Trevor Releford helps teammates learn by coming off the bench

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NEW YORK – Last season, Alabama had plenty of preseason expectation.

There weren’t exactly picked to run through the SEC — that won’t happen for anyone as long as Coach Cal is stockpiling first round picks up in Lexington — but the Crimson Tide were a trendy pick to finish second in the conference in 2011-2012. That didn’t happen, however, as Alabama watched their star upperclassmen manage to get themselves suspended in the middle of conference play. Tony Mitchell went so far as to get himself kicked ou of the program.

As a result, the Tide floundered, limping into and out of the NCAA tournament with an opening round loss to Creighton. With a very young team returning for this season — the core of Anthony Grant’s team are freshmen and sophomores, with the exception of junior point guard Trevor Releford — the tidal wave of hype hitting the gridiron this season did not find its way into Coleman Coliseum.

But after starting the season 3-0, including last-second wins over South Dakota State and Oregon State, all of a sudden the Crimson Tide look like a group that might be able to make a run at an at-large bid. And their doing it while bringing arguably their most important player off of the bench.

“I just felt like it’s the right thing for our team right now,” Grant said of bring Releford off the bench. “He understands what we’re trying to do and I think he’s been really, really good for us, if you look at the numbers he’s putting up, the leadership he provides, the spark that he gives us. I think it’s good for our team.”

Releford certainly is putting up numbers. In the two games against Division I competition, Releford is averaging 16.0 points while shooting 12-23 (52.2%) from the floor and handing out seven assists to just a single turnover. More importantly, however, when Releford is on the floor, Alabama’s offense simply runs more smoothly. He’s a point guard. He’s a facilitator. He gets the Tide into their offensive sets and he breaks down the defense if that doesn’t work.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Alabama’s sixth-man has been their MVP through the first week of the season.

“He’s a good kid and I think he understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Grant said. “He understands the bottom line is that he’s going to be out there and have an opportunity to make plays. If you look the games we’ve played, he’s out there. I think too much is made sometimes of whether or not a kid’s starting or not.”

Grant’s thinking is that early in the season, he needs to start developing his younger and more inexperienced players. He needs to build a rotation and develop a bench. He needs to get the guys that are going to be counted on in March into games early and allow them to get a sense of what it means to play basketball at this level.

“For us to be where we want to be, we have to build confidence in our young guys. We have an extremely young team,” Grant said, and Thursday’s 65-62 win over Oregon State was the perfect example in his eyes. After extending the lead to as much as 15 points on the Beavers, Alabama allowed them to claw their way back into the game. This is how close the Beavers were to coming all the way back — Ahmad Starks hit a three that would have tied the game with just a couple ticks left on the clock if his head coach hadn’t called a timeout a second before he released the shot.

“The mark of a young team, we thought “clock run out” as opposed to going and finishing the game,” Grant said. “The thing I told our guys is we gotta learn from this game how to stay aggressive and compete and do the things that allows us to build the lead from an offensive and a defensive standpoint, and we kind of got away from that.”

Alabama has some pieces this year. In addition to Releford, sophomores Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper join freshman Devonta Pollard to give Grant a talented perimeter rotation loaded with potential. Throw in a trio of big bodies in the paint and senior swingman Andrew Steele, and this is a group that can ruffle some feathers in a top-heavy SEC if they can manage continuing to learn how.

“I think it’s an opportunity to learn, and I think the best way to do that is to win,” Grant said. “I’d rather learn through winning than learn through losing and have to take some heartbreaking losses to clear things out.”

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

The 2018 NCAA tournament bracket looks wide open after a wild opening weekend

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The wild opening weekend of the 2018 NCAA tournament is finally in the books.

The bracket officially turns its attention to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight this week as teams are trying to punch tickets to San Antonio during an especially wide-open year.

Major upsets, double-digit seeds advancing into the Sweet 16 and the loss of all four top seeds in the South Regional means there’s still plenty of action to watch over the next several weeks.

Here’s how the updated bracket looks after the first weekend of March Madness.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Recap: Four top three seeds fall

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Caleb Martin was, once again, a monster for Nevada on Sunday.

He finished with 25 points. He handed out seven assists. He put the No. 7-seed Wolf Pack on his back and carried them back from a 22-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of a game that looked like it was lost.

It was impressive.

But he’s not our player of the day. His teammate Josh Hall is. Because he’s the one that grabbed this offensive rebound and scored this put back and sent Nevada into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

That lead was Nevada’s first lead of the game.


  • JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: 28 points. Five steals. Five assists. Four boards. Eight turnovers for Marshall’s Jon Elmore. Jevon Carter was terrific this weekend.
  • T.J. STARKS, Texas A&M: While Tyler Davis and Big Bob Williams combined for 26 points and 22 boards, it was Starks that was the star for the Aggies on Sunday, finishing with 21 points and five assists in a blowout win over UNC.


No. 9-seed Florida State erased a 12-point deficit in the final 10 minutes to send No. 1-seed Xavier back to the Queen City. Both Xavier and Cincinnati blew late leads on Sunday.

It was not a pretty game, but No. 11-seed Syracuse knocked off No. 3-seed Michigan State in a game where the Spartans completely forgot how to make a jump shot.


Playing without their starting center, who is recovering from a broken elbow, Purdue’s Dakota Mathias buried this shot to send in-state rival Butler home:


Michigan State shot 8-for-38 from three on Sunday afternoon, which was the major reason that the Spartans found a way to lose to Syracuse in the second round.

But one of the eight threes that they did hit was this one:


Auburn never stood a chance. No. 5-seed Clemson led by 41 points at one points as they sent Bruce Pearl’s boys packing.

The dream died. No. 16 UMBC lost to No. 9 Kansas State, ending their “run” in the NCAA tournament at two games.

VIDEO: Roy Williams reflects on recent run: ‘Those kids on the court were my salvation’

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North Carolina head coach Roy Williams took a moment to reflect on a special three-year run after the Tar Heels were eliminated from the 2018 NCAA Tournament with a blowout loss to No. 7 seed Texas A&M on Sunday.

After back-to-back national title game appearances and a championship win last season, Williams grew quite fond of seniors like Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson. Williams also mentioned some of the tumultuous circumstances surrounding the program from the past few years as he maintained that his players helped him through a difficult stretch in his life.

Speaking to reporters at the postgame press conference, Williams tried to subdue the emotion in his voice as he talked about this Tar Heels team.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 betting odds and national title futures

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With four more top threes falling out of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, here are the updated national title futures and betting odds in the NCAA tournament.

Odds via

Villanova: 4/1
Duke: 6/1
Michigan: 8/1
Kentucky: 8/1
Kansas: 10/1
Gonzaga: 12/1
Purdue: 15/1
West Virginia: 22/1
Texas Tech: 25/1
Nevada: 100/1
Texas A&M: 100/1
Loyola Chicago: 100/1
Clemson: 125/1
Kansas State: 125/1
Syracuse: 125/1
Florida State: 150/1

No. 5 West Virginia earns blowout win over in-state rival No. 13 Marshall

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West Virginia completely dominated in-state rival and No. 13 seed Marshall for a 94-71 second-round win in the NCAA tournament on Sunday night.

The No. 5 Mountaineers (26-10) made it back to the Sweet 16 for the second straight campaign, and for the third time in four years, as senior guard and All-American Jevon Carter had another monster outing with 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals.

West Virginia went 12-for-25 from three-point range and crashed the glass for 15 offensive rebounds during an impressive offensive performance. It’s also notable that head coach Bob Huggins changed up his defensive approach during some of this game from the usual “Press” Virginia. Going to a 1-2-2 zone to disrupt Marshall’s high-powered offense, 6-foot-8 Lamont West was stationed at the top of the zone as his length gave the Thundering Herd offense issues.

West Virginia, and Carter in particular, look like they mean business with the way they played this opening weekend. While many teams in the field had either upset losses or close scares, the Mountaineers won by an average margin of victory of 20 points in two wins this weekend. West Virginia only faced a No. 12 and No. 13 seed, but the Mountaineers never let off the gas the entire weekend.

Marshall (25-11) was a fun team to watch in this tournament because of its uptempo offense and propensity to shoot deep three-pointers. America learned about junior guard Jon Elmore and his ridiculous range in the Thundering Herd’s upset win over No. 4 seed Wichita State on Friday afternoon.

But Elmore (15 points) and fellow guard C.J. Burks (12 points) struggled to knock down shots in this one as they combined to go 7-for-27 from the field on Sunday. Ajdin Paneva led Marshall with 18 points as he was the team’s only consistent offensive option.

The Thundering Herd were blown out by a superior team on Sunday, but Dan D’Antoni’s ballclub was one of the most pleasant surprises of this tournament. After winning the Conference USA tournament and eliminating the Shockers in the Big Dance, D’Antoni has established some legitimate credibility for his program. And with minimal seniors on the roster, Marshall could be in position to make another run to the tournament next season.

With the win, West Virginia advances to play No. 1 seed Villanova in the East Regional in Boston on Friday night. After getting multiple chances to tie the game on the final possession and failing to convert during a memorable loss to No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 last season, the Mountaineers will have a lot of motivation when they tip against the Wildcats.

The backcourt matchup between Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Carter might also be the most riveting individual matchup of the entire tournament. Not only are Brunson and Carter both All-Americans this season, but they’re also former AAU teammates who are very familiar with each other’s games.

In a Sweet 16 full of unusual matchups and surprise teams, the Villanova/West Virginia game is appointment television.