NCAA Basketball Tournament - North Carolina State v Georgetown

NC State, Tennessee early favorites in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off

1 Comment

Thursday was a big day for in-season tournaments as many announced the pairings for their events, one of which being the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Here are some quick thoughts on the eight teams taking part in the event, scheduled for November 15, 16 and 18 (and a non-bracketed game between UNC Asheville and NC State on November 23).

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Schedule (all times Eastern) 

November 15
10:30 am Akron vs. Oklahoma State (ESPNU)
12:30 pm UNC Asheville vs. Tennessee (ESPNU)
5:00 pm NC State vs. Penn State (ESPN2)
7:30 pm Providence vs. Massachusetts (ESPNU)

November 16
10:30 am Semifinal 1 (ESPNU)
1:00 pm Consolation 1 (ESPN3)
5:00 pm Semifinal 2 (ESPN2 or ESPNU)
7:30 pm Consolation 2 (ESPN3)

November 18
11:oo am 7th place game (ESPN3)
1:30 pm 5th place game (ESPNU)
3:30 pm 3rd place game (ESPNU)
6:30 pm Championship game (ESPN2)

Best quarterfinal: Akron vs. Oklahoma State

The best quarterfinal is set to tip at 10:30 am, with both teams looking to make good on their talent and get to the NCAA tournament. The Zips are led by senior center Zeke Marshall, who could very well hear his name called in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft.

Keith Dambrot’s team won the MAC regular season title outright, only to fall to Ohio by a point in the conference tournament final, and with the majority of their key contributors back (they did lose forward Nikola Cvetinovic) Akron will be one of the preseason favorites in the MAC.

As for Travis Ford’s Cowboys, Keiton Page has graduated but the back court will be in good shape thanks to the addition of Marcus Smart and high school teammate Phil Forte.

And Le’Bryan Nash returns to Stillwater for his sophomore season, and if the Cowboys play to their potential this is a likely NCAA tournament team out of the Big 12.

Best individual match-up (that we know will happen): Lorenzo Brown (NC State) vs. Tim Frazier (Penn State)

The bottom half of the bracket will have two very good point guard battles, with Vincent Council (Providence) and Chaz Williams (UMass) facing off in the nightcap.

Brown, who likely won’t see much playing time on the Wolfpack’s trip to Spain due to surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, has been hailed by many as the best returning point guard in the ACC.

On the other side is Frazier, who was one of the Big Ten’s best in an otherwise rough season for the Nittany Lions, and he should be even better provided some teammates step up to assist him offensively.

Best individual match-up (that you want to see): Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) vs. C.J. Leslie (NC State)

This would have to happen in the final obviously, but with their dissimilar games a battle between Stokes and Leslie would be fun to watch.

Leslie’s the better scorer of the two (Stokes’ output stunted some by being a mid-season addition) while Stokes had a slightly higher rebounding average (7.4 to Leslie’s 7.3) and outweighs the junior by nearly 40 pounds. “Styles make fights” and this will be one individual showdown to focus on.

Winner: NC State

Looking at these two teams on paper most will say that the Wolfpack and Volunteers are the early favorites, but UMass and the winner of the Akron/Oklahoma State quarterfinal will also factor into the equation.

But with their returnees and a very good incoming freshman class (three McDonald’s All-Americans led by shooting guard Rodney Purvis) Mark Gottfried’s team can use San Juan as a springboard towards contending for an ACC title.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
Leave a comment

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
Leave a comment

Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.