Villanova v Temple

Atlantic 10 conference tournament preview

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Early in the year, the Atlantic 10 was all Xavier.

With a lofty preseason ranking, an all-american anchoring a back court that could match up with anyone in the country and a pair of come-from-behind wins over Purdue and at Vanderbilt, it really shouldn’t be any wonder that the Musketeers were the talk of the conference.

But a Dec. 10th brawl with Cincinnati sparked a collapse for Xavier, one that would see them lose five of their next six games and eventually drop to 10-6 in league play, it became evident that this conference wasn’t going to be Xavier’s to lose. We probably never should have felt that way in the first place, because the A-10 has proven that, this season, they are as competitive of a league as you are going to find.

The problem?

There may actually be too much balance.

Temple is the class of the conference and St. Louis isn’t all that far behind them. There’s a noticeable gap between those two teams and the rest of the pack. But with six teams sitting within a game of third place, its quite obvious that the ‘pack’ has eaten itself alive. The A-10 is probably looking at a situation where they are going to get, depending on how the tournament plays out, three or four teams. But if La Salle and UMass, and even Duquesne and Richmond, hadn’t knocked off some of those other middle-of-the-pack teams, five and even six bids wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.

Competitive balance makes for fun conference races. But a stockpile of good teams at the top of the league may actually lead to more of a postseason presence for teams.

The Bracket

Where: Campus sits and Atlantic City, NJ

When: March 6th-March 11th

Final: March 11th, 1 p.m. CBS

Favorite: Temple

Its hard not to love what Temple has done this season. The Owls won a competitive league outright, which is not an easy thing to do, particularly when you are playing a completely different style than you are used to. Fran Dunphy has become synonymous with tough, defensive-minded basketball in his time with the Owls, but this season they like getting up and down the floor. They win thanks to the ability of guys like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez to score. With Michael Eric back, the Owls now also have the size to battle bigger teams in the paint.

And if they lose?: St. Louis

Rick Majerus has done a great job with the Billikens. They finished second in the Atlantic 10 despite being just one season removed from a rape allegation that resulted in their best player getting kicked off the team for a year. This group defends well, controls the pace and shoots it from the perimeter. And if you believe Kenpom, you might want to pick St. Louis. He’s got them 12th in the country. Overall.

Other contenders?: Its impossible not to put Xavier in on this list. When you have a back court of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, a glue-guy with the talent of Dez Wells and a front line with high-major size and talent, you expect victories. We’ll see if they can get back into that rhythm.

Sleeper: St. Joseph’s

I really like this group now and I’ve really liked them all season long. They have a terrific back court and an athletic front line that is capable of putting on a show for the folks at Sportscenter. The Hawks won five of six games in February to get themselves back into the bubble discussion, but stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their last three games.

Deeper sleepers: St. Bonaventure is playing well and has the league’s Player of the Year, Andrew Nicholson, anchoring the paint. La Salle and UMass have both won enough games this season to garner a mention here as well.

Studs:

Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, St. Joe’s: This back court duo averages 32.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 5.5 apg.

Chris Gaston, Forhdam: He may be the most productive player on the country, but he also plays for Fordham. Who is going to recognize him from there?

Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, Fairfield: These two combine to average 34.9 ppg, 6.8 apg and 7.4 rpg.

Kevin Dillard, Dayton: The A-10 is loaded when it comes to back court players, but Dillard has stood out because he has been the catalyst and one of the lone bright spots for a confounding Flyer team.

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

VIDEO: Lonzo Ball caps crazy first half with 30-footer

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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No. 2 UCLA and Michigan are stuck in the middle of an absolute shootout.

At halftime in Pauley Pavilion, the score is tied at 50 after the two teams combined to shoot 22-for-30 from three.

Seriously.

The highlight?

Ball capping the first half with a three from the logo:

PHOTO: Bryce Harper visits the Duke locker room

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 19, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Duke embarrassed UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon.

Not only did they beat the Runnin’ Rebels 94-45, but they made sure that UNLV was on the receiving end of what will probably go down as the best dunk of the college basketball season.

(No, seriously, you need to see what Grayson Allen did.)

After the game, Duke had a special visitor in their locker room: soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper, who seems destined to break the hearts of Washington Nationals fans when he leaves D.C. for the Yankees. I’m sure this will only boost his popularity in a city that loves the Maryland Terrapins:

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via @DukeMBB

No. 15 West Virginia struggles early, beats VMI 90-55

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25:  Tarik Phillip #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers talks with head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers against the Temple Owls in the second half during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) It took nine games for West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. to start to find a rhythm.

Miles scored a season-high 20 points and the 15th-ranked Mountaineers overcame an early lull to beat VMI 90-55 on Saturday and give coach Bob Huggins his 799th career win.

Miles missed the first three games with an unspecified illness and was ejected for throwing an elbow in the first half of a close win over Virginia last Saturday. The lack of court time set him back on a team where a dozen players are getting extensive minutes.

Against VMI, the junior went 6 of 9 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

“It feels good,” Miles said. “I just had to get back into the basic of things, and just whatever it takes me to do. Did I feel like it was my time? No. Everybody has roles and we all kind of know what each other likes to do.”

West Virginia (8-1) followed up a 53-point win over Western Carolina on Wednesday night with a lackluster first half to finish its final exams week.

VMI (1-7) accomplished what no other mid-major opponent has done in the first half this season – handle West Virginia’s full-court pressure defense and keep up in scoring for a while.

The Keydets lost by 18 points at home to Gardner-Webb in their last game but were scrappy out of the gate against the often-substituting Mountaineers.

After falling behind by 16, the Keydets were within 22-17 before Miles made two 3-pointers, and Elijah Macon’s free throw with 4 minutes left until halftime put the Mountaineers ahead by double digits for good, 32-22.

“I thought we competed, especially for the first 25 minutes,” VMI coach Dan Earl said. “I give West Virginia a ton of credit. They come at you for 40 minutes. They wore us down a little bit.”

Esa Ahmad added 12 points and Brandon Watkins had a season-high 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for West Virginia.

QJ Peterson scored 17 points for VMI, which was limited to three field goals over the final 12 minutes of the game.

BIG PICTURE

VMI: The Keydets might win more games if they match the intensity that they had midway through the first half, when they went on an 11-0 run, including seven points by Peterson, who led West Virginia’s Hedgesville High School to a state championship in 2012.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers lead the nation in forced turnovers with 26.5 per game, including at least 34 turnovers in two of their last three games. Two years ago VMI committed 36 against them. But the defensive effort wasn’t there from start-to-finish Saturday for West Virginia, which forced 22.

“Twenty-two forced turnovers to most people is good,” Huggins said. “And we’re looking at it like we should’ve had some more.”

ADRIAN SLUMPING

The Mountaineers haven’t gotten much production lately out of Nathan Adrian, who no longer is the team’s top scorer after getting two points each against Western Carolina and VMI.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

West Virginia should move up in the AP poll after No. 12 Saint Mary’s and No. 13 Xavier lost earlier in the week.

CHARITY CLANK

West Virginia isn’t going to win many games at the free throw line. The Mountaineers are shooting 66 percent from the line this season and went 26 of 42 (62 percent) on Saturday. They fared better from 3-point range, going 10 of 19.

UP NEXT

VMI: Hosts Charleston Southern on Tuesday.

West Virginia: Can give Huggins his 800th win when it hosts Missouri-Kansas City next Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 3 Jayhawks cruise to 89-72 victory over Nebraska

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 10: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk #10 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots against Evan Taylor #11 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first half at Allen Field House on December 10, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kansas coach Bill Self and Nebraska coach Tim Miles exchanged a few humorous words after the third-ranked Jayhawks rolled to an 89-72 victory over their former Big 12 foe on Saturday.

Turns out Miles was giving him a little jab.

“Come on, what do you have to complain about? Nothing,” Miles said, recalling their light-hearted conversation. “Sorry, the cheerleaders’ little thing on their pompom fell on the floor. You got it tough.”

Indeed, Self had just spent most of the afternoon riding the officials and riding his players.

Basically, spoiling for a fight.

But from Miles’ perspective, there wasn’t much reason: The Jayhawks made it look easy.

“I thought the first half we were really good, we were really solid. The second half we weren’t,” Self said. “We didn’t guard anybody, but the first half was good, so we’ll dwell on the positive.

“That’s what I always choose to do,” he added with a wry grin, “dwell on the positive.”

Frank Mason III had 18 points and seven assists without a turnover. Josh Jackson had 17 points and Svi Mykhailiuk added 15. Devonte Graham scored 14 and kept everybody calm. Landen Lucas was 5 for 5 from the field and finished with 12 points to give Kansas (9-1) an inside presence.

The result was a blowout despite the absence of forward Carlton Bragg Jr., who is suspended following his arrest Friday for misdemeanor battery. The part-time starter spent the game in street clothes.

“I don’t know anything more than I knew yesterday, which is very little,” Self said. “It’s not anything that’s worth commenting on because there’s no decisions to be made as far as finality goes until you hear what transpired, and certainly I’m sure people are trying to figure it out.”

Tai Webster led Nebraska (5-5) with 22 points. Ed Morrow Jr. finished with 16.

“Yeah, it was rough,” Webster said, “a tough environment to come into. The crowd is nothing like we’ve seen before, but they’re good at what they do. They pressure you full-court, every time you take it out, and they’re relentless. They’re tough.”

The Jayhawks rolled to a 54-34 halftime lead, but things started to go haywire after the break. They missed eight of their first 11 free throws in the second half, allowing Nebraska to claw back into the game.

What really set Self off, though, came with about 12 minutes left, when Mykhailiuk tracked down a loose ball and tried to throw an alley-oop pass to Jackson off the glass. Jackson’s dunk hit the rim and sprung into the air – and sent Self springing from his seat with an R-rated roar.

Asked who earned the brunt for it, Jackson or Mykhailiuk, Lucas chimed in: “Everybody on the court.”

It was Jackson who responded, though. He scored the next two baskets, then converted an emphatic jam, as the Jayhawks pushed their lead back to 20 and coasted the rest of the way.

