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2014 Pac-12 Tournament Preview: No. 4 Arizona looks to cap dominant campaign

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After three incredibly lean seasons, the Pac-12 has looked more formidable for much of the 2013-14 season. For some that may not be easy to see, as there’s just one conference team (No. 4 Arizona) ranked in the national polls. But the conference has improved, as evidenced by just how much is on the line in Las Vegas. The top three seeds, Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State, will certainly hear their names called on Selection Sunday and Oregon’s well on its way after knocking off the Wildcats last Saturday.

The question that will be asked quite often at the MGM Grand Garden Arena: how much work do the Pac-12 bubble teams have to do in order to ensure themselves of a spot in the NCAA tournament? Fans of California, Colorado and Stanford will ask this question, and it’s anyone guess what the right answer is. And they won’t be alone in this mission, as Utah can earn another shot at Arizona with a win over Washington in the first round. Larry Krystkowiak’s team reached the semifinals of last year’s event and played the Wildcats tough in both meetings, but thanks to their non-conference strength of schedule the Utes have the steepest climb of the Pac-12’s bubble teams.

Outside of Arizona, which will be a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, there’s a lot to be decided in Las Vegas. And even though these teams aren’t in the at-large discussion, both Washington (C.J. Wilcox) and Oregon State (Roberto Nelson) have guards capable of getting scalding hot from the field. Instead of hoping to get two or three teams into the NCAA tournament field as they have in recent years, the Pac-12 finds itself working to get (at least) half of its teams into the Big Dance. And that will make for an incredible four days at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

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

The Bracket

When: March 12 – 15

Where: Las Vegas, Nev. (MGM Grand Garden Arena)

Final: March 15, 6:00 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)

Favorite: No. 4 Arizona

Sean Miller’s team finished three games ahead of the pack, and their defense was a big reason why. The nation’s best defense from an efficiency standpoint, Arizona limited conference foes to 39.5% shooting from the field and 33.0% shooting from beyond the arc. Simply put there are times when the Wildcats simply decide that the opponent isn’t scoring, no matter how hard they try. With their length, athleticism and effort, Arizona’s controlled multiple games in which they haven’t put up eye-popping offensive numbers.

As for that offense, this was the area in which Arizona had the biggest adjustment to make in the aftermath of Brandon Ashley’s season-ending injury but they were still third in the conference in offensive efficiency. T.J. McConnell has been a great fit at the point, combining with Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson to form one of the nation’s best perimeter tandems. Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski lead the way in the front court, and Arizona’s ability to hit the offensive glass (35.1% offensive rebounding percentage) factored into their efficiency rating. If Johnson and Gabe York can hit perimeter shots at a decent clip, look out.

And if they lose?: Oregon

Shocked to see the 7-seed in this spot, huh? Well, that position on the bracket says more about Oregon’s 3-8 start to conference play than their current seven-game win streak. Dana Altman seems to have a perimeter rotation he’s comfortable with, as Johnathan Loyd, Joseph Young and Jason Calliste have emerged as the primary options. In the front court Elgin Cook’s earned more playing time and Mike Moser’s playing his best basketball of the season. They’ll have to win four games in as many days to repeat as tournament champions, but given the way Oregon’s playing right now it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Ducks pulled it off.

Other Contenders:

  • UCLA: With first team All-Pac-12 selections Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson being the headlines, Steve Alford has more than enough perimeter talent to win this event. The question is the front court, with the Wear twins (David and Travis) and Tony Parker needing to be consistent on both ends. This trio doesn’t have to be world-beaters, but UCLA can’t afford to have all three struggling if they’re to win the title.
  • Arizona State: Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Bachynski and first team All-Pac-12 guard Jahii Carson have led the way all season long for the Sun Devils, who are the three-seed in the tournament. And if Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic can continue to give Herb Sendek quality minutes, Arizona State can win three straight games.

Sleeper: California

The Golden Bears lost three straight before beating Colorado in overtime on Saturday, providing Mike Montgomery’s team with a much-needed confidence boost before the conference tournament. Justin Cobbs will lead the way, and if their young guards (Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews) can be productive in supplementary roles, Cal will be a team to keep an eye on.

Deeper Sleeper: Colorado

Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes had some major adjustments to make when Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the season with a torn ACL in January. The two players who have stepped up the most in his absence are guard Askia Booker and forward Josh Scott, with the latter earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors. If Xavier Johnson can consistently produce on the offensive end, Colorado can make some noise in Vegas.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Josh Huestis, Stanford: Dwight Powell was the first team All-Pac-12 selection but it’s the versatile Huestis who is one of the league’s best defenders.
  • Delon Wright, Utah: Wright is one of the most versatile players around, as he led the Utes in points and assists and is second on the team in rebounds.
  • DaVonte’ Lacy, Washington State: The Cougars’ lack of team success is one reason why Lacy doesn’t receive more attention. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
  • Roberto Nelson, Oregon State: A first team All-Pac-12 performer, Nelson’s scoring a conference-best 20.6 points per game along with 3.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game.

CBT Prediction: No. 4 Arizona wins its first conference tournament title since 2002.

Best Pac-10/12 Tournament Memory: Isaiah Thomas + Gus Johnson = Magic (2011)

No. 15 Cincinnati extends home streak, beats Memphis 87-74

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 04:  Troy Caupain #10 of the Cincinnati Bearcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Fifth Third Arena on February 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) After a dominant first half, No. 15 Cincinnati relaxed and wound up sweating one out.

Jacob Evans III scored 12 of his 15 points during the Bearcats’ lopsided first half on Thursday night, and they let most of a big lead slip away before holding on for their 25th straight home victory, 87-74 over Memphis.

Cincinnati (25-3, 14-1 American Athletic) led by as many as 24 points during its highest-scoring opening half in conference play this season, pulling ahead 51-32 at the break. The Tigers cut the lead to six points before fading.

“We got off to a big lead, and in the second half I feel we started to coast a little bit,” Evans said. “We can’t do that. If we want to make a deep run in March, we can’t take a half off against any team. Our energy on defense went down.”

The Bearcats’ front line dominated on offense. Gary Clark had 13 points and nine rebounds while Kyle Washington had 16 points and six rebounds. The problem was the sluggish defense in the second half, which left shooters open.

“For about 30 minutes, I thought we played about as well as we can play,” coach Mick Cronin said. “My halftime speech gets an F. I talked to our guys about defense. Our defense was nonexistent for most of the second half. We learned our lessons.”

Memphis (18-10, 8-7 ) has dropped a season-high three straight. Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 23 points and 11 assists. Dedric Lawson had 21 points with 10 rebounds.

“They were a little bit intimidated to start the first half because (Cincinnati) was making shots,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “And when you get in a hole like that, it’s tough.”

The Tigers cut the lead to 75-69 on Martin’s three-point play with 5:18 left. Evans’ 3-pointer – his only basket of the second half – ended the comeback. It was his only 3-pointer of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: Lawson got his 35th double-double, the sixth-most by an active player. His 18 double-doubles this season are a career high for the sophomore. He has 282 rebounds this season. The AAC record is 321 by UConn’s Daniel Hamilton.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ 25 straight home wins match the second-longest streak at Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989. The arena record is 41 straight wins from 1997-2000.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bearcats have won four straight since a 60-51 loss at SMU on Feb. 12, minimizing the damage of their only conference loss.

BAD START

The Tigers were playing from behind the entire time because of their horrible start. They missed 10 of their first 15 shots – Lawson was 0 for 3 – while the Bearcats rolled out to a 26-11 lead.

LOOKING UP

Lawson got a loose ball while sitting under the basket in the second half and took a shot that bounced off the rim. After the slow start, he ended up 9 of 16 from the field.

CUMBERLAND BACK

Freshman Jarron Cumberland sat out Cincinnati’s last game because of a curfew violation. He was back on Thursday and had nine points in 22 minutes.

UP NEXT

Memphis: The Tigers host Houston on Saturday. They won at Houston 79-67 in overtime on Jan. 19.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats play at Central Florida on Saturday. They beat Central Florida 60-50 on Feb. 8.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Five Maine players suspended following a fight over locker room music

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Bob Walsh of the Maine Black Bears prepares for their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much love being spread in the Maine basketball locker room on Valentine’s Day.

A locker room fight led to the suspensions of five players, including the team’s leading scorer. According to Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News, who obtained the police report, the incident was the result of teammates Wes Myers and Marko Pirovic arguing over locker room music on Feb. 14.

Myers wanted the music off, Pirovic, who stands five inches taller and outweighs Myers by 25 pounds, refused. This led to both throwing punches, one of which connected on Pirovic’s face, breaking his jaw.

Jaquan McKennon, Ilija Stojiljkovic and Dusan Majstorovic were all suspended, but reinstated on Wednesday, for telling head trainer Ryan Taylor that Pirovic’s injuries resulted from him falling in the shower.

Myers, a junior guard averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, remains suspended indefinitely.

Pirovic declined to press charges. All involved could still face punishment from the university, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It’s been a long season for the Black Bears. Maine owns the America East’s worst record at 6-24 (3-12). Outside of a modest three-game winning streak in late January, the Black Bears have not won a game in 2017. They close out the regular season on Saturday at home against Binghamton.

How did Gary Clark catch that alley-oop?

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 15 Cincinnati pounced on Memphis from the start, taking a 51-32 lead into halftime.

Then, Gary Clark decided to add insult to injury to start the second half. Seriously, how did he catch that?

Mick Cronin’s team is much better offensively than in previous seasons. I’m sure fans in the Fifth Third Arena can get used to seeing more plays like this.

Cassius Winston ends half with half-court 3-pointer

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks with Cassius Winston #5 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michigan State freshman guard Cassius Winston had just one field goal in the first half. And it was a half-court buzzer-beater as the Spartans capped a sizable run to take a 49-31 lead over Nebraska going into the break.

The Spartans ended the half on a 21-5 run.

Winston provided a serious boost off the bench during that stanza. Moments earlier, he helped the Breslin Center erupt when he lobbed a pass off the backboard to teammate Miles Bridges.

Michigan State opened the day projected as one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The margin for error is thing and it appears the Spartans are playing with a sense of urgency.

 

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus recaps Wednesday’s games

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s slate of games had several wild results.

Former Ohio State walk-on turned blogger turned author Mark Titus, who is currently writing for The Ringer, joined Rob Dauster on the latest episode of the CBT Podcast to go over last night’s games. The two also discussed who is the best team in the nation at the moment, as well Frank Mason III’s rap single from several years ago #BIFM

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom