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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).

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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.

VIDEO: Fordham tops VCU at the horn in OT

In this Oct. 6, 2015, photo, VCU men's NCAA college basketball coach Will Wade talks to his team during practice at the Franklin Street Gym in Richmond Va. VCU surged at the end of last season, winning the Atlantic 10 tournament to earn its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (
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Down 12 at halftime, VCU needed a second-half comeback to force overtime at Fordham.

There was nothing VCU could do to counteract Fordham’s game-winner.

Antwoine Anderson’s jumper as time expired in overtime gave Fordham a 69-67 victory Wednesday night.

After winning eight-straight games, VCU has now dropped back-to-back games with a loss to Davidson coming last weekend. The loss will likely bring up the same questions that were there after a less-than-steallar non-conference showing for VCU, given Fordham had lost 10 of 12 coming into the night.

Allonzo Trier suspended after failing PED test

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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The suspension that Arizona guard Allonzo Trier is currently serving is due to positive test for performance-enhancing drugs during the preseason.

Trier, who has missed the first 18 games of the season, confirmed the news with a statement released late on Wednesday night that said he has “never knowingly taken a banned substance.”

According to a statement released by the university, Trier has been cleared by the NCAA after an appeal, but he cannot suit up for the Wildcats until the drug is completely out of his system.

“After finding out that I was given a banned substance by a well-intentioned, but misguided person not associated with the University after an injury, I presented this information to the NCAA,” Trier said in the statement. “The NCAA agreed that I had no knowledge of receiving the substance and my eligibility was restored. Although I can practice and travel with the team, I am not allowed to resume playing in games until the substance completely leaves my body even at a trace amount.”

There is no timetable for his return, but the door is open for a return.

As a freshman last season, Trier averaged 14.8 points and shot 36.4 percent from three. He was Arizona’s best isolation scorer and their leading returning scorer.

Without Trier, Arizona has looked like a Pac-12 title contender. They are 16-2 on the season and undefeated in league play heading into their games at the LA schools this weekend.

VIDEO: James Blackmon saves Indiana with buzzer-beating three

HONOLULU, HI - NOVEMBER 11: James Blackmon Jr. #1 of the Indiana Hoosiers calls out a play during the second half of the second game of the Armed Forces Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center on November 11, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Indiana won the game 103-99. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
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There is plenty of reason to criticize James Blackmon Jr., and I did plenty of it in this story I wrote about Indiana earlier this month.

It’s also pretty obvious that Blackmon has been Indiana’s best player this season, and he backed that up on Wednesday night. Blackmon kept Indiana from falling to 2-4 in the Big Ten by burying a three at the buzzer to beat Penn State in Happy Valley.

The bigger issue for Indiana fans is the status of O.G. Anunoby’s knee. Indiana’s star forward went down with a non-contact injury in the first half and did not return to the game in the second half. I’m not going to play armchair physician here, but this does not look good.

This shot from Blackmon may have saved the Hoosiers from embarrassment, but where there season goes from here is still a major question mark.

VIDEO: Woodard game-winner topples No. 7 West Virginia

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Jordan Woodard #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Welcome back, Jordan Woodard.

The Oklahoma senior, playing in his just third game back from injury, went coast-to-coast to hit a game-winning shot with under 3 seconds to play against West Virginia to give the Sooners an 89-87 victory in overtime.

The Sooners had just 12 turnovers against Press Virginia while shooting 49 percent from the field. Woodard had a chance to win the game in regulation for Oklahoma after he made a shot and was fouled, but the 86.7 percent free-throw shooter missed the shot from the charity stripe. He finished with 20 points.

West Virginia, which was ranked No. 1 by KenPom, shot 43.7 percent overall and 28 percent from 3-point range.

It may be just one loss, but it can only be considered a significant setback for the Mountaineers in their quest to finally be the team to end Kansas’ 12 year run at the top of the Big 12. Not only is losing a home game a blow, but losing one to a team the Jayhawks have already beaten in Allen Fieldhouse is a double-whammy.

West Virginia is now two games out of first place, and still has two games remaining against Kansas, which is either good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it. The Mountaineers will have to sweep the Jayhawks, steal a different one they aren’t expected to on the road or hope Kansas falters like they really haven’t in over a decade.

Yeah, there’s a lot of season left, but you don’t want the math and probability to work against you like it does with a loss like this. That is unless Oklahoma isn’t the same team it’s been through the first third of the Big 12 season, which lessens the blow some. Let’s investigate that.

Oklahoma was largely able to win this game based on its ball security. The Sooners only coughed it up  on 14.6 percent of their possessions. West Virginia has been forcing turnovers at around a 25-percent clip in Big 12 play. Woodard presence made a huge difference there (even if he had five turnovers), and Oklahoma is now 2-1 with only a loss to Kansas since his return.

Are the Sooners still one of the Big 12’s weakest teams or does Woodard make them a serious contender amid the second tier of the league? If it’s the latter, a recalibration of expectations is probably in order for a conference already considered one of the most difficult give its 10-team, round-robin format.

No. 10 Florida State hands No. 15 Notre Dame first ACC loss

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (22) steals the ball from Notre Dame guard Matt Farrell (5) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)
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Notre Dame shot over 70 percent on 21 3-point shot attempts, but it wasn’t enough as tenth-ranked Florida State became the first ACC team to defeat the Fighting Irish with a 83-80 win Wednesday night in Tallahassee.

Johnathan Isaac had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Seminoles, who moved into a tie for the ACC lead along with Notre Dame and North Carolina, which all sport 5-1 league records. The ‘Noles shot 50 percent from the floor and had 39 points off their bench.

The Fighting Irish made 15 of 21 3-point shots on the night, getting six from Matt Farrell and five apiece from VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia.

Florida State continues the ACC gauntlet with a home test against Louisville on Saturday while the Irish have Syracuse in South Bend on Saturday.

Here are three things to takeaway from this win for Leonard Hamilton’s club:

1. Jonathan Isaac, man: He was so good. He finished with 23 points, 10 boards and seven blocks, shooting just 7-for-9 from the floor, but it wasn’t just the plays that he made that were impressive. It was when they came. Isaac buried a pair of threes and sparked a late Florida State flurry that pushed the Seminoles out to a seven-point lead with two minutes left. He had a nasty block on a dunk attempt by V.J. Beachem, and then, after Florida State turned the ball over on their final possession, blocked two shots at the rim to help preserve the victory.

Isaac has had some issues with intensity and aggressiveness this season, and there are questions about whether or not he has the killer instinct to be a star at the next level. Tonight’s performance should quiet some of those doubters, at least for the time being.

2. This was the first time that Notre Dame looked overmatched by size and athleticism: Florida State is big, they’re athletic and they’re versatile. Notre Dame isn’t, and it showed tonight, particularly in the first half. Matt Farrell had five of his six turnovers in the first 20 minutes. As a team, the Irish finished with 18 turnovers, and just seemed to be out sync offensively for much of the game. That’s what Florida State wants to do defensively. That is their game-plan, and it worked quite well on Wednesday.

And yet, Notre Dame was still able to hang around in this one thanks to their ridiculous three-point shooting. They were 15-for-21 from beyond the arc, the 19th team to make 15 threes and shoot better than 70 percent from three since 2010 and the only one of those 19 to lose. There are a couple ways to look at that:

  1. Notre Dame’s fluky shooting kept them from getting exposed against a team that could take advantage of Notre Dame’s weaknesses..
  2. That Florida State was still able to win, and force turnovers on 23.7 percent of the possessions against the nation’s seventh-best team at protecting the ball, says more about the Seminoles than anything else.
  3. These are two excellent basketball teams that traded haymakers for 40 minutes.

No. 3 sounds about right to me.

3. Both of these teams will be in the ACC title race for the long haul: What more do either of them have to prove? Florida State has now beaten Duke and Notre Dame in their last two home games, which sandwiched an impressive performance in a loss at North Carolina. And the Irish? Their three losses this season came against Villanova, Purdue and Florida State by a combined 16 points, none of them coming at home.