Oregon State Beavers v Alabama Crimson Tide

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.

Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham arrested over unpaid ticket

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham was arrested and booked into Douglas County Jail late on Wednesday night on a failure to appear for court charge, according to jail records.

The charge was a result of an unpaid ticket for an expired tag that Graham had received. It dates back to June of last year.

Graham released a statement on the matter.

“This is my fault,” Graham said. “I was driving an ex-teammate’s car and I thought the ticket was paid so I didn’t pay attention to the notice to appear that I got. That’s on me, and I apologize to everyone. I learned a lesson the hard way.”

The arrest was a damper on what should have been a great night for Graham. He had 17 points and seven assists in a home win over TCU that clinched the 13th straight Big 12 regular season title for the Jayhawks. It was also his 22nd birthday.

He was released on $196 bond Wednesday night. Bill Self said he will not be suspended for the arrest.

Bracketology: Syracuse banks in a little Madness

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates tying the game with little time left on the clock during the second half against the Duke Blue Devils on February 22, 2017 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse upsets Duke 78-75.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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The bank was open Wednesday night in Syracuse. John Gillon’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse over Duke at the Carrier Dome and back (again) into the bracket.

It’s been a wild month for the Orange who now need to close the deal.  It was also a big night for Providence, who used a Kyron Cartwright trey to knock off Creighton in Omaha.  And then Dillon Brooks nailed a long-distance dagger to beat California, leaving the Bears teetering for bracket survival as February comes to a close.  Are we ready for March?

No changes on the No. 1 seed line. By a whisker, Villanova holds onto the overall No. 1 seed after its second loss to Butler, a team whose profile is far better than its AP ranking. Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga round out the group.  UNC moves up to No. 3 after dispatching Louisville.

If last night was any indication, it’s going to be fun ride toward Selection Sunday.

UPDATED: February 23, 2017

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Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. Kansas State | East Region
  • Providence vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City              
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NC-CENTRAL / M.S. MARY’S 16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE
8) South Carolina 8) Northwestern
9) VCU 9) Xavier
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) PRINCETON 13) VALPARAISO
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) SMU
11) Seton Hall / Kansas State 11) Providence / California
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Maryland 7) Iowa State
10) Marquette 10) Wichita State
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Miami-FL 8) Dayton
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
Buffalo Sacramento
5) CINCINNATI 5) Wisconsin
12) MONMOUTH 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) West Virginia 4) UCLA
13) VERMONT 13) NEVADA
Greenville Orlando
6) Creighton 6) Minnesota
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) Syracuse
3) Duke 3) FLORIDA
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) E. TENNESSEE ST
Sacramento Tulsa
7) Oklahoma State 7) Virginia Tech
10) Michigan State 10) USC
2) Oregon 2) Baylor
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) UNC-ASHEVILLE

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Michigan State, Wichita State, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, California, Providence, Kansas State

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, TCU, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island

Next four teams OUT (at large): Vanderbilt, Clemson, Alabama, Houston

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence

Big 12 (6): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

VIDEO: Bill Self tells hilarious Brandon Rush story

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Last night, as Kansas clinched their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, the Jayhawk program retired for star Brandon Rush’s jersey. Rush was a member of the 2008 national title team and is still bouncing around the NBA despite a series of knee injuries.

He’s a helluva player.

He’s also a terrible liar, as evidenced by the story that Bill Self told about him in last night’s press conference:

I guess honesty really is the best policy.

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

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North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.