Bubble Banter: Long wait for Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee

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It’s going to be a long wait for Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee.  The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a third time Monday night, and the Blue Raiders fell in the semifinals of the Sun Belt.  Which leaves both in agonizing limbo until the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday.   An already tough job for members of the NCAA Selection Committee in Indianapolis just became that much tougher.

Overall, the bubble remains very fluid with only a few days to go.  At the very least we have five or six spots up for grabs.  Right now, it looks like as many as 11 spots have yet to be confirmed.  Some teams in those spots are better positioned than others.  Conference tournament results are going to matter, probably more than usual.

Pending results in the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments are particularly intriguing.  While California and Oregon remains as teams that “Should Be In” today, neither can be considered locks.  Colorado opens with Oregon State, a team that just beat the Buffaloes.  Another loss to the Beavers could make things a bit more interesting.  Not that Colorado won’t make it, but there would certainly be a few anxious moments ahead.  In the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State square off in the quarterfinals.  And while it’s probable that both make the Field of 68 regardless, the loser won’t be quite as certain – especially if we have an upset winner or two elsewhere.

By this weekend, the bubble picture will likely become a bit more clear.  Until then, enjoy the Madness.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble, teams that have locked up spot in the Field of 68, and teams that Should Be In but are not “locks” at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.

RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 11.

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): Liberty (Big South), Harvard (Ivy), Creighton (MVC), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Belmont (OVC), Davidson (Southern), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), James Madison (Colonial), Gonzaga (West Coast), Iona (MAAC) …

  • Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (11): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (28): Teams remaining who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (13): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Monday, March 11.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • La Salle (21-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 88 | – The Explorers avoided a miscue down the stretch but lost in somewhat ugly fashion at Saint Louis to close the season. Now they await the winner of Butler and Dayton to open the A10 tournament. Can they beat Butler on a neutral court? La Salle edged BU at home on a last-second layup in January. If it’s Dayton, the Explorers may have to take out top seeded Saint Louis to feel more secure. Besides Butler, La Salle has a victory at VCU and a home win over Villanova. The only blemish is an early loss to Central Connecticut State.
  • Massachusetts (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 83 | – A bubbly profile took a hit when the Minutemen lost at home to Butler earlier this month. While they have eight Top 100 wins, the only NCAA-level win against a potential at-large team is a victory at La Salle. First up at the A10 tourney is George Washington. Win that and UMass earns a date with Temple. A victory over the Owls would keep the Minutemen in the conversation.
  • Temple (23-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 59 | – The Owls took care of business by beating VCU last weekend and are likely a win over UMass or George Washington away ending any lingering doubts. Even with a loss, they appear to be in pretty good shape at this point. An early win over Syracuse continues to help, as do wins over Saint Louis and Villanova. While we can’t quite remove the Owls from the bubble, it would take a bad loss and some odd events for them to miss. The remaining doubts are the result of three bad home losses – most notably Duquesne.
  • Xavier (17-13 | 9-7) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 54 | – While it will take some recovery work in Brooklyn, the Musketeers have a solid top-end profile. Victories include Butler, Temple, Saint Louis and Memphis. The problem? Inconsistent play and five sub-100 RPI losses – the worst of which was Wofford at home. They open with Saint Joseph’s before a date with VCU. Win both of those and the Committee will have to take a closer look at how XU stacks up to other bubble contenders heading into the weekend.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: North Carolina, NC State | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (20-11 | 8-10) | RPI: 83 | SOS: 116 | – Following Sunday’s loss to Virginia, it looks like the Terrapins probably have to win the ACC tournament. Two solid wins can’t make up for a bad non-conference SOS, a 3-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams, and 16 (of 20) wins against teams below 150 in the RPI.
  • Virginia (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 132 | – The Cavaliers escaped Maryland and escaped even more trouble on the NCAA bubble. They get the winner of NC State and Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals. After that, it figures to be a matchup with Miami. Opportunity awaits – which is what the Cavs need. Beyond the well-documented bad losses (7 to teams rated 100 or lower in the RPI), UVA also has a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh | Should Be In: Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
  • Cincinnati (21-10 | 9-9) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 26 | The Bearcats managed to avoid a bad loss (with bad timing) against South Florida. Next up is Providence in the early game Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. A loss could create some anxious moments, depending on what happens around them. The good news is that outside the conference, UC has noticeable wins over Iowa State, Alabama, and Oregon. It’s hard to see the Bearcats missing completely, but one more win would certainly make life easier down the stretch.
  • Villanova (18-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 18 | – Beating Georgetown may have sealed a bid for the Wildcats. Their list of wins also includes Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette. If there’s an issue with the Wildcats’ resume it’s that they accomplished very little outside the conference. They also lost to Columbia. It’s hard to know for sure how much emphasis the Committee will place on the pre-conference slate. First up at the Big East tourney is St. John’s. It might be a good idea for ‘Nova to win that one. An 18-13 mark and mid-50’s RPI (with an SJU loss) would hardly qualify for lock status.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (20-11 | 9-9) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 127 | – The Hawkeyes held serve at home against Illinois and Nebraska. The real issues here are a 2-8 record in true road games and a non-conference SOS ranked at 300-plus. While victories over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois at home are nice, they don’t hold the same weight as beating the league’s true heavyweights. In fairness, Iowa is probably better than its profile suggests. But it will likely take at least a couple of wins in Chicago to help the two match up. The Hawkeyes probably have to beat Northwestern and Michigan State. Accomplish that, and we’ll see how the landscape looks.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (17-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 21 | – The Bears’ profile would look a lot better had it not been for a couple of last-second losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Ironically, they open Big 12 tournament play against the Cowboys. Win that, and a likely matchup with K-State awaits. Coming off a huge win over Kansas, can Baylor sustain some momentum? There’s no lack of talent on the roster. Inconsistent play has been the issue – as a 5-10 record vs. Top 100 teams suggests. While an early win at Kentucky helps, the rest of Baylor’s non-conference performance was less than ideal – including losses to Charleston and Northwestern at home. There’s also a mounting loss total. Could an 18-14 team earn an at-large bid?
  • Iowa State (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 64 | – The Cyclones closed out the regular season by beating Oklahoma State at home and avoiding a bad loss at West Virginia. The issues are a 3-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a non-conference performance that produced wins over BYU and Florida Gulf Coast. There was also the ugly loss at Texas Tech. A third matchup with Oklahoma awaits to open B12 tournament play. Each team won on its home court. Could the rubber match decide an NCAA berth? Maybe, maybe not. The hard-to-take loss against Kansas could turn out to be huge if the Cyclones exit the B12 tournament early.
  • Oklahoma (20-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 17 | – So the Sooners decided to make life more interesting by losing at TCU. Much like the other teams on the B12 bubble, Oklahoma didn’t accomplish a lot outside the conference. What OU does have are victories over Kansas and Oklahoma State – and a split with Iowa State. Despite some strong computer numbers, a sweep of Baylor, and some decent mid-range wins, the Sooners may not be in as good a shape as some might think. They open with the Cyclones at the B12 tourney. As noted above, the loser could have some anxious moments leading up to Selection Sunday.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 79 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. They better plan on winning the C-USA tournament.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: Creighton | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Wichita State
  • Wichita State (26-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 96 | – While the Shockers are not a lock, they should be in pretty good shape at this point. They reached the MVC title game and split the regular season with Creighton. They also won at VCU and Air Force and beat Iowa on a neutral court outside league play. With eight Top 100 wins, the odds are in their favor.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico, UNLV | Should Be In: Colorado State | Bubble: San Diego State, Boise State
  • Boise State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 69 | – By winning two of its final three games, the Broncos have put themselves in good position. If you take away the losses to Utah and Nevada, BSU’s resume is very similar to that of San Diego State (but we can’t take those away). Which brings us to the MTW quarterfinals. The Broncos open with the Aztecs. The loser may still be fine, but the winner will certainly feel even more confident come Sunday evening.
  • San Diego State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 33 | – The two edges SDSU has on Boise in terms of profile are a win over New Mexico and no sub-100 RPI losses. Of course, the Aztecs don’t have a signature road win (such as Boise’s at Creighton). Which, as noted above, makes the two team’s MWC matchup intriguing. Both will probably make it, but the loser might be a little nervous on Sunday if the bubble is squeezed.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, California | Bubble: Colorado, Stanford
  • Colorado (20-10 | 10-8) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 16 | – Just in time for the P12 tourney, the Buffaloes laid an egg at home against Oregon State. Interestingly enough, Colorado opens conference tourney play against OSU. A second-straight loss to the Beavers might leave an ugly impression, and would give CU three sub-150 RPI losses. Is that going to undo an overall resume that includes non-conference wins over Colorado State, Baylor, and Air Force? Probably not. But it would certainly leave the Buffaloes a bit less secure heading into the weekend.
  • Stanford (18-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 40 | – It’s a long shot for the Cardinal but they enter the P12 tourney with an outside chance, so here they are. Wins of note include California (twice), Oregon, and a road victory at Arizona State. Outside the league, there isn’t much – wins over Denver and Northern Iowa. It’ll probably take a run to the title game for any legitimate shot. Stanford opens with Arizona State.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (19-11 | 11-7) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 38 | – Depending on who you ask, the Volunteers are ahead or behind Kentucky in terms of the SEC power curve. While UT is far from secure, they have nine Top 100 wins (9-9 overall) – which includes victories over Florida and Missouri in SEC, and Wichita State, Massachusetts, and Xavier outside league play. Granted, losing two games to Georgia doesn’t help, but most other bubble teams have similar issues. There are also some road concerns, as most of their quality wins (other than UMass – neutral court) came in Knoxville. The Vols get the winner of South Carolina/Mississippi State to open the SEC tourney. After that, they would matchup with fellow bubble-dweller Alabama.
  • Alabama (19-11 | 12-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 91 | – Other than a pile of SEC wins, the Crimson Tide’s profile lacks much punch. They have a home wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and a non-conference victory over Villanova. While solid, none of those wins is a headliner. They are also saddled with three suspect losses – Mercer and Tulane at home and Auburn on the road. Most likely, the Tide will face Tennessee in the SEC tourney opener. That’s a must win. Then, it should be Florida. Beating the Gators might be what ‘Bama needs.
  • Arkansas (19-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 82 | – There’s no real surprise here: the Razorbacks are pretty good at home and not very good elsewhere. We can’t just discount victories over Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky, but the 1-9 mark in road games is definitely an eyesore. The Razorbacks open with Vandy. A win puts them up against Kentucky. Win those two and we’ll see how the final field is unfolding.
  • Kentucky (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 65 | – The current Wildcat roster features wins over Missouri and Florida, and a drubbing at Tennessee. None of us know exactly how Selection Committee members will view the Cats’ profile. Which means their work isn’t finished. Normally, a 12-win SEC season would be enough, but this isn’t a normal year. UK gets the Arkansas-Vandy winner on Friday. That could be a must-win. Then, it would be Ole Miss or Missouri. In many ways, the bracket sets up well for the Wildcats. Reaching the SEC title game would probably lock it up.
  • Mississippi (23-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 153 | – No team suffered more damaging losses down the stretch than Ole Miss (South Carolina and Mississippi State). The Rebels re-grouped to beat Alabama and LSU, and a road win always helps. Ole Miss lacks swept Tennessee and beat Missouri at home. Neither of which qualifies as a signature win. Given a weak non-conference SOS (No. 290), it takes some extra work within the league. Ole Miss opens the SEC tourney Friday – most likely against Missouri. That figures to be a must-win. Then it would be Kentucky. Depending on how things break, that could be a decisive matchup for both schools.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (26-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 104 | – Let’s just say its’ going to be a long, agonizing wait until the NCAA Selection Show. The Gaels lost for a third time to Gonzaga Monday night – and the game was never in doubt. Which basically leaves SMC with one win against an NCAA team – Creighton at home. Other than that, the Gaels’ only non-conference wins are Utah State and Harvard. Within the WCC, the Gaels swept BYU. Since this will be a topic of discussion for Middle Tennessee State, it’s worth noting 17 of SMC’s wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Belmont | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (23-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 141 | – It’s been a bad two weeks for the Zips. They lost games to Ohio and Kent State and had a starter suspended due to off-the-court issues. So the Zips have to be re-evaluated. The result: it’s probably a MAC title or bust.
  • Bucknell (26-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 223 | – The Bison can win the Patriot League title tonight and end the debate. That’s probably a good idea. It’s hard to imagine them being ahead of Middle Tennessee or Saint Mary’s – should all three end up in the at-large pool. What the Bison do offer are wins over La Salle, New Mexico State, and Purdue.
  • Louisiana Tech (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 214 | – Nothing like closing the season with back-to-back (and largely non-competitive) losses at New Mexico State and Denver. You have to think an at-large bid at this point is remote. But we’ll see if they can reach the WAC title game.
  • Middle Tennessee (28-5 | 19-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 135 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 8 in the nation are the real highlights for the Blue Raiders. Credit MTSU for a good effort. But … in its “up” games, MTSU went 2-3 (and we’re considering Vanderbilt and “up” game). They beat Ole Miss, but lost handily to Florida and Belmont. The loss at Akron was close – no shame there. Can one notable win (Ole Miss) carry the Blue Raiders? They have looked the part. At the same time, 21 of their wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.

VIDEO: Presbyterian’s Toss for Tots night earns technical foul for charity

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Presbyterian College held an cool and unique fundraiser this week.

In a game against Toccoa Falls, the Blue Hose held what will now be an annual Toss for Tots event. It was simple: after the first basket of their game on Thursday night, fans in attendance were asked to throw a stuffed animal onto the court, with every stuffed animal earmarked for a local elementary school.

Presbyterian ate the technical foul for the cause:

In total, 108 stuffed animals were “donated”.

The program had partnered with Bailey Elementary School, where there are 103 students. On Friday, the team delivered every student at the school one of the stuffed animals for Christmas. Head coach Dustin Kerns told NBC Sports that the team spent some times with the kids today as well, reading to the team and putting a smile on their face.

“Proud of our team,” Kerns, who is in his first year with the program, said. The win against Toccoa Falls was the fifth in a row for the Blue Hose, the first time the program has accomplished that since going to the Division I level. They are not 6-5 on the season after winning five games a year ago. “It was fun seeing out program give back.”

Presbyterian Sports Information Dept
Presbyterian Sports Information Dept

Rape charges will not be filed after last year’s incident in Kansas basketball dorm

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The Douglas County District Attorney’s office will not file sexual assault charges stemming from a report that a 16-year old girl was raped nearly a year ago in the Kansas basketball dorm.

“After an exhaustive review of all available reports, evidence and testimony, our office has determined there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a sexual assault occurred,” District Attorney Charles Branson told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Unless additional evidence or reports come to light there is insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed.”

What’s more, a suspect in the investigation was never actually identified, the paper reported. All five witnesses in the rape report were members of the men’s basketball team. The incident allegedly occurred in McCarthy Hall, which is a dorm where 40 Kansas students live, including all members of the men’s basketball team.

No. 8 Kentucky maturing, more challenges ahead for freshmen

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t hidden his frustration about the learning curve of his latest group of talented freshmen.

And while the No. 8 Wildcats are starting play better, they’re bracing for more challenges ahead.

Kentucky has struggled to put away opponents such as Utah Valley, Vermont, Troy and Harvard, efforts that players and Calipari acknowledge have contributed to a perceived lack of national respect. On the other hand, their lone loss — a 65-61 setback to Kansas — showed their ability to compete with college basketball’s heavyweights.

“It was one of the big games they got to see,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “The feeling and high intensity of the game, people watching, the fight in a big game like that, it really started to hit. Some players really started to get rolling off of that.

“We’re starting to get better as a team, individuals are getting better and we’re trending upward and trying to stay on that path.”

Kentucky (8-1) has begun running away from opponents, a promising trend it hopes to continue against upcoming Power Five conference foes.

Saturday’s home game against Virginia Tech (9-1) opens a daunting year-ending stretch for the Wildcats that includes next weekend’s matchup against UCLA in New Orleans; their annual in-state rivalry showdown against Louisville on Dec. 29; and their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

Though Calipari still hopes February will reveal Kentucky’s true strengths, he’s eager to see how the Wildcats stack up against the Atlantic Coast Conference Hokies, who lead the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game and rank second in 3-point shooting at 47 percent.

“They have three or four guys that can absolutely make 3s,” Calipari said Friday while listing other Tech strengths. “They’re looking for layups and kicking it out for 3s and they’re getting to the line because of it.

“They’re not afraid. They go on the road in big games. Their home games are craziness. This is plugged into our schedule at a time where we need to learn about us, and we will.”

After a busy November without much practice time, Kentucky has welcomed a lighter December schedule that has allowed the Wildcats more time for workouts and to build chemistry.

The Wildcats have a long way to go, but games such as last week’s 93-76 win over Monmouth are encouraging for Kentucky fans.

Besides continuing their solid shooting — the Wildcats rank 22nd at nearly 51 percent — redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (23 points) and forward PJ Washington (20) posted career scoring highs against Monmouth. Kentucky also succeeded with a smaller lineup and has been effective playing a zone defense, which Calipari disdains but has used because of his team’s length.

“They’re as long as anybody in the country,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Kentucky. “We’ll have to work really hard to get the same shots we’ve been getting.”

Kentucky remains short-handed with freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and guard Jemarl Baker (knee) sidelined by injuries. But the Wildcats appear to be developing depth.

They faced Monmouth without sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (sprained ankle) before starting guard Quade Green left in the second half after being poked in the eye. Both will be available against the Hokies and return knowing that the bench can fill the void after it combined for a season-high 27 points.

Granted, Monmouth is not a barometer for success against the likes of Tech, UCLA or Louisville. But considering Kentucky’s early struggles, any growth is welcome.

“We think highly of ourselves as a team,” Gabriel added. “I think we deserve more credit than we’re getting, so we’re going to go out there and try to earn it.”

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Oklahoma State dismisses two players

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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State has dismissed junior Davon Dillard and freshman Zack Dawson from the team for failing to meet unspecified standards set by the program.

Coach Mike Boynton says he could not “make compromises in our core values when it comes to individual players.” Dillard and Dawson were suspended before the season for reasons the school has not disclosed. Dawson missed one game and Dillard missed the first five.

Oklahoma State (7-2) faces No. 19 Florida State (9-0) in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday.