Five Teams That Could Become Cinderella Stories In March Madness

Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports | January 21, 2020 by Shane McNichol

The four days between Selection Sunday and the round of 64 games of the NCAA Tournament is one of the most fun periods for sports fans. Brackets are distributed, analyzed and agonized over. Everyone has a common goal: find the Cinderella team.

There are few joys as sweet as predicting an upset, especially when the team you stood up for makes a run past the first weekend.

Finding the teams capable of an upset is certainly easier once the field is set, yet there is some real value to checking in on possible Cinderellas earlier on in the schedule. Let’s take a look at teams with a chance to make waves in March, limiting our search to mid-major teams currently rated no higher than a 11 seed in ESPN’s most recent bracket projection.

5. Duquesne

Before this season, the Dukes would not have figured into a list like this one. The program has been in a nearly permanent downturn, winning more than 20 games in a season just twice in the last 40 years. It came as a surprise then when the Dukes started 10-0, with just three teams left unbeaten when they suffered their first loss on December 22. Duquesne’s early schedule helped. The Dukes played no true road games and didn’t face a KenPom top-100 team in their first 10 games.

Even after losing two games, Duquesne looks like a team to fear in the Atlantic 10. Wins over Davidson and Saint Louis has the Dukes tied atop the conference standings. Defense has been a strong point, as Duquesne leads the nation in block rate. Junior big man Michael Hughes swats 5.2 shots per 40 minutes, and Duquesne only allows a conference-low 60.0 points per game in A-10 play.

The case against Duquesne comes from their competition atop the conference standings. Dayton is a true top-10 team and Final Four contender, meaning Duquesne likely needs to beat the Flyers (or pick up crucial quality wins over Richmond or VCU) or win the A-10 Tournament to reach the Big Dance.

4. Stephen F. Austin

While Duquesne might have a prayer at an at-large bid, Stephen F. Austin does not. The Lumberjacks are the only KenPom top-150 team in the Southland and only played three power conference teams in their nonconference schedule. The Lumberjacks’ play against top competition was positive, though. Stephen F. Austin played Rutgers and Alabama tough, and most memorably, topped Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium at the buzzer in overtime.

Stephen F. Austin has a history of NCAA Tournament success, appearing in four of the last six tourneys. The Lumberjacks won first-round games in 2014 and 2016, with a last second tip-in from Notre Dame stealing a spot in the Sweet Sixteen away from SFA.

All of those Lumberjack teams shared one common trait: fierce pressure defense. The Jacks have led the nation in forcing turnovers in three of the last five seasons and haven’t ranked outside of the top 30 in that stat since 2013. Division I teams are averaging about 13 turnovers per game this year. Just one of Stephen F. Austin’s opponents was able to stay south of 15 turnovers, while 12 teams have coughed it up more than 20 times against the Jacks. In the pressure of the Big Dance, that makes for a terrifying opponent.

3. Akron

The only thing as scary as meeting a high-octane defense in the NCAA Tournament? Facing a team that can score from all over the court.

The Zips shoot the 9th-best 3-point percentage in Division I and lead the Mid-American Conference in points and 3-pointers made. Junior guard Loren Cristian Jackson is sinking 45 percent from long range against DI opponents and scoring 17.5 points per game. Three other Zips hoist more than four threes per game and make better than 36 percent from outside the arc. Akron can space and attack a defense as well as any team in college basketball.

The Zips gave Louisville and West Virginia tough tests on the road, but Akron had two of its worst shooting performances in those games. If they catch fire in March, they can upend their portion of the bracket.

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Early Favorites To Win College Basketball’s Power Conferences

Everything in college basketball changes when conference play begins.

Those in power have done wonders to drum up interest in early-season action, with big name teams being featured in tournaments and showcases for the first few months of the season. But blowout wins over cupcake opponents and sloppy early-season play are littered throughout that part of the schedule.

Conference play brings rivalries, road games with student-sections, and a landslide of upsets. In short, it’s the reason we love college basketball. On top of that, succeeding in one of America’s toughest conferences is the best way to prove yourself before March Madness tips off.

With that in mind, here are the early favorites to win the six biggest conferences in college hoops.

ACC – Duke

The Blue Devils might be the boring and obvious pick, but at this point in the season, they are also the most qualified. Duke’s overtime home loss to Stephen F. Austin was a bad mishap, but it’s their only blemish so far. Aside from that slip-up, Duke has impressed with wins over Michigan State, Kansas, Georgetown and Miami.

The ACC’s other top contender, Louisville, lost at home to Florida State this weekend and only gets to play Duke once this season — a road game at Cameron Indoor. Advantage to the Blue Devils.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Big East – Butler

It’s always somewhat shocking to pencil anyone into a Big East title that is not Villanova, yet Butler’s play so far this season has been eye-popping enough to earn this level of respect. The Bulldogs have just one loss, by one point at 4th-ranked Baylor.

Head coach LaVall Jordan has Butler winning games on the defensive end of the floor. The Bulldogs rank fourth in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, thanks to top-ten performances in 3-point percentage allowed, effective field goal percentage allowed and defensive rebounding rate. Butler fights to get stops and follows them with rebounds.

Offensively, everything churns through senior guard Kamar Baldwin. His 14.7 point per game average doesn’t fully explain how capable he is of taking over a game in crunch time.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten – Michigan State

A few weeks ago, when Ohio State was 9-0 and ranked in the top three in the AP Poll, this answer would have been different. Back then, Michigan State was just 6-3 and clearly had some issues on the offensive end.

Since December 8, Ohio State has lost three of its last five games, while Michigan State has sparked a six-game winning streak. The Spartans are now two games ahead of the Buckeyes in the loss column in Big Ten play and sit a full 1.5 games ahead of the rest of the conference in the standings.

Make no mistake — the Big Ten is college basketball’s toughest conference and will be an absolute battle all season long. Even so, any team eager to compete for the title will need to go into the Breslin Center in East Lansing and win. With Tom Izzo on the sidelines and Cassius Winston patrolling the court for Sparty, that’s not likely to happen much, if at all, this season.

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Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports
By Shane McNichol  |  Last updated 1/7/20

Juwan Howard Runs On Floor During Play, Gets Technical Foul

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard got his first taste of the school’s rivalry with Michigan State from a coaching perspective on Sunday, and it didn’t go so great.

Things started getting away from the Wolverines in the second half, as Michigan State star Cassius Winston began to heat up. Howard was also angry that no foul was called while Michigan forward Austin Davis was driving to the basket, and that led him to run all the way onto the court while the Spartans were in the middle of a fast break.

Howard’s technical actually meant that the referees had to stop play and wipe out a Winston three, so in a strange way, it benefited the Wolverines in terms of the score at that moment.

Howard definitely still has a player’s mentality in some ways. When he saw a bad no-call go against his team, he just couldn’t hold back.

Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports  |  By Grey Papke  |  Last updated 1/5/20

Duke makes big mistake by not going to Zion on final possession in loss

Duke was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, losing 68-67 to Michigan State in their Elite Eight clash. While the game was close for nearly the entire second half and thrilling to watch, the Blue Devils made a baffling decision on their final possession.

Duke was down 68-66 with just under six seconds remaining. The Blue Devils were taking the ball out from the baseline after a review showed that Michigan State had knocked the ball out of bounds. I thought for sure the ball was going to Zion Williamson, but instead he drifted away from the passer, while the ball went into RJ Barrett, who was closer to the side where the inbounds pass was.

Barrett drove to the basket and went up in traffic for a shot and got fouled. Just a 66.5 percent free throw shooter, Barrett missed the first attempt. He tried to miss the second attempt, but it actually bounced in. Duke fouled Michigan State on the ensuing inbound and lost when the Spartans dribbled away with the ball.

Duke’s big mistake was not going to its best player, Williamson. He’s the guy who has carried the Blue Devils through their toughest moments and closest games. He delivered late against UCF. He’s the one you want with the ball with the game on the line.

