The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 7 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 Monday.

Game of the Night: Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the No. 1 team in the nation, but the Gaels are the reigning WCC Tournament Champions. Gonzaga holds two victories over the Saint Mary’s this season, but they still have to bury the memory of their overtime loss to the Gaels in last season’s title game. The Gaels have lost just twice since Christmas, both defeats coming at the hands of their bitter rivals. This is undoubtedly the best west coast rivalry of the past half-decade, and it only gets better when the two teams face-off for the tournament championship.

– Watch this too: Charleston vs. Davidson
The two most prestigious basketball programs in the SoCon lock horns in the postseason tournament championship tonight. These two teams have not faced off in the SoCon championship game since Steph Curry’s freshman campaign in 2007. Davidson is riding a 16-game win streak and has not lost since the second week of January. Charleston will have a tough task in defending Davidson’s dominant frontcourt made up of preseason Player of the Year De’Mon Brooks and recently named 2013 Player of the Year Jake Cohen. Cougars’ big-man Adjehi Baru will need to have a career-night in order to give Charleston a chance at punching their ticket to the Big Dance.

Player to Watch: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
Well duh. The Jackrabbits’ senior sharpshooter was the only play in the country to score 50+ points in single game this season, when he scored 53 points against the very same IPFW team he faces tonight. In fact, in the two regular season meetings against the Mastadons, Wolters scored a combined 82 points on 27-for-46 shooting. Wolters is in the midst of a “mild cold streak”, having only made more than seven field goals in two of his last six games. But Nate Wolters’ bad days are better than most people’s good days.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Only three times since 2006 has the top seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament made it to the championship game. In fact, in the past three years, no seed higher than a No.4-seed has advanced to the tournament championship game. Tee trend continues in 2013, as No. 4-seed Florida International, fresh off their upset over top seed Middle Tennessee, face No. 6-seed Western Kentucky, the defending tournament champions. Last season, the Hilltoppers fired their coach mid-season only to run the tables in the postseason as a No. 8-seed and earn a trip to the Big Dance despite carrying a losing record.

Saturday Schedule:

Colonial Athletic Association Finals
7 p.m. – James Madison (3) vs. Northeastern (1) – NBCSN

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Finals
9 p.m. – Manhattan (6) vs. Iona (4) ESPN2

Mid-American Conference First Round
7 p.m. – Miami-OH (11) vs. Bowling Green State (6)
7 p.m. – Northern Illinois (10) vs. Eastern Michigan (7)
7 p.m. – Central Michigan (9) vs. Buffalo (8)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference First Round
6:30 p.m. – Maryland-Eastern Shore (13) vs. Savannah State (4)
9 p.m. – South Carolina State (12) vs. Morgan State (5)

Southern Conference Finals
7 p.m. – Charleston (3) vs. Davidson (1) ESPN2

Summit League Semifinals
7 p.m. – IPFW (5) vs. South Dakota State (1)
9:30 p.m. – North Dakota State (3) vs. Western Illinois (2)

Sun Belt Conference Finals
7 p.m. – Western Kentucky (6) vs. Florida International (4) ESPN

West Coast Conference Finals
9 p.m. – Saint Mary’s (2) vs. Gonzaga (1) ESPN

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.