Middle Tennessee State v UCLA

Top seed Middle Tennessee St. shocked in Sun Belt quarters

Leave a comment

Middle Tennessee State entered the postseason as the top seed in the Sun Belt with a slim — albeit existent — shot at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

But the Blue Raiders’ season came to crashing halt on Sunday night. On the strength of 16 points from Trey Finn, No. 9 seed Arkansas State upset MTSU 64-61 sending what many considered to be a potential mid-major darling to the NIT. And when I say “potential mid-major darling”, I mean it.

(UPDATE: No. 2 seed Arkansas-Little Rock lost late last night as well, meaning that the door is wide-open for Denver and North Texas.)

MTSU is a good basketball team. They have a consistent double-double threat in 6’9″ LaRon Dendy, the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year, to anchor their front line. Throw in a handful of solid perimeter options and a team that can really lock down defensively, and you see why the Blue Raiders were able to win games against the likes of UCLA, Belmont, Akron and Ole Miss. MTSU was tied with Vanderbilt in the final minutes before losing by seven in Nashville. This group can play.

But they won’t be dancing, which is an unfortunate side effect of the way conferences decide their automatic bid. Denver is a solid team and North Texas has a potential NBA player in Tony Mitchell on their roster, but MTSU proved throughout the course of the season that they were the best team in the Sun Belt. Is a knock out tournament really the best way to determine a league champion after playing a 16 game conference schedule? I’m sure Iona fans are asking the same question right now.

Are we helping to dilute the quality of the bottom of the NCAA Tournament bracket by forcing the most-talented mid-majors to prove a second time they are the best team in their league?

The answer is probably yes, and while the excitement of Championship Week is worth missing out on that one time every decade that a 15 seed wins their first round game (at least for me it is), MTSU isn’t allowed to complain after this loss. At least not right away.

In the final two minutes, the Blue Raiders missed four free throws. Two of them were front-ends taken by Dendy. They cost themselves this game and will be playing in the NIT as a result.

Its a bummer, especially considering Iona lost to Fairfield earlier in the day, but MTSU would have a stronger argument is they had been beaten instead of given the game away.

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

VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

Leave a comment

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Leave a comment

Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.