Rob Dauster

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VIDEO: CSU-Bakersfield earned a bid to the tournament on this buzzer-beater

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That’s a helluva way to get into the NCAA tournament.

The hero of the night? Dedrick Basile:

North Carolina beats Virginia to win the ACC tournament, clinch a No. 1 seed?

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The story on this North Carolina team all season long — since they were jettisoned from the NCAA tournament in the second round back in 2014, really — was that they lacked a certain ‘toughness’, that their inability to handle the pressure that comes with the biggest moments in the biggest games was eventually going to be their downfall.

Their big men were soft physically, their guards fragile mentally. That’s why they did things like give away a 15-point lead to Notre Dame when the Irish grabbed 13 second half offensive rebounds, or let a Duke team with five healthy bodies land a come-from-behind win in the Dean Dome.

And everyone on that North Carolina roster knew about every word that was said about them.

“We have a group chat and whenever someone on the team sees somebody say something negative about us, we put it in the group chat,” Nate Britt told NBCSports.com after the game. “Sometimes we’ll screen shot [a tweet]. Sometimes we’ll just quote them. It’s anything that we see, we see it on twitter, live on TV, whatever.”

“We’re young people. We see twitter. We see TV. We pay attention to it,” Berry said. “We try to feed off that. People are going to say what they have to say about us. They’re challenging us.”

On Saturday, North Carolina responded to that challenge.

Again.

For the second straight night, the Tar Heels completely shut down an opponent with an offense that ranked in the top ten in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, using a 15-2 “run” over an eight minute stretch late in the second half to open up a 55-46 lead. Virginia never truly threatened UNC in the final six minutes as the Tar Heels left the nation’s Capitol with a 61-57 win, a dual-ACC title and, in all likelihood, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“I think we are the most criticized really good basketball game I’ve ever coached,” head coach Roy Williams said. “And least appreciated. That’s a pretty doggone good basketball team I’ve got out there.”

Joel Berry led the way with 19 points for North Carolina, hitting a three with six minutes left that pushed North Carolina’s lead to five. On the ensuing possession, Justin Jackson jumped a passing lane and went in for an uncontested dunk, leading the blue half of a bi-partisan Verizon Center crowd to go bonkers. Virginia wouldn’t score again for another five minutes, as UNC’s defense totally clamped down.

Virginia would make a flurry of threes in the final two minutes to make the final score closer than it was. If you factor out those final two minutes, the Tar Heels allowed Notre Dame and Virginia to score just 0.762 points-per-possession. For comparison’s sake, the best defense the Tar Heels played this season was in a 33 point win over Davidson when they allowed 0.793 PPP.

“I’ve been harping on, pushing them, cursing them, kicking them, pleading with them, begging with them all year long to understand how important the defensive end the floor is,” Williams said.

Williams told the team a couple of weeks ago that he’s never had a championship level team that wasn’t great defensively, and this team, a couple of weeks ago, wasn’t great defensively.

“That kind of resonated with us,” Paige said. “We want to win a championship. So we gotta start guarding somebody.”

Paige chipped in with 13 points. He scored nine straight early in the second half, all of which came when he was putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim. His jumper wasn’t falling — he said after the game that his shot felt good, but half of his seven missed threes rattled out — but Paige may still have been UNC’s most important player. He did the heavy lifting in holding Virginia’s first-team all-american Malcolm Brogdon to 6-for-22 shooting from the floor.

 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“Marcus Paige is one of the five best defensive players in the league. Everybody wants to talk about him missing threes,” Williams said. Brogdon had scored at least 20 points in 10 of his last 15 games and more than 26 points in half of those ten. “He took Malcolm today and did a nice job. Malcolm is exceptionally hard to cover.”

“I knew he was going to get his, but I just wanted to make it tough on him,” Paige said. “You cut the head off the snake then it’s harder for them to get it going. I didn’t want him to get any rhythm baskets.”

“The key is to have a next-play mentality. He’s going to score. He’s going to hit a shot. My goals were to be there on every catch for him and contest every shot. Every time he’s reading one of those off-ball screens, which he’s so good at, was to have him feel my presence.”

The question now becomes whether or not this is a new North Carolina.

In these last two weeks, the Tar Heels have already done three things the seniors on this team have never done before: They won at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and that, in turn, won the program their first outright ACC regular season title since 2012. On Saturday, they won their first ACC tournament title since 2008.

That’s a helluva season, one that was special enough for Joel James to commemorate by getting every one of his teammates to sign a six-foot banner he had snagged from the net-cutting ceremony.

“That’s going in the house,” James said.

But that banner isn’t the last one James wants hanging on a wall. As successful as this season has been, it’s one that won’t feel complete without a trip to a Final Four, where they can take a shot at winning Williams his third national title. For that to happen, this surge on the defensive end of the floor, this new-found pride in their mental and physical toughness cannot be something left on the floor of the Verizon Center alongside piles of streamers and confetti.

Because when UNC plays like this, they can beat anyone in the country. They have the horses to win a national title. When pundits said that this was a team whose ceiling was higher than any team in college basketball, they weren’t wrong.

That’s still very much accurate.

We saw that in D.C.

And if we see it in Houston, Joel James is going to have to clear himself. a little extra wall space.

Introducing Cinderella: Meet the Southern Jaguars

Southern University coach Roman Banks, left, and player Christopher Hyder hold up the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament trophy after Southern defeated Jackson State 54-53 in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Conference: SWAC

Coach: Roman Banks

Record: 22-12, 11-7

Ratings and Rankings

Kenpom: 226
RPI: 198
AP/USA Today: N/A

Seeding: Can you say First Four?

Names you need to know: Adrian Rogers (16.9 points, 5.2 boards) is the star of the Jaguars, but Trelun Banks is another guy that can carry this team when he’s needed.

Stats you need to know: Southern has the second-best offense in the SWAC (which isn’t saying much) and the second-best defense in the SWAC (again, not saying much).

Big wins, bad losses: Southern actually landed a couple of relatively big wins in non-conference play, picking off Mississippi State, Wyoming and Tulane in non-conference play.

How’d they get here?: Southern finished fourth in the SWAC this season, but they managed to make a run through the conference tournament, picking off No. 3 seed Jackson State in the title game after they beat regular season champ Texas Southern in the semifinals.

Outlook: Southern is headed for a play-in game, so while they could very well end up winning a game in the First Four, don’t bet on them knocking off a No. 1 seed.

How do I know you?: You probably don’t know the basketball team but you do know these guys:

Seton Hall beats No. 3 Villanova to win the Big East tournament title

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard shouts to players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier during the semifinals of the Big East men's tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in New York. Seton Hall won 87-83. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Kevin Willard entered the 2015-16 season on the hot seat.

He’ll leave a champion.

Seton Hall blew a double-digit second half lead but thanks to 26 points and three assists from Isaiah Whitehead, which included an and-one bucket with 18 seconds left to give the Pirates a 68-67 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Villanova again got a tremendous performance out of Kris Jenkins — he had 23 points, and Josh Hart added 17 — but the Wildcats couldn’t get the bucket they needed in the final minute. Jenkins had a decent look from 25 feet, Hart had a shot in the lane off of the offensive rebound and Arcidiacono had a look at the buzzer, but Villanova couldn’t get any of them to drop.

In other words, I don’t think we can take too much out of this loss. Playing with a limited Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats erased a big first half lead and were one shot away from winning at the buzzer. They’ll be fine, even if this loss does drop them off of the No. 1 seed line, which I think it will.

The bigger story here is Seton Hall, who suddenly looks like an incredibly dangerous NCAA tournament team, one that may be able to creep their way up to the No. 5 seed line when it’s all said and done tomorrow night. The Pirates have now won 12 of their last 14 games, including wins over the Big East’s two top five teams the last two days. Isaiah Whitehead is playing as well as any guard in college basketball and, while he didn’t win the Big East Player of the Year award, may have actually been the best player in the league during conference play.

Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez have been much improved as well this season, while Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo and Derrick Gordon really do excel in their roles they’re asked to play. Depth could be in issue playing two games in three days, but if it wasn’t an issue playing Xavier and Villanova on back-to-back nights, it shouldn’t be an issue getting through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Success in March is all about getting hot at the right time.

And Seton Hall fits that criteria.

Report: Oklahoma State is expected to part ways with Travis Ford

Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford reacts to a foul called on one of his players in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. West Virginia defeated Oklahoma State 70-56. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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Oklahoma State is expected to fire head coach Travis Ford, according to a report from ESPN.com. Ford’s job has been rumored to be in jeopardy as the Pokes finished the 2015-16 season with a 12-20 record and just a 3-15 mark in Big 12 play.

According to the report, Ford is expected to meet with the Oklahoma State AD on Monday. Sources told NBCSports.com that the staff has not yet been made aware that a decision has been made, and members of Ford’s staff were planning to be on the road recruiting tonight.

The head coach at Oklahoma State for eight seasons, Ford went 155-111 but just 63-80 in Big 12 play. Ford made the NCAA tournament in five of eight seasons and also made a NIT appearance in 2011. In five NCAA tournament appearances, Ford was 1-5 with a win in his first game in 2009 and five consecutive losses.

During his coaching career, Ford has also made stops at UMass and Eastern Kentucky.

Oklahoma State produced plenty of talent and recruited blue-chip athletes during Ford’s tenure with the program, but ultimately, he couldn’t turn those types of players into postseason success. Despite recruiting players like Marcus Smart, Jawun Evans, LeBryan Nash and many more, Ford only won a single NCAA tournament game and it came in his first season.

The Oklahoma State job is now the most attractive job available in the coaching carousel.

Introducing Cinderella: Meet the Hampton Pirates

Hampton head coach Edward Joyner watches his team during the second half of an NCAA tournament second round college basketball game against Kentucky in Louisville, Ky., Friday, March 20, 2015. Kentucky won the game 79-56. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)
(AP Photo/David Stephenson)
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Conference: MEAC

Coach: Edward Joyner

Record: 20-10, 13-3

Ratings and Rankings

Kenpom: 228
RPI: 165
AP/USA Today: N/A

Seeding: Hampton is destined for a No. 16 seed. They will end up in a play-in game in all likelihood.

Names you need to know: Hampton has a Big Two. Anyone that watched them play in the NCAA tournament will know the name Quinton Chievous, a 6-foot-5 guard that is averaging 17.2 points and 11.2 boards this season. But he’s actually the team’s second leading scorer this season, as Reginald Johnson Jr. turned into a guy that averages 18.4 points.

Stats you need to know: Hampton isn’t much of a threat from beyond the arc, which limits some of their half-court effectiveness, but they thrive in transition and when they are given a chance to get going downhill towards the rim.

Big wins, bad losses: Hampton has one win over a team in the RPI top 200: Louisiana-Monroe.

How’d they get here?: Hampton won the MEAC outright this season, getting to their second straight NCAA tournament after rolling through the conference tournament.

Outlook: The Pirates may end up winning another game in the tournament this season … because they’ll likely open up in the play-in game.

How do I know you?: Last season, before Hampton played Kentucky in March, Joyner told the media he needed “jesus on speed dial” to land the upset: