NCAA Tournament Primer: Delaware Blue Hens

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association

Coach: Monté Ross

Record: 25-9 (14-2 CAA)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 105
– RPI: 78
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: In Dave Ommen’s most recent bracket, Delaware was projected as the CAA’s lone representative, potentially earning a strong 13 seed but beginning their tournament ride more than 2,500 miles from Newark, Delaware (in Spokane).

Names you need to know: Devon Saddler (19.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Davon Usher (19.7 ppg, 6.0); Jarvis Threatt (18.1 ppg, 5.6 apg, 2.6 spg)

Stats you need to know: The backcourt trio of Saddler-Usher-Threatt rarely turns the ball over — just 13.6 percent of the Blue Hens’ possessions result in a giveaway, fifth best in Division I. The squad isn’t completely dependent on their guards for point production: as evidenced in the CAA title game, senior big Carl Baptiste is the conference’s most improved player. The 6-foot-9 Baptiste scored 24 points against William & Mary, and he is making roughly 57 percent of his twos. Bonus: per @JV_Looper, the Blue Hens are the first top seed to so far win their conference tournament.

Tendencies: The Blue Hens are the epitome of a non-power six team that the high majors would like to avoid in late March. They are capable of scoring in bunches — their overall offensive efficiency rate is just outside DI’s top fifty — and they love to push the pace, letting their backcourt trio, along with long-range sharpshooter Kyle Anderson (39 percent from three), quickly pick apart an opposing transition defense. One caveat is a suspect defense: while UDee forces a fair amount of turnovers, they don’t particularly attack the defensive glass and are susceptible to teams finishing strongly on the interior.

Big wins, bad losses: Delaware’s biggest win came during CAA play, a January 20th victory at home against Towson. The Blue Hens played a difficult non-conference schedule, but weren’t able to capitalize on their OOC strength of schedule (which ranked among the nation’s top 75; single-digit losses to Villanova, Richmond, and a closer than expected loss to Ohio State). Ross’ club did drop games to Charleston Southern and St. Bonaventure.

How’d they get here?: Hofstra threw a scare into Delaware in the conference quarterfinals before the Blue Hens stretched the margin of victory to double digits. A blowout of Northeastern in the conference semifinals led to Monday night’s cuticle shortening win against the Tribe. Despite Tony Shaver’s squad making 38 percent of their threes and scoring 1.12 points per possession, Delaware was able to exploit their frontcourt advantage and dance for the first time since 1999.

Outlook: Ross has been entrenched in Newark since the 2006-07 season, and while progress has been slow — the 2014 season is the first 20-plus win season for UDee — the team possesses the experience (all juniors and seniors) and offensive makeup to pose an opening round threat.

How do I know you?: During the 2013 CAA tournament, Delaware was the second-ranked seed which lost to the eventual CAA tourney winner, James Madison. And for the second straight season, another former Phil Martelli assistant will lead his CAA squad into the NCAAs — both Ross and Matt Brady were longtime assistants at St. Joseph’s and were on the bench during the Hawks’ 2003-04 season.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.