Wednesday’s defeat followed all too familiar script for Boise State

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Wednesday night’s game against No. 5 San Diego State represented a great opportunity for the Boise State Broncos. With all five starters back from a team that reached the NCAA tournament a season ago, the Broncos entered the 2013-14 season with questions of whether or not they had the ability to contend for a Mountain West title. A return to the Big Dance seemed to be a given, with guards Anthony Drmic, Derrick Marks and Mikey Thompson and forward Ryan Watkins expected to lead the way.

Unfortunately for the Broncos things haven’t worked out as planned, with Leon Rice’s team sitting at 15-8 overall and 5-5 in Mountain West play. And their 67-65 loss to the Aztecs, capped by a Dwayne Polee II three-pointer with just over four seconds remaining, followed a script that Boise State has become all too familiar with.

Of Boise State’s five Mountain West defeats four have been by four points or less, with the opposition being the ones capable of making those winning plays down the stretch. Against San Diego State two occurrences resulted in the latest heartbreaking defeat.

First and foremost, San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames put forth a masterful display in the second half. The fifth-year senior accounted for 15 of his 23 points in the second half while also taking better care of the basketball (two assists, two turnovers) after turning the ball over five times in the first 20 minutes.

The other occurrence? That would be Boise State’s perplexing lack of ball movement down the stretch, something that according to Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman has become commonplace in tight games.

Then came the same nightmarish qualities that have become Boise State’s signature. Forget a signature win, this team’s John Hancock is its inability to close…

The Broncos’ familiar free-flowing, motion offense, the same one that yields open 3-pointers and lanes to the basket earlier in the game, grinds to a halt. The ball sticks. The passes come slower. The offense goes stale, resulting in wild drives into the teeth of the defense late in the shot clock.

To this point in the season Drmic is leading Boise State in scoring with an average of 16.8 points per game, shooting 44.9% from the field and 35.3% from beyond the arc. Against San Diego State the junior scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, but what makes that figure even more concerning is the fact that Drmic attempted just four of his 13 shots in the second half.

Boise State’s second-half shot distribution was as follows: Marks (ten attempts), Drmic (four), Thompson (three) and Thomas Bropleh (three). So two of Boise State’s top three scorers, Drmic and Watkins (11.8 ppg), attempted a total of four shots in the second half. Against a team that defends as well as San Diego State does, a lack of offensive balance ultimately won’t cut it.

Even with the scorers the Broncos have, they are ninth in the Mountain West in assist percentage with just over 44% of their made baskets being assisted. So to expect this group to suddenly morph into a squad that will assist on, say, six out of every ten made shots would be a bit unrealistic.

But the ball movement can’t grind to a halt, something that has been an issue in the majority of Boise State’s close defeats. This likely goes hand in hand with the doubts that creep into the Broncos’ heads in tight games, with Rice noting after Wednesday’s defeat that he “saw that look in our guys’ eyes” according to the Statesman.

Regardless of what the issues may be in close contests, Boise State needs to figure out a solution quickly.

Sister Jean: “I don’t care that you broke my bracket.”

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As Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Clayton Custer came off the floor after Loyola earned its spot in the Elite Eight after beating Nevada, he had to make a quick apology.

He had to tell the Ramblers’ star fan Sister Jean he was sorry. She, of course, had picked Loyola’s Cinderella run to end in the Sweet 16 in her bracket before the start of the tournament.

The apology was quickly accepted.

“I said I don’t care that you broke my bracket,” Sister Jean said. “I’m ready for the next one.

“For a nice little school like ours, we are just so proud of them.”

Michigan’s hot shooting carries them into the Elite Eight past Texas A&M

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Historically known as a team that lived and died with the three-ball, No. 3-seed Michigan had spent the first weekend of the NCAA tournament proving history wrong.

In an ugly game in their opener against Montana, the Wolverines shot 5-for-16 from three while turning the ball over 14 times and managing a measly 61 points. Against Houston in the second round, Michigan shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc, with one of those threes coming courtesy of Jordan Poole at the buzzer, sending the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win.

Put another way, Michigan looked the part of the defensive grinder that they turned into this season.

Against No. 7-seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, however, the Wolverines turned into the Golden State Warriors.

Michigan bested the number of three that they had made in the tournament to date, hitting 14-of-24 bombs while shooting 62 percent from the floor in a 99-72 win over an Aggies team that had finally, for the first time since November, looked the part of the SEC title contender that they have the talent to be.

No. 11 Loyola moves on to Elite Eight after beating No. 7 Nevada

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Loyola is in the Elite Eight.

The Ramblers’ dream run through March continued Thursday as they knocked off No. 7 Nevada, 69-68, in South Region semifinal in Atlanta.

Loyola, an 11th seed making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, will play the winner of Kansas State and Kentucky on Sunday for a chance to return to the Final Four for the first time since it won the 1963 national championship.

Marques Townes hit a 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to play to put the Ramblers up four and put the game all but out of reach for Nevada. Townes finished with 18 points while Clayton Custer had 15.  Loyola shot 55.8 percent from the floor for the game.

The Wolf Pack’s Caleb Martin had 21 points while Jordan Caroline had 19. Nevada shot 41.4 percent from the floor.

Nevada looked like it may overwhelm Loyola early as it built a 12-point lead less than seven minutes into the game. The Ramblers, though, struck back by keeping the Wolf Pack off the board for nearly the last 8 minutes of the first half to take a four-point lead into the break.

The strong play considered on the other side of halftime for Loyola, which astonishingly made its first 13 shots of the second half. Still, despite the perfect start, the Ramblers only briefly took a double-digit lead before Nevada sliced it back down below 10.

Loyola’s inability to build a substantial lead came back to bite it as Nevada, the comeback kids of this tournament, mounted its attack on the deficit and had it erased before the under-four timeout, setting up the final frantic minutes of a battle for a spot in the Elite Eight that the Ramblers claimed thanks to Townes’ late triple.

2018 March Madness: Fans in Times Square pick fake teams in Sweet 16 predictions

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NBC Sports went into Times Square this week to ask basketball fans for their Sweet 16 picks.

The only problem?

The teams in the games are not actually playing in the NCAA Tournament.

They aren’t even actually teams.

Hilarity ensued.

Miami’s Bruce Brown declares for draft without an agent

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Bruce Brown wants to hear what the NBA has to say.

The Miami sophomore has declared for the draft but will not hire an agent, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during his second season with the Hurricanes. He did, though, see his shooting numbers take a tumble compared to his freshman season with his field goal percentage down from 45.9 to 41.5 percent and his 3-point shoot go from 34.7 to 26.7 percent. There’s also the matter of a foot injury that required surgery and kept him off the floor for the ‘Canes’ last 12 games.

By declaring for the draft, Brown can get in front of NBA teams, who will likely take a very close look at his shooting mechanics after that sophomore season downturn. It will also be an opportunity for him to build up his reputation in the professional ranks after spending much of his sophomore season injured.