After so many close calls at the end of Duke’s previous games, it’s not really surprising that the Blue Devils’ luck ran out. You can’t have so many games come down to the final play and expect each one to go your way. But you also have to give yourself the best chance to win, and by not going to Zion, Duke didn’t do that.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown

Biggest takeaways from Sunday’s NCAA Tournament games

Four days and two rounds are in the books, and the NCAA Tournament has left us with more questions than jaw-dropping moments.
The second round, especially Sunday, provided more close games, but not much outside the expected. The top seeds have survived to meet next week, making the next games we’ll see some of the best we could have asked for.
The top teams in the nation have stepped into the Sweet Sixteen. Sunday’s action can help us sort out what to expect in the second week. Here are eight takeaways from the second slate of second-round games:

1. Duke’s flaws exposed in narrow win

Mar 24, 2019; Columbia, SC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) runs back after making a shot during the second half against the UCF Knights in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone thinking Duke would strut to the Final Four untouched was proven wrong on the first weekend of tournament play, as UCF came within millimeters of upsetting the Blue Devils on Sunday. In the game’s final minute, Zion Williamson converted a tough basket, RJ Barrett took the lead with a putback and UCF’s two attempts to win the game both danced on the rim before falling back to Earth.
For UCF, it was a brutal missed opportunity. Senior center and giant human being Tacko Fall picked up his fifth foul on Williamson’s crucial late bucket. He was then not there to grab a game-sealing rebound nor help put back a game-winning bucket on the final possession.
For Duke, on the other hand, the game showcased the Blue Devils’ flaws. UCF focused its defensive efforts on Williamson, who still willed his way to 32 points. RJ Barrett, meanwhile, shot 6 for 15 from the field, struggling to find shots he could convert. Duke’s supporting cast was non-existent. Coach K used only seven players on the day, with just three points coming off the bench. UCF allowed Fall to essentially play a one-man zone defense, allowing poor shooters such as Tre Jones and Justin Goldwire any shot they wanted. Jones hit just one of eight deep balls.
Any future opponent saw a potential blueprint. Sell out to stop Williamson, with an eye on Barrett and Cam Reddish, but dare the other Blue Devils to score. If they don’t, Duke is very beatable.

2. The bracket sticks with mostly chalk

After two rounds of tournament play, we have not seen many surprises. Cinderella barely showed up for this year’s Big Dance.

The Sweet Sixteen includes 15 schools from power conferences, with top-seeded Gonzaga being the only “mid-major” moving on. That number counts Houston, out of the American Athletic Conference, as a power conference team, which is debatable. And yet, a school that has 5 Final Fours, a 3-seed this year and 44,000 students on campus isn’t quite the Cinderella darling we expect every March either.

All four of the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 seeds advanced this weekend and two of the No. 4 seeds joined them. The only double-digit seed to advance is Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon.

This March marks the only time other than 2009 that all of the top twelve teams advanced to the Sweet Sixteen since the tournament expanded to its current format in 1985.

3. Tennessee almost let Iowa steal one

The first game of the day ended up being a great one, despite Tennessee jumping out to a 25-point first half lead. The Vols began to turn the ball over and went cold shooting the ball. Iowa took advantage, coming all the way back to force overtime.

The game will be best remembered for a late coaching decision by Rick Barnes. Admiral Schofield, who was hot early, dumping in 17 first-half points, got into foul trouble late in the game. Barnes was deathly cautious with Schofield’s late-game playing time. The Vols kept their leading scorer on the bench through most of crunch time, including their final offensive possessions, in a tie game with a chance to end the game in regulation.

Schofield then began overtime on the bench, staying there for the entire five minute extra period. Postgame, Barnes defended the decision by pinning it on Schofield. According to Barnes, Schofield urged him to stick with the lineup that was on the floor stretching the lead. There’s something to be said for a coach who listens to his players, and in this case, it worked. On the other hand, Barnes is paid millions of dollars to coach the Volunteers. If that means making a choice that one of his players doesn’t agree with, so be it.

Against Purdue in the next round or another contender down the road in this tournament, this kind of head-scratching decision could send the Vols back to Knoxville.

4. Top of the ACC shows its might

All five of the top teams in the ACC have advanced to the Sweet 16, the most of any conference. That was expected of the three teams from the conference that were awarded top seeds. North Carolina and Virginia both coasted relatively unharmed through the first weekend. Both trailed at the half in the first round before coasting through their next 60 strong minutes of basketball.

