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.

With hoops under federal probe, fans say business as usual

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Arenas were packed, fans were cheering and schools were competing.

In most places, it was a typical Saturday of college basketball. There was little visible hangover from the latest developments in the federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.

Coaches were taking the same tact they have been, some saying they’ve found no evidence of wrongdoing and appear to be waiting for the next shoe to drop. Several players still played despite being named in a Yahoo Sports report saying documents showed they had taken impermissible benefits.

Fans, for the most part, were not surprised — with some saying the circumstances have been reality in college hoops for a long time.

Others had fun with it.

At SMU, where the Mustangs were taking on No. 13 Wichita State, some students chanted “FBI! FBI!” and held balloons spelling out the name of the federal agency leading a corruption investigation that has led to 10 arrests of coaches and others alleged to have worked in the seamy underbelly of the sport. One of more than two dozen names mentioned as receiving impermissible benefits in documents in a Yahoo Sports report Friday was former Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet, now with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.

In sentiments echoed by many coaches, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said he didn’t know about the alleged payments but that his program overall has “nothing to hide.”

Utah’s student section mocked Southern California forward Chimezie Metu, who was mentioned in Yahoo’s report but played and scored 14 points to lead the Trojans in a win. The Utah fans displayed signs like “Need Money? Metu! (Me too)” and chanted, “Payroll! Payroll!” whenever he had the ball or returned to the bench.

“When I’m on the court, nothing else matters. I was just out there playing. I wasn’t paying attention to anything anybody else was saying,” Metu said. “I’m not going to lose any focus at all. I didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody in my family did anything wrong. … For me, there was never a doubt I’d play.”

One school where officials were not enjoying themselves Saturday was Arizona.

Wildcats recruit Shareef O’Neal, son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, withdrew his commitment after ESPN reported coach Sean Miller was heard on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to freshman Deandre Ayton to get him to sign with the school.

Arizona announced that Miller would not coach Saturday night in the 14th-ranked Wildcats’ game at Oregon. Associate head coach Lorenzo Romar stood in for Miller, and the Wildcats lost 98-93 in overtime to the Ducks.

It was unclear what the coaching situation at Arizona would be going forward.

“As basketball players, we have a job. And we’re not going to let outsiders, outside noise, let it mistreat us, in a way. We’re just going to keep pushing, keep grinding,” senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “We have games to play. We have practices to practice. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

While Miller was absent, Ayton played and finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Oregon fans taunted him with a sign in the image of a check for $100,000.

In Omaha, where Creighton played No. 3 Villanova, the Bluejays were also linked to possible violations.

The Yahoo report said Christian Dawkins, who worked for former agent Andy Miller, may have bought dinner for former Creighton center Justin Patton or his family. Patton signed with Miller’s agency but fired him once Miller was implicated in the probe in September. Creighton coach Greg McDermott has said he didn’t know if Dawkins had a meal with Patton, but knew Dawkins met with Patton because McDermott also attended the meeting.

“So they took him to dinner. Big deal,” said 54-year-old Creighton fan Jim Belgrade, who has been attending games since he was 6. Belgrade said there needs to be a crackdown if money is exchanging hands and that some fans are more concerned than others.

“They will be if it’s a big-time school involved,” Belgrade said. “And there are people who say it’s the rules, and the rules are the rules, so we have to cap it some way. But will fans at Missouri Valley schools be worried about it? Probably not.”

Several players singled out in the report played on Saturday.

Kentucky fans cheered Kevin Knox as usual before he started against Missouri, and the freshman forward did his best to keep things normal. An internal review found no issues and he said afterward, “I was sure I would be able to play all week. I let Kentucky and compliance handle all that.”

Texas held out Eric Davis against Oklahoma while the Longhorns conduct their own investigation, while Alabama’s Collin Sexton started against Arkansas.

At Duke, Wendell Carter Jr. was in the starting lineup after the school said there were no issues with his eligibility. Afterward, Carter said he refused to let it become a distraction “because I know I didn’t do anything. I know my family didn’t do anything.”

The only obvious indication that anything was different was found on the dry-erase board near the Cameron Crazies’ entrance: A Twitter hashtag , #FreeWendell.

“Obviously I was disappointed that a former player was acknowledged in this report,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the Terrapins were beaten 85-61 by No. 17 Michigan . Former Maryland player Diamond Stone, who played one season for the Terrapins, was also mentioned as receiving an improper loan from an agent.

“I have absolutely zero relationship with that agent or that agency. Wouldn’t know him if he walked into the room today,” Turgeon said.

Michigan guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman said he is aware of the scandal, but that’s about as far as it goes.

“We still have to go out there and play the game. People didn’t pay us. I mean, there’s here and there,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “I don’t really think about it. I can’t speak for anyone else.”

Ken Tighe, a Terrapins season-ticket holder since 2002, said college basketball has an issue that needs to be addressed.

“I think the problem is widespread,” Tighe said. “Diamond Stone is part of an attempt by agents to influence the game.”

Michigan coach John Beilein offered a simple solution.

