Articles By David Fox

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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.

Kentucky at Florida
Saturday, noon Eastern, CBS

About Kentucky
Record: 22-8, 12-5 SEC
AP: 25
RPI: 17
KenPom: 22
Sagarin: 19

About Florida
Record: 28-2, 17-0 SEC
AP: 1
RPI: 3
KenPom: 3
Sagarin: 5

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 72-58
Braden Gall: Florida 70-60
Mitch Light: Florida 68-54
You’ll tune in to watch: A Florida team rounding into national championship form
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.

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: Florida seeks record season vs. Kentucky
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 11:08
Path: /college-basketball/fatal-flaws-could-sink-13-title-contenders-ncaa-tournament
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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.

Arizona
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.

Creighton
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.

Duke
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.

Florida
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.

Kansas
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.

Louisville
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.

Michigan
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.

Michigan State
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.

Syracuse
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.

Villanova
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.

Virginia
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.

Wichita State
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.

Wisconsin
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.

Teaser:
Fatal flaws that could sink 13 title contenders in the NCAA Tournament
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/notable-names-will-be-snubbed-college-football-hall-fame
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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:

Howard Schnellenberger
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).

Reggie Bush
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.

Pete Carroll
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.

Pat White
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).

Joe Tiller
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.

Rich Brooks
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.

Colin Kaepernick
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.

Case Keenum
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.

Teaser:
Notable Names that will be Snubbed by the College Football Hall of Fame
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 12:04
Path: /college-basketball/12-unlikely-players-who-could-be-ncaa-tournament-heroes
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Becoming a March Madness hero has its perks.

For example, can you pronounce Farokhmanesh? Have you ever had such a hot hand you thought you might try courting Kate Upton in front of the entire world?

That's what it's like for three weeks during the NCAA Tournament for the unlikeliest of stars.

Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh hit four 3-pointers to upset Kansas in the second round in 2010, and for a brief time every college basketball fan could pronounce the name a player who had never even averaged 10 points per game in his career.

And just last year, Michigan’s then-freshman Spike Albrecht briefly became a title game hero with 17 points against Louisville, a total he never exceeded before or since. Things were working out so much for Albrecht he tweeted to swimsuit model Kate Upton, who attended the game in a maize V-neck, “saw you at the game last night, thanks for coming out! Hope to see you again. :)”

Finding the next Farokhmanesh or Albrecht isn’t easy, but we’ll give it a try. Here are a handful of lesser-known players who could become household names for major contenders in the NCAA Tournament.

Gabe York, Arizona
York entered the starting lineup for three games late in the season and immediately gave the Wildcats a boost after their loss to Arizona State. York is a defensive liability, but he is a 3-point shooter on a team without many of them — York has made as many 3s (43) as leading scorer Nick Johnson in 12 fewer minutes per game.

Grant Gibbs, Creighton
Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat have suddenly gone cold from 3, but here’s Gibbs, shooting 7 of 9 in the last three games. The sixth-year senior is the classic glue guy who knows when to take a shot (60 percent from 2, 47.2 percent from 3) or when to pass (four assists per game).

Amile Jefferson, Duke
Remember Brian Zoubek? The Blue Devils center in 2010 helped Duke to the national title thanks to his offensive rebounding prowess. Jefferson isn’t nearly as prolific (77 offensive boards) as the 7-1 Zoubek was (143), but he is Duke’s top offensive rebounding threat this season. Jefferson had five offensive rebounds against Virginia, six against Pittsburgh and six against Syracuse this season.

Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Here’s the definition of an unlikely NCAA Tournament hero: Finney-Smith is on a loaded team but had slumped to make one 3-point shot in his last 23 attempts. So who gets the ball with an opportunity for a dagger against Vanderbilt? Finney-Smith. The Virginia Tech transfer also grabbed 10 or more rebounds five times this season.

Wayne Selden, Kansas
The Jayhawks will be led by Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid, but the five-star freshman Selden isn’t a bad fourth option. He can finish around the rim, and he’s plenty capable of hitting shots from deep. A secondary scorer on Kansas’ record, he’s managed to find a way to top 20 points three times.

Terry Rozier, Louisville
The freshman Rozier briefly started in place of an injured Chris Jones in an eye-opening stint at point guard this season. Rozier has returned to the bench, but he’s still offering better than 20 minutes per game. He can be a bigger option at point guard (6-1) than the starter Jones (5-10).

Spike Albrecht, Michigan
Albrecht already has been the NCAA Tournament X-factor, when he scored 17 points out of nowhere against Louisville in the title game. A second explosion in the Tournament might not have the shock value of the first time, but it would still be surprising. A consistent contributor off the bench this season, Albrecht hasn’t topped 10 points since the title game.

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
After the last two weeks, Syracuse perhaps should’t be on a list of teams preparing to play for the title. A major reason has been a lack of inside scoring. If anyone on the roster is going to provide it, Christmas may be the guy since the Orange have few other options. He’s shown flashes with 10 points against Pittsburgh and 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks against NC State.

Josh Hart, Villanova
Hart was briefly one of the nation’s most productive freshmen during an eight-game stretch in December and January when he scored at least 10 points in each game. Hart slumped into Big East play, but he’s showing signs of pulling out of it with 13 points against Marquette and eight rebounds against Butler in the last week.

London Perrantes, Virginia
The Cavaliers freshman point guard has been the key to Virginia’s run to the ACC title and reason the Cavs may be dangerous in March. Not only has Perrantes, who averages 4.8 points per game, been hitting key 3-point shots in wins over Syracuse and Miami, he’s become a more efficient point guard. He has a 5.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during Virginia’s win streak.

Darius Carter, Wichita State
Wichita State has its share of established names — Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton — but Carter may be one of the names that emerges in the Tournament. The 6-7 forward comes off the bench to offer 8.3 points per game, but he’s averaging 18.3 points per 40 minutes, second only to Early’s 22.9. His fresh legs will be an asset.

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has its share of impact players — Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust. Of all them, the freshman Hayes may have the highest ceiling. The depth has allowed Hayes to grow into his role to the season where now he’s a consistent threat anywhere inside the arc.

Teaser:
12 Unlikely players who could be NCAA Tournament heroes
Post date: Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-basketball/12-teams-could-pop-ncaa-tournament-bubbles
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Beware of bid thieves.

For weeks, basketball fans been watching the NCAA Tournament bubble, hoping their teams can win the games they should and maybe score an upset or two.

But an NCAA Tournament bid isn’t always in the hands of the bubble teams. In just about every season, a team that has no business playing in the Big Dance will make a run at a conference title by grabbing an automatic bid at the 11th hour.

These are those teams, the spoilers. Bubble teams should watch with trepidation.

Bid thieves are not teams already on the bubble that could play its way in like Nebraska, Minnesota or a host of teams in the SEC. Instead, these are teams that are conference tournament champions or bust.

They are either major conference teams capable of making a run in the league tournaments or they are teams in leagues that would be receive only one bid if the regular season champion wins out.

For example, if any team other than Wichita State wins the Missouri Valley tournament, the MVC will be a two-bid league and one bubble team will be out of luck. The same is true if a team like Georgia wins the SEC Tournament or Utah wins the Pac-12.

Here are the teams that could spoil the next two weeks for bubble teams.

Boise State
The Broncos this season returned five starters from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament, but they need the Mountain West Tournament to return. Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic still give Boise State the backcourt to make the Broncos contenders. If Boise State can put together a consistent defensive effort for a weekend, the Broncos can play the role of spoiler.

Georgia
The Bulldogs have shocked the SEC Tournament before, albeit under strange circumstances. In 2008, Georgia won the SEC Tournament by winning two games in one day at Georgia Tech after a tornado damaged the Georgia Dome. The SEC Tournament is back in Atlanta, and this year’s Georgia team is much better than the last-place team that won in 2008. If someone knocks off Florida, a Georgia team that’s 10-6 in the SEC would have as good a chance to win as any team.

Illinois
Eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention thanks to an eight-game losing streak in January, Illinois is starting to heat up. The backcourt of Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams led Illinois to three consecutive wins over Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan State in the last two weeks. And don’t doubt a John Groce team in a tournament setting: This is a coach who has a Maui Invitational title, a Sweet 16 appearance and an upset of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament on his ledger.

Milwaukee
Green Bay will be one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the field, but what if the Phoenix lose in the Horizon League Tournament? Green Bay doesn’t have a great at-large profile at No. 51 in the RPI and a strength of schedule barely inside the top 150. Still, given the state of the bubble, the selection committee might look favorably on a 24-5 team that beat Virginia and lost by three to Wisconsin. Why Milwaukee as the spoiler for Green Bay instead of Horizon No. 2 Cleveland State? Milwaukee defeated Green Bay 73-63 on the road and lost in overtime in the first meeting. With Jordan Aaron back from suspension, Milwaukee will be more dangerous than a typical No. 5 seed in the Horizon.

Northern Iowa
If Wichita State wins the league tournament, the Missouri Valley will be a one-bid league. The Shockers have shown few signs of weakness in league play, so any upset would be a long shot. Indiana State is the No. 2 seed in the Arch Madness and the consensus No. 2 team. Still, the Sycamores are limping into the postseason with three consecutive loses, including a 71-69 loss to third-place Northern Iowa. The Panthers won five of their last six.

Ole Miss
The Rebels aren’t nearly the complete team they were last season when they won the SEC Tournament. But this team still has Marshall Henderson chucking 3-pointers against an SEC full of teams susceptible to losing games they shouldn’t.

San Francisco
Gonzaga and BYU both could be at-large bids out of the West Coast Conference, making San Francisco the team with the most to gain in the league tournament. Portland is the only team to defeat both Gonzaga and BYU this season, but San Francisco has been the more consistent team during the season. The Dons enter the WCC Tournament on a hot streak with five consecutive wins.

Seton Hall
Bubble teams in the Big East already want nothing to do with Seton Hall. The Pirates have six conference wins this season, four of which coming on regular season sweeps of Georgetown and Xavier. Seton Hall also defeated Providence on the road in overtime on Dec. 31. The Pirates might not be able to win the Big East Tournament, but they might not have to in order to knock teams out of the NCAA field.

Texas Tech
The Big 12 was a grind this season, especially during the month or so when Texas Tech was of the toughest outs in the bottom tier of the league. The Red Raiders defeated Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and took Kansas to the buzzer this season. This is a well-coached team under Tubby Smith with an under-appreciated forward in Jaye Crockett, and few teams in the Big 12 should be considered invincible.

UNLV
The Runnin’ Rebels have a roster that should be better than 19-10 and needing the Mountain West Tournament to get into the field. This has been a disappointing season, but the Rebels have homecourt advantage. The Mountain West is not a strong conference this season, so the tournament isn’t the grind it was a year ago. If UNLV can beat New Mexico or San Diego State, the Rebels can win in Vegas.

Utah
Larry Krystkowiak should be a Pac-12 coach of the year candidate as Utah approaches the 20-win mark and flirts with a winning conference record in his third season. Keep in mind, this is a program that won six games total in 2011-12. The Utes have one of the stronger defensive teams in the league and a duo of Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright that has kept them competitive all year. Utah has defeated UCLA, Colorado and Arizona State this season and took Oregon, the Buffaloes and Arizona to overtime.

West Virginia
Like Texas Tech, West Virginia enjoyed a few weeks as one of the more dangerous teams in the Big 12. The Mountaineers defeated Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State during a five-game stretch from Jan. 28-Feb. 10. The Mountaineers’ backcourt of Juwan Staten and Eron Harris can keep up with anyone in the league.

Teaser:
12 teams that could pop NCAA Tournament bubbles
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-projections-bubble-watch-and-key-games-march-4
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Crunch time is here.

Conference tournaments are starting this week in 13 league. But with most of those tournaments featuring a winner-take-all for an NCAA bid, the bubble watch is taking place in the final week of the regular season for the major conferences.

The Big East, Atlantic 10 and Pac-12 have perhaps the most important bubble games of the week while other teams are simply trying to work on some resume maintenance, as you might call it.

Here are the key midweek games and a look at the field and bubble teams for the rest of the week.

Key Games with NCAA Tournament Implications This Week

Iowa State at Baylor (Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
The Bears have probably recovered from their 2-8 start in Big 12 play with wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State. A game against Iowa State, coming off a loss to Kansas State on Saturday, is another chance to build the resume.

Creighton at Georgetown (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Bluejays are looking to recover from a loss to Xavier on Saturday, but this game is more important for Georgetown. The Hoyas are on a 1-3 slide, with all three losses on the road. If John Thompson III’s team is going to make it to the field, beating Creighton or Villanova would be a good start.

Marquette at Providence (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Buzz Williams’ team is on the fringes despite a disastrous start to the season. The Eagles may need to beat Providence and St. John’s, otherwise, it’s Big East Tournament or bust. The Friars have their own work to do to prove they can beat someone other than DePaul, Butler and Seton Hall.

Florida State at Boston College (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU)
The Seminoles may be a long shot, but they need to win this game to set up the really important game against struggling Syracuse to end the season.

Arizona State at Oregon (Tuesday, 11 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Sun Devils and Ducks have similar RPI and strength of schedule rankings, but Arizona State has the strong resume with six top 50 wins. Oregon, meanwhile, is looking to build momentum after its best of the season at UCLA on Saturday.

Louisville at SMU (Wednesday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Mustangs may be safe as long as they don’t lose early in the American Tournament. SMU finishes with Louisville at home and Memphis on the road.

Nebraska at Indiana (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
A 60-49 loss to Illinois a week ago puts more pressure on Nebraska to win its final two games in Bloomington and at home against Wisconsin. The Hoosiers have quietly pulled themselves together in February with back-to-back wins over Iowa and Ohio State, but a home loss to a bubble team is not a great way to get attention.

Ole Miss at Arkansas (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ESPN3.com)
The Razorbacks may be in the field with seven wins in the last eight games. They just need to avoid the home upset to Marshall Henderson and the Rebels.

Texas A&M at Missouri (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ESPN3.com)
With road losses to Alabama and Georgia in the last two weeks, Missouri needs this game to set up a meaningful matchup at Tennessee on Saturday.

Colorado at Stanford (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
The Buffaloes are 6-6 without Spencer Dinwiddie and finish with road trips to the Bay Area schools, both of which are in NCAA at-large contention. A huge opportunity for Tad Boyle’s team.

Dayton at Saint Louis (Wednesday, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Flyers are still in contention after Saturday’s win over UMass. Finishing against a slumping Saint Louis team on the road and at home against Richmond will be critical for a team just barely in the RPI top 50.

St. Joseph’s at George Washington (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Comcast SportsNet)
The Colonials have slumped against NCAA contenders in the last month with losses to Dayton, VCU, UMass and Saint Louis. St. Joe’s, meanwhile, is on a six-game winning streak.

Arizona at Oregon State (Wednesday, 11 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Wildcats will look to protect their No. 1 seed with a trip to the Oregon schools this week. Both of Arizona’s losses this season have come on the road.

Utah at Cal (Wednesday, 11 p.m., ESPNU)
Cal is 3-4 since the win over Arizona on Feb. 1. The Bears finish with two tough but winnable home games against Utah and Colorado.

Villanova at Xavier (Thursday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Musketeers followed up an upset of Creighton on Saturday by losing its second game of the season to Seton Hall. And that’s why Xavier is on the bubble.

Iowa at Michigan State (Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Whose fortunes are sinking faster? Iowa has lost three of four, and Michigan State is 4-6 since starting 18-1 overall.

NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch

ACC (5)
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: None

American (5)
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: Minnesota
Bubble out: Indiana, Nebraska

Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State

Pac-12 (6)
Feeling good: Arizona, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford
Bubble out: None

SEC (4)
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Arkansas, Missouri
Bubble out: LSU, Tennessee

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
Colonial: Delaware
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
Ivy: Harvard
MAAC: Iona
MAC: Toledo
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southern: Davidson
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

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament Projections, Bubble Watch and Key Games March 4
Post date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 14:01
All taxonomy terms: Kentucky Wildcats, SEC, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/kentucky-wildcats-wrong-side-college-basketball-history
Body:

Kentucky entered the season hoping to be in rare company. The idea of the top recruiting class in the history of college basketball challenging 40-0 always seemed far fetched.

But at the start of the season Kentucky certainly appeared much closer to winning 30-plus games during the regular season than losing 10.

Instead, Kentucky is trying to avoid another kind of company — from preseason No. 1 to unranked. After losing twice last week to Arkansas and most embarrassingly to SEC bottom feeder South Carolina, Kentucky was ranked 25th in this week’s Associated Press poll, 22 points from falling out completely.

Kentucky, which finishes the regular season at No. 1 Florida on Saturday, may be the first AP preseason No. 1 team to spend a week out of the polls since Indiana did it in 1979-80.

With an 11-5 record in a weak SEC, the Wildcats already are one of the most disappointing preseason No. 1 teams in recent decades. It’s rare for a preseason No. 1 team to spend any amount of time outside of the top five, much less the majority of the season.

On Dec. 2, Kentucky was ranked third in the nation before a 67-62 loss to Baylor dropped the Wildcats to 11th. Kentucky lost again to North Carolina on Dec. 14, so even defeating Louisville to end 2013 could’t give Kentucky a push back into the top 10

Altogether, Kentucky has been ranked no higher than No. 11 since Dec. 2.

It’s worth noting Kentucky was not a dubious pick as a No. 1 team. Athlon Sports ranked Kentucky No. 1, but Athlon was not alone by any means.

Perhaps the most disappointing preseason No. 1 in the last 10 years was 2004-05 Kansas. The Jayhawks that season returned seniors Wayne Simien and Keith Langford but finished 23-7 overall and 12-4 in the Big 12 before losing to No. 14 seed Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

If there’s hope for Kentucky, it could look toward 2000-01 Arizona, which lost eight games during the regular season, slipped to 24th in the AP poll but rebounded to reach the national title game.

What kind of precedent is Kentucky setting, here’s how all the preseason No. 1 teams fared since Indiana flopped in 1979-80.
 

How AP Preseason No. 1 Teams Fared since 1979-80
Preseason No. 1 TeamFinal RecordLowest RankNCAA Tournament
13-14 Kentucky21-8No. 25--
12-13 Indiana29-7No. 7Sweet 16
11-12 North Carolina32-6No. 8Elite Eight
10-11 Duke32-5No. 5Sweet 16
09-10 Kansas33-3No. 3Second round
08-09 North Carolina34-4No. 5National champion
07-08 North Carolina36-3No. 5Final Four
06-07 Florida35-5No. 7National champion
05-06 Duke32-4No. 3Sweet 16
04-05 Kansas23-7No. 12First round
03-04 UConn33-6No. 9National champion
02-03 Arizona28-4No. 4Final Four
01-02 Duke31-4No. 3Sweet 16
00-01 Arizona28-8No. 21National runner up
99-00 UConn25-10No. 24Second round
98-99 Duke37-2No. 4National runner up
97-98 Arizona30-5No. 8Elite Eight
96-97 Cincinnati26-8No. 12Second round
95-96 Kentucky34-2No. 5National champion
94-95 Arkansas32-7No. 12National runner up
93-94 North Carolina28-7No. 5Second round
92-93 Michigan31-5No. 7National runner up
91-92 Duke34-2No. 1National champion
90-91 UNLV34-1No. 1Final Four
89-90 UNLV35-5No. 14National champion
88-89 Duke28-8No. 14Final Four
87-88 Syracuse30-8No. 17Elite Eight
86-87 North Carolina32-4No. 5Elite Eight
85-86 Georgia Tech27-7No. 7Sweet 16
84-85 Georgetown35-3No. 2National runner up
83-84 North Carolina28-3No. 2Sweet 16
82-83 Virginia29-5No. 7Elite Eight
81-82 North Carolina32-2No. 2National champion
80-81 Kentucky22-6No. 11Second round
79-80 Indiana21-8NRSweet 16

 

Teaser:
Kentucky Wildcats on the wrong side of college basketball history
Post date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-basketball/who-will-be-no-1-seeds-ncaa-tournament
Body:

While many teams are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament from the bubble, another key part of the bracket is still being determined.

A No. 1 seed carries with it not just prestige, but also a decisive advantage history wise to advance to the second weekend of the Tournament. A No. 1 seed has never lost its first game and has more often won the national title (18 times) than it failed to reach the Sweet 16 (13).

As many as 10 teams could be in the running for one of the four No. 1 seeds. Some teams would have to collapse to lose a spot on the top line (Arizona, Florida and Wichita State) while others may need a major break to get to that top spot (Wisconsin, Michigan).
 

NCAA Tournament No. 1 Seed Staff Predictions
David Fox
Braden Gall
Mitch Light

Here’s a look at how the race for the No. 1 seeds is playing out:

Arizona (27-2, 14-2 Pac-12)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Arizona is No. 1 by the RPI, KenPom and Sagarin. The Wildcats are 10-1 against the RPI top 50 and faced a schedule ranked sixth in the country. Arizona’s resume includes four RPI top 25 wins away from Tucson against Duke in Madison Square Garden and Michigan, San Diego State and UCLA on the road. Neither of Arizona’s losses should harm the resume (No. 28 Arizona State and No. 53 Cal, both on the road).

The case against a No. 1 seed: Not much. The selection committee has shown it will taken into account a late-season change in personnel, such as the season-ending injury to Brandon Ashley. However, Arizona has won four in a row without him. Arizona likely would have to lose to Oregon State and lose its first game in the Pac-12 tournament to fall off the top line. Arizona may be closer to claiming the overall No. 1 seed than falling to a No. 2.

Duke (23-6, 12-4 ACC)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Blue Devils are ranked eighth in the RPI and third in KenPom. Duke has three top 26 wins, including Syracuse, Virginia, Michigan and UCLA. The Blue Devils have ample opportunities for more high-profile wins with North Carolina to end the regular season plus potential matchups with Syracuse and/or Virginia in the ACC Tournament.

The case against a No. 1 seed: Home-cooking. Duke has only two RPI top 100 wins away from Cameron Indoor Stadium (at Pittsburgh, UCLA in Madison Square Garden). Of course, all that can change in Greensboro.