“That’s a fast team, a skilled team, a powerful team. They can get you a lot of ways,” Miles said. “I was really proud of our guys. I thought the second half we showed some toughness, some resiliency to at least claw back and make it uneasy on them.”

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska has lost five of six, including a blowout loss to No. 10 Creighton. The only win for Miles’ struggling team during that stretch came against South Dakota.

Kansas finished 14 of 25 from the free throw line, continuing a troubling trend. Jackson was 3 of 8, while Udoka Azubuike clanked three of his four attempts off the rim.

BRAGG BENCHED

The Jayhawks’ sophomore forward pleaded not guilty to a charge of misdemeanor battery after allegedly pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs. Bragg had appeared in their first nine games, starting five of them, and is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 16 minutes.

“I think one reason why in the first half we were more focused was because of it. I don’t know,” Self said. “But they seemed to be pretty focused in the first half, but it was a distraction, and with teams and throughout seasons, there’s going to be different things come up.”

UP NEXT

Nebraska returns home to play Gardner-Webb on Dec. 18.

Kansas plays Davidson on Dec. 17 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 11 Louisville runs away from Texas Southern 102-71

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 10:  Quentin Snider #4 of the Louisville Cardinals dribbles the ball during the game against the Texas Southern Tigers at KFC YUM! Center on December 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Rick Pitino graciously acknowledged the latest milestone in his Hall of Fame career with the hope his Louisville Cardinals grow from the tougher-than-expected win that required overcoming some deficiencies.

Quentin Snider scored 15 points, V.J. King added 13 and No. 11 Louisville overcame a cold shooting start to beat Texas Southern 102-71 on Saturday and give Pitino his 400th victory as the Cardinals’ coach.

Pitino, who last month earned his 750th career college victory, improved to 400-163 in his 16th season with Louisville. His Cardinals (9-1) first had to shake off early sluggishness and a 4-for-21 start from the field to pull away from the scrappy, athletic Tigers and win their fourth in a row.

They also had to overcome a rebounding clinic conducted by Texas Southern’s Derrick Griffin, who grabbed 26 of his team’s 49 boards to establish as NCAA Division I high for this season. His performance included 15 offensive rebounds that helped the Tigers make things tense for 25 minutes before Louisville slowly pulled away.

“Well, congratulations to Derrick Griffin because that was an amazing rebounding performance,” said Pitino, whose team edged the Tigers by two rebounds overall. “Happy with the victory, but when you can learn lessons in victory rather than defeat, like the Baylor game, it helps you a lot. … It was good tonight because those guys got taken to the woodshed on the glass, and they’ll learn a valuable lesson.”

Louisville made 30 of its final 57 shots (53 percent) to finish at 44 percent from the field overall while holding TSU (4-5) to 35 percent. Snider’s first double-figure game scoring in four contests set the tone followed by five teammates.

Donovan Mitchell had 12 points, Jaylen Johnson and Deng Adel 11 each and Mangok Mathiang 10 for Louisville.

Freshman point guard Demontrae Jefferson debuted with 27 points for Texas Southern, which lost its fourth straight. Dulani Robinson added 16 points and Griffin had 15 for the Tigers.

Griffin didn’t seem fazed by his rebounding performance.

“Playing defense was key,” said the 6-foot-7 sophomore, last season’s Southwestern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and this year’s preseason choice. “That’s what we focus on, and our offense comes from our defense.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Texas Southern: The 5-7 Jefferson entered as a four-star prospect and with just one practice but delivered on high expectations with strong court leadership and 10 first-half points. Griffin helped the Tigers stay close on the boards with Louisville but had no bench to keep up with the Cardinals, being shut out 21-0 in the first half and outscored 43-8 overall.

“They’re just so physical,” coach Mike Davis said of Louisville. “Because of that, a turnover here, a missed shot there would’ve been different but it would’ve been hard for us to sustain our play for 40 minutes.”

Louisville: Three days after thriving against Southern Illinois, the Cardinals’ frontcourt struggled early against TSU as Mathiang and Ray Spalding each picked up two fouls. Fortunately for Louisville, Snider picked things up while Adel and King added timely baskets.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Louisville: The Cardinals have had a good week with lopsided wins that should keep them near the top 10.

ROAD TESTED

Texas Southern won’t debut at home until Jan. 14 against Grambling and their next four games are at No. 22 Cincinnati, LSU, TCU and No. 4 Baylor, which handed Louisville its first loss last month. Davis said he created the challenging road docket to prepare his team for league play and hopefully win a third straight SWAC regular season title.

“We’re not focused on the outcome right now. we’re focused on the outcome in March,” he said. “I’d rather show them a great hotel, eat really well, play in a game they’ll be able to see on TV one day with the family than to play a home game in front of a few hundred people and it cost us money. If they understand the challenges now, it’ll help them in the real world.”

UP NEXT

Texas Southern: The Tigers’ stretch of 16 road games to open the season continues Tuesday at No. 22 Cincinnati.

Louisville: Hosts Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 17. Pitino reunites with second-year Colonels coach Dan McHale, who was a Cardinals staff assistant and former video director.

More AP College Basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org