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No. 4 Florida stifles No. 13 East Tennessee State in second half

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Devin Robinson scored 24 points and Kasey Hill chipped in with 14 points, five boards, five assists and a pair of steals as No. 4 seed Florida used a big second half run to pull away from a scrappy East Tennessee State team, 80-65.

Robinson was terrific in the second half, but Hill was probably Florida’s best player. In addition to stuffing the stat sheet, he was also the guy tasked with face-guarding ETSU star T.J. Cromer during Florida’s game-changing run. The Buccaneers took a 35-33 lead in the first minute of the second half, but Florida responded by going on a 26-8 run over the next ten minutes, a stretch where ETSU looked incapable of running offense.

Hill was a major reason for that, as he took Cromer out of the game during that stretch.

To his credit, Cromer finished with 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting, but the ETSU just couldn’t survive the surge from the Gators.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win is that Florida was able to get it done despite the fact that KeVaughn Allen, the program’s leading scorer, finished with just seven points on 1-for-11 shooting on the day. The one field goal that he did hit, however, came early in the 26-8 run, a three that pushed Florida’s lead to eight points for the first time in the second half.

With the win, Florida advances to take on No. 5 Virginia, who knocked off No. 12 UNC Wilmington earlier in the day.

No. 1 Gonzaga advances in slugfest against No. 16 SDSU

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It didn’t go quite as smoothly as Mark Few would have liked, but at the end of the day, No. 1 seed Gonzaga got out of their first round matchup with No. 16 South Dakota State without too much of an issue, winning 66-46.

The Jackrabbits made some noise early. They doubled the post by completely ignoring whichever Gonzaga big man was playing on the perimeter, and the Zags struggled to find a rhythm from the perimeter.

It was just a weird, ugly game that was perfectly summed up by my buddy Eamonn Brennan:

Jordan Mathews had 16 points to lead the Zags, who shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc and less than 40 percent from the floor, while Josh Perkins, Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins chipped in with 10 points apiece.

But Gonzaga’s most impressive performance might have come from Jonathan Williams III, who scored just six points and was the liability on the offensive end of the floor. He did the heavy-lifting against SDSU’s Mike Daum, the nation’s second-leading scorer that had just 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting, doing much of his damage after the outcome of the game was already decided.

Williams added 14 boards and a pair of blocks as well.

The Zags will advance to face the winner of No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 9 Vanderbilt on Saturday.

No. 5 Virginia lands comeback win to avoid upset vs. No. 12 UNC Wilmington

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London Perrantes finished with 24 points and Marial Shayok added 23 as No. 5 seed Virginia erased a 15-point first half deficit to knock off upset-minded No. 12 seed UNC Wilmington, 76-71, in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Orlando.

The Cavs were a trendy pick to be a first round upset in this year’s tournament, and it looked like that would come to fruition early on, as the Seahawks gave the Cavaliers trouble at the start of the game. Tony Bennett made the decision to field the smallest lineup he may ever field. Virginia went to a five-guard look, with the likes of Shayok and Devon Hall and Darius Thompson manning the front court, as Virginia was able to counteract the UNCW press that was so effective early in the game.

UNCW had 12 points off of turnovers in the first 12 minutes of the game. They had two points off of turnovers in the final 28 minutes of the game.

Perrantes was, as you would probably expect, the hero, hitting a pair of critical runners in the lane after appearing to injure his shoulder in the second half. His performance in the second half of this game was peak Perrantes. It never felt like he was in total control of what was happening, but he was. Shayok hit the dagger, a banked-in 12-footer over two defenders with less than 30 seconds left.

It’s a shame that this UNCW run is likely going to come to an end like this. Head coach Kevin Keatts is in the mix with just about every high-major job opening on the market, and there are a couple of key pieces on this roster that are seniors. The Seahawks probably deserved a tournament win at some point during this run, but it just wasn’t in the cards.

Virginia will advance to take on the winner of No. 4 Florida and No. 13 East Tennessee State, which will be played later this afternoon.

Indiana has fired head coach Tom Crean

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Tom Crean has been fired by Indiana after nine seasons as head coach.

“After deliberative thought and evaluation, including multiple meetings with Tom about the future, I have decided to make a change in the leadership of our men’s basketball program,” athletic director Fred Glass said in a statement released at the exact moment that the NCAA tournament kicked off on Thursday afternoon.

Crean was coming off of a Big Ten regular season title and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2016, but the Hoosiers took a step back this season. After knocking off Kansas and North Carolina in November, Indiana missed the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round of the NIT. That was a road game despite the fact that the Hoosiers were a higher seed, a decision that was made to hide the fact that Assembly Hall would have been empty.

The Hoosiers went 18-16 this season and just 7-11 in the Big Ten.

The decision to part ways with Crean is not all that surprising. There was some speculation that he may get another year, but another year wouldn’t have solved the problems. The relationship between Crean and the Indiana fan base had reached the point where there wasn’t going to be a reconciliation. This was a marriage that needed to end so both parties could move on.

And let it be known, Tom Crean had a successful run with the Hoosiers. He won the outright Big Ten title in 2013 and 2016. He rebuilt a program that was driven into the ground by Kelvin Sampson.

But this was a move that needed to happen.

You may love your ex-wife, but that doesn’t mean you should still be married.

The question now becomes who Indiana can and will target, and that list is where things get fun.

The first name that Indiana has to call is Brad Stevens, the former Butler and current Boston Celtics head coach. He’s probably going to say no, but Indiana has to shoot their shot.

Once Stevens says no is when things get interesting. The trendy name of late has been Steve Alford, the former Indiana star and native Hoosier whose son is graduating from UCLA this year. But Indiana is a job that can attract some big names, names that have said no to other high-major openings in the past — Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Archie Miller, Xavier’s Chris Mack — and I’d be surprised if Butler Chris Holtmann didn’t get a look as well.

Indiana was the big domino that needed to fall.

Now the coaching carousel can kick into high gear.

NCAA Tournament: Previewing Thursday’s bracket action; picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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GAMES OF THE DAY

No. 12 Nevada vs. 5 Iowa State (-6.5), 9:57 p.m., truTV: This is one of my two favorite first round matchups. I’m not sure there is a hotter team in college basketball than Iowa State. The Cyclones were on the bubble roughly six weeks ago. Now they’re a No. 5 seed that finished second in the Big 12 and won the Big 12 tournament title. Monte’ Morris is playing great and Naz Long looks like a new man. But the Wolf Pack are the most talented double-digit seed in the field. They have a center that will play in the league, a guard that averages 20 and another forward that went for 45 points in a road game against New Mexico. This is going to be a fun, fun basketball game.

PREDICTION: Iowa State (-6.5)

No. 11 Xavier vs. No. 6 Maryland (-2), 6:50 p.m., TNT: This game is fascinating to me because I think Xavier will win this, but also because Maryland always, always, always plays close games. They’re good enough to keep pace with just about anyone in the country, and they have the ultimate closer in college hoops in Melo Trimble, who is 30-8 in games decided by six points or less in his college career. Xavier has just one win over a team not named DePaul since Feb. 4th, but with Trevon Bluiett’s ankle finally healthy and the Musketeers getting used to life without Edmond Sumner, I think they win this game, and I would not be surprised if it came on a buzzer-beater.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+2)

UPSETS BREWING

No. 12 UNC Wilmington vs. No. 5 Virginia (-7), 12:40 p.m., truTV: I’ve written and talked about this plenty, but I have a real concern about UNCW in this game simply because I don’t love the matchup. UNCW wants to press, force turnovers, speed things up and make opponents make mistakes. That’s not an easy thing to do against Virginia. I do, however, think that, given the pace UVA plays at, the Seahawks will have a good shot to cover.

PREDICTION: UNCW (+7)

No. 13 East Tennessee State vs. No. 4 Florida (-10.5), 3:10 p.m., truTV: A bet on ETSU is a bet on Steve Forbes, a former Wichita State and Tennessee (under Bruce Pearl) assistant that has had success everywhere he’s been in the coaching world. He now has a team with some high-major talent and an elite guard in T.J. Cromer, and he’ll be going up against a Florida team that is missing their starting center. Florida is an elite defensive team, and their guards are going to make ETSU work, but I think the Buccaneers have a puncher’s chance here.

PREDICTION: ETSU (+10.5)

No. 12 Middle Tennessee (-1) vs. No. 5 Minnesota, 4:00 p.m., TNT: It feels so weird writing about this game as a potential upset when the team that I think will be doing the upsetting is actually the team that is favored in this game. But since this is all about the tournament and all about the brackets, we can call Middle Tennessee winning an upset without the gambling dorks losing their minds. If there’s anything I’m worried about with Minnesota, it’s that they have a pair of dynamic guards and a couple of big, athletic bodies up front. As good as the Blue Raiders are, I’m worried about the athleticism advantage that Minnesota will have. I’m still riding with Kermit Davis, though.

PREDICTION: Middle Tennessee (-1)

No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida State (-12), 9:20 p.m., TNT: So I think Florida-Gulf Coast wins this thing. Florida State is really talented and crazy athletic with a ton of size, but I just don’t trust them. I don’t think they have great guard play and I don’t think that they realize that Jonathan Isaac is the best player on the floor every time he steps on the floor. I don’t even think Jonathan Isaac realizes it. Throw in the fact that FGCU is well-coached and has a really good guard in Brandon Goodwin, and I’ll ride that Dunk City train.

PREDICTION: Florida-Gulf Coast (+12)

HOPEFULLY, IT’S CLOSE LATE

  • No. 12 Princeton vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (-6.5), 12:15 p.m., CBS: Princeton is better than you may realize, controls tempo and should keep this one close. PREDICTION: Princeton (+6.5)
  • No. 13 Winthrop vs. 4 Butler (-11), 1:30 p.m., TNT: I actually think Pat Kelsey’s club has a chance to pick off Butler, who is a team I absolutely cannot figure out. PREDICTION: Winthrop (+11)
  • No. 10 VCU vs. No. 7 Saint Mary’s (-4.5), 7:20 p.m., TBS: Saint Mary’s has a chance to make something of a statement against a program with a reputation in March that is only in the tournament because of a pair of fluky wins. PREDICTION: Saint Mary’s (-4.5)
  • No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Purdue (-10.5), 7:27 p.m., truTV: The Catamounts should keep this close. They’re well-coached, control pace and tough defensively. Staying out of foul trouble will be the key. PREDICTION: Vermont (+10.5)
  • No. 9 Virginia Tech vs. 8 Wisconsin (-5.5), 9:40 p.m., CBS: You know a No. 8 seed has been miss-seeded when they show up as a 5.5 point favorite. And while I love Buzz in a tournament setting, I’ll get my money in on Wisconsin. PREDICTION: Wisconsin (-5.5)
  • No. 13 Bucknell vs. No. 4 West Virginia (-14), 2:45 p.m., CBS: There is no way that Bucknell is going to know what’s coming when they face Press Virginia. They may have prepared for it, but practice and what happens in an actual game are two different things. PREDICTION: West Virginia (-14)
  • No. 9 Vanderbilt (-2) vs. No. 8 Northwestern, 4:30 p.m., TBS: In the battle of the brainiacs, I fully expect a Vanderbilt team with three wins over Florida that is coached by a guy that made one of the most famous shots in NCAA tournament history to be able to handle a Big Ten program playing their first ever NCAA tournament game. PREDICTION: Vanderbilt (-2)

THE ONLY DRAMA IS WHETHER OR NOT THEY COVER

  • No. 16 South Dakota State vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (-22.5), 2:00 p.m., TBS: This matchup is intriguing because SDSU’s Mike Daum is the second-leading scorer in college basketball, but I can’t see this Gonzaga team being the first ever No. 1 seed to lose in the first round when they’ve blown everyone out this year. PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-22.5)
  • No. 16 Mount St Mary’s vs. No. 1 Villanova (-26.5), 7:10 p.m., CBS: Jamion Christian has done a terrific job at The Mount, but there’s a reason Villanova is the reigning champ, even though they’ve been stuck in Buffalo for three days. PREDICTION: Mount St. Mary’s (+26.5)
  • No. 15 North Dakota vs. No. 2 Arizona (-17), 9:50 p.m., TBS: Arizona is coming off of a Pac-12 regular season and tournament title, and Allonzo Trier is playing as well as he has all season long. PREDICTION: Arizona (-17)

 

NCAA Tournament: UC Davis win their first ever tournament game in First Four

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Chima Moneke scored 18 points and Brynton Lemar added 15 as the UC Davis Aggies win their first NCAA tournament game ever, 67-63, over N.C. Central in a First Four play-in game.

UC Davis didn’t join the Division I ranks until 2004. They didn’t join a conference until 2007. They didn’t win 20 games in a season until the 2014-15, when Jim Les, the former Bradley head coach, led the Aggies to a 25-7 record and the first regular season conference title in program history.

This year, UC Davis finally reached the NCAA tournament.

And they won a game.

That’s likely all they’re going to get as well, as the Aggies will advance to take on the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, Kansas. This has been a dream season for UC Davis, but that dream is going to come to an end against a team many thought would be the No. 1 overall seed a week ago.

As far as N.C. Central is concern, this is the third time in four years that they’ve won the regular season title in the MEAC and the second time in that time frame that they’ve reached the NCAA tournament, but the Eagles are still without a win in the Big Dance. LeVelle Moton has that program rolling, and the wins are going to come eventually, but when you shoot 5-for-26 from three, 35.7 percent from the floor and miss a half-dozen layups, it’s hard to win games in the NCAA tournament.