louisiana tech

2014 Conference USA Tournament Preview: Louisiana Tech fighting to stay atop the league

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source: AP
AP

Although the new-look Conference USA is still hard to memorize from top-to-bottom with all of the first-year teams, the top of the league is still very strong as four teams (Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee, Tulsa) finished tied atop the standings at 13-3 while UTEP was right behind at 12-4. With five really good teams in a 15-team field, this has the potential to be a wild tournament.

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

The Bracket

When: March 11-15

Where: Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas

Final: Saturday, March 15, 10:35 a.m., CBS

Favorite: Louisiana Tech

Although the top of the league standings featured four 13-3 teams and 12-4 UTEP, the Bulldogs are the deepest and most talented team. Even without dynamic junior scorer Raheem Appleby for 12 games of the C-USA slate, Louisiana Tech still finished 13-3 and tied atop the league. Appleby recently returned and played 16 minutes in the regular-season finale against Rice.

And if they lose?: Southern Miss

The Golden Eagles are incredibly balanced as their five leading scorers average in-between 9.6 points and 11 points per game. Although Southern Miss played Louisiana Tech without Appleby, they still own a win over them during the regular season.

Sleepers:

  • Tulsa: Danny Manning has done one of the more underrated coaching jobs in the country as the Golden Hurricanes have won eight straight.
  • Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have won 11 of 12 and Shawn Jones is arguably the league’s best player.
  • UTEP: Since losing three players to an FBI probe for gambling, Tim Floyd has rallied this team to a 12-4 conference record.

Studs:

  • Shawn Jones, Middle Tennessee: League’s leading Player of the Year candidate can score or control the glass.
  • Vince Hunter, UTEP: One of the nation’s most productive freshman, Hunter averaged 17.4 points per game over his final 15 games after averaging 12.5 for the season.
  • Kenneth Smith, Louisiana Tech: The nation’s second-leading assist man (7.9 per game) drives the engine that makes the Bulldogs go.
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: The sophomore guard has scored double-figure points in 23 straight games.

CBT Prediction: Louisiana Tech over Middle Tennessee

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: