Vanderbilt v Middle Tennessee

Sun Belt Conference Tournament Preview

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Middle Tennessee State is far and away the best team in the Sun Belt Conference.

Let’s start with the obvious: they went 19-1 in league play. Their only loss came to Arkansas State on the road in overtime. Arkansas State won the Sun Belt’s Western Division with a 12-8 record. South Alabama, who finished second to MTSU in the Eastern Division, had a 14-6 record.

The Blue Raiders, in other words, won their league — which was a true, double round-robin, meaning they played every team in the league at home and on the road — by a full five games. That’s incredible. But there are two problems here:

A) It may not be enough to get the Blue Raiders an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, as their impressive RPI is overshadowed by the fact that their only top 100 win came against Ole miss.

B) They now have to extend that dominance for three more games in order to earn the automatic bid for the conference.

As much as we all love upsets and excitement during Championship Week, you really should be rooting for the Blue Raiders to get that automatic bid. They are good enough to make a run in the Big Dance.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

Bracket

Where: Hot Springs, Arkansas

When: March 8-11

Final: March 11th, 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Favorite: Middle Tennessee State

To expand on what we wrote above, the Blue Raiders are a deep, balanced and veteran group that has experienced both regular season dominance and postseason disappointment. After running through the Sun Belt last season, they dropped a couple games down the stretch and lost in the conference tournament, winding up in the NIT. To get an idea of what this team is all about, think about this stat: MTSU dominated the league as thoroughly as a league can be dominated, yet they had just one player — Marcos Knight — get named to one of the two all-conference teams. Knight averaged 12.6 points and 5.4 boards. Six other players in the ten man rotation average between 6.3 points and 8.6 points.

And if they lose?: South Alabama has the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year on their roster and nearly took MTSU out at home back in January. But the Jaguars also lost by 35 to the Blue Raiders on the road. Arkansas State is the one team that has beaten the Blue Raiders this year, and Kenpom has then as the second-most likely team to win the tournament.

Sleepers: North Texas has been beat-up all season and as disappointing as any team in the country, but they may actually be the most talented team in the Sun Belt. Florida Atlantic lost eight out of ten at one point this season, but they have a dynamic back court that can put up points in a hurry when they get hot.

Studs: 

– Tony Mitchell, North Texas: He’s a lottery pick, even if he hasn’t played like one since last March.

– Augustine Rubit, South Alabama: Rubit averaged 18.9 points and 10.0 boards this season and notched 16 double-doubles.

– TJ Price, Western Kentucky: Price is a big-time scorer that dealt with some injuries during the season but seemed to hit his stride down the stretch.

CBT Prediction: Middle Tennessee State will roll. They’re not going to want a repeat of last year’s disappointment.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 6 Kentucky bounces back with blowout win against Valparaiso

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Bam Adebayo finished with 16 points and Malik Monk chipped in with 15 as No. 6 Kentucky blew out Valparaiso in Rupp Arena, 87-63.

The outcome was really never in doubt in this one, as Kentucky jumped out to leads of 24-4 and 35-9 against a good Crusaders team. The Wildcats were coming off of a loss to UCLA where they gave up 97 points in their home arena, getting humbled in a game that was supposed to solidify their standing as the best team in college basketball.

Kentucky’s defense on Wednesday was just suffocating. Valpo finished with 19 turnovers while shooting 34.3 percent from the floor, numbers that were somewhat inflated by the fact that Kentucky had this game won in the first 10 minutes.

Valpo is a good basketball team. They’ve beaten Alabama, BYU and Rhode Island this season, and their only two losses on the year have come on the road to Oregon and Kentucky.

But this?

This was a buzzsaw they ran into. Winning at Kentucky was never going to be easy. Winning there 72 hours after UCLA beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena was always going to be near-impossible.

Valpo will be fine. Come Selection Sunday, this is going to look like a really good win for the Wildcats.

PHOTO: Pres. Bush, P.M. Cameron sit courtside at SMU

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 17:  Former U.S. President George W. Bush attends a game between the Illinois-Chicago Flames and the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Moody Coliseum on December 17, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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President George W. Bush is no stranger to sports in the Dallas area, most notably as the former owner of the Texas Rangers.

On Wednesday, he sat courtside at Moody Coliseum for a game between TCU and SMU. He was joined by his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, and former British prime minister David Cameron.

They’re no Jack Nicholson or Penny Marshall, but not bad star power for a non-conference game in December.

No. 16 Butler suffers first loss at the hands of Indiana State

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 5: Brenton Scott #4 of the Indiana State Sycamores shoots the ball against the Evansville Aces during MVC Basketball Tournament  Semifinals at the Scottrade center on March 5, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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There are now just 10 undefeated teams left in college basketball after No. 16 Butler fell to Indiana State on Wednesday night, 72-71.

It was the second time this season that a top 25 team from the state of Indiana lost a road game to an in-state foe, and it was the second this season that in-state foe had a Scott twin on the roster.

Brenton Scott plays for the Syramores. The senior guard had 24 points, nine boards, three assists and a pair of steals to lead the way for Indiana State on Wednesday night. His twin brother, Bryson, had 18 points, 12 boards three assists and three steals for Fort Wayne when they picked up a win over then-No. 3 Indiana earlier this season.

Brenton wasn’t the star on Wednesday. That title belongs to Matt Van Scyoc. He had 23 points and hit six threes on the night, with three of them being daggers that came in the final three minutes of the game.

This loss is going to hurt for the Bulldogs come March. Where Fort Wayne has a chance to be the Summit League champions this season, Indiana State is a team that already has a loss to a bad Quinnipiac team and looks destined to finish in the bottom half of the Missouri Valley.

If you needed another example for why high-major head coaches don’t schedule road games against mid-major competition, this is it. Chris Holtmann’s Bulldogs were on the wrong side of a court-storming with more than three months left until the start of Big East play and in the process took a loss that could end up having a significant impact on their NCAA tournament seeding.

That’s not exactly ideal for the Bulldogs.

Andrew Chrabascz led the way with 18 points for Butler. Their leading scorer on the season, Kelan Martin, had just 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting.

VIDEO: Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene hits ridiculous three

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You should know the name Marcus Keene by now.

He’s the nation’s leading scorer, the only guy in the country averaging better than 30 points this season; at just 5-foot-9, he’s averaging 31.4 points, 5.1 assists and 4.6 boards. On Tuesday night, Keene went for 40 points. He was in such a zone, he felt the need to make this little pirouette before banging home a three.

I mean, just check this out:

Here’s what makes that shot so crazy: this game wasn’t close to over!

Central Michigan was up by six points with more than two minutes left, and Keene not only buried that shot, he actually shot it.

Former Kentucky coach Gillispie announces retirement

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 18:  Head coach Billy Gillispie of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Dean E. Smith Center on November 18, 2008 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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One of the most mercurial college coaching careers of recent years is coming to a close.

Billy Gillispie, who rose in the profession to helming Kentucky and then fell to the junior college ranks, is retiring amid health concerns, he told the Dallas Morning News.

“No one’s ever enjoyed coaching more than I have, I promise, and no one’s ever been luckier in the coaching profession than I have,” Gillispie told the newspaper in a text message. “What a wonderful career!

“I’ve been very sick with blood pressure issues since the summer, but I’ve tried to fight it out. I got a report Monday that told me if I didn’t address this blood pressure situation immediately, irreversible, bad things were very likely to happen here relatively soon and my long-term health could be compromised.

“Timing isn’t great, but I’ve decided to do what I was told and try to return to healthy ASAP.

“I’ve had a wonderful career and in the last two years some of the best days I’ve ever experienced as a coach. I hate leaving this team because they are really coming around, but they understood me being sick. That’s the worst part of it, not coaching.”

After lengthy stints as an assistant, Gillispie got his first head coaching job at UTEP in 2002 and turned the Miners into an NCAA tournament team by his second season, which paved the way for his exit to Texas A&M and the Big 12. He won 20-plus games in all three of his seasons with the Aggies and brought them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, spending much of the 2006-07 season ranked in the top-10.

Gillispie then took over for one of the most storied programs in the history of the sport when Tubby Smith bolted for Minnesota, but he would last just two seasons in Lexington before being fired after missing the 2009 NCAA tournament.

Two years later he resurfaced at Texas Tech, but didn’t make it to a second season in Lubbock after allegations of player mistreatment.

He’s spent the last year-and-half at Ranger College in Texas.