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NCAA Tournament Primer: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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

Conference: Conference USA

Coach: Danny Manning

Record: 21-12 (13-3 Conference USA)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 76
– RPI: 81
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: Louisiana Tech was a No. 12 seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket projection, and Tulsa should end up being somewhere in that No. 12-13 seed range as well.

Names you need to know: James Woodard (15.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Rashad Smith (12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Shaquille Harrison (9.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg)

Stats you need to know: Conference USA isn’t a great league this season, but they do have a couple of really good defensive teams, and the Golden Hurricane are as good as anyone in the conference. In fact, they rank 36th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, which slots them in front of Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin and Iowa State. The concern, however, is that Tulsa can’t shoot. They shot 30.0% from three in CUSA play and were 270th nationally from beyond the arc this season.

Tendencies: Tulsa doesn’t force a lot of turnovers and they’re not going to block a lot of shots, it’s just a fundamental, positional defense that forces tough shots and cleans the defensive glass. That’s promising, because smaller conference teams that rely on size and/or athleticism defensively are usually in for a rude awakening when they run into high-major athletes.

Offensively, Tulsa relies on their talented perimeter players to get to the rim and draw fouls. They have a high free throws rate and get a lot of clean looks around the rim despite not having great low-post scoring options. James Woodard, the older brother of Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard, is the best of the bunch, a 6-foot-3 lefty that as a knack for sliding through defenses.

Big wins, bad losses: The Golden Hurricane have five top 100 wins, including a top 50 win over Southern Miss, but they also have lost five games to teams with RPIs below 147, including a sweep at the hands of TCU.

How’d they get here?: Tulsa lost their first four games of the season, six of their first seven and entered the 2014 calendar year with a 4-9 record. But they ended the season winning their last 11 games.

Outlook: The Golden Hurricane are good enough defensively that they should be able to compete with any team on the No. 4 or No. 5 seed line. The issue will be whether or not they are able to score enough. If they can luck into a draw where they square off with someone like Duke or Creighton, a team not known for their defense, Tulsa might have a shot at pulling an upset.

The outlook for the program is terrific, however. Tulsa’s top six players right now are all sophomores.

How do I know you?: Tulsa was one of the best mid-major programs in the country a decade ago, making eight tournaments between 1994 and 2003, making it out of the first round seven times, three Sweet 16s and one Elite 8. But this will be their first trip to the Big Dance in 11 years.

Oh, and should I mention that their head coach just so happens to be Danny Manning? He may the next in a long line of coaches that springboarded their career with the program.

Williams helps No. 3 North Carolina beats Radford 95-50

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 21: Kenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels pushed the ball up court during the second half of the Maui Invitational NCAA college basketball game against the Chaminade Silverswords at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 21, 2016 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Kenny Williams III finally had the shooting flurry that third-ranked North Carolina has been waiting to see.

The sophomore had 14 of his career-high 19 points in the opening five minutes, helping the Tar Heels build a huge early lead and beat Radford 95-50 on Sunday.

Williams made his first five shots, including all four 3-point tries, during that opening flurry. Quite a change for a player who was buried on the bench for a veteran team last year, making just 1 of 13 3-pointers and seeing his confidence suffer as a result.

“I’ve been waiting a year-and-a-half for a game like that,” Williams said. “I don’t want to say I knew it was coming, but with the confidence I have right now, I kind of expected it.”

While Williams’ play stood out, the Tar Heels (8-1) got a scare when they lost point guard Joel Berry II to a sprained left ankle early in the second half. The junior, averaging 16 points, came up hobbled as he drove into the paint and fell to the floor. He got up and walked slowly to the locker room for evaluation with 17:36 left, but didn’t return to the UNC bench with the Tar Heels up big.

Coach Roy Williams said Berry would have X-rays to confirm the sprain diagnosis and he was hopeful that Berry would be able to practice before Wednesday’s game against Davidson.

“We’ll have to wait and see what they say (Monday),” Williams said, “but I’m encouraged about it right now.”

