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Six sleeper Sweet 16 teams

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source: AP
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REGION PREVIEWSEast Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

We all remember the Cinderella stories from March Madness. The George Masons, Hamptons, and Northern Iowas, these are the teams that can ease a smile out of the most hardened and jaded NCAA antagonist. We love the NCAA tournament because these sleeper squads make the postseason seem democratic.

The selection committee, sequestered in various hotel suites, is the sporting equivalent of the Wizard of Oz, but Cinderellas level the field, and we’ve listed the six teams, all higher than a seven seed, that have the potential to make the tournament’s second weekend.

SOUTH REGION

No. 13 Tulsa (vs. No. 4 UCLA; then either No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin): A first-round match-up against UCLA, a team that rendered the vaunted Arizona defense toothless, appears catastrophically poor for Danny Manning’s squad, but the Golden Hurricane is also a sound defensive squad, one that forces turnovers at a pretty rapid rate (20.4 percent). The team also keeps opponents off the glass, and UCLA isn’t known for securing additional possessions. Should Tulsa advance to the round of 32, the team also matches well with either VCU or Stephen F. Austin.

A large percentage of Tulsa’ scoring comes from the free throw line, and the Lumberjacks foul quite frequently (52.5 percent defensive free throw rate). VCU defends ferociously and shoots a fair number of threes, but since the Rams will likely miss guard Melvin Johnson, VCU will be without their most efficient perimeter option (39.5 percent). Tulsa can withstand VCU’s trademark ball pressure because the Golden Hurricane have a sticky handle in the midst of ball hawks (16.6 turnover rate, ranked within Ken Pomeroy’s top sixty).

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 clutch players  |  7 teams that won’t win it all

No. 14 Western Michigan (vs. No. 3 Syracuse; then either No. 6 Ohio State/No. 11 Dayton): America should be ready to meet Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan’s 6-foot-11 center. The big makes 55.9 percent of his twos, and while WMU hasn’t played Syracuse during the past two seasons, the Broncos have faced a very similar defense. During WMU’s four games against Eastern Michigan, a team coached by ex-Cuse assistant Rob Murphy and one which uses a 2-3 zone, Whittington made 53 percent of his attempts within the arc.

Both of their second round opponents aren’t great at defending the interior — Ohio State and Dayton allow teams to make close to 50 percent of those shots — which is a bonus for a Western Michigan team which is one of the best at converting their twos, ranking twelfth nationally. The other two Broncos who use a high percentage of WMU’s attempts, David Brown and Connar Tava, are efficient up to 19 feet from the basket.

EAST REGION

No. 9 George Washington (vs. No. 8 Memphis; then either No. 1 Virginia/No. 16 Coastal Carolina): Memphis is not a good match-up for the defensive-oriented Colonials. The Tigers turn the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions (that’s bad), don’t get to the free throw line (not great), and are a poor perimeter shooting team (another box checked) — all attributes which are pluses on George Washington’s defensive resume.

Assuming the second round tilt is against Virginia, Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense would be an interesting test for the Colonials. The return of Kethan Savage (and if he can play meaningful minutes) and the emergence of Nemanja Mikic are both crucial for a Sweet 16 birth. Lacking the presence of another perimeter threat, opponents could concentrate solely on Mikic last season, but the addition of Maurice Creek has helped boost Mikic’s clear looks.

No. 10 Saint Joseph’s (vs. No. 7 Connecticut; then either No. 2 Villanova/No. 15 Milwaukee): St. Joe’s Langston Galloway is coming off a torrid shooting performance in the Atlantic 10 tournament, but the team’s frontcourt will be the focus against UConn. Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and DeAndre Bembry should take advantage of the foul-prone Husky bigs — DeAndre Daniels is the only forward who plays substantial minutes and does not accumulate more than six or more fouls per 40 minutes (an issue for both Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan). The likelier second-round game will be against Villanova, and the ensuing Holy War rematch, one dominated by the Wildcats earlier this season, could be a classic.

WEST REGION

No. 11 Nebraska (vs. No. 6 Baylor; then either No. 3 Creighton/No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette): Even though Nebraska isn’t an offensive juggernaut, Baylor’s defense provides large gaps for point production — only one other at-large squad had a worse defensive efficiency rate than Scott Drew’s team (North Carolina State). Even though Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long pose a potential threat, Creighton should emerge from that first-round tilt. Nebraska was embarrassed by the Bluejays earlier this season, but this is a much different Huskers squad (for starters, Deverell Biggs is no longer bogarting shots) and the emergence of Terran Petteway is a match-up problem for CU.

MIDWEST REGION

No. 14 Mercer (vs. No. 3 Duke; then either No. 6 Massachusetts/No. 11 Iowa/No. 11 Tennessee): Mercer is the epitome of a Giant Killer. The Bears shoot a high percentage both within and beyond the arc, and those attempts are spread amongst a handful of players, each of whom either make a plethora of twos or threes (Bud Thomas and Anthony White, however, make both). There is an offensive balance to this team — no one Bear truly dominates touches — which could be an problem for a Duke team possessing some defensive issues.

Duke traditionally defends the three-point arc well, but two-point field goals are easy to achieve. Unfortunately for Mike Krzyzsewski, this is an even weaker defensive team than the one which lost to Lehigh in the 2012 tournament. Iowa and UMass also have suspect defenses, and while Tennessee is defined by their stingy leanings, the Vols don’t force many turnovers. Against a team that doesn’t miss often, a failure to pressure the ball and simply allow them to run their offense could prove disastrous.

Michigan State wins without starting shooting guard

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 12: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks to Matt McQuaid #20 as he comes to the bench against the Maryland Terrapins in the semifinals of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 12, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Michigan State defeated Maryland 64-61. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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As if Michigan State’s injury woes weren’t enough, the Spartans played Saturday’s game against Tennessee Tech without Matt McQuaid.

McQuaid took a shot to the head in practice on Thursday. He had started eight of MSU’s ten games this season.

“I was looking at the bench and I’m sitting with McQuaid, Miles, Ben and Gavin and I said to my assistant, Dwayne Stephens, ‘All four of those guys would have probably started,’” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. Miles Bridges is out with an ankle injury while Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling could both end up missing the season with knee injuries.

“I just have to make sure those guys don’t sit next to me on the bench anymore. When it gets to be four of them it looks like we have more guys on the bench. At least if I put them in suits maybe people would think they are assistant coaches. Maybe I’ll do that.”

Freshman Josh Langford started for McQuaid and finished with 10 points.

Izzo added that he didn’t think McQuaid suffered a concussion, and that his return is totally in the hands of MSU’s team doctors.

Jawun Evans sits out Oklahoma State win with shoulder injury

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 21: Jawun Evans #1 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys dribbles the ball during the second half of the Maui Invitational NCAA college basketball game at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 21, 2016 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images). Oklahoma State won the game 98-90
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Oklahoma State’s star point guard Jawun Evans was unavailable in a 71-67 win at Tulsa on Saturday afternoon due to a shoulder injury he suffered in practice.

The injury is reportedly a sprained AC joint, which will be concerning to Cowboy fans considering that Evans missed the end of the 2015-16 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

The good news?

This injury is not only not serious, it’s to the other shoulder.

Evans has been in the top ten of the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long.

Macura, Gaston lead No. 13 Xavier over Utah 77-69

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 29:  J.P. Macura #55 of the Xavier Musketeers shoots the ball during the game against the North Dakota State University at Cintas Center on November 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) J.P. Macura emerged from his shooting slump by scoring 18 points, and RaShid Gaston helped No. 13 Xavier get the edge up front against the nation’s top rebounding team on Saturday, leading the Musketeers to a 77-69 victory over Utah.

The Musketeers (8-2) were coming off back-to-back road losses that featured long scoring droughts. Xavier’s balanced offense built a 15-point lead in the first half, and the Musketeers stayed ahead the rest of the way.

Gaston had 11 points and 14 rebounds, helping Xavier to a 33-28 edge on the boards. The Utes (6-2) came in averaging 47.7 rebounds per game. Gaston had nine points and 10 rebounds – one less than Utah’s total – in the first half.

Macura was 5 of 7 from beyond the arc after going only 2 of 16 in his last three games. Trevon Bluiett also scored 18 points.

Freshman Devon Daniels had a career-high 19 points for the Utes, whose two losses have been against ranked Big East teams. They also lost to Butler.

BIG PICTURE

Utah: The Utes’ top two scorers – Kyle Kuzma and Tyler Rawson – were a combined 2 of 10 for five points in the first half as Xavier took control.

Xavier: The Musketeers went through long second-half scoring droughts during their losses. Utah opened the second half with an 11-4 spurt but couldn’t get any closer.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Musketeers figure to slip in the Top 25 based upon their 68-66 loss at Colorado on Wednesday, but limited the damage with their win on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Utah hosts Prairie View A&M next Saturday, and then closes nonconference play the following week in Hawaii as part of the Diamond Head Classic.

Xavier plays the first of four straight home games leading into Big East play, hosting Wake Forest next Saturday in the Skip Prosser Classic.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

No. 5 Duke routs UNLV 94-45

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils smiles during a game against the UNLV at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) Grayson Allen shot 75 percent from the field – including a perfect 7 of 7 in the second half – en route to a career-high 34 points to lead No. 5 Duke to a 94-45 victory over UNLV on Saturday in the first college basketball game ever played at T Mobile Arena.

Luke Kennard had 16 points and five rebounds for the Blue Devils (10-1), while Jayson Tatum had 13 points and five rebounds, and Amile Jefferson contributed with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

Duke, which is 4-1 on a neutral court, jumped out to a 20-3 lead in the first 7 minutes and never looked back, as it outscored the Runnin’ Rebels 52-19 in the second half.

The Rebels (5-4) tried to make a couple of runs to challenge Duke, getting as close as 38-26 late in the first half after an 8-0 spurt. The Blue Devils answered with their defensive prowess and proved to be too much for an outmatched UNLV team that committed 13 turnovers a little more than 14 minutes into the game, and shot just 34 percent (10 of 29) in the first half.

Though UNLV was competitive on the glass, outrebounding the Blue Devils 20-17 in the first half, Duke outscored the Rebels 26-10 in the paint while opening a 42-26 halftime lead.

Jalen Poyser had 16 points for UNLV.

The Blue Devils shot 58.7 percent (37 of 63) from the field, including 10 of 22 (45.5 percent) from 3-point range. UNLV, meanwhile, shot 29.6 percent (16 of 54) from the field.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Jefferson came into Saturday’s game leading the ACC in field goal percentage, converting at a rate of 67 percent for the season. He is a career 63 percent shooter from the field.

UNLV: After opening the season 5-2, the Runnin’ Rebels have lost their last two after allowing an average of 95.5 points per game. UNLV lost at Arizona State 97-73 last Saturday.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Tennessee State on Dec. 19

UNLV: Hosts Incarnate Word on Wednesday

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

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Villanova, Wisconsin earn good wins, UNI’s Jeremy Morgan explodes

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats attempts a three point shot against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 1 Villanova 74, No. 23 Notre Dame 66

Josh Hart put together one of the best games we’ll see all season as he put up a career-high 37 points and 11 rebounds to will Villanova to the win. Here are the four things we learned from the game.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 17 Wisconsin 93, Marquette 84: The Badgers avenged last season’s loss to in-state rival Marquette with a solid road win. Putting up 58 points in the second half, Wisconsin had six players finish with at least 11 players as Bronson Koenig led with 18 points. Another solid outing from Nigel Hayes as he ended up with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

No. 16 Butler 75, No. 22 Cincinnati 65: The Bulldogs bounced back from a loss to Indiana State earlier in the week with a win over Cincinnati in Hinkle Fieldhouse. But the real story of this game was the continued struggles of the AAC. How close is this to being a one-bid league?

No. 2 UCLA 102, Michigan 84: The Bruins put five players in double-figures and shot 15-for-24 from three, using a late-surge to pull away from Michigan. The Wolverines finished the night shooting 50 percent from the floor, shooting 14-for-26 from three and committing just eight turnovers … and still lost by 18 points. UCLA is lethal.

Wichita State 76, Oklahoma 73: The Shockers got 17 points from Zach Brown and 13 points and six assists from Daishon Smith as they beat Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. This is a nice win for the Shockers, who should once against be the favorite to win the Missouri Valley.

STARRED

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa: We saw the most impressive half of basketball of the season – and maybe the most impressive half ever – on Saturday. Morgan finished with 38 points for the Panthers in a come-from-behind win over North Dakota, and he was scoreless heading into halftime. He had two points with 16 minutes left in the game. As a team, UNI scored 49 second half points.

The craziest part? Morgan missed six second half free throws. He easily could have scored 40 points in a single half.

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Preseason All-Americans: Josh Hart set his career-high with 37 points while Grayson Allen set his career-high with 34 points.

Rodney Bullock, Providence: The Friars earned another solid win over UMass as Bullock finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Bullock was 7-for-14 from the field and he went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line.

Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The sophomore just missed a triple-double as he finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks and three assists in a Memphis win over UAB. Lawson played all 40 minutes.

Marquise Moore, George Mason: Moore had 17 points, 16 boards and 10 assists. No one has posted a line like that since 2013 and it’s only happened twice since 2010.

Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern: Griffin’s Jaguars lost at Louisville, but he finished with 26 rebounds, 15 on the offensive end of the floor.

Tracy Abrams, Illinois: Abrams had a career-high 31 points as the Illini landed a win over Central Michigan.

STRUGGLED

Demontrae Jefferson, Texas Southern: Making his college debut against Louisville, the exciting 5-foot-7 guard showed his talent but was also very inefficient. Jefferson finished with 27 points but was 10-for-30 from the field with 11 turnovers. Watching Jefferson’s run-and-gun style is going to be fascinating this season.

San Diego State: The Aztecs lost their third in a row, this time a home game to an Arizona State team that was humiliated by their coach after a 33-point whopping against Purdue.

TOP 25

  • Nebraska dug themselves a huge first half whole that they couldn’t overcome, losing to No. 3 Kansas, 89-72.
  • No. 5 Duke blew out UNLV in Vegas, and Grayson Allen may not be allowed to leave the state after this act of felonious assault.
  • Przemek Karnowski had 14 points and eight boards to lead No. 8 Gonzaga past Akron.
  • O.G. Anunoby warmed up but he didn’t play. He wasn’t needed, either, as No. 9 Indiana smoked Houston Baptist.
  • No. 11 Louisville cruised to an easy win over Texas Southern as Quentin Snider led the Cardinals with 13 points.
  • J.P. Macura busted out of his shooting slump with five threes as No. 13 Xavier survived Utah at home.
  • Easy win for No. 15 West Virginia as they beat VMI for a home win. Daxter Miles Jr. finished with 20 points and was 5-for-6 from three-point range.
  • No. 18 Purdue raced past Cleveland State as Isaac Haas had 14 points and Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
  • The freshman duo of Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons each had 19 points to pace No. 20 Arizona to a win over Missouri. The Wildcats overcame foul trouble from freshman big man Lauri Markkanen as they shot 54 percent from three-point range.

NOTABLE

  • Syracuse had a big win over Boston to snap a recent cold stretch. John Gillon led the Orange with 23 points while Taurean Thompson had 22 points.
  • Nice home win for Houston over Rhode Island as Rob Gray scored 30 points and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles added 25 points. The Rams are 0-3 on the road and have lost four of their last six games.
  • Michigan State picked up a home win over Tennessee Tech as Eron Harris led with 20 points. The Spartans struggled from the free-throw line in this one — at one point head coach Tom Izzo sat at the end of the bench in frustration.
  • Pitt was able to outlast Penn State as Michael Young finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.