Some ‘under the radar’ individual battles to keep tabs on tonight

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The season is finally here, and with that are some fun individual match-ups for college basketball fans to watch. One of the best duels will take place in Omaha as Creighton host North Texas.

A game featuring Doug McDermott and Tony Mitchell doesn’t qualify for “under the radar” status given how much we know about the two players. McDermott is one of the early favorites for National Player of the Year if you go off of the early straw polls, and Mitchell is considered by many to be a future lottery pick.

What makes this contest under the radar? The fact that there’s no television.

McDermott averaged 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest last season, winning the Larry Bird Award that goes to the Missouri Valley Conference’s best player. Mitchell had to wait a while for his college debut but the moment he stepped on the floor at North Texas his presence was felt, and he helped lead the Mean Green to the Sun Belt tournament final with averages of 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

McDermott can score from anywhere on the floor, as evidenced by his 48.6% shooting from behind the arc last season, and while Mitchell may not shoot as often from the perimeter he’s no slouch himself. Both teams have plenty of talent, but it’s the two likely NBA Draft picks (whenever they decide to end their college careers) that will be the focus of the NBA scouts in attendance.

Here are a few other “under the radar” individual match-up to keep an eye on tonight:

Robert Covington (Tennessee State) vs. Brandon Davies (BYU)
Davies’ name has been well-known for quite some time, but it took an upset win at Murray State last year for Covington to receive some national pub. The thing is, that while Covington’s 17-point, eight-rebound outing in the Tigers’ 72-68 win was a solid showing he put together some masterpieces in other games (30 and 15 at Austin Peay being one example). Both are capable of posting double-doubles on a consistent basis, which should make for a fun battle in Provo.

Eric Ferguson (Georgia Southern) vs. Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso)
While Broekhoff (reigning Horizon League POY) had the better perimeter shooting and rebounding numbers of the two last season, Ferguson’s been hard at work to improve his ball-handling and perimeter skill set during the offseason. Valparaiso will once again be one of the favorites in the Horizon, but if Georgia Southern is to reach the point of contending with Davidson and Charleston it will be Ferguson who leads the way.

Frantz Massenat (Drexel) vs. Randal Holt (Kent State)
Both players averaged at least 30 minutes per game last season, with Massenat entering this season as the choice to win CAA Player of the Year. Massenat was the more productive of the two last season when factoring in assists (4.8 apg to 2.6 for Holt) and rebounds, but Holt has increased his number in each of his three seasons at Kent State.

Kareem Jamar (Montana) vs. Wes Eikmeier (Colorado State)
No Will Cherry (broken foot) for the Grizzlies, which means even more will be asked of Jamar given the youth of that lineup. Jamar, a first team All-Big Sky selection last season, averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. One of the CSU guards he’ll encounter is Eikmeier, who averaged nearly 16 points per game for a team that reached the NCAA tournament as well.

Warren Niles (Oral Roberts) vs. Julian Washburn (UTEP)
Oral Roberts is in a new conference (Southland) but one reason why many have made them the favorite to win the league is the presence of Niles (12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), their leading returning scorer from last season. Washburn was one of Conference USA’s best freshmen last season, posting averages of 11.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, and he should only get better as a sophomore.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej. 

Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean gets her piece of the net

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Loyola-Chicago’s hero — their 98-year old chaplain, Sister Jean — got her reward for being the good-luck charm that got the Ramblers to the Final Four.

Think about this:

  • The Ramblers beat Miami on a game-winning three with 0.3 seconds left
  • They beat Tennessee on a jumper with 3.6 seconds left that bounced off the rim, the backboard and the rim again before going in.
  • They needed a three with 7.6 seconds left to help them hold off Nevada in the Sweet 16.
  • A senior that never averaged more than 8.3 points and that had a season-high of 14 points against something called Eureka this season went for a career-high 23 points to get the Ramblers to the Final Four.

She earned this piece of the net.

The Atlanta Falcons are trying to recruit Sister Jean from Loyola

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The Atlanta Falcons are American sports’ most cursed franchise now that the Chicago Cubs have won a World Series.

Hell, Atlanta sports in general are a minefield of terrible losses, blown seasons and heartbreak.

Which is why the Falcons, who may or may not have blown a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, are trying to get Sister Jean on their payroll:

Stay away, Falcons.

Sister Jean is ours.

Sincerely, College Basketball

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago advances past Kansas State, to Final Four

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Sister Jean strikes again!

Ben Richardson, a senior guard who’s never averaged more than 8.3 points in a season, broke double-figures just four times during his senior year and had a season-high of 14 points that came in a game against something called Eureka, scored went 6-for-7 from three and scored a career-high 23 points for No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago as college basketball’s latest Cinderella finished off their run to the Final Four with a 78-62 win over No. 9-seed Kansas State.

A No. 11-seed is the lowest-seeded team to ever reach a Final Four, and Loyola is just the fourth No. 11-seed to get to the Final Four. LSU did it in 1986, George Mason made it in 2006 and VCU reached the Final Four out of a play-in game in 2011.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win was that it was never really in doubt. Kansas State led 3-2 for 17 seconds in the first half … and that’s it. The Ramblers opened the game on a 15-5 run, took a 36-24 lead into the break and led by as many as 23 points in the second half.

