NCAA Basketball Tournament - Kansas State v Syracuse

Does Big East tourney success make it strongest conference?

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The Big East set records last season.

Eleven teams were given an invite to the NCAA tournament. Only two made it out of the first weekend. Both of them were the result of Big East-on-Big East violence; No. 11 seed Marquette upset No. 3 seed Syracuse before getting drubbed by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and, of course, UConn rolled through Cincinnati en route to the national title.

Every other Big East team — all seven of them — fell in either the first or the second round. It’s not exactly a rousing performance for a conference that had been mentioned as one of the best ever.

This year, the Big East still got nine teams into the NCAA tournament, but for a variety of reasons, the conference was generally looked down upon. It’s not easy to figure out way. Coming off of such a dismal postseason performance, the nation watched as South Florida managed to finish tied for fourth place in the conference. South Florida! One of the teams that they were tied with, Cincinnati, had lost to Presbyterian earlier in the season.

So you can see why the rest of the country had their doubts.

But this year, the Big East is actually performing. After Saturday’s games, three Big East teams have made their way into the Sweet 16 — Syracuse beat Kansas State, Marquette survived Murray State and Louisville eliminated New Mexico. And with Georgetown playing NC State, South Florida taking on Ohio and Cincinnati squaring off with Florida State, there is a good chance that two more get through Sunday, if not all three.

When do we start asking the question of whether or not the Big East is the nation’s best conference?

Because at this point, the only other league that deserves to be in the conversation is the Big Ten. The SEC has just two teams left in the tournament. Same with the Big 12 and the Atlantic 10. The ACC has three left, but in order to get three teams into the Sweet 16, the ACC needs a 3-0 day Sunday.

The Big Ten, like the Big East, already has three teams in the Sweet 16. But unlike the Big East, getting five into the Sweet 16 is not probably. Purdue would have to upset Kansas while Michigan State holds serve against St. Louis. (But since the Big East has more teams — and more tournament teams — than the Big Ten, I think it’s fair to say four Big Ten teams is roughly equivalent to five Big East teams.)

To be frank, determining conference strength based on tournament performance is not exactly an precise exercise. I don’t think anyone would be smart to argue that the Big Ten wasn’t the best league in the country.

But it is fair to say that, based on the way they were viewed during the regular season, the Big East has way out-performed expectations.

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

South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell suspended

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina senior guard Sindarius Thornwell has been suspended indefinitely due to a violation of athletic department policy, the school announced on Sunday.

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 boards and 4.1 assists for the Gamecocks, who are undefeated and sitting at No. 20 nationally. Thornwell is the reigning SEC Player of the Week.

South Carolina plays FIU in Columbia at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Melo Trimble’s heroics get him a shout-out from Wale in a song

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Melo Trimble #2 of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after hitting the game winning shot as they defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 69-68 during the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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For the fourth time in the first three weeks of the college basketball season, Melo Trimble won a game for Maryland.

His two free throws in the final ten seconds gave the Terps a come-from-behind, 71-70 win over Oklahoma State in College Park, and the win not only was the sixth time this season that the Terps have won a game decided by six points or less, it improved Trimble’s record in those games to 26-5.

26-5!

That’s an insane statistic, one that should allow Maryland fans to truly appreciate just how valuable their junior point guard is.

At least one Maryland fan does. Rapper Wale, who hails from Maryland, just outside DC, made sure to name-drop his favorite Terp in a verse in a song he released on Saturday night:

And you better believe that Trimble is aware of it:

"My therapist terrible , I'm uh Terp Melo Trimbling" @wale

A photo posted by Melo Trimble (@olem__) on

Rick Pitino on Grand Canyon: ‘The toughest crowd I’ve ever faced’

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Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after his No. 14 Cardinals struggled to put away a tough Grand Canyon team on the road had some kind – and hyperbolic – words to say about the atmosphere.

“This, in college basketball in my 40 plus year, was the toughest crowd I’ve ever faced,” he said.

Umm, but Rick, you’ve coached in the Big East and the ACC! This was tougher than any of those crowds?

“Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that crowd tonight,” he said.

Well, now.

That seems like a bit much, but to be fair, the atmosphere there was, shall we say, lit:

POSTERIZED: Charlotte’s Najee Garvin nearly jumpers over defender

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This is what you don’t try to take charges.

Providence beats No. 21 Rhode Island 63-60

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Head coach Ed Cooley of the Providence Friars  reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley knew the Rams were in for a tough one against Providence, which had won the matchup of cross-state rivals six straight times.

He didn’t see this coming, though.

Kyron Cartwright, who had made four 3-pointers all season, hit four of five from beyond the arc in the first half. The Providence point guard finished with 19 points and eight assists to lead the Friars to a 63-60 victory over No. 21 Rhode Island on Saturday.

“That’s sports, and that’s the type of thing that makes coaches go gray and lose their hair,” Hurley said after his team lost for the third time in four games. “Four 3-pointers in seven games and he made four today – all in the first half.”

Rodney Bullock scored 17 points for the Friars (6-2). Cartwright had 15 in the first half and Jalen Lindsey scored nine of his 13 points in the second, five during a 7-0 run that erased a seven-point deficit.

“My teammates were telling me, `You need to take those shots to open up the defense,”‘ Cartwright said. “(And) we don’t shoot the ball to not make it.”

Hassan Martin had 14 points and 17 rebounds for Rhode Island (5-3), which lost at unranked Valparaiso and Providence a week after falling to No. 1 Duke. E.C. Matthews scored nine points and went 1 for 8 from 3-point range, airballing a 3 with 2 seconds left with a chance for the Rams to tie it.

“Games like this might help us down the stretch,” Martin said. `’So you just tell everybody to keep their head up.”

The Rams led 47-40 with 12:15 left when Cartwright’s arm appeared to catch Christion Thompson in the left eye. Thompson went to the court, flailing his arms in the air looking for a call, but the teams played on until Lindsey hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game at 11:00.

Lindsey’s free throws brought the Friars within two points, and Ryan Fazekas scored on a fast-break goaltending call to tie it. From there, there were three more ties and kept the game within one possession until Lindsey hit a fallaway jumper with 43 seconds left to give Providence a 59-55 lead.

“We beat a tournament team today,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.

POLL IMPLICATONS

It will be difficult for Rhode Island to stay in The Associated Press Top 25 after its stumbles.

Hurley said he isn’t concerned.

The goal at the beginning of the season was to win the Atlantic 10 and play in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s all still in play.

“We expect to have a long and great season. Nothing’s changed for us,” he said. “We lost two tough road games in a long season.”

BULLOCK’S BOUNCE-BACK

Bullock scored a career-high 36 points against New Hampshire on Wednesday, but he missed all three shots from the field in the first half and had only three points on six free throws at the break.

Cooley told him not to worry about the shooting and to try to make something happen with rebounding or defense.

“Somebody coming of a great scoring game like he did there’s going to be a lot of attention on him,” Cooley said. “I thought he showed some definite grit in the second half.”

TIP-INS

Rhode Island: Martin hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half. … Martin surpassed the 1,000-point milestone against Valparaiso on Tuesday. … The Rams have lost nine straight to Big East teams.

Providence: The Friars lead the all-time series 73-56, including a buzzer-beating victory last year in Kingston. … They are 1-1 against ranked teams this season, having lost to then-No. 7 Virginia on Nov. 26.

UP NEXT

Rhode Island: Hosts Old Dominion on Tuesday.

Providence: Hosts Brown on Tuesday.

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