The interesting thing about conferences that traditionally send just one team to the NCAA tournament is that the winner of the automatic bid is the team that many people remember. And for teams that win their regular season title only to lose in the conference tournament, that can be a bitter pill to swallow.
That was the case for Bob Hoffman’s Mercer Bears in 2012-13, as they won the Atlantic Sun regular season title but lost to FGCU in the tournament title game. As a result the Eagles earned that trip to the NCAA tournament, and after a magical weekend in Philadelphia they became the darlings of the event. That may have led to outsiders simply assuming that FGCU would roll to the A-Sun’s regular season crown this season, but Mercer once again has enough talent to not only contend but win the title.
On Sunday the Bears led at Ole Miss by as many as 18 points in the second half, only to see the Rebels storm back and lead 67-60 with 6:44 remaining. Mercer refused to go away however, and a Langston Hall three-pointer with two seconds remaining gave the Bears a 79-76 victory. The win is the second win over an SEC team within the last week for the Atlantic Sun, with USC Upstate knocking off South Carolina on Thursday. Jarvis Summers led Ole Miss with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
Ike Nwamu scored 24 points and Hall added 17 for the Bears, who lost at Texas by three and beat Seton Hall in November. As a team five players entered Sunday’s game averaging 8.9 points per game or more, and on the season Mercer leads the A-Sun with an average of 81.2 points per game. That depth makes the Bears a difficult team for opponents to defend, and they’re one of the league’s best defensive teams as well.
Mercer’s win over Ole Miss is their third straight over an SEC opponent. Sunday’s result is notice that the Bears have every intention of defending their A-Sun regular season title while also looking to enjoy greater success in the conference tournament.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Syracuse vs. No. 18 UConn, 3:30 p.m.
For the first time since the Orange departed the Big East, the two former rivals will square off. Today’s battle will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Orange knocked off Charlotte yesterday and the Huskies dispatched Michigan. To get ready for this battle, I’d suggest ready through the conversation @NoEscalators had with himself last night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Gonzaga, 1:00 p.m.
The other semifinal in the Battle 4 Atlantis could end up being just as good, as the Aggies — who might be the second best team in the SEC — square off with a Gonzaga team that has one of the best front lines in the country. This will be a good test to figure out just how good both of these teams are.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 20 Wichita State vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers will be without Fred VanVleet for this event. It will also be a chance for us to gauge just how good this 4-0 USC team is.
2. No. 23 Xavier vs. Alabama, 12:00 p.m: The Musketeers should have no problems dispatching Alabama.
3. No. 8 Villanova vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m.: The Wildcats are, once again, as good as any team in the country. Josh Hart might be the nation’s most underrated star.
4. No. 14 Cal vs. San Diego State, 12:00 a.m.: Tyrone Wallace and company have been awesome this season. They get their first real test of the season tonight.
5. Providence vs. Evansville, 7:00 p.m.: Evansville is one of the nation’s best mid-majors, good enough to give the likes of Wichita State and Northern Iowa a fight in the Missouri Valley. And Providence? They got a kid named Kris Dunn. Heard of him?
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- No. 3 Michigan State vs. Boston College, 6:30 p.m.
- No. 11 Arizona vs. Santa Clara, 11:30 p.m.
- No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.
No. 2 Maryland finally found their rhythm on Wednesday night, blowing out a good Rhode Island team, 86-63, in the finals of the Cancun Challenge.
Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon combined for 34 points and eight assists on 13-for-14 shooting and Robert Carter added 15 points, nine boards, three assists and three blocks. Peak Maryland, which is what we saw tonight, is really dangerous.
But Peak Maryland wasn’t the story after the game, as tempers flared in the waning minutes.
It started when Maryland coach Mark Turgeon called a timeout with less than two minutes remaining. Jake Layman had just hit a three to put Maryland up by 24 points and Turgeon wanted to get his walk-ons in the game. Hurley said to the Maryland bench, “We’ll see you again, boy,” according to Inside Maryland Sports, which prompted this reaction from Turgeon:
After the game, the two teams had to be separated in layup lines. According to reports from IMS and from the Baltimore Sun, Hurley was cursing at Maryland players as he was shaking their hands after the game. According Doug Gottlieb, who called the game for CBS Sports Network, Trimble said that the Rhode Island team wanted to “fight us”: