VCU’s run more impressive than George Mason

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And we all thought that Butler’s run was incredible.

VCU has now done something that no other team has done before. The Rams, who took part in the first ever at-large play-in game just 16 short days ago, is now headed to the Final Four after capping off their astonishing run through the bracket with a 71-61 win over No. 1 seed Kansas. It was their fifth straight win in the NCAA Tournament, becoming the first team to ever do so before reaching the Final Four.

The Rams knocked off teams from five of the six BCS conferences. They were the underdog in each of the five games. Their star point guard nearly transferred in the offseason after former head coach Anthony Grant took the job at Alabama. Their star center is a cast-off from Wake Forest. Hell, head coach Shaka Smart, who played basketball at D-III Kenyon College, didn’t even gather his team to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show because he did not believe they were getting in.

Like George Mason in 2006, the Rams have gone from a questionable addition to the tournament to two wins from a national title.

But unlike George Mason, VCU has a real, honest-to-god shot at winning this thing.

VCU didn’t luck into the Final Four. They aren’t headed to Houston because they were given the benefit of a friendly whistle or took advantage of a soft bracket. VCU smothered USC on the defensive end of the floor. They ran both Purdue and Georgetown off of it. After squeaking by Florida State in the Sweet 16, the Rams overcame a hot start by Kansas to take down the tournament’s most talented remaining team.

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And this is where VCU’s story starts to differ from George Mason.

When the Patriots made the Final Four in 2006, they knocked off some impressive opponents, but they did so in dramatic fashion. Against a talented-but-enigmatic UConn team that had been struggling throughout the tournament — if you remember, that team nearly lost to Albany in the first round — George Mason overcame a 12 point halftime deficit to win in overtime when Denham Brown’s last second three bounced off the rim.

VCU needed no such luck. And VCU didn’t need to make a comeback.

After the Jayhawks scored the first six point of the game, VCU responded with a 19-4 run that they stretched out to a 39-15 surge. They were up by 14 at the half. Kansas made couple runs at the Rams in the second half, at one point getting as close as two, but VCU had an answer every time.

And while Jamie Skeen will look like the hero, finishing with 26 points and 10 boards, VCU’s real savior was the diminutive Joey Rodriguez. His stat line was, frankly, pretty ugly. He finished with nine points, five boards, five assists, four turnovers, and 2-8 from the field.

But it was Rodriguez who sparked VCU’s final push.

After airballing a three the previous possession and seeing Kansas get within 57-52 with less than five minutes left, Rodriguez stepped up and buried a three early in the shot clock. (In hind sight, it was a pretty dumb shot, one that surely had Smart doing the old “No, no, no, YES!!”) A minute later, Rodriguez dribbled his way under the rim, somehow finding Brad Burgess at the top of the key for a wide open three that pushed the lead to nine points. Two minutes later, Rodriguez again found Burgess, this time on a nifty pass that led to a layup, to put VCU up 65-57 with less than two minutes left.

You see, the thing about VCU in this game — in this tournament — is that they played like the favorite. They were the ones that jumped all over Kansas. They were the team that made the Jayhawks fall back on their heels. The Rams were playing confident, physical basketball. They were jawing after baskets and diving on loose balls.

Kansas?

They spent the first half looking hesitant and unconfident. They took quick, ill-advised shots early in the possession. They turned the ball over and missed free throws (15-28 on the game). The Jayhawks were flustered. They looked ill-prepared for playing on this kind of stage.

VCU may not have been the more talented team, but they were the better team on Sunday afternoon.

And the beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that being the better team on one afternoon is all you need to advance.

That’s why a team that didn’t even think they would get a shot to dance will now be performing on the sport’s biggest stage.

Drexel sets Division I record with 34-point comeback

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A Drexel basket brought the score to an innocuous 5-3 in the first two minutes of its game against Delaware. The next 38 minutes were a lot more interesting.

The Blue Hens went on a 48-16 run to take a 34-point first-half lead on the Blue Hens, only to cough it up as Dragons outscored them 66-30 the rest of the way to complete the largest comeback in Division I history in an 85-83 victory.