Florida (27-2, 16-0 SEC)
The case for a No. 1 seed:
Florida has dominated the SEC and may be the first team to go 18-0 in league history (other teams have gone 16-0 with a shorter schedule). The Gators’ only losses came early in the season on the road with a shorthanded roster against Wisconsin and Connecticut, the latter on a buzzer-beater by Shabazz Napier.

The case against a No. 1 seed: The SEC. Florida may have to lose to South Carolina on Tuesday and lose its first game in the SEC Tournament to slip to a No. 2. Both would qualify as bad losses.

Kansas (22-7, 13-3 Big 12)
The case for a No. 1 seed:
Kansas played the toughest schedule in the country with 19 games against RPI top 50 teams. The team that played the No. 2 schedule (Wisconsin) faced 11 top 50 teams. The Jayhawks took their losses early in the season, but they may end up the regular season and tournament champion of the top conference in the RPI.

The case against a No. 1 seed: Seven losses is a lot for a No. 1 seed. In the last 10 seasons, only 2011-12 Michigan State was a No. 1 seed with seven losses. Like Kansas, the Spartans played the toughest schedule in the country that season. An eighth loss for this year’s Kansas team, though, may push the Jayhawks to a No. 2. Worth keeping in mind: Kansas has shut down star freshma Joel Embiid (back) for the last two games of the regular season.

Michigan (21-7, 13-3 Big Ten)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Wolverines have a two-game lead in the Big Ten, rank ninth in the RPI and have eight top 50 wins.

The case against a No. 1 seed: Like Kansas, Michigan has seven losses, two of which are Charlotte and Indiana. Kansas may have a better shot at a No. 1 seed with eight losses than Michigan would if it wins out.

Syracuse (26-3, 13-3 ACC)
The case for a No. 1 seed: Syracuse started 25-0, defeating teams like Villanova, Duke and North Carolina along the way. The seven RPI top 50 wins for Syracuse is more than anyone else in the ACC.

The case against a No. 1 seed: Everything that happened since the 25-0 start. A home loss to a Boston College team ranked 177th in RPI would be toxic for most teams vying for a No. 1 seed. Road losses to Duke and Virginia, both in the top three in KenPom and in the top 10 in the RPI, aren’t deal breakers. But Syracuse has hardly looked like a team that’s has lost its last game before Selection Sunday.

Villanova (26-3, 14-2 Big East)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Wildcats built plenty of clout in the Battle 4 Atlantis, defeating Kansas and Iowa. Those wins contributed to a No. 4 ranking in the RPI despite ranking 26th in strength of schedule, but not as much as no losses outside of the top 10.

The case against a No. 1 seed: Creighton. The Bluejays swept Villanova by a combined 49 points. A 4-3 record against the RPI top 50 may not be No. 1 seed material unless Villanova can atone for its regular season losses to Creighton in the Big East Tournament.

Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC)
The case for a No. 1 seed: The Cavaliers opened a three-game lead in the ACC by defeating Syracuse on Saturday. Virginia’s only loss since the New Year is by four on the road against Duke. Tempo-free analytics love the efficient Cavaliers as they rank second in KenPom.

The case against a No. 1 seed: The unbalanced ACC schedule and non-conference losses. The Cavaliers will play Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina once apiece before the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers also lost in the non-conference schedule to Tennessee and Green Bay, both on the road. Winning the ACC Tournament is a must.

Wichita State (31-0, 18-0 Missouri Valley)
The case for a No. 1 seed:
Have you heard? Wichita State is 31-0 and will be favored to get to 34-0 in the Missouri Valley Tournament. Banishing an undefeated team to a No. 2 seed, no matter the strength of schedule, would be a bold call. The Shockers are sixth in the RPI.

The case against a No. 1 seed: Wichita State’s strength of schedule is ranked 100th by the RPI. The Shockers’ best win — on the road against Saint Louis — might not look as impressive after the Billikens lost to Duquesne at home last week. At most, Wichita State will get to Selection Sunday with only three wins over teams with NCAA at-large credentials (BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee).

Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten)
The case for a No. 1 seed:
Wisconsin’s wins over Florida and Virginia are even more impressive than they were back in November and December. After a cold streak early in the Big Ten schedule, the Badgers have reeled off seven consecutive wins. Despite those losses, Wisconsin is fifth in the RPI and second in strength of schedule.

The case against a No. 1 seed: The Badgers’ midseason slump included losses to Indiana and Northwestern, the latter at home. The five losses puts Wisconsin at second in the Big Ten despite a head-to-head win over Michigan. Another in the Big Ten Tournament might be needed.

Teaser:
Who will be the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?
Post date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/oregons-mike-moser-earns-athlon-sports-player-week-honors
Body:

When Oregon’s season hit a critical point, the Ducks leaned on a fifth-year senior who has been around the block.

Mike Moser, a veteran who has played for UCLA and UNLV, kept the Ducks in NCAA Tournament contention with back-to-back double doubles during the weekend.

Moser had 12 points and 20 rebounds in an 87-83 overtime win over UCLA on Thursday and followed that with 20 points and 12 rebounds in a 78-63 win over USC to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.

As Oregon has recovered from a 2-8 swoon from Jan. 5-Feb. 8, Moser has been the leader. He’s scored at least 20 points in three of the last four games, and of his five double-doubles this season, two came last week.

Photo courtesy of Eric Evans/GoDucks.com.

Athlon Sports Weekly College Basketball Awards

National Player of the Week: Mike Moser, Oregon
The well-travelled Moser is playing his best basketball as an Oregon Duck at the right time of the year. Moser, who played one season at UCLA and two at UNLV before opting to spend his final year of eligibility in Eugene, scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Ducks to a 78–62 win at USC. Moser is averaging 17.6 during Oregon’s current five-game winning streak.

National Freshman of the Week: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Arizona has answered any questions left by the void of Brandon Ashley in recent weeks. A major reason has been the play of Aaron Gordon, the freshman defensive whiz who is becoming a more consistent contributor in the offensive end. In routs of Stanford and Cal, Gordon totaled 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting. Gordon also contributed 15 rebounds against the Cardinal.

Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Bryant Mbamalu, Louisiana-Lafayette
Mbamalu was spectacular in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 102–76 win over South Alabama. The senior guard scored 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds (both season highs) to lead UL-Lafayette to its 10th Sun Belt win of the season.

Other Standout Performances of the Week:

Antonio Barton, Tennessee

After scoring a total of six points (and missing all eight 3-point attempts) in his previous two games, Barton had season highs in both scoring (21 points) and assists (six) to lead Tennessee to an easy 76–38 win over Vanderbilt. The fifth-year senior, a transfer from Memphis, hit 7-of-11 from the field, including 5-of-7 beyond the 3-point arc.

Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Finney-Smith broke out of an extended scoring slump by averaging 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds to help Florida improve to 16–0 in the SEC. The transfer from Virginia Tech scored 19 points — including a huge 3-pointer in the final minute — to lead the Gators in a 57–54 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. Then, on Saturday, he scored 16 points in a 79–61 win over LSU that clinched the SEC title for Florida.

Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma
Oklahoma completed a season sweep over rival Texas with a 77–65 win in Norman. Cousins, a sophomore guard, led the way with a career-high 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Since missing all eight shots against Oklahoma State two weeks ago, Cousins has converted 17-of-31 from the field.

Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws continues to score at a high level as his BYU Cougars are making a late charge at a possible at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The junior guard scored 25 points in Saturday’s win at San Diego. Haws, who leads the West Coast Conference with a 23.4-point average, has scored in double figures in every game this season.  

Justin Martin, Xavier
Martin rebounded from a subpar effort (three points, three rebounds) in a win over St. John’s on Tuesday by scoring 19 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in Xavier’s huge 75­–69 win over Creighton in Cincinnati. It was the first career double-double for the junior forward from Indianapolis.

Brenton Williams, South Carolina
Williams poured in a game-high 24 points to lead South Carolina to a surprising 72–67 win over Kentucky — easily the biggest victory of the Frank Martin era in Columbia. Williams only hit four field goals but connected on 15-of-16 from the foul line — including four following the two technicals that led to John Calipari’s ejection.

Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara
Brownridge scored a career-high 38 points and added seven rebounds, three assists and two steals as Santa Clara posted an 86–78 win at Pepperdine. A freshman guard from Aurora, Ill., hit 12-of-22 from the field, including 7-of-9 from the 3-point line.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Smart overcame a slow start (one point in the first half) to lead Oklahoma State to its biggest win of the season — a 72–65 victory over Big 12 champion Kansas. The sophomore guard scored 20 points in the second half to help the Cowboys rally from a 10-point deficit. In the final 10 minutes, he hit 4-of-4 from the field and had three assists and zero turnovers.

K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
McDaniels, one of the nation’s most underrated players, had perhaps the best game of his junior season. He scored 26 points and had 14 rebounds and six blocks to key the Tigers’ 77–73 double-overtime win over Maryland. The Birmingham, Ala., native is averaging 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds.

Teaser:
Oregon's Mike Moser earns Athlon Sports Player of the Week honors
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 12:33
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-recap-10-things-know-march-3
Body:

The first weekend in March was not a bad way to start the greatest five weeks in the college basketball season.

Wichita State wrapped up an undefeated regular season. Virginia came a little closer to winning the ACC. Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky — all preseason top five teams — looked completely out of sorts.

In other words, unpredictability reigns.

More unlikely storylines are sure to occur as conference tournaments start later this week in most of the traditional one-bid leagues.

Our focus for the week, though, starts with the major programs hitting their stride (Wichita State and Virginia) and others with newfound concerns (Syracuse, Michigan State, Ohio State and Cincinnati), plus some of the bubble teams that helped their case Saturday.

College Basketball Recap: 10 Things to Know

1. There is no disputing Wichita State’s bid for history
In the NCAA Tournament, teams like Wichita State generally end up darlings. Turns out going 31-0 draws scrutiny. Wichita State completed the first undefeated regular season in a decade and the first 31-0 start in 23 seasons with its 68-45 win over Missouri State. The achievement, though, has drawn a similar level of scrutiny — or in some cases, scorn — as Boise State’s best teams in college football. And that’s fair. Wichita State is no mid-major deserving to be the lovable underdog. The Shockers pay coach Gregg Marshall $1.75 million, and as noted by their coach, they draw 10,000 fans per game and travel on private planes. But 31-0 against any schedule is worthy of history. We spelled out Wichita State’s other superlatives in its undefeated season elsewhere, but this is a team that will be favored to make it all the way to an unprecedented 35-0.

2a. Virginia picked up its biggest win in 20 years in unlikely fashion
It's tough to find more unlikely heroes than Akil Mitchell. The senior forward who averages seven points per game scored eight in the first half to keep Virginia afloat in time for Malcolm Brogdon to give the Cavaliers a commanding lead in the ACC standings with a 75-56 win over Syracuse. Brogdon finished with 19 points including eight during the run that decided the game as moved Virginia to 16-1 in the ACC. Think about it: Joe Harris, a preseason ACC player of the year contender, scored six points on 2-of-10 shooting and Virginia still scored 75 against Syracuse.

2b. Time to worry about Syracuse
Despite starting 25-0, the Orange might slip to a No. 2 seed after this 1-3 slide. This team is not ready to advance deep in the Tournament. Syracuse has gone five consecutive games without averaging a point per possession (one point per possession is considered average). Syracuse hasn’t even shot 45 percent from the field since Jan. 25 against Miami. What’s troubling is that the performance against Virginia wasn’t even particularly bad by Syracuse’s recent standards as the Orange shot 35.7 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from 3.

3. Kentucky is an absolute mess
The talk of Kentucky winning a national title or reaching the Final Four is long gone. It’s time to start wondering if Kentucky is going to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. By virtue of being a team far too talented to get a seed as low as Kentucky will get, the Wildcats have a good chance to win a game in the Tourney. But there’s little reason to have any faith in Kentucky after Saturday. Going to overtime with LSU and losing to Arkansas — bubble teams both — is one thing. Losing to South Carolina, the worst team in the SEC, is another. John Calipari got himself ejected arguing with officials, but his team still attempted 42 free throws to South Carolina’s 33. The offensive execution was dreadful as Kentucky shot 35.3 percent from 3-point range and an unbelievable 22.9 percent from 2-point range.

4. We’re not going to say Oklahoma State is back, but...
Any time a team beats Kansas, it’s worthy of note. Oklahoma State has won three in a row since Marcus Smart returned from suspension, no win bigger than a 72-65 defeat of Kansas. Smart scored 21 points, mainly due to volume (14 shots from the field, 14 free throws). Teammate Markel Brown was the more efficient scorer, adding 21 points on 4-of-7 shots from the field and 10-of-10 free throws. Oklahoma State caught Kansas on a night when the Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers, in part due to 11 Oklahoma State steals. Feel free to put Oklahoma State in a bracket, just don’t expect the team you saw in December and January.

5. Louisville collapsed
Winning on the road against a good team is tough, but, still, Louisville did not look great in its collapse against Memphis. The Cardinals had been a dominant team recently, even if it was largely against bad teams in the American. At Memphis, the Cardinals took an eight-point lead with 4:47 to go but ended up losing 72-66. Memphis got hot from the free throw line, but Louisville helped out with no fied goals in nearly five minutes to finish the game.

6. Michigan State suffered a “complete meltdown”
Even in Branden Dawson’s return, Michigan State looked as weak as it has all season. The Spartans lost 53-46 at home to an Illinois team that’s 6-10 in the Big Ten. Michigan State was just as inept in the offensive end as you’d imagine for a team that couldn’t muster 50 points against the Illini. Outside of Gary Harris, who scored 19 points, Michigan State shot 11 of 30 from the field. Tom Izzo called the game a “complete meltdown.” The Spartans are 4-6 since Jan. 21 and stand a chance to enter the Big Ten tournament with seven conference losses as they finish the regular season with Iowa and Ohio State.

7a. Cincinnati’s offensive shortcomings will bite them in March
At least Cincinnati’s defense showed up at UConn. That’s the only reason Cincinnati had a chance to defeat the Huskies in Hartford in a 51-45 loss. At the same time, this game continued to show that Cincinnati may have trouble scoring points in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats scored only four points in the first 12:07 in the second half and struggled in traditional (45 points, 27.1 percent shooting) and advanced (0.672 points per possession) metrics. The key is bottling up Sean Kilpatrick, who was the only Bearcat with more than eight points. Cincinnati doesn’t have secondary scorers to overcome a 4-of-16 game from its star player.

7b. Another coach/official confrontation draws attention
Only a week after Jim Boehiem’s tantrum and ejection, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin nearly had a similar confrontation with official Ted Valentine. Cronin didn’t get a technical foul arguing a questionable out-of-bounds and after running in front of his bench toward Valentine. Cronin had to be restrained by three of his players and an assistant, but Valentine didn’t come out of this much better, nearly going nose to nose with the Bearcats coach.



8. No bubble team had a better week than Xavier
The Musketeers have struggled to get into a groove in the Big East, but they’re hitting a stride at a good time. After defeating St. John’s on the road early in the week, Xavier defeated Creighton 75-69 on Saturday. Doug McDermott was productive as usual with 27 points, but Xavier held the rest of the Bluejays to 5 of 22 from 3-point range. For Xavier, Justin Martin had 19 points and 16 rebounds, and Semaj Christon finished with 21 points.

9. Oregon had a decent week, too
It’s time to call Oregon’s turnaround legitimate. The Ducks had lost eight of 10 at one point after starting 13-0, but they have since recovered in the last week. Oregon played their way back into the NCAA Tournament field with a six-game losing streak. The signature win was an 87-83 win in double overtime against UCLA, but Oregon avoided an upset by defeating USC 78-63. The lopsided win as deceptive was the game was tied in the final 10:21

10. SEC bubble teams handled themselves well
Besides Florida, most of the SEC seems to be looking for ways to be disappointed on Selection Sunday. Give at least a little credit to Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas for avoiding home upsets. Arkansas had the toughest challenge, beating Georgia 87-75. Tennessee crushed Vanderbilt 76-38, and Missouri defeated Mississippi State 85-66. Granted, we’re giving these teams credit for doing things they should do anyway, but that doesn’t happen all the time in the SEC. Just ask Kentucky.

Short stuff

• Now is a good time to start doubting Ohio State. Few teams had a worse week than Ohio State, which lost Thursday to Penn State and Sunday to an Indiana team playing without standout freshman Noah Vonleh.

• Pittsburgh isn’t on the bubble, but the Panthers came close to testing that with an 85-81 win over Notre Dame in overtime.

• Utah is going to go to the NIT which is a.) really good for the program Larry Krystkowiak inherited three years ago and b.) a little unfortunate. Utah is 8-8 in the Pac-12, but the Utes gave themselves a paltry non-conference schedule as they continued the rebuilding process. Utah’s strength of schedule is ranked 112th in the RPI.

• The jockeying to be the Atlantic 10’s last at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament will be tight. Dayton defeated UMass 86-79 to stay in contention while Richmond may be out after losing 66-43 to Rhode Island.

• Saint Louis has lost two in a row after starting 12-0 in the Atlantic 10, and neither game, whether at home against a bad Duquesne team or on the road at VCU, has been particularly close.

• From the land of the bizarre, the SWAC will allow four teams ineligible for an NCAA Tournament bid to play in the conference tournament. If an ineligible team wins the tournament, the SWAC’s automatic bid will be awarded to the eligible team that advances the furthest or the highest-seeded team if multiple teams are eliminated in the same round. The four ineligible teams includes league leader Southern (13-2 in the SWAC), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (8-7), Mississippi Valley State (5-10) and Grambling State (2-10).

Teaser:
College Basketball Weekend Recap: 10 Things to Know March 3
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/wichita-state-wraps-undefeated-regular-season-superlatives-shockers
Body:

When Wichita State reached the Final Four last season, the Shockers were a part of a trend, a team outside of the power structure reaching the final weekend of the college basketball season.

George Mason did it. VCU did it. Butler did it twice.

What the Shockers did Saturday night puts them in a company all their own. Or if Wichita State is put into a category, it stands in even more rare company than simply making a Final Four.

Four wins in two weeks is one thing. Winning 31 games in a row is another.

Wichita State wrapped up an undefeated regular season, a feat that hasn’t been matched in a decade with a win total that hasn’t been matched in 23 years.

Here’s how Wichita State stacks up with history:


• Wichita State is the first team to reach 31-0 since UNLV won their first 34 games in 1990-91. Led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony, that Runnin’ Rebels squad won the national title a year earlier before falling to eventual national champion Duke in the Final Four for their only loss of 1991.

• The Shockers have been downright dominant during this run. Wichita State’s win to seal a 31-0 regular season played out like so many this season — in lopsided fashion. Wichita State defeated opponents by an average 15.5 points per game, both against the overall schedule and in conference. The Shockers played in only five games all season decided by fewer than 10 points.

• The Shockers are the first team to reach the conference tournament undefeated since St. Joseph’s, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, did it in 2003-04. The Red Hawks started 27-0 before losing to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals that season. The game against Xavier also was their first game as the No. 1 team in the polls.

• St. Joe’s chances for a No. 1 seed were questioned after the loss to Xavier, but the Red Hawks ended up as a top seed in the East region before falling to second-seeded Oklahoma State 64-62 in the Elite Eight.

• All but one of the 11 other teams to start 30-0 or better reached the Final Four. The exception was 1974-75 Indiana, which topped out in the regional final.

• The NCAA selection committee is not supposed to look at what Wichita State did last season, but we can. The Shockers are 61-9 in the last two seasons. Since March 1 last year, the only teams to defeat Wichita State are Creighton twice and eventual national champion Louisville.

• If the Shockers win the Missouri Valley Tournament, they will match UNLV’s 34-0 start and likely will grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Wichita State wins its first NCAA Tourney game — and no No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 16 — Wichita State will be college basketball’s first 35-0 team.

• Don’t dismiss the Missouri Valley Tournament as a formality for Wichita State, though. The Shockers haven’t won Arch Madness since 1987 under Eddie Fogler.

• Wichita State’s status as a No. 1 seed likely depends entirely on being 34-0. Other than the loss column — and it’s worth reiterating that’s not to be ignored — the Shockers don’t have a No. 1 seed profile. Wichita State is 3-0 against the RPI top 50 with the only win against a sure NCAA Tournament team coming on the road against Saint Louis. Wichita State has only six top 100 wins and only two of those (the season sweep of Indiana State) are in conference play.

• Advanced analytics are a little more kind to Wichita State than the RPI, which does not count margin of victory among any other things in its formula. Wichita State is ranked sixth in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. However, the Shockers have one trait that every national champion has had since 2003, a top 20 ranking in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

• You haven’t seen the last of Wichita State after this season, either. The Shockers have one senior among their top seven scorers. That’s a major piece in Cleanthony Early (15.7 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game), but sharpshooter Ron Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet are sophomores.
 

Teaser:
Wichita State wraps up undefeated regular season: Superlatives on the Shockers
Post date: Saturday, March 1, 2014 - 18:14
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Expectations have changed drastically in Stillwater in the last two months.

What looked like a team that would challenge Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 at the start of the season is now fighting for an NCAA Tournament spot.

Drawing a first-round bye in the conference tournament, earning an NCAA Tournament bid and winning a game once in the field is now one of the most optimistic prospects for the Cowboys.

The good news for coach Travis Ford is that all of that looks attainable. Marcus Smart appears refreshed since his return to the lineup two games ago, and the Pokes have ended a seven-game losing streak.

A win over Kansas on Saturday would be a tall task, but it would seem to all but clinch a bid for the Cowboys. Here’s how Oklahoma State’s profile looks heading into the final stretch:
 

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
March 1: Kansas
March 3: Kansas State
March 8: at Iowa State
Record: 18-10, 6-9 Big 12
RPI: 49
Strength of Schedule: 42
KenPom: 27
Best win: Texas at home
Worst loss: Texas Tech on the road

How Oklahoma State could be in the Tournament
The Cowboys need to come back from a seven-game losing streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 17. Defeating Texas Tech and TCU in Marcus Smart’s first two games back from suspension is a start. Smart has been the playmaker the Cowboys’ need with 17 assists in two games, but his shot is still inconsistent (0 of 3 from 3 against Texas Tech, 1 of 8 from 2 against TCU).

How Oklahoma State could be left out
The seven-game losing streak is tough to ignore, even if it includes only one loss to a team that’s certainly outside of the field (Texas Tech). The Cowboys’ personnel is not what it was during the non-conference schedule when forward Michael Cobbins was healthy and backup point guard Stevie Clark was on the roster. The final stretch will be tough against Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and a tough opponent in the Big 12 tournament.

Oklahoma State needs to: Defeat Kansas State and/or Iowa State
The Cowboys can probably afford a loss to Kansas at home Saturday, but that puts more pressure on the Pokes to at least split the last two Big 12 regular season games and win a game in the conference tournament. Defeating the Jayhawks on Saturday or winning in Ames next week would be the best thing Oklahoma State could do for its NCAA prospects.

Oklahoma State can’t afford to: Lose to Kansas State or go winless in the Big 12 Tournament
Kansas State is drifting onto the bubble. Oklahoma State may be able lose to Kansas and Iowa State and still have a decent NCAA profile, but it certainly can’t lose at home to the Wildcats. Seventh place in the Big 12 — where Oklahoma State is tied right now — would draw TCU in the conference tournament. That does nothing for the NCAA resume, but at least it draw the No. 2 seed in the next game.

Insight from the Oklahoma State beat: John Helsley, The Oklahoman
“The Cowboys were playing as well as anyone in the country into January, when they lost post player Michael Cobbins to a blown Achilles. And they haven’t been the same since, with the impact of that injury way more damaging than anyone imagined, leaving them exposed in the middle on both ends of the floor. They’ve gone from the front end of the AP Top 25 to the back end of the Big 12 standings. Since returning from a three-game suspension, point guard Marcus Smart seems to have rediscovered the 'facilitator' style that made him a special freshman a year ago. He’ll need to maintain that mindset to lead a surge down the stretch.”

Teaser:
Profiling Oklahoma State: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 12:28
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-projections-bubble-watch-and-key-games-march-1
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The NCAA Tournament field is ever-evolving at this time of year.

A week or so ago, Arkansas was barely on the NCAA Tournament radar. After Thursday’s win over Kentucky, the Razorbacks can claim a spot in the field barring a major loss. Minnesota has enjoyed the same turnaround after defeating Iowa.

Five of six ranked teams in action Thursday night lost, perhaps signaling a wild two weeks before the major conference tournaments begin.

Here are the games that will determine the field, plus projections of the bubble teams under pressure in the final weeks.

Key Games with NCAA Tournament Implications this Weekend

Providence at Seton Hall (Friday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Friars once looked like an NCAA Tournament team, but their only three wins in the last month are against DePaul twice and Butler once. With two wins over Georgetown and one over Xavier, Seton Hall is relishing its spoiler role.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
While the fans in Knoxville scream for a Bruce Pearl return, Cuonzo Martin is still on the edge of NCAA Tournament consideration. Not with a home loss to Vanderbilt, though.

Texas Tech at Baylor (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Texas ended Baylor’s four-game winning streak with a 74-69 win on Wednesday. Baylor can’t afford to take losses in bunches again like it did back in January.

Louisville at Memphis (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS)
The possibility of a repeat won’t seem too far-fetched for Louisville if the Cards win in Memphis.

Related: Louisville-Memphis Game Preview

Missouri State at Wichita State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The only thing standing between Wichita State and an undefeated regular season is the last team to truly challenge the Shockers this season.

LSU at Florida (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
A win in Gainesville may be one of the last hopes for LSU to get an at-large bid. Good luck. The Gators have won 30 in a row at home.

Syracuse at Virginia (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The Orange draw their second consecutive road game against a delirious crowd, this time against a Cavaliers team with an ACC title on its mind.

Related: Syracuse-Virginia Game Preview

Texas at Oklahoma (Saturday 4 p.m., Big 12 Network)
The two teams are jockeying for seeding in the Big 12 tournament. The Longhorns are still looking to buck the trend of dismal road play.

Creighton at Xavier (Saturday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Musketeers are seeking their first RPI top 50 win since defeating Cincinnati on Dec. 14.

Minnesota at Michigan (Saturday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Welcome back to the bracket projections, Minnesota. The Gophers’ win over Iowa on Tuesday puts Richard Pitino’s team in a better spot. Winning in Ann Arbor might seal a bid.

Cal at Arizona State (Saturday, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Bears defeated Arizona the first time around but lost by 28 in the return trip. Not a great look for a team trying to build an NCAA resume.

Iowa State at Kansas State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
The Cyclones keep rolling while Kansas State is 2-2 since the upset of Kansas. The Wildcats’ two wins were over TCU and Texas Tech.

Kansas at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Oklahoma State roared back in the second half against Kansas during the first meeting in Lawrence before coming up short. Seems like ages ago.

Related: Oklahoma State bubble watch profile

NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch

ACC (5)
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: Clemson

American (5)
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None

Atlantic 10 (5)
Feeling good: George Washington, Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Bubble in: St. Joseph’s
Bubble out: Richmond, Dayton

Big 12 (7)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Bubble in: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bubble out: West Virginia

Big East (4)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: St. John’s, Xavier
Bubble out: Georgetown, Marquette, Providence

Big Ten (6)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Minnesota
Bubble out: Nebraska

Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State

Pac-12 (7)
Feeling good: Arizona, Stanford, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon
Bubble out: None

SEC (4)
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Arkansas
Bubble out: LSU, Missouri, Tennessee

West Coast (2)
Feeling good:
None
Bubble in: BYU, Gonzaga
Bubble out: None

Favorites in one-bid leagues (22)
America East:
Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
Colonial: Delaware
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
Ivy: Harvard
MAAC: Iona
MAC: Toledo
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southern: Elon
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

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament Projections, Bubble Watch and Key Games
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:52
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-virginia-seeks-acc-title-vs-syracuse
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Virginia wasn’t one of the first major stories of the season in the ACC, but it may be the last.

The Jabari Parker Watch was alive at Duke for most of the early part of the year, and Syracuse started 25-0 with a series of wild finishes.

The Cavaliers, though, may end up as league champions after Saturday. Virginia ascended to the ACC lead last week and will play their biggest game in decades against the Orange.

For its part, Syracuse is trying to reassert itself after a series of close calls and two losses in recent weeks.

The game may be a test in momentum. Through the course of the ACC season, Virginia has found complementary scorers for preseason conference player of the year contender for Joe Harris, or in the case of Malcolm Brogdon, a new leading scorer. Even freshman London Perrantes has emerged as a 3-point threat in recent weeks.

Many of the things that worked for Syracuse during that undefeated start have shown some cracks: C.J. Fair has been inconsistent, freshman Tyler Ennis is no longer invincible in end-of-game situations, and the 3-point shot has gone dormant.

What’s on the line for Syracuse
This is a tough question to ask of a team that started 25-0, but where is Syracuse going? After losses to Boston College and Duke, Syracuse bounced back to beat Maryland, but it was another close game and another narrow victory over a team not going to the NCAA Tournament. A game in Charlottesville is an opportunity for the Orange to regain their early season form.

What’s on the line for Virginia
History, pretty much. With a win over Syracuse, Virginia would lead the ACC by three games in the win column. Virginia has not won an outright ACC regular season title since 1981.

Syracuse at Virginia
Saturday, 4 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

About Syracuse
Record: 26-2, 13-2 ACC
AP: 4
RPI: 9
KenPom: 10
Sagarin: 15

About Virginia
Record: 24-5, 15-1 ACC
AP: 12
RPI: 14
KenPom: 4
Sagarin: 10

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Virginia 58-52
Braden Gall: Virginia 55-51
Mitch Light: Virginia 55-51
You’ll tune in to watch: Virginia’s bid for time in the national spotlight
Despite that gaudy conference record, Virginia won’t be a contender for a No. 1 seed based on non-conference losses to VCU, Wisconsin, Green Bay and Tennessee. The Cavs quietly took the lead in the conference with a little help from the unbalanced schedule in the ACC. Virginia’s conference strength of schedule is ranked 15th in the ACC in KenPom. Win this game, and Virginia will be overlooked no more.

Pivotal player: Trevor Cooney, Syracuse
Since Cooney went for nine 3-pointers against Notre Dame, Syracuse’s top threat from beyond the arc is 11 of 40 from long range. The Cavaliers are allowing ACC opponents to shoot only 30.8 percent from 3-point range, the best rate in the league.

Biggest question: Will C.J. Fair take charge?
Fair is the senior and Syracuse’s leading scorer, but he’s also streaky. In the last five games, he’s shot 32 of 82 from the field (39 percent). Such a high-volume shooter probably needs to be more efficient, but that’s going to be tough against Virginia’s stingy defense.

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: Virginia seeks ACC title vs. Syracuse
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:18
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-louisville-seeks-flex-muscles-vs-memphis
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If Louisville is truly rounding into postseason form, Memphis will be the key test Saturday.

The Cardinals flopped at home against the Tigers in the first meeting back on Jan. 9, losing 73-67. Memphis’ entire starting five scored in double figures that day, the last time an opponent scored more than 70 points against Louisville.

“Our worst game of the season was Memphis,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “You have to give them credit because they made us look bad. That was our poorest performance of the season at the defensive end. We did a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of us, but we are a much different team now then when we played them.”

Going into Thursday, Memphis had hopes of scoring a rare season sweep of Louisville, but the Tigers may have a new host of problems with a 77-68 loss to Houston. The loss was only the third for a team in the top five of the American standings against a team in the bottom six — SMU owns the other two losses to USF and Temple.

What’s on the line for Louisville
The Cardinals moved into a tie with Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference lead with a win Thursday against Temple. Louisville’s road to the top seed in the conference tournament will be tougher with Saturday’s game at Memphis, a road trip to SMU and the home finale against UConn. Meanwhile, Cincinnati face UConn and Rutgers on the road and Memphis at home.

What’s on the line for Memphis
With a 73-67 win over Louisville on Jan. 9, Memphis is seeking its first season sweep of the Cardinals since 1996-97 when both were in Conference USA. Like Louisville, the Tigers wrap up their season with a tough stretch (at Cincinnati, vs. SMU). Memphis was sloppy in a loss Thursday to Houston, allowing 21 points on 14 turnovers.

Louisville at Memphis
Saturday, 2 p.m. Eastern, CBS

About Louisville
Record: 24-4, 13-2 American
AP: 7
RPI: 28
KenPom: 2
Sagarin: 4

About Memphis
Record: 21-7, 10-5 American
AP: 21
RPI: 39
KenPom: 45
Sagarin: 46

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Louisville 71-65
Braden Gall: Louisville 74-68
Mitch Light: Louisville 64-60
You’ll tune in to watch: The Russ Smith Show
The Louisville guard scored only 10 points against Cincinnati on Saturday, but the last two were the only ones anyone will remember. Smith continues to be an All-America caliber guard who is having a season even better than what he did year ago. Now a darling of advanced analytics, Smith is shooting 52 percent from 2-point range (up from 45.8) and 37.6 from 3 (up from 32.8). He’ll be matched up against Memphis’ standout defensive duo of Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon.

Pivotal player: Austin Nichols, Memphis
The 6-8 freshman could be a key player for Memphis late in the year. The guard-oriented Tigers have had four standout games from Nichols in a row with 12 points per game in that span. Facing a small lineup against UConn and two bad AAC teams in Rutgers and Temple may have helped.

Biggest question: Who will hit free throws?
Struggling to hit free throws is usually a red flag in March. Few teams are more concerned than Louisville and Memphis, who are two of the worst in the country from the line. Memphis ranks 304th (65.8 percent), and Louisville is a few steps behind at No. 313 (65.5).
 

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: Louisville seeks to flex muscles vs. Memphis
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 11:03
Path: /college-basketball/profiling-arkansas-ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch
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For several seasons, Arkansas has been close to the NCAA Tournament but not quite in the field.

The culprit primarily has been any game away from Fayetteville. The Razorbacks are near-unbeatable at home. During the last three seasons, Arkansas is 50-6 at home and 5-30 in road and neutral games.

That trend will need to change immediately if Arkansas is going to stay in NCAA Tournament contention when the Razorbacks face Kentucky. Arkansas hasn’t reached the filed since 2008, John Pelphrey’s first season as head coach. This matchup could be the critical game for the Razorbacks to be an at-large team.
 

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
Feb. 27: at Kentucky
March 1: Georgia
March 5: Ole Miss
March 8: at Alabama
Record: 18-9, 7-7 SEC
RPI: 69
Strength of Schedule: 83
KenPom: 52
Best win: Kentucky at home
Worst loss: Texas A&M on the road

How Arkansas could be in the Tournament
The Hogs could finish the season on a hot streak that would potentially include wins over LSU, Kentucky, Georgia and Ole Miss. The onus will be on the 6-10, 242-pound Bobby Portis to give Kentucky the same trouble LSU big man Johnny O’Bryant III did twice this season.

How Arkansas could be left out
Without a win over Kentucky or a few wins in the SEC Tournament, Arkansas’ resume isn’t overwhelming. The Razorabcks played seven teams ranked 200 or worse, including two sub-300 teams in the RPI. The Hogs allowed a Feb. 13 road game against Missouri slip away for an 86-85 loss, a defeat that could have given Arkansas breathing room on the bubble.

Arkansas needs to: Sweep Kentucky
The Razorbacks defeated Kentucky 87-85 in overtime on Jan. 14 in a game marked by an unlikely game-winning put-back by Michael Qualls and curious officiating that led to a combined 81 free throw attempts. A win at Rupp, especially if it’s a little cleaner, could make Arkansas the No. 3 team in the SEC.

Arkansas can’t afford to: Lose in Tuscaloosa
Missouri slipped in the NCAA Tournament projections after a loss to Alabama on Saturday. That’s not something Arkansas can afford to do, either. The Razorbacks can’t afford home losses to Georgia or Ole Miss either, but Alabama would be the most damaging.

Teaser:
Profiling Arkansas: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 17:42
All taxonomy terms: Oregon Ducks, Pac-12, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/profiling-oregon-ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch
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Oregon began the season as one of the nation’s surprise teams. Dana Altman’s mishmash of transfers, including players from Houston, UNLV, Detroit and a few junior colleges.

After a 13-0 start, Oregon lost five in a row once the Ducks entered Pac-12 play. Oregon has become more consistent in February, but the Ducks haven’t been able to return to their early season form. With three games in the last four against NCAA-caliber competition, Oregon will look to grab a signature win in time for Selection Sunday.
 

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
Feb. 27: at UCLA
March 1: at USC
March 4: Arizona State
March 8: Arizona
Record: 18-8, 6-8 Pac-12
RPI: 41
Strength of schedule: 44
KenPom: 36
Best win: BYU at home
Worst loss: Oregon State on the road

How Oregon could be in the Tournament
The Ducks have a Tournament-worthy record, thanks to a 13-0 start to the season. Although Oregon lacks a true statement win, the Ducks have few bad losses, going 6-1 against RPI teams ranked between 51-100. With a high-paced offense led by Houston transfer Joseph Young, the Ducks' only loss outside of the top 100 is on the road to Oregon State.

How Oregon could be left out
The Ducks’ best wins are over teams like BYU, Georgetown, Washington, Illinois and Ole Miss — opponents that range between bubble teams and NIT-caliber at best. Oregon also is one of the worst defensive teams in the Pac-12, particularly on the interior where the Ducks rank 11th in the league in 2-point field goal percentage defense and defensive rebound rate.

Oregon needs to: Beat UCLA on the road
The Ducks have not won a road game since Jan. 26 against Washington State and have defeated an RPI top 75 opponent since December. A win over Arizona in the regular season finale also would bode well for the Ducks’ NCAA hopes. Oregon lost 67-65 to Arizona in Tucson on Feb. 6.

Oregon can’t afford: A loss to USC
The Ducks will face three likely NCAA Tournament teams in the final four games, the exception being a road trip to USC. Oregon could make up for such a bad loss by defeating UCLA and Arizona or with a run in the Pac-12 Tournament, but Dana Altman may not want to test that.

Teaser:
Profiling Oregon: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 16:08
Path: /college-basketball/profiling-georgetown-ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch
Body:

Simply being in NCAA Tournament contention in the final days of February has to be a pleasant surprise for Georgetown.

The Hoyas have been out of sorts ever since losing to 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the NCAA Tournament last season. The season began with a puzzling loss to Northeastern in Puerto Rico. Guard Greg Whittington was dismissed in November. Center Josh Smith was ruled academically ineligible in January.

Georgetown has at least recovered to be on the fringes entering the final key stretch of the regular season. The good news is that the Hoyas have opportunities to lock up a bid with a tough road game (Marquette) and two games against the top two teams in the Big East (Creighton and Villanova).

Here’s how Georgetown’s NCAA Tournament profile looks heading into tonight’s game against Marquette.
 

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
Feb. 27: at Marquette
March 4: Creighton
March 8: Villanova
Record: 16-11, 7-8 Big East
RPI: 60
Strength of schedule: 25
KenPom: 64
Best win: Michigan State on a neutral court
Worst loss: Northeastern on a neutral court

How Georgetown could be in the Tournament
The Hoyas started 3-6 in Big East play, including a five-game losing streak, before an unlikely 64-60 win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden started a hot streak for the Hoyas. One of the major developments has been the emergence of guard Jabril Trawick, who has averaged 11.4 points in his last eight games. Trawick’s emergence alongside D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Brown in the backcourt is key for a team that has struggled offensively.

How Georgetown could be left out
Georgetown has three good neutral site wins, but the Hoyas have struggled away from home. The Hoyas’ only road wins are over DePaul and Butler, the two last place teams in the league. A season sweep by Seton Hall isn’t a great look, either.

Georgetown needs to: Beat Marquette or (even better) beat Villanova on the road
On paper, Marquette is the most winnable game remaining in the regular season, but the Golden Eagles defeated Georgetown 80-72 in overtime during the Hoyas’ January funk. Defeating Marquette and losing to Creighton and Villanova to end the season may be the most likely, but it still sets up a Georgetown team that needs to win a game or two in the Big East Tournament.

Georgetown can’t afford: Losing out
The Hoyas’ back-to-back loses to St. John’s (Feb. 16) and Seton Hall (Feb. 20) cast doubt on their improvement earlier in the month. Losing three in a row to finish the regular season would put Georgetown on a 1-5 slide to finish the season and render the Big East tournament moot.

Teaser:
Profiling Georgetown: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 15:10
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-are-you-north-carolina-believer
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One of the main storylines early in the season was the unpredictability of North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky early in the year but also lost to UAB and Belmont — all before conference play started.

North Carolina was either going to have one of the strangest resumes for any team in the NCAA Tournament or some of the strongest wins for any program to land in the NIT.

Since Jan. 26, though, North Carolina has stabilized for eight consecutive wins heading into tonight’s game against NC State.

How much is that old North Carolina team still haunting the Tar Heels this season. We asked our editorial staff.

Weekly Tipoff: Are you a believer in North Carolina’s turnaround?

Mitch Light: North Carolina has proven to be a solid top-15-ish team that is capable of advancing to the Sweet 16, but I don’t believe this team is good enough to string four wins together in the NCAA Tournament and reach the Final Four. There have been some positive signs over the last month — Marcus Paige is playing well; Leslie McDonald has shown he can be a 20-point scorer; James Michael McAdoo has played with aggression — but this is still a flawed team that struggles to shoot the ball (especially from the foul line).  

David Fox: To me, the most telling moment of North Carolina’s run in the second half this season wasn’t the win over Duke. It was the 105–72 rout of Wake Forest two days later. Wake isn’t a great team, but the Demon Deacons were good enough to beat North Carolina in early January when the Tar Heels were searching for an identity. And after the Duke win, this was the kind of game Carolina would have dropped early in the season. The Heels responded with a convincing win. This isn’t one of Roy Williams’ finest teams in Chapel Hill, but at least it has dropped the Jekyll and Hyde act from early in the season.

Braden Gall: The 2013-14 Tar Heels might be the best coaching job Roy Williams has ever done. Jeff Goodman of ESPN told me last weekend that this is the least talented North Carolina team he has ever seen. While I don't agree with that entirely, it is hard to find the All-America talent that normally carries Williams’ teams deep into the tournament. Marcus Paige is excellent, and James Michael McAdoo is playing well. Leslie McDonald is a nice player as well. And this unit plays solid defense and hits the glass. However, it’s a bad shooting team both from outside the arc and from the free throw line.
 

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: Are you a North Carolina believer?
Post date: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 13:37
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-does-wichita-state-deserve-no-1-seed
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Wichita State is one game away from doing something that hasn’t been done in a decade and an Missouri Valley Tournament away from doing something that hasn’t been done since Jerry Tarkanian’s heyday at UNLV.

Yet for some reason, the Shockers’ record, run to 30-0 after Tuesday’s win over Bradley, isn’t impressive enough for a handful of fans who’d rather see four other teams occupy No. 1 seeds.

The Missouri Valley isn’t what it was from 1999-2006, in part because Creighton is off to the Big East. Unless Wichita State loses in the MVC tournament, the league will send only one team to the NCAA Tournament.

The lackluster schedule means Wichita State, ninth in RPI and seventh on KenPom, has only two top 50 wins — at Saint Louis and against BYU on a neutral court.

Other than the empty box in the loss column, Wichita State doesn’t have the typical profile of a No. 1 seed in the Tournament. If the Shockers get to Selection Sunday with an unblemished record, should they draw the near-automatic win over a No. 16 seed? We asked our editorial staff for their thoughts.

Weekly Tipoff: Do the Wichita State Shockers deserve a No. 1 seed?

