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Late Night Snacks: Coastal Carolina, Mercer and No. 2 Wichita State join NCAA field

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GAME OF THE DAY: Maryland 75, No. 5 Virginia 69 (OT)

In Maryland’s final regular season game as a member of the ACC the Terrapins needed five extra minutes to beat Virginia in College Park. The Cavaliers executed well late in regulation to force the extra session, with Anthony Gill’s basket with less than a second remaining tying the game. That could have been a crushing blow for the Terps, but Seth Allen and Dez Wells made important baskets in overtime to make sure that wasn’t the case.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) No. 2 Wichita State 83, Indiana State 69

34 games. 34 wins. Gregg Marshall’s team took the next step in its quest to win a national title, responding to a second-half Indiana State run the way that champions are supposed to. Fred VanVleet scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, and Tekele Cotton added 20 points for the winners. Jake Odum and Justin Gant scored 18 points apiece for the Sycamores, who should land in the Postseason NIT.

2) Nebraska 77, No. 9 Wisconsin 68

While some bubble teams have managed to stumble down the stretch, others have risen to the occasion. One of those teams is Nebraska, which knocked off No. 9 Wisconsin in Lincoln. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields scored 26 points apiece to lead the way, and there were other contributors as well. After starting conference play 0-4 Tim Miles’ Huskers have won 11 of their last 14, and they’re moving closer to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998.

3) Ohio State 69, No. 22 Michigan State 67

After dropping games at Penn State and Indiana the Buckeyes were in need of a win and they got it, with their defense and LaQuinton Ross standing out. The Buckeyes held Michigan State scoreless over the final 4:30, and Ross scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting. As for Michigan State, while there’s no need to panic their offensive execution down the stretch is something they need to improve on ahead of the Big Ten tournament.

STARRED

1) T.J. Warren (N.C. State) 

Warren made his final statement ahead of the ACC’s vote for Player of the Year, scoring 42 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Wolfpack’s 78-68 win over Boston College. Warren’s scored 40-plus points in consecutive games, the first time an ACC player’s done this since 1957.

2) Jarvis Threatt (Delaware) 

19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in the Blue Hens’ 87-74 win over Northeastern.

3) Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway (Nebraska) 

Shields and Petteway scored 26 points apiece in the Huskers’ 77-68 win over No. 9 Wisconsin, with Petteway also grabbing ten rebounds.

STRUGGLED

1) Chris Wilson (Saint Joseph’s) 

Wilson struggled in the Hawks’ 71-63 home loss to La Salle, shooting 1-for-9 and finishing with two points, four rebounds and three assists.

2) Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey (Virginia) 

Mitchell and Tobey combined to score six points on 2-for-7 shooting in the Cavaliers’ 75-69 overtime loss at Maryland.

3) Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney (UMass) 

Both players shot 2-for-10 from the field, combining to score 13 points in their 64-62 loss to No. 17 Saint Louis.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS 

  • America East: New tournament format year too late for Vermont
    After Stony Brook lost at Albany in last season’s semifinals the conference changed its tournament format, with the higher seed hosting every game. But that won’t occur until next season, leaving Vermont in the situation Stony Brook found itself in a season ago. Final score: Albany 67, Vermont 58. Peter Hooley scored 26 points and Gary Johnson added 17 to go along with 13 rebounds for the Great Danes, who will play at Stony Brook on Saturday for the automatic bid.
  • Atlantic Sun: Mercer returns the favor to earn first NCAA bid since 1985
    Last season FGCU began its captivating run with an Atlantic Sun title game win over Mercer on the Bears’ home court. Mercer hopes to do the same after beating FGCU 68-60 at Alico Arena. Langston Hall and Anthony White Jr. scored 15 points apiece for Bob Hoffman’s team, which has the ability to spring an upset in the NCAA tournament.
  • Big South: Coastal Carolina earns first NCAA berth since 1993
    The Chanticleers are headed back to the NCAA tournament thanks to a 76-61 win over Winthrop. Warren Gillis led four starters in double figures with 22 points, and Cliff Ellis has now led four programs to the NCAA tournament as a head coach.
  • CAA: Delaware, William & Mary advance to Monday’s title game
    Top-seed Delaware took care of business, beating Northeastern 87-74 in one semifinal. Their opponent in Monday’s title game will be William & Mary, with the Tribe beating Towson 75-71 in the other semifinal. And there will be some really good guards on the floor Monday night in Baltimore, with the Blue Hens being led by an experienced four-guard attack and Marcus Thornton the headliner for William & Mary.
  • MAAC: Bitter rivals Iona, Manhattan to play for the title
    Two schools separated by about ten miles will play for the MAAC automatic bid for the second consecutive season, with Iona holding off Canisius 75-72 and Manhattan whipping Quinnipiac 87-68. Iona’s Sean Armand and Manhattan’s George Beamon are two of the headliners who will be on center stage in Springfield, and these are two very talented teams capable of winning once in the NCAA field as well. But only one can go.
  • Southern: Western Carolina knocks off Davidson
    There will be a new SoCon representative in the NCAA tournament, with Western Carolina beating Davidson 99-97 in overtime. Trey Sumler scored 26 points for the Catamounts. Their opposition on Monday for the automatic bid: Wofford, with the Terriers eliminating Georgia Southern by the final score of 71-57.
  • Summit: Denver, South Dakota State roll
    Both winners scored 71 points, with Denver beating South Dakota 71-55 and South Dakota State outclassing Western Illinois by a final score of 71-50. Next up for Denver is top-seed North Dakota State, which received a bye to the semifinals. As for last season’s conference representative, the Jackrabbits face two-seed IPFW.

NOTABLES 

  • Jerami Grant made his return to the lineup in No. 7 Syracuse’s 74-58 win at Florida State and he played well, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds. The Orange will be the two-seed in the ACC tournament.
  • Jordair Jett’s layup with just over three seconds remaining gave No. 17 Saint Louis a 64-62 win at UMass, ending their three-game losing streak just ahead of the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Billikens will be the top seed in Brooklyn, while the loss dropped UMass from a three to a six-seed in the event.
  • Saint Joseph’s suffered a tough loss for its resume, losing 71-63 at home to Big 5 (and Atlantic 10) rival La Salle. The Hawks will be a four-seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, so they’ll get a bye to the quarterfinals.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
AP Photo/Nati Harnik
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.

Nova leads Inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic field

Jalen Brunson
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) NCAA champion Villanova will play Notre Dame and Pittsburgh faces Penn State in the inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic at Prudential Center on Dec. 10.

The matchups were announced Wednesday. The event will partner with the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which helps support the education of children of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Villanova-Notre Dame game will be part of a doubleheader on CBS with the Army-Navy football game.

Looking Forward: Just how good will Duke be, and when will the 40-0 chatter start?

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As we take a look at ahead at the 2016-17 season, we’re also going to take a deeper dive into what we think will end up being some of the biggest storylines next season.

Today, we’re talking Duke and the potential for a 40-0 season.

There’s a strong argument to make that, in the years since Duke and head coach Mike Krzyzewski fully embraced the one-and-done era, his 2016-17 roster will be the strongest that he has coached.

Stronger, I’d argue, than the 2015 team that produced the three first round picks, including Jahlil Okafor, the No. 3 pick, and Justise Winslow, who went 10th. The kicker? Neither of those two were the stars of the 2015 Final Four. That title belongs to Tyus Jones, who was selected 25th in 2015, and Grayson Allen, a probable first-round pick who returns to school this season as a reigning second-team all-american.

Think about this for a second.

Allen was one of the ten-best players in college basketball last season. He’s a guy who could have snuck into the first round had he opted to enter his name into the NBA Draft, but is coming back to school for his junior year after averaging 21.5 points and 3.5 assists as a sophomore.

And there’s a very real chance that he could end up being the fourth option offensively for the Blue Devils next season. That’s what happens when a program brings in the likes of Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson, to say nothing of the potential that they also land Marques Bolden*. Those are two of the top three, three of the top ten and, if they land Bolden, four of the top 16 players in a class many believe to be as strong and as deep as any we’ve seen in the recruiting rankings era.

*(Bolden has yet to announce where he will be playing his college ball. His list is down to Duke and Kentucky, but there is no timetable yet for when a decision is going to get made.)

Throw in the return of Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, and what you have is a roster that is talented, deep and balanced, enough so that Duke will likely end up being the consensus No. 1 team in the country come November despite the fact that the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova and Oregon are going to be very, very good as well.

If it were Kentucky fielding a roster like this, the 40-0 chatter would’ve started before the Wildcats were bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament. When will that discussion pop up, and is there really a chance that this group can pull it off?

Well, the answer to both of those questions is slightly more complicated than simply comparing old Kentucky rosters to what this Duke roster is projected to be.

Duke’s Grayson Allen, center, handles the ball as Long Beach State’s Nick Faust, left, and Long Beach State’s Noah Blackwell (3) defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C. Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. Duke won 103-81. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
Grayson Allen (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

For starters, the ACC is a much tougher conference than the SEC. Even with the unbalanced schedules, it’s almost impossible for Kentucky to play as tough of a conference slate as Duke will play on an annual basis. The ACC is coming off of a year where six teams reached the Sweet 16 and next season, the league may be even better; the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 features four ACC teams in the top ten, five in the top 15 and seven in the top 25. That doesn’t include Miami, Pitt or N.C. State, who adds one of the best point guards in the country in Dennis Smith Jr.

     RELATED: What does the ACC have in store for the 2016-17 season?

It also ignores just how difficult it is for anyone to make it through league play unscathed. The last time any team posted an undefeated ACC regular season was back in 1999, when a Duke team led by Trajan Langdon and Elton Brand — a team many consider to be among the best college basketball teams of all-time — finished league play 18-0 and entered the NCAA tournament with just a single loss on their record. In fact, the last time that an ACC team finished league play with just one loss was Maryland’s title-winning team in 2002.

That’s not all.

All of that happened at a time when Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Miami and Pitt were playing in the Big East or Conference USA and when Virginia was an ACC cellar-dweller, not a perennial top ten program.

And Kentucky?

Well, they’ve run through their SEC schedule with an undefeated record twice in the last five years, not to mention that Florida went 18-0 in SEC play back in 2014. It’s not all that surprising when you think about it like this: the team that finished 9th in the ACC this season reached the Final Four, while two of the three teams that tied for third in the SEC were left out of the NCAA tournament.

     RELATED: The 2016-17 Preseason Top 25

The other thing that you have to consider here is that this Duke team doesn’t exactly have a flawless roster construction.

The biggest concern to me is the point guard spot. Jackson is a terrific player. He’s going to have a major impact at the college level, he could end up being a one-and-done guy and he’ll likely have more than a few highlight plays throughout the season. But he’s also a prototype of the new breed of point guard: An athletic scorer that gets put into a lead guard role because he can handle the ball and no one at the lower levels of basketball can stop him. Tyus Jones, he is not, and that’s where the loss of Derryck Thornton has the potential to hurt this Duke team. Jackson also happens to be the only point guard currently on the roster, so instead of allowing Thornton to play 15-20 minutes on the ball, Jackson is going to have to embrace being a full-time point guard on a team with four or five guys that can take over a game.

How he embraces that role will be particularly relevant, because the other issue with Duke’s roster is that their top four perimeter players — Jackson, Tatum, Allen and Kennard — are all scorers at heart. They’re at their best with the ball in their hands, making a play for themselves. They’re not known for being the kind of players that make their teammates better. That doesn’t mean they can’t — Allen did, after all, average 3.5 assists — it just means that their best skill is scoring the ball.

East forward Jayson Tatum, from Chaminade in St. Louis dunks against the West team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West won 114-107. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Jayson Tatum (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

The biggest concern here may be with Tatum. He’s got the tools to be a tremendous player — he’s a smooth, 6-foot-8 small forward with an advanced handle, a soft touch and sneaky athleticism — but he’s also a guy whose biggest strength is his mid-range pull-up game. Does he have the strength and explosiveness to get to and finish at the rim? Will he get more comfortable shooting college threes? How will be operate in a system where the number of times that he’ll be allowed to go one-on-one is limited?

Last season, Coach K’s offense was built around putting Allen, Brandon Ingram and Kennard into isolations because no one could stop those guys. Funneling the ball to two or three players worked when the other two spots on the floor were taken Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones. It was like watching the Oklahoma City Thunder play. They don’t need a “pure” point guard when they have two players that are unstoppable.

But this season?

When Duke’s loaded with first round-caliber talent?

It will be interesting to see how Coach K molds all of those pieces together, but fit is not the only concern for this group.

     RELATED: Eight programs on the rise | And seven on the decline

Giles shredded his knee prior to his sophomore year in high school — torn ACL, torn MCL, torn meniscus — and while he was seemingly back to full health by his junior season, he tore the ACL in his other knee at the start of his senior year. He had two surgically repaired knees before he even enrolled in a summer school class at Duke. How healthy will he be, and how long will it take for him to return to the player that was at one point considered the consensus top prospect in the class?

And if Giles isn’t healthy or Duke opts to put a cap on the minutes that he plays, and if they don’t land Bolden, will there be a post presence to take the pressure off of their perimeter attack?

So no, this Duke team isn’t going to be perfect.

But then again, who is?

Every high schooler in the country has to make an adjustment in college, when they’re playing with and against a higher level of competition. And every coach in the country will tell you they’d rather find a way to get talented players to embrace their role than try to coach up kids that aren’t good enough.

Duke is going to be the best team on the floor every time they step on the court this season. They’re not always going to be the favorite — road games in league play can do funky things to betting lines — but they are always going to have the most talent.

Will that lead to an undefeated season?

I seriously doubt it. But hey, if Leicester City can with the Premier League, anything can happen.

Just, please, don’t bet your mortgage on it happening.