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CBT Roundtable: The NCAA Tournament’s biggest surprise heading into the Sweet 16

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The Sweet 16 kicks off tomorrow night with the South and West Region action beginning. Before we begin clipping the field down to the Final Four, we asked our stable of writers what they find most surprising heading into the tournament’s second weekend:

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Raphielle Johnson: Full disclosure, I picked Baylor to reach the Sweet 16. I thought they matched up well with the Bluejays due to their length ans athleticism in the front court, but to win by 30? Even in prior losses this season when they didn’t hit threes, Creighton at least had a fighting chance. That wasn’t the case Sunday, with Baylor doing a very good job of identifying scorers and making sure those players were out of their comfort zones. The Bears have been hot, but the way in which they won stood out to me.

Rob Dauster: Kentucky finally put it all together. We’ve been waiting four months for the Wildcats to have the kind of performance they did when they handed No. 1 Wichita State their first loss since last season’s Final Four. The Harrison twins played like NBA-caliber guards, James Young hit a handful of big shots and Julius Randle went all-Julius Randle, finishing with 15 points, 10 boards and six assists. If this continues, if Kentucky can bring that kind of an effort for two more weeks, they can win a national title.

Three weeks ago, Kentucky lost to South Carolina. That’s wild to think about.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWS: Dayton-Stanford | Wisconsin-Baylor |Florida-UCLA

Matt Giles: Tennessee’s offense has looked unstoppable these past three games. Weeks after chatter emerged regarding the possibility of a coaching change in Knoxville, coach Cuonzo Martin has revitalized this already proficient offense. The Vols have never been a team to rely on three-point shooting, and true to form, the team is only taking one-third of their field goals from deep (and making just 22 percent), but UT’s scoring within the arc has completely overwhelmed their tourney opponents. The squad is converting a whopping 63 percent of their two-point field goals (posting an offensive efficiency rating of 1.26 points per possession), and when UT doesn’t connect from the field, they’re getting fouled: the team’s free throw rate is 53 percent, which means that UT has been wildly successful putting pressure on opponents and getting to the stripe (where the Vols are making 83 percent of their free throws). Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae, both nationally known, have played well, but the Vol to watch, should the team beat Michigan and then either Louisville or Kentucky, is Josh Richardson — the wing has taken 19 twos and made 90 percent of those attempts.

Terrence Payne: The bottom half of the South Region is the biggest surprise of the NCAA tournament so far, as its Elite 8 matchup is between No. 11 seed Dayton and No. 10 seed Stanford. The Flyers earned one of the final at-large bids, and made it to Memphis with an upset win over in-state opponent Ohio State, followed by another narrow victory over Syracuse. Stanford has had an equally surprising run to the Sweet 16. The Cardinal began the tournament against New Mexico, pegged as the dark horse to come out of the South. After sending the Lobos home early, the Cardinal sent Kansas (without Joel Embiid) back to Lawrence with a great defensive effort. Johnny Dawkins began the season on the hot seat. Fast forward five months later, and he’s got his Cardinal one win away from a berth in the Elite 8.

Scott Phillips: I fully believed that Kansas was susceptible to a Round of 32 loss without Joel Embiid — why can’t I quit you, New Mexico? — but I never expected Stanford to be the team to do it. I was in St. Louis on Sunday for the upset and the Cardinal were incredibly impressive, especially on the defensive end. To beat No. 2 seed Kansas without knocking down a three-pointer just shows how good of a game plan Johnny Dawkins had for his team and how well the entire team executed that plan despite going cold from the outside. If Stanford continues to defend like that, their shooting will only improve and their length and physicality could make them a dangerous potential Final Four team.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 5 Iowa, No. 12 SMU pick up road wins

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) passes around South Florida guard Jahmal McMurray (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
AP Photo/Brian Blanco
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GAME OF THE DAY: James Madison 98, Hofstra 95 (OT)

The Dukes managed to fight back at home against Hofstra, with a Ron Curry three-pointer forcing overtime. From there Matt Brady’s team took control against a Hofstra team with little depth thanks to injuries throughout the course of the season. Curry scored a game-high 31 for the Dukes, who forced a three-way tie for third in the CAA with this win (Hofstra and Towson are also 8-4). Brian Bernardi scored 22 points and Juan’ya Green became just the fourth player in Division I history to score 1,000 points at two schools (Niagara being the other) in the loss for Hofstra.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 5 Iowa 77, Illinois 65: The Fighting Illini got off to a slow start offensively, missing their first 11 two-point attempts, and they were unable to climb out of that hole against the Big Ten-leading Hawkeyes. Peter Jok scored 23 points and Jarrod Uthoff posted a double-double of 18 points and 12 boards for Iowa, which limited Illinois to 39.4 percent shooting from the field.

No. 16 Oregon 76, Utah 66: The Ducks maintained sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 with a ten-point win over the Runnin’ Utes in Eugene. The game changed in the first half when Jakob Poeltl was given his second foul, and from that point on Dana Altman’s team controlled the action. Dillon Brooks was outstanding in the win, setting new career highs in points (30) and assists (nine) while also grabbing six rebounds.

STARRED

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: 30 points, six rebounds, nine assists and two steals in the Ducks’ win over Utah.

Shake Milton, SMU: Milton shot 6-for-9 from three, scoring 22 points in the Mustangs’ 92-58 win at USF.

Ron Curry, James Madison: Curry scored 31 points and hit the game-tying three pointer late in regulation as the Dukes came back to beat Hofstra 98-95 in overtime.

Rachel Banham, Minnesota: Banham became the second woman in Division I history to score 60 points in a game, doing so in the Golden Gophers’ 112-106 double overtime win at Northwestern. Banham shot 19-for-32 from the field and 14-for-16 from the foul line.

STRUGGLED

Brandon Taylor, Utah: Taylor went scoreless in a loss at No. 16 Utah, going 0-for-4 from the field and committing four turnovers.

Nehemias Morillo, USF: Morillo scored three points on 1-for-7 shooting and committed four turnovers in the Bulls’ loss to No. 12 SMU.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 12 SMU picked up another win, as they blew out USF 92-58 in Tampa. Shake Milton led five Mustangs in double figures with 22 points, and Nic Moore finished with 17 points and eight assists.
  • No. 17 Miami moved to 7-3 in ACC play with a 75-68 win at Georgia Tech. Sheldon McClellan scored 22 points and Davon Reed 15 for the Hurricanes, who host Pittsburgh Tuesday night.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • UConn has won each of its last three games by at least 18 points, as Sunday afternoon they handled East Carolina 85-67. Rodney Purvis and Shonn Miller scored 16 points apiece, and Daniel Hamilton chipped in with 12 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
  • Iona remained a game behind Monmouth in the MAAC standings as they won 75-61 at Niagara. Isaiah Williams scored 21 points and Deyshonee Much 15 for the Gaels, who are 10-3 in league play.
  • Jaylen Adams’ three pointer as time expired gave St. Bonaventure a 65-62 win at home over Saint Louis. Adams scored 19 points, Marcus Posley 15 and Dion Wright 14 (along with ten boards) for the Bonnies.
  • Also in the MAAC, Marist upset Siena by the final score of 79-73 in Poughkeepsie. Brian Parker scored 24 points for the Red Foxes, who won despite Siena’s Nico Clareth scoring a career-high 26.
  • Pat Birt scored 27 points to lead Tulsa to a 77-63 win over Houston. Damyean Dotson scored 23 points for the Cougars, whose three-game win streak came to an end with the defeat.

Milton, Moore help No. 12 SMU rout South Florida 92-58

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (1) defends as SMU guard Nic Moore (11) leaps to the basket for a shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Dallas. SMU won 80-68.  (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Shake Milton scored 22 points and Nic Moore added 17 as No. 12 SMU rebounded from its second loss of the season with a 92-58 rout of struggling South Florida on Sunday.

The Mustangs (20-2, 9-2 American Athletic Conference) shrugged off a three-point road loss to Houston by matching their season high with 14 3-pointers and shooting 60 percent overall. They never trailed, scoring the game’s first 11 points. SMU hit its last six shots before halftime and then opened the second half with an 8-0 run to build their lead to 30 points.

Jahmal McMurray led South Florida (5-20, 2-10) with 18 points.

SMU, which had lost two straight on the road, has matched the best 22-game start in school history. The Mustangs won 26 of their first 28 games before finishing 26-4 in 1955-56.

The conference leaders have topped 20 wins in three of four seasons under Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, who was suspended for the first nine games of the season and will not be able to take the Mustangs to this year’s NCAA tournament because of multiple rules infractions.

Milton made 8 of 12 shots, including 6 of 9 from beyond the 3-point arc. Five of Moore’s six field goals were 3-pointers, and the senior guard finished with eight assists.

Jordan Tolbert made all five of his shots on the way 15 points and Markus Kennedy came off the bench to contribute 10 points and grab a team-high nine rebounds for SMU.

South Florida clinched its second 20-loss season in three years under coach Orlando Antigua. Jaleel Cousins scored 13 points and Angel Nunez had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who trailed by as many as 36 points in the second half.

TIP-INS

SMU: The Mustangs improved to 2-2 following a school-best 18-0 start, stopping a two-game road skid included a nine-point setback at Temple and the three-point loss at Houston. SMU has won 27 games each of the past two seasons and its 74 wins since the start of 2013-14 are the most during a three-season span in program history.

South Florida: The Bulls haven’t beaten a ranked team since Feb. 19, 2012, when they upset No. 19 Louisville 58-51 on the road. They haven’t defeated a Top 25 opponent in the Sun Dome since a two-point win over No. 23 Seton Hall on Jan. 13, 2012. USF is 0-3 vs. ranked opponents this season, with two of the three losses to SMU. The Bulls lost to then-No. 1 Kentucky on Nov. 27.

UP NEXT

SMU hosts Tulsa on Wednesday.

South Florida is at Temple on Feb. 14.