Dez Wells2

The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 12 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 day. 13 automatic bids will be handed out today, the most of any day during Championship Week. The day is highlighted by the final game in the Big East for both Syracuse and Louisville. Make sure to keep your eye on the MAC championship, where Akron and Ohio meet in a battle between current powerhouse and former champ.

Today is the last Saturday of the non-March Madness portion of the 2012-2013 college hoops season.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Saturday.

Game of the Night: Kansas State vs. Kansas
You know what they say about beating the same team three times in the same season, right? The Jayhawks will go for the sweep against their Sunflower State rivals. Because of Duke’s loss to Maryland on Friday night, a spot on the top line in the NCAA tournament could be for grabs.

– Watch this too: Michigan State vs. Ohio State
The Buckeyes and Spartans meet in a rematch of last year’s title game. Ohio State enters the game having won six-straight. Both teams held serve on their home courts during the regular season. Can Aaron Craft shut down Keith Appling again? Can the Spartans reduce DeShaun Thomas’ offensive production?

Player to Watch: Dez Wells, Maryland
There is not a more athletic and dynamic combo-guard in the country than Maryland’s Dez Wells. When the sophomore is match-up nightmare when he asserts himself into the game, and he’s done just that in the Terrapins two previous ACC tournament games. In the quarterfinals against top-seed Duke, Wells scored a career-high 30 points to keep the Terrapins tournament hopes alive for another 24 hours. He’s going to have to repeat his performance against North Carolina, who swept the regular season series with the Terps.

He’s good too: Chaz Williams, UMass
The Brooklyn-native has played his best basketball of the season in front of his family and friends at the Barclays Center this week, propelling upstart UMass into the Atlantic-10 semifinals agaisnt VCU. The one-on-one match-up between Williams and VCU defensive mastermind Briante Weber will be fun to watch and may detrmine whether or not the Minuteman can sneak in the back door of March Madness.

Saturday’s Schedule:

America East Conference Finals
11:30 a.m. – Alabany (4) vs. Vermont (2)

Atlantic Coast Conference Semifinals
1 p.m. – North Carolina State (5) vs. Miami (1)
3 p.m. – Maryland (7) vs. North Carolina (3)

Atlantic 10 Conference Semifinals
1:30 p.m. – Butler (5) vs. Saint Louis (1)
4 p.m. – UMass (6) vs. VCU (2)

Big 12 Conference Finals
6 p.m. – Kansas State (2) vs. Kansas (1)

Big East Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Syracuse (5) vs. Louisville (2)

Big Sky Conference Finals
9 p.m. – Weber State (2) vs. Montana (1)

Big Ten Conference Semifinals
1:40 p.m. – Wisconsin (4) vs. Indiana (1)
4 p.m. – Michigan State (3) vs. Ohio State (2)

Big West Conference Finals
10:30 p.m. – UC-Irvine (4) vs. Pacific (2)

Conference-USA Finals
11:35 a.m. – Southern Mississippi (2) vs. Memphis (1)

Great West Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Houston Baptist (4) at Chicago State (3)

Mid-American Conference Finals
6:30 p.m. – Ohio (2) vs. Akron (1)

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Finals
5 p.m. – North Carolina A&T (7) vs. Morgan State (5)

Mountain West Conference Finals
6 p.m. – UNLV (3) vs. New Mexico (1)

Pac-12 Conference Finals
11 p.m. – Oregon (3) vs. UCLA (1)

Southeastern Conference Semifinals
1 p.m. – Alabama (4) vs. Florida (1)
3 p.m. – Vanderbilt (10) vs. (3) Ole Miss

Southland Conference Finals
8:30 p.m. – Northwestern State (2) vs. Stephen F. Austin (1)

Southwestern Athletic Conference Finals
4:30 p.m. – Prairie View A&M (4) vs. Southern (1)

Western Athletic Conference Finals
11 p.m. – UT-Arlington (4) vs. New Mexico State (3)

You can find Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell suspended

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina senior guard Sindarius Thornwell has been suspended indefinitely due to a violation of athletic department policy, the school announced on Sunday.

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 boards and 4.1 assists for the Gamecocks, who are undefeated and sitting at No. 20 nationally. Thornwell is the reigning SEC Player of the Week.

South Carolina plays FIU in Columbia at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Melo Trimble’s heroics get him a shout-out from Wale in a song

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Melo Trimble #2 of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after hitting the game winning shot as they defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 69-68 during the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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For the fourth time in the first three weeks of the college basketball season, Melo Trimble won a game for Maryland.

His two free throws in the final ten seconds gave the Terps a come-from-behind, 71-70 win over Oklahoma State in College Park, and the win not only was the sixth time this season that the Terps have won a game decided by six points or less, it improved Trimble’s record in those games to 26-5.

26-5!

That’s an insane statistic, one that should allow Maryland fans to truly appreciate just how valuable their junior point guard is.

At least one Maryland fan does. Rapper Wale, who hails from Maryland, just outside DC, made sure to name-drop his favorite Terp in a verse in a song he released on Saturday night:

And you better believe that Trimble is aware of it:

"My therapist terrible , I'm uh Terp Melo Trimbling" @wale

A photo posted by Melo Trimble (@olem__) on

Rick Pitino on Grand Canyon: ‘The toughest crowd I’ve ever faced’

Rick Pitino
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after his No. 14 Cardinals struggled to put away a tough Grand Canyon team on the road had some kind – and hyperbolic – words to say about the atmosphere.

“This, in college basketball in my 40 plus year, was the toughest crowd I’ve ever faced,” he said.

Umm, but Rick, you’ve coached in the Big East and the ACC! This was tougher than any of those crowds?

“Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that crowd tonight,” he said.

Well, now.

That seems like a bit much, but to be fair, the atmosphere there was, shall we say, lit:

POSTERIZED: Charlotte’s Najee Garvin nearly jumpers over defender

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This is what you don’t try to take charges.

Providence beats No. 21 Rhode Island 63-60

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Head coach Ed Cooley of the Providence Friars  reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley knew the Rams were in for a tough one against Providence, which had won the matchup of cross-state rivals six straight times.

He didn’t see this coming, though.

Kyron Cartwright, who had made four 3-pointers all season, hit four of five from beyond the arc in the first half. The Providence point guard finished with 19 points and eight assists to lead the Friars to a 63-60 victory over No. 21 Rhode Island on Saturday.

“That’s sports, and that’s the type of thing that makes coaches go gray and lose their hair,” Hurley said after his team lost for the third time in four games. “Four 3-pointers in seven games and he made four today – all in the first half.”

Rodney Bullock scored 17 points for the Friars (6-2). Cartwright had 15 in the first half and Jalen Lindsey scored nine of his 13 points in the second, five during a 7-0 run that erased a seven-point deficit.

“My teammates were telling me, `You need to take those shots to open up the defense,”‘ Cartwright said. “(And) we don’t shoot the ball to not make it.”

Hassan Martin had 14 points and 17 rebounds for Rhode Island (5-3), which lost at unranked Valparaiso and Providence a week after falling to No. 1 Duke. E.C. Matthews scored nine points and went 1 for 8 from 3-point range, airballing a 3 with 2 seconds left with a chance for the Rams to tie it.

“Games like this might help us down the stretch,” Martin said. `’So you just tell everybody to keep their head up.”

The Rams led 47-40 with 12:15 left when Cartwright’s arm appeared to catch Christion Thompson in the left eye. Thompson went to the court, flailing his arms in the air looking for a call, but the teams played on until Lindsey hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game at 11:00.

Lindsey’s free throws brought the Friars within two points, and Ryan Fazekas scored on a fast-break goaltending call to tie it. From there, there were three more ties and kept the game within one possession until Lindsey hit a fallaway jumper with 43 seconds left to give Providence a 59-55 lead.

“We beat a tournament team today,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.

POLL IMPLICATONS

It will be difficult for Rhode Island to stay in The Associated Press Top 25 after its stumbles.

Hurley said he isn’t concerned.

The goal at the beginning of the season was to win the Atlantic 10 and play in the NCAA Tournament.

That’s all still in play.

“We expect to have a long and great season. Nothing’s changed for us,” he said. “We lost two tough road games in a long season.”

BULLOCK’S BOUNCE-BACK

Bullock scored a career-high 36 points against New Hampshire on Wednesday, but he missed all three shots from the field in the first half and had only three points on six free throws at the break.

Cooley told him not to worry about the shooting and to try to make something happen with rebounding or defense.

“Somebody coming of a great scoring game like he did there’s going to be a lot of attention on him,” Cooley said. “I thought he showed some definite grit in the second half.”

TIP-INS

Rhode Island: Martin hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half. … Martin surpassed the 1,000-point milestone against Valparaiso on Tuesday. … The Rams have lost nine straight to Big East teams.

Providence: The Friars lead the all-time series 73-56, including a buzzer-beating victory last year in Kingston. … They are 1-1 against ranked teams this season, having lost to then-No. 7 Virginia on Nov. 26.

UP NEXT

Rhode Island: Hosts Old Dominion on Tuesday.

Providence: Hosts Brown on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.