Kermit Davis

Middle Tennessee State could be worthy of an at-large bid

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The question as been posed a few times in Sun Belt Conference circles. Does Middle Tennessee State deserve an at-large bid to the Big Dance, should they fall in the conference tournament?

The Blue Raiders are 27-4 with a 19-1 mark in the conference. They’re far and away predicted to win the conference tournament next week and give coach Kermit Davis his first trip to the NCAA Tournament since he took over the program in 2002. But if that doesn’t happen, what’s left for the Blue Raiders?

At first glance, the schedule doesn’t paint the picture of an at-large candidate.

MTSU has one win over a team currently in the RPI Top 100, no. 58 Ole Miss according to Other than that, they’ve whiffed, badly, at any other attempt at a quality win, with losses to RPI no. 6 Florida (66-45 on a neutral court), no. 46 Akron (82-77 on the road) and no. 23 Belmont (64-49 on the road).

But after digging a bit, there’s a legitimate case.

First, let’s concentrate on the bad losses. When it comes to a team in a league like the Sun Belt, those mainly come from within your own conference. The Blue Raiders worst loss is their lone conference defeat, at Arkansas State, a 17-11 team that is currently no. 155 in the RPI. Not really what anyone would call a ‘bad loss’.

In a season in which teams like Virginia are losing to Old Dominion and no. 1-ranked programs are falling like they’re in front of a firing squad, there’s something to be said about a team with no bad losses.

Also, while the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee doesn’t do precedents, there’s one set in the Sun Belt. In 2008, the conference got two bids out of automatic qualifier Western Kentucky and South Alabama lucking out with the at-large bid despite losing to, ironically, Middle Tennessee State in the semifinals. The Jaguars were the no. 1 seed entering the tournament.

That season, the Jaguars got a 10-seed with a 26-6 overall record and a 16-2 mark in-conference. Their best out-of-conference wins were over two tournament teams, San Diego and Mississippi State, both teams that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They also swept WKU in the regular season.

So in terms of “good wins”, South Alabama’s two don’t exactly make them jump off the page over the 2012-13 version of MTSU.

Then there’s the overall wins themselves. The Blue Raiders are at 27. If they, say, get to the conference title game, they’ll be at 29. Even in a largely-one bid league like the Sun Belt, how can the selection committee overlook 29 wins in a season?

If put on the spot, I’d say Middle Tennessee gets the at-large. They may not have the eye-popping wins that grab the committee’s attention, but they also don’t have the kind of losses that make a team look suspect.

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has a sudden wealth of depth

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Last season, the Syracuse Orange had to sweat out Selection Sunday, then shocked the college basketball world by advancing to the Final Four.

This season, despite Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim’s attempt to tamp down expectations at his team’s media day Friday, going that far in the NCAA Tournament wouldn’t be that big of a shock.

“I think it’s very hard, when you’re talking Final Four, you look at the last four years, the two best teams, the two best records in the country were Arizona and Virginia. They’ve won the most games and the most (conference) championships of any teams in the country, and they did not get to the Final Four,” said Boeheim, entering his 41st season leading his alma mater. “So when you start talking `You’ve got to get to the Final Four,’ you’re really foolish.

“You need to get into the tournament, that’s what you need to worry about,” he said.

Boeheim over the summer was effusive in praise of his 2016-17 squad, which features what appears to be a solid mix of talented returnees that includes: projected first-round NBA pick Tyler Lydon; a highly ranked, three-member recruiting class; two fifth-year transfers, guard John Gillon and sharpshooter Andrew White, who are eligible to play immediately; and a traditional transfer, 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu, who promises to be a menacing force in Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense.

For much of the 2015-16 season, Syracuse was only six players deep. Boeheim said he would be comfortable playing nine or 10 players this season.

“I said this summer we have more depth, which is true, and we have a couple of guys at each position, which we haven’t had in a long time,” Boeheim said. “Now, whether that equates into a better team is something completely different from what I was talking about this summer. Maybe I wasn’t clear in what I was saying. I said, `Could be. Could be.’ I always say that. I said that one year and we won about 18 games.”

Last season’s team finished 23-14 and went just 9-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Associate head coach Mike Hopkins went 4-5 while Boeheim served an NCAA-imposed suspension as part of sanctions handed down by the organization.

Many predicted the Orange would fail to make the NCAA Tournament last year, and many screamed foul when the Orange were named to the field of 68. As a No. 10 seed, however, the Orange defeated Dayton and Middle Tennessee before stunning Gonzaga and Virginia to make it to Houston. Syracuse lost to North Carolina in the national semifinals.

“Last year, we were not very good,” Boeheim said. “We played really, really well in the tournament, but that doesn’t take away from the fact we were not a very good team. We need to be a lot better team this year, and we lost three really good players, two (Malachi Richardson and Michael Gbinije) who are playing in the NBA and one (Trevor Cooney) who’s playing in Spain.”

Syracuse is expected to be ranked in the Top 25, but that doesn’t guarantee a thing as far as Boeheim is concerned.

“Preseason rankings are good because people think you might have a chance, but you have to do it on the court,” he said.

Center DaJuan Coleman, a graduate student; senior power forward Tyler Roberson and sophomores Lydon and point guard Frank Howard return. They are joined by Chukwu, freshmen Tyus Battle, Taurean Thompson and Matthew Moyer, and transfers White and Gillon, who came over from Nebraska and Colorado State, respectively.

Syracuse was hit with NCAA sanctions in March 2015. As part of the punishment, 101 of the Orange’s victories were vacated. Among those vacated wins were all 23 from the 2005-06 season, including the Big East Tournament championship when the clutch play of Gerry McNamara led the Orange to four straight wins at Madison Square Garden. Boeheim’s career wins went from 985 to 886, still third all-time behind Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight.

The Orange begin play at home against Colgate Nov. 11.


South Carolina freshman Felder arrested, jailed for assault

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin gestures from the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.  (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
AP Photo/Sean Rayford
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina freshman guard Rakym Felder was arrested Sunday and charged with several counts, including assault, resisting arrest and public disorderly conduct.

Felder, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard from New York, is being held at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County, according to the facility’s website.

A team spokeswoman said coach Frank Martin was aware of Felder’s arrest and was gathering more information. Per South Carolina athletic department policy, Felder is suspended indefinitely.

Felder was charged by the Columbia police with simple assault and battery, resisting arrest, public disorderly conduct, failure to stop on police command, a pedestrian on a controlled access highway and use of another’s or altered license or identification card.

#CBTtop100: Counting down the Top 100 Players in college basketball

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We’ll be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball all week long. Be sure to check back here throughout the week as the countdown continues over @CBTonNBC.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Jalen Coleman-Lands cleared to practice

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Jarrod Uthoff #20 of the Iowa Hawkeyes defends against Jalen Coleman-Lands #5 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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When Illinois takes on Southeast Missouri State in the opener of the 2016-17 season, the Fighting Illini should have it’s starting backcourt out on the floor.

According to Jon Rothstein, Jalen Coleman-Lands has been cleared for all basketball activities. The sophomore two-guard has been recovering from a broken bone in his right hand.

The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.

Coleman-Lands will team up with Tracy Abrams, a point guard who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing the past two seasons due to injuries.

This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.

The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.

NBC Sports projected Illinois to finish eighth in the Big Ten this season.

Curtis Jones jumps over Tom Crean

Tom Crean
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Indiana held its annual Hoosier Hysteria on Saturday night.

One of the highlights from the team’s dunk contest was when freshman guard Curtis Jones jumped over Indiana head coach Tom Crean.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a newcomer us his coach as a dunk contest prop. Last week, Rawle Alkins cleared Arizona head coach Sean Miller en route to a reverse jam.

Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.