Articles By David Fox
Only one game into Thursday and the amount of people crowing about a billion dollar bracket has been slashed to a minimum.
Dayton defeated Ohio State 60-59 for the first upset of the NCAA Tournament, sending off a deluge of people disappointed, apparently, to have lost out on a 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to win a billion dollars as part of a Quicken Loans promotion backed by Warren Buffett.
80% of America just lost their shot at a billion dollars from a perfect bracket -- after a single game.— Dan Shanoff (@danshanoff) March 20, 2014
The wild finish in Buffalo — an Aaron Craft reverse layup, the game-winning drive by Vee Sanford and Craft’s miss as time expired — ended Ohio State’s season, Craft’s college career and a ton of billion dollar bracket talk.
Let’s all take a moment to be thankful that we got Tweets like these out of the way before 3 p.m. on day one of the round of 64.
So much for the billion dollar Warren Buffet bracket challenge. First game and I'm out. Why did I ever pick the Buckeyes???— Jay Feely (@jayfeely) March 20, 2014
Welp there goes tht billion dollar bracket— Hakim Warrick (@hdubb21) March 20, 2014
Welp. There goes a billion dollars. Ugh.— Charissa Thompson (@CharissaT) March 20, 2014
Well darn...there goes my billion dollars— Thomas Buell (@ThomasBuellMTV) March 20, 2014
Well there goes a billion dollars— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) March 20, 2014
And there goes 1 billion dollars....— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) March 20, 2014
NCAA officiating is infuriatingly inconsistent. especially when you've got a billion on the line.— maurice (@tallmaurice) March 20, 2014
Dam Buckeyes cost me a billion dollars— Marc Jackson (@mjaxx23) March 20, 2014
Y'all had a better chance of winning the lottery and getting struck by lighting twice than winning that billion dollar bracket— #MacMadness (@iamkingkent) March 20, 2014
One of the greatest sports weekends of the year arrives Thursday at noon Eastern, and while we can’t tell you where to find truTV (program guide, folks), Athlon Sports can guide you through the day in March Madness.
The day starts with an All-Buckeye State matchup between Ohio State and Dayton, finally giving the Flyers, their coach and a transfer a chance to prove themselves against the big in-state program.
The 16th and final game of the day will be in Spokane when San Diego State and New Mexico State tip at roughly 10 p.m. Eastern.
Navigating the whole day can be tough with games crossing four different networks. We’ll help you get through it here.
NCAA Tournament Thursday Viewer’s Guide
All times Eastern
No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 10 Saint Joseph’s
TV: 6:45 p.m., TBS
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
UConn is back in the field after a one-year absence due to NCAA sanctions. St. Joe’s is back for only the second time since 2005, when Jameer Nelson and Dalonte West led a 30-2 team. Will Shabazz Napier’s do-it-all ability outweigh a more balanced St. Joe’s team?
Related: A must-follow Twitter account for each team in the field
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Wofford
TV: 7 p.m., CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel
The last time Wofford went to the NCAA Tournament, the Terriers lost by 4 to Wisconsin in the round of 64. This team is not as good as that one.
No. 5 Saint Louis vs. No. 12 NC State
TV: 7:15 p.m., TNT
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
Saint Louis is ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency thanks to its ability to lock down the 3-point line. NC State star T.J. Warren, though, wants to get to the basket. For a guard averaging 24.8 points per game, it may be a surprise that Warren gets only 11 percent of his points from 3-pointers.
Related: The NCAA Tournament by the numbers
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State
TV: 7:30 p.m., truTV
Site: Spokane, Wash.
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
Another Dakota team will be a popular upset pick, but this one is different from last year’s team. First, last season’s upset special was South Dakota State, not North Dakota State. And that team was led by guard Note Wolters. The Bison are led by two forwards in Taylor Braun (6-7) and Marshall Bjorklund (6-8) who can score inside. The battle on the glass, then, may be one of the most intriguing matchups with OU featuring one of the nation’s best rebounders.
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Milwaukee
TV: 9:15 p.m., TBS
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Milwaukee has a standout guard with a standout sports name in Jordan Aaron, who was suspended late in the season. The Panthers went 1-3 without him and won the Horizon League Tournament when he returned. Villanova handled every team not named Syracuse or Creighton on it schedule ... until a puzzling loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament knocked the Wildcats out of No. 1 seed contention.
No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Arizona State
TV: 9:30 p.m., CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel
Every season, the selection committee seems to find a way to get two slumping teams playing each in the round of 64. This is that game. Texas and Arizona State may have saved the jobs of Rick Barnes and Herb Sendek, respectively, and then went a combined 5-10 after Feb. 18.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan
TV: 9:45 p.m., TNT
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
Louisville may have the most curious seeding of any team in the field. The Cardinals are one of the hottest teams in the country, rising to the top five in the poll and No. 1 in KenPom. But here are the Cardinals as a No. 4 seed, in part because if a weak non-conference schedule. To boot, Rick Pitino will face a former player and assistant in Manhattan coach Steve Masiello.
No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 13 New Mexico State
TV: truTV, 10 p.m.
Site: Spokane, Wash.
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
New Mexico State may be one of the strangest NCAA Tournament regulars of the last five seasons. Consider this: The Aggies haven’t won a regular season WAC title since 2008, earning a spot in the field in four of the last five seasons as a spoiler in the conference tournament. What has New Mexico State done with all those winning streaks entering the Tournament? Nothing. The Aggies haven’t won a Tournament game since 1993.
The Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast took a quick break from college football spring football previews to quickly delve into college basketball.
Before delving into picks for every game in the NCAA Tournaments, co-hosts Braden Gall and David Fox give their quick reaction to Bruce Pearl’s hire at Auburn. Pearl will undoubtedly bring interest to the Auburn basketball program, but does he immediately give Auburn the best coaching duo in the league.
Then it’s on to picks for every game in the NCAA Tournament, region by region. All the upsets and storylines for every game through the title game.
(Ed. note: Fox got flustered and said Sean Kilpatrick doesn't from 3-point range. He does. A lot. Sorry, Cincinnati fans.)
The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.
Please send any comments, questions and podcast topics to @AthlonSports, @BradenGall and @DavidFox615 on Twitter or email email@example.com.
The five-man All-America team is just too constricting.
That’s why in each year’s preseason annuals, Athlon Sports awards the top 10 players at each “superlative.”
Rather than stick a player at guard or forward, these superlatives are broken up by skill sets — floor leaders, scorers, shooters, slashers and inside-out and post.
We’ve taken a similar tact with the players in the field for the NCAA Tournament for the players you need to watch as the final three weeks of the season leading into the national championship game on April 7.
1. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
The SEC Player of the Year sets the tone for one of the least selfish (or is it most selfless?) teams in the country. The Gators have plenty of potential scorers from Casey Prather to Michael Frazier II to Patric Young to Dorian Finney-Smith, but Wilbekin is the one in charge. He doesn’t have the assist numbers of other players on this list (3.8 per game), and his shooting numbers could be better (39.6 from the field). But No. 1 overall seed Florida would be lost without him.
2. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
A part-timer on last year’s Final Four team has become indispensable on an undefeated team.
3. T.J. McConnell, Arizona
The other impact newcomer for the Wildcats this season alongside Aaron Gordon, McConnell arrived from Duquesne to average 5.5 assists per game.
4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
For a while, he was the nation’s top freshman. He’s still an unflappable point guard for a team that started 25-0.
5. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The three-game suspension seemed to re-energize Smart after a frustrating stretch at midseason.
6. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
7. Keith Appling, Michigan State
8. Xavier Thames, San Diego State
9. Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
10. Chaz Williams, UMass
1. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
The sophomore has a more well-rounded game than he did when last season he was 3-point specialist for a team that reached the national title game. He averaged 17.5 points per game with 3.3 assists, but his bread and butter is still long-range shooting. Stauskas went 80 of 178 (44.9 percent) from 3-point range this season.
2. Gary Harris, Michigan State
With Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson ailing at different times this season, Harris has been the one to carry the Spartans for stretches. Harris shot only 35.1 percent from 3-point range, but he had to take 208 shots. That workload has diminished with everyone healthy. Look for him to be better for it.
3. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Baker hit 9 of 16 3-pointers during last year’s Final Four run and continued to be a go-to player from 3 for the Shockers.
4. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
The Tar Heels need Paige to hit shots, which he did late in the season. He shot 42.7 percent from 3 since Jan. 20.
5. Brady Heslip, Baylor
How’s this for a specialist: Heslip took 274 shots this season, 237 from beyond the arc.
6. Ethan Wragge, Creighton
7. Michael Frazier II, Florida
8. Ben Brust, Wisconsin
9. Joe Harris, Virginia
10. Luke Hancock, Louisville
1. T.J. Warren, NC State
The sophomore has put NC State on his back for a surprise inclusion in the NCAA Tournament as an at-large in the First Four. Warren’s credentials as an elite scorer aren’t in doubt, but just to add to the case, Warren hasn’t failed to score fewer than 20 points since Jan. 11, including back-to-back 40-point games.
2. Russ Smith, Louisville
Smith is still one of the national leaders in usage rate, and he’s been even more efficient (47.5 percent shooting, 40.5 percent from 3).
3. Shabazz Napier, UConn
Perhaps its tough to pigeonhole Napier as a shooter as he leads the Huskies in rebounding in assists, but his 17.4 points per game can’t be ignored.
4. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Kilpatrick is, in essence, Cincinnati’s only scorer. The senior guard makes up more than 25 percent of their scoring.
5. Tyler Haws, BYU
The next big-time scorer for BYU averages 21.7 points per game, tied for seventh nationally.
6. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
7. Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
8. Bryce Cotton, Providence
9. Nick Johnson, Arizona
10. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Will the NCAA Tournament be Wiggins’ time to shine as a college player? With Joel Embiid hurt for the first weekend, it might need to be. His 41-point game and 30-point game late in the season shows the nation’s top incoming freshman might be ready.
2. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
The Big 12’s Player of the Year led Iowa State’s prolific offense with 18.1 points per game while averaging 8.5 rebounds.
3. Terran Petteway, Nebraska
The Texas Tech transfer spearheaded Nebraska’s return to the NCAA Tournament with 18.1 points per game, including 26 points and 10 rebounds in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin.
4. Jordan McRae, Tennessee
McRae had a career year at 18.6 points per game and career-high 43.2 points per game as UT ended its NCAA Tournament drought.
5. Casey Prather, Florida
Prather was one of the nation’s surprise players with a hot start this season. Now, he’s the Gators’ top mid-range weapon on a balanced team.
6. Caris LeVert, Michigan
7. Cory Jefferson, Baylor
8. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
9. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
10. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
The no-brainer national player of the year is playing some of his best basketball at the end of the year, which is saying something. McDermott is more than his 3,000 points. He leads the nation’s most efficient offense thanks to his 52.5 shooting on 17.9 shots per game. And let’s not forget that he’s an above average rebounder at 7.0 per game, a career low.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker has 14 double-doubles this season, but he can also be lethal from 3-point range if it’s asked of him.
3. Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Here’s the cool thing about Payne: He only became a 3-point threat in the last season and a half.
4. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
It’s tough to find a spot for this 6-foot-9 point guard. He might be a floor general or a scorer. We’ll stick him here thanks to his 8.8 rebounds.
5. Rodney Hood, Duke
The Mississippi State transfer gets overshadowed by Parker. Hood might be an All-American elsewhere.
6. C.J. Fair, Syracuse
7. Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
8. Georges Niang, Iowa State
9. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
10. Mike Moser, Oregon
1. Julius Randle, Kentucky
No question Kentucky didn’t expect to be a No. 8 seed, but Randle has been one of the few consistent pieces for the Wildcats this season. The star freshman averaged 15 points and 10.5 rebounds.
2. Joel Embiid, Kansas
The Jayhawks have major questions if Embiid is not a factor when he returns next weekend, provided Kansas makes it that far.
3. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Since Feb. 22, Harrell is averaging 19.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
4. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
A revelation this season, Bairstow emerged for 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
5. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
No one could have tabbed Kaminsky as Wisconsin’s top scorer entering this season. The 6-foot-11 center
6. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
7. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
8. Patric Young, Florida
9. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
10. Alex Kirk, New Mexico
At the same time, maybe not enough of the focus goes to the other half of the upset, the losing team heading back from the NCAA Tournament with its championship dreams shattered.
Certainly, plenty of lower seeded teams are talented enough and good enough on a particular day to win, but a handful of major programs are courting an upset. With the way some of these teams finished the season, they’re practically begging to lose early.
For the teams we’re breaking down as potential upset targets, we’re looking primarily at teams seeded seventh or higher that could lose their first game or teams seeded fourth or higher that could lose in the round of 32. Why not the No. 8 seeds? The 8-9 game is practically a toss up anyway, and No. 9 seeds historically have the advantage at 56-48 all time against the No. 8s.
A quick reaction to the exercise: The South region topped by Florida may be the most chaotic, starting with the injury to Kansas’ Joel Embiid and the slump to finish the season.
Meanwhile, the West region topped by Arizona appears to have the most chalk with only one team (Baylor) on our list for an early loss.
In true NCAA Tournament fashion, then, the favorites will rule the South and the West will destroy your bracket.
SOUTH REGION (No. 1 seed Florida)
Round of 64 opponent: Eastern Kentucky
Without Joel Embiid around the rim, Kansas’ defense has been a problem, allowing 92 points to West Virginia (1.26 points per possession) and 94 to Iowa State (1.2 per possession). Eastern Kentucky is one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the field, and upsets by No. 15 seeds are far less rare than they used to be. If EKU can’t pull the mammoth upset, then the inside-out duo of Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams at New Mexico could give KU trouble.
No. 3 Syracuse
Round of 64 opponent: Western Michigan
Even before Syracuse’s first loss of the season, that shocker to Boston College, the offense for the Orange had started to slip. Since Feb. 15, Syracuse averaged less than a point per possession (95 per 100). Only Virginia Tech averaged worse during that span in the ACC. The Syracuse slump helped Virginia get a No. 1 seed and NC State claim a bid, while serving as the season highlights for Boston College and Georgia Tech. Western Michigan and either Ohio State or Dayton are plenty capable knocking out Syracuse.
No. 4 UCLA
Round of 64 opponent: Tulsa
This is perhaps the top-four seed that has received the least amount of attention this season despite Kyle Anderson’s phenomenal close to the year. Maybe it’s East Coast bias, but maybe it’s because UCLA’s most recent loss was by 18 to a Washington State team that just fired its coach. UCLA didn’t win the second leg of a Pac-12 road game this season, so the round of 32 game is just as problematic. At New Mexico and Iowa, UCLA coach Steve Alford has presided over three losses to double-digit seeds in his last four trips to the Tourney.
No. 5 VCU
Round of 64 opponent: Stephen F. Austin
In one of the most fascinating first round games, VCU faces the hottest team in the country not named Wichita State. Regardless of opponent, VCU may not be the team you remember making NCAA Tournament runs in years past. Even though the Havoc defense is still creating problems, the Rams have the lowest-rated team in offensive efficiency of the Shaka Smart era. Stephen F. Austin forces turnovers at a rate similar to VCU.
No. 6 Ohio State
Round of 64 opponent: Dayton
Ohio State finished the season with a pair of encouraging wins over Michigan State and Nebraska before a 72-69 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. But this is also a team that lost five of six in January and dropped back-to-back games to Penn State and Indiana. The Buckeyes lack shooters, which is something Dayton has in Jordan Sibert. Incidentally, Sibert started his career at Ohio State in a signing class with Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft.
EAST REGION (No. 1 seed Virginia)
No. 5 Cincinnati
Round of 64 opponent: Harvard
Harvard was the upset few people pegged last season when the Crimson defeated No. 3 seed New Mexico. Now, Harvard, with nearly every key player back, is one of the most trendy upset picks. If Harvard can shut down Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati has few other options to score.
No. 6 North Carolina
Round of 64 opponent: Providence
Providence is a classic case of a team that either has all the momentum after winning the Big East tournament or spent all its energy trying to get into the NCAA Tournament in the first place. The Friars have their offensive issues, but you won’t find a game with a greater disparity at the free throw line: Providence is second nationally at 78.1 percent while North Carolina is 344th at 62.5 percent.
No. 7 Connecticut
Round of 64 opponent: Saint Joseph’s
UConn is a flawed enough team to lose to the Atlantic 10 Tournament champions. Shabazz Napier can be wild with his shot, and the Huskies have been at a size disadvantage all season. St. Joe’s counters with a pair of senior 6-8 forwards in Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic.
WEST REGION (No. 1 seed Arizona)
No. 6 Baylor
Round of 64 opponent: Nebraska
This may not be the time to start picking against Baylor, given that the Bears have reached the Elite Eight in the last two Tournaments in even-numbered years (while missing the Tournament in the last three odd-numbered years). But Baylor is notoriously streaky and will be facing a Nebraska team with plenty of big wins on its ledger this season. The Bears can’t neither afford center Isaiah Austin to return to one of his funks nor poor free throw shooting.
MIDWEST (No. 1 Wichita State)
No. 1 Wichita State
Round of 64 opponent: Cal Poly or Texas Southern
First off, there’s no way Wichita State will lost its game against the No. 16 seed. How the Shockers will hold up against the winner of the No. 8-9 game is another matter. Kentucky would be the more talented team on the floor if the Shockers face Big Blue in the second game, but Kansas State is a tough opponent, too, especially in the defensive end.
No. 5 Saint Louis
Round of 64 opponent: NC State
The offense has been a liability for Saint Louis all season, even as the Billikens won their first 12 games in the A-10. Saint Louis averages 1.01 points per possession and less than a point per possession in conference play. That didn’t start to bite the Billikens until late in the season when they lost four of their last four, including the A-10 tourney opener against St. Bonaventure.
No. 6 UMass
Round of 64 opponent: Iowa or Tennessee
UMass is seeded here largely because of a non-conference resume that included wins over Nebraska, New Mexico, BYU and Providence. While that’s impressive, consider UMass was inconsistent in A-10 play, going 11-7. This is a team that often struggles to find its shot, which could spell trouble against Iowa or Tennessee.
The concept of a mid-major may be out of date thanks to the last few seasons.
Think about it: Butler and VCU have routinely put up high-major program results. Wichita State invests in its program in ways some programs in major conferences do not. Creighton and Xavier now share the Big East banner.
Even the pool of potential Cinderellas this season even seemed to take a hit. A dozen regular season champions in one-bid leagues lost in the conference tournaments. That either means the hottest teams from the low-majors are in the field or the most capable teams are playing in the NIT.
We’ll find out soon enough, but there’s still no shortage of teams that look like they can make a run in the NCAA Tournament even if they’re not household names. Here’s what we like about some of the best candidates.
SOUTH REGION (No. 1 seed Florida)
Record: 23-10, 10-6 Atlantic 10
Round of 64 opponent: Ohio State
Is Dayton too good a program to be considered a potential Cinderella? Perhaps. The Flyers play in a first-class arena and claimed one of the Atlantic 10’s six NCAA bids. But Dayton also has one NCAA Tournament win since 2004. The Flyers started the season in fine form, beating Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational and taking Baylor to the wire, and then won 10 of the final 12. This is a team that can hang with major programs. Dayton’s not a great defensive team, but the Flyers’ pod includes Ohio State and Syracuse, teams that haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboard during the final stretch of the season.
Stephen F. Austin
Record: 31-2, 18-0 Southland
Round of 64 opponent: VCU
The Lumberjacks rolled through the Southland Conference for a second consecutive season, this time under a first-year coach. Former Kansas State assistant Brad Underwood took over for the successful Danny Kaspar to lead Stephen F. Austin to 28 consecutive wins to finish the season. The Lumberjacks were rarely tested in the Southland, where they won their conference games by an average of 15.7 points per contest. The drawback to this 31-2 record: SFA’s best win all season was over Towson. Look for the round of 64 game against VCU to be a wild one: Both rank in the top three nationally in defensive turnover rate.
Record: 21-12, 13-3 Conference USA
Round of 64 opponent: UCLA
Tulsa didn’t make much noise in Conference USA until late in the season, but there’s plenty to like about the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa is the home of eventual national championship coaches Bill Self, Tubby Smith and Nolan Richardson and has another intriguing name on the bench in Kansas legend Danny Manning. This season’s team has been tested plenty. Even if the Golden Hurricane didn’t win many games against big-time competition early, Tulsa has been tested against top-five seeded teams Wichita State, Creighton and Oklahoma.
Record: 23-9, 14-4 MAC
Round of 64 opponent: Syracuse
The Broncos won 12 of their last 13 games, the only loss coming in overtime on the road to the next best team in the MAC in Toledo. Western Michigan has a pair of potential pros in 6-11 center Shayne Whittington and 6-3, 210-point guard David Brown. Throw in a first-round matchup against a Syracuse team that has fallen apart since the 25-0 start, and Western Michigan will be a popular pick for a 14-3 upset.
EAST REGION (No. 1 seed Virginia)
Record: 24-8, 11-5 Atlantic 10
Round of 64 opponent: Memphis
Like some of the other A-10 teams, George Washington may or may not qualify as a Cinderella. The Colonials are seeded ninth and defeated Creighton early in the season in a tournament in Anaheim. They also defeated high-majors Georgia and Maryland, for what that’s worth. Affable coach Mike Lonergan has two players recruited by major powers. Maurice Creek has flourished at G-Dub after his career at Indiana was cut short by multiple injuries, and Isaiah Armwood has been a double-double machine since transferring from Villanova.
Record: 26-4, 13-1 Ivy
Round of 64 opponent: Cincinnati
Harvard returns nearly every key player from the team that upset No. 3 seed New Mexico last season. The Crimson are a solid enough team to take advantage of a Cincinnati team that struggles to score. The Bearcats are one of the best teams in the defensive end, but they ranked worse than 200th nationally in shooting from 2-point and 3-point range.
North Carolina Central
Record: 28-5, 15-1 MEAC
Round of 64 opponent: Iowa State
North Carolina Central enters the NCAA Tournament on a 20-game winning streak, but the Eagles have a more impressive non-conference profile than previous MEAC champions. North Carolina Central defeated NC State on the road and faced Cincinnati, Wichita State and Maryland in guarantee games.
WEST REGION (No. 1 seed Arizona)
North Dakota State
Record: 25-6, 12-2 Summit League
Round of 64 opponent: Oklahoma
North Dakota State on paper has an offense that can hang with Oklahoma. The veteran Bison are 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th in effective field goal percentage. North Dakota State isn’t a great 3-point shooting team, but the Bison don’t need to be, shooting 56 percent from inside the arc.
Record: 23-11, 11-7 Sun Belt
Round of 64 opponent: Creighton
Few players are more valuable to their teams than Creighton’s Doug McDermott. Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton may be one of them. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ guard averages 19.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.2 steals. Throw in a forward averaging a double-double (Shawn Long) and UL Lafayette has a twosome that maybe able to counter McDermott.
MIDWEST REGION (No. 1 seed Wichita State)
Record: 26-9, 14-4 Atlantic Sun
Round of 64 opponent: Duke
Looking for another example of a Cinderella team that can get hot from 3-point range? Try Mercer. The Bears made an average of 8.1 3-point attempts per game. Mercer won the Atlantic Sun regular season title last season and tied for the crown this season. If Duke’s defensive lapses from early this season return, Mercer could be a team to watch.
March Madness allows for a handful of programs each season to enjoy their moment in the sun for the teams making the field for the first time, ending a long drought or continuing a tradition.
And thanks to another expansion in 2011, the NCAA Tournament gives us 68 data points each season.
One season the Big Ten has bragging rights, the next the Big 12. One season, California has plenty of state representation in the field. In others, even a state like Indiana can be shut out.
That’s part of the beauty of the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament, where 64 programs from coast to coast have a chance to be the major sports story of the day.
As usual, Selection Sunday gave us another set of superlatives to watch for this year's NCAA Tournament.
COMPLETE REGION PREVIEWS
East | Midwest | South | West
The 2014 NCAA Tournament By the Numbers
4. Teams in the top 20 of offensive and defensive efficiency
Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings have been kingmakers of sorts for the national title. Every champion since 2003 has ranked in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Four teams are in that category this season: Florida, Louisville, Villanova and Wichita State.
8. Coaches with Final Four experience in Wichita State’s region
Wichita State earned the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, which may be the toughest as far as coaching goes. The 17 teams in the region feature eight coaches with a combined 27 Final Four appearances and seven national champions. The tally includes Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (11), Louisville’s Rick Pitino (7), Kentucky’s John Calipari (4) and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Texas’ Rick Barnes, Michigan’s John Beilein, Texas Southern’s Mike Davis and Kansas State’s Bruce Weber (1). No other region has more than 14 Final Fours among its coaches.
7. Bids for the Big 12, the most represented conference
The Big 12 had the look all season as the nation’s most balanced conference through the top nine. TCU, which finished without a conference win, was the only easy out in the league. The Big 12 sent seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament in Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas. It’s the most for the league since 2010 when the Big 12 had 12 members.
Three NCAA Tournament regulars left the Atlantic 10 before this season (Butler, Temple and Xavier), and only the Musketeers, now in the Big East, are in the field. The A-10, though, got the better end of conference expansion as far as the NCAA Tournament was concerned. The A-10 garnered more bids than the the Big East and the SEC and as many as the ACC and Pac-12. The conference tournament was a major boon for the league as St. Joseph’s, a bubble team entering championship week, won the league’s automatic bid. Meanwhile, Dayton and George Washington completed their at-large resumes to join Saint Louis, VCU and UMass.
4. Bids from California and Ohio, the most represented states.
UCLA and San Diego State were locks entering the final weekend. Stanford played its way in during the Pac-12 Tournament. But the most surprising bid out of the delegation from California was Cal Poly. The seventh-seeded Mustangs won the tournament in the Big West, a league with eight teams from the Golden State. Ohio also had its own bubble teams play their way in with Dayton and Xavier earning two of the final bids to join Ohio State and Cincinnati from the Buckeye State.
0. Teams from the state of Indiana
No Indiana. No Purdue. No Notre Dame. Not even Valparaiso. The Hoosier State is without an NCAA team for only the second time since the field expanded in 1985. The only other year Indiana was shut out was 2005.
1. Team with a losing record in the field
Speaking of Cal Poly, the Mustangs erased a lackluster season with a hot streak in the Big West Tournament. After going 13-19 overall and 6-10 in the Big West, Cal Poly defeated No. 2 seed UC Santa Barbara, No. 1 seed UC Irvine and No. 5 seed Cal State Northridge to become the only team with a losing record in the field. This marks three seasons in a row a team with a losing record made the field as an automatic bid (Western Kentucky in 2012, Liberty in 2013). Northeast Conference champion Mount St. Mary’s needed to win its league tournament to achieve a .500 record at 16-16.
2. Teams making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament
Cal Poly is one. The other is MEAC champion North Carolina Central, which shares Durham, N.C., with Duke.
5. Teams with the nickname Wildcats
So this wasn’t a great year for Kentucky, but it was a great season to be the Wildcats. Five teams with the nickname are in Tournament: Arizona, Kansas State, Kentucky, Villanova and Weber State. Other mascots with strong representation include the Bears (Baylor and Mercer), Eagles (American and North Carolina Central), Panthers (Milwaukee and Pittsburgh) and Tigers (Memphis and Texas Southern).
25. Consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for Kansas, the active record
Maybe it’s easy to take an NCAA Tournament bid for granted. Something that shouldn’t be overlooked is going year in and year out. Kansas has played in every NCAA Tournament since 1990 making the Jayhawks the active leader for most consecutive appearances. Make the field in 2015 and 2016, and Kansas will tie North Carolina for the all-time record. Only eight teams have played in the last six Tournaments with streaks for Marquette (since 2006), Temple (since 2008) and Missouri (since 2009) snapped this season.
Most consecutive NCAA appearances, active streaks only:
Michigan State, 17
Ohio State, 6
1985. Last NCAA appearance for Mercer, the longest drought ended in 2014
Mercer was the first upset victim of Florida Gulf Coast’s postseason run last season as the Bears won the Atlantic Sun regular season title only to lose to FGCU in the league tournament. That didn’t happen this time around as Mercer captured the league’s automatic bid.
1998. Last NCAA appearance for Nebraska, the longest drought ended by a power conference team in 2014
Nebraska’s celebration after defeating Wisconsin to cap the regular season was not in vain. Coach Tim Miles led Nebraska to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. Nebraska’s absence has included three coaching changes and two conference affiliations.
Longest droughts ended in the 2014 NCAA Tournament
Mercer, last appeared in 1985
Coastal Carolina, 1993
25. AP rank last week for NIT-bound SMU
The Mustangs spent four of the last five weeks of the season ranked in the AP top 25, but SMU was not able to end an NCAA Tournament drought that dated back to 1993. SMU is the first ranked team not to make the field since Utah State in 2004.
12. No. 1 seeds from conference tournaments playing in the NIT
Even the NIT bubble was tough this season for at-large teams. The glut of upsets in the conference tournaments created a crunch for NIT spots. Regular season conference champions that don’t receive NCAA bids are guaranteed a berth in the NIT. That means 12 teams received automatic bids for the NIT, leaving only 20 spots for at-larges.
The day after Selection Sunday is not a great time to get caught up on the college basketball season.
As you start to fill out NCAA Tournament brackets for your pools, Athlon Sports did some of the homework for your basketball cram session. March Madness is unpredictable, and we expect it to be again.
But there are some tried and true trends in the Tournament, and we’ll break them down here.
These are our favorite rules for picking our brackets, along with some of the examples from this year’s field.
COMPLETE REGION PREVIEWS
East | Midwest | South | West
Advance all the No. 1 seeds (and probably all of the No. 2 seeds)
A No. 1 seed has never lost in the round of 64. We have little doubt it will happen one day, but you’re more likely to wreck your bracket by advancing a No. 16 seed. The No. 2 seeds have been more vulnerable in the last two seasons than ever before. Two No. 2 seeds lost in 2012 and No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast advanced all the way to the Sweet 16. If you must drop a No. 2 before the Sweet 16, do your homework. Find a vulnerable No. 2 and a No. 15 that either dominated its low-major conference or scored an upset over a major team earlier in the season. None of this year's No. 15 seeds fit that profile.
Consider dropping a No. 1 or a No. 2 in the round of 32
In the last four Tournaments, eight of the 32 No. 1 or No. 2 seeds lost before the Sweet 16. The teams in seeds 7-10 are talented but streaky, capable of knocking off a top seed on a quick turnaround. Take a look at the names in the 8-9 games alone: Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Pittsburgh and Gonzaga.
Our picks for vulnerable top-two seeds: Arizona, Villanova, Wisconsin
Wichita State, Butler, VCU and George Mason in the Final Four are all memorable. So is Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16 last year. Still, don’t get too caught up trying to look smart by advancing a double-digit seed to the Final Four. Of the last 52 Final Four teams, 44 were top-four seeds, and four of the seven who were not top-four seeds were No. 5 seeds. Butler, VCU and George Mason (and last year’s ninth-seeded Wichita State) are memorable because they're outliers.
Don’t go chalk all way the Final Four
Statistically, advancing every higher seed every round might not be a bad idea, but what’s the fun in that? Only once have all four No. 1 seed advanced to the Final Four. Want to know if your Final Four is risky or too safe? Add up the seeds of your Final Four. The median for the last 20 Final Fours is 14. If the seeds for your Final Four add up to 10 or fewer, you’ve picked a safe Final Four. If the Final Four seeds add up to 20 or more, you’re picking the kind of Final Four that has happened only three times in 20 years.
The real upset potential starts at the No. 5 seeds
Since the field expanded in 1985, the No. 4 seed wins 78 percent of the time. That drops to 64.7 percent for the No. 5 seed, 66.4 percent for the No. 6 and 60.3 percent for the No. 7
12-5 Upsets We Like: Stephen F. Austin over VCU, Xavier/NC State over Saint Louis, Harvard over Cincinnati
11-6 Upsets We Like: Nebraska over Baylor, Tennessee over UMass, Providence over North Carolina
10-7 Upset We Like: Arizona State over Texas
Related: March Madness by the numbers
Pay attention to extreme free throw numbers
Expect closer games in the NCAA Tournament. That means free throws will play a critical role. If you’re on the fence about a team, give free throw numbers a look. Avoid falling in love with teams that can’t hit free throws.
Key teams with high free throw percentages: Connecticut, Creighton, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA
Key teams with low free throw percentages: Arizona, Kansas State, Louisville, Memphis, North Carolina
All that talk about bubble teams, forget it
We spent the last six weeks talking about bubble teams. Time to stop paying them any mind, especially bubble teams from major conferences. Teams had trouble clinching a Tourney bid because they couldn’t win consistently. Teams from major conferences had chances all year to prove they were Tourney teams and didn’t do it until the last week of the season. Knock them out early. The exception: Bubble teams from mid-major conferences. The inclusion of VCU and George Mason in recent years were criticized ... until they reached the Final Four.
Bubble teams to avoid beyond round of 32: Arizona State, BYU, NC State, Providence, St. Joseph’s, Xavier
When picking a mid-major to advance, do your homework
Look beyond the record. We like mid- and low-major teams that tested themselves against major competition, whether or not they won games. In this space last year, we told you to watch Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State based on regular season schedules. Also make sure to look at a mid-major team's conference record. Did a team play well during its conference season, or did it wait until the conference tournament to get hot?
Teams that challenged themselves in the non-conference: Dayton, George Washington, Mercer, New Mexico State, Tulsa, UMass
Teams that didn’t: American, Manhattan, Stephen F. Austin, Texas Southern, Western Michigan
Use caution with teams that faded since February and early March
Are teams tired? Was there a major personnel change? Was there an injury? Did opponents catch up? In any case, we don’t like teams limping into the Tournament, no matter what they did from November through January. On the flip side, give credit to teams that got better as the season went along.
Teams that faded: Arizona State, Iowa, Saint Louis, Syracuse, Texas, UMass
Teams that improved through the season: Baylor, Dayton, Louisville, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
Find balance on offense and defense
Defense wins championship is a football saying. Don't let it take over your bracket. The key to winning in March is balance on both sides of the court, especially for teams that can play multiple tempos and styles. The last 10 national champions ranked in the top 20 in both of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive rankings. Steer clear from advancing teams to the Elite Eight or Final Four if they have a great offense and questionable defense or vice versa.
The teams in the top 20 in both this season are: Florida, Louisville, Villanova, Wichita State
Good offense, bad defense: Baylor, BYU, Creighton, Iowa, Michigan
Good defense, bad offense: Kansas State, Ohio State, San Diego State, Saint Louis
As usual, the first surprises of the NCAA Tournament start with Selection Sunday. The brackets you’ve just printed may still be warm, and a few teams are still in shock.
NC State is in. SMU is out. Virginia is No. 1. And Louisville is not happy.
Those aren't the only teams taking a long look at the next three weeks. Here's what stood out from the Selection Show and what we learned about the NCAA selection committee this time around.
No one will doubt Wichita State if the Shockers advance
The Shockers maybe hoped to get Kansas as the No. 2 seed in their region. They won’t get the Jayhawks, but they’ll get darn near everyone else. Provided Wichita State advanced to the round of 32, the Shockers will draw Kansas State ... or an eighth-seeded Kentucky team filled with McDonald’s All-Americans. Also in Wichita State’s region: Big Ten regular season champion Michigan, Duke and defending national champion Louisville. The Midwest is arguably the toughest region.
Virginia got the last No. 1 seed
Florida, Arizona and Wichita State had been sure things for No. 1 seeds for at least two weeks. The wild card was the last one that went to ACC regular season and tournament champion Virginia over Michigan, Villanova or Wisconsin. Anyone who started following the season in January would think this makes perfect sense since Cavaliers went 16-2 in the league and defeated Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina. Anyone who paid attention back in November and December might be perplexed. The earlier version of Virginia lost to VCU, Wisconsin, Green Bay and by 35 to Tennessee.
Louisville is the defending national champion, the American Tournament champion, fifth in the polls and second in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Yet the selection committee slapped the Cardinals with a No. 4 seed. The seeding is more in line with Louisville’s rank of No. 18 in the RPI. Rather than Louisville’s recent results, the Cardinals’ overall body of work, which includes the 149th-ranked non-conference schedule, played a role here. The committee also hammered American Athletic Conference co-champion Cincinnati with a No. 5 seed.
NC State was the most shocking name in the field
And this is funny because the argument against ACC leading scorer T.J. Warren winning league player of the year was that he played for a team going to the NIT. The Wolfpack benefitted from a late push that included a win over Pittsburgh on the road and against Syracuse in the ACC Tournament. NC State will face Xavier in the First Four.
SMU was the biggest snub
Congratulations, NIT, you’ll have a ranked team in your event. SMU is 25th in the Associated Press poll but won’t be in the NCAA Tournament field. SMU only two RPI top 100 teams out of conference, losing to Virginia and defeating Arkansas. The flimsy non-conference schedule and weak bottom half of the American Athletic Conference contributed to 22 games against teams outside the RPI top 100. Losses to three of those (Houston, Temple and USF) certainly didn’t help.
Florida’s region will be interesting, but we’re not sure if it will be competitive
The Gators benefited from being the No. 1 overall seed by drawing a region with a No. 2 seed in Kansas with an ailing Joel Embiid and a No. 3 seed in Syracuse that has lost five of its last seven since starting 25-0. The first two weekends also have their share of flawed teams: The 8-9 winner will be either a Colorado team without point guard Spencer Dinwiddie or a Pittsburgh team with one top-50 win all year.
Arizona got the 8-9 game no one wanted
Oklahoma State seemed destined for an 8-9 game since Marcus Smart returned from suspension and proved the Cowboys were a solid NCAA team. The Pokes will face Gonzaga in the round of 64 before a likely matchup against Arizona.
Dayton will not play at home ... but Xavier kind of will
A major question for a Dayton team on the bubble was if the selection committee would allow the Flyers to play on their home court in the first four. Sending Dayton to Buffalo to face Ohio State to prevent a First Four game. Instead, the committee pegged No. 11 seed Xavier in the First Four, playing NC State 46 miles away from campus.
Best round of 64 games
• VCU vs. Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks are a threat to be a Cinderella ... against a VCU team that knows about surprises.
• Ohio State vs. Dayton: Flyers coach Archie Miller faces his old boss in Thad Matta.
• Kansas State vs. Kentucky: Bruce Weber’s Wildcats are the kind of tough defensive team that will give Kentucky trouble.
• Cincinnati vs. Harvard: Much of the same cast that upset New Mexico last season returns.
• North Carolina vs. Providence: Big East tourney champs have a superstar guard in Bryce Cotton.
Best potential round of 32 games
• Wichita State vs. Kentucky: The team that hoped to go 40-0 vs. the team that can actually do it.
• Cincinnati vs. Michigan State: Provided the Bearcats can get past Harvard
• Creighton vs. Nebraska: A state title game pitting Doug McDermott against coach Tim Miles.
• Villanova vs. UConn or St. Joseph’s: Nova draws either a former Big East foe or a Big 5 rival.
• VCU vs. UCLA: UCLA couldn’t pry Shaka Smart from the Rams before hiring Steve Alford.
• Arizona vs. Oklahoma State: Marcus Smart faces Aaron Gordon and a tough Wildcats defense.
Preparations for the 2014 Athlon Sports preview magazines have started, and this season, we’re taking you inside the debates that shape our rankings.
The first in a series that will cover every major conference covers the Big 12. Athlon Sports writers and editors Braden Gall, David Fox and Steven Lassan cover every team in the Big 12 and what we’re watching in the league.
Oklahoma and Baylor have separated themselves as favorites, but there’s some debate as to which team should be the preseason pick in the league. We also debated what Texas can expect in its first season with Charlie Strong and if this will be a down year for Oklahoma State.
The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.
Please send any comments, questions and podcast topics to @AthlonSports, @BradenGall, @DavidFox615 and @AthlonSteven on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three weeks ago, Athlon Sports profiled the the top contenders for coach of the year in every league. This is not that story.
For every yin there’s a yang, and these are what we’re going to call the Not Coach of the Year for every major conference.
In general, we’ve tried to stay away from programs where things have happened beyond their control such as injuries or coaches of programs expected to be bad this season.
To be a Not Coach of the Year, the coach probably saw his program slip below expectations to a major degree. A few probably won’t return for 2014-15. But others are fine coaches who have just had one of those seasons where anything and everything could go wrong.
League-by-League Not Coach of the Year
Contenders: Jeff Bzdelik (Wake Forest), Steve Donahue (Boston College)
Not coach of the year: Donahue
Bzdelik continues to be the king of ACC hot seats, even though Wake Forest defeated both Duke and North Carolina this season. The nod, though, has to go to Donahue despite one of the most out-of-nowhere upsets in 2014 when the Eagles beat then-undefeated Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Boston College scheduled aggressively in the non-conference, facing Providence, UMass, Toledo, UConn, Purdue, USC, Maryland, VCU and Harvard. BC lost them all. Boston College had two veterans in Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson but few other players able to hold up during the ACC season. Despite hopes for playing in a postseason of some kind, Boston College finished 8-24.
Contenders: Fran Dunphy (Temple), Eddie Jordan (Rutgers)
Not coach of the year: Jordan
Even in a rebuilding year, Dunphy had to expect better than 9-22 at Temple. Rutgers and Jordan, though, inched ahead of Dunphy and Temple with a 92-31 loss to Louisville in the American Tournament. The Scarlet Knights had one top 100 win all season — over Canisius on Nov. 18 — and their last three wins were over USF. Jordan, a former NBA coach, now has to take this broken team into the Big Ten.
Contenders: Trent Johnson (TCU), Travis Ford (Oklahoma State)
Not coach of the year: Ford
When Marcus Smart was suspended for three games for a fan altercation, Smart and the Texas Tech fan took plenty of criticism. But Travis Ford didn’t come out of that incident looking great, either. Teammates, not Ford, escorted Smart from the playing surface or from the bench, where he lingered until the end of the game. The combustable situation never escalated beyond the original shove, but the possibility of the incident becoming uglier remained. Since then, Oklahoma State more or less recovered from that incident after Smart’s return, but this has still been a disappointing season nonetheless. Ford dealt with a short bench for most of the season without an injured Michael Cobbins and dismissed Stevie Clark. The result was an 8-10 Big 12 season from a team that expected to contend for the league crown.
Contenders: John Thompson III (Georgetown), Buzz Williams (Marquette)
Not coach of the year: Thompson
It’s tough enough to contend for a conference title after the do-it-all league player of the year (Otto Porter) heads to the NBA. Georgetown, though, never found a groove this season and wasn’t helped by the dismissal of Greg Whittington in November and ineligibility of Josh Smith in January. With the possibility of the NCAA Tournament still alive, Georgetown flopped against DePaul, handing the last-place Blue Demons their first Big East Tournament win since 2009.
Contenders: Tom Crean (Indiana)
Not coach of the year: Crean
A drop off was inevitable for Indiana, which lost two top-four picks off of last year’s team (Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo). Still, this team had enough returning veterans including Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey and a decorated freshman class led by Noah Vonleh to make the NCAA Tournament. After going 17-15, Indiana will head to the NIT only a year after being a No. 1 seed. The Hoosiers found a way to lose to Northwestern, Penn State and Nebraska all at home.
Contenders: Ken Bone (Washington State)
Not coach of the year: Bone
In recent decades, only Tony Bennett and Kelvin Sampson have won at the toughest job in the Pac-12. In the last two seasons at Washington State, Bone went 23-40 overall and 7-30 in the Pac-12.
Contenders: John Calipari (Kentucky), Anthony Grant (Alabama), Frank Haith (Missouri), Johnny Jones (LSU)
Not coach of the year: Calipari
Was the preseason No. 1 ranking premature for Kentucky? Certainly. But it was understandable. The Wildcats brought in the most decorated signing class in college basketball history with six McDonald’s All-Americans with a coach who had won a national title with a freshman-laden class two seasons earlier. This Kentucky team never found a way to play together and became the first preseason No. 1 team to fall out of the rankings since 1980. It’s rare for a preseason No. 1 to fall out of the top 10 during the course of the season. Kentucky hasn’t been there since Dec. 2.
College basketball, especially this time of year, is all about mismatches.
In general, that means a power forward with quickness or a big guy who can step out to take a 3.
With 351 teams in college basketball, the sample size leads to size mismatches between a 5-foot-8 guard and a 7-6 center. And we’re not kidding. This is a matchup that actually happened.
That leads us to the Tall-America team, a collection of the best players at every height from a 5-7 point guard to a 7-6 center.
For sake of consistency, we used only the heights provided on school rosters for this season. We’re not ignorant to schools adding an inch or two to each player, but we also don’t have exact heights from the NBA Draft.
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
Athlon Sports 2013-14 Tall-America Team
5-7 Christopher Anderson, San Diego
Others: Keon Johnson (Winthrop)
San Diego coach Bill Grier has described Anderson with a word associated with most 5-7 players who thrive in college basketball: Fearless. The 150-pound point guard led the West Coast Conference in assists (5.9 per game), tied for the lead in steals (1.8) and shot 43.7 percent from 3-point range.
Photo courtesy of Brock Scott
5-8 Kendall Anthony, Richmond
Others: Johnathan Loyd (Oregon)
The 2012 A-10 Rookie of the Year set a career high with 16 points per game as a senior. With a shorthanded roster, Richmond moved Anthony to the starting point guard spot late in the year.
5-9 Chaz Williams, UMass
Others: Dre Mathieu (Minnesota), Nic Moore (SMU)
The standout career for Williams, who started his career at Hofstra, will finally end in the NCAA Tournament. Williams has shown a knack to take over games with his scoring (15.8 points per game) or passing (7.1 assists, third nationally).
5-10 Jahii Carson, Arizona State
One of the quickest guards in the country, the sophomore Carson is leading Arizona State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009. Carson has averaged 18.7 points per game in his two seasons with the Sun Devils.
5-11 Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Others: Keifer Sykes (Green Bay), Anthony Hickey (LSU)
After coming off the bench for 16 minutes per game as a freshman on Wichita State’s Final Four team, VanVleet is the floor general for the Shockers’ undefeated team heading into the Tournament. VanVleet averages 5.3 assists per game and 3.9 assists per turnover.
6-0 Russ Smith, Louisville
Others: Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Trevor Releford (Alabama)
“Russdiculous” is having a season just as good as last year when the Cardinals won the national title and Smith earned Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year award. The season has included highlights such as the game-winning shot against Cincinnati and 13 assists on Senior Night.
6-1 Shabazz Napier, UConn
Others: Joe Jackson (Memphis), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Scottie Wilbekin (Florida)
The American Athletic Conference player of the year leads the Huskies in points per game (17.8), assists (5.2), steals (1.8) and rebounds (6.0) as a point guard.
6-2 Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Others: Billy Baron (Canisius), Aaron Craft (Ohio State)
Ennis’ torrid pace cooled near the end of the season like the rest of Syracuse’s roster, but there are few players who should be more trusted with the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Ennis had more than two turnovers in a game only once in his first 18 games.
6-3 Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Others: Ryan Arcidacono (Villanova), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Nick Johnson (Arizona)
One of the nation’s biggest surprises this season, Thames led San Diego State to a 27-3 season and a Mountain West championship. A role player the last two seasons, Thames emerged to average 16.9 points per game a senior.
6-4 Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Others: DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)
Kilpatrick has led Cincinnati in scoring for three seasons, culminating this season with an AAC-best 20.9 points per game.
6-5 Tyler Haws, BYU
Others: Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Jordan Adams (UCLA)
Haws is sixth in the nation in scoring, topping 20 points per game for the second consecutive season. He’ll try for a third season above the 20-point milestone as a senior.
6-6 Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Others: K.J. McDaniels (Clemson), Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Terran Petteway (Nebraska)
The 6-foot-6 group includes both the Big 12 player of the year (Ejim) and the Big Ten player of the year (Stauskas). Our nod will go to Ejim, who averaged 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds.
6-7 Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
Others: Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
The UCSB star is the only player in the country averaging better than 20 points and 10 rebounds at 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds.
6-8 Doug McDermott, Creighton
Others: Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood (Duke), T.J. Warren (NC State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)
The 6-8s are loaded: The national player of the year, the ACC’s leading scorer and perhaps the top two players to be taken in the NBA Draft. The nod can’t go to anyone but McDermott, though, who is one of eight players to top 3,000 points in his career.
6-9 Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Others: James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina), Ryan Anderson (UCLA), Julius Randle (Kentucky)
The Australian forward went from never averaging double figures to averaging 20.3 points and 7.2 per game for a team that finished 24-6.
6-10 Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Others: Noah Vonleh (Indiana)
Payne was injured for parts of 2013-14 but still managed 16.1 points per game. Most impressive has been the addition of long-range shooting to his game in the last year and a half.
6-11 Chad Posthumus, Morehead State
Others: Chris Otule (Marquette), Nnanna Egwu (Illinois), Amir Williams (Ohio State)
Posthumus is a fine player (9.7 points, 11 rebounds per game), but the limited group of 6-11ers may indicate most anyone who is close gets rounded up to 7 feet in the media guide.
7-0 Joel Embiid, Kansas
Others: Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin), Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)
A shame Embiid may not be available until the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament if Kansas makes it that far. For a stretch this season Embiid was Kansas’ most impressive freshman, not Andrew Wiggins. Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game this season.
7-1 Alec Brown, Green Bay
Others: Isaiah Austin (Baylor)
Green Bay appeared to be one of the top mid-majors that could make noise in the NCAA Tournament. After losing in the Horizon championship, Brown, who has averaged 13.4 points per game in his career, and the Phoenix will try to make noise in the NIT.
7-2 Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
The Pac-12’s career leader in blocks had 24 blocked shots in a three-game span against Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona at one point this season.
7-3 Boris Bojanovsky, Florida State
The center from Slovakia averaged 5.9 points per game and 1.9 blocks in his first extended action for the Seminoles this season.
Despite efforts, we couldn’t find a top player at the 7-4. Tweet us at @AthlonSports or leave a comment if we missed a good one.
7-5 Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State
At 360 pounds, Bhullar is huge, of course, but he’s also quite productive at 9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. He also has a “little” brother on the New Mexico State roster, Tanveer, who is 7-3.
7-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, UC Irvine
The center from Senegal led UC Irvine to a Big West championships, averaging 8.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 20.7 minutes per game.
Ndiaye photo courtesy of UC Irvine
One of the nation’s best freshmen with a bright future and national title contending team received season-altering news this week when center Joel Embiid sustained a stress fracture in his back.
At first, Embiid was held out of the last two games of the regular season as a precautionary measure, but the news worsened when it was announced he’d be held out of the Big 12 Tournament and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
The news could impact Embiid’s NBA Draft hopes, where he was a contender for the No. 1 spot, in addition to Kansas’ national championship hopes. With Selection Sunday a little more than a week away, our editorial staff ponders the latter.
Will Joel Embiid’s back injury prevent Kansas from contending for the national championship?
David Fox: An absence by Embiid won’t prevent Kansas from getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which is when the seven-foot big man is set to return. The Jayhawks likely will be a No. 2 seed, and barring a bad matchup in the round of 32, KU is good enough to get to the Sweet 16 riding Andrew Wiggins. If Embiid can’t return or is limited — certainly possible given the nature of back injuries — Kansas might not be able to make it to the Final Four. Embiid averaged 11.5 points in Big 12 play, but his impact was more on the defensive end. He accounts for 40 percent of Kansas’ blocked shots when the next best contributor accounts for 16 percent. And he makes up 20 percent of Kansas’ rebounds, though Wiggins claims a better share of offensive rebounds. Simply put, Embiid is too big a piece and one with a dangerous skill set to not be a critical absence.
Braden Gall: My Kansas prediction for the first game — should it be a 2-15, 3-14 or 4-13 matchup — won't be affected at all by Joel Embiid's absence. In fact, I can almost guarantee that I am going to have the Jayhawks reaching the second weekend and the Sweet 16 regardless of matchups. But from there on, all bets are off if Embiid doesn't play or isn't at full strength. A championship run is incredibly fragile as it takes not only a great collection of talent and coaching but also some luck to win The Big Dance. And while Kansas has loads of depth and quality front court talent to pick up where Embiid left off (Perry Ellis, Tariq Black), this is a totally different team without an Olajuwonian presence in the lane. Could Kansas play their way to North Texas and the Final Four without their star freshman center? Possibly. Do I consider this team (sans Embiid) capable of winning six straight games in the tourney? I'll say no.
Mitch Light: Depends on our definition of contender. Without Embiid, Kansas is still in a group of about 10-12 teams that can win a national championship. But I don't believe the Jayhawks can be considered a favorite to win the title — or each the Final Four without the freshman big man in the lineup. This team still has plenty of talent, but Embiid is such an important piece to the puzzle in every facet of the game. He is known for his defense and rebounding, but he also has proven to be a skilled offensive player who can deliver team 10-14 points per game. If he is not able to play, there will be more pressure on KU's three other double-figure scores — Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.
Nathan Rush: Of course Kansas is still a national championship contender without 7-foot freshman phenom Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks have a 21–7 record with Embiid and a 2–1 mark without him. And the Embiid-less loss at West Virginia came on the same day that KU's "other" freshman, Andrew Wiggins, poured in a Kansas freshman record 41 points (although, don't forget Wilt Chamberlain played JV as a frosh, which was the style in 1955). Coach Bill Self's team still has all the pieces in place to cut down the nets at AT&T Stadium (the architecture formerly known as Cowboys Stadium). Kansas has a legitimate superstar in Wiggins, solid guard play from Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason, wing scoring from Wayne Selden Jr. and plenty of size down low with Perry Ellis (6-8, 225), Jamari Traylor (6-8, 220) and Tarik Black (6-9, 260). No one should cry for KU heading into March Madness; they should fear the chant "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk."
The NCAA selection committee likes to remind us that a team’s entire body of work is being judged on Selection Sunday.
Why, then, does it seem that last impressions matter every season?
The conference tournaments give every team another chance to prove why they’re worthy of an NCAA Tournament slot or show why they were on the bubble in the first place.
Roughly 10 spots in the field may be up for grabs as the major conference tournaments begin Wednesday and Thursday. With 17 teams in play for those spots, these games could make all the difference.
The spotlight primarly will be on the Big East and SEC where the most teams could play their way in or out of the field, but those aren't the only leagues with bubble teams in critical spots.
On the Spot Thursday
Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest
The Panthers have lost two of their last five games to Florida State and NC State and needed overtime to beat Notre Dame and Clemson. That’s not the issue as much as a paltry non-conference schedule. The Panthers’ schedule strength ranks 74th nationally, contributing to an RPI rank of 45 despite 23 wins. Both Notre Dame and Wake Forest are outside of the RPI top 100. Losing to either could be the end of Pitt.
SMU vs. Houston
SMU didn’t challenge itself in the non-conference schedule, so the Mustangs may sweat a bit even thought they defeated UConn twice and Cincinnati and Memphis in the conference schedule. After the No. 5 seed in the tournament the American has no other RPI top 100 teams, so a loss to Houston would qualify as a bad one. SMU has already lost to two such teams in the bottom half of the AAC in Temple and USF.
Dayton vs. George Mason
The Flyers have defeated Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational and A-10 regular season champion Saint Louis. Avoiding a bad loss in the first game of the league tournament may be all Dayton, 9-6 against the top 100, needs to seal a bid.
Kansas State vs. Iowa State
Here’s the good news: Kansas State has seven RPI top 50 wins. Here’s the bad news: They’re all at home. K-State is 0-6 against the top 60 outside of Manhattan. The wins may be enough to get the Wildcats into the field, but a win over Iowa State in the Big 12 quarterfinals would help Bruce Weber sleep easier.
St. John’s vs. Providence
This traditional Big East matchup sets up the first tournament in the league’s new alignment. It’s an important game, too, as a potential elimination game for both teams, but certainly for St. John’s. The RPIs just outside the top 50 and schedule strength are similar, but St. John’s has fewer top 50 wins (one) than Providence (two) and more bad losses (again, 2-1). St. John’s will be playing on its homecourt at Madison Square Garden.
Xavier vs. Marquette
A pair of double overtime heartbreakers against Providence and St. John’s ended Marquette’s hope to climb onto the bubble. Xavier may have the third-best NCAA profile in the Big East after Villanova and Creighton, but the Musketeers have too many losses (Seton Hall twice, USC) to think they can lose to Marquette and still feel safe in the field.
Minnesota vs. Penn State
All three of Minnesota’s big wins this season (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa) have taken place in Minneapolis, so the Gophers’ goals will be two-pronged. First, beat Penn State again after crushing the Nittany Lions 81-63 in the regular season finale and then defeat the Badgers in the quarterfinals for a top 50 neutral site win. Defeating Penn State is a must. In the event of a loss to Wisconsin loss Friday, Minnesota will have to hope its seventh-ranked strength of schedule will hold up.
Arizona State vs. Stanford
The Sun Devils are yet another team that has a few good wins, but all of them at home. Arizona State is probably pretty safe given that one of those home wins is over Arizona, but beating Stanford on a neutral floor would be a nice final touch.
Arkansas vs. South Carolina
Arkansas flopped in a major way with an 83-58 loss to Alabama in the last day of the regular season. With an RPI of 60 and schedule strength of 80, the Razorbacks have all their hopes pinned on the sweep of Kentucky. Probably not a great idea to follow that Alabama loss with another defeat to Auburn or South Carolina, both ranked outside of the RPI 150.
Missouri vs. Texas A&M
If the 72-45 loss to Tennessee on Saturday wasn’t an eliminator for Missouri, a loss to Texas A&M certainly would be. Missouri may need to upset Florida in the semifinals to get back into the field. Good luck, Mizzou.
On the Spot on Friday
Tennessee vs. South Carolina/Arkansas
Beyond Florida, no team in the SEC has been hotter to close the season than Tennessee. The Volunteers may be safe after the rout of Missouri, but a potential quarterfinal matchup with Arkansas should have both teams under pressure.
St. Joseph’s vs. Dayton/Fordham
The best case for St. Joe’s, who received a bye to the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals, could be to face Dayton. A win for the Hawks would be the third this season over a fellow bubble team in the Flyers. A home loss to La Salle in the regular season finale — a fourth loss outside of the top 50 for St. Joe’s — put pressure on the Hawks to win an A-10 Tournament game.
Nebraska vs. Ohio State/Purdue
The Cornhuskers may have done enough with a win over Wisconsin in the regular season finale to seal an NCAA bid. Nebraska has three top 50 wins (Ohio State, at Michigan State) and three losses outside of the top 100 (at Penn State, at Purdue, UAB). A loss to Purdue — which faces Ohio State in the first round — would be the worst-case scenario for Nebraska.
A good rule of thumb for anyone filling out bracket is to ask one simple question: How many consecutive games against good teams can this team win right now?
Nearly every team in the field will have proven at some point in the year, even if it was in the conference tournaments, can win four or five games in a row.
Of course, we know teams like Wichita State and Florida can reel off wins better than any other team in the country. Here, we are highlighting some of the teams that are just now starting to show their true potential.
These are the teams heading into the postseason with the most momentum. Not all won their regular season finales, but these teams have shown since at least February that they can string together wins over quality teams.
10 Teams Surging into March Madness
After starting the season with an impressive performance in the Maui Invitational defeating Gonzaga and taking Baylor to the wire, Dayton slumped to start conference play. Led by Sean Miller’s younger brother Archie, Dayton finished Atlantic 10 play with nine wins in 10 games. Recent wins over UMass and Saint Louis, both in the RPI top 20, likely have pushed the Flyers into the field barring an A-10 Tournament upset.
The Cardinals capped the regular season with an 81-48 rout over Connecticut in one of Louisville’s best defensive performances of the season. Louisville has allowed only one opponent in the last nine games (Memphis on March 1) to average better than a point per possession, including a 0.71 points per possession against UConn. Montrezl Harrell, who had an out-of-nowhere performance in the Big East Tournament last year, has averaged 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in the last five games.
The celebration in Lincoln was only the culmination of the Cornhuskers’ turnaround since mid-January. Nebraska started 0-4 in the league, and it looked like the projected last-place finish could come to fruition. Instead, Nebraska finished the season on an 11-3 run. Nebraska has caught teams at the right time, defeating slumping Ohio State and Michigan State for two of the the Huskers’ best wins. But Sunday’s 77-68 win over Wisconsin was as convincing as any.
The Tar Heels might not be as concerned about Saturday’s 93-81 loss at Duke as they should be about three close calls against NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Few teams could have won in Cameron on Saturday. North Carolina, though, should handle the Wolfpack, Hokies and Irish. Still, this is a North Carolina team that reeled off 12 consecutive wins after an inauspicious start to the season.
The Cowboys lost in overtime to Iowa State on Saturday, but it’s clear the Pokes are playing their best basketball since at least January. If anything, the three-game suspension seemed to re-focus Marcus Smart, who started the year as a player of the year candidate. He’s been improved as a facilitator (6.4 assists per game since his return), and at least against Iowa State, his 3-point selection was more reliable.
Back in early February, Oregon lost a pair of heart breakers to the Arizona schools to start 3-8 in the Pac-12. Since then, Oregon regrouped to win the final seven games of the regular season, including relatively comfortable wins over Arizona State (by 7) and Arizona (also by 7). Mike Moser is averaging 17.1 points and 11.1 rebounds during the win streak, but the move to return sophomore Johnathan Loyd to the starting lineup also revitalized the Ducks.
With no room for error late in the season, the Volunteers responded with a near-perfect finish, defeating Vanderbilt, Auburn and Missouri by a combined 93 points. The final game was the most important as Missouri is also fighting for an NCAA bid. The Volunteers still have an iffy resume with losses to Texas A&M (twice), Vanderbilt, NC State and UTEP, but they are in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.
The Wildcats are in the mix for the final No. 1 seed assuming Arizona, Florida and Wichita State are the other three. Villanova may need to defeat Creighton in the Big East Tournament to pick up a few believers. At least since the last loss to the Bluejays, the Wildcats have won six in a row. Villanova allowed only one team (Providence in double overtime) to score more than 70 since Creighton put up 101 points.
The Cavaliers lost 75-69 in overtime to Maryland to halt a 13-game winning streak, but it might not be a major point of concern. The Cavs, who had already clinched the ACC regular season title, lost in the final Maryland home game of the ACC era for the Terrapins. Better to pay closer attention to the team that led the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency and finished second in the offensive end.
We’re not making too much of Wisconsin’s loss to finish the season, either. Against a Nebraska team that needed a win Sunday, Wisconsin lost 77-68 in front of a raucous crowd in Lincoln. After a 1-5 skid in Big Ten play, Wisconsin recovered to win eight in a row, including wins over Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa.
As of today, the next two losses will be any team's last losses of the season.
With conference tournaments starting this week, no team can afford any kind of cold streak.
The following teams, though, need to hit the reset button in the worst way. These 10 teams have slumped late in February and into the early part of March.
Teams like Iowa, Michigan State and Kentucky were all considered potential Final Four contenders, but doubt has surfaced in recent weeks. And teams like Missouri and Pittsburgh are perhaps a loss away from going to the NIT.
As the major conference tournaments start this week, these are the 10 teams in most desperate need if immediate answers.
10 Teams Stumbling into March Madness
The Hawkeyes aren’t in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but they are in danger of early exits in the postseason. Iowa has lost five of the last six games with losses to Big Ten also-rans Indiana and Illinois. The culprit has been an inept performance in the defensive end of the court. Since Feb. 1, iowa has allowed 78.2 points per game and 1.11 points per possession, both the worst in the Big Ten.
Slumps are all relative. Kansas’ 1-2 finish to the season is evidence of that. The Jayhawks had already clinched the Big 12 title by the time they lost to Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins showed he’s in postseason form with 41 points against the Mountaineers. Here’s what has to be a concern, though: Joel Embiid will be out until at least the Sweet 16 with back troubles.
John Calipari wants his team to rediscover the confidence it had a few weeks ago. That must happen between now and the first game in Atlanta. During the 1-3 skid to end the season, which included losses to South Carolina and Arkansas, Kentucky has averaged only 92 points per 100 possession, fourth-worst in the SEC in that span.
Point guard Keith Appling’s wrist may be the determining factor if Michigan State can make a run at the Final Four. Tom Izzo has backed off on his playing time, but even when he’s in the game Appling has struggled to shoot because of the injury. A season full of injuries for the Spartans' roster has contributed to a 5-7 slide since Michigan State started 18-1.
The Tigers may have played themselves out of NCAA at-large contention with three losses in the last five games, including losses to two teams outside of the top 50 (Alabama and Georgia) and a drubbing to fellow bubble team Tennessee.
Perhaps this wasn’t a slump as much as it was an indication that the early record (16-1 on Jan. 14) was the product of an unimpressive stadium. Pittsburgh’s seeding hopes were going to take a hit with only one top 50 win, but the Panthers have landed on the bubble thanks to home losses in the last three weeks to Florida State and NC State.
The Billikens started 25-2 with their only losses to Wisconsin and Wichita State before hitting a three-game skid late in the Atlantic 10 season. A Duquesne win at home was the real shocker as the Dukes hit 8 of 15 3-point shots on Saint Louis’ home court. The Billikens then lost 17 turnovers against VCU and lost a 10-point second half lead against Dayton. A season-ending win against UMass on a late layup by Jordair Jett may be good for the psyche, but Saint Louis still struggles to put up points at times.
The outlook would have been even more bleak had Stanford lost to Utah on Saturday. The Cardinal pulled out the 61-60 to avoid a four-game losing streak to end the season. Stanford nearly blew and 11-point lead in the second half against Utah and gave up a lead earlier in the week to Colorado. Not a good trend for a team fighting for an NCAA berth.
Good for Texas that postseason games aren’t played on the road. The Longhorns lost their final five road games, including Saturday’s 59-53 loss to Texas Tech. The postseason isn’t played in Austin, either, and Texas opens the Big 12 Tournament against a West Virginia team that just defeated Kansas.
In classic “this is why you’re on the bubble fashion,” Xavier followed up a win over Creighton with a loss to Seton Hall and then another loss to Big East leader Villanova. The Musketeers will open the Big East Tournament without starting center Matt Stainbrook (knee) against a capable Marquette team.
For any fan just getting into college basketball in time for championship week and office pools: What took you so long?
You have some catching up to do. By waiting until the final weeks, you’ve missed a historic season. Certainly, every season is historic for one reason or another, so maybe this season will be among the most memorable even before the NCAA Tournament.
Just think of the seasons 2013-14 resembles. Wichita State is the first 34-0 team since 1991 when Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV team went undefeated before losing in the Final Four to Duke. But perhaps the Shockers’ run has been more reminiscent as the last undefeated run by a Missouri Valley Conference team.
The Shockers, who reached the Final Four last season, don’t have anyone close to a Larry Bird type, but they are the best team out of the Missouri Valley since the Sycamores met Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the 1979 championship game.
Speaking of historic names, Creighton’s Doug McDermott has passed many of them on his march to 3,000 career points. Among them: Danny Manning, Tyler Hansbrough, Larry Bird, Bill Bradley, Stephen Curry, Wayman Tisdale and David Robinson. By the time he’s through, he’ll be only the third player to be a three-time consensus first-team All-American.
Or maybe another touchstone for this season is 2006-07, one of the most intriguing seasons for freshmen during the one-and-done era. That year, Texas’ Kevin Durant and Ohio State’s Greg Oden were the subject of a season-long debate of who should go No. 1 in the Draft while leading two of the nation’s best teams.
This season, it’s Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid playing a part in a similar storyline.
So if you’re just jumping into the season this week, that’s OK. Given what we’ve seen so far, you haven’t seen the endgame to Wichita State’s season, McDermott’s college career or the freshmen’s career trajectory.
You may need to catch up a bit, but that’s what you’ll learn here.
Wichita State is the story of the NCAA Tournament
No matter what happens in the Tournament, Wichita State has done something truly special. The Shockers’ next win for 35-0 will be a record, passing UNLV’s 34-0 start in 1990-91. Most impressive for Gregg Marshall’s team, the Shockers have rarely lost focus. Nearly every team that puts together a lengthy unbeaten stretch to start the season loses focus or buckles under the pressure of challenging 1976 Indiana, the last undefeated team in the sport. Oddly enough, Wichita State has been a divisive team among hardcore fans at large. The schedule, they argue, diminishes the accomplishment. At this point, forget what kind of ranking Wichita State deserved and didn’t deserve and enjoy watching a team making a bid for history.
Doug McDermott is capping a fantastic career
McDermott will leave Creighton with one of the greatest careers in college basketball history. He became the sport’s eighth 3,000-point scorer, passing Oscar Robertson and Danny Manning down the stretch of his senior season. More than just a scorer, he’ll be in an elite group of players with 2,750 points and 1,000 rebounds along with Robertson, Manning, Larry Bird, Tyler Hansbrough and Hank Gathers. More than just an accumulator of statistics, he joins Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale as the only three-time first-team consensus All-Americans. And he’s done all this while stepping up in conference affiliation from the Missouri Valley to the Big East and while playing for his father. All that’s missing is a trip to the Sweet 16.
The Year of the Freshman has played out in fascinating ways
This season promised the best freshman class since 2007, at least considering that not all of them were concentrated on a single John Calipari team at Kentucky (more on that later). Duke’s Jabari Parker delivered as an All-American and a potential No. 1 overall pick. So did Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, even if he had an uneven season overshadowed by another freshman on his own team. That freshman, Joel Embiid, has a ceiling that’s been compared to Hakeem Olajuwon. Arizona’s Aaron Gordon has been a defensive stalwart on a team with national championship aspirations. Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis has been magical in late-game situations.
Kentucky’s one and done may be their NCAA Tournament hopes
See anyone missing from the list of great freshmen this season? How about the majority of the nation’s best signing class, one that included six McDonald’s All-Americans. Julius Randle deserves to have his name listed with Parker, Wiggins, Ennis and others, but the rest of this class in Lexington has been a disappointment. A team loaded with potential draft prospects lost five games in a weak SEC this season. Kentucky is the first preseason No. 1 team to fall to No. 25 in the polls since Indiana went unranked in 1979-80. Suddenly, the Wildcats will be known for the wrong kind of one and done.
Louisville has a chance to repeat
The Cardinals are seeking to become the second program to repeat since 1992, joining Florida in 2006-07. The Cardinals may not be one of the national championship favorites, but they have a better chance to repeat than many of the recent defending champions. Being in the field in the top half of the bracket is more than former champs at Kentucky, Connecticut and North Carolina can say. The Cardinals return Russ Smith and last year’s NCAA Tournament most outstanding player Luke Hancock. This team isn’t perfect, but it is among the national leaders in offensive and defensive efficiency.
North Carolina has gone from the most confusing team to the hottest team
The Tar Heels opened the season with one of the most bizarre resumes of any team in college basketball. They defeated preseason top four teams Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky but lost to Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest and Miami. Now, North Carolina is simply good. The Tar Heels reeled off 12 consecutive ACC wins, their longest conference win streak since 1986-87. If Carolina can win 12 in a row in the ACC, how many can the Heels win in March?
Syracuse started 25-0 but might not make it out of the first weekend
The Orange started 25-0, but they don’t look anything like a team that’s going to reach the Final Four, or even the Sweet 16. Syracuse had a flair for the dramatic near the end of its win streak, defeating Duke in an overtime classic, taking out Pittsburgh with a deep 3 from Tyler Ennis, and beating NC State by 1 thanks to a late steal. Since then, Syracuse lost teams you won’t even find in the NIT — Boston College and Georgia Tech.
Billy Donovan is building a Hall of Fame career
The Gators have their best teams since Joakim Noah and Al Horford led the Florida to back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. Donovan may not be thinking much further than the Elite Eight, where his team has stalled the last three years, but his team is capable of putting the coach in elite company. Only five coaches have won three or more national titles — John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight. Donovan may already be a Hall of Famer. This Tournament could erase any doubt.
Virginia had its best season since Ralph Sampson
For all the fascinating stories in the ACC this season, none may have been more unlikely than Virginia’s first outright conference title since 1981 when the legendary Ralph Sampson was still on campus. The Cavaliers may have benefitted from an unbalanced schedule, but they enter the postseason on a hot streak fueled by a stifling defense.
The Pac-12 has a real national championship favorite
The Pac-12 might not be back to being a conference on par with the Big Ten or ACC, but the league does have a national champion for the first time since UCLA reached the Final Four three times in a row from 2006-08. Arizona has a veteran core led by Nick Johnson and Duquesne transfer point guard T.J. McConnell to go with one of the major freshmen of the season in Aaron Gordon. Sean Miller has reached the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight in his last four NCAA Tournament trips at Arizona and Xavier. This may be the season he reaches his first Final Four.
NC State isn’t where it wants to be this season, but at least with T.J. Warren, the Wolfpack are appointment viewing.
The sophomore showed why NC State could be considered a sleeper in the ACC Tournament with a pair of 40-point games this week.
Warren scored 41 points in a 74-67 road upset of Pittsburgh on Monday and then added 42 in a 78-68 against Boston College on Sunday to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
Against Boston College, Warren added 13 rebounds, including four in the offensive end.
“Here is the most important thing about T.J. that I’ve learned having coached: He wants to win,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “And you know, in his mind he’s not being selfish when he feels like he’s the best option.”
Warren’s hot streak to finish the season enabled the Wolfpack to pull to 9-9 in the ACC and one victory away from a 20-win season.
Athlon Sports National Weekly Awards
National Player of the Week: T.J. Warren, NC State
Warren joined the legendary David Thompson as the only two players in NC State history to score 40 points in back-to-back games. Warren shot 30 of 45 from the field and 20 of 24 from the free throw line for the week.
National Freshman of the Week: Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker, a virtual lock to earn first-team All-America honors as a freshman, scored a career-high 30 points and added 11 rebounds to help Duke avenge a loss to North Carolina with a 93–81 win over the Tar Heels Saturday night in Durham. Parker became the fourth Duke freshman to score at least 30 points in a game, joining J.J. Redick (34 and 30), Kyrie Irving (31) and Johnny Dawkins (31).
Under-the-radar player of the Week: Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky
Walden poured in a career-high 29 points — 22 in the second half — to lead Eastern Kentucky to a 79–73 win over No. 1 seed Belmont in the championship game of the OVC Tournament in Nashville. Walden, a junior guard, averaged 23.3 points in the Colonels’ three OVC Tournament wins. EKU will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007.
Other notable performances of the week:
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
VanVleet scored 22 points and had five rebounds and five assists to lead Wichita State to an 83–69 win over Indiana State in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Shockers, 34–0, will be the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the NCAA Tournament without a loss.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
His team lost the game — 92–86 at West Virginia — but Wiggins was spectacular in the final regular-season game of his freshman season. The 6-8 forward scored 41 points (the most ever by a KU freshman), grabbed eight rebounds and added five steals and four blocks. Wiggins is expected to be a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Staten was one of three Mountaineers to top the 20-point mark — joining forward Devin Williams and fellow guard Eron Harris — as West Virginia handed Big 12 champ Kansas a surprising 92–86 loss. Staten, a junior point guard, scored 24 points (14 from the foul line) and handed out nine assists to lead WVU to its ninth Big 12 win of the season.
Kenny Chery, Baylor
Chery scored 29 points to lead Baylor to a résumé-building win at Kansas State on Saturday. The senior point guard hit 8-of-13 from the field and 13-of-14 from the foul line and also contributed six rebounds, six steals and three steals to help the Bears improve to 9–9 in the Big 12.
Russ Smith, Louisville
Smith showed his versatility in the final two games of the regular season. On Wednesday, the senior guard scored 26 points (and hit all six of his 3-point attempts) to lead Louisville to a come-from-behind win at SMU. Then, on Sunday, he only scored three points but handed out a career-high 13 assists as the Cardinals pounded UConn 81–48 on Senior Night at the KFC Yum! Center.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Kane scored 27 points to help Iowa State overcome a 16-point deficit in Ames on Saturday. The senior guard, a transfer from Marshall, also had eight rebounds and eight assists in the Cyclones’ 85–81 overtime win against Oklahoma State.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Patterson tied his career high with 30 points to help Pittsburgh escape Clemson with an 83–78 win in the school’s final regular-season game of its first year in the ACC. The Panthers trailed by five points in the closing seconds of regulation but rallied to tie the score on a Patterson 3-pointer with thee seconds remaining and a Josh Newkirk jump shot (after a Clemson turnover) at the buzzer.
Eric Moreland, Oregon State
Moreland stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, 19 rebounds, four steals and three blocks to lead Oregon State to a 78–76 win over NCAA Tournament-bound Arizona State. The Beavers finished the regular season 8–10 and — barring a surprising run to the Pac-12 Tournament title — will miss the NCAA Tournament for the 24th consecutive season.
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Playing the final home game of his record-breaking career, McDermott scored a career-high 45 points to lead Creighton to an 88–73 win over Providence on Senior Night in Omaha. McDermott, the overwhelming favorite to earn National Player of the Year honors, became the eighth player in Division I history to hit the 3,000-point mark.
Deonte Burton, Nevada
Burton was spectacular last week, leading Nevada to wins at Boise State and vs. in-state rival UNLV. The athletic 6-1 guard scored 24 points and had 11 assists and eight rebounds while playing all 50 minutes in a double-overtime win over Boise State and then chipped in 24 points, 11 assists and eight boards in Saturday’s upset over UNLV.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Two days after scoring 34 points in an emotional Senior Night win over Memphis, Kilpatrick led UC with 24 points in a win over Rutgers on the road. The Bearcats finished in a tie with Louisville atop the American Athletic Conference standings and will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming league tournament.
Whether the achievements were fully expected, almost routine, or a true surprise, college basketball gave us some of the best of the sport during the weekend.
Even though Doug McDermott hit a career milestone, Wichita State continued its unbeaten streak or Florida joined an elite class, there was cause for celebration on the final day of the regular season.
The milestone in Lincoln wasn’t quite as expected as the others, but just as momentous as Nebraska all but clinched an NCAA Tournament bid with a win over Wisconsin.
All this, with a week left before Selection Sunday
College Basketball Weekend Recap: 15 Things to Know
1. Doug McDermott scored his 3,000th point
Milestone performances don’t come in many more perfect packages than what Doug McDermott delivered Saturday night. The Creighton forward became the eighth member the 3,000-point club with a 3-point shot in the second half of a win over Providence, but that was only part of the career night by McDermott. In his final home game in Omaha, McDermott scored a career-high 45 points. In a game Warren Buffett would love — the Oracle of Omaha himself was in attendance — McDermott was economical in his career day, finishing 17 of 25 from the field and 5 of 7 from 3-point range. He’s the first 3,000-point scorer since 2006 and one of the rare players to put up these kinds of numbers while playing for a nationally prominent program.
The 3,000-point club includes:
|Top Scorers in College Basketball History|
|Player||Last Year||Total Points|
|1. Pete Maravich, LSU||1970||3,667|
|2. Freeman Williams, Portland State||1978||3,249|
|3. Lionel Simmons, La Salle||1990||3,217|
|4. Alphonso Ford, Mississippi Valley||1993||3,165|
|5. Harry Kelly, Texas Southern||1983||3,066|
|6. Keydren Clark, Saint Peter’s||2006||3,058|
|7. Doug McDermott, Creighton||2014||3,011|
|8. Hersey Hawkins, Bradley||1988||3,008|
2. Wichita State matched UNLV’s 34-0
History continued for Wichita State, and again it looked routine. Indiana State threatened at times, but the Sycamores led a minute into the game and never again. Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with an 83-69 win over Indiana State to seal a 34-0 record and likely a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The 34-0 start ties 1990-91 UNLV for the best start in college basketball history. Wichita State will likely break the record with its 35th win in the NCAA Tournament unless the Shockers become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16. A notable number of the MVC final, Wichita State beat Indiana State — the No. 2 team in the league — three times by a combined margin of 41 points.
3. Florida made history
No matter how weak the SEC is this season, Florida’s accomplishment of reaching 18-0 stands as a historic feat. The Gators trounced Kentucky 84-65 to become the first 18-0 team in league history. The schedule expanded to 18 games when SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri, but no team accomplished the feat when the league slate featured 18 games from 1967-91. Running the table in a classic power conference is a rare feat, accomplished only seven times since the 1985. In that span, no Big Ten team has gone undefeated in league play. Ditto for the Big East or Pac-12. Naturally, the achievement is a precursor to NCAA Tournament success.
|Undefeated in a power conference since 1985|
|2014 Florida (18-0 SEC)||--||Billy Donovan|
|2012 Kentucky (16-0 SEC)||National champion||John Calipari|
|2003 Kentucky (16-0 SEC)||Elite Eight||Tubby Smith|
|2002 Kansas (16-0 Big 12)||National runner up||Roy Williams|
|1999 Duke (16-0 ACC)||National runner up||Mike Krzyzewski|
|1996 Kentucky (16-0 SEC)||National champion||Rick Pitino|
|1987 North Carolina (14-0 ACC)||Elite Eight||Dean Smith|
4. Jabari Parker is going to be a force in the postseason
Duke avenged its collapse against North Carolina earlier in the season with a 93-81 win over the Tar Heels. The story, though, may be Jabari Parker. The freshman is playing perhaps his best basketball of the season with 30 points (10 of 17 shooting) and 11 rebounds against the Tar Heels. Parker has had a double-double in six consecutive games, averaging 18.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in that span.
5a. Oregon has snapped out of its funk
The Ducks have been clawing their way out of a 3-8 start in the Pac-12 for some time, but this week signaled Oregon will be a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon defeated Arizona State in a key game to get off the bubble before a major statement in a 64-57 win over Arizona. Dana Altman returned Johnathan Loyd to the starting lineup on Feb. 16, and the Ducks haven’t lost since. Loyd had 16 points against Arizona.
5b. Arizona’s offensive deficiencies will be worth watching
Arizona may be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament because of its stifling defense. It certainly won’t be because of its offense. Arizona shot 2 of 11 from 3-point range against one of the weakest defensive teams in the conference, and the Wildcats continued to struggle from the free throw line (11 of 19). That’s going to be a concern as the Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament.
