Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Harvard looks to make NCAA tournament return

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GAME OF THE DAY: Harvard at Yale, 7:30 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)

The Crimson play their second-to-last game of the season against the only team capable of catching them in the Ivy League race. If Tommy Amaker’s team gets the win, they get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. But that’s easier said than done, as the Bulldogs won the first meeting on February 8. Yale forward Justin Sears was the difference-maker, as he accounted for 21 points and 11 rebounds. Also of note was Yale’s defensive effort, as they limited Harvard to 39% shooting from the field and 7-for-21 from three.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Eastern Kentucky vs. Murray State, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

The second semifinal in the OVC matches the two (Murray State) and three (EKU) seeds, and the two teams haven’t met since January 8. Steve Prohm’s Racers won that meeting, 77-64, shooting 51% from the field and attempting 28 free throws (making 19) to Eastern Kentucky’s eight (making six). Freshman Cameron Payne and forward Jarvis Williams scored 19 points apiece for the Racers in that meeting, with Williams making all nine of his shots from the field. EKU, which has won five straight games, is led by the veteran trio of Glenn Cosey, Corey Walden and Marcus Lewis.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • Big South: Quarterfinals begin
    The Big South moves to the quarterfinal round after playing for first-round games on Wednesday, and among the teams in action are host Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers face Charleston Southern, an 81-71 winner over Campbell on Wednesday. These teams haven’t met since January 8, when the Buccaneers beat the Chanticleers 70-58 in Charleston. Regular season champion High Point also begins its tournament, matchup up with Winthrop in the first game of the day.
  • Horizon League: Wright State, Valparaiso enter the fray
    The Horizon League bracket favors those who finish highest in the standings, meaning that champion (and host) Green Bay and Cleveland State won’t play until Saturday’s semifinals. Friday night, Wright State and Valparaiso play their first games with the Raiders facing Oakland and Valpo taking on Milwaukee. Wright State swept the Golden Grizzlies during the regular season, and the Crusaders did the same to Milwaukee.
  • Missouri Valley: No. 2 Wichita State looks to snap a streak
    The primary focus regarding the Shockers will be whether or not they can pick up three more wins and enter the NCAA tournament 34-0. But, the program hasn’t won the conference tournament since 1987. They’ll look to take the first step towards ending that dry spell with a win over Evansville Friday afternoon. The game that may provide the most suspense in St. Louis: Illinois State – Missouri State, with the home team winning both regular season meetings.
  • OVC: Belmont looks to return to the title game
    Eastern Kentucky – Murray State will be good, but so will Belmont’s matchup with Morehead State. Rick Byrd’s Bruins went 14-2 in OVC play, and two of those wins came against the Eagles. Belmont won the second meeting by just three points on January 29, with J.J. Mann scoring 22 points and the Bruins closing the game on a 10-0 run. Drew Kelly scored 23 points in that game for the Eagles, who led 73-66 with 1:19 remaining.
  • SoCon: Day one in Asheville
    The SoCon tournament gets going with a triple header in Asheville, with Georgia Southern and UNCG favored to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals. The opener matches Samford and Appalachian State, with the Mountaineers having won both regular season meetings. Jason Capel’s team beat the Bulldogs 63-57 on February 27, with Tommy Spagnolo (21 points, ten rebounds) sparking a late rally. As for the other two games, the individual matchup between Furman’s Stephen Croone (19.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Georgia Southern’s Jelani Hewitt (20.0, 3.2) should be fun to watch.

PHOTOS: Miami, Syracuse wear shirts honoring Florida shooting victims

Photo via Mike Waters, Syracuse.com
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Syracuse is playing in Miami on Saturday, the first game that the Hurricanes have played at home since the shooting at Parkland, Florida’s, Stoneman Douglas High School.

Both teams wore warmup shirts honoring the victims of the shooting prior to the game:

Parkland and Coral Gables are about 50 miles apart, but both towns are suburbs with the same Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area.

St. John’s guard Lovett to leave school, turn pro

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Marcus Lovett announced on Saturday morning that he will be leaving St. John’s to pursue a professional career.

This decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Lovett, who averaged 14.9 points through the first seven games of the season, was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury despite reports that he was healthy enough to play.

According to the New York Post, Lovett was not even enrolled in school for the spring semester.

Lovett spent three seasons in New York with the Johnnies and played less than a year and a half.

Yale’s Makai Mason expected to play vs. Harvard

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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For the first time since the 2016 NCAA tournament, Yale basketball fans are going to have a chance to see Makai Mason play for the Bulldogs.

A star point guard that is already committed to play for Baylor as a grad transfer in 2018-19, Mason missed all of the 2016-17 season and the 2017-18 season to date with a series of foot injuries.

As a sophomore, Mason averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs as they won the Ivy League and knocked off Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed. He had 31 points in that win.

The Elis are currently 5-4 in the Ivy League after beating Dartmouth on Friday night. With Mason back in the fold, they seem like a safe bet to get to the Ivy League tournament and a contender to win it all.

The way that Ivy League rules are written, players are not allowed to redshirt, even if they are injured for the season. Since Mason was in classes as a junior, during the season that he missed, this year is the last year that he would be allowed to play for an Ivy League program.

Bubble Banter: Texas, Syracuse land massive wins

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

TEXAS (RPI: 49, KenPom: 44, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Longhorns landed a massive, massive win for their NCAA tournament chances on Saturday afternoon when they went into Norman and picked off Oklahoma. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and put them into a position where a 2-2 finish to Big 12 play keeps them at 8-10 in the league. That’s relevant because no team more than two games below .500 in league play has reached the NCAA tournament since the early 90s. The Longhorns are now 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents with some elite wins in that mix — Texas Tech, at Alabama, a sweep of Oklahoma Butler on a neutral — and no losses worse than Quadrant 2. Texas is going to have a very real chance to be an NCAA tournament team with 14 losses this season.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 41, KenPom: 48, NBC seed: First four out): The Orange hold their bubble future in their own hands, and they got started in the right direction on Saturday by going into Coral Gables and picking off Miami. That’s their third Quadrant 1 win — assuming that Buffalo, who is currently 30th in the RPI, remains top 30 — but a Quadrant 3 loss and the lack of a truly marquee victory is a glaring hole in their résumé. The good news? This is the remaining schedule for the Orange: UNC, at Duke, at Boston College, Clemson. Go 2-2 in that stretch and they will enter the ACC tournament in pretty good shape.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 59, KenPom: 42, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies beat the breaks off of Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, meaning they finished their three game road trip at 2-1 with a win at Virginia. Not bad. The rest of VT’s schedule looks like this: Clemson, Louisville, Duke, at Miami. With a Quadrant 3 loss and a non-conference SOS of 325, I still think the Hokies need to win two of these games.

BUTLER (RPI: 40, KenPom: 26, NBC seed: 10): The Bulldogs added another Quadrant 2 win to their profile on Saturday with an impressive win over Providence at home. Butler is 3-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents with three Quadrant 1 games left on their schedule: Creighton, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall. I think they’ll probably be in if they win one of those three games, but I would recommend winning two.

LOSERS

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 34, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: 8): Losing at Butler doesn’t exactly hurt Providence’s profile. Quadrant 1 road losses are what they are. The Friars are interesting because they have five Quadrant 1 wins but two Quadrant 3 losses and a hideous, Quadrant 4 loss to DePaul at home. I think they need two more wins (Seton Hall, at Xavier, at Georgetown, St. John’s) to lock up their at-large bid.

YET TO PLAY

KANSAS STATE
LSU
BOISE STATE
ARKANSAS
N.C. STATE
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
BAYLOR
WASHINGTON
TCU
LOUISVILLE
MARQUETTE
UCLA
USC

VIDEO: St. Bonaventure’s LaDarien Griffin blocks shot, saves ball missing a shoe

Screengrab via News 4 Buffalo
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One of my favorite plays of the season to date.

With St. Bonaventure down 72-69 with just over three minutes left of their win over No. 16 Rhode Island, LaDarien Griffin lost a shoe and was forced to play a defensive possession in just a sock.

What did he do?

Well, he blocked a shot, corralled the loose ball and threw the ball off of a URI player who was standing out of bounds to stop play. Check this out:

That wasn’t the only big play that he made.

He also blocked a shot with 4.2 seconds left that helped preserve the win for the Bonnies.