Late Night Snacks: Bucknell lone team to punch NCAA tournament ticket Wednesday

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Game of the Day: Bucknell 64, Lafayette 56

There was only one automatic berth to be earned Wednesday and it was Bucknell’s after winning the Patriot League championship. As expected, center Mike Muscala was the centerpiece for the Bison with another double-double, his 22nd of the year. Bucknell will now wait until Selection Sunday to see who it draws in the NCAA tournament, but you can be assured that no high-major team is hoping to have to face them in the Round of 64.

Bucknell already went to Purdue to start the season and got a five-point win in West Lafayette, then followed that up with a solid wins over George Mason and La Salle. The Bison also played Missouri down to the wire, losing 66-64 on the road Jan. 5.

Important Outcomes

1. No. 19 Syracuse 75, Seton Hall 63

Syracuse needed to break out of its offensive slump and it did Wednesday night. The key to it was James Southerland, who stretched out the Pirate defense by hitting 6-of-9 from three-point range. With Southerland spacing the floor and Michael Carter-Williams dishing out 14 assists, Brandon Triche was able to get back in a groove with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The task will be more difficult Thursday against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinal, though, a team that features one of the nation’s toughest defenses.

2. Villanova 66, St. John’s 53

Villanova’s win Wednesday made Selection Sunday a lot more comfortable, regardless of what happens from here on out in the Big East tournament. Had the Wildcats lost to St. John’s, their resume would likely still have been strong enough to make the tournament, but they would have had to sweat it out a bit. Now coach Jay Wright & Co. can relax and see where they end up.

3. Bethune-Cookman 70, Norfolk State 68

Norfolk State was the talk of college basketball last season when it entered the NCAA tournament as a 15-seed and knocked off No. 2 Missouri. It carried that momentum into this season, even without star Kyle O’Quinn, and ran the table for a perfect 16-0 record in the MEAC. But in the MEAC tournament, the Spartans were plagued by poor shooting and lost to No. 8 seed Bethune-Cookman, effectively ending their quest for another NCAA tournament berth.

Starred

1. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (34 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds)

Arizona State needed a win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive and the man who has been the motor behind the Sun Devils’ resurgence was at it again against Stanford. Carson’s 34 points helped ASU outlast the Cardinal in overtime.

2. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (23 points, 10-of-14 FG, 7 rebounds)

Bennett was too much for an Air Force interior attack that couldn’t contain the National Freshman of the Year candidate. Bennett was getting to the rim and dunking with power, but was perhaps most impressive on the defensive end. He is often criticized for his play on that end of the floor, but he played with energy around the rim and stepping out toward the perimeter Wednesday.

3. Mike Muscala, Bucknell (20 points, 11 rebounds)

Muscala is a pro prospect because he can put up a double-double every night. He had another Wednesday to help his team clinch an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

Struggled

1. Grambling State (32 percent FG, Finish season 0-28)

The Tigers looked like they had a chance to get their first win of the season and advance in the SWAC tournament, but were unable to come together late to pull out a win against Alabama A&M. Despite the loss, there is one bright spot, if you’d like to call it that. Wednesday’s loss was the first by single digits this season.

2. Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (2 points, 1-of-6 FG)

He still managed to grab nine rebounds, but Cooley was limited on the offensive end Wednesday night. Tom Knight produced to fill in the gaps with 18 points, but the Irish will need Cooley to get back on track if they want to advance in the Big East tournament.

3. Jamal Branch, St. John’s (2 points, 0-of-3 FG, 1 assists, 5 TOs)

Branch has steadily gotten more minutes at the point guard spot since becoming eligible after transferring from Texas A&M. Wednesday night, though, he was not at his best. The normally crafty guard with a high basketball IQ turned the ball over five times with just one assist.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 2 Michigan State beats Wisconsin, wraps up Big Ten

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Cassius Winston scored 20 points and went 6 for 6 from the 3-point line, and No. 2 Michigan State held off Wisconsin 68-63 on Sunday to earn the outright regular-season Big Ten title.

Winston hit two 3s during an 11-2 run in the second half — the second with a defender in his face from well beyond the arc — to lead the Spartans (28-3, 16-2).

Brad Davison finished with 30 points for Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), including a 3 with 4.7 seconds left that had hometown fans holding out hope for an upset.

Miles Bridges wrapped up the Spartans’ 12th straight win with two foul shots.

It was a milestone victory in what has been a challenging season off the court for Michigan State basketball.

One issue involved Bridges. The star forward had 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting in his first game since getting cleared by the NCAA following a Yahoo! Sports article on Friday that identified him as one of many players who may have received improper benefits.

Winston and Nick Ward, who had 14 points, picked up the scoring slack. Winston’s 3 with 4:45 left gave the Spartans a 58-51 lead, a huge cushion in what had been a tight game.

Davison nearly single-handedly brought Wisconsin back, giving the Badgers a huge boost even after aggravating a left shoulder injury. The freshman sprinted to the locker room with a trainer with about 14 minutes left before returning a couple minutes later and checking right back into the game to rousing applause.

He scored Wisconsin’s next six points, popping perimeter jumpers to electrify an already vocal home crowd in the regular season finale.

The teams dueled the rest of the way until Bridges’ late foul shots.

Michigan State muscled its way to a 34-27 halftime lead by taking control of the paint early before softening up the perimeter for Winston. The sophomore sharpshooter made 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the first half, with a couple buckets coming quickly in transition.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Documents in the Yahoo! story showed that the star forward may have improperly accepted benefits from an agency implicated in a federal investigation into bribery and other misdeeds in college basketball. The team said Saturday that the school’s compliance office conducted a “thorough internal review” and presented findings to the NCAA, which then cleared Bridges. … The Spartans had too much bulk up front for Wisconsin, building an early edge on points in the paint and finishing with a 40-28 edge on the boards.

Wisconsin: The team honored three reserve seniors in its final regular-season game, including fifth-year forward Aaron Moesch. He is the last link to the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2014 and ’15, a little-used backup on each of those squads. The Badgers’ reliance on freshmen to play key roles in the rotation, especially in the backcourt, led to growing pains this season. They’ve shown signs of maturity of late, winning three straight games before Sunday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: Opens play in the conference tournament in New York on Friday after earning a double bye as the top seed.

Wisconsin: Locked into the Big Ten tourney as the No. 9 seed, where it will play Maryland on Thursday.

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

TEMPLE
UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE

Georgia’s Mark Fox ‘disgusted’ by investigation into college basketball

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Georgia head coach Mark Fox did not hold back when asked about the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, calling is “disgusting” and pleading with coaches and the institutions that employ them to do right.

“It starts with our coaches, and then you ask how the NCAA has handled it,” Fox said. “The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That’d be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way? I’m past anger, sadness. It’s just disgusting, and we’re really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody.”

Fox is in a difficult position. He’s regarded as one of the nicer coaches in the business and is considered to be ‘clean’. He team also appears headed for another NIT, which could end up costing him his job.

“We’ve had some situations where we didn’t get players because of that reason, and other teams have, too,” Fox said.

“I’m disgusted,” he added. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Cuonzo Martin: ‘No timetable’ for a Michael Porter Jr. return

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There still is not clarity on whether or not Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. will return to the court this season.

On Saturday, he participated in Missouri’s shootaround at Kentucky but did not run through warmups and did not play in the game.

“I don’t have a timeline,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said after Saturday’s 87-66 loss. “He wants to play.”

“We have to make sure he’s ready to go.”

Porter has only had one full practice since he underwent surgery on his back in November, and that came on Friday. A source confirmed to NBC Sports that Porter was, in fact, cleared for full contact on Thursday afternoon after a visit with a doctor.

Porter is expected to continue practicing with the team. He told reporters earlier this month that he would like to get a few games prior to the start of tournament play if he happens to take part in any games.