6. Andrew Wiggins’ career day means there’s little reason to worry about Kansas
On paper, maybe Kansas fans should be worried about the Jayhawks. They lost two out of their last three including Saturday’s 95-86 win over West Virginia. Perhaps they shouldn’t. Kansas had already locked up the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament and played again without Joel Embiid, whose ailing back is being saved for the postseason. Most encouraging for KU was the performance of Andrew Wiggins. The freshman scored more in a game than any other rookie this season with 41 points against the Mountaineers. More than just prolific, Wiggins was sharp as he shot 12 of 18 from the field and 15 of 19 from the free throw line. He added eight rebounds, five steals and four blocks.
7. Nebraska’s going to the NCAA Tournament
The Cornhuskers still have to wait to Selection Sunday to be certain, but the Lincoln crowd celebrated as if they won the Big Ten Tournament. Closing the regular season on an 11-3 run after starting 0-4, Nebraska picked up its third RPI top 30 win by defeating Wisconsin 77-68. Second-year coach Tim Miles led one of the true surprises of the season as the Huskers were picked 12th in the league, including by Athlon. Nebraska will open the Big Ten Tournament on a bye as the No. 4 seed.
8a. Louisville was ridiculous Saturday
Few performances were more dominant than Louisville’s 81-45 win over Connecticut on Saturday. The Huskies helped with some ill-advised shots from Shabazz Napier, but they still finished shooting 29.4 percent from the field and 3 of 22 from 3-point range. The Cardinals were just as dominant as the defensive end as they had 20 assists — led by Russ Smith’s 13 on Senior Day — on 26 field goals. Montrezl Harrell has been on a hot streak with 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in the last five games.
8b. The top seed in the American was decided on a coin flip
Seriously. The series of tiebreakers between Cincinnati and Louisville, tied in the league standings and 1-1 against each other, ended up in a coin flip conducted after Louisville’s win over UConn. Cincinnati won.
9. Baylor is one of the nation’s hottest teams
The end-of-game dramatics, thanks to a poor out-of-bounds play again, made Baylor’s 76-74 win more interesting than it should have been. Even so, tip your cap to the way Baylor recovered this season. Not long ago, the Bears were 2-8 in the Big 12 and in danger of slipping into the NIT for the second consecutive season. Now, the Bears go into the Big 12 Tournament at 9-9 in the league. Baylor punctuated the win over Kansas State, the Wildcats’ first loss in Manhattan since the opener, with 17 consecutive free throws.
10. Oklahoma State showed why a team should foul while leading by 3
The Cowboys missed a chance to close out the season with another impressive win when they lost 85-81 at Iowa State. Oklahoma State led 71-68 in the final seconds when Naz Long pulled up for a long 3-pointer with one second remaining. Oklahoma State didn’t foul and went into overtime. The odds in the extra frame were somewhat evened with Marcus Smart fouled out for Oklahoma State and Melvin Ejim fouled out for Iowa State (Georges Niang followed later). The loss spoiled an otherwise impressive performance for an Oklahoma State team that will be the most dangerous team at whatever seed the Pokes get.
11. Tennessee tried to erase any doubt
The Volunteers have been a bubble team all season, helped by an early season win over Virginia but harmed by a season sweep to Texas A&M. If Tennessee played like it did in the last three games, the Volunteers wouldn’t be on the bubble at all. The Volunteers defeated Missouri 72-45 to defeat the Tigers, Vanderbilt and Auburn by a combined 95 points. Tennessee might need to win its SEC Tournament opener for an NCAA bid, but it’s tough to pick against a Volunteers team on this kind of hot streak.
12. Three teams suddenly have work to do in the conference tournaments
Tennessee’s rout of Missouri puts the Tigers into a deeper hole, but Frank Haith’s team wasn’t alone in falling apart in its final regular season game. Arkansas, which looked like a lock by virtue of a sweep of Kentucky, lost 83-58 to an Alabama team with a losing record. Elsewhere, Pittsburgh lost 83-78 in overtime to Clemson to fall to 11-7 in the SEC. An early loss in the league tournament for any of those teams could cost them a bid.
13. San Diego State goes to 1-3-1, beats New Mexico
Few things are more intriguing as when a major coaching adjustment pays off. Steve Fisher showed why he’s a national coach of the year contender by switching to a 1-3-1 defense to take Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk out of the game. San Diego State trailed by 16 as New Mexico’s big men took control before the Aztecs adjusted. San Diego State won 51-48 to clinch the Mountain West regular season title.
14. Syracuse and Saint Louis showed signs of life
Syracuse defeated Florida State 74-58 on the road to end a 1-4 streak which included losses to also-rans Boston College and Georgia Tech. Elsewhere, Jordair Jett’s layup in the final 3 seconds gave Saint Louis a 64-62 win over UMass, ending a three-game losing streak.
15. Five teams clinched automatic bids
The first five automatic bids were clinched over the weekend with Wichita State, Coastal Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Mercer all winning conference tournaments. Harvard won the Ivy League regular season title.
Fifteen Senior Nights have come and gone in Lincoln without a group of veterans continuing their seasons in the NCAA Tournament.
That could change Sunday against Wisconsin.
The Cornhuskers have been one of the surprise teams in the country, assured of a winning record in the Big Ten. The next hurdle could be their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
Here’s how Nebraska arrived on the bubble and how the Huskers could further their case Sunday and into the conference tournaments.
By the numbers
Record: 18-11, 10-7 Big Ten
Strength of schedule: 36
Best win: Michigan State on the road
Worst loss: UAB on a neutral court
How Nebraska could be in the Tournament: The Huskers add to their top 50 win total
Nebraska stunned Ohio State 68-62 on Jan. 20, which turned out to the the turning point of the season. The win over the Buckeyes was the first top 50 win of the season for the Cornhuskers, which includes a 60-51 win at Michigan State on Feb. 16. The Huskers are 3-7 overall against the RPI top 50, but a win over Wisconsin would be their first against a team in the top 20
How Nebraska could be left out: The Huskers can't escape three bad losses
The Cornhuskers have three losses from which they’d like to hide from: at Purdue, at Penn State and against UAB in the Charleston Classic. Three losses to teams outside of the top 100 isn’t an eliminator — Kentucky and North Carolina have the same — but it’s not a good look.
Nebraska needs to: Beat Wisconsin
The Cornhuskers could be playing with house money in the Big Ten Tournament if they defeat Wisconsin on Saturday. The Badgers, though, have won eight in a row since a 1-5 stretch in January.
Nebraska can’t afford to: Fall out of the No. 4 seed and lose in the Big Ten Tournament
The No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament brings a first-round bye, but the Cornhuskers could slip to a No. 5 or No. 6 with a loss to Wisconsin combined with wins by Ohio State and/or Iowa. Falling out of the top four seeds would draw either Purdue or Northwestern in the first round. A loss to one of those teams could be devastating.
Insight from the beat: Brian Rosenthal, Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
“The fact Nebraska is even in consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid is a sign of the incredible coaching job by Tim Miles. In only his second season in Lincoln, Miles has taken a team picked to finish last in the Big Ten Conference and put it on the brink of ending its NCAA Tournament drought, which dates to 1998. Nebraska began the season 0-4 in Big Ten play, including a 31-point loss at Ohio State, but has since gone 10-3 to rise to fourth place in the Big Ten standings. The emergence of sophomore transfer Terran Petteway, the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, and a defense that’s held eight straight foes to less than 38 percent shooting have been key. The Huskers have also established a decisive home-court advantage at their new home, sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena, where they’re 14-1. The lone loss came to league champion Michigan by one point.”
By the end of the weekend, at least three automatic bids will be sealed with championship games in the Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley and Atlantic Sun.
Elsewhere, at-large teams are trying to make their final statements before their own conference tournaments. This includes a key bubble game in the SEC, a Kentucky team looking for respect, teams like Oklahoma State and Nebraska putting the final touches on their regular season resumes and teams like Stanford and Pittsburgh trying to hang on.
The week will feature a number of key matchups, but these are the teams that are under the most pressure Saturday and Sunday.
Teams on the Spot this Weekend
The Wildcats stumbled through a 55-48 home win over Alabama on Tuesday. At this rate, that has to count for something. Kentucky will try to salvage what’s already one of the most disappointing seasons for a preseason No. 1 team in decades. Did anyone expect John Calipari to be staring down his 12th SEC loss in two seasons?
Related: Kentucky at Florida Preview
The Red Storm are hanging by a thread to an at-large bid and will need to beat Marquette on the road to set up a chance to make an impression in the Big East Tournament. Marquette may have missed its own opportunity when Davante Gardner’s desperation heave at the end of regulation against Providence was a fraction of second too late. Marquette lost 81-80 in double overtime.
A win over Kansas last week did wonders for Oklahoma State’s NCAA Tournament hopes. A win on the road over Iowa State, even one that lost back-to-back games to Kansas State and Baylor, could signal the Cowboys could be a dangerous team in the Tournament.
A three-game losing streak has dropped the Cardinal to 9-8 in the Pac-12 and fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. A feisty Utah team is probably the last opponent Stanford wants to see in a must-win situation. The Utes took Arizona to overtime and then reeled off three wins over potential NCAA teams Arizona State, Colorado and Cal. Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins may be coaching for his job.
Missouri and Tennessee
If there’s a fourth SEC team heading to the NCAA Tournament, it may be the winner of this game. The home team in this case has all the momentum. Tennessee played like a team with little room for error in blowouts of Vanderbilt (by 38 points) and Auburn (by 28).
Related: Tennessee’s Bubble Profile
The Panthers don’t want to invite the NCAA selection committee to look at their resume. As it is, Pittsburgh may be on the bubble after allowing 41 points to T.J. Warren in a 74-67 loss to NC State on Monday. The Panthers don’t have a win against a team assured of a spot in the NCAA field.
Providence was the beneficiary of some — sorry for this — providence in the win over Marquette. The Friars have played six overtime games this season, half of them settled in double OT. A season sweep of Creighton after Providence won the first meeting 81-68 at home may seal a bid for the Friars.
The Hawkeyes are fading fast, primarily because they can’t find a defense to match the offense. Iowa lost 86-76 to Michigan State on Thursday for its fourth loss in five games and third game in the last four giving up more than 80. A home date against Illinois is a chance to regroup ... or sound further alarms.
San Diego State has been the more highly regarded team all year, but New Mexico could win the regular season title in the Mountain West with a win on the road. New Mexico won the first meeting at The Pit 58-44.
The Billikens’ 25-2 start has been spoiled with three consecutive losses. Saint Louis was one of the best defensive teams in the country until Feb. 27, allowing at least a point per possession in each game and an average of 70 points per game to Duquesne, VCU and Dayton.
The Buckeyes need home cooking in the worst way after road losses to Penn State and Indiana. Ohio State has hit 70 points just once (at home against Northwestern) since Feb. 4.
In a season with three top 50 wins, none would be better than Wisconsin. The Badgers are chasing a No. 1 seed, but Nebraska is looking to seal its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: None
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None
Atlantic 10 (6)
Feeling good: Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Bubble in: Dayton, George Washington, St. Joseph’s
Bubble out: Richmond
Big 12 (7)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Bubble in: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bubble out: West Virginia
Big East (3)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Xavier
Bubble out: Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's
Big Ten (6)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Nebraska
Bubble out: Indiana, Minnesota
Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Bubble out: Stanford
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Arkansas, Tennessee
Bubble out: LSU, Missouri
West Coast (2)
Feeling good: None
Bubble in: BYU, Gonzaga
Bubble out: None
Favorites in one-bid leagues (22)
America East: Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Irvine
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Texas Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
*Wichita State would be an at-large if the Shockers lose in the MVC tournament
The ACC Tournament starts next week, and the league seems to have fewer questions than ever at the top.
Will Syracuse pull out of its scoring slump in time? Should we believe in Virginia to make a run? Can North Carolina be trusted in a bracket? And what is the ceiling for Duke?
The latter two questions may be answered in some form or another Saturday night in the regular season finale for Duke and North Carolina.
In the first meeting, Duke squandered a second half lead to lose 74-66 to the Tar Heels. At the time, North Carolina was playing some of its most consistent basketball of the season, and while the Tar Heels haven’t lost since Jan. 20, they haven’t been the most sharp team in recent games.
What’s on the line for North Carolina:
The Tar Heels are looking to secure their first season sweep of Duke since 2007 and end the regular season on a 13-game winning streak. A win over Duke and a strong showing in the ACC Tournament could signal a team ready to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
What’s on the line for Duke:
The Blue Devils are trying to stay in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke ranks eighth in the RPI and has only four top 50 wins this season, which is fewer than fellow No. 1 seed contenders Kansas and Wisconsin. A win over North Carolina and an ACC Tournament championship may be tough to ignore.
Saturday, 9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
About North Carolina
Record: 23-7, 13-4 ACC
Record: 23-7, 12-5 ACC
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: North Carolina 63-61
Braden Gall: Duke 70-60
Mitch Light: Duke 77-70
The Tar Heels have gone from a being mystery team early in the season to of the hottest teams in the country. The 12 consecutive ACC wins is the most for the North Carolina in ACC play since 1986-87. The stretch hasn’t been entirely dominant with ugly wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Carolina will need to play at a higher level to end the regular season on a 13-game win streak.
Pivotal player: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Perhaps most interesting about North Carolina’s hot streak is that Paige hasn’t been hitting shots. Earlier in the season, North Carolina had little chance if Paige had an off night. In his last two games, though, he’s 5 of 15 from the field and 2 of 9 from 3-point range, yet Carolina won both.
Biggest question: What is the status of Mike Krzyzewski?
This has been a trying season for Krzyzewski, whose older brother died unexpectedly in December. Krzyzewski then suffered dizziness and lightheadedness that brought him to a knee during Wednesday’s win over Wake Forest. Krzyzewski coached the remainder of the game from the bench but did not speak during postgame interviews. Reports indicated he returned to practice Thursday.
Billy Donovan doesn’t want his team to get too caught up in the past. Meanwhile, John Calipari wants his team to spend plenty of time thinking about the past.
As Florida chases perfection in the SEC, Donovan doesn’t want his team to dwell on the record — what he says is simply a reflection of what’s already been done.
“Up to this point we’ve done a good job, but you don’t want to lose your identity as a team,” Donovan said. “You don’t want to get enamored with a record.”
At the same time, Calipari wants his team to try to rediscover what it had in mid-February. At that point, his team defeated Missouri, Ole Miss twice and played one of their best games of the season in a loss to Florida.
At that time, Calipari’s team held its head high. Losing to Arkansas and South Carolina changed that.
“How do we get our defensive confidence, defensive confidence,” Calipari said. “We just had it 10 days ago. How did that change? What did we do different?”
Whatever the answer to that question, Kentucky needs to find it before the finale in Gainesville.
What’s on the line for Kentucky:
Respectability. The Wildcats have long since lost their chance at the SEC title, and it may take more than a win in Gainesville to drastically improve their seed in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Kentucky needs to show some signs of life. The Wildcats last three weeks have not been pretty: An overtime win over LSU, an overtime loss to Arkansas and an embarrassing defeat against South Carolina in which John Calipari was ejected. Will the Wildcats show any signs they can salvage this year as they enter the postseason?
What’s on the line for Florida:
The 18-0 milestone. The Gators could clinch the SEC regular season title by six games, and a No. 1 seed may be a given. What’s on the line for Florida is the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history. Granted, the SEC has had an 18-game season for only two seasons. But this would be the first undefeated SEC season in school history and only the second in the league since 2002-03.
Saturday, noon Eastern, CBS
Record: 22-8, 12-5 SEC
Record: 28-2, 17-0 SEC
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 72-58
Braden Gall: Florida 70-60
Mitch Light: Florida 68-54
It’s hard to remember the time early this season when the Gators’ roster was in flux. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended to start the season. So was Dorian Finney-Smith. Backup point guard Kasey Hill was hurt at times. Now, the Gators are as balanced as ever with Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather taking their turns leading Florida in scoring in the last six games. Meanwhile, Florida has held opponents to fewer than one point for possession in the last three games.
Pivotal player: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
If Kentucky is going to have any chance to upset Florida, the Wildcats are going to have to crack the Florida defensive pressure. The Gators hold opponents to a 0.71 assist-to-turnover ratio, second to Arkansas in the SEC. Point guard has been an issue all season for Kentucky with Harrison, who averages 1.4 assists per turnover.
Biggest question: Can Kentucky find its shot?
It’s easy for opponents to gang up on Julius Randle when Kentucky can’t make a shot — or takes bad ones — from outside. The Wildcats are shooting 34.4 percent from the floor in the last three games and 15 of 65 from 3-point range. The slump has been team wide with James Young, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress all struggling from the field.
First off, congratulations to all the teams on the following list. Each of the 13 teams on the list below looks like a team that could win the national title.
Now that we're finished with the formalities, Athlon Sports is going pick out each team’s biggest weakness.
No team in college basketball is perfect, not even the one sitting in Kansas with the perfect record. In a one-game elimination scenario just one opponent needs to exploit one soft spot to end a top team’s national championship bid.
For teams like Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Kansas, Duke and more, these are the things that might doom a title bid. These are the fatal flaws.
Fatal flaw: Free throw shooting
At one point, Arizona’s biggest weakness looked like it might be the absence of 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley. After a couple of stumbles, the Wildcats are back to their early season form even without Ashley in the post. One of the Wildcats’ major flaws instead is free throw shooting. Arizona converts only 66.2 percent of free throws, which puts the Cats just inside the top 300 nationally.
Fatal flaw: Game-altering defense
Opponents facing Creighton will admit that Doug McDermott is going to get his 25 points or more. And Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat will snap out of their 3-point shooting slump sooner or later. The issue for Creighton is what it’s been every season of the Doug McDermott era: Defensive play. While the Bluejays may be the best offensive team in the country, they’re outside of the top 100 in defensive efficiency. Their block rate, steal rate and defensive turnover rate are among the worst in the Big East.
Fatal flaw: Lack of a big body
Duke has two of the most versatile 6-8 forwards in the country in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. What those two can’t do, though, is defend around the rim. Duke is a far better defensive team than it was early in the season, but the Blue Devils could run into trouble against a team with a good post presence. Seven-footer Marshall Plumlee, though, is gaining more and more playing time to give Duke some size to go with the 6-9 Amile Jefferson.
Fatal flaw: Who is the go-to scorer?
What a problem Billy Donovan has: His team is almost too balanced. The top five scorers average between 14.5 and 9.3 points per game. Scottie Wilbekin is the Gators’ most important player, but Casey Prather, Michael Frazier or even Dorian Finney-Smith may end up taking the last shot.
Fatal flaw: Inexperience
Few teams have grown up more than Kansas from the non-conference season to the conference tournaments. With five new starters, three of which are freshmen, Kansas had room to grow. In the Jayhawks’ three Big 12 losses, freshman Andrew Wiggins struggled from the floor, particularly from long range. If that occurs in the later rounds of the Tournament, Kansas could be upset. However, this team still won the Big 12 regular season title and may be a No. 1 seed. Experience might be overrated.
Fatal flaw: No Gorgui Dieng
Montrezl Harrell has had a fine season, contributing in unexpected ways in the offensive end. Harrell went 11 of 17 from the field against Memphis, including a rare 3-pointer. After the 6-8 Harrell, though, there’s a major drop off tot he next two big men in the 6-9 Stephan Van Treese and the 6-10 Mangok Mathiang. The absence of Dieng on defense was a major question to start the season and remains that way.
Fatal flaw: Defense around the basket
This is where Michigan will miss Mitch McGary, one of the key cogs to the trip to the championship game last season. Michigan may be a better offensive team that it was a year ago, especially after Caris LeVert has given the Wolverines an additional weapon. But can Michigan defend well enough around the basket for a run in the Tournament? Big Ten opponents shoot 52 percent from 2-point range against the Wolverines.
Fatal flaw: The team we’ve seen is the team we’re going to get
The line on Michigan State all season has been that as soon as the Spartans get healthy, this team can challenge for a title. An intact roster hasn’t happened yet. Even as Branden Dawson returned, point guard Keith Appling’s ailing wrist remained an ongoing concern. Meanwhile, Gary Harris has shown signs of a player who has been asked to carry the team for weeks. There’s a likelihood not everyone will be healthy and rested for the Tournament run, and the team Michigan State has had in the last month will be the one that goes to the postseason.
Fatal flaw: Frontcourt depth
With Jerami Grant injured and DaJuan Coleman already out for the season, Syracuse against Georgia Tech had to go with a lineup starting Tyler Robinson, a freshman who had played 130 minutes all season. Unless Rakeem Christmas gets going, Syracuse doesn’t have a reliable scorer in the post. And without depth, foul trouble or another injury could hit this team hard.
Fatal flaw: Size in the frontcourt
The easiest answer for Villanova’s fatal flaw is “Creighton,” a team that drilled the Wildcats for two of their three losses this season. The other answer for Villanova’s most glaring weakness is the lack of a big body in the frontcourt. Villanova has big guards — James Bell and Darrun Hilliard are both 6-6, Josh Hart is 6-5. But the only regular taller than 6-7 is Daniel Ochefu, a 6-11 forward who averages 21.3 minutes per game.
Fatal flaw: Tempo
Teams that run at a slower pace often run into trouble in the NCAA Tournament, and the Cavaliers rank 342nd in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. The Cavaliers are still able to score in spurts, but a team that rarely tops 70 points could have a ceiling in the Tournament.
Fatal flaw: 3-point shooting
Oddly enough, the same thing that propelled Wichita State to last year’s Final Four may hold Wichita State back in a bid to repeat. The Shockers hit 14 of 28 3-pointers to upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the round of 32 last year. Now, long-range shooting may be one of Wichita State’s few weaknesses. The Shockers shoot 33.7 percent from 3.
Fatal flaw: Defense
The instinct is to say the Badgers’ style of play and limited offense could cause them to stall in the NCAA Tournament as they have in years past. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Wisconsin plays a bit faster than it used to, and it has more weapons in the offensive end than it has in some time. Meanwhile, though, Wisconsin’s defense has been ordinary by Bo Ryan standards, ranking 42nd in defensive efficiency. Wisconsin struggles to get turnovers, and its perimeter defense has been suspect at times this season.
If AJ McCarron ends up in the College Football Hall of Fame, the credit won’t go entirely to his two national championships and 36 career wins.
Instead, the former Alabama quarterback can thank the Walter Camp Foundation. That organization voted him its first-team All-America quarterback during his senior year, thus making him eligible for the Hall of Fame.
(Remember, this makes McCarron eligible, but does not guarantee he'll be on the ballot or voted into the Hall. The late Alabama linebacker Derrick Thomas is in his fourth year on the ballot for one of the more egregious snubs in recent years.)
That’s just one illustration of the rules that govern eligibility for the college hall. A player must be voted a first-team All-American by one of the major services to simply be eligible.
Seriously, the Hall puts it in all caps:
"FIRST AND FOREMOST, A PLAYER MUST HAVE RECEIVED FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA RECOGNITION BY A SELECTOR RECOGNIZED BY THE NCAA AND UTILIZED TO COMPRISE THEIR CONSENSUS ALL-AMERICA TEAMS.”
In most modern cases, this is first-team recognition by the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, the American Football Coaches Association, the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Sporting News. And this makes sense. To be in the Hall of Fame, at least one service should deem a player to be the best at his position in one season, right?
But there’s only one spot for a quarterback as a first-team All-American, and McCarron’s time coinciding with Heisman winners Robert Griffin, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston has made the first team tough to crack.
Coaches have their own requirements: 10 years and 100 games as a head coach with a .600 win percentage. Sure, a Hall of Fame coach should probably win better than 60 percent of his games, but not if he cut his teeth, and eventually won, at tough jobs.
These rules are — putting it kindly — problematic. Here's who would not be eligible for the Hall of Fame:
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: In his 277-game career, Schnellenberger gets penalized for taking over hopeless college jobs at Miami and Louisville, plus building Florida Atlantic from the ground up. That makes him the architect of three programs. He led Miami to its first national title in 1983 and Louisville to the Fiesta Bowl in 1990. All that time at tough jobs causes him to fall short of the win percentage requirement (51.4 percent). Even if Schnellenberger retired in 1994 before a 5-5-1 season at Oklahoma and a 41-56 run at fledgling FAU, he still would fall short of the 60-percent mark (56.2 percent at Miami and Louisville).
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: “Citizenship”
Why he should be in: The Hall of Fame doesn’t forbid players who received NCAA sanctions to be enshrined, but it does say a player’s “post-football record as a citizen is also weighed.” On the field, Bush would be an easy pick for the Hall of Fame, but it may be tough for a player who had to return his Heisman to crack the College Football Hall of Fame.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Too few seasons
Why he should be in: The criteria states a head coach must work for a minimum of 10 years. Carroll coached nine with seven consecutive top-five finishes, two national titles and five Rose Bowls.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Noticing a trend with quarterbacks circa 2006-08? There were a lot of good ones, and White ends up getting squeezed out. He was the most successful West Virginia quarterback since Major Harris, he became the first quarterback to start and win four bowl games, and he holds the record for career rushing yards for a quarterback (4,480).
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: Tiller brought the spread to the Big Ten and made Purdue relevant along the way. The Boilermakers endured 12 consecutive losing seasons before he was hired and reached the Rose Bowl (albeit with an 8-4 record) by his fourth season). He went to bowl games in 10 of 12 seasons at Purdue, but finished his career with a 57.8 win percentage in Lafayette and at Wyoming. It’s worth noting Tiller’s best quarterback, Drew Brees, also doesn’t meet Hall of Fame criteria by never being a first-team All-America selection.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Win percentage
Why he should be in: Go ahead and be underwhelmed by Brooks’ career losing record (45.5 percent) in 290 games as a college coach, but go ask about him in Eugene and Lexington. Without Brooks, there’d be no Mike Bellotti or Chip Kelly at Oregon. In 1994, Brooks led Oregon to its first Rose Bowl since the 1919 season. And at Kentucky, he and Bear Bryant are the only coaches with four consecutive winning seasons.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Chris Ault -- who was already in the College Football Hall of Fame as an active coach -- invented the Pistol offense years earlier, but Kaepernick brought it to the masses as a collegian and a pro. He led Nevada to its best season as an FBS program while becoming the only quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards in his career.
Why he doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not a first-team All-American
Why he should be in: Passing for 19,217 career yards at the Conference USA level wasn’t enough to make Keenum a first-team All-American among a loaded group of quarterbacks from 2007-11.
Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Too few games
Why they should be in: The two coaches defined the Pac-12 for the post-Pete Carroll era in divergent ways. Harbaugh’s physical, balanced teams produced two Heisman finalists (Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart) and the best Stanford season since 1940. Kelly’s Oregon teams were the best at running the no-huddle spread on the way to three conference titles. The NFL came calling for both, meaning Kelly (53 career games) and Harbaugh (50 FBS games, plus 35 at FCS San Diego) don't meet the 10-year or 100-game requirement. Harbaugh, however, is eligible as a player.
Big 12 quarterbacks
Why they don’t meet the Hall of Fame’s criteria: Not first-team All-Americans
Why they should be in: Let’s name the names: Landry Jones, Chase Daniel and Collin Klein. Jones is the career-leading passer for the Big 12 and Oklahoma. Daniel was Heisman finalist who led his team to two Big 12 title games and the brink or the ’07 national championship game. Klein finished with 86 total touchdowns (56 rushing, 30 passing) and went 21-5 his last two seasons. The problem? Contemporaries like Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Johnny Manziel for Jones and Klein and Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford for Daniel relegated these quarterbacks to second-team status or lower.