Rob Dauster

Alabama forward Riley Norris (1) is congratulated after a three-pointer over the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Eric Schultz)
(AP Photo/Eric Schultz)

BUBBLE BANTER: Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Florida with a chance for huge wins

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Michigan (KenPom: 56, RPI: 64, CBT Bracketology Seed: Next Four Out) got the win that they needed, and they may now be on the right side of the bubble.

Kameron Chatman hit a three with 0.2 seconds left to give Michigan a 72-69 win over No. 12 Indiana on Thursday afternoon. That’s the fourth top 30 win that the Wolverines have on their résumé. They’ve beaten Texas and now Indiana on neutral courts and own home wins over Purdue and Maryland. Those are their only four top 100 wins and the Wolverines will finish the year with 12 losses against top 100 teams if they don’t win the Big Ten’s automatic bid, but they also have not lost to a team outside the top 100 this year.

That does compare quite favorably to the like of Syracuse and Vanderbilt, although their win over Texas — the only big non-conference win they landed this season — came with Caris LeVert in the lineup.

But that may not be enough to get the Wolverines a bid. They’ll play the winner of Illinois and No. 13 Purdue on Saturday in the semifinals. I’d recommend winning that one as well.

WINNERS

  • UConn (KP: 29, RPI: 55, CBT: Play-in Game): UConn had to beat Cincinnati on Friday to have any chance of getting to the NCAA tournament, and they did just that … albeit in four overtimes thanks to this 70-foot prayer. Will that be enough to get them into the tournament? They now have three top 50 wins — including SMU — with a 7-10 record against the top 100 and no losses outside the top 100. They’re on the right side as of today. They probably want to beat Temple to make sure they stay there.
  • VCU (KP: 35, RPI: 39, CBT: Play-in Game): The Rams took care of business against UMass on Friday night, meaning they will take on the winner of the final quarterfinal of the night between Davidson and St. Bonaventure. The Rams aren’t safe yet even with this win, and while a loss on Saturday wouldn’t exactly kill their chances, it would go a long way towards helping them avoid a play-in game.
  • San Diego State (KP: 38, RPI: 42, CBT: 11): The Aztecs advanced to the finals of the Mountain West tournament with a win over Nevada on Friday night. The Aztecs will be an interesting case if they don’t win the automatic bid — They’re profile is awfully similar to Wichita State, only without the otherworldly KenPom numbers — but there’s an easy way for them to end that drama.
  • Temple (KP: 88, RPI: 57, CBT: 11): The Owls didn’t lose to South Florida, who would have been the kind of landmine that would have toasted their tourney chances. Like every other relevant team in the AAC, Temple needs a couple of more wins to really feel comfortable about their standing.
  • Saint Joseph’s (KP: 47, RPI: 28, CBT: 9): The Hawks beat GW on Friday, which should be enough to clinch their at-large bid.

LOSERS

  • Cincinnati (KP: 31, RPI: 38, CBT: 10): The sweating starts for the Bearcats. Cincinnati has beaten SMU and won at VCU, but they also lost to Memphis. They’re 2-5 against the top 50 and 7-9 against the top 100. Selection Sunday is going to be stressful in Fifth Third Arena.
  • St. Bonaventure (KP: 72, RPI: 25, CBT: 10): The Bonnies lost in overtime to Dayton in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, putting themselves squarely on the bubble come Selection Sunday. They’re 22-8 on the season with an RPI that is going to be in the top 30 range. That’s good. So is their trip of top 30 wins, two of which came on the road. But they only have six top 100 wins and a trip of losses to teams outside the top 100. My gut says they’re headed for the play-in game, but they could find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble.
  • South Carolina (KP: 51, RPI: 43, CBT: 8): The Gamecocks are another team in an interesting position come Selection Sunday. They lost to Georgia on Friday night, locking them in at 23-7 on the season. Their eight top 100 wins are strong, as is their win at Texas A&M, but with a pair of losses outside the top 100, they’re not as comfortable as they were a month ago. I think Frank Martin’s club is probably safe considering how many other bubble teams have already lost.
  • Florida (KP: 42, RPI: 46, CBT: First Four Out): The Gators lost to Texas A&M on Friday. They’re headed to the NIT.
  • Ohio State (KP: 65, RPI: 71, CBT: N/A): Ohio State lost to Michigan State, meaning they’ll be headed to the NIT.
  • George Washington (KP: 75, RPI: 61, CBT: Next Four Out): GW had some ground to make up on the rest of the bubble field, and unfortunately they blew a 16 point lead to Saint Joseph’s and lost a game where they hit 15 threes. NIT bound.
  • Alabama (KP: 83, RPI: 63, CBT: N/A): The Crimson Tide lost to Kentucky, relegating them to the NIT.
  • Tulsa (KP: 44, RPI: 53, CBT: Play-in Game): Tulsa lost to Memphis in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament, meaning that they probably cost themselves a shot at getting in as an at-large bid.

