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Tournament’s first weekend shows you cannot script March

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As fun as an unpredictable NCAA Tournament can be for fans watching from home, it can make media people sweat – or at least draw criticism via social media – when a string of upsets make them look bad.

In the first weekend of the tournament there were a number of shocking results. Results that, when you  look back at the trends of both the winning and losing teams, you just shake your head and wonder why a career performance or off shooting night had to occur when money, maybe even a sliver of your reputation, were on the line.

Norfolk State and Lehigh? I’m not even going to try and quantify why those games played out the way they did, chalk both of those up to a bit of a bad-matchup for Missouri, a slightly soft Duke team, and an incredible effort from both.

There were, however, some interesting statistical anomalies that are worth noting from the weekend. Stuff that, frankly, you wouldn’t even write into a dramatic screenplay.

Basically, the following information can be used as excuses for that busted bracket you just threw into the trash.

UNC Asheville

What if I told you that before the Bulldogs tipped off against Syracuse, that their leading scorer Matt Dickey would shoot a not-so-robust 1-13 from the floor?

Blow-out, right?

Well, even though UNC – Asheville did have five players average in double figures this season, Dickey was essentially a no-show even though his team nearly pulled off the most improbable upset in NCAA Tournament history.

The fifth highest scoring team in the country this season, UNC – Asheville scored well below their 80.5 a game average against the Orange, but stuck around to give Jim Boeheim a real scare.

This might have been one of the greatest moral victories in the history of the tournament.

Cincinnati 

One of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, Mick Cronin’s club shot an impressive 19-23 from the charity stripe in their third-round game against Florida State, upsetting third-seeded Seminoles and providing the only shake-up in the East Region.

It was by far their best performance from the line all season; a slap in the face to anyone bracketologist who refused to advance this team to the second weekend of the tournament based on their foul shooting all season.

Had UC not shot well from the line? There would probably instead be only three teams from Ohio headed to the Sweet 16. Instead there are four, and we’re going to hear all about that this week.

Colorado

The Buffaloes best non-conference victory this season was against Georgia…by two points. They were the worst ranked BCS-conference team on KenPom.com, and were a program that had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1997.

So how they heck did they beat UNLV?

Well, to be fair, the Rebels were just ice cold for most of that game. As a team that attempted nearly 800 three-pointers this season – and made 36 percent of them – going 9-36 will hurt you.

“Our shooters felt comfortable. Everybody felt comfortable. We just didn’t make shots and they did,” guard Anthony Marshall told the media after the game.

Conversely, the Buffs turned the ball over  a season-high 23 times, but had their own season high 7-12 from beyond the arc.

Sometimes that’s not a result of great defense, just good luck.

North Carolina State

They were the last at-large team unveiled during Selection Sunday, and many people (including me) didn’t believe they belonged.

Now, here they are  in the Sweet 16 in year one of the Mark Gottfried regime.

Let’s be honest: the Wolfpack didn’t really beat anybody in the regular season. The only reason they’re here isn’t because they didn’t really lose to anybody, but now they’ve beaten two teams seeded ahead of them.

Against the Aztecs, NC State had their best shooting performance against anyone of significance this season, going 31-53 from the floor against a team that regularly held opponents under 40 percent.

Yesterday against the Hoyas, the Wolfpack, well, they shut down Henry Sims, among other thing. The senior fouled out in just 21 minutes of play, with a season low four points and three rebounds.

Who would have thought that could happen from an average defensive team?

VCU 

Wichita State gave us their worst offensive game of the season. OK so that stinks for them, but was it due to stifling defense from the Rams?

Probably, but the Rams weren’t very efficient on offense themselves.

Coming into the tournament, the Shockers were 14-1 when holding their opponents under one-point-per-possession, and the Rams were an average offensive team. In Thursday’s game, both teams score under one PPP.

A minor detail, sure, but for a higher seed to do what they needed to do defensively and not get it done is rare.

Hats off to the Rams, who came up just short against Indiana in their next game.

Wisconsin

Although I thought the Badgers were ripe for an upset against Montana, Bo Ryan continued this program’s tournament success, grabbing a win (they’re also in the Sweet 16) for the 10th time in 11 years.

The win shouldn’t surprise you too much, but how Bucky advanced past the Grizzlies may. A nine-point favorite, Wisconsin’s 24-point victory was the largest margin against the spread in the second round of this tournament, due primarily because it was their best all-around shooting performance in about a month (that Ron Wilson flurry in the Big Ten Tournament notwithstanding).

With the Big Sky’s Defensive Player of the Year Will Cherry in foul trouble early, the court was wide open for Jordan Taylor, as he led the Badgers to their best first half offensive performance since Christmas.

For Cherry, it was arguably his worst game of the season, as he was limited defensively and finished with just nine points on 3-14 shooting.

Had he given us at least an average game, it could have made a big difference here.

No. 6 Baylor uses late spurt for 62-53 victory at TCU

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
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FORT WORTH, Texas — Sixth-ranked Baylor and TCU kept trading the lead in the second half, with a 9 1/2-minute gap when neither team could muster consecutive scores.

Then the Bears finally closed out their 10th straight Big 12 victory over TCU since their instate rival joined the league four years ago.

Ishmail Wainright swished a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4:16 left, and there was then a TCU miss and more than a minute before Johnathan Motley’s layup for the Bears. Manu Lecomte added a layup to cap the 7-0 spurt that finally put Baylor (18-1, 6-1 Big 12) ahead to stay.

“This was typical of the Big 12. Hard-fought game, both teams playing extremely hard. The day after the game, it’s amazing how drained everybody is,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I hope fans enjoy it, because we’re worn out.”

There were five ties and 13 lead changes after halftime.

The partisan sellout crowd of 7,276 might not have enjoyed it as much, but the Horned Frogs (14-5, 3-4) have shown great progress in their first season under coach Jamie Dixon, the former TCU point guard.

While the Frogs have already won two more games than all of last season, Dixon feels like they have let their last two game slip away late.

“Obviously got some disappointed guys in that locker room, me included,” Dixon said. “Really thought we were here to win this game. … My feeling we were ready to win them, and we were prepared, and we did things right, did things necessary.”

Lecomte scored 17 points while Motley had 15 points and eight rebounds, along with a punctuating dunk in the final minute. That came soon after Lecomte’s alley-oop pass for a dunk by Jo Lual-Acuil, who finished with 11 points.

Vlad Brodziansky had 19 points and 10 rebounds for TCU, while Kenrich Williams had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: This is the first time the Bears have ever been 18-1 overall or 6-1 in the Big 12. They have won their last three games since losing in their first game after reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history.

TCU: Brodziansky and Williams didn’t get much help from the rest of their teammates. TCU shot 29 percent from the field (17 of 58) — Brodziansky and Williams were a combined 12-of-26 shooting; the rest of the team was 5-of-32. “We outrebounded them (38-37), we had lower turnovers (8-10), things we want to do,” Dixon said. “But simply put, the shooting percentages always stand out.”

COMING FROM BEHIND

Baylor is 6-1 this season when trailing at halftime, and has outscored its opponents by more than 10 points in those second halves. “Blessed to have great leadership from the upperclassmen. They don’t panic, they don’t rattle, they stay together,” Drew said. “And they believe in each other.”

TCU led only 24 seconds in the first half, but grabbed a 28-26 halftime lead on Williams’ 3-pointer with 7 seconds left. Baylor opened the second half with four straight layups.

CATCHING AIR

When asked about Wainright’s go-ahead 3, Motley called it a “big shot. I air-balled one, Al (Freeman) too. The fans made sure they let us know. It didn’t matter, we just stayed aggressive, and my teammates trusted me to shoot again.”

UP NEXT

Baylor is home against Texas Tech on Wednesday before consecutive road games, including the SEC-Big 12 Challenge next Saturday at Ole Miss.

TCU plays its next two Big 12 games on the road, starting Monday at Oklahoma State. The Frogs then host Auburn before going to Kansas State.

No. 11 Oregon tops Stanford for record 16th straight win

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20:  Tyler Dorsey #5 of the Oregon Ducks shoots a jump shot against the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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EUGENE, Ore. — Chris Boucher announced his return to No. 11 Oregon’s starting lineup with one dramatic slash-and-slam move.

In the process, he helped answer what the latest version of the Ducks would look like without injured preseason All-America forward Dillon Brooks again.

Boucher had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Dylan Ennis scored 15 and Oregon rolled to a 69-52 victory over Stanford on Saturday.

With Brooks on the bench and his left leg in a boot to protect a sprained foot, the Ducks (18-2, 7-0 Pac-12) broke a 104-year-old school record with their 16th consecutive win and 38th in a row at home.

Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey each had 11 points for Oregon, which overcame 19 turnovers by shooting 11 of 25 from 3-point range and outrebounding Stanford 40-29.

The Ducks share a 1 1/2-game lead atop the Pac-12 with No. 14 Arizona, but Oregon coach Dana Altman, ever the taskmaster, wasn’t satisfied.

“I’m disappointed. We were sloppy, but there were some good things,” he said, pointing to the eight rebounds and seven assists from freshman point guard Payton Pritchard. “That’s a big plus. We need our guards to rebound.

“But 19 turnovers is just unacceptable. The (12) turnovers in the second half took away from what could have been a good performance.”

It was the 11th career double-double for 6-foot-10 Boucher, whose swooping drive and dunk from the left wing late in the first half showed no lingering effects of the ankle sprain that cost him his starting spot eight games ago.

“I felt like it was always there,” said Boucher, who had come off the bench the past six games after sitting out two to recuperate. “Their bigs were kind of slow, so I felt I had the opportunity to do that.

“It’s always good to know you’re capable of doing it.”

Marcus Allen had 13 points as the only scorer in double figures for the Cardinal (11-9, 3-5). Stanford went more than eight minutes of the second half without a field goal, shot just 32.3 percent overall (20 of 62) and had two players foul out.

Oregon spotted the Cardinal the first five points and then hit four straight 3-pointers in taking a 16-7 lead. The margin grew to 20 late in the half as the Ducks went 8 of 17 beyond the arc and 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) overall.

Stanford, meanwhile, went the last five minutes of the half without a field goal and trailed 40-22.

“I think it was a combination of great shooting on their part, and poor defense on ours,” first-year Cardinal coach Jerod Haase said.

The Ducks, who led by as many as 25 late in the game, have won their last six games by an average of 24.3 points.

There’s no timetable for Brooks’ return after Oregon announced his injury status two hours before tipoff. The Ducks were ranked as high as No. 4 early in the season before he came back from offseason surgery for a broken bone in the same foot.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Altman said, “but hopefully it’ll all work out and he’ll feel better quick.”

BIG PICTURE

Stanford hasn’t swept a conference road trip since 2010. The Cardinal hope to have leading scorer Reid Travis (16.6 ppg) back from a shoulder injury in time for a visit to California in eight days.

Oregon finishes the first half of the Pac-12 season next week at Utah and Colorado, a road trip it hasn’t swept in four tries since the Utes and Buffaloes joined the conference in 2011.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Oregon’s chances of rejoining the Top 10 were helped Saturday when both No. 3 UCLA and No. 7 Creighton lost at home.

HE SAID IT

Oregon has five players scoring in double figures, led by Brooks at 13.4 points per game, but none among the Pac-12’s top 20 this season. “I think our balance is our identity, and I like to see that,” Altman said. “When guys are making plays for each other, we’re pretty good. When the ball’s hitting the floor too much, we’re not nearly as good.”

WHAT STREAK?

Boucher said he wasn’t aware that Oregon’s 16th win in a row was a school record until told by a Pac-12 broadcaster during a postgame interview. Meanwhile, Pritchard insisted such things don’t matter to the Ducks. “We’re not worried about any streaks,” he said. “We just want to make a run to the Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”

STAT OF THE GAME

The announced crowd of 12,364 was Oregon’s fourth sellout of the season and 12th in 119 games since Matthew Knight Arena opened six years ago — though there were at least 1,000 empty seats. The Ducks have drawn more than 10,000 for each of their five Pac-12 home games.

UP NEXT

Stanford, now 0-6 against ranked teams, hits the Pac-12 midpoint at California on Jan. 29.

Oregon goes for its first 8-0 start to conference play in 91 years at Utah on Thursday. The Ducks finished 10-0 in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1925-26.

Williams-Goss leads No. 4 Gonzaga over Portland 73-52

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) No. 4 Gonzaga beat undermanned Portland by 21 points on Saturday, but the Zags were not happy.

Portland, playing without its leading scorer, out-rebounded the Zags 41-33, and held Gonzaga, the nation’s last remaining undefeated Division I team, to 45 percent shooting.

“We have to start rebounding better,” said center Przemek Karnowski, who scored 12 points but had just three rebounds in Gonzaga’s 73-52 victory. “Five guys have to go and rebound the ball. That’s one of the things we need to fix.”

Nigel Williams-Goss led Gonzaga with 15 points, but left the game with about five minutes left with an injury. Coach Mark Few could not say exactly what the injury was or how serious.

But he was also unhappy with the rebounding.

“They pounded us for 21 offensive rebounds,” Few said. “They beat us to some balls.”

“It was a choppy game,” Few said. “Portland did a nice job. They played us physical.”

Zach Collins added nine points and nine rebounds for Gonzaga (19-0, 7-0 West Coast), which has a nation’s best 19-game winning streak. It is the best start in program history.

Gabe Taylor scored 13 points and Jazz Johnson 12 for Portland (9-10, 2-5), which has lost five games in a row. The Pilots played without leading scorer Alec Wintering, who earlier Saturday was declared out for the season with a torn ACL.

“Sometimes when you lose your leader like that, it wipes you out,” Portland coach Terry Porter said. “But the guys responded well with a great effort.”

“We knew it was going to be a tall task,” Porter said. “I loved the way we fought and got after it.”

Gonzaga, which has won seven straight over Portland, never trailed despite shooting 45 percent from the field. Portland was worse, shooting just 32 percent.

“We had a lot of good looks we didn’t knock down,” Few said.

Gonzaga opened the game with a 12-1 run and the Pilots did not make their first field goal until five minutes were gone. The Zags hit four 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes and built a 24-11 lead. They were up 34-23 after a sloppy first half in which neither team shot better than 40 percent.

Early in the second, Gabe Taylor hit three consecutive baskets for Portland to knock Gonzaga’s lead down to 38-31.

But Killian Tillie’s 3-pointer ignited a 15-3 run that put Gonzaga in control and the Pilots did not threaten again.

BIG PICTURE

Portland: Under first year coach Terry Porter, the Pilots started strong but have been suffering offensive woes in recent weeks. The problem may get worse as Wintering, who was averaging 19.5 points per game, suffered a torn ACL in Thursday’s loss at San Francisco and is done for his college career.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have dominated at home this season, outscoring opponents by 29 points per game in their first 10 contests in the McCarthey Athletic Center. They have trailed a total of 13 minutes in their first 11 home games.

QUOTABLE

“They fought us and did a good job of competing with us,” Few said.

TURNOVERS

The Pilots turned the ball over 16 times, to 10 for Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

The two teams will play again on Monday in Portland, in a make-up date for a Jan. 7 game that was postponed by severe winter weather. Saturday’s game started a run of four games in eight days for each team. “We’re trying to get guys rested a little bit,” Few said.

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

VIDEO: Grayson Allen suffers gross finger injury vs. Miami

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Grayson Allen suffered a pretty nasty looking injury to the pinky on his left hand right at the end of the first half against Miami.

His reaction to seeing the injury is to recoil in horror … :

And you may do the same thing when I post the picture of what his finger looks like:

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I’m not going to speculate as to the nature of the injury, whether it was just dislocated or broken, but this is just another blow for a team that has had some dreadful injury luck this season.

Kansas State beats No. 7 West Virginia, whose press may be broken

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Bruce Weber of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts to a call during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on January 3, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas State had five players score between 13 and 15 points as the Wildcats finally landed the marquee win that has eluded them this season, picking off No. 7 West Virginia in the Octagon of Doom, 79-75.

Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown both scored 15 points to lead the way for the Wildcats, who improved to 4-3 in the Big 12 this season.

Here are three things to take away from this game:

1. The Wildcats needed this result so badly: Kansas State has pretty good computer numbers and a record that looks pretty on paper, but entering Saturday, they really hadn’t won all that much this season. They didn’t land a single non-conference win over a team ranked higher than 142nd in KenPom, and their wins in league play were over arguably the three worst teams in the conference – Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

So yes, this is a massive boost to Kansas State’s NCAA tournament chances.

But it’s also a morale boost that they needed. The Wildcats have been on the wrong end of some brutal late game calls, from the no-call on Svi Mykhailiuk’s travel in a loss to Kansas to the referees swallowing their whistles down the stretch in a loss at Texas Tech. Throw in the fact that Bruce Weber is more or less coaching for his job this season, and you can imagine the pressure that’s starting to build in Manhattan. This should help alleviate some of that.

2. West Virginia has played themselves out of the Big 12 title race: With 11 games remaining on the schedule, West Virginia is now three games behind Kansas for first place in the Big 12 standings. I don’t know how much you know about Kansas and the Big 12 – they’ve won 12 straight conference regular season titles, no big deal – but you don’t come from behind on the Jayhawks. You just don’t.

We’re just 12 days removed for the Mountaineers putting together a 21-point beatdown of then-No. 1 Baylor. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

3. Is West Virginia’s press broken?: In the win over Baylor, West Virginia forced 29 turnovers, or a turnover on 37.2 percent of Baylor’s possessions. After that game, the Mountaineers were forcing turnovers on more than 33 percent of their possessions on the season, which is a number that is totally insane.

But in the three games since then, Press Virginia has been no where near as effective. In a two-point win over cellar dweller Texas, WVU forced turnovers on 26.4 percent of Longhorn possessions, well below their season average. In a loss to Oklahoma on Wednesday, that number was 15.2 percent. Against Kansas State, it was 21.3 percent. If West Virginia isn’t forcing turnovers and if they aren’t getting easy baskets in transition out of it, they are a limited basketball team. Something to keep an eye on.