league title a greater challenge than it once appeared it would be. The Briante Weber-less Rams are now in a four-way tie for first place with Davidson, Rhode Island and Dayton. VCU will retain at least a share of first place with a win Saturday, but guard-heavy Dayton could be a tough matchup since they have so many ball handlers on the floor.
West Virginia at Baylor (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): Two of the leading contenders for Big 12 coach of the year will meet when Bob Huggins' West Virginia team visits Scott Drew and Baylor. Which team is more effective on the offensive glass will be a huge factor in this one, as will Baylor's ability to avoid turning the ball over against the Mountaineers' pressure defense.
Texas at Kansas (Saturday, 5 p.m. EST): To secure the marquee win it needs to get back on the right side of the bubble, free-falling Texas must not only win in Lawrence but also do so in the Jayhawks' first game since taking a bad loss at Kansas State. Good luck, Longhorns. Unless Jonathan Holmes reverts back to his November-December form, it's tough to see Texas winning.
Boise State at San Diego State (Saturday, 8 p.m. EST): Boise State's Mountain West title and NCAA tournament hopes may be on the line Saturday. If the Broncos can become the first team to beat the Aztecs in Viejas Arena, they'll earn a share of first place and secure a badly needed marquee win. The only RPI top 100 wins they have so far this season came against San Diego State, Colorado State and Saint Mary's.
BYU at Gonzaga (Saturday, 10 p.m. EST): BYU's hopes of earning an at-large NCAA tournament bid likely come down to whether it can spring a big upset in Spokane. The Cougars have looked like a quality team in taking San Diego State to double overtime and playing close with Utah and Gonzaga, but that doesn't excuse that they have five conference losses and their best wins are over Stanford, UMass and Saint Mary's all at home.
Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 4 p.m. EST): Michigan State had been playing excellent basketball until a late collapse at home against Minnesota on Thursday night. It only gets harder for the Spartans on Sunday as they face a first-place Wisconsin team that is motivated after losing at Maryland and well rested after five days without a game.
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Twenty minutes after her car slid off the road and into a snow bank on her way home from school Wednesday afternoon, Abby Young admits she was starting to become concerned.
Her car was stuck. Her phone was dead. And the few drivers who passed her whizzed by without stopping.
"I tried to shovel my car out of the snow, but I couldn't get it out," the senior at Cedar Falls High School said. "I was starting to get worried I was going to be there a very long time."
Young indeed might have spent the whole afternoon by the side of the road had a man with a familiar face not driven up and asked if she needed help. When the man got out of his car, Young thought he looked a lot like Northern Iowa basketball coach Ben Jacobson. Once she noticed his pants had a UNI basketball logo on them, she was even more certain.
A spokesman for Northern Iowa athletics confirmed Friday that Young's savior actually was Jacobson. The coach of the nation's 10th-ranked college basketball team alternated between shoveling snow away from the tires and trying to drive Young's car to freedom until he had successfully dislodged it.
It's a testament to Jacobson's character that he stopped to help Young because he's in the midst of one of the most high-profile, pressure-packed weeks of his coaching career. Northern Iowa (27-2, 16-1) hosted Evansville on Wednesday night needing a victory to set up a winner-take-all first-place showdown at Missouri Valley Conference co-leader Wichita State (26-3, 16-1) on Saturday.
Not only did Jacobson's team win Wednesday night, he also made a lifelong fan earlier in the day.
"If I could tell him one thing, it would be thanks for helping me," Young said. "It was very nice of him. I know he has a lot going on, but he took the time to come and help when he didn't have to."
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Don't expect to see any Kingsford Charcoal signage during the NCAA tournament next month.
The company likely killed all hope of that Thursday when it unveiled special-edition bags of charcoal trolling the NCAA.
The image on the front of the bag is that of Ed O'Bannon, the former UCLA star who last August won a lawsuit challenging the NCAA’s unwillingness to pay athletes for the use of their names and likenesses. The bags also feature the hashtag #PayEd and the slogan "Lights 25% faster. Doesn't burn athletes."
"Kingsford Charcoal has become one of the many companies to use the likeness of a famous amateur basketball player for marketing purposes during that mad, mad month of March," a press release revealing the limited edition bags read. Kingsford is just adding a surprising twist: the charcoal brand is actually going to pay that player— Ed O’Bannon— for placing him on the front of a limited bag of charcoal."
One way in which Kingsford intends to compensate O'Bannon is through its #PayEd hashtag. For every tweet that includes that hashtag, Kingsford will pay O'Bannon $1, up to $25,000.
In reality, any money O'Bannon receives is probably secondary to the publicity both he and Kingsford could get. For O'Bannon, the unusual charcoal bags shine a spotlight on his cause. For Kingsford, the unusal charcoal bags shine a spotlight on its brand.
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Irate that guard Wade Baldwin had clapped in the face of an opponent just after time expired Thursday night, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings yanked the freshman out of the postgame handshake line and berated him for showing such poor sportsmanship.
Stallings' message was spot-on. The way he worded it could have been better.
TV microphones picked up Stallings profanely screaming at Baldwin "[expletive] apologize!" "don't do that!" and "I'll [expletive] kill you" after Vanderbilt's 73-65 victory at Tennessee. Stallings reiterated his disappointment in Baldwin in calmer fashion during his postgame news conference before quickly issuing a statement soon afterward apologizing profusely for what he said on the floor.
"After the game, an incident occurred in which I need to apologize for," the statement from Stallings read. "One of our players acted inappropriately and violated what we believe is good sportsmanship following the game. In my haste to resolve the situation, I made a very inappropriate comment. While obviously it was not meant literally, it was still inappropriate. I apologized to the player immediately following the game, although displaying good sportsmanship is of the highest priority in our program."
While it's fair to wonder if Stallings would have been so quick to apologize had his words not made it onto the TV broadcast, it's also difficult to be too hard on him here.
He crossed the line telling Baldwin he'd kill him in the heat of the moment, but coaches have said far worse things than that behind closed doors. Furthermore, does anyone really believe Baldwin took Stallings seriously at the time, even if that doesn't excuse the coach's choice of words?
That Baldwin was the player involved in the incident is no surprise because he had engaged in some verbal sparring with Tennesee players already this season.
Following the Vols' overtime win at Vanderbilt earlier this month, Tennessee's Josh Richardson claimed his team emerged with a victory because it was "a little bit tougher." Baldwin told the Nashville Tennesseean this week that he took offense to that comment.
"To call us punks and [say] they out-physicaled us — from an opposing player, you are not supposed to be treating people like that after a game," Baldwin said. "You should show some sort of respect for your opponent, especially since you have to play them again. That comment that he made really offended me, offended Coach Stallings, and I think offended a lot of kids on my team."
Clapping in Tennessee forward Armani Moore's face was a foolish way for Baldwin to get revenge. Stallings was correct to deliver that message even if his choice of words wasn't ideal.
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It was a big day Tuesday for the West Virginia basketball program hosting Texas and beating the Longhorns, but it was a day Nicholas Wince will never forget.
The 5-year-old from Middlebourne, W.Va., spent the day with the Mountaineers and signed a letter of intent at an afternoon press conference. He arrived in a limousine, was greeted by cheering fans, shot around with the players, talked hoops with coach Bob Huggins and led the team on to the court before the game.
The entire day was arranged for Nicholas and his family by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Nicholas has a potentially life-threatening condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Now West Virginia has a fan for life. Wince's mother, Kristen, told WDTV.com her son was overwhelmed by the experience.
Nick puts on his No. 5 jersey. pic.twitter.com/2aaCIFilUZ— WVU Men's Basketball (@WVUhoops) February 24, 2015
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One of the few complaints many Michigan State fans have about Tom Izzo is his disdain for the strategy of intentionally fouling when ahead by three points in the final seconds of a game.
The foul the Spartans committed at the end of regulation Thursday night was probably not what their fans had in mind.
Instead of fouling to prevent the Gophers from having a look at a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, Michigan State chose to defend straight up and then committed the ultimate sin. Gavin Schilling not only helped too far off Carlos Morris to recover, he also closed out too hard and fouled the Minnesota guard just after he released a left-wing 3-pointer to tie the game.
Morris missed the go-ahead free throw with 2.2 seconds to go, but Minnesota emerged with a 96-90 victory in overtime. Fourteen of 20 free throw shooting during the extra session enabled the Gophers to finish off the upset and snap a 15-game losing streak in East Lansing that dates back to 1997.
A handful of quality league wins will keep Michigan State (19-9, 10-5) safely in the NCAA tournament field for now despite Thursday's painful loss, but the Spartans' remaining schedule is not easy. They visit Wisconsin on Sunday and host Purdue next week before finishing the regular season at Indiana.
Thursday's game isn't the only one Michigan State has lost this season when Izzo's decision not to foul up three backfired. Izzo chose to defend straight up against Maryland in the Big Ten opener for both teams, but Dez Wells buried a clean look with five seconds remaining, enabling the Terrapins to win in overtime.
Izzo defended his decision not to foul that day and he did it again Thursday.
Said the Michigan State coach to reporters in East Lansing, "[It's] a choice I made and a choice I'll live with. Guys do their damn job ...we wouldn't have been in that position"
Whether or not you concur with Izzo's approach when ahead by three points late in a close game, there's one thing the Michigan State coach and his critics can agree on.
Better to foul up three than to foul on a three.
(Thanks for the video, @MattNorlander)
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One of the most memorable ankle-breaking crossover in college basketball history occurred in the 1995 ACC tournament when Wake Forest's Randolph Childress dropped Jeff McInnis and took the time to taunt the North Carolina guard before burying a deep 3-pointer.
The move Oakland's Kahlil Felder pulled off Wednesday night isn't in that class, but it's one of the better crossovers we've seen in a while.
When Youngstown State forward Bobby Hain switched onto Felder after a high ball screen, the Oakland guard recognized the mismatch and tried to take the 6-foot-10 junior off the dribble. Felder drove left and then crossed over through his legs back to the right, freeing himself for a wide-open layup when the off-balance Hain tripped trying to recover.
Felder's crossover was the signature moment of a 20-point, 10-assist night for the sophomore guard in an 82-71 Oakland victory. The Golden Grizzlies are now only one game behind first-place Valparaiso in the Horizon League standings, and Felder's emergence as the team's leading scorer and best facilitator is a big part of that.
While the victory was nice, earning the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter's top plays segment was also a special moment for the 5-foot-9 Felder.
Made @SportsCenter #1 play! That's one thing off my bucket list 😌— K Felder (@kahlilfelder) February 26, 2015
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Louisville won the national title two years ago in some rather ugly Zubaz uniforms Adidas released just before tournament time that season.
Adidas definitely took a more conservative approach with its 2015 Made for March uniforms, shorts and shoes unveiled Thursday for eight of its flagship college partners, including the Cardinals, who are the only team in the group with sleeves on its new jerseys.
This year's uniforms have a classic feel to them with school names and logos prominently displayed on jerseys and shorts and school colors visible on extended waistbands complementing the home whites.
All eight teams represented figure to be involved in postseason play beyond their conference tournament where they will wear the new uniforms for the first time. But not all eight appear destined for the NCAA tournament.
Michael Ehrlich, the athletic apparel giant's publich relations director, shared some of the uniforms on his Twitter account.
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It's now abundantly clear why Louisville dismissed starting point guard Chris Jones only two days after reinstating him from an indefinite suspension.
New disciplinary issues had arisen.
Jones pleaded not guilty on charges of raping one woman and sodomizing another Thursday morning. A Jefferson County judge released Jones on home incarceration in lieu of a $25,000 bond.
The alleged sexual assaults occurred Saturday night hours after Jones returned from suspension to lead Louisville to a victory against Miami. According to the arrest warrant obtained by the Louisville Courier-Journal on Thursday, one of the alleged victims was hospitalized Sunday. The women are 19 and 20.
Louisville initially suspended Jones indefinitely last week after a female student reportedly went to the police and accused the senior of sending her a threatening text message. In a statement released Thursday, the school said Jones was permitted to return to the team after surrendering his cell phone and agreeing to "strict internal disciplinary measures" that included a curfew.
Louisville dismissed Jones Sunday evening with a terse 21-word statement that at the time did not offer an explanation for the decision. In Thursday's statement, the school said it discovered Sunday afternoon that Jones had violated curfew the previous night and that there were unspecified accusations against him.
"While Chris is no longer a member of our team, we understand that the allegations are very serious," the Louisville statement read. "While we cannot comment on this ongoing investigation, we certainly expect our student-athletes to uphold certain standards, including their treatment of others. We have great respect for the legal process and our university procedures and we will cooperate as requested with this matter."
Jones' attorney told the judge his client has withdrawn from classes at Louisville to focus on the case.
Jones, one of the nation's top junior college prospects two years ago, was a two-year starter at point guard for Louisville prior to his dismissal. He averaged 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists for the Cardinals this season.
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Still recuperating from your midweek bar crawl? Are you nostril deep in term paper research? Have no fear, fellow bracketeers. As a companion to the Bracket Big Board, the I.D. is here to highlight all the college hardwood action from the week that was and preview the most pivotal matchups of the weekend.
On March 20, 2010, college basketball fans were struck by sudden wonderment.
Transfixed on a NCAA Tournament second-round game in Oklahoma City, they watched as a classic David vs. Goliath story unfolded.
Northern Iowa, a No. 9 seed and heavy underdog, waged war against top-ranked Kansas. After falling behind double digits midway through the second half, the Jayhawks, knowing their Final Four hopes were quickly fading, mounted a furious comeback. Within minutes the Panthers’ cushion deflated to one. Momentum swung. For Cinderella, midnight was fast approaching.
However, with roughly 35 seconds to go, a grind-it-out guard sporting a champion’s name caught a pass from Kwadzo Ahelegbe, toed the arc and, instead of eating clock, let loose, levying a knockout blow of epic proportions.
In the blink of an eye, Ali Farokhmanesh became a household name. His ballsy game-clinching three, described by colleague Pat Forde as “one of the greatest early-round shots in NCAA Tournament history,” marched the Panthers, a program with little to no historical reputation, onto their first Sweet 16 appearance.
Five years later, the small school from Cedar Falls is again on the verge of something special.
When Ben Jacobson accepted the UNI gig in 2006, he inherited a program on the rise. His predecessor, Greg McDermott, now head honcho at Creighton, transformed a whipping boy, which had only reached the NCAA Tournament once prior to 2003, into a feared force.
But under Jacobsen’s guidance Northern Iowa has reached greater heights. In his nine years amid the corn and soybean fields, he’s won a remarkable 65.2 percent of his games, grabbed two Missouri Valley titles and walked away with conference Coach of the Year honors twice.
Jacobson is the embodiment of John Mellancamp’s “Small Town.” Raised in sparsely populated North Dakota, he exhibited the characteristics of a future head coach at a young age. The Mayville-Portland High School product was named the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1989. In college at North Dakota University, he ran point, displaying remarkable poise, leadership and dishing skills. When the final buzzer sounded on his four years in Grand Forks, the school’s career assists record had fallen.
Similar to Gonzaga’s Mark Few and VCU’s Shaka Smart, Jacobson is comfortable with his surroundings. Instead of chasing the big dollars and bright lights of high-major institutions, he’s chosen to plant deep roots in Cedar Falls, calling the city of 40,000 “just about perfect.”
Outside road stumbles against VCU and Evansville, UNI’s season has been equally impeccable. It’s notched pivotal wins against Stephen F. Austin, Iowa and Valley-nemesis Wichita State. At 16-1 in league play (27-2 overall), it has emerged victorious by an average margin of 12.6 points per game. No matter the outcome in Saturday’s rematch against the Shockers, its impressive domination in a multi-bid conference shouldn’t be overlooked.
It shouldn’t be ignored on your pool sheet either.
Akin to their coach’s mild-mannered attitude, the Panthers play calm, cool and collected. They are, in many ways, the Virginia of the Midwest – experienced, efficient and stifling.
Jacobson, who educated himself on the pack-line defense by watching DVD teachings from legend Dick Bennett, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett’s father, stresses a deliberate, pedestrian style. Northern Iowa, more like corpulent sloths than Panthers, relishes the half-court setting. It has registered just 58.6 possessions per game and a whopping 21.1 seconds per possession. Suffice it to say, Seth Tuttle and Co. aren’t interested in speed dating. That snail’s pace combined with its crisp ball movement and tenacity on D, explain why they rank inside the top-35 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Tuttle’s impact is another reason.
The 6-foot-8 senior is the Russell Wilson of the MVC. He’s selfless, tireless and a well-known film-room grunt. Like David Padgett from the Louisville teams of the mid-2000s, Tuttle is the consummate point-forward. The offense runs through him. Given his exceptional passing, improved outside shot and presence on the glass, he’s a matchup nightmare. He’s logged a double-double four times. More impressive, he’s recorded four or more assists in a game 12 times. His well-rounded game has enhanced the efforts of those around him, particularly guards Wes Washpun, Nate Buss and Matt Bohannon. UNI tallies nearly 40 percent of its points from distance. In what shouldn’t be a surprise Tuttle trails only Frank Kaminsky and Delon Wright in Ken Pomeroy’s most-valuable player standings. The guy is a Terminator.
Despite a top-10 national ranking, the highest in school history, many believe Northern Iowa’s odds of racing to Indy are long. That’s pure poppycock. Due to its veteran savvy, depth, methodical execution and Tuttle, the projected No. 4 seed has the appearance of a legitimate Final Four contender.
For UNI, another March magic show is right around the corner.
Rehearse your choreographed moves one last time. Get into costume. And press "play" on your boombox. It's time for an Interpretive Dance …
Here are this week's bracket bulls and bears:
DA BULLS (MOVING UP)
Oregon Ducks (21-8, RPI: 39, SOS: 58, Current Seed: 11)
Not long ago the Ducks were being prepped for the dinner table. In late January, they were 4-4 in a down Pac-12 and owned only one noteworthy W, a seven-point takedown of Illinois in Chicago before Christmas. Now, Dana Atlman has his young bunch quacking. Triumphant in seven of its past eight, Oregon is on the right side of the bubble. Recent home wins against UCLA and Utah beautified an otherwise homely profile. The young Ducks boast a high-powered offense. In their last seven wins, they’ve blazed the nets to the tune of 1.178 points per possession. Senior Joseph Young, an exceptional scorer, has tormented opponents whether from outside, off the dribble or on short jumpers. Interior contributors Elgin Cook, Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks have also flourished, chipping in valuable production. Defense, usually a hallmark of Altman-coached teams, has been a luxury item in Eugene, but the Ducks have guarded better of late. Against Colorado, Utah and Cal it surrendered a combined 0.964 points per possession. With road games at Stanford and Oregon State left a split is needed. Drop both and a strong run in the Pac-12 tourney becomes vital. But, as of now, the Ducks are dancing.
N.C. State Wolfpack (17-11, RPI: 40, SOS: 3, Current Seed: 9)
The Wolfpack, fresh off an impressive win at North Carolina, have fangs bared. Including their upending of the Tar Heels and dispatching of Louisville, they’ve reeled off three straight wins, lifting their heads above water in ACC play (8-7 record). That string of successes, combined with a top-five strength of schedule and other standout wins over Duke and Boise State, and N.C. State is trending toward at least a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. One of the loosest defensive teams in college basketball weeks back, Mark Gottfried’s kids have ratcheted up the stinginess. In their past four contests, they’ve surrendered a sparkling 0.922 points per possession. Ralston Turner’s hot hand from outside has also sparked N.C. State. During its current win streak, he’s nailed 10-of-20 attempts from three. Toss in contributions from fellow gunners Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber and block party MC BeeJay Anya, who swatted six shots against Carolina, and the Wolfpack are shaping up to be a difficult "out" come tourney time. Given their rather favorable rest of season slate (at BC, at Clemson, Syracuse), a single-digit seed is attainable.
Pittsburgh Panthers (19-10, RPI: 37, SOS: 32, Current Seed: NA)
The Panthers' complicated résumé fosters a question that's racked the brains of bracketologists for decades. When examining a team's profile what weighs more, quality wins or bad losses? Under-cuttings of Notre Dame and North Carolina shine, but inexplicable flops against Hawaii and Virginia Tech left spots. Still, with five wins against the RPI top 100, the same amount as fellow bubblers Dayton, Illinois and UCLA, the Panthers are very much in the at-large conversation. Their top-40 ranking in RPI and strength of schedule and strong finish (Winners in six of their last eight) also check boxes. Pitt is still deplorable defensively giving up an unacceptable 1.041 points per possession. However, its often prolific offense spearheaded by Jamel Artis and James Robinson and inerrancy with the basketball (No. 9 in offensive turnover percentage) are why it's charged hard. Based on its somewhat favorable rest of season schedule (at Wake Forest, Miami and at Florida State), it could wind up with 11 ACC wins. Achieve that and grab a game or two in their conference tournament and the Panthers may just sneak into the field.
Others Flaming: Davidson
DA BEARS (MOVING DOWN)
Illinois Fighting Illini (17-11, RPI: 59, SOS: 47, Current Seed: NA)
The tournament temperature in Champaign resembles Star Wars' Hoth, minus the tauntauns. Illinois spoiled a prime opportunity to shore up its at-large standing Sunday night. Michigan State, playing with a chip on its shoulder since the Illini knocked it off in East Lansing on Feb. 7, kicked open the State Farm Center doors, locked down on defense and captured its 10th Big Ten win. In a precarious position just weeks ago, Tom Izzo has his team humming, a tell-tale sign spring is near. The Illini, however, aren’t nearly as fortunate. During the nine games leading scorer Rayvonte Rice was sidelined by a broken hand/suspension, John Groce’s group discovered its identity. Over that stretch it recorded a respectable 6-3 mark, ramping up its defensive game while benefiting from an uptick in production from sophomore Kendrick Nunn. However, in the four games since Rice’s return, Illinois has scored a bland 0.983 points per possession. Though it has quality triumphs over Baylor, Maryland, Purdue and Michigan State, it better bring a hardhat and lunch pail down the stretch if it wants to make a NCAA tourney appearance. Ten conference wins and the Illini are IN. A 2-2 finish (9-9 in B1G) and additional Ws in the Big Ten tourney become a necessity. After they came up short in Iowa City, the stakes in their last regular-season game at Purdue are now stratospheric.
Texas Longhorns (17-11, RPI: 44, SOS: 16, Current Seed: NA)
Just what the hell should the Selection Committee do with Texas? Let it in? Banish it to the NIT? Grind up Bevo for Taco Tuesday? That is the $64,000 question. When the committee engages in the arduous task of sorting through at-large candidates in a little over two weeks heated discussions about the Longhorns are sure to take place. Texas does own a couple attractive qualities. Computer-generated rankings think of it appreciably. The Massey Ratings, which aggregates 53 different measurements, has the Longhorns at No. 29, ahead of sure-fire tournament teams Xavier, Mississippi and Indiana. No egregious Ls and an extremely difficult strength of schedule (16) explain the infatuation. However, their 6-9 Big 12 mark and month-long tumble – they’ve dropped seven of 10 – paints a darker picture. Worse yet, UT is a wretched 1-10 against the RPI top 50. It’s played meaningful competition, but not delivered enough suitable wins. Due to the ‘Horns numerous big bodies, they’ve often executed well in the paint, snagging offensive boards and creating second-chance opportunities. Sadly, though, they’ve rarely taken advantage. Most disappointingly, they’ve unhinged defensively (1.146 points per possession allowed in their last three). Teams with confident outside shooters have buried them, evident in losses to Iowa State and West Virginia. Texas could right the ship in short order with wins at Kansas and home versus Baylor. However, based on how zombie-like they’ve been, even a split doesn’t seem likely. Rick Barnes’ tushy is scalding.
Kansas Jayhawks (22-6, RPI: 2, SOS: 1, Current Seed: 2)
KU is another Big 12 team heading south in the late winter. The Jayhawks, which couldn't escape Manhattan with a victory, have dropped three of their last six games. The last time they weren't crowned Big 12 regular-season champs, 11 years ago, flip phones were still popular. That streak, however, is in serious jeopardy. Iowa State, only a game behind in league play, split the season series with Kansas and is now breathing down its neck. Perry Ellis has thrown this team on his back and Kelly Oubre has contributed solidly of late, but inconsistencies at the guard position continue to plague the Jayhawks. In the loss at Kansas State, Wayne Seldon and Frank Mason combined for 11 points and five turnovers. Unless the backcourt reverses course soon, it could be a rough March for Bill Self. Kansas finishes the regular season against Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma. Overall, its profile is terrific. Ranking top-three in RPI and strength of schedule and 10-6 vs. the RPI top 50, it possesses few flaws. However, drop two of its last three and have a mediocre showing in the Big 12 Tournament and KU could slide to a No. 4 seed. Right now, Big Jay is ripe for the picking.
Others Laming: Indiana
This segment sifts through the bountiful weekend slate to highlight five titanic games that will bear the greatest impact on a team's "Bracket Big Board" standing.
1. Oregon at Stanford – Late Wednesday, Altman exorcised a demon. Entering the night he was an inglourious 0-7 against Cal in his career. But circumventing a potential pitfall, his Ducks rolled their way to an 11-point win. Rocketing up the Bracket Big Board, Oregon could rubber stamp a NCAA tourney appearance with another critical road win. Stanford, likely sans versatile junior Rosco Allen (bad back) for the fourth-straight game, has its hands full. Anthony Brown and Chasson Randle can fill the cup, but defensive inadequacies have hampered the Cardinal greatly. Given Oregon's plethora of scorers and stout interior presence, it poses serious matchup problems for Stanford. In arguably the most bubblicious game of the weekend, the Ducks deliver.
Prediction: Oregon 77 Stanford 71
2. Northern Iowa at Wichita State – As discussed above, the Panthers are a well-oiled machine on both ends of the floor. They are white-on-rice defensively and bludgeon the competition with smooth ball rotations, three-point shooting and Tuttle. Wichita State hasn't received a ton of national press. Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet have had tremendous seasons. Collectively, the Shockers rank inside the top-20 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency. UNI housed Wichita at the McLeod Center by 16 in late January. Tuttle was an uncontainable animal in that game totaling 29 points and seven boards. To prevent a similar outcome, the Shockers' Darius Carter and Shaquille Morris must step up, a very tall order.
Prediction: Northern Iowa 59 Wichita State 57
3. Villanova at Xavier – The Wildcats are one Gonzaga or Virginia tanking away from jumping up a line. Tuesday they dismantled a good Providence team with impeccable passing and relentless defense. 'Nova is still a guard-oriented offense, but unlike previous 'versions, Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston provide options in the post. They'll need to bring their 'A' game against interior loads Matt Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds who are averaging a combined 21 points and 13 rebounds per game. If the Wildcats execute at a level similar as the Providence crushing, they should capture their 10th RPI top-50 win.
Prediction: Villanova 74 Xavier 68
4. Arizona at Utah – If the Wildcats have any thoughts of earning No. 1 seed respectability, they must escape Salt Lake City with a win. That assignment is rather difficult. The Utes haven't dropped a game at the Huntsman Center since, coincidentally enough, Arizona topped them in OT nearly a year ago to the day. That stinging loss is still fresh in Utah's mind. A much better product compared to last season, the Utes feature an elite defense (0.883 points per possession allowed) and one of the nation's best all-around point guards in Wright. However, they're at a major size disadvantage. Stanley Johnson, Rhondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashely and Kaleb Tarczewski are terrific rebounders. Seven-footer Jakob Poeltl must stay out of foul trouble for Utah to exact revenge.
Prediction: Utah 61 Arizona 60
5. Ole Miss at LSU – The Tigers are the Purdue of the SEC. They have laudable wins (e.g. at West Virginia and at Ole Miss) and a few laughable ones (at Missouri, at Mississippi St and Auburn). Sweeping the Rebels would favorably tip the scale. Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey are sure to inflict their usual damage, but if x-factor Keith Hornsby is lights out again from outside – he rained 23 points on five made threes in the first matchup – the Tigers will protect their home floor. However, they must extend defensively to prevent sharpshooter Stefan Moody from overtaking.
Prediction: LSU 75 Ole Miss 70
Season Record (Straight up): 10-5
Other Notable Games: BYU at Gonzaga, Georgetown at St. John's, North Carolina at Miami (FL), West Virginia at Baylor, Texas at Kansas, Dayton at VCU, Boise State at San Diego State, Arkansas at Kentucky, Michigan State at Wisconsin, Purdue at Ohio State.
Follow the Bracket Noise on Twitter @YahooNoise.
At a timeout with about five minutes left in Wednesday night's game between Florida State and Miami, one of Xavier Rathan-Mayes' teammates approached him with a challenge.
"Montay Brandon looked at me and told me that he needed me," Rathan-Mayes said. "When one of your brothers says that he needs you, you're going to do anything you can to respond to that call."
Florida State indeed desperately needed a spark from Rathan-Mayes after falling behind by 18 points on the road against a Miami team determined to play its way into the NCAA tournament. Whatever slim chance the defensive-oriented Seminoles had of mounting a comeback depended on their leading scorer emerging from a game-long slump and shooting them back into striking distance.
Inspired by his teammate's words, Rathan-Mayes unleashed a late-game shooting display that will linger in the memory of those who witnessed it long after they've forgotten that Florida State still lost 81-77 in spite of his heroics. The 6-foot-4 guard scored 30 points in the final 4:38 of Wednesday's game, a stunningly swift barrage that included six 3-pointers, a pair of layups and eight free throws.
To put into perspective what Rathan-Mayes accomplished, consider that only two college basketball players scored more points in a whole game Wednesday night than the Florida State freshman managed in less than five minutes. He finished with a career high-tying 35 points, but the way he got them was unlike anything he had achieved before on the basketball court.
"In high school I scored 55 in a game, but that was throughout the course of the game," Rathan-Mayes said. "To score how I was doing it today, I've never done that before. The only thing I've seen like that was when I was watching the Golden State Warriors and Klay Thompson scored 37 in one quarter."
Rathan-Mayes' scoring barrage represents the culmination of a season in which he has begun to carve his own legacy after spending the previous couple years in the shadow of one of his closest friends.
Last June's No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins was a longtime teammate of Rathan-Mayes both on the grassroots circuit and at Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Rathan-Mayes was so stuck in the sidekick role that when he announced he was committing to Florida State in Oct. 2012, most of the discussion that followed focused on whether his presence gave Florida State legit hope of landing Wiggins too.
Wiggins ultimately spent his lone year in college at Kansas, but Rathan-Mayes has turned out to be far more than just a consolation prize.
Though he had to sit out all of last season due to academic issues, Rathan-Mayes averages 13.6 points and has eclipsed double figures in 14 of his last 17 games. The former Rivals 150 recruit also leads Florida State in assists at 4.4 per game and steals at 1.1 per game.
There were no warning signs Rathan-Mayes was about to do anything special Wednesday night when he began his onslaught by curling around a left-wing screen and burying a deep 3-pointer over Angel Rodriguez with 4:38 remaining. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary a possession later either when he drew a foul on Rodriguez on a top-of-the-key 3-pointer and sank all three free throws.
The tone changed during the next few possessions when Rathan-Mayes started sinking pull-up 3-pointers, burying long-distance catch-and-shoot threes and splitting double teams off the dribble. He even banked in a 3-pointer and drew a foul on a late-closing Davon Reed to pull Florida State within three points with 1:03 to go.
"It's a feeling I can't really describe," Rathan-Mayes said. "The arena was quiet. It was like I was in there by myself. It was a feeling I've never, ever felt before. There was nothing else happening around me."
Of the 33 points Florida State scored in the final 4:38, Rathan-Mayes had all but three of them. The only points he didn't score came via a 3-pointer by Robbie Berwick that Rathan-Mayes set up by drawing the defense and kicking the ball out.
Florida State eventually had the ball down three with just a few ticks left on the clock, but Miami would not let Rathan-Mayes attempt a 3-pointer. Angel Rodriguez committed a foul, Rathan-Mayes sank the first free throw and intentionally missed the second and the Hurricanes recovered, enabling them to escape with a narrow victory.
Though the enduring memory of Wednesday's game will be Rathan-Mayes catching fire in the final few minutes, the freshman views his performance as bittersweet because the Seminoles still lost the game. Rathan-Mayes insists he had no idea how many points he scored in the final five minutes until he overheard Miami coach Jim Larranaga telling his assistants in the hallway outside the Hurricanes locker room.
"I was surprised, but it mattered more to me that we lost," Rathan-Mayes said. "I told my guys after the game I'm extremely proud of how we fought back. We told each other we would never give up and we would keep fighting, and I'm proud of how we did that tonight."
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The Big 12 Conference’s one true champion motto blew up in its face at the end of the college football season with Baylor and TCU tied atop the standings and left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Heading down the stretch of the basketball regular season, Kansas is in solid position to win its 11th consecutive championship and make the league’s mantra stand up after Iowa State blew a golden opportunity to put pressure on the Jayhawks on Wednesday night.
Baylor went into Hilton Coliseum and beat the Cyclones 79-70. It is the first time the Bears have won at Iowa State in history. It is the first home loss of the season for the Cyclones and it snapped Iowa State’s 21-game home-court winning streak.
It happened because the Bears got hot from behind the 3-point line late in the game while the Cyclones went cold. Baylor made 14 of 26 3-point attempts and five players scored in double figures led by Taurean Prince, who scored 20 off the bench.
With 7 minutes remaining, Iowa State had a four-point lead, but Prince drained three consecutive 3-pointers over a 2-minute span to put the Bears in front and in position to notch a historic win for the program.
Iowa State will lament this one, possibly for years to come. The poor late-game shooting will be at the forefront of those memories. The Cyclones final made field goal attempt came with 6 minutes, 27 seconds remaining. They scored only four more points the rest of the way all coming at the free throw line.
The loss has to be that much more confounding to Cyclones fans because it came on the heels of impressive road wins at Oklahoma State and Texas, two places where the Cyclones have historically struggled.
It’s still possible that the Jayhawks could stumble down the stretch with home games against Texas, West Virginia and a road trip to Oklahoma and they could end up in a tie with either Iowa State, West Virginia or the Sooners, all of whom are one game behind them in the standings.
This certainly isn’t settled yet. But Kansas certainly feels less pressure now than it would have had the Cyclones not fallen apart late in the game Wednesday, watching a share of first place evaporate.
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The only hole in VCU coach Shaka Smart's otherwise sterling résumé is proving more difficult than expected for the Rams to fill.
Their bid to secure Smart's first regular season league title is in jeopardy after city rival Richmond completed a season sweep Wednesday night with a thrilling 67-63 double-overtime victory.
Preseason Atlantic 10 favorite VCU (21-7, 11-4) now finds itself in a four-way tie for first place with Dayton, Rhode Island and Davidson. The Rams do not have an easy finishing schedule either as they host the Flyers on Saturday and visit the Wildcats a week from Thursday before closing at home against last-place George Mason.
VCU's inability to maintain control of the Atlantic 10 after a 7-0 start is a product of both ill-timed injuries and a rival who seems to play the Rams tougher than anyone else.
College basketball's steals leader Briante Weber suffered a season-ending knee injury in VCU's first loss to Richmond on Jan. 31 and leading scorer Treveon Graham also missed subsequent losses to La Salle and St. Bonaventure with a sore ankle. Graham played a total of 77 minutes in the two Richmond games, however, yet the Rams were unable to defeat a Spiders team that is just 16-12 overall and not even on the fringes of the NCAA tournament picture.
The second loss to Richmond will be even more galling than the first for VCU because the Rams had to work hard to even force overtime. They trailed by eight with 90 seconds to go before launching a spirited rally aided by three missed free throws and two turnovers by the Spiders.
When Kendall Anthony bricked two foul shots with 14 seconds to play, Graham made Richmond pay by burying a deep step-back 3-pointer to tie the score at 52. ShawnDre' Jones nearly answered with a running game winner of his own, but his buzzer beater bounced around every part of the rim but would not fall.
The first overtime appeared to belong to VCU, but Smart's decision to foul up three backfired when Jones intentionally missed the second free throw and the Rams could not corral the rebound. Given new life with 2.4 seconds left, Trey Davis fed T.J. Cline for a layup to force a second overtime.
It was VCU who had to come from behind in the second overtime, but this time Richmond came up with a game-saving defensive play. As Graham drove the lane and rose over Deion Taylor to attempt a potential game-tying jumper, Terry Allen left his man to help on the Rams' leading scorer and swatted away the shot before it left Graham's hands.
Allen then sank a pair of free throws with less than a second remaining to at last seal a Richmond victory.
VCU was undone Wednesday night by an uncharacteristically poor shooting night from the perimeter. The Rams were 3 of 18 from behind the arc despite Graham's game-tying deep ball and they shot 32.8 percent from the field, which made it difficult to run their full-court press after so many misses.
In Smart's first five seasons as head coach at VCU, the Rams have won 26 or more games every year, made the NCAA tournament four times and even advanced to the school's only Final Four.
All that's missing from Smart's resume is a league championship, and now VCU will have to finish strong to get one for him.
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Lauren Hill couldn't make it to her team's end-of-the-year banquet, so her Mount Saint Joseph teammates came up with a better idea: they brought the banquet to her. The team celebrated in a private room at the hospital where Hill is being treated.
Hill is battling inoperable brain cancer. The team has made sure she's been included throughout the season, first by playing the season opener early, on Nov. 2, to make sure that she had a chance to realize her dream of playing college basketball.
Doctors had feared that her symptoms would be too severe by the regular start of the NCAA season, but Hill beat the odds longer than expected. Showing immense courage, she was able to play in three more games this season, including a home game in December. She entered hospice later that month, but continues to fight.
During the Feb. 24 event, Hill signed all of her teammates' jerseys and spoke with local news station WKRC.
"Day by day, I hope my message has resided through everyone — that just even more that it's precious every amount of time you get with someone, no material item matters," she said. "Every moment you get with someone is a moment that [is] blessed, really blessed."
Throughout her illness, Hill has helped raise more than $1 million for pediatric cancer research.
Her high school also surprised her by retiring her jersey in late November, the Ohio governor recently announced that she is one of the recipients of this year's Governor's Courage Award, Wheaties featured her on a box, and in early March she will receive the 2014 Spirit of Cincinnati USA Ambassador Award, accolades that she has absolutely earned as she's inspired the nation over the past few months.
Whichever colleges are already recruiting 10-year-old LeBron James Jr. might be wise to back off for a few more years.
It isn't making his father happy.
The elder LeBron told reporters in Detroit at Cavaliers shoot-around Tuesday that colleges have already begun to send recruiting letters and offer scholarships even though his son won't finish fourth grade until this spring.
"Yeah, he's already got some offers from colleges," James said. "It's pretty crazy. It should be a violation. You shouldn't be recruiting 10-year-old kids."
The younger LeBron popping up on the radar of college coaches is a testament to his famous name, his prodigious talent and to the recruiting process starting younger and younger. College coaches occasionally offer scholarships to top prospects before they enter high school in hopes that those players will remember who showed interest first when they're ready to choose a college.
Offering scholarships to a fourth grader is largely uncharted territory, but the younger James clearly has inherited some of his father's natural ability. Clips of him blowing by defenders, feeding teammates behind-the-back passes and sinking jump shots have amassed millions of clicks on YouTube in recent months.
"He plays just like I did," James told reporters at the Cavaliers shoot-around. "He has great awareness, and he'd rather pass first and set guys up. Most kids nowadays just want to score."
While the elder LeBron wasn't a household name in elementary school, he still experienced enough fame at a young age to help his son cope with what's ahead. By 13, he was considered an elite prospect. By his junior year of high school, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as "The Chosen One." And by his senior year, ESPN was televising his games and shoe companies were lining up to offer tens of millions in endorsements.
Video of LeBron James Jr. via TakeMyTalent.com:
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On the day of NC State student Deah Barakat's wedding two months ago, freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu told his friend that his gift would be the Wolfpack securing victories over in-state rivals Duke and North Carolina this season.
The promise took on more meaning for Abu when Barakat, new bride Yusor Abu-Salha and sister-in-law Razan Abu-Salha were brutally murdered in a Feb. 10 shooting in Chapel Hill.
NC State had already fulfilled half of Abu's guarantee with an 87-75 victory over the Blue Devils on Jan. 11. The Wolfpack finished off the second part on Tuesday night, snapping a 12-game losing streak in Chapel Hill with a 58-46 victory over the Tar Heels.
Abu honored his friend before leaving the Dean Smith Center on Tuesday night by reposting an Instagram picture of them together at Barakat's wedding and adding a heartfelt message. Wrote Abu, "Thanks Deah for being a special person to all of us. This one was for you your family and and the wonderful people of #WPN !!!!! Love you man #RIP #WeDidIt #iPromisedYouMan"
Abu had previously made headlines two weeks ago when he penned a touching tribute to his friends just after their death.
"When I heard the news I was in disbelief," Abu wrote two weeks ago. "I couldn't quite understand how this was possible. I couldn't wrap my head around the thought of you and your beautiful wife no longer being alive. You supported me before you met me and showed unconditional love when you did. always excited and happy, always willing to joke around about how the season would go.
"For the short time I've known you, you blessed me with the opportunity to attend your wedding, a wedding I see as my first real wedding. We didn't grow up together but when I heard the news I was hurt like I've known you my whole life. I just wanna say thank you to you your wife and family for the support and making North Carolina feel like home.
"Rest in peace brother and sisters may Allah bless all three of you with the highest heaven. I know you'll always and forever be a NC State supporter. Rest easy my dude."
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With less than three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
NC State picked an ideal time to snap its 12-game losing streak in Chapel Hill.
The Wolfpack moved closer to overcoming a rough patch in the middle of conference play and squeezing into the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season under Mark Gottfried with a 58-46 road win over the Tar Heels on Tuesday night.
Whereas other bubble teams are in dire need of quality wins, NC State now has three outstanding ones over North Carolina, Duke and Louisville. What the Wolfpack really are missing is wins of any kind, which reveals why they still have work to do to feel safe entering Selection Sunday.
NC State (17-11, 8-7) still has ACC games remaining against Boston College, Clemson and Syracuse before the ACC tournament. For the Wolfpack to ensure they're getting NCAA tournament bid without needing even a single ACC tournament win, they might have to win all three games. For the Wolfpack to still feel good about their position, two wins might suffice.
If any team should feel confident in that position, it's one with a history of close calls. NC State has slipped into the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed, a No. 8 seed and a No. 12 seed each of the past three seasons despite amassing double-digit losses each year.
NC State should have no problem winning a couple more games if it can duplicate Tuesday's defensive effort. A typically high-scoring, fast-paced North Carolina team couldn't even crack 50 points on its home floor as the Tar Heels shot 34.5 percent from the field and only had Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson crack double figures.
The Wolfpack weren't especially good on offense themselves, but their backcourt bailed them out. Trevor Lacey, Anthony Barber and Ralston Turner combined for 43 points to send NC State to a crucial victory.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE TUESDAY
LSU (20-8, 9-6 SEC): LSU avoided yet another bad loss Tuesday night. A Tigers team that has already lost to Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State performed like an NCAA tournament contender should against a bottom-tier conference opponent, avenging its previous loss to Auburn with an 84-61 victory. LSU projects as about a No. 9 or 10 seed at this point, but the Tigers aren't so secure that they can afford a late slump. They close the season against Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas. Two wins in their final three games would probably solidify their NCAA tournament bid regardless of what happens in the SEC tournament.
Pittsburgh (19-10, 8-7 ACC): Defeating Boston College won't propel Pittsburgh into the NCAA tournament, but the Panthers at least kept hope alive with a 71-65 home win. They remain on the fringes of the bubble picture and still probably need to win their last three regular season games against Wake Forest, Miami and Florida State to get in. A sweep of Syracuse and marquee victories over Notre Dame and North Carolina bolster Pittsburgh's resume, but those are the only four RPI top 100 wins the Panthers have. An early-season loss to Hawaii is also damaging.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL TUESDAY
Texas (17-11, 6-9 Big 12): A Texas team that spent most of November and December in the top 10 moved closer to missing the NCAA tournament altogether on Tuesday night. The Longhorns lost for the seventh time in 10 games, falling 71-64 at 20th-ranked West Virginia. Texas' latest loss dropped the Longhorns to 1-10 against RPI top 50 opposition — 1-11 including a home loss to No. 51 Stanford. A dearth of bad losses helps offset that a bit, but the Longhorns are still in dire need of quality wins. The good news for Texas is chances abound since it finishes at Kansas and home against Baylor and Kansas State. The bad news is the Longhorns almost certainly have to win at least two of those games to keep hope alive entering the Big 12 tournament.
Texas A&M (19-8, 10-5 SEC): Impressive as it was that Texas A&M stormed back from a 23-point halftime deficit to get within two, the Aggies' 81-75 loss at Arkansas was still a squandered opportunity. They fell two games behind the Razorbacks in the race for second place in the SEC and wasted their last chance of the regular season to earn a quality win. While a season sweep of fellow bubble team LSU certainly helps Texas A&M, the Aggies are no better than right on the edge of the cut line because that's the best team they've beaten this year. Their last three games won't afford them chances to fix that either since they face Auburn, Florida and Alabama. Two wins is a probably essential and three would be advisable.
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Kansas State student Nathan Power wrote a Letter to the Editor published in the Kansas State Collegian on Tuesday admitting he was the man seen body checking Kansas player Jamari Traylor during a court-storming Monday after the Wildcats beat the Jayhawks.
Video of the incident show a man jumping into Traylor and knocking him to his left. Traylor did not retaliate.
Kansas State police are investigating the incident and were hoping to identify the person who appeared to purposely run into Traylor during the postgame celebration. Here is a look at what Power said in his letter.
Kansas State police tweeted late Tuesday afternoon that they were no longer looking for the person of interest involved in the incident. It's unclear if they have contacted Power and if he was arrested or ticketed.
Kansas State athletic director John Currie apologized Tuesday morning to Kansas coach Bill Self and his players for not properly providing security for the Jayhawks. Self was critical of the lack of security in his postgame remarks.
There were several other incidents on the court besides the one in which Traylor was bumped. A Kansas assistant coach grabbed a Kansas State fan a redirected him as he appeared to taunt kansas players.
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Only one basket away from sealing a huge victory over fifth-ranked Wisconsin, Maryland did exactly what it had done to get to that favorable position.
It spread the floor, put the ball in the hands of one of its two best players and attacked off the dribble.
The Badgers were as powerless against that strategy on the game's biggest possession as they had been the previous 39 1/2 minutes. Freshman point guard Melo Trimble crossed over Josh Gasser and created enough space to sink a runner with 33 seconds to go, increasing Maryland's lead to five and giving the Terps the breathing room they needed to close out a 59-53 victory.
Trimble and senior Dez Wells were the engines for Maryland, taking 62 percent of the team's shots and combining for 42 points despite only attempting three 3-pointers between them. Wells was often too quick for forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes to handle off the dribble and Trimble's first step to the basket gave Gasser fits.
Maryland's perimeter duo powered the 14th-ranked Terps (23-5, 11-4) to a victory that should give them a great chance to finish no worse than tied for second in the Big Ten. They're two games behind first-place Wisconsin now with a home game against Michigan and road games at struggling Nebraska and Rutgers remaining on the schedule.
The Badgers (25-3, 13-2) still should win the Big Ten title outright in spite of Tuesday's loss, but a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament now looks more unlikely.
Kentucky, Virginia and Duke are already ahead of Wisconsin in the pecking order at this point, while one-loss Gonzaga and two-loss Villanova also have strong cases. The Badgers probably have to win out now to have a realistic chance, no easy feat with a home game against Michigan State, road tests at rival Minnesota and Ohio State and the Big Ten tournament still remaining.
It may not matter what seed Wisconsin gets if it doesn't defend dribble penetration better than it did on Tuesday night. Many opponents won't have two elite perimeter players as adept at getting to the rim as Maryland has, but the Badgers are sure to see some teams with quick guards in the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin typically is an elite offensive team that defends well enough to win, but the Badgers were not as efficient as usual against Maryland — especially in the first half when they settled for too many outside shots. Frank Kaminsky had 18 points and Sam Dekker had 14, but Nigel Hayes had a rare off night, Bronson Koenig shot 2 of 12 from the field and the Badgers got next to nothing from their bench.
Considering how efficient Wisconsin has been scoring this season, the Badgers won't have too many games in which they shoot 38.5 percent from the floor the rest of the season.
It's the defensive issues Maryland highlighted that are more of a longterm concern.
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Texas' recent fall from top-10 team to NCAA Tournament bubble or worse has been frustrating for the Longhorns and one member of the team lost his cool Tuesday night in a 71-64 loss at West Virginia.
Senior forward Jonathan Holmes' personal shooting struggles have no doubt compounded his disappointment with the lack of wins. Holmes and his teammates fell behind the Mountaineers by 18 points in the first half and with 20 seconds remaining before halftime, Holmes threw an elbow at West Virgnina's Devin Williams, who had just shoved him as they jostled for position
With Holmes out, Texas rallied to make it one-possession game in the final minute but couldn't pull off what would have been a valuable road win over the 20th-ranked Mountaineers. The Longhorns have lost seven of their past 10 to fall to 17-11 and 6-9 in Big 12 play.
Since suffering a concussion in a loss to Oklahoma State on Feb. 4, Holmes missed two games and returned to endure a shooting slump. Entering Tuesday's game he had made four of his previous 19 shots over three games, including going 2-for-10 from behind the 3-point line.
Those are agonizing numbers for a senior trying to get his team back on a winning track and into the NCAA Tournament in his final opportunity to participate.
But none of that excuses throwing an elbow at an opponent and possibly robbing that player of playing time if he was to suffer a serious injury. Holmes was actually off to a good start Tuesday in terms of his shooting. He made two 3-pointers in the first half and was 2-for-3 at the time he was ejected.
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Immediately after Kansas State stunned eighth-ranked Kansas on Monday night, Wildcats athletic director John Currie sent out a tweet praising his school's fans for the "loud atmosphere" at Bramlage Coliseum.
By Tuesday morning, Currie's tone had changed.
Currie released a statement apologizing to Kansas coach Bill Self and the Jayhawks players who were swept up in the tidal wave of fans who flooded the court after Kansas State's 70-63 victory. Currie also said Kansas State will review its security policy to investigate why its security staff was unable to get into position quickly enough to create a human barrier and enable the Jayhawks to leave the floor safely.
"Although no one was hurt last night, we fell short of our expectations for securing the court and escorting KU to its locker room without incident," Currie said. "We are disappointed that we did not do better for the KU team.
"We are reviewing our procedures internally and consulting with our law enforcement partners to determine any steps necessary to improve our gameday security. Additionally, we are actively reviewing video and working in concert with law enforcement to identify any fan who intentionally touched visiting players or personnel. We will take appropriate action with such identified persons, including turning over all evidence to law enforcement so that any applicable charges can be filed."
Scenes from Bramlage Coliseum were scary enough that they've reignited the debate over whether court storming is safe enough to be permissible in college athletics.
Kansas State police are already searching for the identity of a knucklehead fan who rushed at Kansas forward Jamari Traylor and body checked him on his way off the floor. Another Wildcats fan taunted several Jayhawks players until a Kansas assistant approached from behind and flung him away. A third Kansas State fan appeared to swing wildly and miss Kansas point guard Frank Mason.
Neither head coach was able to escape the scrum either as Self and Bruce Weber both got pinned against the scorer's table by the crush of on-rushing bodies.
Self was critical of Kansas State's lack of security afterward, telling reporters that court storming is fine as long as opposing players are protected.
"It shouldn’t put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint because we’re asking for big problems," Self said. "Somebody’s going to hit a player, and a player’s going to retaliate."
Kansas State's victory inspired such emotion from its fans because it was just the fifth time in the last 54 meetings that the Wildcats have beaten the Jayhawks. Currie said it was unfortunate the victory has been overshadowed by the poor judgment of a few fans.
“While we are proud of the incredible atmosphere of Bramlage Coliseum and the passion of K-State students and fans, we are saddened by the insistence of some fans to sully the image of our great institution with audible profane chants,” Currie said. “We will continue to work with our student leadership to provide a better example of sportsmanship for our audiences.”
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In addition to suffering a costly loss against its in-state rival and having its Big 12 lead whittled down to just a half a game, Kansas suffered one final indignity Monday night.
The eighth-ranked Jayhawks couldn't get off the floor quickly enough to avoid getting swallowed up in the tidal wave of Kansas State fans who flooded the court after their team's 70-63 upset victory.
A knucklehead Kansas State fan rushed at Kansas forward Jamari Traylor and body checked him on his way off the floor. Another Wildcats fan taunted several Jayhawks players until a Kansas assistant approached from behind and flung him away. Neither head coach was safe either as Bill Self and Bruce Weber both got pinned against the scorer's table by the crush of on-rushing bodies.
“There were several students that hit our players," Self told reporters after the game. "Not saying like with fists, but when you storm the court, you run in, you bump everybody, stuff like that. This has got to stop.
"Court storming is fine, but surely you can get security to the point where player safety is not involved like it is over here. The last several times they’ve won, they’ve stormed the court on us. That’s disappointing that that happened again, but we also allowed it to happen again by not playing well.
“It’s a ballgame. It’s not about chicken winging somebody when the game’s over, stuff like that. That’s not what it’s about. Hopefully they can get that corrected, because it’s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us. That’s your business. That’s fine. But at least it shouldn’t put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint, because we’re asking for big problems because somebody’s going to hit a player, and a player’s going to retaliate."
Self's comments will surely reignite the annual debate over whether court storming has a place in college basketball, a controversy that has arisen after a handful of incidents in recent years.
In Jan. 2013, NC State forward C.J. Leslie had to lift Will Privette to safety after the senior was thrown from his wheelchair during the court storming that followed the Wolfpack's upset of Duke. In Feb. 2014, a melee erupted at Utah Valley when New Mexico State players exchanged punches with on-rushing fans just after the final buzzer.
The most severe court storming injury of all came in Feb. 2004 when an avalanche of Tucson High students spilled onto the court after 6-foot-6 senior Joe Kay clinched a rivalry victory with a two-handed breakaway dunk. The torn carotid artery and stroke Kay suffered that day left him paralyzed on one side and robbed him of many of the gifts that enabled him to become the valedictorian of his class, win awards for his saxophone skills and earn a volleyball scholarship to Stanford.
"My injuries are something I'll have to deal with the rest of my life," Kay told Yahoo Sports last year. "If court-storming didn't exist, or if none of the people at my high school had ever really seen it on TV, it probably never would have happened. People claim it's a tradition but we shouldn't have tradition if it's unsafe. It doesn't make sense."
The alarming part about the Kansas State court storm was that security didn't appear to be prepared for what was about to happen. The previously struggling Wildcats led for the final eight minutes against an arch rival they had only beaten four times in the previous 53 meetings, yet there was no obvious security presence to help the Jayhawks off the floor or to hold back the students long enough for opposing players to get to safety.
"I apologized to Bill and his staff and to their administration," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber told the Wichita Eagle. "I felt bad. I love the students and it is a cool thing to be part of that, but you also have to be careful making sure nobody gets hurt."
Credit Traylor and his teammates for keeping their cool and not retaliating only seconds after an emotional loss.
Their restraint prevented an unsafe situation from turning into something uglier.
Video of Jamari Traylor getting body checked:
Video of Bill Self getting pinned against the scorer's table:
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Almost four months into a disappointing season rife with costly losses, ill-timed suspensions and frequent in-fighting, Kansas State managed to secure a meaningful consolation prize.
The Wildcats dealt a blow to Kansas' hopes of extending its decade-long Big 12 title streak Monday night with a 70-63 upset victory over their in-state rival.
Nigel Johnson came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points and Nino Williams sank a game-clinching jumper in the final minute as Kansas State stormed back from an eight-point second-half deficit to beat the Jayhawks for just the fifth time in 54 meetings. The surprising outcome loosened Kansas' white-knuckle grip on first place in the Big 12 and paved the way for an unusually exciting final two weeks.
Kansas (22-6, 11-4) and Iowa State (20-6, 10-4) are now tied in the loss column and Oklahoma (19-8, 10-5) is lurking just a game behind the first-place Jayhawks. The Sooners are real threats too since they visit the Cyclones and host the Jayhawks in their final two games of the regular season.
It's possible that Kansas could have to win its final three games just to share the title with Iowa State since the Cyclones have the more favorable finishing schedule. Whereas Kansas hosts Texas and West Virginia before visiting Oklahoma, Iowa State hosts NCAA tournament-bound Baylor and Oklahoma but visits lower-echelon Kansas State and TCU.
That Kansas finds itself in this position is a testament to the strength of the Big 12 and the struggles of the Jayhawks on the road. Narrow road losses at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia were somewhat understandable, but nothing about Kansas State's dreadful recent performance suggested it was capable of springing an upset Monday night.
Kansas State had lost seven of its previous eight games, most recently a 14-point setback at TCU and a 27-point debacle at Baylor. Leading scorer Marcus Foster was suspended for three of those losses and has shot horrendously since returning.
Six points on 3-for-13 shooting from Foster had little to do with Kansas State's victory on Monday, but Johnson, Williams and senior big man Thomas Gipson combined for 47 points to pick up the slack. Kansas State also played excellent defense, holding the Jayhawks to 39.3 percent shooting despite a 24-point night from junior forward Perry Ellis.
Kansas trailed for the final eight minutes, several times coming within a basket but never getting the stop it needed to have a chance to tie or take the lead. One possession ended in a layup by Williams. Another in a jumper by Wesley Iwundu. A third in a pair of free throws from Williams. It was Williams who also had the clincher, a mid-range jumper from inside the right wing that gave Kansas State a five-point lead with 29 seconds to play.
Between the suspensions and the strife leading up to Monday's game, Kansas State players hardly struck a confident tone. Gipson told the Topeka-Capital Journal that the Wildcats weren't all on the same page and would "probably lose by 27" just like they had against Baylor a few days earlier.
Thankfully for Kansas State, Gipson's prediction never came close to coming true.
On a night of surprises at the Octagon, the Wildcats earned a rare victory over their rivals and the Jayhawks went home knowing extending their Big 12 title streak another year is no longer a foregone conclusion.
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Before his team's first game without dismissed point guard Chris Jones on Monday night, Louisville coach Rick Pitino read his players a handful of quotes from stories predicting an early exit for the Cardinals in the NCAA tournament.
The way Louisville played against Georgia Tech, Pitino should have plenty more reading material for his next pregame speech.
A come-from-behind 52-51 victory over one of the ACC's worst teams does not inspire confidence that a flawed Cardinals team can make a deep run this March. Louisville shot 7 of 28 before halftime, committed nine first-half turnovers and needed a big-time performance from standout guard Terry Rozier to rally from a 13-point deficit with less than nine minutes to go.
Rozier scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the final nine minutes to spearhead Louisville's comeback and Wayne Blackshear had eight of his 10 points during that same stretch. Georgia Tech (12-16, 3-13) had two chances to tie the game in the final minute, but Marcus Georges-Hunt turned the ball over and Travis Jorgenson missed a driving layup.
Give Louisville credit for avoiding a damaging road loss, but all of the Cardinals' faults were on display prior to their rally.
They miss Jones' toughness and defensive presence at one end of the floor and they don't have enough scoring threats without him at the other end. Aside from Rozier, Montrezl Harrell and the erratic Blackshear, nobody on the Louisville roster averages more than 3.3 points per game.
Freshman Shaqquan Aaron started alongside Rozier in the backcourt but played just three minutes because that lineup left the Cardinals without a point guard. Quentin Snider spelled Aaron and played the entire rest of the game, shooting poorly from the field and seldom matching Jones' defensive intensity but tallying four assists compared to two turnovers.
Louisville sent out a terse 21-word statement on Sunday announcing it had dismissed Jones at the end of a tumultuous season in which he had previously been benched, suspended and reinstated. The school did not provide a reason, but reports surfaced Monday that a student went to the police last week accusing the senior of sending her a threatening text message.
With Jones, Louisville might have been able to overcome its lack of outside shooting and sporadic scoring droughts to win a couple games in the NCAA tournament. Without him, the Cardinals are likely to become the No. 4 or 5 seed who's a trendy upset pick
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London Perrantes' visit to the doctor Monday afternoon confirmed what was apparent from his swollen nose and blood-spattered jersey the previous night.
The sophomore point guard sustained a broken nose and a mild concussion in a head-to-head collision with teammate Malcolm Brogdon early in the second half of Virginia's victory over Florida State on Sunday night.
Virginia is listing Perrantes as "day-to-day" in advance of its next game Wednesday at Wake Forest. If Perrantes cannot play, Brogdon and freshman Devon Hall would likely share ball handling responsibilities for the Cavaliers with freshman Marial Shayok also seeing additional playing time at wing.
Even a one-game absence for Perrantes would be ill-timed for a Virginia team that will not get injured wing Justin Anderson back for at least the next two weeks. The second-ranked Cavaliers (25-1, 13-1) are trying to protect a two-game lead in the ACC standings and remain on pace for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
One of the nation's premier pass-first point guards, Perrantes boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 3-to-1. He doesn't score a whole lot, but his ability to take care of the ball, get into the lane and set up his teammates is one of Virginia's primary weapons.
Virginia's offense had already been struggling lately without Anderson's outside shooting prowess and ability to attack the rim from the wing. The Cavaliers will wait and see whether they'll be without Perrantes too on Wednesday when they begin a four-game finishing stretch that includes three games on the road.
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Twenty days before before CBS unveils this year's NCAA tournament bracket, it's already easy to predict what one of Selection Sunday's biggest controversies will be.
There's a very good chance that the selection committee's bracketing principles will cause them to send the strongest No. 2 seed to the same region as top-ranked Kentucky.
Assuming the Wildcats earn the No. 1 overall seed in the field, they will become the top seed in the Midwest Region since Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena is a shorter distance from Lexington than the sites of the three other regionals. Competitive balance dictates the No. 2 seed in Kentucky's region ought to be the weakest of the four, but the selection committee prioritizes geographic proximity ahead of making sure the regions are equitable.
The strongest No. 2 seed typically is sent to whichever regional is closest to its campus as long as the No. 1 seed in that region is not from the same conference. The selection committee does assess competitive equity by ranking the teams on the top four seed lines from 1 to 16 and totaling each region's true seedings, but changes are not usually made unless the gap between the strongest and weakest region is greater than five.
Seven teams have emerged as viable contenders to join Kentucky as No. 1 seeds this March: Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Villanova, Arizona and Kansas. Whichever three of those teams do land No. 1 seeds will be guaranteed not to face the unbeaten Wildcats before the Final Four.
It's especially important for Virginia, Duke and Wisconsin to get No. 1 seeds since they are in the most jeopardy of being sent to Kentucky's region even as the strongest No. 2. Each of their campuses is geographically closer to Cleveland than any of the other three cities hosting regionals.
Wisconsin has the least chance of avoiding Kentucky's region even as the strongest No. 2 seed because Madison is more than 300 miles closer to Cleveland than it is to the next closest host city Syracuse. Duke and Virginia are less than 100 miles closer to Cleveland than Syracuse, but the committee may have no choice but to send one to Kentucky's region anyway unless both are No. 1 seeds.
If either the Blue Devils or Cavaliers do receive a No. 1 seed, that team will likely be placed in the East Region since Kentucky would already be in Cleveland and Syracuse would be closer than Los Angeles or Houston. That would mean no ACC team could be a No. 2 seed in the East Region because the committee wouldn't put two teams from one league together. The only way Duke or Virginia could be a No. 2 seed in the East instead of the Midwest is if someone else like Villanova were the No. 1 seed in that region.
The possibility of seeing Kentucky-Duke or Kentucky-Wisconsin in a regional final rather than at the Final Four illustrates why the emphasis the committee places on geography is a mistake. It leads to unbalanced regions just like we got last year when Wichita State's reward for a 34-0 season was a region that included preseason No. 1 Kentucky, streaking Louisville and national powers Michigan and Duke.
Why would the selection committee pay so much attention to geography rather than merely bracketing via an S-Curve principle? The NCAA has long maintained that it would be doing a disservice to the fans if it did not take proximity into account.
Students, alumni, the team and its travel party would spend more time and money traveling to games if their NCAA tournament games were regularly on the other side of the country. Furthermore, the NCAA notes, if the selection committee sent a strong No. 2 seed elsewhere to avoid being in the No. 1 overall seed's region, its draw could end up being worse because of it if the No. 1 overall seed were to get upset early.
Those are valid arguments, yet they don't hold up in a year like this when there is a clear favorite to win the national championship.
How many Wisconsin fans would be fine with their team playing 300 miles further from Madison if it meant not seeing Kentucky until the Final Four? How many Duke or Virginia fans would gladly spend a weekend in Los Angeles instead of Cleveland if it meant their team's title hopes improved?
Some fans might be fine with meeting Kentucky early because it means their team will have the chance to be the ones to topple the Wildcats. Most will be smart enough to realize your championship banner doesn't get an asterisk if someone else did the dirty work for you.
In the past 30 years, No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four 40 percent of the time and have claimed 17 national championships.
Those stats show that being a No. 1 seed is valuable any year. Avoiding a potentially unbeaten No. 1 overall seed until the Final Four makes it that much more important this year.
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Tim Miles is coaching one of the most disappointing teams in the nation at Nebraska based on preseason expectations of the Cornhuskers. After seeing his team completely fold at home on Sunday in a 74-46 rout to Iowa, Miles had had enough.
