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It’s the game-winning shot: Who ya got?

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The 2011-2012 has already provided it’s fair share of legendary buzzer-beaters, and there is still three weeks remaining in the regular season.

When the game is on the line. Who do you want taking the final shot?

Does your team have one go-to player, or do they have a handful of guys capable of hitting the big shot? A big shot can erase a lot of early-game mistakes. As the games start to become more meaningful, late-game situations are going to become life-or-death.

Some teams are lucky enough to have more than one guy who is mentally tough enough to take and make the big shot. Some teams are just good at running late-game sets, and some teams have a handful of guys who can make a big shot when put in the position to do so. But some teams just need one guy to take the game over. Sometimes it’s the best player, and sometimes it’s somebody you’d least expect. It’s called clutch. Some guys have it, others don’t.

Creighton
The Hero: Doug McDermott
Back-up Plan: Antoine Young
Strategy: At this point, Young might have to be considered the hero. After all, he hit the game-winner against Long Beach State, and hit a huge three against Northern Iowa that would have won the game if not for UNI’s Anthony James. But clearly, McDermott has to be considered option No.1. Let him seal-off his player and feed him the ball on the high block. If the double-team comes, which it probably will, he can kick it to Young for the dagger.

Duke
The Hero: Austin Rivers
Back-up Plan: Seth Curry/Ryan Kelly
Strategy: The Dukies have shown their late-game moxie in recent weeks, beginning with Rivers’ soon-to-be legendary game-winner against North Carolina and ending with the team’s 20-point comeback to defeat North Carolina State. Rivers is a one-on-one nightmare, and Duke has a plethora of outstanding marksmen. Let Rivers create his own shot. If it’s not there, look for Seth Curry to come off of a screen, or find Ryan Kelly in the corner for a spot-up 3-pointer. Curry and Rivers are the best options on the team, but even Andre Dawkins is capable of hitting a big shot.

Florida State
The Hero: Michael Snaer
Back-up Plan: Deividas Dulkys/Ian Miller
Strategy: The game-plan is simple for if you are on offense or defense. For Florida State, you get the ball to Snaer in transition. Force the defense to collapse and hit Snaer of a 3-pointer on the wing. He did it against Duke and he did it against Virginia Tech. If you are the defense, force one of the other four players to beat you. You need to shut-off Snaer. If Luke Loucks is going to drive to the basket, make him take the tough shot. Just don’t let Snaer get the ball on the wing. Dulkys is a good second option, just ask North Carolina. But Snaer is always the first option to take the big shot.

Georgetown
The Hero: Hollis Thompson
Back-up Plan: Jason Clark/Markel Starks
Strategy: Thompson isn’t one to create his own shot. In fact, Georgetown’s offense isn’t built to do that either. But the junior forward has the confidence and the ability to take and make a tough shot with the game hanging in the balance. If the defense shuts off Thompson, Clark has the tools to create space and hit a 3-pointer, or drive to the basket and sink a mid-range jumper.

Iowa State
The Hero: Royce White
Back-up Plan: Scott Christopherson/Chris Allen
Strategy: Let White create his own shot. He’s a tough assignment for almost anyone. He’s got range, size, strength, and stellar ball-handling. He’s also very good at making off-balanced shots. More times than not, White is going to do it himself. But if the double-team comes and he does pass it, Scott Christopherson  shoots 44% from beyond the arc, and has the mental fortitude to make a big shot.

Louisville
The Hero: Peyton Siva
Back-up Plan: Russ Smith/Kyle Kuric
Strategy: There are not many players in the country that are capable of staying in front of Peyton Siva. It could be argued that he’s the quickest player in the country. If he gets to the lane, he’s got the athleticism needed to make a tough shot. He still makes some questionable decisions handling the ball, but has other options when trouble arises. Russ Smith is an the epitome of “a gunner” and Kyle Kuric seems to thrive in pressure situations. Just ask Syracuse, West Virginia, Marquette, Charleston and Vanderbilt.

Marquette
The Hero: Darius Johnson-Odom
Back-up Plan: Jae Crowder/Junior Cadougan
Strategy: Both DJO and Crowder are experienced players with the mental toughness needed to make a big shot. DJO can spot up and hit a big shot, or can take his man off the dribble. If he can’t get a good look, Crowder is as good a second option as you will  find. He’s a match-up nightmare, so he can force a big man to play him on the perimeter where he can beat him one-on-one, or he can back-down a smaller player in the post. Every game Marquette is involved in seems to come down to the final shot, so you know they are battle-tested.

Michigan
The Hero: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Back-up Plan: Trey Burke/Zach Novak
Strategy: Trey Burke is going to be handling the ball. He should give it up to Hardaway and let him create his own shot with Zach Novak spotting up on the wing or in the corner. Another option would be to let Burke drive and create, hoping a double-team comes which frees up Hardaway to take the big shot. But don’t let Burke’s freshman status fool you, he’s capable of making a big shot too.

Missouri
The Hero: Marcus Denmon/Michael Dixon
Back-up Plan: Kim English/Phil Pressey/Matt Pressey/Ricardo Ratliffe
Strategy: While Marcus Denmon might be “The Hero”, he’s certainly not the only go-to option. In fact, anybody on the court in a Missouri uniform can make a big shot. Phil Pressey can handle the ball and create space for Denmon or English to beat their men or take a big shot. Michael Dixon is always capable of beating his man, and Ricardo Ratliffe rarely misses from inside. This team has a wealth of experience in taking clutch shots, so for Missouri, the open man is the best option.

Murray State
The Hero: Isaiah Canaan
Back-up Plan: Donte Poole/Jewuan Long
Strategy: For the past two months, the Racers have taken everybody’s best shot. Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay, Jacksonville State, Tennessee Tech, and Morehead State all had leads against the Racers, but could not put this team away. Why? Because this team can shoot their way back into any game. Isaiah Canaan has made five or more 3-pointers in seven games season and has scored 30 or more four times. If Murray State needs a game-winning shot, he’s going to be the guy to do so. But if for some reason he can’t, Donte Poole and Jewuan Long are good shooters who are capable of making big plays.

Ohio State
The Hero: William Buford
Back-up Plan: Jared Sullinger/Aaron Craft
Strategy: Jared Sullinger may be the best player on the team, but with the game on the line, Buford should be the guy taking the big shot. A smart defense would let Craft beat them, so getting Buford open quickly with space to operate is key. But Buford is capable of making a tough shot, so denying him the ball is a-must. If there is time on the clock to work with, having Sully post-up his man wouldn’t be a bad option. But Buford should be the guy to get it done.

Oral Roberts
The Hero: Dominique Morrison
Back-up Plan: Warren Niles, Rod Pearson
Strategy: Morrison has one of the prettiest mid-range jumpers in the country, and has the ability to hit a tough shot from anywhere. He beat Rice earlier in the season with a nice fade-away stroke, and he’s the type of player that thrives in the clutch. He’s also got two sidekicks like Warren Niles and Rod Pearson, both of whom have sank game-winners earlier in the season. With “DoMo” and company, the Golden Eagles have a bevy of options when the game is on the line. Oh, and that includes big man Damen Bell-Halter, who hit one of this season’s most amazing buzzer-beaters.

UNLV
The Hero: Chace Stanback
Back-up Plan: Anthony Marshall/Mike Moser
Strategy: If the Rebels are playing on the road, it’s likely that they will need some magic in order to win. All four of their losses have come outside of Las Vegas. If you’re an opposing coach, You cannot let Chace Stanback beat you. Sure, Anthony Marshall can make plays in the clutch, and Mike Moser is a tough assignment. But Stanback is an assassin. If you are going to a close game, make sure you force somebody else to beat you.

Washington
The Hero: Tony Wroten Jr.
Back-up Plan: C.J Wilcox/Terrence Ross
Strategy: The Huskies are notorious for post-season magic. Most of it came from Isaiah Thomas, who is in the NBA now, but freshman Tony Wroten Jr. has shown flashes of late-game prowess. He’s a tough assignment one-on-one or without the ball. If you try to show help-side defense, C.J. Wilcox can make you pay. Even if this team isn’t part of March Madness, look for the Huskies to make some noise in the Pac-12 Tournament.

Xavier
The Hero: Tu Holloway
Back-up Plan: Mark Lyons/Brad Redford
Strategy: This has been a long season for the Muskies. Sure, this team might not be able to orchestrate a late-game rally like they did against Vanderbilt earlier in the year, but if they are already in a close-game, Xavier has the guys to make the big shots. Tu Holloway’s resume speaks for itself. He hit a careers-worth of big-time shots in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and even though his leadership has been questioned, he still has big-shot capabillities. With as streaky as Holloway has been this season, Mark Lyons might be a better option. he’s field-goal and 3-point % is way up from last year. But the real question is if this team can put themselves in the position to make a game-winning shot.

Honorable Mention
Iona: Lamont “MoMo” Jones, Michael Glover, Scott Machado
Michigan State: Draymond Green, Brandon Wood, Keith Appling
Northern Iowa: Anthony James
Oklahoma State: Keiton Page
Princeton: Ian Hummer, Douglas Davis
Syracuse: Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine
Temple: Khalif Wyatt, Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez
UNC-Asheville: Matt Dickey
Virginia Commonwealth: Bradford Burgess
Weber State: Damian Lillard

