Blogger Spotlight: The Valley, CAA and Bally? It’s time for The Mid-Majority


BracketBuster weekend’s now in its ninth edition. While it’s no longer the only way college hoops fans can see non-BCS teams on TV – thank you, Internet – one thing’s the same: The Mid-Majority remains the premier web site for everything you need to know about those teams.

Thus, the double-dose of Blogger Spotlight this week. I figure there’s no better way to follow a Q&A with Ryan Kish of than by spotlighting the man behind, Kyle Whelliston.

Kyle spends the college basketball season on the road, filing dispatches on everything related to life watching mid-major basketball. If the game had a bard (and if that bard had Bally), telling tales to a rapt audience, Kyle’s it.

He also has some of the most devoted readers on the web. They send him stories of his own, questions and, occasionally, money. That last part’s significant because he does everything as an independent site. If you like what he does, fund his travels. You won’t be sorry (especially when he provides free stuff for doing so!)

Q: Apologies to regular readers of The Mid-Majority for this first question. It’s intended for readers who might not be familiar with your site. It focuses on what you’ve termed the “Other 25” – conferences who aren’t the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, Pac-10 and SEC – conferences that don’t sink massive financial resources into their athletic departments. (Gonzaga, Xavier and Memphis are excepted for specific reasons.)

That’s the 5-cent description. Given the treasure trove of information available on The Mid-Majority – essays, message boards, schedules, live updates, Twitter streams, fan reports and stats (my word, the stats!) – I’d call it a site for basketball fans, period. Please, Kyle, help me. Provide a better description of The Mid-Majority.

A: Thanks, Mike. I guess The Mid-Majority is a college basketball site for people who went to too much college. The liberal arts tradition has sent a lot of us out into the world heads full of stuff we’ll never use in a career setting, and the site really reflects that. In addition to trying to make sense of a chaotic mass of limited-budget university sports, there’s a lot of philosophy, social science, math, Robotics, geography, and literary references. Oh god, the literary references. It’s like a basketball class taught by a wacky professor, instead of expert analysis from a guy wearing makeup in a TV studio. It’s obviously not for everybody. If you hated going to class, you’ll probably hate TMM too.

Q: BracketBuster weekend exposes college basketball fans to teams they might not normally see until March, when those mid-major teams ruin their NCAA tournament bracket. Twenty-two teams get a spot on TV, while nearly 100 others have non-conference games against teams they might not normally schedule. Is it an event that ultimately helps mid-major schools, or would they all be better off keeping that travel money in their pocket? After all, fans can still watch teams on #pixelvision.

A: I, like just about everyone else, have spent the last few Februaries wondering what BracketBusters means anymore. Eight years ago, teams from leagues like the CAA and MVC and WCC really never got on TV during the regular season. Like, ever. The internet wasn’t like it is now; people still called these things “journals” instead of “blogs,” and watching a “live steam” was wrangling RealPlayer until it stopped crashing your browser. Now, you can watch or time-shift a Horizon League game any time you want.

The mystery is gone. Back then, Creighton would come out of a magic cornfield like in “Field of Dreams.” Now, everybody sees teams like George Mason and Saint Mary’s and Utah State coming from months away. It’s a relevance issue, but there’s still a need for a showcase event for the best eight or twelve mids to bolster their profiles, like the original 2003 version was set up. As it is, I think teams just have to get whatever they can out of BracketBusters. In most of the 114 cases, it’s nothing.

(Kyle also expanded on this topic at TMM. You can his post here.) 

Q: Some schools – rightly so – object to the term mid-major. Is there an acceptable term for lazy media types and fans who refuse to think otherwise? Or does our need to define everything simply hinder our ability to watch, enjoy and revel in the fact that every conference has great basketball?

A: The term was basically hijacked. Back in the 1970s, it was a designation for college basketball that wasn’t happening in the premier conferences. The label got stuck on Gonzaga a decade ago because folks needed a descriptor and second-reference term for small-conference overachievement, and too much “Cinderella” always results in “who you calling a girl?” Arguing about language gets kind of crazy when there’s no clear etymological link to Latin or French.

My definition has always gone back to the “not big” root. These are schools that struggle upward against the ceilings of their resources, which makes it compelling stuff. There are those schools that have beaten the system — Gonzaga, Memphis and Xavier in particular — but what they’ve done is go all in on this sport, drop or downgrade football, and spend about 30 percent of their athletic budgets on basketball. More schools should really try that.

Q: You’re a well-traveled man. Are there any conferences or schools for which you have an affinity? It seems you are fond of the Missouri Valley and Colonial Athletic schools in particular. And Butler did provide ample material for your book, “One Beautiful Season.”

A: I went to a CAA school (Drexel), and the Missouri Valley is where I first personally encountered the same level of life-or-death hoops that the major conferences are supposed to have U.S. patents on. The rivalries out there are so intense, and last a lifetime… the median age of those crowds is quite high, because they never stop being fans. I’ve talked to folks who still lose sleep over Arch Madness games from 10 years ago. I’ve met people out there who can’t intermarry with alums from other MVC schools because of family objections. I didn’t really love this stuff until I went to the Valley, it really rubbed off.

Q: About “One Beautiful Season.” I’d call it an ode to the 2009-10 season, but it’s much more. It takes a critical look at the NCAA, college hoops history, the NCAA tournament and the financial divide. Also, there are the personal anecdotes. My faves: Your day spent cleaning the Palestra and your time as Coach Kyle. (Interested readers can buy the book here.)  

Hm. That’s not much of a question, more of a fawning. ANYWAY, what aspects about it surprised you the most?

A: Hey, I appreciate any plug. It was originally a series of vignettes about teams and players and coaches and my own travels, but then Butler happened. So it became an opportunity to look at everything that led up to Gordon Hayward’s shot. As in everything — it’s a pretty thick book. There’s a lot of stuff in there about the formation and evolution of conferences, the NCAA’s anti-New York sentiment after the point-shaving scandals, as well as television’s effects on the bracket, conference tournaments, and inter-conference migration patterns. 

As far as surprises go, I find it endlessly fascinating that two unrelated events in the late 1970s — the Bird-Magic game and the football subdivision split that created all these new leagues and autobids — made March what it is now. The underdog Cinderella romance of it all was really a fortunate laboratory accident. There’s a very viable alternate history where there’s a 32-team tournament featuring only the big boys, along with the same small handful of elite invitees as before.

Mixed in, there’s plenty of game action and Omar Samhan quotes. Also, yes! I am 2-0 as a Division I assistant coach, not everyone can say that.

Q: That 2-0 coaching record might make some want to enter the profession. But it’s hardly a glamorous life for most, right?

A: I have so much respect for assistant coaches. It’s a profession with a lot of churn, and most will never, ever get that shot at a D1 head job. A lot of folks couldn’t handle the bus rides, the 800-mile recruiting trips, the constant management of teenage egos, being on call 24 hours a day to deal with all the little crises (95 percent of which never get out in the media), and the 20-hour days. I know I couldn’t. You really have to love basketball with every fiber of your being. 

Q: About your travels. You wrote recently that life on the road might be coming to an end. No more 100 games. But it’s allowed you to set a more ambitious 800 games project that involves college basketball fans. How will that work?

A: That’s going to be a crowdsourced collection of 500-word game reports from students and fans, just letting others out there know what it’s like at their gym and in their league. We’re doing some practice runs on most Fridays, and some of the stories that have come in have been astoundingly good. (Editor’s note: Like this one.) I don’t know if we’ll collect 800 of them, but it looks like it’s going to be really great.

Q: Much of hoops nation is fawning over Jimmer Fredette. Is a fair response: “What’s he got over Norris Cole or Charles Jenkins?”

A: If the CAA or Horizon League had the kind of television coverage that’s available to BYU, they might have their cults too. College basketball seems particularly susceptible to this sort of thing. There’s not a lot of difference between what’s going on now, and the Psycho T/Adam Morrison/J.J. Redick mania of the past few years. It’s harmless fun, though. Best of luck to the gentleman, I say. I hope he finds an NBA team that will give him 35 percent of its shots, but he won’t. He’ll be a highly effective Allen wrench for someone, he’s got an incredible shot. 

Q: There was George Mason in 2006, Davidson in 2008 and Butler in 2010. Those three schools cemented their place in March lore thanks to their remarkable — and let’s face it, fun — runs through the NCAA tournament. What similarities should we draw from each. Or should we just let them and their seasons stand on their own?

A: George Mason 2006 was a team’s team — so unselfish and so much a single unit on the floor. Davidson 2008 had a once-in-a-lifetime player. Butler 2010 was a combination of  fortunate breaks, relentless defense, and seat-edge coaching decisions. But it looks like all three runs might have something in common: no NCAA bid the next year. Continuity below the Red Line is really, really tough. 

Q: Have you sketched out your March travel plans yet? Do you ever enter the NCAA tournament with hopes of seeing another Davidson, or is that just setting yourself up for disappointment? And will there ever be a year that doesn’t end with a loss?

A: I hope to go all out for conference tournaments, get to five or six and see 20-25 games. That, in my opinion, is the best time of the year. Those championships really mean something. They’re entries on a bracket to most fans, but winning the Summit League or NEC or SWAC means a banner in the gym and a 10-year reunion weekend down the road. Really looking forward to the First Four; I went to the Play-In Game six years in a row, and I’m curious to see how this new wrinkle shakes out. From there, who knows. I’ll just go where the bracket leads, as long as resources will allow.

“It always ends in a loss” has always been our unofficial March tagline. It does end in a loss for all these teams, even Butler 2010, when it almost didn’t. Someday, one of our small-conference teams might make that shot and win it all.

You can read more at and follow Kyle on Twitter @midmajority.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Texas blows out Xavier 83-71 for spot in NCAA Elite Eight

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Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyrese Hunter scored 19 points, Marcus Carr and Christian Bishop added 18 apiece, and second-seeded Texas rolled to an 83-71 victory over No. 3 seed Xavier on Friday night to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.

Playing most of the way without ailing star Dylan Disu, the Longhorns – the highest seed left after No. 1s Alabama and Houston lost earlier in the night – built a 42-25 lead by halftime. They quickly pushed it past 20 before cruising the rest of the way into a matchup with fifth-seeded Miami on Sunday night for a spot in the Final Four in Houston.

Sir’Jabari Rice had 16 points and Timmy Allen added 11 for the Longhorns (29-8), who kept Souley Boum and the rest of Xavier’s perimeter threats in check while making life miserable for Jack Nunge down low.

Adam Kunkel hit five 3-pointers and led the Musketeers (27-10) with 21 points. Nunge scored 15 but needed 19 shots to get there, while Colby Jones also had 15 points. Boum didn’t hit a field goal until early in the second half and finished with 12 points.

The job the Longhorns did in shutting down Xavier was merely the latest example of some masterful work by interim coach Rodney Terry. The longtime assistant took over in December, when Chris Beard was suspended and later fired over a since-dropped domestic violence charge, and Terry has not only kept the season from falling apart but sent his team soaring.

Things won’t get any easier against Miami, which romped to an 89-75 win over the Cougars.

And especially without Disu, who led the Longhorns to a Big 12 tourney title and earned MVP honors on the same floor just over two weeks ago, and who’d been dominant through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Disu tried to play through a left foot injury that the Longhorns had successfully kept secret Friday night, but he lasted only a couple of minutes before limping off the floor and straight to the locker room. When he returned to the bench, he was wearing a big walking boot, a black hoodie and a grim expression.

Relegated to a 6-foot-9 cheerleader, Disu at least had plenty to celebrate.

Carr got the Longhorns off to a fast start, spinning through the lane like a Tilt-A-Whirl for tough buckets at the rim, and even knocking down a spinning, desperation 3 as the shot clock expired. And when Musketeers coach Sean Miller traded out a man-to-man defense for a zone, the Longhorns began to pound the ball to Bishop in the paint.

With dozens of family and friends on hand, the Creighton transfer from the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, went to work. Bishop threw down one dunk on Carr’s alley-oop lob, then slammed down another a few minutes later.

By the time Allen banked in a half-court heave, the Longhorns had established a 42-25 halftime advantage – and had to be redirected from the Xavier tunnel, where they were busy celebrating, toward their own locker room.

Xavier tried to creep back a couple of times, but the Longhorns never allowed their lead to sniff single digits. And that gave Terry, who returned to Texas after head coaching jobs at Fresno State and UTEP, a chance to breathe deeply and enjoy the moment.

The 54-year-old from the small Texas town of Angleton was on Rick Barnes’ staff the last time the Longhorns reached the Elite Eight, back in 2008. He was on the 2003 staff that guided them all the way to the Final Four, too.

Now, he’s one step away from taking Texas on another improbable trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.

Creighton ends Princeton’s March Madness run with 86-75 win

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Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Creighton used its size, 3-point shooting and a swarming second-half defense to end the March Madness run of Princeton, beating the 15th-seeded Tigers 86-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16.

The sixth-seeded Bluejays (24-12) advanced to their first regional final since they were part of an eight-team NCAA Tournament in 1941. Creighton will play No. 5 seed San Diego State in Sunday’s South Region final, with each team seeking its first Final Four.

Ryan Kalkbenner, the two-time Big East defensive player of the year, scored 22 points to lead the Bluejays to their sixth win in seven games. Baylor Scheierman made five 3s and finished with 21 points.

“Kalk, he impacts us at the rim on both ends of the floor and defensively provides so much for us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought he really got going late in the first half and carried it over to the second half. Baylor just plays at every level. He can make the mid-range. He shoots the 3. He sees the floor incredibly well, and believe it or not, he’s become a pretty good defender.”

The Tigers (23-9) were led by Ryan Langborg with 26 points and Ivy League player of the year Tosan Evbuomwan with 24 points, six rebounds and nine assists.

Princeton shook up brackets everywhere by beating No. 2 seed Arizona in the first round, then blew out seventh-seeded Missouri last weekend in Sacramento, California.

Playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1967, Princeton was hoping to become the first Ivy League champion to make the Elite Eight since Penn’s Final Four run in 1979, the first Tigers squad to reach the Final Four since Bill Bradley led them there in 1965, and the second straight No. 15 seed to play in a regional final. Saint Peter’s last year became the first 15 seed to achieve that feat.

Princeton’s offense bore no resemblance to the back-cutting, deliberate style that defined the late Pete Carril’s coaching tenure. Instead, the Tigers went toe to toe against Creighton’s fast-paced offense until they stalled out at the start of the second half.

Creighton used a 9-2 run to take 56-45 lead, a four-minute stretch during which Princeton coach Mitch Henderson called two timeouts and Evbuomwan drew his third foul.

The Bluejays just wouldn’t stop. When Princeton cut the deficit to 61-52, Creighton answered with seven more points and the Tigers couldn’t get closer than seven points after that.

“Princeton’s really good at establishing their pace, so you’ve just got to take them out of it,” Kalkbrenner said. “Their whole goal is to take us out of our pace.”

After beating North Carolina State and third-seeded Baylor in Denver last weekend, drawing confidence from not needing oxygen masks like their opponents, Creighton eliminated the suddenly popular Ivy Leaguers. Now, the Bluejays are one win away from the national semifinals.

“It’s been amazing, it’s been a dream come true. This is why I came to Creighton in the first place, to make a run with this group of guys,” Scheierman said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. I’m looking forward to continuing that on Sunday.”

Miami beats No. 1 seed Houston; all four top NCAA seeds out

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Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nijel Pack and Miami hit shots from near and far against the stingiest defense in the country to beat Houston 89-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16, leaving the NCAA Tournament without a single No. 1 seed among its final eight teams for the first time since seeding began in 1979.

Miami (28-7), only the fifth team this season to score at least 70 points against Houston (33-4), will play second-seeded Texas or No. 3 seed Xavier in the Midwest Region final for the chance to go to the Final Four.

About 30 minutes before Houston’s loss, top overall seed Alabama fell to San Diego State in Louisville, Kentucky. Fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas lost during the tournament’s first weekend.

The fifth-seeded Hurricanes reached a regional final for the second straight year just a few hours after Miami’s ninth-seeded women’s team hung on to beat Villanova and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. Miami and UConn are the only schools with teams remaining in both tournaments.

This is the first time in three years Houston didn’t make it to the Elite Eight.

The Cougars simply couldn’t stop a multifaceted Miami offense led by Pack’s 3-point shooting. He had season highs of seven 3-pointers on 10 attempts and 26 points.

Isaiah Wong’s mid-range game helped get the ‘Canes out to a fast start, and he finished with 20 points. Jordan Miller hurt the Cougars with his penetration and had 13 points, and Norchad Omier was his usual rugged self under the basket while recording his 16th double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

It resulted in a heartbreaking end for a Cougars team that was in the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight time, had won 15 of its last 16 games and had the season-long goal of playing in next week’s Final Four in its home city.

Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, much to his players’ delight, busted out dance moves in the locker room befitting a 73-year-old man harkening to the disco era. Then Wooga Poplar and Joseph Bensley joined him up front for an impromptu line dance.

Larrañaga will seek his first Final Four with Miami and second overall – he took George Mason there as an 11 seed in 2006.

Miami used a 16-5 run spanning the halves to go up by double digits, with Omier’s three-point play and Jordan Miller’s short bank-in with the left hand making it 47-36 and forcing Houston coach Kelvin Sampson to call timeout less than two minutes into the second half.

Houston battled back to make it a two-point game, but then Pack made three 3s and Miller and Wooga Poplar hit one each to fuel a 16-2 run that put the Canes ahead 70-53. The lead grew to as much as 17 points, and Houston never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.

