2019 NCAA Tournament: Who will be the breakout star of this year’s tournament?

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What makes a breakout star is a subjective thing. Zion Williamson could average 50 and 25 as Duke cruises to a national title, but the only thing he’d be breaking is records.

Ja Morant plays for a mid-major, but he’s going to be a top-five pick come June’s draft.

So there’s a sweet spot of either being a role player thrust into prominence, an OK team who advances because of its best player or an unknown star for a mid-major.

That’s at least the criteria we’ll be looking at here.

LONGSHOTS

Amir Coffey, Minnesota

Coffey was a major prospect before an ACL tear in high school kept his recruitment a bit lower-key, and he ultimately stayed home to play for the Gophers. At 6-foot-8 with athleticism and guard skills, Coffey  is super talented and productive. He has the ability to absolutely go off, too, having scored 30-plus three times against Big Ten opponents. The trouble for him will be sticking around long enough to get noticed with Minnesota drawing the 10 seed in the east with No. 7 Louisville first and then potentially No. 2 Michigan State, which beat the Gophers by 24 in the teams’ only meeting this year.

Matt Mooney, Texas Tech

The Red Raiders, along with Kansas State, ended Kansas’ 14-year reign over the Big 12, and with Chris Beard the architect of their defense, there’s a real shot at a deep run here. Jarrett Culver draws the headlines and NBA scouts, but Mooney, a South Dakota transfer, is a decent bet to outperform expectations. He’s shooting 50 percent on 3s in the last month and if Texas Tech is going to be a true Final Four threat, they’ll need to give Culver some help offensively.

GETTING CLOSER

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

The Catamounts’ star is a high-scoring, rebound-grabbing, sweet-shooting and major-usage player in the form of the 6-foot-6 Rochester, N.Y native. Lamb averages 21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. He shoots 37 percent from 3 and 52.1 percent overall. He shoots a ton – taking nearly 35 percent of his team’s attempts while he’s on the floor – and sometimes volume is the key to Big Dance stardom. The only way to make a bunch of shots is to take a bunch of shots. The draw is a little tough with Florida State in Round 1, but then a sinking Marquette team or good-but-not-daunting Murray State team between them and the Sweet 16.

Matt McQuaid, Michigan State

The 6-foot-5 senior is an absolute sharpshooter for one of the country’s best teams. Shooting from 3 at a 43.3 percent clip, McQuaid is going to be tasked with taking and making big shots for the Spartans, who are looking to get back to the Final Four after three-straight first-weekend flameouts. Cassius Winston is the Spartans’ star, no doubt, but here’s betting McQuaid finds himself in a situation or two where he can be a hero on a big stage.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

Ponds is an electrifying guard that can take over a game – the NCAA tournament loves players like that – and he averaged 19.5 points per game for Chris Mullin and Co. He can really fill it up, and it’s fun to watch him cook when he’s at his best. The problem is, he can run hot and cold, plus there’s the issue of St. John’s being exiled to Dayton and the First Four. Ponds has the game and the role to breakthrough, but there’s plenty working against him, too.

ONE SHINING MOMENT HEROES

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati

The Bearcat junior is a name hoop-heads know well, but isn’t on the radar of NBA draftniks or casual fans by virtue of playing in the AAC. Cincinnati is a basketball brand, though, and that could help Cumberland capture hearts and minds. The 6-foot-5 AAC player of the year averaged 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His shooting percentage is ugly at 40.4 percent overall, but that’s because he struggles inside the arc, shooting just 41.3 percent on 2s. Outside the arc, it’s a strong 39.1. He’s another high-usage player, who if he gets hot will put up monster numbers. The path isn’t horrible either, with No. 10 Iowa in the opening round and then a Tennessee team that’s great but  also just took a 20-point L to Auburn.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Clarke shouldn’t be on this list. He plays for one of the best programs in the country and is having an absolutely astounding season. Honestly, it’s been fantastic. He wasn’t, however, names as a Naismith semifinalist or on the final watch list for the Karl Malone power forward award (or the Abdul-Jabbar for center if you see him as a five). So, apparently, he’s not getting the due he deserves, whether it’s because Gonzaga basically stops being part of the conversation for two months in the WCC, the discussion on Killian Tillie’s health sucked up the oxygen or playing next to Rui Hachimura just makes it hard to get noticed. The truth, though, is that Clarke is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country, and one of it’s most versatile and productive defenders. Maybe March is the time for the public to learn all that.

Corey Davis Jr., Houston

The senior guard is the best player on the team we don’t talk about enough after they went 31-3 in the regular season. Davis averaged 16.7 points per game and shot 38 percent from 3-point range. With Georgia State in the first round and then either an inconsistent Iowa State team or a mediocre Ohio State awaiting them, Houston’s path to the Sweet 16 isn’t overly formidable. Then it’s an excellent-but-beatable Kentucky and then maybe the field’s weakest 1-seed in North Carolina away from the Final Four. If it happens, bet that Davis will be a big reason why.