The 34-point comeback tops the previous record of 32 by Duke on Dec. 30, 1950. That’s more than 67 years ago, for those keep score at home.

Delaware had a win probability of at least 99 percent for about 11 minutes in the middle of the game, but still lost.

Drexel shot 56.8 percent from the floor and 53.8 percent from 3-point range after halftime and got 29 points from Tramaine Isabell.

After shooting 61 percent from the floor in the first half, Delaware connected at just a 37.9 percent clip after the break.

The great thing about college basketball is you can get a historic performance out of Drexel and Delaware on a random Thursday night. And it’s not even March.

Allonzo Trier ruled ineligible by NCAA; Arizona appealing

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Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier has been declared ineligible by the NCAA due to a second positive test for a banned substance, it was announced Thursday. The school is appealing the decision, claiming the positive test was leftover from of a substance that was found in Trier’s system in 2016.

Trier was tested in late January and the test “revealed the reappearance of a trace amount of a banned substance,” Arizona said in a statement. “The amount detected was miniscule by scientific standards and appears to be a remnant of a substance, which the NCAA agreed, Allonzo had unknowingly taken in 2016.

“The University is appealing the decision and is hopefully that Allonzo will regain his eligibility soon.”

This is a potential massive blow for a Wildcats team that began the season as one of the top national championship contenders, but has spent much of this season dealing with disappointment and distraction, from their part in the FBI corruption investigation to inconsistency on the floor and now this regarding one of its top players.

Trier is averaging 19.6 points and shooting 54.1 percent from the floor, including 43 percent from the 3-point range.

The Wildcats play at Oregon State tonight and at Oregon Saturday before finishing the regular season at home against Stanford and Cal.

Attention will now turn to the NCAA appeals process – how quickly can it move and what determination will it make? Trier’s status will impact one of the most talented teams in the country, which by extension means it will impact the national championship race next month.

For a team that’s been in the center of controversy all season, and somehow has added another layer to a wild season.

Bubble Banter: Will the Pac-12’s bubble picture gain some clarity?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Thursday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

WASHINGTON
UCLA
UTAH

Duke’s Bolden undergoes surgery to repair nasal bone

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Duke sophomore Marques Bolden underwent surgery Thursday to repair a fractured nasal bone, the school announced.

Bolden is not expected to miss any time for the Blue Devils, who host Syracuse on Saturday.

The 6-foot-11 forward is averaging 4.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per night. Bolden has already missed time this season with a knee injury and has recently been playing through the pain of his fractured nose.

A five-star prospect coming out of Texas in the Class of 2016, Bolden hasn’t been a major presence for the Blue Devils the last two years, but has given Blue Devils good minutes since returning from that knee injury over the last month.

After hosting Syracuse this weekend, Duke, which is 23-5 overall and 11-4 in the ACC, plays at Virginia Tech and then welcomes North Carolina to Durham to finish off the regular season.

Michael Porter, Jr. cleared to return to basketball activities

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Missouri may be adding a lottery pick to its roster for the stretch run.

Michael Porter, Jr., who began the year projected as a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, has been medically cleared to return to basketball activities after missing the entire season with a back injury, a source confirmed to NBC Sports.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein was the first to report the news.

The 6-foot-11 freshman played the opening minutes of the Tigers’ opening game against Iowa State to start the year, but has been sidelined ever since. It is currently unclear if he’ll move from being cleared to play to actually hitting the floor for the Tigers.

It seemed unlikely that Porter would ever play college basketball because of the injury, but throughout the season he has never ruled out the possibility. Now that he has reportedly been cleared to play, the question undoubtedly will become should he?

Even without playing another second of college hoops, Porter will be a top pick in June’s draft. Some teams may even consider him for the top pick, if his health screenings check out, just based on workouts and the track record of his dominating play on the AAU circuit for years.

Still, if he’s healthy enough to play and wants to play, it’s unquestionable that it is a decision that is completely his. And it would make Missouri one heck of an interesting team.

The Tigers are 18-10 overall and 8-7 and appeared poised to make the NCAA tournament in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first year in Columbia. For their next game, they play – of course they do – Kentucky on Saturday. Talk about added intrigue for that game.