Miles, widely known as affable and accessible and a fun follow on Twitter, told reporters after the game he is barring his players from their lavish locker room until further notice. Apparently, Miles believes his team isn't playing at a level worthy of big screen televisions, a pool table and smoothie bar all of which are a part of their accomodations at Hendricks Training Complex.
“There will be chains on the doors locking it from the outside,’’ Miles was quoted by the Omaha World-Herald, “until further notice.’’
Nebraska fell behind 42-16 in the first half Sunday and never really made up ground. The Huskers committed 13 turnovers, produced only eight assists, were outrebounded by eight and made only two of 18 3-point attempts. They also allowed Iowa to shoot 50 percent from the floor and from behind the arc.
Terran Petteway scored 16 points for the Huskers but he needed 15 shots to get them. Nebraska has now lost five straight and seven of its past eight. The Huskers rank 320th in the nation in assists per game (10.6). Nebraska is now one-game under .500 at 13-14 overall and 5-10 in the Big Ten.
“You never want to throw your players under the bus,’’ Miles was quoted by the Omaha World-Herald. “But that was beyond disappointing. That’s not what we represent. . . . We quit easily today, and that’s a great disappointment.’’
Miles not only banned his players from their locker room, he made them off limits for interviews after the game and there is not indication he will allow them to be interviewed any time soon. Assistant coach Chris Harriman tweeted an apology for the team's performance.
I sincerely apologize to all our tremendous fans 4 our performance today. I'm disgusted, angry & disappointed. It will never happen again.— Chris Harriman (@chrisharriman24) February 22, 2015
With less than a month remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
At practice Tuesday, Oregon star Joseph Young shared a bold prediction with members of the media.
"We're going to the tournament," Young said. "I just want to get that out right now. We're going to the tournament."
Young's guarantee suddenly looks a lot more realistic after a two-win week that culminated with Oregon's most impressive victory of the season. Freshman forward Dillon Brooks scored 19 points and Young added 14 to help the Ducks hold off a late rally from ninth-ranked Utah and emerge with a crucial 69-58 victory Sunday in Eugene.
While the road loss drops the Utes a game behind Arizona in the Pac-12 title chase, the outcome is still far more significant for third-place Oregon (20-8, 10-5). It gives the Ducks their third RPI top 50 victory this season to go along with previous wins over Illinois and UCLA.
Those three marquee victories and a dearth of bad losses will likely land Oregon one of the final at-large spots in updated mock brackets. To retain that, the Ducks will need to find a way to finish strong away from home the next three weeks. They're 2-4 on the road so far this season, and their final three games before the Pac-12 tournament are at Cal, Stanford and Oregon State.
That Oregon is in contention for an NCAA tournament at all is remarkable considering the patchwork roster Dana Altman is fielding.
Seven of Oregon's nine leading scorers from last season are no longer with the team, three via graduation, one via transfer and three via dismissal after rape allegations. Returners Young and Elgin Cook have been the stalwarts for the Ducks all season while newcomers Brooks, Dwayne Benjamin, Jordan Bell and Ahmad Rorie have gradually grown into their roles. Onetime bench warmer Jalil Abdul-Bassit has also emerged as a capable outside shooting threat.
The result is an Oregon team that is efficient enough on offense to make up for a suspect defense and win six of its last seven games. If the Ducks can sustain that on the road the next two weeks, they'll improbably find themselves in the NCAA tournament for the third straight season under Altman.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE SUNDAY
Iowa (17-10, 8-6): It's performances like this that make it baffling how Iowa is even on the bubble at all. The Hawkeyes routed struggling Nebraska 74-46 in Lincoln, inching themselves closer to securing a spot in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. A sweep of Ohio State and quality wins against Maryland and North Carolina boost Iowa's resume, but the Hawkeyes aren't safe enough to lose focus over their final four regular season games. They host Illinois and visit Indiana and Penn State before returning home to face Northwestern in their regular season finale. Two wins might be enough. Three wins would probably clinch a bid.
Tulsa (19-7, 12-2): Frank Haith should be the world's biggest Temple fan after his Tulsa team completed a season sweep of the Owls with a 55-39 victor on Sunday. Two victories over Temple represent the only wins the Golden Hurricane has all season over an opponent in the top 75 of the RPI. Tulsa still has chances for quality wins against Cincinnati and SMU in its final two regular season games of the season, and realistically the Golden Hurricane may have to get one of those, if not both. Haith's team is probably still on the outside of the field looking in as of today, but Sunday's win certainly has Tulsa in striking distance.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL SUNDAY
Illinois (17-10, 7-7): Had Illinois gone to a press before it fell behind by 11 in the final five minutes against Michigan State, the Illini might have picked up a critical win. Instead their late rally got them within three but no closer as the Spartans held on for a narrow 60-53 win. The squandered chance probably won't knock Illinois out of most mock brackets, but it certainly makes its hold on a bid more tenuous. Quality wins over Baylor, Maryland, Michigan State and Purdue are much better than most bubble teams can boast, but the Illini still need another two or three wins to feel secure entering the Big Ten tournament.
Temple (19-9, 10-5): The Owls have an RPI around No. 30, a marquee win over Kansas and respectable win-loss record, but their spot in the field of 68 feels less secure after their 55-39 loss at Tulsa on Sunday afternoon. Of the five other top 100 RPI opponents Temple has beaten besides the Jayhawks, only fellow bubble team Cincinnati has a good chance to make the NCAA tournament. The Owls would likely be in the field of 68 were it announced today, but they still have work left to do. Their last three games are against Houston, East Carolina and UConn. Avoiding a terrible loss in either of the first two is crucial. Winning all three would probably clinch a bid.
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It took all of 21 words for Louisville to announce it has jettisoned its starting point guard three weeks before Selection Sunday.
The school released a terse statement Sunday afternoon that read only "Chris Jones has been dismissed from the University of Louisville men’s basketball team. There will be no comment on the matter."
Jones' dismissal ends a tumultuous senior season rife with disciplinary issues for the junior college transfer. Louisville coach Rick Pitino benched Jones against Long Beach State in late December three days after a 3 of 15 shooting performance against Kentucky in which the point guard also drew intense criticism when TV cameras caught him blatantly flopping to try to draw a foul.
The best stretch of Jones' Louisville career followed that incident, but he soon became a frequent target of criticism for his questionable shot selection and on-court attitude. Pitino suspended Jones indefinitely before Louisville's Feb. 18 loss at Syracuse only to reinstate him prior to Saturday's 55-53 home win against Miami.
Jones scored 17 points and dished out two assists in that win. By the following afternoon, it was clear it was his last game in a Cardinals jersey.
The loss of Jones further cripples a Louisville offense that already lacked sufficient scoring options. Terry Rozier is a premier perimeter scorer and Montrezl Harrell is one of the nation's best interior players, but the only other remaining player on the entire roster averaging more than 3.3 points is the highly erratic Wayne Blackshear.
The player whose role is likely to increase most is freshman Quentin Snider, the only other point guard on Louisville's roster. The Cardinals also need more scoring from Blackshear, who fouled out in 19 scoreless minutes at Syracuse in the game in which Jones was suspended.
Louisville (22-6, 9-5) was shooting only 43 percent during ACC play prior to Jones' dismissal and was dead last in the conference in 3-point shooting. Unless some unexpected contributors emerge off the Cardinals bench, those numbers may only get worse.
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San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee collapsed during a December game against UC Riverside at Viejas Arena because of what was later determined to be a heart condition.
The incident left the fifth-year seniors basketball future in doubt.
But after several months of monitoring and easing back into workouts, Polee returned to the court Saturday on the road at San Jose State. He scored three points with a steal and a turnover in 13 minutes and appears ready to play out the rest of his senior season.
“It was neat to get him home,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher told utsandiego.com. “He’s back home, on the basketball floor. That’s where he’s always been, where he’s always wanted to be. In the locker room (afterward) with the team, we talked about some of the things that we didn’t do and should have done, the nuts and bolts of the game. Then I said that the most important thing about this game is that all of us should be so excited to say, ‘Welcome back, Dwayne Polee.’
“I shook his hand, and they cheered like crazy.”
Polee first resumed light workouts in January and slowly built back up to a level where he was ready for practices and games at the college game's highest level. He received clearance to play earlier in the week, but San Diego State brought a team doctor on the trip to monitor Polee throughout.
The December incident wasn't the first for Polee, the 2013-14 Mountain West Conference Sixth Man of the Year. He endured a similar incident in practice last season and underwent a medical procedure in the offseason and was cleared to play then by doctors. Polee said he felt about 90 percent of the way back after Saturday's victory.
“I’m just grateful for this opportunity to have this second chance to complete the season," Polee told utsandiego.com. "I had a lot of positive people in my corner, my family, my girlfriend, my teammates, the coaches, the whole training staff and my Bible. I just stayed positive through the whole thing, and that’s what got me through.”
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Hours after winning at Towson on Saturday afternoon to retain a share of first place in the Colonial Athletic Association, the UNC Wilmington basketball team did something even more impressive.
The Seahawks encountered a stranded motorist on their way to the airport, so they took the time to help her in the middle of a snowstorm.
"Coach [Kevin] Keats asked several of the guys to get out of the bus to help her," UNC Wilmington associate athletic director for communications Joe Browning said. "They pushed her on her way and we trudged along to the airport. We were very fortunate to get out of Baltimore since the area was hit with several inches. We had 10 assists in the game, but this may have been the biggest one of the night."
Any good karma UNC Wilmington receives is well-deserved for a team that is already one of the nation's most pleasant surprises this season.
Once the CAA's signature program, the Seahawks endured averaged 21.5 losses per season the past six years under fired coaches Benny Moss and Buzz Peterson. Keats, a former Louisville assistant under Rick Pitino, has turned things around in startlingly quick fashion in his first season, taking many holdovers from last year's 23-loss team and leading them to a 16-11 overall record and an 11-5 mark in the CAA.
One of the keys to UNC Wilmington's improvement has been Keats going with a pressure defense that has allowed the Seahawks to play at a faster pace and to force a conference-leading 14.5 turnovers per game in CAA play. The development of leading scorers Addison Spruill, Freddie Jackson and Craig Ponder also has boosted an offense adept at turning steals into transition points.
Whether UNC Wilmington can outduel fellow contenders William & Mary, Northeastern and James Madison for the CAA title remains to be seen, but the Seahawks' sudden turnaround is a nice story.
The good samaritan gesture they made on the way to the airport Saturday, however, is even better.
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In the 14 months between his arrival at Gonzaga and his first game for the Zags in November, Kyle Wiltjer sought to reinvent himself as a basketball player.
The skilled 6-foot-10 Kentucky transfer spent his redshirt year working to get stronger, leaner and quicker in hopes of shedding his reputation as a one-dimensional spot-up shooter and reemerging as a much more well-rounded player.
Kyle Wiltjer 2.0 was on full display late in Gonzaga's 70-60 victory at Saint Mary's on Saturday night when he did a little bit of everything to help the Zags complete a stirring comeback from a 17-point first-half deficit and a nine-point deficit with less than seven minutes to go.
He backed down 6-foot-7 Desmond Simmons in the post and scored the go-ahead basket over the former Washington transfer with 1:52 to go. He yanked down several big defensive rebounds in traffic. And he clinched the victory by coming from the weakside to block a Brad Waldow shot with 30 seconds to go and by sinking six free throws in the final minute.
Wiltjer posted 14 of his 16 points and eight of his 12 rebounds after halftime, enabling Gonzaga to remain unbeaten in WCC play. It was a far cry from his 45-point masterpiece in his previous game at Pacific, yet in some ways it was more impressive considering it came on the road against the WCC's second best team in a game in which the Zags were severely challenged.
Gonzaga's eighth straight victory over its biggest league rival knocked Saint Mary's (20-7) out of at-large contention and kept the Zags (28-1) in position to earn a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. They have dominated the RPI's ninth-rated conference after proving themselves in non-league play.
They're the only team this season to beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. They also boast victories over NCAA tournament contenders SMU, Georgia and St. John's. Their only loss this season came in overtime at seventh-ranked Arizona in a game the Zags nearly won at the end of regulation.
A huge reason Gonzaga is enjoying one of its best seasons under Mark Few has been Wiltjer's emergence as a multifaceted scoring threat. Nobody will mistake Wiltjer for an elite defender anytime soon, but he has shot 54.8 percent from the field and averaged a team-high 17.4 points per game despite only playing 26.7 minutes.
When opposing teams defend him with a smaller player, Wiltjer has shown the strength to overpower him on the low block. When opposing teams defend him with a lumbering big man, Wiltjer exploits his inability to chase him around screens or guard him all the way out to the 3-point arc. His success hasn't just come in WCC play either as he has torched Georgia for 32 points, UCLA for 24 and Washington State for 21.
Gonzaga needed a big second half from Wiltjer because Brad Waldow was in the midst of a 19-point, 11-rebound performance for Saint Mary's and the Zags' other big men were enduring off nights. Przemek Karnowski finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds, but he left a lot of points on the board with missed shots inside three feet. Domantas Sabonis logged only 15 minutes and finished with a quiet four points.
Wiltjer came to the rescue at the ideal time to help the Zags overcome their largest deficit of the season. Now if they can handle San Diego and BYU at home and win the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, they'll have a strong case to earn the program's second No. 1 seed in three years.
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With less than a month remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
A Texas team that spent most of November and December in the top 10 in the polls could somehow find itself in the NIT this March if it doesn't engineer a strong finish to the regular season.
The Longhorns lost for the sixth time in their last nine games on Saturday in Austin, falling 85-77 to Iowa State despite a combined 52 points from starting guards Kendal Yancy and Isaiah Taylor.
Texas' latest loss drops the Longhorns to 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the rugged Big 12, and a closer look at their profile reveals their situation is even more dire than their record suggests. They only have four wins all season against RPI top 100 opponents — a marquee victory at home against West Virginia, a solid win over Iowa and victories over middling Cal and UConn.
Of Texas' six Big 12 wins, five of them are against Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU, the three worst teams in the league. The Longhorns have one more game left against the Wildcats in the season finale for both teams, but before that they have challenging road matchups against West Virginia and Kansas and a home date with NCAA tournament-bound Baylor.
It's tough to say exactly what Texas must do in its last four games to make the NCAA tournament, but it's pretty clear the Longhorns need three wins to feel secure entering the Big 12 tournament and a split to keep hope alive. No Big 12 team this century has finished four or more games under .500 in league play and still earned an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
That the Longhorns are in this position is stunning considering all the players they have back from a team that won 24 games and reached the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament last season. Every rotation player besides reserve guard Martez Walker returned this season and the Longhorns added elite 7-foot freshman Myles Turner to an already deep, talented frontcourt.
Assessing what has happened to Texas in Big 12 play is hard because the issues seem to change from night to night.
Some of it is the strength of a league that features eight teams who have been ranked in the AP poll. Some of it is a defense that forces the third fewest turnovers per game in the nation and hasn't been as effective generating stops in recent weeks. And some of it is an offense that lacks playmakers besides Isaiah Taylor and has been hampered by prolonged slumps from Jonathan Holmes, Javan Felix and Cameron Ridley.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE SATURDAY
Stanford (17-9, 8-6 Pac-12): Four losses in five games had jeopardized Stanford's spot in the field of 68, but the Cardinal got back on track at home Saturday. They completed a season sweep of rival Cal with a 72-61 victory behind 19 points from Chasson Randle, 16 from Anthony Brown and a surprising 14 from Michael Humphrey. Stanford's resume no longer looks as strong as it once did since Texas has devalued the Cardinal's December win in Austin with its late-season fade, but the Cardinal would still be in good shape if it can close with three wins in four games. They host Oregon State and Oregon next week before visiting Arizona and Arizona State to close the regular season.
Pittsburgh (18-10, 7-7 ACC): Having gotten off to a 3-5 start in ACC play after defeating nobody of consequence during the non-league season, Pittsburgh's NCAA tournament hopes were flickering only a few weeks ago. The Panthers have since regained relevance, reeling off five wins in seven games culminating with a 65-61 road win at Syracuse on Saturday. Pittsburgh boasts a season sweep of the Orange and two marquee wins over North Carolina and Notre Dame, but those are the only victories over top 100 RPI teams they have all season. That's why they probably need to win at least three of their final four games to feel good about their position entering the NCAA tournament.
Xavier (17-10, 8-7 Big East): Who has helped itself more than Xavier this week? The Musketeers followed up a quality road win at Cincinnati on Wednesday by throttling 19th-ranked Butler 73-56 on Saturday afternoon. Those two wins have Xavier solidly in the field as of today. The Musketeers are on the verge of cracking the top 30 in the RPI and boast a sweep of Georgetown and good wins over Providence, Murray State and Stephen F. Austin to go along with this week's marquee victories. Four losses against sub-100 competition keep Xavier from being safe, but two wins in their final three regular season games would make the Musketeers a lock and they'd still be in pretty good shape even if they only get one.
LSU (19-8, 8-6 SEC): Had LSU not suffered three inexplicable losses to SEC bottom feeders Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State, the Tigers would probably be in contention for second place in the league and a favorable NCAA tournament seed. Instead LSU was still trying to lock down its spot in the field of 68 at all when it hosted Florida on Saturday. A 70-63 victory behind 28 points from Jarell Martin was a big step in the right direction, even if the Tigers are still far from a lock. They have 10 RPI top 100 victories including notable ones against West Virginia, Ole Miss and Georgia.
St. John's (18-9, 7-7 Big East): The Red Storm won a home game they couldn't afford to lose on Saturday, dispatching of shorthanded Seton Hall 85-72. That keeps them right about at the cut line entering a four-game finishing stretch that will probably determine their fate. St. John's boasts a season sweep against Providence and five other RPI top 100 wins, but they also have a pair of sub-100 losses at Creighton and DePaul. All in all, it's a very middling profile in need of enhancement as the Johnnies host Georgetown and Xavier this week before finishing with road games at Villanova and Marquette.
Texas A&M (19-7, 10-4 SEC): Danuel House scored 25 points and sank seven 3-pointers to lift Texas A&M to a win it needed at South Carolina on Saturday. The Aggies closed to within a half game of second place Arkansas in the SEC, though their status on the bubble remains tenuous. While a season sweep of LSU will certainly help Texas A&M, the Aggies don't have many other quality wins. The best team they beat in non-league play was mediocre Arizona State and they haven't beaten a single SEC opponent over .500 in league play besides the Tigers. Only one more chance remains to secure another notable regular season win — a Feb. 24 visit to Arkansas. The Aggies may need that one to avoid a nervous Selection Sunday.
Other bubble teams that won: Davidson (defeated Fordham 76-57); Colorado State (defeated Air Force 66-53); NC State (defeated Virginia Tech 69-53); Rhode Island (defeated George Mason 71-56); Boise State (defeated Nevada 78-46); Cincinnati (defeated Houston 63-53); Georgia (defeated Alabama 66-65 in OT); Ole Miss (defeated Tennessee 59-57)
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL SATURDAY
Saint Mary's (20-7, 12-4 WCC): The only chance Saint Mary's had of earning an at-large bid vanished on Saturday when Gonzaga rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit in Moraga. The Gaels still led by nine with seven minutes to play but got outscored 24-5 the rest of the way en route to a 70-60 loss. Saturday was a must-win for Saint Mary's because it represented the Gaels' last chance at a marquee regular season win. A split with BYU is their only victory in six tries against an RPI top 100 opponent this season. Saint Mary's could get one more crack at Gonzaga in Las Vegas, but that would come in the conference tournament title game, meaning a win would secure an automatic bid for the Gaels rather than an at-large spot.
UCLA (16-12, 8-7 Pac-12): In a make-or-break road trip for its NCAA tournament hopes, UCLA came up empty. The Bruins lost a winnable game at Arizona State on Wednesday night and fell 57-47 at seventh-ranked Arizona on Saturday night, ensuring that they will enter the Pac-12 tournament in two weeks with a 3-11 record away from home. A win over Utah and a 3-1 record against fellow bubble teams Stanford and Arizona certainly helps, but UCLA's backs are against the wall now. First the Bruins have to win their last three games at home against USC, Washington and Washington State. Then they probably have to get to at least the Pac-12 semifinals to have a realistic chance and the Pac-12 title game to feel secure entering Selection Sunday.
Dayton (20-6, 10-4 A-10): One of the strongest elements of Dayton's resume before Saturday was a lack of bad losses. That's no longer true anymore after the Flyers fell out of a first-place tie in the Atlantic 10 with an 83-73 loss at conference lightweight Duquesne. Dayton would still be in the NCAA tournament as of today as a result of its strong overall record and top 30 RPI, but the Flyers don't have enough quality wins to start throwing in a a bunch of bad losses down the stretch. Of the five top 100 opponents they have beaten so far this season, the two most notable are fellow bubble teams Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
UMass (16-11, 9-5 A-10): UMass had two chances to secure badly needed marquee wins this week. The Minutemen are in trouble now after winning neither of them. Having already had its six-game win streak snapped at Rhode Island a few days earlier, UMass rallied from a big early deficit at VCU but lost because it couldn't sustain its momentum. An arduous non-conference schedule has helped the Minutemen stay in the RPI top 40, but the problem is they didn't win enough of those games. Victories over Dayton, Rhode Island, Florida State and Boston College are credible, but do they offset a 16-11 record? Probably not.
Miami (17-10, 7-7 ACC): The Hurricanes had a chance to move up from the right around the cut line had they beaten Louisville, but they couldn't finish off the upset. Angel Rodriguez went 1-for-12 from the field and missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer, condemning Miami to a 55-53 road loss. The Hurricanes are a classic bubble team with a profile that boasts some good and bad aspects. On one hand, they've beaten Duke and they have five other RPI top 100 wins including notable ones against Syracuse and Illinois. On the other hand, their RPI is in the 60s and they have a few bad losses including an inexplicable 72-44 shellacking against Eastern Kentucky.
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