Mitch Light: It’s easy to look at the Shockers’ gaudy record (30-0) and assume they will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But it’s not that simple. Take a look at Wichita’s résumé: Gregg Marshall’s team has only one win against a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team — at Saint Louis on Dec. 1. The Shockers have a few other decent wins — vs. Tennessee, BYU, Alabama and Davidson — but only one of those teams (BYU) is ranked in the top 50 of the RPI. That being said, it will be difficult for Wichita State — assuming it remains undefeated — to not be a No. 1 seed because there aren’t many great teams in college basketball this season. The Shockers picked a good season to be great.  

David Fox: If Wichita State gets to Selection Sunday undefeated, no question the Shockers deserve a No. 1 seed. And depending on what happens in other leagues, you could make a case a one-loss Wichita State should be a No. 1 seed. We saw last week how tough it is to remain perfect when Syracuse lost at home to an awful Boston College team. Since Wichita State’s scare against Missouri State on Jan. 11, the Shockers have defeated teams by an average of 15.5 points. Even teams like Florida and Arizona have played down to overmatched opponents in recent weeks. Even if the Missouri Valley isn’t as strong as it normally is, give credit to Wichita State for never even offering a glimmer of hope for an upset for most of the season.

Braden Gall: Do I think Wichita State is one of the best four teams in the nation? No. Do I think Wichita State will finish unbeaten in the regular season and conference tournament? Yes. And if the Shockers can finish the season unblemished then they will absolutely deserve the right to be a No. 1 seed. This team has depth, experience, talent and coaching, and it has non-conference wins over Saint Louis, BYU and Tennessee. Will I be picking WSU to make it back to the Final Four regardless of seeding? No. But an undefeated regular season is a special story that deserves a spot on the first line of the bracket.

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: Does Wichita State deserve a No. 1 seed?
Post date: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 13:19
Path: /college-basketball/pinpointing-coaches-year-every-major-college-basketball-conference
Body:


With a little more than two weeks to Selection Sunday, the college basketball season almost certainly has a few more surprises even before the NCAA Tournament.

Some of those, though, won’t be many of the best coaching jobs in each league. By now, we know the teams that have overachieved, teams that have faced some of the most adversity and teams that have thrived despite of limitations.

For the most part, we know who is in contention for coach of the year in every major conference even before the invitations to the NCAA Tournament.

Maybe other programs not listed here will catch a hot streak in the postseason. Maybe others will falter. But for many of these, we need little more information to declare the following coaches frontrunners for their league’s coach of the year honors.

ACC
Tony Bennett, Virginia

Saturday seemed to be the day the light bulb went off everywhere but Charlottesville: Virginia can win the ACC regular season title. The Cavaliers took up first place with Syracuse’s loss to Duke. Despite Syracuse’s undefeated start to the season, Jim Boeheim’s costly outburst against Duke may cost him coach of the year hardware. Bennett’s doing this on his own merits, though. The build, like Virginia’s playing style, has been methodical. The Cavs have increased their ACC win total each season under Bennett. The difference this season has been the emergence of Malcolm Brogdon as a scorer to complement Joe Harris. While the traditional metrics indicate a modest improvement in the offensive end to 65.9 points per game, Virginia is a top-50 team in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating for the first time under Bennett.
Other challengers? North Carolina’s Roy Williams

American
Larry Brown, SMU

The hire of Brown at SMU was questionable two seasons ago as the then-72-year-old coach ventured back into college basketball for the first time since 1988. And beyond that, SMU was more than a decade removed from its last season with a winning record in conference play. To put that in further perspective, that was three coaches and two conferences ago. This didn't seem to be a job for a veteran coach nearing retirement. But after overhauling the roster in his first season, Brown has SMU on the brink of its first NCAA Tournament since 1993. The Mustangs aren’t totally feasting on the bottom half of the American, either. SMU has swept the season series against Connecticut and defeated Cincinnati and Memphis at home.
Other challengers? UConn’s Kevin Ollie

Atlantic 10
Jim Crews, Saint Louis

The tempting pick is Mark Lonergan of George Washington. Athlon picked the Colonials 10th in the conference, but they’re pushing for an NCAA bid. Sometimes, though, it helps not to overthink these selections. Crews, who was not named the permanent head coach until April, has Saint Louis undefeated in a surprisingly deep league. The Billikens are one of the top defensive teams in the country and count only two losses by single digits to Wisconsin and Wichita State.
Other challengers? George Washington’s Mark Lonergan, UMass’ Derek Kellogg, St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli

Big 12
Bill Self, Kansas

It seems too easy to pick the team that has already clinched at least a share of the conference title, but there’s more to this season for Self. The Jayhawks lost their entire starting five from last year, and although they added the best freshman class in the country, they played the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. Andrew Wiggins started his career inconsistently, and point guard play was suspect early as well. Kansas indeed has the best roster in the league, but give Self credit for winning his 10th consecutive league title with more than week to go.
Other challengers? Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger, Texas’ Rick Barnes, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg

Big East
Jay Wright, Villanova

It would be a disservice to Villanova to boil its season down to the two lopsided losses to Creighton, the Wildcats’ only two losses in Big East play. This is still a team that defeated Kansas and Iowa early in the year. After an uneven 2012-13 and a losing season in 2011-12, Villanova is on its way to its best win total in four seasons.
Other contenders? Creighton’s Greg McDermott

Big Ten
John Beilein, Michigan

Just think of the adjustments Michigan has made this season: Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left school early. Mitch McGary has played eight games all season. And then go-to scoring threat Nik Stauskas went into a midseason slump. The Wolverines have developed Caris LeVert into an impact player and freshman Derrick Walton into a Big Ten-caliber point guard. Michigan leads for the Big Ten title with arguably a better offensive team than a year ago.
Other contenders? Nebraska’s Tim Miles

Missouri Valley
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

The Shockers are making a bid to be the first team to enter the conference tournaments undefeated since St. Joseph’s in 2004 and first to be undefeated on Selection Sunday since UNLV in 1991. Case closed.

Mountain West
Steve Fisher, San Diego State

By the time New Mexico defeated San Diego State on Saturday, it was easy to forget that the Lobos were a near-unanimous pick to win the Mountain West. Meanwhile, San Diego State was picked fourth by Athlon and by the media in the preseason poll. The Aztecs had to replace Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, but the development of Xavier Thames enabled San Diego State to climb as high as No. 5 in the AP poll.
Other contenders? New Mexico’s Craig Neal

Pac-12
Tad Boyle, Colorado

Colorado has managed to keep its head above water despite the season-ending injury for Spencer Dinwiddie on Jan. 12. The Buffaloes are 5-5 since then, but haven’t lost to a team outside of the RPI top 50 without Dinwiddie starting. If Colorado can navigate these last three road games against Utah, Stanford and Cal, Boyle should have his team in the NCAA Tournament, a remarkable feat.
Other contenders? Arizona’s Sean Miller, Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak

SEC
Billy Donovan, Florida

For the most part, the SEC has been lackluster this season. Not Florida, though. The Gators are doing things they haven’t done since winning back-to-back national titles, including reaching the No. 1 spot in the polls and defeating Kentucky and Tennessee on the road in the same season. Now, Donovan has his eyes set on Florida’s first perfect SEC record in school history.
Other contenders? Georgia’s Mark Fox

Teaser:
Pinpointing Coaches of the Year for Every Major College Basketball Conference
Post date: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/profiling-minnesota-ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch
Body:

Minnesota won an NCAA Tournament game last season, and Tubby Smith was shown the door.

The Gophers are flirting with the NCAA bubble, and first-year coach Richard Pitino has the Minnesota fanbase energized.

Pitino has a chance to be the first first-year coach to reach the Tournament since Bill Muselman in 1972, but the Gophers have to make a major statement this week. The Gophers picked up two major wins in January against Wisconsin and Minnesota, but Pitino’s team has been quiet since then.

As they enter a critical week, Minnesota will look to rediscover the magic from earlier this season. Here’s a look at the Gophers as they enter tonight’s key game against Iowa:
 

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
Feb. 24: Iowa
March 1: at Michigan
March 9: Penn State
Record: 17-11, 6-9 Big Ten
RPI: 47
Strength of schedule: 42
KenPom: 58
Best win: Wisconsin at home
Worst loss: Purdue on the road

Why Minnesota could be in the Tournament
The Gophers were the taste of the Big Ten for a week or so in January just as Wisconsin and Ohio State started to slump. Minnesota played a major role in that, defeating the Buckeyes and Badgers in Minneapolis. With Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu, Minnesota has two quick guards able to pick apart opposing defenses.

Why Minnesota could be left out
The Gophers’ best days were in January. Since the upset of Wisconsin, Minnesota is 2-6. That stretch has included losses to Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois — teams that are Big Ten Tournament or bust at this point. Minnesota doesn’t have the non-conference resume to force the selection committee to overlook a potential losing record in Big Ten play.

Minnesota needs to: Beat Iowa and/or Michigan this week
Unless Minnesota can defeat Iowa at home today or Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, the Gophers’ pair of top-20 wins back in January will look like the exception not the rule. Minnesota’s best win away from home is Richmond on the road, so the Gophers could split the week and still need to win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament.

Minnesota can’t afford: A loss to Penn State
Losing to Iowa and Michigan would almost certainly banish Minnesota to the NIT. Minnesota finishes the season with Penn State at home on March 9. A loss there may be NCAA Tournament Kryptonite no matter what happens this week.

Teaser:
Profiling Minnesota: NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch
Post date: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 15:08
All taxonomy terms: Missouri Tigers, SEC, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-bubble-watch-profiling-missouri
Body:

Hovering around .500 in the SEC is not great for an NCAA Tournament resume. Missouri could learn how damaging that could be as the Tigers sit on the bubble.

As the Tigers head into tonight’s game against Georgia, Missouri is entering the must-win territory of its schedule, especially after a loss to Alabama on Saturday. Georgia is not a threat to go to the NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs are comfortable with the spoiler role, defeating bubble teams like Ole Miss and LSU in Athens in February.

Athlon Sports is breaking down some of the most vulnerable bubble teams as the regular season draws to a close, starting today with Missouri as the Tigers head into a key game against Georgia.
 

Remaining scheduleBy the numbers
Feb. 25: at Georgia
March 1: Mississippi State
March 5: Texas A&M
March 8: at Tennessee
Record: 19-8, 7-7 SEC
RPI: 45
Strength of schedule: 62
KenPom: 54
Best win: UCLA at home
Worst loss: Alabama on the road

Why Missouri could be in the Tournament:
The Tigers have one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league in transfers Jordan Clarkson (Tulsa), Jabari Brown (Oregon) and Earnest Ross (Auburn). The Tigers swept the season series against fellow bubble team Arkansas. Mizzou also is 10 days removed from a win over Tennessee. It’s tough to see the SEC garnering fewer than three NCAA Tournament bids, and Missouri has as much of a chance as any.

Why Missouri could be be left out:
Missouri’s team defense is dreadful. The Tigers rank last in defensive efficiency in SEC play on KenPom, a deficiency that led to Missouri’s worst losses of the season to Alabama, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia. Beyond a win over RPI no. 15 UCLA, Missouri does not have another win over a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. Facing Florida and Kentucky once apiece this season — Mizzou lost both — deprives the Tigers of a chance for a signature win.

Missouri needs: To beat Tennessee
A season sweep to Georgia wouldn’t be a great look, but the road trip to Knoxville could be the key game if the Tigers win the next three. A win over Tennessee on the road combined with one win in the SEC Tournament might be enough to keep the Tigers in the field.

Missouri can’t afford: Losses to Mississippi State or Texas A&M
The Tigers are three days removed from their worst loss of the season to RPI No. 117 Alabama. Another loss to a bad team this close to the NCAA Tournament would be a trend rather than an aberration.

Insight from the beat: Steve Walentik, Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune
“Missouri missed opportunities to separate itself from all the middling teams in the SEC while too often coming up a little short on the road in league play. ... Missouri needs junior guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson at peak form down the stretch with only one other player (Earnest Ross) averaging more than 5.1 points in SEC play. The Tigers are also going to have to stop surrendering so many open looks from beyond the 3-point arc. They're giving up an average of 7.9 made 3-pointers during SEC play and have allowed five different opponents to make at least 10 against them.”

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament Bubble Watch: Profiling Missouri
Post date: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 13:29
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-projections-bubble-watch-and-key-games
Body:

March is three days away and a handful of teams are down to their final three and four games before the conference tournaments.

No doubt, it’s crunch time around the nation.

Somehow, the NCAA selection committee is going to have to find a way to fill 68 spots, which is as tough as ever on the bubble.

Here’s a look at the key games this week involving bubble teams and how the field could shake out on Selection Sunday:

Key Games with NCAA Implications This Week

Xavier at St. John’s (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Musketeers are sliding with a 3-5 record in the last eight games with two of those wins coming against Butler and DePaul. St. John’s missed a golden opportunity to improve its case when it lost a close one to Villanova on Saturday.

Iowa at Minnesota (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Minnesota has lost six of its last eight since defeating Wisconsin on Jan. 22. The stretch has included losses to Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois, so the Gophers are at a point where they probably need to beat Iowa on Tuesday or Michigan on Saturday.

Dayton at St. Joseph’s (Tuesday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
The Flyers have reeled off six consecutive wins to go with non-conference wins over Gonzaga, Cal and Ole Miss. This will be the make-or-break stretch against St. Joe’s, UMass, Saint Louis and Richmond. St. Joe’s isn’t an NCAA lock by any means, either.

Missouri at Georgia (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU)
No bubble team in the SEC wants any part of Georgia. Despite their overall record, Georgia has been the spoiler in the SEC with wins over Missouri earlier in the season, plus LSU and Ole Miss. Missouri is coming off a loss to Alabama and could slide onto the bubble with a second consecutive loss and a season sweep to the Bulldogs.

West Virginia at Iowa State (Wednesday, 8 p.m., Big 12 Network)
The Mountaineers have cooled off since defeating Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma in consecutive games. Lopsided losses to Texas and Baylor in the last two games probably signal West Virginia is an NIT team.

Cal at Arizona (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
Arizona is in the conversation for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament especially if the Wildcats can avenge their only loss in regulation this season.

Baylor at Texas (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU)
The unpredictable Bears have won four in a row since a 2-8 start in the Big 12. None of those games is as tough as road trip to Austin.

Nebraska at Illinois (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network)
The Cornhuskers won’t have an opportunity to pick up a top 50 win until the last day of the regular season against Wisconsin. For now, they can’t afford any bad losses to teams like Illinois.

Stanford at Arizona State (Wednesday, 11 p.m., ESPNU)
This game will be more pressing for Arizona State than for Stanford, which defeated UCLA over the weekend. After defeating Arizona on Valentine’s Day, the Sun Devils dropped road games to Colorado and Utah.

Arkansas at Kentucky (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
Arkansas is hanging on to relevance. Perhaps the only way the Razorbacks can get an at-large bid is to finish what LSU could not by winning in Lexington.

Georgetown at Marquette (Thursday, 9 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Defeating Xavier was key for Georgetown to recover from Thursday’s loss to Seton Hall. The Hoyas will have one more chance to defeat an NIT-worthy team before finishing up with Creighton and Villanova.

Oregon at UCLA (Thursday, 11 p.m., ESPN2)
The Ducks started 13-0, but they haven’t defeated a top 50 team since BYU on Dec. 21. At least the Ducks stopped losing to teams like Oregon State and Washington.

NCAA Tournament Projections and Bubble Watch

ACC (5)
Feeling good: Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia
Bubble in: Pittsburgh
Bubble out: Clemson

American (5)
Feeling good: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis
Bubble in: SMU
Bubble out: None

Atlantic 10 (5)
Feeling good: George Washington, Saint Louis, UMass, VCU
Bubble in: St. Joseph’s
Bubble out: Richmond, Dayton

Big 12 (7)
Feeling good: Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
Bubble in: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bubble out: West Virginia

Big East (5)
Feeling good: Creighton, Villanova
Bubble in: Georgetown, St. John’s, Xavier
Bubble out: Providence

Big Ten (6)
Feeling good: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Bubble in: Nebraska
Bubble out: Minnesota

Mountain West (2)
Feeling good: New Mexico, San Diego State
Bubble in: None
Bubble out: Boise State

Pac-12 (6)
Feeling good: Arizona, Stanford, UCLA
Bubble in: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado
Bubble out: Oregon

SEC (3)
Feeling good: Florida, Kentucky
Bubble in: Missouri
Bubble out: Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee

West Coast (2)
Feeling good:
None
Bubble in: BYU, Gonzaga
Bubble out: None

Favorites in one-bid leagues (22)
America East:
Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: High Point
Big West: UC Santa Barbara
Colonial: Delaware
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Horizon: Green Bay
Ivy: Harvard
MAAC: Iona
MAC: Toledo
MEAC: North Carolina Central
Missouri Valley: Wichita State*
Northeast: Robert Morris
Ohio Valley: Belmont
Patriot: Boston University
Southern: Elon
Southland: Stephen F. Austin
Summit: North Dakota State
Sun Belt: Georgia State
SWAC: Southern
WAC: New Mexico State
*Wichita State would be an at-large if the Shockers lose in the MVC tournament

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament Projections, Bubble Watch and Key Games
Post date: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/north-carolinas-leslie-mcdonald-earns-athlon-player-week-honors
Body:

When North Carolina’s season started, P.J. Hariston and Leslie McDonald were in NCAA suspension limbo.

McDonald, though, was the clear No. 2 anytime the two suspensions were mentioned. Now that he’s been in the lineup for weeks, McDonald has proven himself one of the key missing pieces for the Tar Heels’ season.

The senior guard led North Carolina with 21 points in Thursday’s 74-66 win over Duke and added 19 points in Saturday’s rout of Wake Forest to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.

"Once you see the ball go in the rim, you see that it starts going for you,” McDonald said after the Duke win. “I had the mentality where if it's going in for me, I'll keep using it to my advantage. I was feeling pretty hot, and I was making sure I was taking good shots."

National player of the week: Leslie McDonald, North Carolina
After recovering from a dismal two games from the field, McDonald combined to shoot 14 of 21 from the floor in Carolina’s wins over Duke and Wake Forest. For a team with suspect outside shooting, McDonald made 5 of 6 3-pointers in the 105-72 win over Wake.

National freshman of the week: Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker scored 19 points — the final two on a huge bucket in the lane with 1:31 remaining — and grabbed 10 rebounds to help Duke beat Syracuse 66–60 at the Carrier Dome. Despite a loss earlier in the week to North Carolina, Parker has double-doubles in three consecutive games.

Under-the-radar players of the week: Johnny Dee and Duda Sanadze, San Diego
Dee had 16 points and Sanadze had 15, including game-clinching free throws, in San Diego’s 69-66 upset of Gonzaga on Saturday. The backcourt duo combined to shoot 9-of-22 from the field, but more important, 9-of-10 from the free throw line in San Diego’s first win over Gonzaga in 11 meetings. The pair of Toreros also combined for 30 points in a 61-59 win over Portland earlier in the week.

Other top performers this week

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Russ Smith hit the game-winning shot, but Harrell, a sophomore forward, was Louisville’s best player as the Cardinals recorded a 58–57 win at Cincinnati in a battle of American Athletic Conference heavyweights. Harrell scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds — his seventh double-double of the season — to help Louisville move into a tie with Cincinnati (in the loss column) in the American.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Smart was sensational in his return from a three-game suspension, scoring 16 points and adding 10 assists, six steals, three rebounds and two blocks in Oklahoma State’s much-needed 84–62 win over Texas Tech. The Cowboys, once ranked in the top 10, had lost seven straight games — the final three with Smart serving a suspension for pushing a fan in the final seconds of a loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 8.

Kenny Gaines, Georgia
Gaines poured in a career-high 27 points (on 9-of-14 shooting) to lead Georgia to a dominating 73–56 win at South Carolina. The Bulldogs have won five of their last six and sit alone in third place in the SEC with a 9–5 record in league play.

DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Kane continues to make a strong case for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. The senior guard scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out five assists in Iowa State’s 71–60 win at TCU. A fifth-year transfer from Marshall, Kane is averaging 16.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists.

Stephen Holt, Saint Mary’s
Holt enjoyed a career day, scoring 35 points — nearly half of his team’s total — to lead Saint Mary’s to a 76–54 win at Santa Clara, The senior guard, who scored only seven points in a loss to San Francisco two days earlier, hit 14-of-17 from the field (including 4-of-6 from 3-point range).

Levi Randolph, Alabama
Randolph scored a total of 24 points as Alabama went 1–6 in a season-killing seven-game stretch from Jan. 30-Feb. 20. The junior guard scored 33 on Saturday night to lead the Crimson Tide to an 80–73 win over Missouri. Randolph connected on 11-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Stauskas delivered in the clutch to help Michigan complete the season sweep over Michigan State. The sharp-shooting guard scored a game-high 25 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) and also had a team-high  five assists to lead Michigan to its 11th Big Ten win of the season. Stauskas, who leads the team in scoring (16.7 ppg), had 19 points in the Wolverines’ win in East Lansing in late January.

Delon Wright, Utah
Utah snapped a two-game losing streak and moved back to one game under .500 in league play (7–8) thanks to a big game from Wright. The junior guard scored 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds and added six assists as the Utes coasted to an easy 86–63 win over Arizona State in Salt Lake City.

T.J. Warren, NC State
Warren, the ACC’s leading scorer, scored 31 points to help NC State post a 71–64 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. A sophomore forward, Warren connected on 3-pointers on the Wolfpack’s first two possessions and scored 17 of his team’s 35 points in the first half. He is averaging 23.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.

Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Bairstow was dominant in the Lobos’ biggest win of the season. The senior forward scored 26 points (on 11-of-18 shooting) and grabbed nine rebounds to lead New Mexico to a 58–44 win over San Diego State in a showdown of the top two teams in the Mountain West.

Teaser:
North Carolina's Leslie McDonald earns Athlon Player of the Week honors
Post date: Monday, February 24, 2014 - 14:33

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