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.

Vanderbilt lands five-star forward Simi Shittu

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Vanderbilt continues to build a monster recruiting class under head coach Bryce Drew as five-star 2018 forward Simi Shittu pledged to the Commodores on Wednesday.

The second five-star commitment for Vanderbilt in the Class of 2018, Shittu joins top point guard prospect Darius Garland to form one of the best freshman combinations in the country for next season. The Commodores also have a top-150 forward in Aaron Nesmith.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Shittu is coming off of a monster summer in which he became a major problem and top-ten recruit. The No. 8 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, Shittu is a huge get and an instant starter for Vanderbilt next season.

By landing prospects like Garland and Shittu, Drew is also becoming a major player in a short amount of time as a high-major coach. Always a noted recruiter at the mid-major level at Valparaiso, now Vanderbilt is seeing Drew’s hiring workout as he’s bringing top talent to the program.

If Drew can continue to recruit like this then Vanderbilt could be in position to be in the top half of the SEC as the league has seen some of its rebuilds go poorly over the last few years.

Kansas still without freshman Billy Preston

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Kansas freshman Billy Preston has yet to make his debut for the Jayhawks and it appears he’ll have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

Head coach Bill Self met with media earlier this week to discuss the Preston situation, saying that nothing has changed about his status quite yet. Preston was previously suspended for violating a team rule when he missed the game against Tennessee State. Before Preston was set to debut against Kentucky in the Champions Classic he was also withheld from the contest after the revelation that Preston had been in a single-vehicle accident the previous weekend.

“I have actually been out, until I just pulled back in, so as of this morning, there was no movement. The last time you guys asked me was Friday and so you don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, so there is nothing new on that situation,” Self said.

“Sure, I’m worried,” Self also added. “I’m concerned and I do think that it can work itself, based on what I’ve been told. I also think that it obviously hadn’t happened yet.”

It’s uncertain when the next step in any of this will play out but Self doesn’t appear to be too concerned over it. Kansas has won without Preston so far but they could definitely use his size, scoring punch and overall depth to a team that isn’t very deep right now.

A matchup nightmare, Preston could help the Jayhawk offense while also giving Udoka Azubuike additional help on the glass and protecting the rim.

(H/t: Jesse Newell, Kansas City Star)

Brian Bowen not allowed to play at Louisville

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Louisville announced on Wednesday that freshman wing Brian Bowen will not be allowed to play at the school. The former McDonald’s All-American will be allowed to remain on scholarship but he can’t participate in any team activities.

Bowen was tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball this fall as an adidas company executive is alleged to have been part of a scheme to deliver $100,000 to Bowen’s family, according to court documents.

Bowen hired attorney Jason Setchen to fight the case and seek reinstatement as Setchen had experience dealing with college basketball scandals before. When DeQuan Jones was suspended from Miami after the Nevin Shapiro case in 2011, Setchen helped Jones re-gain his eligibility as Miami.

With this case, Bowen was not allowed back at Louisville as the school has fired head coach Rick Pitino and most of his previous staff. Athletic Director Tom Jurich also lost his job, so the Cardinals are definitely cleaning house and trying to detach themselves from anyone involved.

It will be interesting to see what Bowen opts to do in light of this news. He’s talented enough that other schools could want him, if he’s eligible, but he’s also a former five-star prospect who could have pro aspirations. But since Bowen won’t be playing this season, he also hasn’t had a chance to spotlight his game to potential pro suitors.

 

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

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LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.