photo courtesy Northeastern Athletics

2013 Colonial Athletic Association tournament preview

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Oy, what a mess.

For the past decade, the CAA tournament was one of the hottest mid-major tourneys going. Annual battles between VCU, George Mason, Old Dominion and other tough teams from the league presaged Big Dance upsets and even Final Four runs. This year? Not so much.

VCU is tearing up the A-10. Old Dominion fell off a cliff and fired Blaine Taylor, and they’re off to C-USA next season. George Mason is mediocre, and preseason favorite Drexel never got going this year. Half of the league’s remaining schools aren’t eligible for the postseason tourney because of impending realignment or APR-related sanctions. The league’s best story – the record turnaround of Towson – won’t be continued in the postseason due to academic issues, in fact.

The biggest casualty in all this? Rock Fight Friday, the traditional opening round in which the league’s also-rans battled for the opportunity to face the league leaders – earners of byes – on Saturday. With the wonky field this year, No. 1 seed Northeastern gets to wait until Sunday for an opponent, while everyone else must battle on Saturday.

The teams that are left standing this year aren’t a bad lot, but none was able to effectively dominate during the regular season. Even Northeastern took a couple of head-scratching losses. In essence, this tournament is wiiiiiide open, and only the auto-bid winner is going to sniff the NCAAs. That makes every game count, and that’s compelling television.

The Bracket

Where: Richmond Coliesum in Richmond, VA

When: March 9 -March 11

Final: March 11, 7:00 p.m., NBCSN

Favorite: Northeastern

The Huskies have the best offense in the CAA this season, led by sharpshooter Joel Smith and all-around threat Quincy Ford. They excel on the perimeter, where they’re shooting over 37 percent as a team. Now, for the bad news: Northeastern is in the league’s lower echelon in terms of defense, which contributed to horrific losses to postseason ineligible cellar-dwellers UNC-Wilmington and Old Dominion – the latter in the final game of the season. We’ll stipulate that the Huskies earned the favorites role by winning more league games than anyone else, but they are vulnerable.

And if they lose?: George Mason

The Patriots have been as baffling as anyone else in the CAA this season. Given that uncertainty, it is worth noting that they deploy the best defense in the league, and their offense is dangerous when it’s not suffering the league-wide yips that have affected every team to take the floor. For the rest of the eligible teams, this is a big year – the auto-bid has been owned by Virginia-based teams – specifically Mason, VCU and ODU – for years. They’ll be gunning for Mason as the most likely team to continue the trend, and thus the team everyone wants to take down.

Sleepers: All of ’em. I’m not kidding. Delaware is top of this list – loaded with talent but bafflingly inconsistent this season, they may pull it together at the right time. Preseason favorite Drexel is also mega-talented, but seems woefully out of sync. Hofstra and William and Mary seem unlikely, but it’s that kind of season in the CAA. James Madison may be a true dark horse, having earned the league’s No. 3 seed. Sentiment is on the side of the Tribe, who have never made the NCAA tournament, and are sick and bloody tired of me pointing that out.

Studs:

Joel Smith, Northeastern: Smith can shoot his team in or out of any game they play, which is rough in a single-elimination event, but his season-long habit has been consistent excellence when the ball leaves his fingertips.

Devon Saddler, Delaware: The Blue Hens have suffered some injuries and had some letdowns this season, but Saddler has been an iron man throughout. The junior guard averages 20.2 points per game and contributes his fair share of steals, assists and rebounds as well. Delaware is the No. 2 seed in the tourney, and they can break through if Saddler puts the team on his back yet again.

Damion Lee, Drexel: The 6’6″ Lee is just one reason we thought Drexel would dominate the CAA this season. He’s just a sophomore, but he’s been playing like a warrior for the Dragons. He may not be enough to rescue them this season, but his skills – alongside those of stud freshman Tavon Allen – give Drexel fans hope for the future.

Invisible Heroes: Thanks to a combination of bad academics and the CAA’s punitive banning of any program that is leaving for greener pastures, we’re missing out on a handful of superior players on our TV screens this March. Foremost amongst them is Towson’s Jerelle Benimon, who has been an absolute beast in helping to turn the program around this year. Also sadly sitting home this weekend: R.J. Hunter of Georgia State and Keith Rendleman of Wilmington.

CBT Prediction: Drexel – a very good defensive team – locks down and takes the auto-bid as karmic repayment for all the times Bruiser Flint had a valid at-large profile and got snubbed. Because he’s due. That’s the way it works, right?

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Marvin Bagley III’s 34-point outburst carries No. 1 Duke to overtime win vs. Texas

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What was billed as a matchup between potential No. 1 picks Marvin Bagley III and Mo Bamba turned into a showcase for the talents of the former, as MB3 went for 34 points and 15 boards to lead No. 1 Duke to an 85-78 overtime win over Texas in the semifinals of the PK80 tournament in Portland.

The Blue Devils had dug themselves a 43-31 hole and trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, but that changed once Duke figured out that Texas had no way to stop their big freshman. His 34 points tied him with J.J. Redick for the Duke freshman record.

Gary Trent Jr. added 17 points for the Blue Devils, who lost senior Grayson Allen to fouls with two minutes left in the game. Coach K played the final two minutes and overtime with five freshmen on the floor.

Texas was led by Dylan Osetkowski, who finished with 19 points. The 6-foot-9 Tulane transfer played well, but a couple of questionable decisions and a missed dunk cost Texas some points; their 16-point lead should have been closer to 25. Bamba finished with nine points and 10 boards, but he fouled out in regulation and struggled to make as much of an impact as the other three big men that were on the floor.

Duke will play the winner of tonight’s No. 7 Florida vs. No. 17 Gonzaga game in the final of the PK80’s Motion bracket.

After win over No. 15 Xavier, is Arizona State the Pac-12’s best team?

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On a day that the Pac-12 desperately needed some good things to happen for the league, Arizona State provided it.

Tra Holder popped off for 40 points and Bobby Hurley’s four-guards provided a total of 91 points as the Sun Devils erased a 15-point first half deficit before running No. 15 Xavier out of Las Vegas, 102-86. It was the second time this season that Holder has scored more than 35 points, and after adding four assists, four boards and three steals, he’s now averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 boards, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals.

Hurley also has Shannon Evans on this team, and after putting up 22 points on the Musketeers, Evans is averaging 19.5 points and 5.3 assists on the season. Kodi Justice, who had 28 points in a win over Kansas State in the opener of the Las Vegas Invitational, is averaging 15.5 points this season, and that doesn’t even factor in Romello White, De’Quan Lake or Remy Martin, who are all capable of putting up 20 points on a given night.

Put another way, Arizona State has scored at least 90 points in every game that they’ve played this season.

There may not be a more potent scoring team in college basketball this season.

And it begs the question: Is Arizona State actually the best team in the Pac-12?

We wrote about it this morning. The Pac-12 has had a rough go of it this week. Arizona lost twice in the Battle 4 Atlantis. UCLA lost their opener to Creighton in the Hall Of Fame Classic. Oregon got beaten by UConn. Cal was blown out by Chaminade. Oregon State fell to St. John’s and Long Beach State. It’s been rough out west.

Unless you hail from Tempe, where the Sun Devils are now 6-0 on the season with a blowout win over a Xavier team that, despite pooping the bed on Friday night, look like a team that could legitimately test Villanova in the Big East.

If you want my take on Arizona State, it’s really pretty simple: On the nights where Tra Holder and Shannon Evans get it rolling, there isn’t going to be much anyone can do. They’re nearly impossible to guard. They make tough threes off the dribble, they can get into the lane and finish amongst the trees, and if you try and help on a drive or trap a ball-screen, they are both willing a capable passers. We saw it on Thanksgiving, when Kansas State held them in check while allowing Justice to hit for 28 points and White and Lake to combine for 30 points and 11 offensive rebounds.

Put another way, on their best night Arizona State is going to be able to beat just about anyone in college basketball this season.

The question is what happens on the nights when those two don’t look like a back court made up of Steph Curry and Allen Iverson.

They beat Kansas State when Evans and Holder combined to shoot 6-for-23 from the floor, but I’m not exactly sure that beating Kansas State is all that impressive.

At the very least, we know that there is going to be a fifth team in the mix at the top of the Pac-12 standings, and that if Arizona, UCLA and USC don’t figure out their issues, there will be someone there to take advantage.

POSTERIZED: Texas guard Kerwin Roach throws down Dunk of the Year candidate on Duke (VIDEO)

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Kerwin Roach is one of the best dunkers in college basketball, and he was at it again on Saturday afternoon in the PK80, as he went soaring in to throw down a dunk in the face of Duke forward Javin DeLaurier:

Luke Maye’s career-high 28 paces No. 9 North Carolina past Arkansas

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In hindsight, maybe we were a little too concerned about Luke Maye’s ability to anchor North Carolina’s front court.

In the toughest test that the Tar Heels have faced to date this season, Maye turned out the game of his life. He finished with career-highs of 28 points and 16 boards while tying a career-high with five assists and knocking down four threes as the No. 9 Tar Heels took care of Arkansas, 87-68, in the semifinals of the PK80.

The Tar Heels will advance to face the winner of this evening’s No. 4 Michigan State-UConn game.

But the story here is Maye, who became the first North Carolina player since Antawn Jamison to post 100 points and 50 boards in a season’s first five games. On the season, he’s averaging 20.8 points, 10.8 boards and 2.8 assists. He’s shooting better than 50 percent from three and nearly 60 percent from the floor. On a team that features a potential first-team all-american and the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player in Joel Berry II, it’s been Maye who has been the star of UNC’s season to date.

And there’s no reason to believe that this is a fluke, either.

Maye had 26 points and 10 boards in a win over a Northern Iowa team that just beat SMU and N.C. State. He had 20 points, nine boards and four assists against a good Bucknell team. He had 12 points, nine boards and five assists in a win at Stanford. And, of course, there was Friday afternoon’s performance.

What makes Maye’s development so important is the reliance of big men in Roy Williams’ system. He is one of the only high-major coaches that still builds his team around two big men. He values rebounding above all else. He runs his offense through post touches. The crux of his transition offense is the ability of his big men to beat their defenders down the floor.

Maye not only can do all of that, but his ability to make threes helps to space the floor.

After the year that he had last season, it’s not all that surprising that Maye was able to step in and have success this year.

But if you’re going to tell me that you thought Luke Maye would be doing this, I’m going to need to see the receipts.

No. 25 Alabama tops BYU in Barclays Center Classic

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NEW YORK (AP) — John Petty scored 16 points to spark No. 25 Alabama to a 71-59 win over BYU in the second game of the Barclays Center Classic on Friday.

Dazon Ingram added 15 for Alabama, which improved to 5-0, the best start for the Crimson Tide since 2012-13, when they began 6-0. Donta Hall had 12, and Collin Sexton finished with 10.

BYU fell to 3-2 with its second loss in its last three games. Yoeli Childs led the Cougars with 21 points.

In his third season, coach Avery Johnson is attempting to build Alabama into a program that can compete on a national level. And the matchup against BYU displayed why the Crimson Tide could be an intriguing team this season.

Alabama was able to build a 15-point lead in the second half following Riley Norris’ layup layup with 10:43 left. Part of that was because of the Crimson Tide’s ability to pressure BYU defensively. Alabama recorded six blocked shots and forced 11 turnovers.

But program building does mean growing pains. And the Crimson Tide’s youth also revealed itself in the second half. Following Petty’s 3 with 7:35 left, which gave Alabama a 61-47 lead, BYU outscored the Crimson Tide 8-2 in a span of 1:21 to cut the deficit to 63-55. Dalton Nixon made two free throws and Zac Seljaas made consecutive 3s for the Cougars in that stretch.

BYU got back into the game in part because of questionable shot selection in the second half from the Crimson Tide, who made 18 of 30 shots from the field before halftime.

Eight points was as close as BYU would get. Ingram knocked down two free throws, and Hall’s tip-in in the final two minutes gave the Crimson Tide the margin of victory.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: Size matters. At least it does to the Crimson Tide. Alabama has 11 players 6-foot-5 or taller. That size and length allowed Alabama to create turnovers and contest shots, leading to fast breaks.

BYU: It may not be fair to say as Elijah Bryant goes, so does BYU. But Bryant, who entered the game averaging 21.5 points, was limited to three points in the first half and five for the game.

NOTES

The Crimson Tide entered the game having won their first four by an average of 18 points per game. Moreover, Alabama was holding opponents to .411 shooting from the field and .338 shooting from 3-point range, while blocking 6.8 shots and forcing 7.3 steals in those games. … The Cougars fell to 0-2 all-time against the Crimson Tide. In the only other meeting, BYU dropped a 77-74 decision on Dec. 30, 1957.

UP NEXT:

Alabama: Will play No. 14 Minnesota Saturday in the Barclays Center Classic.

BYU: Will play Massachusetts Saturday in Brooklyn.