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

Leave a comment

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 commitment from Aaron Nesmith

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.

Svi Mykhailiuk drops 20 pounds, makes weird Kansas roster even weirder

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kansas is a weird team this season.

They’re talented, they’re probably going to win the Big 12 again and I fully expect them to be in the national title picture come March, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re … weird.

25 percent of their scholarship players are transfers sitting out the year. That doesn’t include Sam Cunliffe, who won’t be eligible until December. So that’s unusual, as is the fact that Bill Self, a coach that had steadfastly remained dedicated to playing two big men together despite the gradual shift to small-ball, has three big men on his roster in total.

One of those three is Mitch Lightfoot, which means that there are just two big men on the roster that a potential Final Four team should feel comfortable having as a major part of their rotation. That would be sophomore Udoka Azubuike and freshman Billy Preston.

That makes it seem pretty clear that the Jayhawks will be going with another small-ball look, just as they did last season, right? But they don’t really have a piece to replace Josh Jackson, who was a perfect fit as a college four in a small-ball lineup. He was a natural wing that was athletic enough to block shots and tough enough to battle bigs on the glass.

So who plays that role this season?

Some thought it could be Svi Mykhailiuk, the 20-year old Ukranian senior, but he’s never really been that guy. Oh, and he just so happened to lose 20 pounds this offseason.

“I’m trying to stay light-weight this year, so it’s going to help me a lot,” Mykhailiuk told the Kansas City Star. “I feel like I’m faster with the light weight. I’m more athletic. It just helps me overall in the game.”

Which means … what, exactly?

Losing 20 pounds isn’t exactly going to help a player that has some question marks about his toughness and physicality battle with college fours in the paint. Does it mean he’ll be playing more on the wing? If so, who plays at the four? Will LaGerald Vick — all six feet, five inches and 175 pounds — be playing in the Josh Jackson role?

Or is Self going to use Preston as his new Perry Ellis, hoping that this five-star freshman becomes what his last five-star four-man — Carlton Bragg — never could?

My guess is that it will likely end up being all of the above, depending on matchups.

But it doesn’t make the Jayhawks’ weird roster any clearer.

Four-star forward commits to Wake Forest

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Danny Manning added another four-star recruit to his 2018 recruiting class.

Isaiah Mucius, a 6-foot-7 forward, committed to Wake Forest on Monday evening, giving the Demon Deacons another top-rated prospect alongside top-25 prospect Jaylen Hoard in 2018.

“I’d like to thank my family and my friends for having my back throughout all the tough times and good times,” Mucius said in a social media post. “I’d like to thank all the college coaches that recruited me through this process and believed in me and my talents.

“I’ll be attending Wake Forest University.”

Mucius, a consensus top-100 recruit, visited Wake Forest, which he visited this past weekend, over Xavier, which he visited earlier this month. The Brewster Academy product also had offers from the likes of Connecticut, Minnesota and LSU, among others.

Manning’s 2018 class now includes Mucius, three-star guard Sharone White and Hoard, a 6-foot-8 four-star forward who committed to the Demon Deacons last month.

“I am trying to win an NCAA Championship,” Mucius told Scout.com, “and I think having Jaylen (Hoard) on the wing with me, and we are trying to help get a point guard, and I think we can win a championship.”

Rhode Island staffer arrested at team facility

Rhode Island athletics
Leave a comment

A Rhode Island staffer has been placed on administrative after an arrest last week stemming from an incident at the team’s facility, according to reports.

Tyron Boswell, who joined Rhode Island last season as the director of operations, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors, following a verbal altercation with police, according to WPRI-TV in Providence.

From the police report, according to WPRI:

“Officers working a concert detail at the Ryan Center Thursday night responded to a reported fight in a men’s bathroom involving members of the basketball team. While trying to break up the disturbance, officers said Boswell started yelling and swearing at them. The officers told Boswell to leave, but said he kept yelling as he walked out of the bathroom.

Officers said Boswell’s outbursts agitated the crowd that had gathered outside the bathroom. Seeing that he was not going to leave peacefully, officers said they decided to place Boswell under arrest. However, police said Boswell kept yelling and struggled with officers as they put him in handcuffs and led him out of the building.”

Boswell was placed on administrative leave by the university.

“The University cannot comment further on the circumstances of the arrest, other individuals named in the arrest report or the details included in the arrest report until the investigation of the situation is complete,” a spokesperson for Rhode Island said in a statement. “The University is cooperating with the South Kingstown Police Department for the investigation.”

Boswell joined Rhode Island last year after previously being the director of operations for the grassroots program Expressions Elite. He reportedly was promoted to assistant coach at Rhode Island this year, according to Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports. He remains listed as the director of operations on Rhode Island’s roster.

At Harvard, education through athletics (and vice-versa)

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Leave a comment

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — When Harvard sophomore Seth Towns awoke in his riverside dorm room Wednesday morning, he had options.

He could work out at the gym to prepare for the upcoming Ivy League basketball season. He could slog downstairs for another dining hall breakfast with his roommates. Or he could head over to Harvard Square to eat instead with civil rights activist Harry Edwards, sportscaster James Brown, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and philosopher Cornel West.

Towns chose to stretch his mind instead of his muscles.

“It’s the kind of thing you come to Harvard for,” the 6-foot-7 forward for the Crimson basketball team said. “Growing up, I would have never thought that I’d have these people to look up to and talk to. I’m just acting as a sponge, and taking it all in.”

At a monthly event dubbed the “Breakfast Club,” tucked away in the private dining room of a Harvard Square hotel restaurant, Towns and senior Chris Egi joined coach Tommy Amaker this week to mingle with a few dozen leaders in the city’s financial, political and intellectual communities.

Later that afternoon, Edwards spoke to the whole basketball team about a life at the intersection of sports and activism, from John Carlos and Tommie Smith — not to mention Malcolm X — to Colin Kaepernick.

Amaker arranged the talk for a simple but somewhat quaint reason: As long as his paycheck comes from Harvard, he plans to take his role as an educator seriously.

“We’re teaching, we’re engaging, we’re exposing. We’re hopefully enlightening,” Amaker said. “I’m not sure how much they know about Dr. Harry Edwards. But we’re going to give them an education about that. I promise you that.”

The oldest and most prestigious university in the United States, Harvard has produced more than its share of U.S. presidents and Nobel laureates, along with national champions in sports like hockey and crew. But the highlight of the athletic year has always been the football team’s century-old rivalry with Yale known as The Game.

The Crimson basketball team had never won an Ivy League title, beaten a ranked team or cracked The Associated Press Top 25 before Amaker arrived in 2007. But the former Duke point guard, who previously coached at Seton Hall and Michigan, knew he had something else going for him.

“How amazingly powerful the brand and the calling card of Harvard is,” he said. “It’s a powerful pull.”

While other schools built barbershops or miniature golf courses for their athletes, Amaker name-dropped Harvard’s academic credentials to attract top talent, landing a 2016 recruiting class that was ranked in the top 10 nationally — unheard-of for an Ivy school. He has also used it to lure politicians, Hall of Fame basketball players and coaches, and business and thought leaders to speak to his players on issues more important than bounce passes or boxing out.

“I tell them, ‘You’ll forever be able to say you lectured at Harvard,'” he said, half-joking. “They all like that.”

Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke to the team last year, two weeks before the presidential election — not about his basketball records or titles, but about the rising tide of racism that concerned him. Edwards’ talk on Wednesday put Kaepernick’s national anthem protest in the context of athlete activism over the decades.

Amaker also shuttles his team to local plays with social justice themes. At an annual “Faculty, Food and Fellowship” dinner, they might hear from a cabinet secretary, a presidential candidate or a dean. And the Breakfast Club allows them to connect with prominent Bostonians and others with Harvard ties, many of them African-American.

“Their motivation is the full-rounded commitment to the people who play ball for them,” said Clifford Alexander, who played freshman basketball at Harvard and went on to serve as the first black Secretary of the Army.

“(Amaker) does not think that just because you can shoot and pass, that’s the end of his responsibility,” he said. “If you can find three other places in the country where the football or basketball team gets that kind of talk, I’ll buy you dinner.”

At last week’s breakfast, Towns sat down to eggs and French toast served family style a few seats away from orthopedic surgeon Gus White, the first black graduate of Stanford’s medical school, who this June gave the commencement address there 56 years after he spoke at his own graduation.

To Brown, the arrangement was a formula for success: “The teams I’ve seen that are successful are a mix of veterans and younger players,” he said.

Along with Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, Amaker started the Breakfast Club as a sort of “kitchen cabinet” of advisers when he first arrived on campus as the only black head coach among Harvard’s 32 varsity teams.

But Amaker has also turned the mostly — but not entirely — African-American gathering into a network for his players, inviting them to meet potential mentors in law and business and medicine and politics, as well as authors and occasionally an athlete with something interesting to say.

“It’s one thing to read about riding a bicycle or swimming. It’s another thing to get in the pool,” Edwards told the group last week. Towns watched the luminaries file out after breakfast and said: “I’m in the pool right now.”

Then-Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas spoke last year, and two Massachusetts governors have dropped by the gathering. Egi said he met a professor at the Breakfast Club that led to an independent study and a research project that is now in its second year.

“Just being exposed to people who’ve done important things, and getting to hear about their life stories — it’s an inspiration,” the senior forward from Canada said.

And that, Amaker said, pays off on the court.

Too often, he said, colleges are forced into a false choice between education and athletics, between grades and winning games. But creating well-rounded, thinking citizens also makes them better players, he said.

“This isn’t something that’s happened because we’ve won a few games,” Amaker said. “I’m saying to you: This is how we won those games.”

And the wins have come.

In Amaker’s tenure, the school earned the first five Ivy League titles in its history, making four trips to the NCAA tournament and twice advancing as a double-digit seed. Harvard grad Jeremy Lin became an NBA star (though somewhat meteorically).

Amaker himself now occupies an endowed coaching position and is a special assistant to Harvard President Drew Faust. The school’s basketball arena, first built in 1926, is being renovated at a cost of $12 million, according to the architectural firm.

More importantly, there are off-the-court success stories, too.

Corbin Miller, who came to Harvard from Utah, said a faculty talk with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen led him to a tech startup where he’s worked since graduating last spring.

Like Towns, he had options.

“You could kind of look around and see that each person in there had been affected in there in a pretty deep way,” Miller said. “Apart from the athletics and apart from the academics, it was a life lesson. It’s really a setup for the rest of your life, whether it’s basketball immediately after or not.”

Follow Jimmy Golen on Twitter