The Tar Heels (8-1) were coming off a loss at No. 13 Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. They had no trouble in this one, running out to an 18-4 lead behind Kenny Williams’ opening burst and shooting 57 percent in the first half to build a 51-27 lead by the break.

Justin Cousin scored 14 points to lead the Highlanders (3-5), who shot 31 percent.

“Tough team, man,” Radford coach Mike Jones said. “They’re so big and physical. We played some good defense inside and they made the shot over us and that’s going to happen.”

BIG PICTURE

Radford: The Highlanders, picked sixth in the Big South Conference, had no way to slow the Tar Heels’ early tear. And that led to a fourth loss by double-digit margins, three coming by at least 21 points. Still, Radford isn’t likely to run up against a team such as UNC in the Big South, either.

UNC: The big shooting performance from Williams and Berry’s injury stood out here, with the Tar Heels potentially bolstering their perimeter scoring punch while seeing their floor leader go down to an injury.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Tar Heels will slide a bit in the AP Top 25 when the new poll comes out Monday, though losing on the road to a team ranked No. 13 nationally likely won’t cause a big drop.

POINT GUARDS

If Berry sits out, senior Nate Britt – who has played both guard positions in his career – would appear to be the next man up at the point. Freshman Seventh Woods also will figure into the mix; he had nine points in 22 minutes – both season highs – while getting plenty of work after Berry’s exit.

WILLIAMS’ SHOT

Williams, a 6-foot-4 wing from Midlothian, Virginia, made 5 of 6 3-pointers with a good-looking and confident stroke. Four of those came in the opening minutes, the last one a wide-open look from the left wing that brought Smith Center fans to a roar.

Williams said he worked in the offseason to minimize how much his guide hand pushes on the ball to affect his release.

“He’s put in a lot of time,” Roy Williams said. “I said even last year when he wasn’t putting the ball in the basket that he was going to be a good defensive player and I’m not sure he’s not our best perimeter defender right now.”

UP NEXT

Radford: The Highlanders host Elon on Saturday.

UNC: The Tar Heels play at home against Davidson on Wednesday night.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell suspended

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina senior guard Sindarius Thornwell has been suspended indefinitely due to a violation of athletic department policy, the school announced on Sunday.

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 boards and 4.1 assists for the Gamecocks, who are undefeated and sitting at No. 20 nationally. Thornwell is the reigning SEC Player of the Week.

South Carolina plays FIU in Columbia at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Melo Trimble’s heroics get him a shout-out from Wale in a song

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Melo Trimble #2 of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after hitting the game winning shot as they defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 69-68 during the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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For the fourth time in the first three weeks of the college basketball season, Melo Trimble won a game for Maryland.

His two free throws in the final ten seconds gave the Terps a come-from-behind, 71-70 win over Oklahoma State in College Park, and the win not only was the sixth time this season that the Terps have won a game decided by six points or less, it improved Trimble’s record in those games to 26-5.

26-5!

That’s an insane statistic, one that should allow Maryland fans to truly appreciate just how valuable their junior point guard is.

At least one Maryland fan does. Rapper Wale, who hails from Maryland, just outside DC, made sure to name-drop his favorite Terp in a verse in a song he released on Saturday night:

And you better believe that Trimble is aware of it:

"My therapist terrible , I'm uh Terp Melo Trimbling" @wale

A photo posted by Melo Trimble (@olem__) on

Rick Pitino on Grand Canyon: ‘The toughest crowd I’ve ever faced’

Rick Pitino
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Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after his No. 14 Cardinals struggled to put away a tough Grand Canyon team on the road had some kind – and hyperbolic – words to say about the atmosphere.

“This, in college basketball in my 40 plus year, was the toughest crowd I’ve ever faced,” he said.

Umm, but Rick, you’ve coached in the Big East and the ACC! This was tougher than any of those crowds?

“Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that crowd tonight,” he said.

Well, now.

That seems like a bit much, but to be fair, the atmosphere there was, shall we say, lit:

POSTERIZED: Charlotte’s Najee Garvin nearly jumps over defender

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This is what you don’t try to take charges.