Late Night Snacks: Fourteen teams grab automatic bids to NCAA tournament

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Saturday’s Bubble Banter

GAME OF THE DAY: UCLA 75, No. 4 Arizona 71

Las Vegas was home to two of the most exciting games of the day, with the Pac-12 and Mountain West title games being played simultaneously. UCLA won the Pac-12 tournament crown thanks in large part to outstanding performances from guards Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. Anderson, who was named tournament MVP, accounted for 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists against the nation’s best defense with Adams adding 19 points and four rebounds (Norman Powell’s 15 points shouldn’t be ignored either). As for Arizona, Nick Johnson scored 22 points but their minus-15 disadvantage from the foul line (the Wildcats shot 6-for-16) was an issue but they’ll still be a one-seed in the NCAA tournament.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) Providence 65, No. 14 Creighton 58

Providence arrived in New York City squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. They leave as Big East tournament champions for the first time since 1994, with Bryce Cotton scoring 23 points to lead the way. Providence went with a zone defense and it worked, as Creighton shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc.

2) No. 16 Iowa State 74, Baylor 65

Despite trailing by ten points on two separate occasions, Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones fought back to win their first Big 12 tournament title since 2000. DeAndre Kane scored 17 points and Georges Niang added 13 for a team that has the firepower to make a serious run in the NCAA tournament. As for the Bears, while they fell short of the Big 12 crown they’ve won ten of 12 games entering the NCAA tournament.

3) No. 22 Michigan State 83, No. 12 Wisconsin 75

Don’t be fooled by the final margin, as Michigan State led by as much as 21 points in their win over Wisconsin to advance to the Big Ten title game. Adreian Payne led six Spartans in double figures with 18 points, and if Michigan State can continue to work towards being the team many expect them to be at full strength they can at the very least reach the Final Four if not win the national title. Next up for the Spartans is No. 8 Michigan, which held off No. 24 Ohio State in the other semifinal.

STARRED

1) Halil Kanacevic (Saint Joseph’s) 

Tallied 26 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in the Hawks’ 67-48 win over St. Bonaventure in an Atlantic 10 semifinal.

2) Kyle Anderson (UCLA)

21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in the Bruins’ 75-71 win over No. 4 Arizona in the Pac-12 title game.

3) Aaric Murray (Texas Southern) 

27 points, ten rebounds and two assists in the Tigers’ 78-73 win over Prairie View A&M to win the SWAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

STRUGGLED

1) Matthew Wright (St. Bonaventure)

Wright made just one of his nine field goal attempts in the Bonnies’ 67-48 loss to Saint Joseph’s.

2) Ed Townsel (Arkansas State) 

After scoring 32 points in the Red Wolves’ quadruple overtime win the day prior Townsel ran out of gas in a 72-45 loss to Georgia State in the Sun Belt semis, scoring two points on 1-for-10 shooting.

3) Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge (Creighton) 

