Upset Watch: Five possibilities to keep in mind

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One of the most entertaining aspects of the NCAA tournament are the upsets that are bound to occur every year. Last season’s event featured a pair of 15-seeds winning on the same day, as Lehigh beat Duke and Norfolk State edged out Missouri. There’s also the history of at least one 12-seed knocking off a 5-seed, with that happening in every tournament of the new millenium but two (2000 and 2007). So what are some games you should keep an eye on when it comes to possible upsets? Here are five.

1. (11) Belmont over (6) Arizona (West)

Arizona has more size than Belmont in the paint, but this upset possibility focuses on what can happen on the perimeter. The Wildcats’ perimeter defense, specifically their defending of the three-pointer, has been a concern for much of the season. Opponents shoot 36% from beyond the arc, and given Belmont’s ability to hit the shot this is a concern for Arizona. Kerron Johnson and company make 38.6% of their three-pointers, and they score nearly 33% of their points via the shot. Rebounding is definitely a concern for Rick Byrd’s team in this matchup, but if they can convert three-pointers at a rate near their numbers for the season look out.

2. (10) Colorado over (7) Illinois (East)

Illinois’ reliance on the three-point shot is no secret, but in the Buffaloes they drew a team that’s done a good job of defending the shot. Colorado limits opponents to 32.3% from beyond the arc, a mark that ranks second in the Pac-12. The biggest concern for Illinois is rebounding, an area in which they’ve struggled all season long. Opponents manage to grab nearly 34% of their missed shots on the season, and with Colorado boasting one of the nation’s best rebounders in Andre Roberson this is an area the Buffaloes can exploit. And look for Spencer Dinwiddie, their best perimeter defender, to match up with Brandon Paul for much of the night.

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3. (12) Oregon over (5) Oklahoma State (Midwest)

The Ducks were shown no respect by the selection committee in regards to their seeding. But the committee made up for that by placing them in San Jose against the 5-seed Oklahoma State. Oregon has athletic wings such as seniors Carlos Emory and freshman Damyean Dotson, which will help them when it comes to matching up with Le’Bryan Nash. And with their size inside the Ducks have the tools needed to exploit Oklahoma State’s defensive rebounding issues. The concern: Marcus Smart. Oregon’s small at the point with Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd, so they’ll need to be very good in the areas listed above in order to win.

4. (11) Bucknell over (6) Butler (East)

Dave Paulsen’s team has won 12 of its last 13 games, and with senior center Mike Muscala leading the way the Bison are more than capable of doing some damage this week. With Cameron Ayers and Bryson Johnson on the perimeter Bucknell shoots 36% from three, but given the presence of Muscala and their ability to convert inside of the arc it isn’t as if the Bison are in danger of becoming overly reliant on the shot. In order to beat the Bulldogs, Bucknell will have to do two things extremely well: don’t allow Rotnei Clarke to go off, and keep Butler off the offensive glass. Butler rebounds nearly 37% of their missed shots on the season.

5. (13) South Dakota State over (4) Michigan (South) 

Yes Michigan made an appearance on the list of ten teams capable of winning the national title. But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines can’t be picked off in their first game. This game matches two of the nation’s best point guards (Michigan’s Trey Burke and South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters), so it should come as no surprise that these are two of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. If the Jackrabbits are to pull off the upset, which looks to be a tough chore if you’re a fan of advanced stats, they need to do two things: keep Burke out of the lane (far easier said than done) and win the rebounding battle.

Four other games to consider: 

– (11) Middle Tennessee (provided they beat Saint Mary’s) over (6) Memphis (West)

– (12) California over (5) UNLV (East)

– (10) Cincinnati over (7) Creighton (Midwest)

– (13) Montana over (4) Syracuse (East)

One game to be wary of: (11) Minnesota over (6) UCLA (South)

This is the game many latched onto almost immediately, so much so that Vegas has the Gophers down as a three-point favorite. But even with UCLA’s poor rebounding (Minnesota is the best offensive rebounding team in the country) and the broken foot suffered by Jordan Adams, calm down. Minnesota enters the contest having lost seven of its last ten games, and while that came against Big Ten competition it isn’t a lock that the proverbial light bulb will turn on for Tubby Smith’s team. The Gophers certainly have some advantages they can exploit, but this is by no means a guarantee.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, led by as many as 20 en route to a 92-80 win over No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The Tar Heels were led by 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting, from junior point guard Joel Berry II. The 6-foot floor general had been hampered by an ankle injury through the first weekend. While he still seemed to favor that same ankle at times, his play was a big improvement on his 3-of-21 shooting through the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Justin Jackson nearly matched Berry’s game-high with 24 points.

Andrew Chrabascz, in the final game of his four-year career at Butler, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

North Carolina, the last of the ACC’s nine tournament bids, advances to the Elite Eight to face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats own a win over North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels, 103-100, on Dec. 17 behind 47 points from Malik Monk.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.