NCAA tournament

Holy Cross coach Bill Carmody gestures during the first half of a First Four game against Southern University in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

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

Fred VanVleet, Ka'Darryl Bell
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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

Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley, right, looks back at the bench as Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, left, watches the action in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 71-54. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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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.

College basketball calendar won’t change anytime soon

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Early Wednesday Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury wrote an article in which he made note of a conversation he had with NCAA vice president of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt about the possibility of moving back the start of the college basketball season. This idea was proposed by Pac-12 deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich in March (and others before him), with the move to make college basketball a one-semester sport seen as something that could potentially benefit all involved.

Gavitt did note to Wilner that there are some within college sports would like to see the possibility be addressed, but that doesn’t mean the NCAA is anywhere near deciding to begin the college basketball season in mid-December. Wednesday evening Gavitt issued a statement on the matter, noting that the NCAA has tournament dates locked in through 2018 (first/second and regional rounds) and 2021 (Final Four).

That’s one important reason why a calendar switch won’t be coming anytime soon.

“The topic of shifting the NCAA men’s basketball season and the championship is not currently under formal discussion nor on the agenda of the Division I men’s basketball committee,” Gavitt said in the statement.

Of course with “March Madness” being a staple in American sports, more than a few reacted negatively to suggestions that college basketball should be played in just one semester. Also worth considering, which was noted by Gavitt in Wilner’s story, is the need for arenas during the NCAA tournament.

In the current setup the NCAA won’t have an issue setting dates for the NCAA tournament. However moving to one semester would likely put the NCAA tournament up against the NBA and NHL playoffs when it comes to arena dates should they want to use pro arenas, and good luck getting those franchises to give up those dates.

‘First four out’ to receive one-seeds in Postseason NIT

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One of the biggest questions that gets asked in the immediate aftermath of the NCAA tournament bracket being announced is which teams were the ones closest to getting into the field. Of course with “bracketology” being what it is today, we tend to have a better idea of which teams those are, but the NCAA has decided to ensure that the four teams in question are rewarded in the Postseason NIT.

Wednesday afternoon the NCAA announced that the “first four out” of the NCAA tournament field will be the one-seeds in the Postseason NIT. With the first three rounds of the Postseason NIT being played on college campuses (the higher seeds host), those teams won’t have to leave campus before a possible trip to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and title game.

“We think this is a natural progression to make, given that these are the last four teams under consideration for the NCAA tournament,” Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships, said in the release.

“They have earned the opportunity to be a number one seed in the NIT and play home games in their quest to make it to Madison Square Garden for the NIT championship. We believe this is an appropriate way to connect these two postseason tournaments.”

With the NCAA taking control of the NIT in 2005, efforts have been made to greater connect the two postseason events and Wednesday’s news is the latest step in that regard. Since 2012 the NCAA has released an overall seed list (tournament teams ranked 1 through 68) that includes the first four teams left out of the NCAA tournament.

This year’s Postseason NIT will also serve as a testing ground of sorts for two possible rules changes, with games using a 30-second shot clock and a block/charge arc of four feet (increased from three feet). The Division I men’s basketball rules committee will use the data from NIT and CBI games as part of the evaluation process when it comes to the possibility of making these changes permanent.

NCAA Tournament to call Round of 64 the ‘First Round’, and more sites released

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The NCAA sent out a release on Monday morning announcing the sites of future NCAA tournaments, but before we get into that, here is the big news: The Round of 64 and the Round of 32 will now be called … the first and second round!

Finally!

After years of hand-wringing and disgruntled writers complaining about one of the dumbest things in college basketball, the NCAA has finally decided that they will stop referring to those rounds as the second and third round beginning with the 2016 tournament.

The reason that those names were put into place was to eliminate the use of the term ‘play-in games’ for the First Four. It was a branding effort, really, and it worked. While the First Four is still termed the play-in games by most outlets, it’s used in the same way that the Final Four games are called the national semifinals.

The only weird part of the release is that the change won’t happen until the 2016 tournament.

Anyway, on to the sites.

The NCAA announced on Friday the locations of the Final Four through the 2021 season, as Indy, which hosts in 2015 and 2021, will bookend a rotation featuring Houston (2016), Phoenix (2017), San Antonio (2018), Minneapolis (2019) and Atlanta (2020).

On Monday, the sites for the first four rounds of the 2016-2018 tournaments were announced. Dayton will keep First Four duties for at least four more years, which is great news for a city that has really supported the event. As far as the rest of the preliminary round sites:

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NCAA

Notes: Neither Brooklyn nor Des Moines have ever hosted NCAA tournament games. Good on the NCAA on bringing the tournament back to NYC, although the Barclays Center doesn’t have the same character as Madison Square Garden.

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NCAA

Notes: Hey look! The NCAA tournament back at the Garden! This is something the NCAA should do as often as possible. It’s just a great setting for the games.

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NCAA

Notes: Wichita will get an NCAA tournament game for the first time in more than 70 years. Oh, and it’s official, there will be no domes until the Final Four in any of these three tournaments.