J.L. Lewis, D.J. Brown, Xavier Jones

2013 Western Athletic Conference tournament preview

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The Western Athletic Conference has been conference realignment cannon fodder for the past two seasons. The WAC lost one its top team to the Mountain West (Nevada) and even lost its commissioner Karl Benson to another mid-major (Sun Belt).

But despite being the laughing-stock of conference realignment, the 2012-2013 WAC regular season was surprisingly good, at least at the top. Louisiana Tech has been the conference’s flag bearer since the new year, and broke into the top-25 towards the later part of the season.

Check out a preview below:

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

The Bracket

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV

When: March 12, 14-16

Final: March 16, 11:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Louisiana Tech
It wasn’t more than a few weeks ago that the Bulldogs were considered one of the hottest teams in the country. Starting on December 12th, they racked up an 18-game win streak which propelled them into the top-25 by the end of February. But since the first of March, the Bulldogs are just 1-2 and have lost back-to-back losses, both against the two teams directly behind them in the standings. The Bulldogs are a top-50 team in terms of both scoring and rebounding, but will need to increase their offensive output if they want to avoid being relegated to the N.I.T.

And if they lose? New Mexico State
The reigning WAC tournament champions have a strong core of veteran players with both size and skill. Four of the team’s five starters average double-figures, and there is not a team in the league that has to size to match-up against Sim Bhullar (7-5, 355lbs), Bandja Sy (6-8, 215lbs) and Tshilidzi Nephawe (6-10, 265lbs). Plus they hold wins over both Louisiana Tech and Denver.

Sleeper: Denver
The Pioneers are the hottest team in the WAC, having won ten in a row and 17 of their last 18. Denver is one of the more efficient teams in the country and play staunch defense. In fact, the Pioneers have not allowed more than 65 points since the calendar changed from 2012 to 2013.

Other Studs:

– Kyle Barone, Idaho
The 6-foot-10 senior was recently named as the 2012-2013 WAC Player of the Year, and for good reason. He averaged 17.1ppg and 9.9rpg and has scored 20 or more points in nine games this season. The Vandals have an uphill climb in they want to make the WAC championship game, but Barone is the type of player that can put the team on his back and carry them to victory.

– Chris Udofia, Denver
Aside from being the team’s leading scorer, Chris Udofia is also the Pioneer’s utility player. He leads the team in rebounds and assists, and is fourth on the team in steals. He is shooting over 50-percent from the field and will need to do a little bit of everything in order to get the Pioneers into the NCAA Tournament in their first season as members of the WAC.

– Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech
The sophomore guard is a streaky shooter and has as many games of 20 or more points as he does ten or fewer points. But in single elimination play, a streaky shooter is a deadly weapon. Appleby may only be a sophomore, but he will need to lead the Bulldogs if they are to break out of their two-game losing streak and capture the automatic bid that they believe they deserve.

CBT Prediction: Louisiana Tech will join the likes of Middle Tennessee as top seeds with at-large aspirations that failed to close the deal in their conference tournament. They will fall in the finals to the winner of the Denver/New Mexico State game.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

VIllanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Keelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”

VIDEO: Brooks hits 3-pointer with 0.2 left to lift Oregon past Cal

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Dillon Brooks did it earlier against UCLA. Wednesday, he added Cal to his list.

The Oregon junior hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.2 left on the clock to give the sixth-ranked Ducks a 68-65 victory over the Bears after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.

#POSTERIZED: Deng Adel dunks on the entire state of North Carolina

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Deng Adel of No. 7 Louisville quieted a rowdy Dean Dome crowd by going coast-to-coast and doing this to the Tar Heels: