Rob Dauster

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)

BUBBLE BANTER: At-large bids will be earned this afternoon

1 Comment

Saturday’s bubble action. This post will be updated throughout the day.

Michigan (KenPom: 50, RPI: 55, CBT Bracketology Seed: First Four Out) could not extend their winning streak to three games in the Big Ten tournament, bowing out in the semifinals against Purdue. The Wolverines are going to be a fascinating case come tomorrow. They have four top 30 wins — Texas and Indiana on neutral courts, Purdue and Maryland at home — but that’s the entirety of their top 100 wins. They’ve lost 12 games this season, but 11 of those losses came against top 50 competition and the 12th come on the road to Ohio State, who is 70th in the RPI.

So the question becomes what you value.

This is a team that has proven they can beat quality teams and do so away from home. They don’t have any great road wins, but they don’t have any horrible losses. I think Michigan is going to end up on the outside looking in for two reasons: their sub-200 non-conference strength of schedule and their lack of true road wins.

WINNERS

  • UConn (KP: 29, RPI: 42, CBT: 10): The Huskies should be OK after beating Temple, but there’s a catch-22 here. They’re going to play either Memphis or Tulane in the AAC title game, and a loss to one of those teams would be the kind of loss that really hurts a profile, a sub-125 loss. How unique is that? We’re talking about a top seven conference here, and if the Huskies lose in the tournament title game, it may end up being a loss that drops them from a 10-seed to the wrong side of the bubble.
  • VCU (KP: 34, RPI: 37, CBT: Play-in Game): VCU knocked off Davidson to get to Atlantic 10 title game, and that win should be enough to get the Rams into the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the title game. A loss to Saint Joseph’s is not going to look bad on their résumé, and I would guess that they are currently on the right side of the bubble right now. Getting the automatic bid would make Selection Sunday much less stressful, but they should be OK.

LOSERS

  • San Diego State (KP: 37, RPI: 36, CBT: 11): Was Fresno State our first bid thief of the 2015-16 season? The Bulldogs beat San Diego State in the finals of the Mountain West tournament on Saturday night putting Steve Fisher’s club in an awkward position. SDSU has a terrific win over Cal on a neutral court, but that would be their only top 50 win on the season. They’ve beaten Fresno State and Long Beach State, but neither of those wins are going to move the needle as much as their loss to San Diego, owners of an RPI of 301. Will a 3-7 record against the top 100 be enough to overcome that?
  • Temple (KP: 83, RPI: 60, CBT: 10): Temple is going to be sweating out Selection Sunday after losing to UConn on Saturday afternoon. The Owls have five top 50 wins and a 7-9 record against the top 100 — both solid numbers — but they only have one top 40 win, an RPI of 60 and two sub-125 losses. They should be OK, but it’s certainly not a guarantee just yet.
  • LSU (KP: 76, RPI: 90, CBT: N/A): Is there anything more fitting than LSU getting relegated to the NIT with a 38-point performance in a horrid loss to Texas A&M?
  • Georgia (KP: 65, RPI: 61, CBT: Next Four Out): The Bulldogs needed to beat Kentucky to get back into the conversation. They did not beat Kentucky.

More than just a No. 1 seed is on the line tonight as North Carolina takes on Virginia

1 Comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It hasn’t exactly been your father’s ACC tournament, what with two former Big East schools reaching the semifinals of an event being held in nation’s capital instead of the ACC’s capital, but it’s hard to say that the event has been anything other than a success.

We haven’t had a moment like this (or this, or this, or this … and this might be the best, for that matter) but what we do have is a Saturday night date between the two best teams in the league who just so happen to have the two-most present fan bases in D.C. this week. I’ve lived in Washington D.C. for nine years. The loudest I’ve ever heard the Verizon Center was during UVA’s win over Miami in the second semifinal on Friday night, and that’s because it was slightly louder than when UNC was pulling away from Notre Dame in the first game of the evening.

And the best still hasn’t gotten arrived yet. When top-seeded North Carolina squares off with No. 2-seed Virginia on Saturday night, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament could very well be on the line.

The Cavaliers may be the best team in college basketball this season. They’re ranked No. 1 in KenPom’s efficiency ratings, largely due to a defense that is now playing up to the level that we expect out of a Tony Bennett-coached team. And that’s before you consider how efficient they are on the offensive end of the floor. The pace at which Virginia plays does not allow them to put up impressive scoring totals the way that, say, Iowa State or Oklahoma can, but in terms of points-per-possession, they’re seventh nationally.

The leader of that pack is Malcolm Brogdon, who may be the most ruthlessly efficient — and the most underrated — player in the country. He doesn’t get the same number of chances that players on teams that play a faster pace get, but he’s still averaging 18.8 points on the season with shooting splits of 51.5/41.9/88.3. He’s scored at least 20 points in 10 of his last 15 games and hit for more than 26 points in half of those.

He’s also a terrific individual defender, which is part of what will make Saturday night’s duel so enticing.

Because Brogdon, if the basketball Gods are looking down kindly on us, will be matched up with North Carolina’s Marcus Paige.