“Educate your players, educate the parents the best that you can,” Beilein said. “When somebody’s offering them something, they’ve got to say no to a Coca-Cola if an agent is talking to them, and they’ve also obviously got to say no to money.”

In Dallas, Jim Randolph — who attended SMU in the late 1960s and was a fan during the 1980s when the football program received the so-called death penalty from the NCAA — said fans expect their teams to do whatever they can to win.

“The entire infrastructure of amateur athletics, especially basketball, is just as dirty as can be,” Randolph said. “So many people have looked the other way for so long. It’s about time it surfaced.”

Dustan Foster of San Angelo, Texas, grew up in Missouri and is a lifelong Kansas fan. The 36-year-old oil field worker attended the eighth-ranked Jayhawks’ game at Texas Tech on Saturday and said he doesn’t know what is going to happen next.

“I don’t even think (NCAA President) Mark Emmert knows at this point,” Foster said. “I don’t think anybody knows. Flip a coin.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said the scandal has cast a cloud over basketball that everyone in the sport has to work together to remove.

“It’s certainly not a good day for us,” Wright said. “But I do think we have a lot of good people in college basketball, a lot of good things in college basketball that we’re all going to try to work together to get it right again.”

When asked about a line item on an expense report by Dawkins cited by Yahoo that said Dawkins had a meal with “Villanova coaches,” Wright said: “My athletic director has advised me not to respond to it. He will. The athletic department is on top of it and will respond to it.”

AP Sports Writers Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska; Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina; Schuyler Dixon in Lubbock, Texas; Anne M. Peterson in Oregon and Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky; and Associated Press writers Jeff Miller in Dallas and Matthew Coles in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

No. 2 Michigan State beats Wisconsin, wraps up Big Ten

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Cassius Winston scored 20 points and went 6 for 6 from the 3-point line, and No. 2 Michigan State held off Wisconsin 68-63 on Sunday to earn the outright regular-season Big Ten title.

Winston hit two 3s during an 11-2 run in the second half — the second with a defender in his face from well beyond the arc — to lead the Spartans (28-3, 16-2).

Brad Davison finished with 30 points for Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), including a 3 with 4.7 seconds left that had hometown fans holding out hope for an upset.

Miles Bridges wrapped up the Spartans’ 12th straight win with two foul shots.

It was a milestone victory in what has been a challenging season off the court for Michigan State basketball.

One issue involved Bridges. The star forward had 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting in his first game since getting cleared by the NCAA following a Yahoo! Sports article on Friday that identified him as one of many players who may have received improper benefits.

Winston and Nick Ward, who had 14 points, picked up the scoring slack. Winston’s 3 with 4:45 left gave the Spartans a 58-51 lead, a huge cushion in what had been a tight game.

Davison nearly single-handedly brought Wisconsin back, giving the Badgers a huge boost even after aggravating a left shoulder injury. The freshman sprinted to the locker room with a trainer with about 14 minutes left before returning a couple minutes later and checking right back into the game to rousing applause.

He scored Wisconsin’s next six points, popping perimeter jumpers to electrify an already vocal home crowd in the regular season finale.

The teams dueled the rest of the way until Bridges’ late foul shots.

Michigan State muscled its way to a 34-27 halftime lead by taking control of the paint early before softening up the perimeter for Winston. The sophomore sharpshooter made 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the first half, with a couple buckets coming quickly in transition.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Documents in the Yahoo! story showed that the star forward may have improperly accepted benefits from an agency implicated in a federal investigation into bribery and other misdeeds in college basketball. The team said Saturday that the school’s compliance office conducted a “thorough internal review” and presented findings to the NCAA, which then cleared Bridges. … The Spartans had too much bulk up front for Wisconsin, building an early edge on points in the paint and finishing with a 40-28 edge on the boards.

Wisconsin: The team honored three reserve seniors in its final regular-season game, including fifth-year forward Aaron Moesch. He is the last link to the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2014 and ’15, a little-used backup on each of those squads. The Badgers’ reliance on freshmen to play key roles in the rotation, especially in the backcourt, led to growing pains this season. They’ve shown signs of maturity of late, winning three straight games before Sunday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: Opens play in the conference tournament in New York on Friday after earning a double bye as the top seed.

Wisconsin: Locked into the Big Ten tourney as the No. 9 seed, where it will play Maryland on Thursday.

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

YET TO PLAY

UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE

Georgia’s Mark Fox ‘disgusted’ by investigation into college basketball

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Georgia head coach Mark Fox did not hold back when asked about the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, calling is “disgusting” and pleading with coaches and the institutions that employ them to do right.

“It starts with our coaches, and then you ask how the NCAA has handled it,” Fox said. “The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That’d be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way? I’m past anger, sadness. It’s just disgusting, and we’re really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody.”

Fox is in a difficult position. He’s regarded as one of the nicer coaches in the business and is considered to be ‘clean’. He team also appears headed for another NIT, which could end up costing him his job.

“We’ve had some situations where we didn’t get players because of that reason, and other teams have, too,” Fox said.

“I’m disgusted,” he added. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting.”