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out): Did the Orange just lock up their NCAA tournament bid? It’s going to be close, after John Gillon banked in a 23-foot three at the buzzer to send No. 10 Duke back to Durham with a loss. Here’s how it stands for the Orange: They’s 17-12 on the season and guaranteed to finish at least .500 in ACC play. They now have six top 50 wins and nine top 100 wins, but they also have three losses to sub-100 teams, 12 total losses and they play at Louisville on Saturday. The road hasn’t been kind to Syracuse, either; they’ve won just two roadies this season, at N.C. State and at Clemson.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out): All of a sudden, Providence is one of the most interesting bubble teams in the country. Last week they beat Butler and Xavier at home, and on Wednesday night, they went into Creighton and picked off the Bluejays. The Friars are now 17-11 on the season with five top 50 wins, including three in the top 25. They are 8-8 against the top 100, but the problem is that they have one sub-100 loss and two more sub-200 losses, which is really, really bad. They won the games that they had to win to get themselves into this position, but I still would strongly recommend that they win out down the stretch.

Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game): I think the Pirates may have just punched their ticket to the tournament as they beat Xavier at home on Wednesday. They have four top 50 wins — two away from home — and seven top 100 wins with just a single sub-100 loss. I won’t say they’re a lock because a loss to DePaul would not be good for them.

Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out): The Demon Deacons are still in the tournament picture after landing a comeback win over Pitt on Wednesday night, but they have some work left to do. They have no bad losses and seven top 100 wins, but that 1-9 record against the top 50 is an eyesore. They get Louisville at home next week. That’s a game they have to have.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed): Arkansas kept themselves away from the danger of the cutline and just about locked up a bid with a win over Texas A&M on Wednesday. With three games left, and one of those three at Florida, it will be hard for the Razorbacks to miss the dance at this point. But this is also a team that lost to Missouri. They can pull anything off.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines avoided disaster on Wednesday night using a late rally to avoid what would’ve been a killer of a loss at Rutgers. They were already in the tournament with a little bit of room to spare entering today, and this win — however ugly it was — doesn’t hurt that.

VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed): The Rams beat Saint Louis on Wednesday night, which means that they didn’t lose to the Billikens. They are close to a lock by now, because two of their last three games are at Rhode Island and at Dayton — neither of which is a bad loss — and they close with GW at home. Even if they lose out, I think it will be hard for roughly ten teams to jump them in the bubble standings.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game): There’s no shame in losing at Kansas, which TCU did on Wednesday night, but they did miss out on an opportunity to land a résumé-defining win. The Horned Frogs are just 2-8 against the top 50 with just five top 100 wins, which isn’t a bad profile but it is one that lacks enough depth to feel anywhere near comfortable.

Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds beat Southern Illinois, so they’re still in the mix. But with just one top 75 win and three sub-100 losses, it’s going to be hard to get in if they don’t get that MVC automatic bid.

LOSERS

Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed): Cal is probably still safe after losing at home to No. 6 Oregon on Wednesday, but it sure isn’t going to feel good that they were up by 15 and blew a lead in a game that would have cemented their status as an at-large team. As it stands, Cuonzo Martin’s team is 18-9 on the season without a single bad loss, but they’re only 1-7 against the top 50, their only win over a tournament team is USC and they may not play another RPI top 100 team this season. Don’t lose anymore.

Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed): Bruce Weber really just cannot make this easy on himself. Kansas State lost for the seventh time in the last nine games on Wednesday, falling at home to Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have just four top 100 wins, but three of those are top 30 wins, two of them are on the road and one of those is at Baylor. That’s enough to keep them on the cut line for now, but with at Oklahoma, at TCU and Texas Tech left, I would urge them to find a way to turn this slump around.

Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out): The Vols may have finally played themselves off the bubble — which is an exceedingly difficult thing to do this season — by losing at home to Vanderbilt. In fact, I think I would go as far as to say that the Commodores now have a better chance of getting an at-large bid than Tennessee.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out): Pitt was in the picture because the bubble is trash. They had a chance to land a nice win at a Wake Forest team that has really good computer numbers … and then blew a 19 point lead. I can’t see them getting an at-large bid at this point.

 

VIDEO: Brooks hits 3-pointer with 0.2 left to lift Oregon past Cal

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Dillon Brooks did it earlier against UCLA. Wednesday, he added Cal to his list.

The Oregon junior hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.2 left on the clock to give the sixth-ranked Ducks a 68-65 victory over the Bears after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.

It’s the second time this season that Brooks, who finished with 22 points, has hit a game-winning three, and this one keeps the Ducks within a game of first-place Arizona in the Pac-12 standings.

The bigger story here may actually be Cal, as the Golden Bears gave away a 15-point lead in the final 10 minutes and a 10-point lead in the final five minutes in a game they desperately needed to win for their at-large résumé. Cal is just 1-7 against the RPI top 50 this season, and while they don’t have any bad losses to their name, this was their last chance to land a marquee win before the Pac-12 tournament.

I don’t think they’re in danger of missing the dance just yet, but I would not recommend tempting fate and losing down the stretch of the season.