The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 10 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.

Today is the first real day of all-day hoops. Every major BCS-conference holds a full slate of games today, providing us with an excellent opportunity to prepare for the all-day grind of March Madness.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Thursday.

Game of the Night: Big East Quarterfinals
Seriously, every single quarterfinal game provides at least one intriguing story line. Oh and did we mention this is the last time all these teams are going to meet under the same roof? Georgetown and Cincinnati face-off in a rematch of last year’s double-overtime semifinal game. Syracuse and Pittsburgh meet in a future-ACC quarterfinal game, Louisville has a chance to exact revenge on Villanova, who handed the then-No.5 Cardinals their first back-to-back loss of the season. And in the nightcap Notre Dame squares off against Marquette. Buzz Williams and nightcap. Need I say more?

– Watch this too: Colorado vs. Arizona
The Buffs and Wildcats hook up for a third time following two entertaining regular season battles. Arizona stole the first game from Buffalo on the controversial waiving off of Sabatino Chen’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Colorado got payback in the “Revenge of Chen” game, rolling then-No. 9 Arizona by 13. Both teams desperately need to win the rubber match. For Colorado, a win will provide a boost to their at-large resume and for Arizona, a win will provide confidence for a once dominant team now struggling;.

– Watch this too: Saint Joseph’s vs. Xavier
Last season’s regular season winners square off against the preseason favorites to win the conference. It’s scary to think that these two schools meet in the 7/10 game considering how good the A-10 is and how stable these two programs are. Both these teams have the talent and depth to make a run at the A-10 tournament title, but have lacked the consistency in order to be considered favorites to do so.

Player to Watch: Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Today is more than likely to be the final time Erick Green puts on a Virginia Tech uniform. The ACC Player of the Year is the only thing going for the 13-18 Hokies, scoring at will on a nightly basis. The nation’s leading scorer has failed to score 20 points just three times this season, and scored 29 points in his only meeting with the Wolfpack this season.

He’s good too: Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Sure Baylor has lost five of their last seven, but one of those wins was a 23-point shellacking of Kansas in which Pierre Jackson dropped 28 points and dished 10 assists. The Bears need an impressive showing in Kansas City in order to sneak in through the NCAA tournament’s back door, and they will need the diminutive point guard to carry them there. It all starts with a match-up against No. 14 Oklahoma State.

He’s good too: Carrick Felix, Arizona State
Jahii Carson is the Sun Devil’s go-to scorer, and last night showed, scoring 34 points against Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. But forward Carrick Felix, named as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, must have an excellent performance against the UCLA bigs if Arizona State wants to prolong their postseason life.

Miscellaneous Madness:
Want to know just how crazy this season has been? Look at the Big Ten tournament. Michigan, a former-No. 1 team in the country finished in fifth place in the conference, and two former top-15 teams (Illinois and Minnesota) play in the 8/9 game. Plus there’s also the rematch of the most stunning upset of the Big Ten regular season between Penn State and Michigan.

Thursday’s Schedule:

Atlantic Coast Conference First Round
Noon – Georgia Tech (9) vs. Boston College (8)
2 p.m. – Virginia Tech (12) vs. North Carolina State (5)
7 p.m. – Clemson (11) vs. Florida State (6)
9 p.m. – Wake Forest (10) vs. Maryland (7)

Atlantic 10 Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Charlotte (9) vs. Richmond (8)
2:30 p.m. – Dayton (12) vs. Butler (5)
6:30 p.m. – George Washington (11) vs. Massachusetts (6)
9 p.m. – Saint Joseph’s (10) vs. Xavier (7)

Big 12 Conference Quarterfinals
12:30 p.m. – Iowa State (5) vs. Oklahoma (4)
3 p.m. – Texas Tech (9) vs. Kansas (1)
7 p.m. – Texas (7) vs. Kansas State (2)
9:30 p.m. – Baylor (6) vs. Oklahoma State (3)

Big East Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Cincinnati (9) vs. Georgetown (1)
2 p.m. – Syracuse (5) vs. Pittsburgh (4)
7 p.m. – Villanova (7) vs. Louisville (2)
9 p.m. – Notre Dame (6) vs. Marquette (3)

Big Sky Conference Quarterfinals
5 p.m. – Northern Arizona (7) vs. Weber State (2)
7:30 p.m. – Southern Utah (6) vs. North Dakota (3)
10 p.m. – Northern Colorado (5) vs. Montana State (4)

Big Ten Conference First Round
Noon – Minnesota (9) vs. Illinois (8)
2:30 p.m. – Penn State (12) vs. Michigan (5)
6:30 p.m. – Nebraska (10) vs. Purdue (7)
9 p.m. – Northwestern (11) vs. Iowa (6)

Big West Conference Quarterfinals
3 p.m. – UC-Santa Barbara (7) vs. Pacific (2)
5:30 p.m. – UC-Davis (6) vs. Cal Poly (3)
9 p.m. – Cal State Fullerton (8) vs. Long Beach State (1)
11:30 p.m. – Hawaii (5) vs. UC-Irvine (4)

Conference-USA Quarterfinals
1 p.m. – UAB (7) vs. Southern Miss (2)
3:30 p.m. – Houston (6) vs. UTEP (3)
7 p.m. – Tulane (8) vs. Memphis (1)
9:30 p.m. – Tulsa (5) vs. Eastern Carolina (4)

Great West Conference Quarterfinals
6 p.m. – Utah Valley (5) vs. Houston Baptist (4)

Mid-American Conference Quartefinals
6:30 p.m. – Buffalo (8) vs. Kent State (4)
9 p.m. – Eastern Michigan (7) vs. Western Michigan (3)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
6 p.m. – Delaware State (6) vs. Hampton (3)
8 p.m. – Morgan State (5) vs. Savannah State (4)

Mountain West Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Boise State (5) vs. San Diego State (4)

Pac-12 Conference Quarterfinals
12 p.m. – Arizona State (9) vs. UCLA (1)
5:30 p.m. – Colorado (5) vs. Arizona (4)
9 p.m. – Utah (10) vs. California (2)
11:30 p.m. – Washington (6) vs. Oregon (3)

Southeastern Conference Second Round
1 p.m. – LSU (9) vs. Georgia (8)
3:30 p.m. – Mississippi State (13) vs. Tennessee (5)
7:30 p.m. – Vanderbilt (10) vs. Arkansas (7)
10 p.m. – Texas A&M (11) vs. Missouri (6)

Southland Conference Quarterfinals
6 p.m. – McNeese State (8) vs. Southeast Louisiana (4)
8:30 p.m. – Sam Houston State (6) vs. Oral Roberts (3)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
1:30 p.m. – Alabama State (5) vs. Jackson State (2)
9 p.m. – Prairie View A&M (4) vs. Alcorn State (3)

Western Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
3 p.m. – Idaho (6) vs. New Mexico State (3)
5:30 p.m. – Texas State (7) vs. Denver (2)
9 p.m. – UT-San Antonio (9) vs. Louisiana Tech (1)
11:30 p.m. – Utah State (5) vs. UT-Arlington (4)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.