The duo combined to shoot 2-for-13 from the field in the Bluejays’ 65-58 loss to Providence in the Big East final.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • America East: Albany to make second consecutive NCAA appearance
    For the second year in a row Will Brown’s team played the America East title game on the road, and for the second consecutive season the Great Danes won. Sam Rowley scored 18 points and Peter Hooley made a critical three-pointer in the game’s final minute to seal a 69-60 win over Stony Brook.
  • American: No. 5 Louisville rolls No. 21 UConn for third time
    At this point it’s safe to say that the Cardinals aren’t a good matchup for UConn as they beat the Huskies by double digits for the third time this season, 71-61. Montrezl Harrell scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the way for a team that’s playing very well heading into the NCAA tournament.
  • Atlantic 10: Saint Joseph’s, VCU advance to Sunday’s title game
    Nine-seed St. Bonaventure was a threat to bubble teams across the nation, as their winning the A-10 tournament would essentially take away an at-large bid. Saint Joseph’s took care of that, beating the Bonnies 67-48 behind 26 points and 17 rebounds from Halil Kanacevic. The Hawks’ opponent Sunday will be VCU, which beat George Washington 74-55 but will be without the injured Melvin Johnson.
  • ACC: Virginia, Duke win semifinal match-ups
    No. 6 Virginia and No. 7 Duke met just once during the regular season, with the Blue Devils winning a tight affair in Durham back in January. Sunday afternoon they’ll play for the ACC title, with the Cavaliers holding off Pittsburgh 51-48 and Duke beating N.C. State 75-67 with Jabari Parker scoring 20 points to lead a balanced effort.
  • Big Sky: Tresnak leads Weber State to Big Dance
    Kyle Tresnak scored 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting to lead Weber State to an 88-67 win over North Dakota in the Big Sky title game. The Wildcats, who have been one of the Big Sky’s best programs in recent years, will make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007.
  • Big West: Cal Poly completes improbable run
    After beating the top two seeds in the Big West tournament on consecutive days Joe Callero’s Mustangs completed their run to the title with a 61-59 win over Cal-State Northridge. The likely next stop for Cal Poly, which entered the the week 10-19 overall and will make its first NCAA tournament appearance, is Dayton for the First Four.
  • Conference USA: Tulsa grabs automatic bid
    Danny Manning’s Golden Hurricane may have struggled during non-conference play but they’ll enter the NCAA tournament playing well, winning 17 of their last 20 games. Tulsa beat Louisiana Tech 69-60 to win Conference USA’s automatic bid.
  • Mid-American: Western Michigan wraps up first NCAA appearance since 2004
    The last time a team from the West Division represented the MAC in the NCAA tournament was back in 2004, with Western Michigan doing the honors. The Broncos will do so again by virtue of their 98-77 win over Toledo, as they shot 55.7% from the field. David Brown scored 32 points and Shayne Whittington added 20 to go along with 13 rebounds.
  • MEAC: North Carolina Central caps dominant run
    When the MEAC regular season was complete there were some who thought that North Carolina Central would go down as one of the best teams in the history of the conference. Levelle Moton’s team completed the mission Saturday, beating Morgan State 71-62 to earn the school’s first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament.
  • SEC: Florida/Kentucky Round 3 set for Sunday
    No. 1 Florida and Kentucky are the two most talented teams in the SEC, and they’ll meet for the title Sunday afternoon. Florida held off Tennessee 56-49 in the first semifinal, with Kentucky beating Georgia 70-58 in the second half of the doubleheader in Atlanta. The Wildcats will be underdogs Sunday, but the improved play of their backcourt is an encouraging sign for John Calipari’s team.
  • Southland: Stephen F. Austin wins 28th straight game
    Stephen F. Austin won its 28th consecutive game Saturday, beating Sam Houston State 68-49 to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament. Brad Underwood’s team hasn’t lost since November 23, and with their tough half-court defense the Lumberjacks are a threat to knock someone off next week.
  • SWAC: Mike Davis to take third school to NCAA tournament
    The best team in the SWAC eligible for postseason play (regular season champ Southern isn’t), Texas Southern’s headed to the NCAA tournament after beating Prairie View A&M 78-73. Aaric Murray scored 27 points and grabbed ten rebounds for head coach Mike Davis, who has now led three schools to the NCAA tournament with Indiana and UAB being the others.
  • Sun Belt: Louisiana knocks off two-seed Western Kentucky
    Elfrid Payton was all over the stat sheet, accounting for 23 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and four steals in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 73-72 win over Western Kentucky. Louisiana will take on top-seed Georgia State in Sunday’s final, with the Panthers whipping a tired Arkansas State squad 72-45 in the other semifinal.
  • WAC: New Mexico State earns third straight NCAA bid
    Daniel Mullings led four Aggies in double figures with 18 points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists as New Mexico State beat Idaho 77-55. This is the third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament for New Mexico State.

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Saturday, March 25

6:09 p.m., TBS, San Jose
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Xavier (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

8:49 p.m., TBS, Kansas City
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Oregon (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

Sweet 16 Preview: Friday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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Thursday brought us a thrilling night of college basketball. Oregon won a thriller. Gonzaga did, too. Kansas put on a show, toying with the Big Ten champs. 

And that was just the appetizer for what’s on tap Friday night.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) vs. No. 4 BUTLER, 7:09 p.m. (CBS): As weird as it sounds for a team that finished second in the Big East, that swept Villanova and that has a combined three wins over Arizona and Xavier, Butler is basically back to being a mid-major in the South Region. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a region with three of the biggest brands in the sport.

And don’t think, for a second, that Butler is going to be overmatched here. They’ve proven, time and again this season, that they are good enough to play with the best of the best even if their roster, on paper, doesn’t look that way.

But here’s the thing about North Carolina: If they play their best basketball game, they should be able to run through the Bulldogs. That’s a big ‘if’, however, especially if Joel Berry II plays the way that he has played in the first two games of the tournament. North Carolina goes as Berry goes, and he’s 3-for-21 from the floor in those two games.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7.5)

No. 3 BAYLOR (-3.5) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:29 p.m., (TBS): Baylor’s front line is massive. Johnathan Motley is an all-american in the middle, Jo Lual-Acuil was one of the nation’s most improved players this season there’s an argument to be made that Terry Maston has been the most important player for the Bears in this tournament. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, and they play to it. The Bears want to play slow and they want to pound the ball into the paint.

Where Baylor struggles, however, is with their guard play. Manu Lecomte and Jake Lindsey are not exactly Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and if we’ve learned anything about South Carolina this season, it’s that their defense can be a nightmare for opponents to try and run offense against. They don’t pressure in the full court, but their half court defense is just as tough and as physical and as frustrating as West Virginia’s. I think the first one to 60 wins this game, and I think South Carolina gets it done.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+3.5)

No. 2 KENTUCKY (even) vs. No. 3 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): Does it get any better than this?

Do you really need me to tell you that a matchup between two of the four best teams in college basketball, two teams that can legitimately win a national title, playing in the Sweet 16 is must-see TV?

You shouldn’t.

You probably know all the storylines by now, too, so I’m going to say this: I think this game comes down to how UCLA decides to matchup with Kentucky’s guards. My best guess at what happens is that Aaron Holiday chases Malik Monk around all those screens while Lonzo Ball draws De’Aaron Fox, mostly to save his legs but in part because he has the length to challenge a jump shot while playing far enough off to keep his from getting into the lane.

PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins, but I love the over (165.5)

No. 4 FLORIDA (-1.5) vs. No. 8 WISCONSIN, 9:59 p.m. (TBS): Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They have length and athletes everywhere on the floor, and head coach Mike White knows it. They pressure, they overplay passing lanes and they make life miserable for opposing playmakers. Wisconsin, like Baylor, is a team that plays through their bigs, but unlike Baylor, a post-up for Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ is like their point guard getting an isolation. Both guys are just such great passers out of the post that Greg Gard doesn’t have to worry as much about the lack of playmakers in his back court.

I think that is a huge advantage for Wisconsin in what could otherwise be thought of as a bad matchup.

But more than anything, I trust Wisconsin’s vets more in NCAA tournament games than just about anyone else. This is going to be the 17th NCAA tournament game for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the most of anyone in the tournament. They’ve both played in two Final Fours and two more Sweet 16s. Hayes and Koenig are the two career leaders in NCAA tournament scoring, and Koenig may be the single-most clutch shooter left in the tournament. I’ll bet on that.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin (+1.5)

No. 11 Xavier advances to the Elite 8 with upset win over No. 2 Arizona

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Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Malcolm Bernard scored all 15 of his points in the second half and No. 11 seed Xavier, despite being down eight points with less than four minutes left in the game, rallied to beat No. 2 seed Arizona, 73-71, to advance to the Elite 8.

Arizona is going to regret that loss. As good as Allonzo Trier was in building that eight-point lead — he finished with 19 points, including a run where he scored 15 straight points — he went into full hero-ball mode in the final minutes, a stretch where Arizona’s point guard issues came into plain view. I’m sure that there are going to be Arizona fans that are upset with Sean Miller about the way that the final four minutes played out, but remember: this Arizona team lost Ray Smith, Terrence Ferguson and were without Allonzo Trier for the first 19 games of the season, and Miller still led them to a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and the Pac-12 tournament title.

He’s an incredible coach.

Arizona is lucky to have him.

He’ll breakthrough eventually.

But the story of this game isn’t Arizona or Sean Miller, it’s Chris Mack. It’s Xavier.

The Musketeers have now won three games in the NCAA tournament. As of March 9th, the Musketeers had won three games in the previous five weeks — all three of which came against DePaul — and were heading into a game against Butler in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament with, quite literally, their NCAA tournament bid on the line. They were very much on the bubble, evidence being the No. 11 seed they earned after adding a top 15 win to their résumé.