Duke faced the toughest test of any ACC club, barely sneaking past UCF. Even though the Blue Devils were one last-second bucket away from heading home early, they are still the favorites to cut down the nets at season’s end.

The other two ACC teams advancing have been among the most impressive in the tournament. Florida State held off a tough challenge from Vermont and routed a Murray State team that was clicking late in the season. Virginia Tech looked strong in two wins this weekend, with Justin Robinson back healthy in the lineup providing senior leadership and a scoring pop. These two 4 seeds will now have a crack at Gonzaga and Duke to earn a bid to the Elite Eight.

5. Texas Tech reminds the world how good it can be

Buffalo earned a lot of praise as a team that could defend at an elite level. In the Bulls’ second-round game, they saw what elite defense really looks like. Chris Beard has his Texas Tech team playing as well on the defensive end of the floor as any team in college basketball.

On Sunday, Buffalo’s high-speed offensive attack was absolutely smothered by the Red Raiders. The Bulls managed to record just three more made field goals than turnovers. Every trip down the floor was a slog against the activity of Tech’s defense. At one point, the Red Raiders went on a 27-3 run, leaving Buffalo with no answers.

6. Oregon is on a marvelous March run

The Ducks are pulling off something rarely seen in college basketball. When Bol Bol went down with an injury, many lost hope for this Oregon team. Even later in the season, things looked dire. On Feb. 23, Oregon lost to UCLA, for the second time this season, to fall to 15-12 on the year.

Since then, the Ducks haven’t lost. Oregon has now won 10 straight games and looks like a completely new team. Perhaps it took time to figure things out after Bol’s injury. Maybe a team full of transfers and young players needed time to mesh.

Whatever has changed, it has turned the Ducks into an entirely different team. Nothing about the Ducks that beat Wisconsin and UC Irvine looked like the Oregon team that struggled in Pac-12 play or lost to Texas Southern at home early in the season. Dana Altman has a talented team, with high-level recruits on the roster, and he is among the sharpest offensive coaches in America. These Ducks are not your usual 12 seed.

All Takeaways

By: Shane McNichol

Admiral Schofield benched himself late to help Tennessee defense

Admiral Schofield has been one of the Tennessee Volunteers’ best players all season long, but he was conspicuously missing late as the Iowa Hawkeyes took them to overtime Sunday.

Speculation was rampant as to why, but the truth was simpler and more impressive: Schofield essentially pulled himself from the game, telling coach Rick Barnes that he felt Kyle Alexander could defend the Hawkeyes better.

Schofield’s late-game disappearance was certainly a talking point. He had been playing with four fouls, and it appears that he felt he simply couldn’t defend as aggressively or capably as he hoped to with that hanging over his head. It was risky, but it worked out, as the Volunteers prevailed in overtime without Schofield playing at all in the extra period.

By: Grey Papke

Original Article

Eight takeaways from Thursday’s NCAA Tournament games

There’s always a ton of pressure during the first two days of tournament play. The years full of shocking upsets and buzzer-beaters have spoiled us. We expect that every year on the first Thursday and Friday of tournament play.

When a day like this Thursday comes along, you’ll hear some complaining the action didn’t quite reach chaotic levels. Even without the wildest surprise upsets or heroic game-winners, we saw 16 basketball games, all of which taught us something about this tournament and the teams in it.

We also saw a ton of close calls, one-possession games, and some mind-boggling performances. Here’s what we learned from the action.

Mar 21, 2019; Hartford, CT, USA; Murray State Racers guard Ja Morant (12) reacts after a score against the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at XL Center. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

1. Ja Morant lives up to the billing

Until March, Ja Morant received more attention as an NBA Draft prospect than as a college star. He was ready for the spotlight Thursday, leading Murray State to a blowout over Marquette. Morant recorded the 17th triple-double in NCAA Tournament history and the first since Draymond Green in 2012.

Morant drew attention for a monster two-handed flush in the second half, but the real story was how well he played all over the floor against a strong high-major team. Morant finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists, playing great defense and essentially controlling the pace of the game. It was the best performance of the day.

2. Minnesota starts things off hot

The first game of Thursday’s action provided our first surprise as Minnesota beat Louisville handily. Richard Pitino had his team ready to play against the school that fired his father a year ago. Every Gopher in the starting lineup provided double-figure scoring and, as a team, Minnesota turned the ball over just five times.

