Late Night Snacks: Four autobids decided; should BYU be concerned?

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GAME OF THE DAY: North Dakota State 60, IPFW 57

In a tremendous back-and-forth contest for the Summit League Conference Tournament title, Taylor Braun and the Bison pulled off a win in the final minutes after falling in the Summit League title game to South Dakota State last season. The Bison will be a trendy upset pick in the NCAA Tournament because they are a senior-laden team that shoots a nation-leading 51 percent from the field.

Check out the NCAA Tournament Primer for North Dakota State here.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) Gonzaga 75, BYU 64

The Zags are heading to the Big Dance for the 16th consecutive time after knocking off the Cougars in Las Vegas for the WCC Conference Tournament title. Gonzaga is dancing, again, but the bigger question is how this will affect BYU’s NCAA Tournament at-large hopes? The Cougars now sit at 23-11 (13-5 WCC) with an RPI of 30 and a strength of schedule that was at 39 entering the Gonzaga game. With a couple of sub-150 RPI losses, BYU shouldn’t feel too safe, but the Cougars did make it to the championship game in the WCC. It’s worth noting that BYU beat Mount St. Mary’s — the NEC conference champs — earlier in the season and their RPI should improve just a tiny bit with that win. BYU will take any help it can get right now as they sit right on the bubble.

Check out the NCAA Tournament Primer for Gonzaga here.

2) Milwaukee 69, Wright State 63

Picked to finish dead-last in the Horizon League in the preseason, the Panthers pulled off another road win on Tuesday after winning at Green Bay in the semifinals. Since senior guard Jordan Aaron returned from suspension, the Panthers haven’t lost and with two consecutive road wins against solid opponents, this team will be a scary 15 or 16 seed in the field of 68.

Check out the NCAA Tournament Primer for Milwaukee here.

3) Mount St. Mary’s 88, Robert Morris 71

At 16-16, Mount St. Mary’s was an unlikely NCAA Tournament team, but after winning the NEC Conference title game over Robert Morris, they’re going dancing. Robert Morris never led and Mount St. Mary’s led by double-digits the entire second half as five players finished in double-figures for the Mountaineers.

Check out the NCAA Tournament Primer for Mount St. Mary’s here.

STARRED

1) North Texas junior guard Chris Jones made two free throws to push the game into overtime and won it with two more as No. 10 seed Mean Green beat No. 15 seed Rice in the first round of the Conference-USA tournament. Marshall was also a winner over Florida Atlantic in day-one action at the C-USA tournament.

2) Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun struggled to find his offense in the first half, but had a key three-point play on a driving layup with 12 seconds left to give North Dakota State a four-point lead it would never relinquish. Braun finished with 15 for the Bison.

3) Sam Dower paced Gonzaga with 20 points and 13 rebounds on 10-of-16 shooting in the Bulldogs’ win over BYU. Dower was the only member of Gonzaga’s team to have more than seven field goal attempts in the win.

STRUGGLED

1) Matt Carlino struggled to only 8 points — way below his season-average of 13.9 points — on 3-for-12 shooting as the BYU junior guard fouled out in the loss to Gonzaga.

2) IPFW struggled to only 22 points in the second half and blew a five-point halftime lead in the Summit League title game loss to North Dakota State. The Mastodons just couldn’t find a go-to player down the stretch as three players tied for the team lead with nine points.

3) The Robert Morris defense picked a bad night to play poorly. Mount St. Mary’s shot 60 percent from the field — 44 percent from three-point range — as Robert Morris never recovered from a 20-point, first-half deficit.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.