The Musketeers have been without Edmond Sumner (torn ACL) since the end of January and without Myles Davis (left the team) since the beginning of January. They were two of the three most important players on the Xavier roster heading into the season, and as of today, head coach Chris Mack is fielding a name whose only point guard is a four-star freshman named Quentin Goodin.

They shouldn’t be here.

They shouldn’t be one game away from the Final Four, but this is what Mack does. He’s been a head coach for eight seasons, all of which have come at Baylor. This was his fourth Sweet 16, and the only time he actually entered the tournameht seeded higher than a No. 6 was last year, when the Musketeers were beaten in the second round by a Bronson Koenig buzzer-beater.

One thing that I’ve never really understood about coaching searches is why Mack’s name never gets mentioned with the likes of Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. Those are the two coaches outside the Power 5 leagues that get mentioned with every single quality opening. “Take a shot at Marshall and Miller, see if they’ll say yes, then move on.” Mack always ends up next on those lists, and I’ve never really understood why.

Part of it is probably because he’s already at a program that is in a high-major league. Part of it is because he’s a Xavier guy — he played there, spent eight seasons there during two stints as an assistant and is an Ohio native. Part of it is because Xavier is already a really good job.

But it does seem like Mack gets overlooked in all of these searches.

Take Indiana, for example.

Steve Alford is the first name everyone mentions with that job. Then it’s Miller and Marshall. If I’m Indiana’s AD, however, Mack is the guy that I go after, and not just because he’s proven that he can go into Indiana and recruit.

He’s just a flat-out terrific coach.

And if this run on top of his other three runs to the second weekend didn’t prove it to you, then the play that resulted in the eventual game-winning points should. It was simple, really, but it certainly was not something you see done in the college ranks all that often. With 50 seconds left and the game tied, Mack had his guys roll the ball up the floor and then used Bluiett, who is scorching the nets in this tournament, as a decoy, running him off of a screen to set up a duck-in for Sean O’Mara:

Not only was the play that Mack drew up beautiful, it took all of six seconds, which meant that Xavier had the lead and was guaranteed to have a shot to get the ball back to win the game regardless of what Arizona did at the other end of the floor.

That is great coaching.

And it’s past time for us to recognize that Mack belongs in the conversation among the best in the business.

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, 3-pointer after 3-pointer, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

It followed a familiar script as KU’s 90-70 win over No. 9 seed Michigan State in the second round. Only this time, the climax occurred sooner. Kansas was up 61-54 when Caleb Swaingan checked back into the game, playing alongside fellow Monstar Isaac Haas. Instead of Purdue’s size — the big advantage it had over Kansas — taking control, the only thing that grew was the deficit for the Boilermakers. Kansas went on an 11-0 run beginning at the 14:30 mark. By the time Haas was subbed out, the Jayhawks led 69-56. It never got closer.

Lagerald Vick threw down a 360 dunk … and the Jayhawks hadn’t even begun to pour it on yet. Now, that’s a team that’s playing with confidence.

Kansas shot 66 percent from the field in the second half and connected on 7-of-15 made 3-pointers on the evening. Purdue’s last lead was 35-33 with 4:54 remaining in the second half. That means the Jayhawks outscored the Boilermakers 65-31 for the remainder of the game.

For all that was made of Kansas matchup issues with Purdue, the Boilermakers never solved the matchup problems the Jayhawks presented. While Laden Lucas and the rest of the defense found ways to frustrate Caleb Swanigan (18 points, seven rebounds and five turnovers) and somehow, outrebounded the Boilermakers, Purdue never found a solution for penetration or 3-point shooting from KU’s stable of guards.

“Those guys, especially Caleb on the glass it’s hard to keep ’em off,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “If you look at Landen’s stats he only got four rebounds, but the story is Caleb only got seven. And if you had told this before the game that would be the give and take I would have sold out for that because he does a really good job of making sure neither one of them got it for the most part.”

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Josh Jackson had a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk each recorded double figures too. Lucas’ play has improved as the season’s progressed. They aren’t just putting teams away in this tournament, they’re doing it in style. And it couldn’t be happening at the right time.

They know how win close games, but through three NCAA Tournament games so far, the Jayhawks aren’t willing to take any chances. They’ve elected to not just put teams away, they’ve decided to do so in style.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.