Rob Dauster

Monmouth guard Justin Robinson (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Monmouth guard Justin Robinson (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

MAAC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The MAAC tournament always ends up being one of the most entertaining tournaments during Championship Week. Part of it is the uptempo style that some of the teams — notably Iona — play. Part of it is the rivalries against some of the traditional powers in the conference — Iona and Manhattan are not fond of each other, and Iona and Monmouth have developed a healthy dislike this season. It should be interesting up in Albany once again.

The Bracket 

2016 MAAC Championship Men's Bracket FINAL

When: March 3-7

Where: Times Union Center, Albany, NY

Final: March 7th, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Monmouth

Everyone knows about the Hawks at this point. They won the MAAC regular season title after storming through their non-conference schedule with wins over some of the nation’s most recognizable programs. They kicked off the season with a win at UCLA. And that’s before you consider the publicity that their bench has gotten this season. The Hawks have one of the best back courts at the mid-major level and King Rice has this team playing with a ton of confidence.

And if they lose?: Iona

While the Hawks won the league, there is certainly an argument to be made that Iowa is the most talented team. I’m not sure there’s an argument against the Gaels having the best player in the conference — A.J. English — on their roster. Iona is a MAAC powerhouse, and that didn’t change with Monmouth winning the league. Is anyone else hoping to see those two teams play in the title game?

Other Contenders

  • Siena: The Saints have one of the best big men in the conference on their roster, have five players averaging double-figures and just won at Iowa three weeks ago. They’re dangerous, and they’ll be playing the tournament at home.
  • St. Peter’s: The Peacocks are the only team in the MAAC outside of Monmouth to rank in the top 100 in defensive efficiency on KenPom. They’ve been inconsistent scoring the ball, but they did win six of their last eight during the regular season.

MAAC Player of the Year: Justin Robinson, Monmouth

This probably wasn’t as easy as it seems from the outside — you guys know A.J. English is, like, really, really good, right? — but what Robinson did for this team this season is impossible to ignore. He’s been the best player on the roster of a MAAC program that, if they get to the tournament, will have a good enough seed to give them a real chance at winning a game or two.

MAAC Coach of the Year: King Rice, Monmouth

Monmouth is not exactly a school known for its basketball program, yet Rice has been able to build a team that was not only capable of winning the MAAC regular season title, but beating the likes of USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown in the process.

First-Team All-MAAC

  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth
  • A.J. English, Iona
  • Brett Bisping, Siena
  • Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield
  • Khallid Hart, Marist

CBT Prediction: Iona picks off Monmouth in the MAAC final.

Coach K on Amile Jefferson: ‘He cannot run fluidly’

Amile Jefferson, Thomas Bryant
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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It is starting to seem increasingly more likely that Amile Jefferson will not be returning to play this season for Duke.

The senior big man that was averaging close to a double-double when he broke his foot is still not close to being ready to return to the floor for the Blue Devils.

“We’ve got to make a decision here, quickly,” Krzyzewski told reporters on Tuesday night, after Duke beat Wake Forest. “He cannot run fluidly. … He can’t push off on that thing. Laterally, he goes pretty good. And that’s just not in a game, so you’re worried about that.”

It’s not a secret that Duke’s lack of depth, lineup versatility and front court experience is the biggest hinderance to them making a deep run in March, and Jefferson provides all of those things. But it’s looking increasingly more likely that the Blue Devils will not bring him back. Since Jefferson has played less than 30 percent of the team’s games, they will be able to apply for a medical redshirt to get him another season of eligibility.

VIDEO: Tom Crean gets emotional talking to his team after Iowa win

Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell gets a hug from coach Tom Crean, left, after the team's NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Ferrell scored 20 points as Indiana won 81-78 and clinched the Big Ten title. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Indiana clinched the outright Big Ten title with a win over Iowa on the road on Tuesday night.

It was a special moment for Yogi Ferrell and Tom Crean, who have both had an up and down relationship with the Hoosier fan base during their time in Bloomington. There were cameras in the locker room last night when Crean spoke with his team, and he got emotional talking to them about the year and the success they’ve had:

Tom Crean wins second Big Ten title, but is that the answer to his problems at Indiana?

Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell (11) gets a hug from coach Tom Crean after an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Ferrell scored 20 points as Indiana won 81-78 and clinched the Big Ten title. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Tom Crean just put the finishing touches on his second outright Big Ten regular season title in the past four seasons, going into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and knocking off No. 16 Iowa, 81-78.

It may not seem like Indiana winning two outright Big Ten titles in the span of four seasons is a big deal, but it is, particularly when you consider what Crean has been through this season.

There was no guarantee that Crean was actually going to get off of the plane with his job intact after Indiana was utterly humiliated in a loss at Duke earlier this season. I wrote a 2,000 word column on it at the time. It was as bad of a defensive performance as you’re ever going to see. The Hoosiers, at the time, had already lost to Wake Forest — who is currently avoiding the cellar of the ACC thanks to winless Boston College — and UNLV — who was so bad this season that their head coach was forced to resign three games into conference play.

The fan base had turned on him prior to the season, just waiting for him to give them a reason.

Then the mother of one of his best players cussed him out in a Facebook post.

Then he lost James Blackmon Jr., Indiana’s best shooter and second-leading scorer, to a season-ending knee injury.

The ending — a spiraling season culminating in a coaching change — was inevitable … until it wasn’t. Crean found a way to get a bunch of kids that never seemed all that interested in playing defense to become one of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten. He turned Thomas Bryant from a liability into the active, aggressive paint presence that he was hyped as being when he entered the program as a freshman. He discovered his secret weapon, OG Anunoby. And he hitched his wagon to Yogi Ferrell, who managed to put together an all-american caliber season while carrying the Hoosiers as far as his 5-foot-11 frame will take them.

Before I go any further on Crean, it’s worth celebrating the season that Ferrell has had. He entered the program with an unfathomable amount of expectation, the centerpiece of a highly-regarded recruiting class of in-state kids that was supposed to join forces with Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and company and return the Hoosiers to the glory of yesteryear.

But Zeller and Oladipo went pro after Yogi’s freshman season. Then each and every other member of that recruiting class transferred out of the program, either because they weren’t good enough or because they spent too much time making headlines for things like underage drinking or getting busted for possession. Yogi himself wasn’t immune, as he got popped for using a fake ID.

His legacy was on the line this season.

And regardless of what happens the rest of the month, he’ll leave Bloomington as a legend, never to pay for another meal in the Hoosier State again.

So good for him.

Moments like this really only happen in college sports, and for it to happen this way for a basketball player at a basketball school in a basketball state is one of the great stories this season.

And good for Tom Crean.

Because he just relieved quite a bit of the pressure that was on him. Remember, things were so bad in Indiana that fans would chant ‘Tom Crean Sucks’ at Crean’s son’s high school basketball games.

But the question now becomes whether or not this is going to be enough to win people over. On the one hand, the Crean era can no longer be called a disappointment. He’s won two outright Big Ten regular season titles since Obama was given a second term in office. In the 20 seasons before that, Indiana had won just a single Big Ten title, back in 2002, and that includes the first three years of Crean’s tenure, which he spent trying to rebuild on the scorched earth that was left by Kelvin Sampson.

On the other hand, Indiana fans are never fully going to be behind Crean again. All it is going to take is one slip-up for them to come for his throat. What if he loses in the opening round of the NCAA tournament? What if Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant head to the NBA, leaving Crean in full blown rebuilding mode once again? Will the Hoosier faithful be happy with yet another season of sitting around and waiting for a crop of incoming freshmen to become accustomed to the college game?

Ron Davis is the perfect example of this.

Who is Ron Davis?

He’s one of the random twitter users that spends their days defending their favorite team against the biased hatred of sportswriters everywhere. He believed I had somehow disrespected Tom Crean, and after yelling at me for a couple of tweets, he told me that Crean “has proved by turning [the season] around he deserve the respect of Hoosiers everywhere….For how long I don’t know.”

I added the bold.

Because that’s my point here.

How long is Crean going to be in the good graces of the Hoosier State, and will that be enough for him — or the powers that be at Indiana — to decide whether or not a change needs to be made?

Will Crean decide that it’s better to leave a year too early instead of a year too late, that risking the quality of his life and his family’s life is not worth the money? Will Indiana do what UCLA did when they got rid of Ben Howland after he won a conference title?

I don’t have that answer. I’m not sure Crean or the Indiana Athletic Department currently does, either.

What I do know is that the relationship between that coach, that school and those fans is not going to be fixed simply by winning the Big Ten regular season title …

… again.

Tyler Ulis, Skal Labissiere shine as No. 22 Kentucky beats Florida

Kentucky forward Skal Labissiere (1) shoots a hook shot over Florida center John Egbunu (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Gainesville, Fla., on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Ronald Irby)
(AP Photo/Ronald Irby)
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Hey guys, listen to this: Tyler Ulis carried No. 22 Kentucky to a win.

Haven’t heard that before, have we?

On Tuesday night, Ulis had 19 points and 11 assists for the Wildcats as they knocked off Florida 88-79. And if that wasn’t enough to give you an idea of just how important Ulis is to this Kentucky team, think about it like this: Ulis picked up two fouls late in the first half. When John Calipari brought him to the bench, the Gators immediately reeled off 10 straight points. He didn’t sit out for too long.

Jamal Murray also got it going again, shaking off a rough first half to hit a trio of big threes in the second half, and Kentucky eventually put five players in double-figures.

But the big story from this game was the play of Skal Labissiere, the freshman center for the Wildcats that has played like anything-but a projected lottery pick. Calipari inserted him into the starting lineup, and it paid off. Skal got a couple of early buckets, seemed to get into a rhythm offensively and suddenly he looked like a totally different player. He finished with 11 points and eight boards in just 15 minutes, but he finally looked like a kid that had some confidence, like he was simply playing instead of thinking through everything he was doing.

He hit jumpers. He had a couple of really nice post moves. There was a put-back dunk over John Egbunu. He still got pushed around by Egbunu on the defensive end of the floor, but at least he fought for position and made some plays defensively.

It was a glimpse of the player we thought Kentucky was getting this season, and while one game certainly isn’t going to erase four months worth of basketball, it goes without saying that even if this is the best Labissiere we’re going see, this Labissiere definitely raises the ceiling of how good Kentucky can be.

And mostly, it was nice to see a good kid like Skal have some fun playing basketball again. He’s been through a meat-grinder this season. It’s amazing how a little bit of confidence can change things.

BUBBLE BANTER: Florida can’t land the win they need over No. 22 Kentucky

Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) celebrates after a turnover against LSU during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won 68-62. (Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)  THE INDEPENDENT FLORIDA ALLIGATOR OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
(Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

Just three weeks ago, Florida (KenPom: 44, RPI: 46, CBT Bracketology Seed: Play-in Game) looked close to a lock for the NCAA tournament. Their computer numbers were terrific and they were coming off of a blowout home win over West Virginia that A) gave them a win to put at the top of their profile, and B) made it seem like they would be able to pick up the wins they needed to add to bolster their résumé down the stretch.

But they haven’t done that.

Instead, the Gators have lost their last four games, five of the last six and six of the last eight. They have just one loss outside the top 100, but they’re 2-10 against the top 50, 7-12 against the top 100 and 17-13 overall. Throw in the fact that, as they’ve continued to lose these games, their computer numbers have taken a hit, and what you get is a team that suddenly looks like they’re on the wrong side of the bubble.

WINNERS

  • Vanderbilt (KP: 23, RPI: 48, CBT: 9): The Commodores beat the breaks off of Tennessee on Tuesday night, a win that they needed because they simply couldn’t afford another bad loss. Dave Ommen, our resident bracketologist, has Vanderbilt in as a No. 9 seed, which seems high to me. I think they probably needed to win at Texas A&M or win two games in the SEC tournament, depending on who they draw, to really feel comfortable.
  • George Washington (KP: 72, RPI: 56, CBT: Next Four Out): The dream is still alive for the Colonials after beating George Mason. They probably need to win at least a game or two in the Atlantic 10 tournament to have a reach chance at getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
  • LSU (KP: 73, RPI: 86, CBT: Next Four Out): There are apparently still people that think LSU still has a chance to dance, so I’ll put there here for now. Even with a win over Missouri, I don’t think they still have a shot at this.
  • Saint Mary’s (KP: 35, RPI: 50, CBT: 10): There’s still a glimmer of hope that Saint Mary’s can get in without winning the automatic bid, and that hope is alive after they beat Grand Canyon tonight.