The Golden Gophers had been stumbling toward the end of the Big Ten schedule, putting themselves directly on the bubble. They earned their bid to the tournament by beating Purdue twice in a 10-day span. In recent weeks, this team has look renewed. Now they’ll get a crack at Big Ten rival Michigan State, which Minnesota played once this season, an easy Spartans victory in East Lansing.

3. Long shots fall short in upset bids

The afternoon saw three low seeds give top dogs a real test before fading late. Bradley was the most notable, pushing second-seeded Michigan State to the brink. The Braves led with under seven minutes to play  before an 8-0 Spartans run changed the outlook of the game. Bradley benefited from hot shooting in the first half but simply didn’t have an answer for Cassius Winston or Michigan State’s size.

Vermont also fought late into the second half, courtesy of some sharp shooting, making 16 of 32 from beyond the arc against Florida State. Despite making enough long balls to stay competitive, the Catamounts could not contend with the Florida State frontline. America East Player of the Year Anthony Lamb was overmatched by the Seminoles size and shot just 4 of 13 from the field.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Yale was able to handle the size and speed of a high-major opponent, yet forgot to pack their jump shooting on the flight out of New Haven. The Bulldogs, a strong outside shooting team this season, managed to shoot just 8 for 37 from outside the arc, with many of the makes coming too late to matter. Yale’s best player, Miye Oni, failed to score in double figures for just the second time this season, shooting a miserable 2 for 16 from the field. Oni made just one of his 10 long-range attempts as the Bulldogs failed to keep pace with LSU.

4. Belmont and New Mexico State hurt by bad decisions

Two of the day’s better opportunities for an upset were foiled by questionable decision-making down the stretch.

New Mexico State cut into an Auburn lead, giving itself a chance to tie the game late. The Aggies trailed by two in the final seconds. AJ Harris split through the defense in the paint but passed up a chance to finish at the rim for a wild hook pass out to the perimeter. Auburn bailed Harris out by fouling Terrell Brown as he attempted a 3-pointer. Although Brown missed two of three from the line, the Aggies had yet another chance as the third free throw bounced off of an Auburn player and out of bounds. The Aggies inbounded to Trevelin Queen, who air-balled the potential game-winner. New Mexico State had ample chances and time after time didn’t take advantage.

Belmont had a double-digit lead in the first half but saw that disappear late. The Bruins had possession, down by one point, with under 20 seconds to play. Inexplicably, Belmont chose to hold the ball for the final shot to win the game. The Bruins’ possession ended with a backdoor pass being stolen. By the time Belmont could foul, less than three seconds remain. With no timeouts, Belmont’s last gasp came from beyond half-court.

5. Kentucky and Gonzaga look great

Unlike Michigan State, other top seeds had no problem running away. Both Kentucky and Gonzaga dominated both ends of the floor in easy victories.

Kentucky held Abilene Christian to just 13 first-half points and 32 percent shooting for the game. Big Blue owned the glass, grabbing 44 rebounds to Abilene Christian’s 17. Keldon Johnson made up for the absence of PJ Washington by scoring 25 points.

Gonzaga was just as impressive, ripping off a 19-0 run before the half. The Zags recorded 22 assists on their 34 field goals, sharing the ball to find scoring chances. Gonzaga’s lead ballooned above 40 as Fairleigh Dickinson struggled to score against the Bulldog defense. The Knights shot just 15 for 50 from the field.

6. Kansas puts together strong showing

No team saw as much drama and adversity as Kansas did this year. Bill Self lost players to injuries, personal reasons and NCAA suspensions. The Jayhawks did not win the Big XII regular-season title for the first time in 14 years and were blown out in the Big XII Tournament final in front of a pro-Iowa State crowd in Kansas City. It was nearly impossible to calibrate tournament expectations for this team.

Kansas came out against a Northeastern team which could have presented problems and soundly defeated the Huskies. Northeastern fell behind early and was never able to keep pace with this rebuilt Kansas club. Dedric Lawson played like an All-American, and Devon Dotson has stepped to become a legitimate star.

If Kansas plays like it did on Thursday, the Jayhawks will be a tough out moving forward.

7. Florida bounces Nevada

In a matchup of two similarly skilled teams, the Florida Gators upended a talented Nevada team. The game pitted two teams with radically different paths to the tournament.

Florida needed to upset LSU in the SEC Tournament just to get off the bubble and into the field, with a record of 19-15 entering the Big Dance. The Gators were aided by their strength of schedule, making up for their raw number of losses.

Nevada was quite the opposite. The Wolf Pack had only four losses this season but only played three games against teams in the NCAA Tournament. The teams had also been moving in opposite directions, with Florida winning eight of 12 games and Nevada losing three times since Feb. 20.

On Thursday, Nevada’s isolation heavy offense simply stalled against Florida’s defense. The Wolf Pack were forced into contested jump shots throughout the game and shot just 5 for 24 from outside the arc. Even when the game was close late, Nevada couldn’t find the answers to make shots.

All 8 Takeaways

By: Shane McNichol

10 small-school players who could become March Madness heroes

Who doesn’t love a Cinderella? Every year, small schools play their way into March Madness, hoping to make their mark on the tournament. Oftentimes, these teams are powered by one special player — the kind you usually see at larger schools. Remember Steph Curry at Davidson? Or Damian Lillard at Weber State? Here are some players from small schools who could make some noise in March Madness this year.

Ja Morant, Murray State  

If you can keep your eye on only one player from a mid-major school, make it Morant. He’s the guy all the NBA scouts will be watching. Despite playing at Murray State, Morant is primed to be a top-five pick. He’s averaged 24.6 points per game, thanks in part to stellar dunks, and he knows how to thread a pass as well. If anybody is going to be the next Lillard in this class, it’s Morant.

Fletcher Magee, Wofford

He may have the name of a comic strip character from the ‘30s, but Magee is leading a Wofford team that is entering the tournament ranked in the top 25. The senior has averaged 20.5 points per game, which is actually down from the 22.5 points he averaged last season. Magee has a smooth shot, and if he gets hot a big name team will go down.

Jordan Ford, St. Mary’s

The Gaels were on the bubble, but then they took down Gonzaga in the WCC finals. Ford took his game to a whole new level this season. His minutes jumped considerably and so did his points average, which went from 11.1 to 21.3 over the two campaigns. The junior has gone from a role player to a star, and if he can help take down the Zags then the sky is the limit.

CJ Massinburg, Buffalo

Rarely does a MAC team find itself ranked in the top 25, but the Buffalo Bulls have done just that for much of the season. They were once again led by the senior CJ Massinburg. He’s averaged a hearty 18.5 points per game, but he’s thrown in 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per contest to boot. Massinburg is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades — the kind of player who can do some of everything. That’s what mid-major teams like this need sometimes.

Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky

The Norse are in the tourney for the second time in their history, and McDonald has been a big part of why both times. The senior didn’t quite average a double-double, but he came close. McDonald has averaged 9.5 rebounds per game, but that’s with 19.1 points per contest. While Northern Kentucky will likely be seeded too low to pull off an upset, McDonald will get a chance to show he can get it done against a bigger school.

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

Remember UMBC, the team that captured our hearts last year by upsetting Virginia? They won’t be back this year because Lamb dropped 28 points on them in the America East title game. That’s business as usual for Lamb, as he’s averaged 21.1 points per game. Oh, and he’s averaged 7.8 boards and 2.0 blocks per contest to boot.

Rapolas Ivanauskas, Colgate

The 6-foot-10 junior was barely playing at Northwestern before transferring. Now he’s led Colgate to the Patriot League title and helped punch its ticket to the Big Dance. He’s averaged 16.5 points to lead the Red Raiders while adding 7.9 rebounds per game for good measure. This is Colgate’s second tourney appearance ever and first since 1996, and the team is certainly glad Ivanauskas decided to transfer.

Scottie James, Liberty

Liberty definitely seems like the kind of team that could actively pull off a first-round upset based on its seeding. James is leading the team in scoring, although he’s averaging only 13.1 points per game. However, that’s with a 67.6 shooting percentage, so you know the guy can get it done around the basket. The 8.8 rebounds per game he averages also bolster that point.

B.J. Stith, Old Dominion  

The Monarchs used to make the tournament often before changing conferences, but now they are representing Conference USA as its champs. Stith began his career at Virginia before transferring in state to Old Dominion. This year, he played a whopping 34.4 minutes per game, averaging 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Now he’s led ODU to its first tournament appearance since 2011.

Full 10

By: Chris Morgan

Ja Morant dominates Marquette, leads Murray State to upset

Ja Morant didn’t quite pull a Vince Carter, but he wasn’t far off.

Morant had a monster game in Murray State’s first-round matchup against Marquette in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, dominating across the board. His most emphatic play came when he dunked all over Joey Hauser early in the second half:

Morant recorded a triple-double in the game — the first in the NCAA Tournament since Draymond Green in 2012.

We knew he was a big-time player, but what’s impressive is that he showed up and did his best on the biggest stage.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown

10 teams on the bubble heading into conference tournaments

March Madness is right around the corner. Before that, though, there is the matter of conference tournaments. For some teams, this is perfunctory. They have already punched their tickets to the tourney. Other teams aren’t so lucky.

This is the time of year you hear a lot about “bubble teams” and how conference tournaments could make or break them. A good run with a couple of upsets, and they will be just fine. An early exit, though, and they could be watching March Madness from home. Here are 10 college basketball teams on the bubble, presented in alphabetical order. Keep them in mind when watching conference tourneys.

Arizona State

Remember last season when the Sun Devils got off to a hot start and soared up the rankings? They ended up scuffling a bit, and this year they never quite had that run. Arizona State has been the second-best team in the Pac-12. The problem is that the conference is down this year. As such, getting upset before the finals, where a loss to Washington could be accepted, might do them in.


The Tigers won the college football title, but their basketball team isn’t quite as good. Their overall record isn’t great, and they actually have a losing record in the ACC. However, unlike Arizona State in the weaker Pac-12, the ACC is stacked, so Clemson can be excused, to some degree, for that record. All that being said, the Tigers will likely need an upset, or two, in the ACC Tournament to make it to March Madness.


Creighton is on the outside looking in but just got a big boost to its credentials. The Bluejays recently beat Marquette, which was a top 10 team at the time. That’s a true marquee win, and as you are about to find out, the Big East is loaded with bubble teams. This conference tourney is going to make or break some resumes.


Patrick Ewing has done some good things as the freshly minted head coach at his alma mater, but this isn’t the glory days for the Hoyas. What they have going for them, though, is that they’ve beaten a lot of their fellow Big East bubble teams. They also have one win over defending champs Villanova. Let’s see if Ewing and top scorer Jessie Govan have a tourney run in them.


Things were looking great for the Hoosiers early in the year. They’ve only lost two non-conference games, and one of those was against Duke. Romeo Langford was looking like an NBA lottery pick. Then conference play started, and Indiana’s stock plummeted. Langford’s stock also is down, and the Hoosiers are 6-12 in Big 10 play. They would probably already be out of it, but then they beat Wisconsin and Michigan State, giving them hope.

St. John’s

Much like his fellow Dream Team member Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin has gone back to his alma mater as head coach to try and restore it to former glory. The Red Storm have 20 wins on the season, and they are currently 8-9 in the Big East. They finish the season against Xavier. A win there could clinch it…barring a tournament collapse, of course.

Saint Mary’s 

We tried to avoid mid-major teams. If you look at some projections, you will see teams like Furman and Murray State on the bubble. However, they both are likely to win their conference tournaments, and if they don’t, it’ll be a major upset. Saint Mary’s is a true bubble team, though, and one that probably won’t win its conference tournament. There’s a little team called Gonzaga to contend with. That being said, the Gaels making it to the WCC championship game against the Zags could get them over the hump.

Seton Hall 

The Pirates, like the Hoosiers, previously looked sage. Then a collapse happened. They’ve lost the bulk of their games down the stretch, and they end the season at home against Villanova. Winning that would give them a good boost heading into the tournament. It’s hard to avoid recency bias, so Seton Hall probably needs to pick up a couple of tournament wins to counteract that narrative.

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By: Chris Morgan