Perhaps this is what says it all — The Ramblers emptied their bench to let the walk-ons get some run.

In the Elite Eight.

Their bench players dribbled out the clock to send them to the Final Four.

For a team that needed game-winning jumpers in the final 10 seconds in the first three rounds of the tournament, Kansas State was the lowest seeded team that the Ramblers played in the tournament. I guess it’s fitting that they were the game they finally won comfortably.

And to be frank, this is the postseason run that we all needed this year.

Let’s start with the basics: Nobody wants to see Kansas State in the Final Four. I’m sorry Kansas State fans, but that’s the truth. This run has been fun, it might have saved Bruce Weber’s job and I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for the fight and the grit that guys like Barry Brown Jr., Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed play with.

But if you are going to give me the choice between seeing a miracle mid-major run to the final weekend of the college basketball season or a middling power conference program that happened to get hot against a lucky draw in the NCAA tournament, I’m taking the mid-major.

Every. Single. Time.

And I guarantee that I’m not the only one.

If we’re not going to get a blueblood, give me the little guy.

Especially when they are being led to glory by a 98-year old nun named Sister Jean.

That is the other part of this: Everything about this Loyola-Chicago team is good. They are what makes college basketball so special. They are why this event is the best sporting event in America. And they are making this run in the tournament in a year where the sport has been marred by scandal after scandal.

There was the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball that resulted in assistant coaches at four programs getting arrested. There was the arrest of the three UCLA players that turned into an international incident covered by TMZ, CNN and FOX News when LaVar Ball stood up for his son and got into a war of words with Donald Trump. There were the accusations that were levied at Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo that he covered up sexual assaults committed by players within his program. There were the reports that leaked before the start of the NCAA tournament that tied players at myriad programs with taking impermissible from a disgraced NCAA agent, and then the controversy surrounding a report that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment of $100,000 for Deandre Ayton.

Anyone paying attention to college basketball from afar would think that the sport is an absolute cesspool, and whether the fact that it is may or may not be true depending the way that you view amateurism and the ability of college athletes to earn money off of their likeness, the bottom-line is this: College basketball’s public image has never been worse.

Until now.

Now we have a team from the Missouri Valley — a league that Wichita State and Creighton left because it wasn’t good enough — heading to the Final Four. We have a mid-major program whose most famous member is their 98-year old chaplain. We have a program with a head coach that is so far from the glitz and glamour of $3,000 suits that he wears outfits that look like this.

This is why college basketball is the best.

Because things like this can happen.

Tonight, we are all Ramblers.

Report: Gonzaga will decide on conference future in next few weeks

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Now that Gonzaga has been eliminated from the 2018 NCAA tournament, the school has some important decisions to make regarding its basketball future.

A report at the end of February from Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune said that the Bulldogs were among two teams targeted by the Mountain West Conference for future expansion. The Mountain West talks are becoming more of a reality since the Zags were ousted by Florida State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Dennis Dodd of is reporting that Gonzaga will make a conference decision in the next few weeks as the school is exploring the possibility of leaving the West Coast Conference.

Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth confirmed to Dodd that the Mountain West and Gonzaga are talking while also noting that rumors of BYU and Gonzaga being a package deal are false. Since the window is quickly closing to try to get new teams into leagues for the 2018-19 season the Gonzaga/Mountain West talks should be figured out within the next few weeks.

“I think we’re into that crunch period for sure if we’re going to try to get it done for the fall of 2018. At the same time, we’re not going to rush the decision because of timing,” Roth said to Dodd.

“In a perfect world, we’re going to be making a decision in the next couple of weeks here. But there is no such thing as perfect worlds in the crazy world of college athletics.”

While Gonzaga has dominated the WCC over the last 20 years, the conference hasn’t provided enough quality competition for the perennial top-25 program. That’s why the jump to the Mountain West would be intriguing. The Bulldogs would get a better yearly strength of schedule to help its tournament profile. The Mountain West would add a stable NCAA tournament contender that would also boost the national profile of the league.

“Our conference doesn’t get the national respect, and the Mountain West has better respect,” Roth said to Dodd. “Whether it’s significant enough for us to make that move, we’re trying to figure [that] out.”

As Dodd noted in his report, this move would have little to do with revenue for Gonzaga. This move would be made strictly for competitive purposes:

Such a move would seemingly have little to do with revenue, at least for Gonzaga. The Mountain West TV contract is worth approximately $18 million (about $1.5 million per school). Gonzaga’s current league, the West Coast Conference, gets a tiny fraction compared to that amount.

Based on an industry standard that basketball is worth only 25 percent of any media rights contract, jumping to the MWC would net Gonzaga only $375,000 per season.

Based on Roth’s quotes about the WCC and the level of national respect, it will be fascinating to see if this move happens in the next few weeks. It makes sense for both Gonzaga and the Mountain West to make this move. But a lot of other things also have to be figured out for such a move to take place. Once the college basketball season is over, this will be one of the biggest storylines to follow heading into next season.

PHOTO: Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean has her signature Nikes on

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Not only does Sister Jean have her own bobblehead, she has her own pair of signature Nikes as well: