Missouri Valley showdown headlines biggest bubble games of weekend

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With the calendar flipping to March it’s crunch time for teams whose NCAA tournament prospects aren’t locked in stone. Here are the five games that fans of teams on the bubble need to keep track of this weekend.

1) Wichita State at Creighton (Saturday, 2:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

There will be a lot on the line when the Bluejays host the Shockers in Omaha. The winner grabs the Missouri Valley regular season title and the top seed in next weekend’s conference tournament, and there’s also the matter of neither team in position to feel completely satisfied with their respective NCAA tournament resumes. The two teams are separated by six spots in the RPI (Wichita State ranked 47th and Creighton 41st according to warrennolan.com) with each team having three Top 50 wins this season.

Wichita State won the first meeting by three despite having twice as many turnovers (14) as Creighton, due in large part to Bluejays other than Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs shooting a combined 8-of-27 from the field. Carl Hall scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead four Shockers in double figures, and they’ll need that kind of balance on Saturday if they’re to complete the sweep of the season series.

2) Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday, 1:30 p.m.)

Iowa State had a major resume-building victory in their grasp on Monday night, only to see Kansas leave Ames with a 108-96 overtime win. That makes their trip to Norman all the more important, and the Sooners did their part with a stunning collapse at Texas on Wednesday night. Oklahoma has the better RPI (25) and one more Top 100 victory (seven) than the Cyclones, and their computer numbers are due in part to smart scheduling (they’ve played just five games against teams ranked 201 or worse; Iowa State’s played ten such games).

Iowa State rolled in the first meeting (83-64), shooting 51% from the field and knocking down 11 three-pointers at Hilton Coliseum. Will Clyburn scored 19 points and in total ten Cyclones managed to score. Oklahoma has to keep ISU from running their sets if they’re to return the favor in Norman.

3) No. 22 Butler at VCU (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. on ESPN2)

Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs have done enough in both the non-conference and Atlantic 10 to feel good about their NCAA tournament prospects. This one’s all about the Rams, whose overall resume doesn’t exactly match their standing within the A-10. The Rams have wins over Memphis, Belmont and Alabama to their credit, but the resume lacks wins over teams considered to be “locks” to reach the Big Dance.

This is the only regular season meeting between the two A-10 newcomers, and the key for both teams will be turnovers. If VCU can harass Butler and force them to cough up the basketball the Rams will be in good shape. But if Butler can take care of the basketball and control tempo as Saint Louis did (the Billikens are a bad matchup for both teams), Rotnei Clarke and company may leave Richmond with a valuable result.

4) Alabama at No. 8 Florida (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. on CBS)

Speaking of teams lacking wins over NCAA tournament locks, Alabama visits Gainesville with hopes of picking up a much-needed victory. Anthony Grant’s team has won 11 SEC games, but a closer look at their schedule reveals the fact that they have just one Top 50 victory (Kentucky) and they also have losses to Dayton, Mercer, Tulane and Auburn on the resume.

Is Florida in the conversation for a one-seed? At this rate who really knows, but at the very least they’ll have Will Yeguete back in the rotation. The Gators will be fine regardless of the outcome, but Alabama has a lot of work to do (and that likely includes a run in the SEC tournament) if they’re to return to the NCAA tournament.

5) Villanova at No. 23 Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:00 p.m.)

The Wildcats suffered a damaging road loss to Seton Hall on Monday night, dropping a game they led by four with 27 seconds remaining. But this week gives Jay Wright’s team a shot at two quality wins before the Big East Championship, beginning with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers. Villanova gets No. 7 Georgetown at home on Wednesday night but a win of this caliber would look very good on a resume that currently has just one quality road victory (at Connecticut).

Pittsburgh limited Villanova to just 43 points in the first meeting (neither team shot well; Villanova simply shot worse), and the Panthers also attempted 12 more free throws. Ryan Arcidiacono will need to exercise smart shot selection while also slowing down Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall, who scored 25 points in a win at St. John’s on Sunday.

Other Games of Note

– Colorado State at Boise State (Saturday, 8:00 p.m.)

Boise State’s profile is better than many think, and with their schedule to end the season the Broncos will have opportunities to make their case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament.

– No. 19 Memphis at UCF (Saturday, 1:00 p.m. on FSN) 

The Tigers have an impressive record but their loss at Xavier may have put them in position to need an undefeated run through Conference USA to feel comfortable in regards to an at-large bid.

– Connecticut at Cincinnati (Saturday, 2:00 p.m.) 

The Bearcats are reeling and need to turn things around before they end up on the wrong side of the bubble.

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

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

Kansas went on an 11-0 run in the second half, forcing four Purdue turnovers during that stretch. Once the Boilermakers finally got back on the board, the Jayhawks led 69-56. That run broke open the game en route to the 32-point victory.

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan ended his season — and perhaps, his college career — with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.

Jordan Mathews three sends No. 1 seed Gonzaga past No. 4 West Virginia

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Jordan Mathews hit a three with less than a minute left and West Virginia missed a pair of threes on the final possession of the game as No. 1 seed Gonzaga won a dogfight, 61-58, over No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Mathews, who finished with 13 points on the night, spent 4:30 on the bench before checking into the game right before hitting the eventual game-winning three. It came on a possession fitting of this game, which was the embodiment of the mantra ‘a close game is not always a good game.’ Nigel Williams-Goss, who played arguably his worst game as a member of the Zags, turned the ball over immediately after gathering a defensive rebound. But West Virginia’s Nathan Adrian had a shot blocked at the rim and, after corralling the loose ball, Williams-Goss found Mathews open in the wing for a three that put the Zags up 60-58 with 37 seconds left.

What’s going to be talked about after this game is the final possession for West Virginia.

Jevon Carter, who finished with 21 points and who, prior to that final possession, continued to hit big jumper after big jumper for the Mountaineers, airballed a three and, after West Virginia gathered the rebound, threw up another tough three that bounced off the front rim. West Virginia again got the loose ball, and after Carter dribbled 15 seconds off the block, he gave the ball up to Daxter Miles, who didn’t have enough time to get the shot off:

That possession is going to haunt Carter for a long, long time, and West Virginia was rightfully criticized for the way that they “executed” on that possession — I wonder if Bob Huggins regrets not saving a timeout for the end of the game — but it’s impossible to criticize West Virginia without also mentioning that Gonzaga’s defense was as good as it gets.

Not just just on that possession, either.

The Zags made life difficult for West Virginia all night long, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone that has been paying attention to this Gonzaga team. West Virginia shot 26.7 percent from the floor. They were 5-for-23 from three, and if it wasn’t for the 20 offensive rebounds they grabbed — more than the 16 field goals they made on the night — Gonzaga would have walked out of the SAP Center with a comfortable win. They are, quite literally, the best defensive team in college basketball, according to KenPom, and they made the plays they needed to make down the stretch to get the win. That’s what championship-caliber teams do.

And if you still don’t believe that Gonzaga can win a national title this season, than I’m not sure what else you need to see.

West Virginia was a terrible matchup for Gonzaga. Their guards, as good as they’ve been all season long, are not cut out for playing against a back court that is that much tougher, that much quicker, that much more aggressive and that much more athletic than them. Williams-Goss, who was a second-team NBC Sports All-American, was exposed. He finished the evening 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just a single assist before finding Mathews for the game-winning three. As a team, Gonzaga turned the ball over 16 times. Josh Perkins didn’t even get a shot off. Silas Melson was 2-for-7 from the floor. Throw in Zach Collins, who had just a single point, and four of Gonzaga’s top seven players were flat out bad on Thursday night.

That was, unequivocally, a game played the way West Virginia wanted it to be played. The Mountaineers controlled the game.

And yet, Gonzaga is still headed to the Elite 8, one game — against the winner of No. 2 Arizona and No. 11 Xavier — away from the right to go to the Final Four.

The knock on this Gonzaga team was their toughness, both physical and mental. Would they be able to handle a team that plays the way that West Virginia plays? Would they be able to handle the game pressure of playing to the final possession in the Sweet 16?

The answer is yes.

That doesn’t mean Gonzaga is going to win the national title.

But they are certainly good enough to get it done.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling, 69-68, victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

In a game in which neither team could fully grasp control of the game, it came down to the wire. Michigan held a 3-point lead with two minutes to play. Jordan Bell, who was unquestionably the deciding factor in this contest, came up with the first of several critical hustle plays down the stretch. He knifed in on a missed free throw, for the second-chance bucket, cutting the deficit to one.

On the ensuing Michigan possession, Bell didn’t block it but affected Derrick Walton Jr.’s shot enough to force the miss. Tyler Dorsey, the other hero for the Ducks, continued his stellar play this month with a go-ahead layup after he spun through the Wolverine defense. Bell’s close out on D.J. Wilson sent his 3-point attempt way off the mark. Bell would corral another offensive rebound on the other end of the floor, and while Dylan Ennis left the door open for Michigan following another missed free throw, Bell, deservedly, rebounded Walton’s miss as time ran out.

“Do whatever you can to win,” Bell told reporters after the game. “Me, get every rebound, offense or defense, help my team out as much as possible.”

Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points. Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with stat-line of 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

Dillon Brooks is without a doubt the star, but Bell and Dorsey round out a big three that could lead the Ducks to Phoenix.

Before the start of the Pac-12 Tournament championship game on March 11, Oregon announced that Chris Boucher would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. How would this effect Oregon’s defense days before it began its quest for a Final Four?

Bell has helped answer those questions on Thursday night. He’s a big reason why Oregon outscored Michigan, 34-16, in points in the paint. But his greatest impact was how he slowed down the two-headed monster of Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson, two forwards whose increased production is a big reason why Michigan’s unlikely run extended into the second weekend of the tournament. The duo scored a combined 19 points off 7-of-20 shooting.

The other for Oregon was the continued offensive tear of Dorsey. In six postseason games, the sophomore two-guard is averaging 23.0 points per game. He went toe-to-toe with Walton, who was playing as good as any guard in the country, in the final minutes and got the better of the battle. Playing at this level, Oregon has another go-to scorer, one who has no issue taking a big shot late in the game. In either matchup in the next round, that should come in handy. Dillon Brooks, one of college’s toughest matchups, will either be busy with Purdue’s massive frontline or locked in an all-out war with Kansas’ Josh Jackson the perimeter.

“I’m really fortunate to have Jordan for three years and Tyler for two and Dillon Brooks,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve just been really fortunate. We’ve got good players and guys that are unselfish. They want to win. They’re competitive. We got down four there and guys could have gave into it. They didn’t. They fought their way back. Shows you what kind of competitive spirit they’ve got.”

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face the winner of top-seeded Kansas and No. 4 Purdue on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.

“We know Purdue is really big and Kansas is Kansas,” Altman said.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.