Paige, as you should know by now, is UNC’s star perimeter player. Only he hadn’t been playing like it for the last half of the season. In the 16 games prior to Friday’s win over Notre Dame, Paige was averaging 9.1 points and shooting 32.2 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from three. He seemingly busted out of that slump on Friday, finishing with 16 points and seven assists while hitting 4-for-7 from three in the blowout win. Paige is now shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc here in Washington D.C.

As long as we keep winning, I’m gonna like DC,” Paige said with a smile late on Friday night. 

But Paige isn’t the only Tar Heel playing some of his best basketball of the season in D.C.

Because the Tar Heels’ defense stifled one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks on Friday night, hold Notre Dame to a ludicrously-low 0.681 PPP. This is not a North Carolina team known for their ability to lock up on that end of the floor. Quite the opposite, in fact. The narrative of this group this season is that they are soft an fragile, that they cannot handle the big moment or the big game. They’re fantastic when they can get into a rhythm and play as a front-runner, but get them into a dogfight and they’ll crumble.

A major part of that is because they can’t get big stops when they need them, and as impressive as the wins over Pitt and Notre Dame have been in this event, the bottom-line is this: UNC ran away from them. There were no big possessions down the stretch. The pressure during late-first half and early-second half runs that put the games away is different than trying to score against Duke when you’re down by one with 10 seconds left.

The Tar Heels will not be running away from Virginia.

One just does not run away from Virginia, not with the way that the Wahoos can defend.

And it’s worth noting here that Virginia’s defense more-or-less matches up perfectly with what North Carolina does offensively. The Tar Heels pound the ball inside and attack the offensive glass, and two of the Pack-Line’s main principles are immediate double-teams on post touches and a complete denial of second-chance points. UVA dares you to beat them with jump shots, and while they are shooting 12-for-29 from beyond the arc in D.C., they’ve been one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country.

So there’s a lot to like about this matchup.

And when you consider what’s on the line — an ACC tournament title, a No. 1 seed, a favorable draw for the NCAA tournament — and how well the these two teams are playing, there may not be anywhere in the country I’d rather be tonight than courtside at the Verizon Center.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Recapping a wild Friday in college basketball

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, right, reacts with guards Tyler Dorsey (5) and Casey Benson (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona in the semifinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Friday, March 11, 2016, in Las Vegas. Oregon won in overtime, 95-89. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)
1 Comment

GAME OF THE DAY: No. 5 UConn 104, No. 4 Cincinnati 97 4OT

This is as wild as March games can get. The excitement really started with the second overtime, when UConn and Cincinnati traded buckets in the final 30 seconds to keep the score tied and get us to a third overtime. And in that third overtime, the Bearcats buried a three with 0.8 seconds left to take an 88-85 lead, setting the stage of the shot of the season:

The Huskies finally took control in the fourth overtime, advancing to face Temple in the semifinals of the AAC tournament on Saturday.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 2 West Virginia 69, No. 3 Oklahoma 67

West Virginia forced 21 turnovers and held Buddy Hield to 1-for-8 shooting and just six points, but the Mountaineers still found a way to nearly lose that game. On the final possession of the game, with the ball under their own basket and needing to go 94 feet to win the game, the Sooners put the ball in the hands of their all-american, and he came through with a 50-foot prayer that banked in — a split second after the buzzer:

West Virginia advanced to take on Kansas in the Big 12 title game.

OH, AND WE CAN’T FORGET ABOUT: No. 8 Michigan 72, No. 1 Indiana 69

Kameron Chatman, though:

The bigger question coming out of this game: Is Indiana a different team away from Bloomington than they are when they play in Assembly Hall?

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 1 Kansas 70, No. 5 Baylor 66: The Jayhawks reached the finals of the Big 12 tournament as they rolled over the Bears thanks to 20 points from Perry Ellis.

No. 2 Michigan State 81, No. 7 Ohio State 54: Denzel Valentine paced the Spartans with 19 points, nine boards and eight assists in an easy win.

No. 1 Oregon 95, No. 4 Arizona 89 OT: The Wildcats somehow erased a 15-point halftime deficit to force overtime on a brain fart from Chris Boucher, but the Ducks were able to pull away in the extra frame. Should we be worried about how Oregon closed that game?

STARRED

Lorenzo Bonam, Utah: Jakob Poeltl had 29 points to lead the way for the Utes, but it was Bonam, who finished with 18 points, who sent the game to overtime with this driving layup at the buzzer.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: In a win over Miami, Brogdon had a cool 24 points and four assists. Eventually people are going to realize how good this kid is.

Khadeen Carrington and Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The New York natives finished with a combined 43 point and 11 assists as the Pirates knocked off Xavier in the Big East semifinals.

STRUGGLED

Ben Bentil, Providence: A day after he had 38 points in a win over Butler, Bentil finished with just three points on 1-for-6 shooting while committing five turnovers and fouling out midway through the second half.

Jaylen Brown, Cal: He finished with 12 points and a key three-point play late, but Brown was 3-for-17 from the floor in an overtime loss to Utah.

Notre Dame: The Irish scored 47 points in a 31-point loss to No. 1 North Carolina on Friday night, although much of that blame (credit?) must be given to the Tar Heels for the way that they were able to defend.

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

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)
Leave a comment

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)
1 Comment

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)
3 Comments

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.”