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Saturday’s Conference Tourney Pregame Shootaround: OVC title day; can the Shockers stay perfect?

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America East: The quarterfinals are underway in the America East as top-seed Vermont takes on New Hampshire, second-seed Stony Brook battles Maine and Albany against UMBC and Hartford against Binghamton rounds out the day’s action. All games are being played in Guilderland, New York. At 15-1 in the America East, Vermont is the heavy favorite in this tournament.

Big South: An important day of action in the Big South Conference Tournament as two good semifinals take place in Conway, South Carolina. Winthrop and UNC Asheville face-off in the first semifinal of the day while VMI and Coastal Carolina close it out. Both games feature teams with identical conference records as Winthrop and UNC-Asheville were both 10-6 in the Big South while VMI and Coastal Carolina both finished 11-5.

CAA: Quarterfinal action tips off in Baltimore as top seed Delaware takes on Hofstra, two seed Towson locks horns with James Madison and Northeastern and Drexel and Charleston and William & Mary round out the day’s action.

RELATED: Our latest bracket projections — is your team in?

Horizon League: It’ll be an interesting day of semifinal action at the Horizon League Tournament in Green Bay’s arena as the top-seeded Phoenix host Milwaukee and Wright State takes on Cleveland State. Green Bay went 14-2 in the Horizon League this season, but its only home loss came to Milwaukee. Wright State and Cleveland State split the season series with each team winning on the road.

MAAC: The MAAC quarters are underway in Springfield, Massachusetts as No. 1 seed Iona faces Rider and No. 2 seed Manhattan takes on St. Peter’s. Canisius also takes on Siena and Quinnipiac battles Niagara.

Missouri Valley: Semifinal day at Arch Madness in St. Louis as No. 2 Wichita State looks to improve to 33-0 when they face Missouri State and Indiana State takes on Southern Illinois. Missouri State gave the Shockers their only overtime game of the season while Southern Illinois will look to continue to play the spoiler role after yesterday’s upset of Northern Iowa. Southern Illinois and Indiana State split the season series at one game apiece in the regular season.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

NEC: We’ve reached the semifinals in the NEC as Robert Morris faces St. Francis (Pa) and Wagner takes on Mount St. Mary’s. Robert Morris swept St. Francis during the season and they’ll be the heavy favorite over the 10-20 Red Flash while Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s split the season series with each team winning at home.

Ohio Valley: The OVC title game goes down at 7:00 p.m. as Eastern Kentucky takes on Belmont in Nashville with a spot in the NCAA Tournament at stake. The Bruins have won seven straight games heading into tonight’s title game but they’ll have to beat an Eastern Kentucky team that pulled off a mini-upset of Murray State in the semifinals. These two teams split the regular season series with each team winning at home. Can Belmont repeat as champs?

Patriot League: Semifinal action heats up in the Patriot League Tournament as Army takes on Boston and Holy Cross battles American. Boston swept the season series over Army, but both wins were incredibly close as the Terriers won in overtime on January 29th and by a single point on February 26th. The Eagles, meanwhile, swept the season series over Holy Cross.

RELATED: Conference Tournament schedules for every league

Southern: Quarterfinal action for the Southern Conference Tournament tips off in Asheville, North Carolina on Saturday as No. 1 seed Davidson battles Samford and No. 2 seed Chattanooga battles Georgia Southern. Elon also takes on Western Carolina and Wofford battles The Citadel in the other matchups of the day.

Summit League: IUPUI and IPFW is the only quarterfinal matchup being played today in Sioux Falls, South Dakota as the Mastodons look to make a run in the Summit League as the No. 2 seed. IPFW won both games in the season series by at least 15 points and should be the heavy favorite.

WCC: Vegas, baby, VEGAS! The WCC quarters begin on Saturday in Las Vegas as No. 1 seed Gonzaga takes on Santa Clara and No. 2 seed BYU takes on Loyola Marymount. San Francisco also takes on San Diego and Saint Mary’s battles Pepperdine.

Battle 4 Atlantis title proves Syracuse will be relevant this season

rad Horrigan/The Courant via AP
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Michael Gbinije scored 20 points and Trevor Cooney added 15 points and five assists as Syracuse left the Bahamas with a title, beating No. 25 Texas A&M 74-67 in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

I guess it’s time to start taking the Orange seriously.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Gbinije and Cooney are both fifth-year seniors that not only understand how to operate at the top of the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim runs, but they both have developed into versatile offensive weapons. Cooney was known as nothing more than a jump-shooter when he arrived up north, but he’s now averaging 3.5 assists on the season.

And Gbinije?

He has been one of the best players in the country through the first two weeks of the season. Through six games, he’s averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists, 3.0 boards and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Freshman Malachi Richardson, who had 16 points in the win over A&M, has scored double-figures in all six games this season while another freshman, Tyler Lydon, was against terrific on Friday, finishing with 13 points and eight boards. He’s now shooting 58.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

And that’s where this team is going to do the majority of their damage this season.

Through six games, they’re shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. In the three wins in the Bahamas, the Orange knocked were 34-for-73 from beyond the arc, a 46.5 percent clip. The question isn’t whether or not that rate can continue — four of the six players that saw action on Friday are dangerous three-point shooters while the other two, Tyler Roberson  and DaJuan Coleman, aren’t going to be shooting threes — but what happens on the nights where the threes aren’t going down.

There are going to be nights where they shoot 5-for-25 instead of 11-for-25. Will they have enough firepower then? Will their defense be good enough? Will guys like Roberson and Coleman be able to supply a scoring punch? Will Cooney, Gbinije and Richardson attack the paint instead of settling for jumpers?

Because at the very least, these three games in the Bahamas have proven that the Orange are going to be relevant this season, even in the loaded ACC. Whether that means they’re going to push for a top four finish or simply end the year as a tournament team remains to be seen, but this much is clear: Jim Boeheim has himself a squad Upstate.

No. 10 Gonzaga outlasts No. 18 UConn despite late offensive struggles

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No. 10 Gonzaga survived a furious rally from No. 18 UConn to win the third place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, 73-70.

The Zags were up by as much as 21 points early in the second half, leading 48-27, but UConn slowly chipped away at the lead. Kyle Wiltjer led four players in double-figures with 17 points while Eric McClellan added 15 points, making a number of key plays in the second half when it looked like the Zags were in danger of giving away the lead.

As good as Gonzaga looked in the first 22 minutes of this game — and they looked really, really good — the second half exposed the concerns that many had with this group entering the season. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who both shot around 40 percent from beyond the arc and started for four years, graduated, meaning that Gonzaga’s point guard situation is, more or less, Josh Perkins.

Perkins was terrific in the second half of a loss to Texas A&M on Thursday. He played 17 foul-plagued minutes against UConn. When UConn’s defense ratcheted up during the second half, Gonzaga struggled finding a way to consistently get good shots on the offensive end. Part of that was due to ineffective point guard play and part of it was a result of not really having anyone on the offensive end that can create a look on their own. As skilled as Wiltjer is, his impact can be limited when pick-and-pop actions aren’t working and he’s getting doubled in the post.

Perkins is talented, but this is essentially his first season of college basketball; he was a medical redshirt last season after breaking his jaw last November. There are going to be ups-and-downs, and that’s problematic on a team where he is essentially the only point guard on the roster.

The good news?

Gonzaga beat a good UConn team on a day when their best players struggled in crunch-time. It was McClellan and Kyle Dranginis that made the big plays down the stretch, not the big names on the Gonzaga roster.