Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: America East clash highlights light slate

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Vermont at Stony Brook, 9:00 p.m. EST (ESPNU)

Just two teams remain undefeated in America East play and it’s the two teams many expected to be the leading contenders to win the conference title back in the preseason. And with tonight’s schedule boasting just six games this is a good opportunity to get familiar two two teams capable of hearing their name called on Selection Sunday. The Catamounts start five seniors and their most versatile player, Brian Voelkel, is averaging just 6.7 points per game. But when a 6-foot-6 forward also contributes 8.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game the scoring isn’t an issue.

Stony Brook will counter with a lineup that’s also experienced, but their best player is a sophomore in forward Jameel Warney (15.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg) who will give America East headaches for the next two years. The home team won both meetings last season, so that could work in the Seawolves’ favor tonight. 

WHO’S GETTING UPSET: Manhattan (-10.5) vs. Rider, 7:00 p.m. 

The use of lines is for entertainment purposes only, and Quinnipiac would be a good pick here as well given the fact that they’re underdogs on the road against an Iona team they outclassed earlier this month. But that would be the easy pick, so the Broncs are the selection despite the fact that Manhattan’s leading scorer George Beamon is expected to make his return to the lineup.

However in order for this to happen Kevin Baggett’s team needs to do two things: defend better (opponents are shooting nearly 48% from the field) and not turn the ball over. Manhattan’s forcing an average of nearly 17 turnovers per game, and Steve Masiello’s guards can get after you. But if Anthony Myles and the other Rider guards can keep up with Beamon and Mike Alvarado, and Daniel Stewart stays out of foul trouble inside, Rider has a shot. 

FOUR THINGS TO NOTE: 

  • Speaking of that MAAC battle between Quinnipiac and Iona, the Gaels get a shot at revenge after they were whipped in Hamden by 12 earlier this month. Tom Moore’s Bobcats, led by senior Ike Azotam, grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in that game. 
  • Northern Kentucky looks to move to 5-4 in Atlantic Sun play with a win over Lipscomb, with the Bisons having alternated wins and losses in their last four results (they lost to Mercer in their most recent outing). NKU junior guard Jordan Jackson is ranked either first or second on the team in points (first), rebounds (second) and assists (second).
  • Niagara’s lost six of their last seven games entering tonight’s home tilt with Marist, withe Red Foxes coming off of a win over Saint Peter’s earlier this week. 
  • In the second game of a three-game road swing Detroit looks to end a four-game losing streak with a win at Milwaukee. Juwan Howard Jr’s averaging 17.8 points per game for the Titans, with the Panthers countering with a balanced rotation led by forward Matt Tiby (14.2 ppg)

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

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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: