Your Day Two NCAA Tournament Preview

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Well that was fun, right? I’ll take a botched attempt at handicapping the bracket for excitement from noon to midnight over beers too. Who cares if all my upset specials failed to come through, or that one of my Final Four teams was eliminated from the field just two hours into the fun, it’s part of what makes this great, and I don’t feel different about myself.

Can today match the drama of yesterday? That remains to be seen, but the opportunity is certainly there, especially late at night when the first round comes to a close with a trio of “anything goes” match-ups.

The “St. Patrick’s Day Hangover” Session

  • Best Game: #9 Villanova vs. #8 George Mason (2:10 EST; TNT) – Wanna know about a major guilty pleasure of mine? Watching implosions, and your Villanova Wildcats are just that, for a second consecutive season. There’s no reason they can’t down George Mason but, as losers of their last five, the odds are stacked against them. Corey Fisher scored 105 points in a summer league game last August; we’d love to see a bit of a spectacular scoring effort like that this afternoon.
  • Lamest Game: #15 Akron vs. #2 Notre Dame (1:40; TBS) – Not the lamest game of the day, but the Zips are just happy to be here, finishing tied for fifth in the MAC this season. Given the Irish’s 1.15 PPP (points-per-possession) and their 40 percent three point shooting clip, this could be over early.
  • Also be mindful of: #13 Oakland vs. #4 Texas (12:15; CBS) – I wasn’t sure if Morehead State could hang with Louisville because they relied too much on an interior player, and not a perimeter player, but they proved me wrong. Same rules apply here. Maybe the Grizzlies future pro, Keith Benson, will be too much inside for the Longhorns.

The “Hit the Gym” Session

  • The best (and only) game you need to watch this late afternoon: #12 Memphis vs. #5 Arizona (2:45; CBS) – Claim a treadmill or something and get plugged in for this excellent 5/12 match-up, because there’s no need to channel surf for the next few hours. Unless you enjoy lopsided upsets (Duke-Hampton; Ohio State-UTSA), or low scoring snoozers (Texas A&M-Florida State) you can focus on Josh Pastner vs. his alma mater in what could be a nice up-and-down game.

The “The Weekend is Finally Here” Session

  • Best Game: #11 Marquette vs. #6 Xavier (7:27; truTV) – Xavier and Michigan State are the only two schools to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last three tournaments. The Musketeers have their work cut out for them here, though, as the Golden Eagles are a bit more physical and know how to get to the line. The best match-up? Anyone vs. Jimmy Butler. Marquette’s do-everything player can play just about every position. It will be interesting to see who checks him.
  • Lamest Game: #16 Boston University vs. #1 Kansas (6:50; TBS) – Head to Faneuil Hall in Downtown Boston and ask 100 people at random which local school is in the field of 68. I’m willing to bet less than a third correctly name the Terriers. This will be over quick, and nobody will lose sleep over it.
  • Also be mindful of: #15 Long Island vs. #2 North Carolina (7:15; CBS) – It won’t end in an upset, but the Blackbirds are the nation’s fourth highest scoring team at 82-points per game. Sure most of that came against lesser competition, but it will be fun to watch this likely 75+ possession game unfold.

The “Night Cap” Session

  • Best Game: #11 VCU vs. # 6 Georgetown (9:50; TNT) – The Hoyas have always have the talent, but they’ve only one a single tournament game in the past two seasons, in which they were a No. 3 and No. 2 seed. They’ve underperformed, and CAA squads have a penchant for overachieving. Yesterday, Clemson was able to hang with West Virginia following their First Four game. I don’t think the Rams are going to be tired here, or not competitive.
  • Lamest Game: #14 Indiana State vs. #3 Syracuse (9:57; truTV) – Only a 43 percent FG shooting team, the Sycamores will likely struggle against Syracuse’s zone. They also don’t have an impact player listed over 6’6″. Rick Jackson loves this.
  • Also be mindful of: #10 Georgia vs. #7 Washington (9:45; CBS) – A lot of athleticism will be on display here, but I expect the Huskies depth to wear the Bulldogs down. They’ll force tempo, probably employ some pressing and enjoy a deeper rotation en route to a date with North Carolina. Plus, Lorenzo Romar’s kids didn’t travel 2,800 miles to lose.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelin

VIDEO: Presbyterian’s Toss for Tots night earns technical foul for charity

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Presbyterian College held an cool and unique fundraiser this week.

In a game against Toccoa Falls, the Blue Hose held what will now be an annual Toss for Tots event. It was simple: after the first basket of their game on Thursday night, fans in attendance were asked to throw a stuffed animal onto the court, with every stuffed animal earmarked for a local elementary school.

Presbyterian ate the technical foul for the cause:

In total, 108 stuffed animals were “donated”.

The program had partnered with Bailey Elementary School, where there are 103 students. On Friday, the team delivered every student at the school one of the stuffed animals for Christmas. Head coach Dustin Kerns told NBC Sports that the team spent some times with the kids today as well, reading to the team and putting a smile on their face.

“Proud of our team,” Kerns, who is in his first year with the program, said. The win against Toccoa Falls was the fifth in a row for the Blue Hose, the first time the program has accomplished that since going to the Division I level. They are not 6-5 on the season after winning five games a year ago. “It was fun seeing out program give back.”

Presbyterian Sports Information Dept
Presbyterian Sports Information Dept

Rape charges will not be filed after last year’s incident in Kansas basketball dorm

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The Douglas County District Attorney’s office will not file sexual assault charges stemming from a report that a 16-year old girl was raped nearly a year ago in the Kansas basketball dorm.

“After an exhaustive review of all available reports, evidence and testimony, our office has determined there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a sexual assault occurred,” District Attorney Charles Branson told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Unless additional evidence or reports come to light there is insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed.”

What’s more, a suspect in the investigation was never actually identified, the paper reported. All five witnesses in the rape report were members of the men’s basketball team. The incident allegedly occurred in McCarthy Hall, which is a dorm where 40 Kansas students live, including all members of the men’s basketball team.

No. 8 Kentucky maturing, more challenges ahead for freshmen

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t hidden his frustration about the learning curve of his latest group of talented freshmen.

And while the No. 8 Wildcats are starting play better, they’re bracing for more challenges ahead.

Kentucky has struggled to put away opponents such as Utah Valley, Vermont, Troy and Harvard, efforts that players and Calipari acknowledge have contributed to a perceived lack of national respect. On the other hand, their lone loss — a 65-61 setback to Kansas — showed their ability to compete with college basketball’s heavyweights.

“It was one of the big games they got to see,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “The feeling and high intensity of the game, people watching, the fight in a big game like that, it really started to hit. Some players really started to get rolling off of that.

“We’re starting to get better as a team, individuals are getting better and we’re trending upward and trying to stay on that path.”

Kentucky (8-1) has begun running away from opponents, a promising trend it hopes to continue against upcoming Power Five conference foes.

Saturday’s home game against Virginia Tech (9-1) opens a daunting year-ending stretch for the Wildcats that includes next weekend’s matchup against UCLA in New Orleans; their annual in-state rivalry showdown against Louisville on Dec. 29; and their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

Though Calipari still hopes February will reveal Kentucky’s true strengths, he’s eager to see how the Wildcats stack up against the Atlantic Coast Conference Hokies, who lead the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game and rank second in 3-point shooting at 47 percent.

“They have three or four guys that can absolutely make 3s,” Calipari said Friday while listing other Tech strengths. “They’re looking for layups and kicking it out for 3s and they’re getting to the line because of it.

“They’re not afraid. They go on the road in big games. Their home games are craziness. This is plugged into our schedule at a time where we need to learn about us, and we will.”

After a busy November without much practice time, Kentucky has welcomed a lighter December schedule that has allowed the Wildcats more time for workouts and to build chemistry.

The Wildcats have a long way to go, but games such as last week’s 93-76 win over Monmouth are encouraging for Kentucky fans.

Besides continuing their solid shooting — the Wildcats rank 22nd at nearly 51 percent — redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (23 points) and forward PJ Washington (20) posted career scoring highs against Monmouth. Kentucky also succeeded with a smaller lineup and has been effective playing a zone defense, which Calipari disdains but has used because of his team’s length.

“They’re as long as anybody in the country,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Kentucky. “We’ll have to work really hard to get the same shots we’ve been getting.”

Kentucky remains short-handed with freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and guard Jemarl Baker (knee) sidelined by injuries. But the Wildcats appear to be developing depth.

They faced Monmouth without sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (sprained ankle) before starting guard Quade Green left in the second half after being poked in the eye. Both will be available against the Hokies and return knowing that the bench can fill the void after it combined for a season-high 27 points.

Granted, Monmouth is not a barometer for success against the likes of Tech, UCLA or Louisville. But considering Kentucky’s early struggles, any growth is welcome.

“We think highly of ourselves as a team,” Gabriel added. “I think we deserve more credit than we’re getting, so we’re going to go out there and try to earn it.”

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.