Weekend preview: Who breaks loose in the Atlantic 10?

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Who proves themselves to be elite in the Atlantic 10 this weekend?

If there was a conference that had a collective of bigger games this weekend, I’ve yet to see it. Three games, six teams, with conference title hopes play on Saturday. St. Joseph’s (14-9, 5-5) at La Salle (17-6, 7-3), Temple (16-8, 5-5) at UMass (16-7, 6-4), and Charlotte (18-6, 6-4) at St. Louis (18-5, 7-2).

The 49ers/Billikens match-up is the biggest. St. Louis could further themselves in the league race with a win and create some space and get themselves locked with VCU at the top. It’s truly a testament to the late Rick Majerus with what this St. Louis team has done. They’re his recruits and coach Jim Crews has really been able to blend his own philosophy in with Majerus’ system. That game could definitely be a final possession game.

La Salle and UMass have the most to lose this weekend, obviously, with losses crippling their hopes at a regular season conference championship. This is an especially big game for Temple, who has been exposed recently for not having much offense outside of Khalif Wyatt.

How much does Pitt have left?

It’s not that this team doesn’t have the talent or the will, they’ve just played arguably the toughest six-game stretch of anyone since conference play started.

Starting two weeks ago, they lost 64-61 at Louisville, then beat Syracuse 65-55. The Panthers followed that by beating Cincinnati 62-52. Now Jamie Dixon’s gang is playing No. 16 Marquette on Saturday, with Notre Dame to follow. This stretch could decide their NCAA tournament fate in terms of seeding. I’d say they’re definitely in, so it’s all about not getting beaten down before the Big East Conference tournament starts

Because, if you were counting, Pitt is playing their fourth ranked team in five games and will have played five ranked teams in six games when this stretch is done.

There has to be a delicate balance for Dixon. Don’t allow Steven Adams to get too beat up. Let Tray Woodall get his reps but limit the contact. The younger players need their burn. But obviously, this is about wins. Get them, and I’m sure the college kids can get themselves pumped up for the postseason.

Virginia could sweep North Carolina for first time in over a decade on Saturday

This is more significant than you might think.

These two teams have played at least twice a season seven times in the last 11 years. In that time, the Cavaliers haven’t beaten them twice in a season since 2001-02, winning 71-67 in the Dean Dome and 75-63 at home.

The Cavaliers have one of the most polarizing resumes when it comes to The Bubble this season and North Carolina has dealt with injuries and youth in trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

If the Tar Heels do it, it may have to come from their already thin front court. James Michael McAdoo (14.6 points per game) and Reggie Bullock (14.1) have held this team together due to lackluster guard play all season and will need to continue to do so.

The thing about Virginia is, their six losses have really outweighed their 18 wins. L’s to Old Dominion, who have three wins on the season, as well as Delaware, George Mason and Wake Forest. The combined record of the six teams that have beat the Cavs is 69-78. That says something about them. Though they have wins against North Carolina State and Wisconsin, so who knows.

Can Miami keep it up?

Someone had to ask it, sorry.

The only reason we do is because the Hurricanes upcoming contest screams “trap game”.

After winning at Florida State, a tough place to win regardless of season, Miami now waits on a date with Virginia, an NCAA Tournament hopeful, at home. Before that, they go to Clemson, who at 13-11 and 5-7 in the ACC isn’t much to look at. But lest we all forget they pushed North Carolina State twice this season — 66-62 at NC State, 58-57 at home — and are 5-2 at home. The other home loss was just 71-66 to FSU.

So they know how to hold their on when in the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum.

Devin Booker will have to lead as always, his 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds pacing the Tigers, and Jordan Roper, Milton Jennings and K.J. Daniels all average at least a steal per game while Daniels, Jennings and Booker average over a block per game. The defense is there, it’s the offense that isn’t when they lose.

Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.