Weekend Preview: St. Mary’s traveling to USF highlights the mid-major slate

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Mid-major matchups: Sat. St. Mary’s @ San Francisco, 11 p.m. (Comcast Sports Net)

St. Mary’s has a chance to do something that no one has done is well over a decade — win the WCC’s outright regular season title and be named something other than “Gonzaga”. All the Gaels have to do is go into San Francisco and knock off the Dons. Simple enough, right? Ask the Zags. They lost at San Francisco last week. BYU can vouch for them as well. The week before that, the Cougars needed a last-second bucket from Matt Carlino to beat USF. The Gaels looked like they may have gotten past their losing streak with a 70-43 win at Portland on Thursday night, but there are no guarantees on the road in college basketball.

Five more mid-major games to keep an eye on

Fri. Butler @ Valparaiso, 7 p.m. (ESPNU): Valpo is the Horizon League champ, but they have been playing less-than-perfect basketball down the stretch. With Cleveland State looking like a different team without D’Aundray Brown, the surging Bulldogs are all of a sudden a trendy pick to win the league’s automatic bid, which they will need if they want to go dancing.

Fri. Fairfield @ Iona 9 p.m. (ESPNU): Fairfield and Iona were the two overwhelming favorites in the MAAC heading into the season, so it makes sense that the Stags will be the team that can keep the Gaels from winning the outright MAAC title. Iona currently holds a one game lead over both Fairfield and Manhattan. A win all but locks up the regular season title, assuming they can beat St. Peter’s at home. A loss and things get interesting. Both of these teams are talented enough to win a game in the NCAA Tournament should they get that far.

Sat. George Mason @ VCU, 6 p.m. (ESPN2): I’m mad at George Mason. I really am. The Patriots had to go and lose on Wednesday, which means that this game is nearly meaningless; the winner gets the two seed in the CAA Tournament and the loser gets the three seed. If Mason had won, they would have had a shot at winning the CAA regular season title as current leader Drexel is playing at Old Dominion on Saturday. Throw in the fact that the last time these two teams got together we had one of the best games of the college basketball season, and we were all set for a classic. It should still be a good one, but without everything at stake, it becomes less dramatic.

Sat. Penn @ Harvard, 7 p.m. (ESPN3): Harvard will all but lock-up the Ivy’s automatic bid with a win over Penn at home on Saturday night. Penn currently sits a game behind them in the loss column. If the Quakers lose, they will be tied with Princeton and Yale two games behind the Crimson without anyone that can knock off Harvard left on their schedule. If you have yet to see Penn’s point guard Zack Rosen play, check this game out. He’s the real deal.

Sat. No. 14 Murray State @ Tennessee Tech, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3): Murray State has already locked up the Ohio Valley Conference title, but playing in the conference they play in, the Racers cannot afford to take a game off to rest up for the conference tournament. A loss here and failing to win the league’s automatic bid would only give the committee an excuse to do the unthinkable. Tennessee Tech has a player by the name of Kevin Murphy, who scored 50 in a game this season. I wouldn’t mind seeing him and Isaiah Canaan trade buckets for 40 minutes.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.