The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 5 Preview

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The NCAA Tournament doesn’t get going until March 19, but for the real college hoops fans, the days leading up to Selection Sunday is when the madness really begins. Over the next two weeks teams will fight for the postseason lives. Bubbles will burst and tickets will be punched, and Cinderellas will be born. This is the real March Madness.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday.

Game of the Night: Belmont vs. Murray State
March 9th was circled on all the OVC calenders as soon as Belmont joined the league this past off-season. This game represents the two best teams in the league, the conference’s old guard versus the new elite, the league’s best player against the league’s best team. Belmont may have an outside shot at an at-large bid if they lose today. For Murray State it’s all or nothing. This could be the final time we see Isaiah Canaan compete at the collegiate level.

– Watch this too: MVC Semifinals
This is #ArchMadness at it’s finest. The four best teams in the league converge with some interesting at-large implications and one intriguing back story. Indiana State was once thought to be an at-large candidate, but for them it’s auto-bid or bust. In order to do so, they will have to go through All-American Doug McDermott and company. the other semifinal pits Illinois State against Wichita State in a rematch of the infamous “Jumpkick-gate” game, in which Jackie Carmichael kicked a WSU defender in the chest while going up for a rebound in the waning moments of the game.

Player to Watch: C.J. Garner, LIU-Brooklyn
Blackbirds forward Jamal Olasewere garners all the acclaim, but as NEC Player of the Year it’s deservedly so. However, the Blackbird’s senior guard has been on a tear as of late, scoring 30 points in back-to-back games, and is averaging 23.4ppg in his last five games. LIU-Brooklyn faces stiff opposition in Wagner, and if they want to advance to their third straight NEC championship game, C.J. Garner must have a big night.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Two 20+ loss teams remain alive in postseason play. The Liberty Flames (13-20) have a chance to advance to the Big South Finals with a win over Gardner-Webb today. Out west, Loyola Marymount (11-22) has a chance to shock the world, as they face No. 1 Gonzaga in the WCC semifinals. Before postseason play began, the Lions had not won a game in 55 days. They’ve now won three games in three days and have the opportunity to pull off possibly the biggest upset of the entire college basketball season.

Saturday Schedule:

America East Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – New Hampshire (7) vs. Vermont (2)
2 p.m. – UMBC (6) vs. Hartford (3)
6 p.m. – Binghamton (8) vs. Stony Brook (1)
8 p.m. – Maine (5) vs. Albany (4)

Atlantic Sun Conference Finals
Noon – Florida Gulf Coast (2) at Mercer (1)

Big South Conference Semifinals
Noon – VMI (2N) vs. Charleston Southern (1S)
2 p.m. – Liberty (5N) vs. Gardner-Webb (2S)

Colonial Athletic Association Quarterfinals
3:30 p.m. – Drexel (5) vs. George Mason (4)
6 p.m. – Hofstra (7) vs. Delaware (2)
8:30 p.m. – William & Mary (6) vs. James Madison (3)

Horizon League Semifinals
6 p.m. – Wright State (3) vs. Detroit (2)
8:30 p.m. – Green Bay (4) at Valparaiso (1)

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
2:30 p.m. – Siena (9) vs. Niagara (1)
4:30 p.m. – Canisius (5) vs. Iona (4)
7:30 p.m. – Fairfield (7) vs. Rider (2)
9:30 p.m. – Manhattan (6) vs. Loyola-MD (3)

Missouri Valley Conference Semifinals
2:35 p.m. – Indiana State (5) vs. Creighton (1)
5:05 p.m. – Illinois State (6) vs. Wichita State (2)

Northeast Conference Semifinals
Noon – LIU-Brooklyn (3) at Wagner (2)
2:30 p.m. – Mount St. Mary’s (5) at Robert Morris (1)

Ohio Valley Conference Finals
6 p.m. – Murray State (2) vs. Belmont (1)

Patriot League Semifinals
2 p.m. – Lehigh (3) at Lafayette (2)
4:30 p.m. – Army (4) at Bucknell (1)

Southern Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Georgia Southern (9) vs. Davidson (1)
2:30 p.m. – Furman (12) vs. Appalachian State (4)
6 p.m. – UNC-Greensboro (10) vs. Elon (2)
8:30 p.m. – Western Carolina (6) vs. Charleston (3)

Summit League Quarterfinals
7 p.m. – IUPUI (8) vs. South Dakota State (1)
9:30 p.m. – South Dakota (7) vs. Western Illinois (2)

Sun Belt Conference Quarterfinals
7 p.m. – Arkansas-Little Rock (5) vs. Florida International (4)
7:30 p.m. – Louisiana-Lafayette (8) vs. Middle Tennessee State (1)
9:30 p.m. – Western Kentucky (6) vs. South Alabama (3)
10 p.m. – Troy (10) vs. Arkansas State (2)

West Coast Conference Semifinals
9 p.m. – Loyola Marymount (9) vs. Gonzaga (1)
11:30 p.m. – San Diego (6) vs. Saint Mary’s (2)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Reports: Duke’s Frank Jackson to declare for draft

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Frank Jackson will declare for the draft but will not be signing with an agent, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Previous reports had indicated that Jackson “planned” to return to school, and that still may end up proving true. But the combination of Trevon Duval potentially enrolling at Duke combined with the fact that there is zero downside to going through the draft process, it makes sense for Jackson to declare.

Jackson averaged 10.9 points and shot 39.5 percent from three. He’s projected as a mid-first round pick in 2018 by Draft Express, but at 6-foot-3, he’s too small to play the two in the NBA and has yet to prove he can be a point guard.

Jackson is the fourth Duke player to declare, following Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Luke Kennard. All three signed with an agent. Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden are both returning to school.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.