 

Ed Conroy expected to be let go as Tulane head coach

Ed Conroy
(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
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Ed Conroy is expected to be fired as head coach at Tulane, a source told NBCSports.com.

Conroy was head coach of the Green Wave for the past six seasons, reaching the postseason twice — the CIT and the CBI once apiece — while winning 20 games just once. Conroy is 12-21 after beating Houston on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament.

Conroy, 48, never finished above .500 in league play.

He was previously at The Citadel, where he coached for four seasons.

The news was first reported by The Hullabaloo, Tulane’s impeccably named student paper, but the reports went viral during the second half of Tulane’s come-from-behind, upset win over Houston in the AAC tournament. It’s been an open secret in college basketball circles that Conroy was likely going to be out at the end of the year, so this wasn’t a surprise for him. What may have been a surprise, however, was learning that he had been “fired” while coaching his team.

“I had two guys behind the bench put their phone up and tell me ‘Hey, Coach you’re gone.’ So that was fun,” Conroy said.

Here are his full comments from after the game:

I know I had two guys behind the bench put their phone up and tell me “Hey, Coach you’re gone.” So that was fun when you’re trying to come back from an eight-point deficit. But you know what? I talked to our guys about it before the game and what we have been saying all along, we are the madness. We can be a part of that and this is a — nobody loves college basketball more than me. This is a new story for March Madness, right. I got axed because we’re down 8 at the half. But I talked to the players about it before the game and I don’t mind you asking.

They have been through a lot, and a few weeks ago there was some comments made about people didn’t like our program. And then that was right before a key basketball game. Then two days before we come here, they said that I was fired. Today it came out that I was leaving them. It’s almost like somebody’s putting something out there every 24 hours to try to distract this group. And as you can see, that’s going to be a tougher job than they think. Because they’re pretty focused about what they’re doing. And the thing I would say is, anybody putting those things out doesn’t care about these kids. It’s about them, and this is their time. March is a really special month to me, and everybody that ever grew up wanting to play college basketball, and this is Louis Dabney’s last March and Cameron only has a couple more.

So to do anything that would distract or take away until this thing is done, I think is really not thinking about the students and the student-athletes. It’s a shame. But it gave our guys a chance through adversity to step up and show people what they’re made of, and I love them for it.

No. 7 North Carolina cruises to the ACC tournament final with blowout of Notre Dame

North Carolina's Marcus Paige (5) shoots as Clemson's Gabe DeVoe (10) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. North Carolina won 80-69. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Stilman White isn’t a walk-on, but for all intents and purposes, he’s North Carolina’s victory cigar. The kid that started during the second weekend of the 2012 NCAA tournament in place of the injured Kendall Marshall may be on scholarship, but the minutes he gets come when the Tar Heels have a win firmly in hand.

On Friday night, in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, as the Tar Heels were taking on No. 4 seed Notre Dame, White got on the floor with 3:11 left on the clock, just the second time this season he’s played more than three minutes in a game.

UNC was up by 35 points at the time.

They would go on to win 78-47, the second-most lopsided result in ACC tournament history.

That is what this North Carolina team is capable of doing when they get it rolling. Performances like this are why, all season long, even when the Tar Heels have struggled to win close games, pundits have said that UNC’s ceiling is as high as anyone in the country; that their best night is good enough to beat just about anyone else’s best night.

And on Friday, we saw their best night.

Marcus Paige seemingly snapped out of the brutal shooting funk that he has been mired in, finishing with 16 points and seven assists, hitting 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. Isaiah Hicks had 11 points and 15 boards. Joel Berry II was hitting shots. As a team, the Tar Heels — who ranked outside the top 300 in three-point shooting during the regular season — shot 6-for-15 from three a night after they shot 6-for-14 from three in a win over Pitt.

“I’m not surprised,” Paige said after the game. “I know I’m capable of playing at this level. It was just a matter of time until I got my confidence back.”

After Friday afternoon’s win over Pitt, Paige told NBCSports.com of his shooting woes that “it’s all between the ears” and “mental”. Prior to Friday night’s eruption, he had been shooting 32.2 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from three in the last 16 games, a period that stretched exactly half of the season. It wasn’t that he suddenly lost the ability to shoot, it was that he would think about his slump whenever he was shooting. The yips, as Tin Cup would call it.

His teammates could see him pressing and getting frustrated, but Paige didn’t let the slump effect the other parts of his game — “He scored eight points last night and acted like he had 30,” Kennedy Meeks said. — they knew that it was only going to be a matter of time before he snapped out of it. He just needed a night where a couple of those threes dropped. On Friday, he hit his first, he hit another later in the half and, before the break, buried a step-back three that pushed UNC’s lead to 13 and helped spur the Heels onto a 24-0 run that put the game away.

“That was a big weight off my back,” Paige said.

“We could have booked our travel home at halftime,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said.

And while Paige is going to be the guy that gets written about after this game, the real difference for North Carolina came on the defensive end of the floor. Notre Dame has the nation’s sixth-best offense, according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, and one of the knocks on this Carolina team is that they are anything but an elite defensive team, particularly against ball-screen actions. Those ball-screen actions are Brey’s, and star point guard Demetrius Jackson’s, bread-and-butter.

That’s what they do.

That’s how they’re able to win games despite the fact that they are severely undersized in the front court and struggle on the defensive end of the floor.

And the Tar Heels held them to 47 points and a crisp 0.681 points-per-possession.

“Their defense was a different level than what we’ve seen,” Brey said.

“Our defense is definitely peaking,” Paige added. We turned the corner a little bit defensively these past several weeks.”

So the question becomes whether or not this was a blip.

Can North Carolina bring this kind of defensive intensity for four more weeks? Is Marcus Paige out of his shooting slump — he’s 6-for-12 from three during the ACC tournament — or did he just take advantage of the oft-porous defenses of Pitt and Notre Dame?

That’s not a question that can be answered in any column written by any reporter. Neither is the question of whether or not they can win the tough games and execute in the big moments. It’s not a secret that the Tar Heels are front runners; they’ll run away from you when they get it going, but if you punch them in the mouth, so to speak, they may not be getting up off of the canvas.

That’s something that UNC is going to have to prove to us in March, and this performance was a step towards that result.

“We’re definitely hitting our stride,” said Paige. “I still don’t know what our ‘peak’ is, which is probably a good thing.”

NEW PODCAST: Talking conference tourneys and bubble banter

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A lot of postseason talk on the podcast today. As always, you can listen to the podcast by clicking “play” on the Soundcloud player embedded below. Or you can do so through either iTunes or Stitcher if you so choose. Thanks for listening!

Denver fires head coach Joe Scott

Denver head coach Joe Scott reacts on the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Wyoming on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Denver.  (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
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Joe Scott has been fired as the head coach of Denver, the school announced on Friday morning.

“We’d like to thank Joe for his years of service and wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” Vice-Chancellor for Athletic Peg Bradley-Doppes said. “At this juncture we feel the time is right to make a change in the direction of the program and we look forward to entering a new, exciting era for the program with a dynamic new head coach at the helm.”

Scott has been the head coach of the Pioneers for nine seasons. He finished second in the Sun Belt League in 2012 and won the WAC in 2013, but he’s struggled in three seasons since Denver moved to the Summit League. They haven’t finished better than fourth in the conference and sat in sixth-place the last two seasons.

Scott’s final game as head coach came in the Summit League tournament, a game Denver lost by one point when a freshman that shooting 89 percent from the free throw line missed the front end of a one-and-one with less than a second left against South Dakota State, the Summit League champs.

VIDEO: Kameron Chatman hits a three at the buzzer to beat Indiana

Michigan  guard/forward Kameron Chatman (3) passes against Northwestern during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
(AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Michigan forward Kam Chatman hit a three with 0.2 seconds left on the clock as the Wolverines knocked off No. 1 seed Indiana in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on Friday afternoon:

Chatman, a sophomore and former top 30 recruit that hasn’t exactly lived up to his potential during his time in Ann Arbor, is a 27 percent three-point shooter that has hit seven threes all season long. Michigan had also shot 0-for-10 in the second half … until hitting a pair of threes in the final minute.

Not a bad time to start making them, considering that may be the shot that gets Michigan into the NCAA tournament.

As far as Indiana is concerned, this performance — which was not as dominant as the Indiana we saw in the last three weeks of Big Ten play — only drove home the idea that the Hoosiers are a different team away from Bloomington. That arena can get downright bonkers during big league games, and there is clearly a home-court advantage to be had.

The question is just how big that advantage is. In other words, can Indiana win when they’re not playing at home and thriving off of the Assembly Hall crowd?