Paul Lusk

Pregame Shootaround 1.11.13: Can Missouri State continue its improbable turnaround?

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Game of the Day: No. 13 Creighton at Missouri State (8:00 p.m.; ESPN3) 

After going 2-10 in non-conference play Paul Lusk’s team has proven to be a headache for their Missouri Valley foes, as the Bears are off to a 3-1 start. But tonight brings on an incredibly difficult task: slowing down Doug McDermott and a Creighton team that’s averaging 80.2 points per game. On the season Creighton is shooting 51.9% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc, and the many quality looks that the Bluejays find offensively make them one of the tougher matchups in the country. Guards Anthony Downing and Marcus Marshall lead the way offensively for Missouri State but it would be unrealistic for them to have any thoughts of winning a shootout with Creighton. Can they slow down the Bluejays? Doubtful, but few had them getting off to a 3-1 start either.

Who’s Getting Upset? Utah State (vs. San Jose State; 9:05 p.m. ESPN3) 

The Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum is one of the toughest environments for a road team to deal with, thanks not only to the fans but also the fact that Stew Morrill’s program is 219-19 during his tenure. Led by shooting guard Preston Medlin the Aggies have won 12 games in a row, but with San Jose State having a perimeter marksman of its own there’s a chance the Spartans can pull the upset. His name: James Kinney. Kinney, who casual fans may not have seen since he scored 30 in a loss at Kansas in late November, is averaging 20.6 points per game and has scored 20 points or more in eight of the 14 games in which he has played. If he can get hot don’t be surprised if San Jose State hangs around.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Fairfield at Loyola (MD) (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

With wins over Rider and Saint Peter’s last week more than a few pundits were quick to make Loyola (MD) the clear favorite to win the MAAC. But the conference race is a wide-open affair and that’s something the visiting Stags hope to prove tonight. Fairfield (2-2) trails Loyola (3-1) by a game in the standings but they’ve won three of their last four games on the road, which includes wins at Saint Joseph’s and Canisius. The perimeter matchup between Fairfield’s Derek Needham and Loyola’s Dylon Cormier should be fun to watch, but the key for the Stags will be whether or not their front court can neutralize Loyola forward Erik Etherly (15.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg).

Five Things to Watch For 

1) Siena has lost 11 straight games entering tonight’s game against Canisius and at first glance it would be safe to assume that Billy Baron and company will make short work of the Saints. But Siena has won 13 of the last 14 games in the series and they own a 13-2 record against the Golden Griffins at the Times Union Center. Is this weekend a “last stand” of sorts for forward O.D. Anosike and company? It just might be.

2) Wright St. looks to move to 4-0 in Horizon League play tonight with a win at Loyola (IL). Billy Donlon’s Raiders are off to the program’s best start since the 1989-90 season and they’ve done so thanks in large part to their work on the defensive end. Opponents are shooting 39.7% from the field and 29.5% from beyond the arc, and junior forward Cole Darling leads the way offensively with an average of 10.6 points per game.

3) Northern Kentucky and Lipscomb meet for the first time since the 1971-72 season, and strangely enough all three prior meetings in the series took place during that season (Lipscomb winning two). Both teams are 1-3 in Atlantic Sun play, and if they’re to defend their home floor the Norse have to hold their own on the boards (minus-4.2 rebounding margin).

4) Niagara swept the season series with Saint Peter’s last season and have won eight of the last 12 meetings entering tonight’s game in Jersey City. With high-scoring guards Antoine Mason and Juan’ya Green at his disposal Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich will look to crack the Peacocks’ tough half-court defense.

5) San Jose State’s James Kinney is averaging 20.6 points per game on the season but he’s coming off of a 3-of-18 outing in the Spartans’ 71-64 win over New Orleans on Tuesday night. It’s safe to say that San Jose State can’t afford a similar performance if they’re to win at Utah State.

Other Notable Games 

7:00 p.m. Lipscomb at Northern Kentucky

7:00 p.m. Canisius at Siena

7:00 p.m. Niagara at Saint Peter’s

9:00 p.m. Wright St. at Loyola (IL) (ESPNU)

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

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.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”