Please don’t use MTSU’s loss as proof they didn’t deserve a bid

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St. Mary’s knocked off Middle Tennessee State 67-54 in the at-large portion of Tuesday’s play-in games, drubbing Kermit Davis’ and making the Sun Belt regular season champs look like they belonged in the NIT.

The intriguing part about this matchup is that it pitted two teams from mid-major leagues that had profiles that were more-or-less empty. Neither the Gaels nor the Blue Raiders put together the kind of overall resume that, in a typical year, would have deserved consideration for an at-large bid. MTSU had one top 100 win — Ole Miss at home, of all teams — and the Gaels had just a single top 50 win — Creighton at home in February, when the Bluejays were struggling. They both got beat up on a lot of mediocre competition and got smacked around by a lot of good teams.

And what we got on Tuesday, based off of the reaction on my twitter feed, was validation that the Blue Raiders didn’t belong in the dance. Proof that Tennessee or Alabama or Maryland deserved to get that final at-large bid over them.

Which is absurd.

Look, if you don’t think that MTSU belonged in the NCAA tournament this season, you have every right to that opinion. If you valued Tennessee’s profile more, you’re certainly not wrong. If you think that Maryland’s two wins over Duke were the difference-maker when everyone else was nothing but dreck, than you have a point that I actually kind of agree with.

I wanted to see MTSU in the tournament, so I was happy they got in. That doesn’t mean I 100% believe they deserved it.

But I also saw MTSU play a number of times this year. I saw them beat Ole Miss. I watched them at Belmont. I saw pieces of games throughout league play, and I saw their first two games in the conference tournaments. I know the Blue Raiders are better than they showed tonight. They just picked the worst time to have an awful showing.

And frankly, much of that had to do with the play of Matthew Dellavedova. He finished with 22 points, six boards and four assists, hitting 5-7 from three and seamlessly adjusting during MTSU’s second half run, when they doubled him hard off of every ball-screen. He was terrific, as he’s been all season long, and when he plays that way, the Gaels are tough to beat. There’s a reason they sit at 22nd in Kenpom’s rankings.

It was impressive enough that I’m beginning to feel good about picking Memphis to lose on Thursday.

Anyway, my point is that one performance shouldn’t be enough for you to form an opinion on MTSU.

Someone had to get that final bubble spot. Just because the Blue Raiders played poorly doesn’t mean Tennessee or Maryland or Virginia would have won. The Vols scored 74 total points in games at Georgetown and Virginia in the span of five days. Maryland was swept by Florida State and lost at BC and Georgia Tech in late February. Virginia had eight awful losses, including Delaware, George Mason and Old Dominion.

There’s no guarantee the good version of those three teams would have shown up if they got the at-large bid.

And if Maryland had been smacked around by St. Mary’s tonight, we’d be having this same discussion.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: