First Four

Mount St. Mary’s wins first game of 2017 NCAA tournament

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Mount St. Mary’s 2017 NCAA tournament win will forever be in the record book, but a late decision by New Orleans will likely haunt the Privateers for a lifetime.

The Mountaineers scored the first win of this year’s Big Dance, 67-66, on Tuesday at the First Four in Dayton to advance to a first-round matchup Thursday with No. 1 overall seed Villanova in Buffalo.

But that’s probably not what most people will remember from this game.

No, instead, it’ll be the strategy New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger and his team employed with the game in the balance.

Privateer senior Nate Frye connected on two free throws with 33 seconds remaining on the clock and his team down by a single point.

Now, conventional wisdom in this situation – down a point with a three-second differential between the game and shot clock – would dictate playing for a steal initially and then fouling to send Mount St. Mary’s to the line and extend the game. If you can’t get the steal, you will still be (overwhelmingly) likely to get the ball back with either a chance to tie or win the game and plenty of time to execute a play.

Pretty simple, straightforward and standard operating procedure, right?

Not for New Orleans, apparently.

The Privateers elected to play the possession out, ultimately getting a stop and a rebound, calling timeout with 3 seconds to play.

So instead of likely having upwards of 20 seconds and a deficit of two or three, New Orleans was down one with the full length of the floor to go.

In their attempt for a Christian Laettner-esque moment, the Privateers couldn’t even complete the inbounds pass, with the heave heading directly to a Mountaineer across halfcourt to end the game.

Oof.

The strategy is difficult to fathom on a number of levels. First, it totally flies in the face of normal game strategy, but second, it puts all of New Orleans’ hopes in a low-percentage possession. If they elected to foul with around 25 seconds left, even if Mount St. Mary’s hits both free throws, the Privateers could still conceivably go for a quick two and play the foul game again, getting the ball with a chance to tie or maybe win with still more than a paltry 3 seconds on the clock. 

It’s hard to fathom how this strategy optimized New Orleans’ chances.

But, in the end, Mount St. Mary’s is moving on after controlling the game from nearly start to finish, and making big plays down the stretch. Junior Robinson scored 23 points and Miles Wilson tallied 17.

Now, the Mountaineers’ reward is a trip to snow-covered Buffalo to face the defending national champions. It’s a tall task, but it certainly beats the alternative, as New Orleans can likely attest.

 

Holy Cross extends postseason run in a game that showcased First Four flaws

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The nearly unthinkable Holy Cross postseason run is still alive.

The Crusaders won their first NCAA tournament game since 1953 with a 59-55 victory over Southern on Wednesday at the First Four in Dayton in a matchup of 16 seeds.

A total afterthought in the Patriot League just two weeks ago after a 5-13 league season, the only thing Holy Cross has done since is win. The Crusaders, which finished one spot above last in the league, won four-straight games on the road to win the conference tournament, despite not having won a single conference road game the entire regular season.

Now, they’ve stopped an eight-game NCAA tournament losing streak, and coach Bill Carmody has a Big Dance win on his resume after famously failing to get Northwestern into the contest for 13 years as the Wildcats’ head coach.

Robert Champion led the way for the Crusaders with 19 points while Anthony Thompson had 12. Southern’s Adrian Rodgers had 14 points.

Despite it providing a continuation of a nice story for Holy Cross, the story of this game was once again exposing the flaws of the First Four and the way it’s constructed. For most of the night, the level of play was low and the watchability of it even lower. And that should be no surprise, considering the committee had these two teams pegged as the field’s worst. What’s the point of pitting them against each other? It’s certainly not an alchemy that will often produce entertaining basketball.

Which is to say nothing of how it is a disservice to the low- and mid-majors that have often populated Dayton during the First Four’s five years. This is not a true tournament experience for them. There’s no build up to enjoy the accomplishment. They’re immediately sent to purgatory in western Ohio not to play the sport’s bluebloods or any particular year’s top teams, but to face a school with little name recognition and not likely any better than the competition they’ve faced all year in their own conference. Not to mention you’re televised on a channel few watch in a timeslot no one wants.

Congratulations to Holy Cross, but they, Southern and the college basketball public deserve better.

Shockers join the rest of the field

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With the game slipping away, Wichita State suddenly looked like NCAA tournament veterans. Composed and lethal.

A two-point lead with under 8 minutes to play became a cruise to the finish line for the Shockers after they hit Vanderbilt with a 14-0 run to set up a 70-50 victory in the Tuesday nightcap of the First Four in Dayton.

The 11th-seeded Shockers will now head east to Providence to face No. 6 Arizona in the first round of the South region.

Throughout parts of the game, it looked as though Wichita State was the team the NCAA tournament committee thought they were when they sent them to Dayton following their Missouri Valley Conference semifinals loss to Northern Iowa, struggling to score or find separation from Vandy. Senior Ron Baker in particular struggled, finishing 3 of 11 from the field.

Then, after the midway point of the second half and with their season certainly hanging in the balance, the Shockers looked like the team that won 16 of 18 MVC games, finished the year ranked 12th in KenPom and had tons of NCAA tournament experience.

Baker (who made 7 of 8 free throws) finished with 14 points, as did fellow senior Fred VanVleet, who also suffered a cut above his right eye.

Riley LaChance and Joe Toye both had 10 points for Vanderbilt, which finishes the season 19-14.

The headline for Wichita State was that its top-ranked KenPom defense has the ability to tighten the screws against a very good offense from the SEC. The Commodores managed just 20 second-half points and just two in the last 8 minutes, 42 seconds. They shot 30.2 percent from the floor. and 15.8 percent from 3-point range. It was truly a dominant defensive performance down the stretch.

The Shockers may have backed into the field, but their defense showed Tuesday it may be good enough to keep them there for some time.

FGCU thrashes Fairleigh Dickinson in First Four

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Dunk City is back at it again.

Florida Gulf Coast ripped Fairleigh Dickinson, 96-65, on Tuesday night in a First Four matchup between two 16 seeds.

The Eagles will now travel to Raleigh, N.C. to face the East region’s top seed, North Carolina on Thursday night.

In its first NCAA tournament appearance since captivating the country in their 2013 run to the Sweet 16 as a 15th seed, the Eagles jumped all over the Knights from the outset and never looked back. They scored the game’s first 11 points and never let up en route to the 31-point shellacking.

Marc Eddy Norelia mad 10 of his 11 shots to finish with 20 points while Julian DeBose and Christian Terrell both had 14 points as the Eagles shot 59.6 percent from the floor while holding the Knights to 32.9 percent.

Earl Potts, Jr. led the way for Fairleigh Dickinson with 16 points.

The Tar Heels and FGCU will tip off at 7:20 p.m. ET on Thursday evening with the game being broadcast by TBS.

The Eagles became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 three years ago, and they will have the opportunity to make history again as no No. 16 has ever beaten a No. 1. That, of course, would be a monumental task as North Carolina, besides being one of the sport’s all-time powerful programs, finished this season as the ACC’s regular season and conference champions, having won five-straight games entering the postseason and with a pair of All-Americans in Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige.

N.C. State knocks off Xavier, advances to face No. 5 Saint Louis

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T.J. Warren did what T.J. Warren does.

The ACC Player of the Year went for 25 points, five boards and three steals despite spending much of the first half in foul trouble as N.C. State knocked off Xavier, 74-59, in the nightcap of the NCAA tournament’s first set of games.

Tyler Lewis added seven points and eight assists, playing a terrific floor game and running the Wolfpack offense, while Ralston Turner chipped in with 17. N.C. State also put together a pretty good defensive performance, holding the Musketeers to 41.8% shooting from the floor. Matt Stainbrook had 19 points and nine boards to lead the way for the Musketeers, but it was the seven turnovers from Semaj Christon (to go along with 14 points and four assists) and the combined 4-for-19 shooting (1-for-12 from three) from Justin Martin, Dee Davis and Myles Davis that did Xavier in.

With the win, the Wolfpack, who many believed didn’t belong in the NCAA tournament to begin with, will roll on to the Round of 64 as the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region. They’ll be taking on No. 5 seed Saint Louis in a game that is quite winnable for Mark Gottfried’s club.

UPSET PICKSMid-majors that can win a game | Six Sweet 16 Sleepers

The Billikens are one of the nation’s best defensive teams. They can really struggle to score at times, but when their defense is clicking, they can flat out guard. The question, however, is which Saint Louis team will show up: the one that started out the season 25-2, or the one that lost four of their last five games and got knocked out in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament?

The other issue is going to be who on Saint Louis guards Warren. Jordair Jett is probably their best on-ball defender, but Warren will have a couple of inches on him. And while his game isn’t exactly that of a post player, he use his body and his size to his advantage in the mid-range, as he leads the NCAA in floaters made and attempted.

Whatever the case, the Wolfpack are in for a long couple of days. After playing a game that tipped at 9:10 p.m. on Tuesday night, they’ll be catching a 2:00 a.m. flight — which will take a little more than two hours —  to Orlando for Thursday’s game , which tips off at 7:20 p.m. They’ll have a media availability around lunch time on Wednesday.

Every year since the First Four has come into existence, one of the at-large winners has one a game in the main event. If N.C. State wants to be the team that continues that streak, I hope they can sleep on a plane.

Late Night Snacks: NC State, Albany advance to Round of 64

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 16 Albany 71, No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s 64

Albany started the game on a 21-2 run. It looked like the Great Danes would cruise, but the Mountaineers were able to string together a 21-2 run of their own to tie the score in the first half.

In a game that featured talented guards on both sides such as Peter Hooley of Albany as well as Mount St. Mary’s Rashad Whack and Julian Norfleet, it was the 5-foo-9 Great Danes’ floor general D.J. Evans who shined the brightest. Evans scored a game-high 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished three assists. He iced the game with a pair of free throws after Whack missed a game-tying free throw and Norfleet missed another look from beyond the arc.

Albany gets top-seeded Florida in the Round of 64 on Thursday evening.

TEAM OF THE NIGHT: No. 12 NC State

The Wolfpack were pegged as being on the wrong side of the bubble by the time Selection Sunday rolled around. A win over Syracuse in the ACC quarterfinals and an endorsement from Coach K helped land NC State and bid and on Tuesday night it did not disappoint in a 74-59 win over Xavier in the second First Four game.

ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis helped their team advance into the Round of 64 where the No. 12 seed NC State will be a popular upset pick over No. 5 Saint Louis, the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, which has lost four out of five games.

An NC State win over an A10 program will likely make Coach K happy and justify his rant from last week.

WEDNESDAY’S NCAA TOURNAMENT GAMES

No. 16 Cal Poly vs. No. 16 Texas Southern, 6:40 p.m. (truTV)

No. 11 Iowa vs. No. 11 Tennessee, 9:10 p.m. (truTV)

STARRED

D.J. Evans, Albany: The undersized guard scored a game-high 22 points and at 5-foot-9 he grabbed nine rebounds. He had some big finishes at key moments for the Great Danes, who advance to the Round of 64 against top-ranked Florida.

T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis, NC State: The sophomore duo proved the Wolfpack did belong in the NCAA tournament with a First Four win over Xavier. Warren scored a game-high 25 points. Lewis was great with the ball in his hands with seven points and eight assists.

K.J. McDaniels, Clemson: He went for 30 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in an NIT opening round win over Georgia State

STRUGGLED

Rashad Whack and Julian Norfleet, Mount St. Mary’s: The duo combined for 23 points off 7-of-31 (3-of-19 from three) shooting. Whack had a great look at a game-tying 3-pointer with 39 seconds to play, only to see if go halfway down and come back out.

St. John’s: Either Robert Morris is the greatest NIT opening round team ever, or the Red Storm wanted to call it a season. What’s the importance of reaching Madison Square Garden for the Johnnies anyways?

Xavier defense: Allowed the Wolfpack to shoot 54.7 percent from the field. Warren was able to go 10-from-18 on the night. On the offensive end, the Musketeers shot 14.3 percent from deep.

NIT

  • No. 8 Robert Morris 89, No. 1St. John’s 78
  • No. 1 Florida State 58, No. 8 Florida Gulf Coast 53
  • No. 4 Georgetown 77, No. 5 West Virginia 65
  • No. 5 Belmont 80, No. 4 Green Bay 65
  • No. 1 Minnesota 88, No. 8 High Point 81
  • No. 3 Arkansas 91, No. 6 Indiana State 71
  • No. 3 Clemson 78, No. 6 Georgia State 66
  • No. 2 Missouri 85, No. 7 Davidson 77