THE PICK

Brandon Clarke

Given the stage he’ll be given provided the Bulldogs take care of business, Clarke is going to make it wildly apparent how good he is and how early we’ll hear his name from Adam Silver later this summer.

No. 1 goes down again as Texas Tech upsets Louisville

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NEW YORK — It was the fourth time it’s happened in the first five weeks of the season, the third time it’s happened against an unranked team and the second time that Madison Square Garden played host to the carnage.

The No. 1 team in the country lost.

On Tuesday night, in the opener of the Jimmy V Classic, No. 1 Louisville lost to the unranked Texas Tech, 70-57. That’s the same Texas Tech that arrived in New York City on a three-game losing streak — against Iowa, Creighton and DePaul — and who was forced to play with leading scorer Jahmi’us Ramsey, who missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury.

Davide Moretti led the way for the reigning national runners-up, finishing with 18 points, while freshman Terrence Shannon chipped in with 13 of his own and Chris Clarke added seven points, 12 boards and six assists.

As we have become accustomed to under head coach Chris Beard, Texas Tech won with their defense. They held Louisville to 34 percent shooting for the game. The Cardinals were 3-for-17 from three. They turned the ball over 19 times and made 18 field goals. It was, to be frank, as bad as it sounds.

Texas Tech does this to teams. They take you out of what you want to do offensively. The Red Raider coaching staff scouts as well as any staff in the country — in the first half, with their defense right in front of them, they were calling out Louisville’s sets as Louisville was calling their plays. — and this put Louisville in an impossible spot. They couldn’t get good shots out of their offense because Texas Tech wouldn’t let them, but with a point guard situation that is can be flatteringly called a work in progress, they didn’t have anyone that could create offense.

Texas Tech forces you to make plays.

Louisville doesn’t have anyone that can do that.

And it showed.

Penn State upsets No. 4 Maryland

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Penn State used five double-figure scorers and played consistently hard on both ends of the floor as the Nittany Lions stunned previously-unbeaten No. 4 Maryland with a 76-69 Big Ten win on Tuesday night.

Losing by 30 on the road to Ohio State in their last conference game, Penn State displayed impressive intensity on the defensive end, limited turnovers on the offensive end and received plenty of help for star senior Lamar Stevens when he wasn’t having his best game. For the second straight season, Penn State upset a ranked Maryland team on its home floor as the Nittany Lions proved they’ll be a tough out at home all season.

Penn State (8-2, 1-1) received double-doubles from both Stevens (15 points, 10 rebounds) and big man Mike Watkins (15 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks) as the duo did a ton of damage on the interior. The Nittany Lions also had double-digit scoring efforts from Myreon Jones (14 points), Izaiah Brockington (14 points) and Myles Dread (10 points). With 19 assists and only eight turnovers, Penn State’s offense did an outstanding job of running clean sets and getting good looks from multiple players.

This is a quality win for the Nittany Lions early in the Big Ten portion of the schedule. It gives an unproven team a major boost of confidence — particularly beating a top-five team on a night where Stevens was only 5-for-13 from the floor. The Ohio State road loss shows Penn State still has a long way to go to be considered any kind of major threat. But Pat Chambers’ team is at least balanced and feisty enough to be a really tough out at home this season. A few more wins like this could put Penn State in the NCAA tournament picture with the kind of schedule they’ll play in the Big Ten this season.

But the major story here is the loss for Maryland. Because the Terps have some concerning trends they need to address.

Early in the season, Maryland (10-1, 1-1) has made a habit of falling behind early. It happened multiple times in an early-season tournament. And it’s now happened in back-to-back Big Ten games against Illinois and Penn State. While Maryland has been able to overcome slow starts all season with talent and comeback wins, a bad start came back to really bite them on Tuesday.

Trailing by 10 at halftime, Maryland tried to make second-half runs to stay with Penn State. Ultimately, the Terps were derailed by inconsistent offense, sloppy and careless turnovers (Penn State had 17 points off turnovers in the first half) and an inconsistent effort on the inside.

Maryland’s offense had 20 turnovers to only nine assists for the game as the Terps never seemed to figure out the proper way to run its offense. Alternating between senior Anthony Cowan Jr. (16 points) and sophomore Eric Ayala (15 points) initiating offense, both guards had too many bad passes and unforced errors for a team with Big Ten title aspirations.

It’s very clear that Maryland has the talent to compete with nearly any team in the country. Even on an off night, the Terps made this a one-possession game against a balanced Big Ten team with some veteran players. But Maryland can’t have these kinds of unforced errors if they see themselves making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

That mainly falls on Cowan. A few of his turnovers were stunningly bad for a senior floor leader. Getting stripped 35 feet from the hoop and throwing lazy passes for interceptions and easy layups can’t happen for Cowan. There’s just too much talent on offense for Maryland to be giving away points in close games.

The good news for Maryland is that there is plenty of time to correct some of these mistakes. Cowan can limit the mistakes. The offense will likely play better and more together. But Maryland’s slow starts are a trend to keep an eye on as it has been a factor for them in multiple games this season.

Bracketology: Cardinals, Buckeyes sit atop latest bracket projection

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At the quarter-turn of our race to Selection Sunday, the Louisville Cardinals lead Ohio State by a nose for the No. 1 overall seed.  Close behind are Michigan, Kansas, Gonzaga and Maryland.  The Buckeyes and Wolverines are the surprise entries among that group, although both have earned their positions with impressive performances out of the gate.

While the first turn provides a quick glance at the Field, we still have three-quarters of the race to run – including a daunting backstretch and the turn for home known as conference play.  Those grueling furlongs tend to separate the pretenders and contenders.

Early brackets are notoriously fluid; margins between teams are thin. Early projections also tend to produce some quirkiness – especially related to conference balance.  Keep those things in mind.  By next month we could see a lot of changes.

UPDATED: December 10, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Iowa State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION Georgetown vs. Oregon State
MIDWEST REGION  SACRED HEART vs. PRAIRIE VIEW AM
WEST REGION MONTANA vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis EAST – New York                       
St. Louis Cleveland
1) LOUISVILLE 1) OHIO STATE
16) NC-AT / SACRED HEART 16) RADFORD
8) West Virginia 8) VCU
9) Penn State 9) Texas
Sacramento Sacramento
5) Arizona 5) SAN DIEGO STATE
12) WESTERN KENTUCKY 12) UNC-GREENSBORO
4) Kentucky 4) Washington
13) LIBERTY 13) YALE
St. Louis Greensboro
6) MEMPHIS 6) Villanova
11) Saint Mary’s 11) Iowa St / Arizona St
3) DAYTON 3) TENNESSEE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) VERMONT
Albany Greensboro
7) Florida 7) Seton Hall
10) DePaul 10) Indiana
2) Maryland 2) Duke
15) HOFSTRA 15) COLGATE
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Houston
Omaha Cleveland
1) KANSAS 1) Michigan
16) MONTANA / PV-AM 16) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
8) Stanford 8) LSU
9) Marquette 9) Colorado
Albany Omaha
5) Michigan State 5) North Carolina
12) BOWLING GREEN 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Virginia 4) Baylor
13) BELMONT 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Tampa Tampa
6) Purdue 6) Auburn
11) Oklahoma 11) Georgetown / Oregon St
3) BUTLER 3) Florida State
14) RIDER 14) GEORGIA STATE
Spokane Spokane
7) Utah State 7) Xavier
10) Creighton 10) Connecticut
2) GONZAGA 2) OREGON
15) UC-SANTA BARBARA 15) NEW MEXICO STATE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Creighton Georgetown Iowa Arkansas
Connecticut Arizona State Wichita State Virginia Tech
Saint Mary’s Oregon State NC State Houston
Oklahoma Iowa State Richmond Oklahoma State

Top Seed Line
Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, Kansas

Breakdown by Conference …
Big East (8)
Big Ten (7)
Pac 12 (7)
BIG 12 (6)
SEC (5)
ACC (5)
West Coast (2)
American (2)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

N.C. State forward Jericole Hellems released from hospital

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State says sophomore forward Jericole Hellems has been released from a hospital and is in “good spirits” after an injury in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.

The team announced the news Sunday on Twitter. Hellems had fallen on a rebound attempt and banged the back of his head on the court with 28 seconds left. He was alert but had to be carried from the court on a stretcher. Then he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons to rule out a possible lower back injury as well as to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

The team says Hellems will meet with NC State doctors in the coming days, while coach Kevin Keatts will address his status later in the week.

NC State travels to UNC Greensboro next Sunday.

AP Poll: Louisville remains No. 1, Ohio State jumps to No. 3

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Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season, while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.

The Cardinals solidified thier place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday by routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.

“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”

Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a Big Ten blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.

The Spartans continued their fall from preseason No. 1 after losing to Duke, this time dropping from 11th to No. 16. The Tar Heels tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after getting crushed by Ohio State and losing to No. 9 Virginia.

San Diego State joined the rankings at No. 25.

1. Louisville (55)

2. Kansas (4)

3. Ohio St. (5)

4. Maryland

5. Michigan

6. Gonzaga

7. Duke

8. Kentucky

9. Virginia

10. Oregon

11. Baylor

12. Auburn

13. Memphis

14. Dayton

15. Arizona

16. Michigan St.

17. North Carolina

18. Butler

19. Tennessee

20. Villanova

21. Florida St.

22. Seton Hall

23. Xavier

24. Colorado

25. San Diego St.

Others receiving votes: Utah St. 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 8, Texas 6, Florida 5, Penn St. 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, Duquesne 1, DePaul 1, VCU 1.