There was no denying it was Miami’s night after Houston made a mini run with under five minutes to play. With the shot clock running down, Omier was forced to put up a jumper just inside the free-throw line. It bounced off the front of the rim, then the backboard, then the front of the rim again before dropping through. A minute later, Houston’s Jarace Walker missed from point-blank range.

Walker led the Cougars with 16 points. Jamal Shead added 15 and All-American Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark had 14 apiece for the Cougars, who shot just 37% overall and 29% from distance.

Houston – which came into the game as a 7.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook – found itself behind at half for the second straight game after the Hurricanes played their sharpest half of the tournament.

Miami turned the ball over just once the first 20 minutes, converted Miami’s six turnovers into 15 points and shot 6 of 14 from distance against the second-best 3-point defense in the country.

Pack made four of them, and all were timely. His first three gave Miami leads and his fourth broke a 31-all tie.

San Diego State ousts No. 1 overall seed Alabama from NCAAs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Darrion Trammell and San Diego State used a dominant defensive performance to knock top overall seed Alabama out of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, bottling up All-America freshman Brandon Miller in a 71-64 victory in the Sweet 16.

Trammell scored 21 points while Miller, whose outstanding season was marred by off-the-court complications, was held to nine points on 3-of-19 shooting and had six turnovers.

The fifth-seeded Aztecs (30-6) will face either Creighton or Princeton on Sunday in the West Region final as they seek their first Final Four in program history. With fellow No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas losing during the tournament’s first weekend, Houston – which played Miami on Friday night – was the only top-seeded team remaining.

San Diego State trailed 48-39 midway through the second half before going on a 12-0 run and controlling the game from there. The Aztecs finished with eight blocked shots – five by Nathan Mensah – and forced 14 turnovers.

The March Madness run of Alabama (31-6) was clouded by its response to the Jan. 15 fatal shooting of a 23-year-old woman in Tuscaloosa, which led to capital murder charges against a then-Crimson Tide player, Darius Miles.

Miller was at the scene of the shooting and has not been charged, but police have said in court documents that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun. Authorities have said Miller is a cooperating witness, and he did not miss any playing time. Miller has received armed security protection during the tournament.

Mark Sears had 16 points and Jahvon Quinerly and Charles Bediako scored 10 each for Alabama, which shot 32% overall and a miserable 3 of 27 (11.1%) from 3-point range. The Crimson Tide fell short of the second Elite Eight berth in school history.

“Alabama’s a great team. They have a lot of talented players and individuals,” Trammell said. “We knew it was going to be hard. It was a dogfight. Very physical.”

Sears’ layup got Alabama within 66-64 with 46 seconds remaining, but Matt Bradley made two free throws and Micah Parrish followed by making three of four attempts, including two with 17 seconds left.

Jaedon LeDee finished with 12 points for the Aztecs.

Houston-Miami matchup a battle for respect

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Top-seeded Houston is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, but the Cougars don’t feel they receive the proper respect.

Heading into the second weekend of the tournament, that feeling lingers despite the Cougars being just one victory away from their third straight Elite Eight appearance.

“A lot of people were pushing for us to lose,” Houston guard Tramon Mark said. “They didn’t believe we were a real 1 seed because of the conference (American Athletic) we play in. But I think we’re one of the best teams in the country still, and we proved it.”

The Cougars (33-3) look to take the next step when they battle fifth-seeded Miami (27-7) on Friday night in Midwest Region play in Kansas City, Mo.

Houston spent the entire season near the top of the national rankings and surely isn’t a surprise Sweet 16 participant.

“I put ourselves in a whole different category,” forward J’Wan Roberts said. “I don’t compare us to other teams. We just stick to what we do, and it shows. Other No. 1 teams got beat, but we didn’t.”

The Cougars and Alabama are the No. 1 seeds still playing. Purdue lost in the opening round and Kansas fell in the second.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson tries to simplify the approach during March Madness.

“We’ve been here many times in the final 16,” Sampson said. “The next 40 minutes are going to be big. We’ve got to find a way to get the next 40 minutes, and then we’ll move on from there. If not, it’s over.”

Star guard Marcus Sasser (groin) is still gimpy despite scoring 22 points in Saturday’s 81-64 win over Auburn. On Thursday, Sasser proclaimed he will be “around 90 percent” for the game. Teammate Jamal Shead (knee) said he is 100 percent recovered.

Mark scored a career-high 26 points against Auburn.

The Hurricanes are in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. Last season, they reached the Elite Eight before being routed 76-50 by eventual national champion Kansas.

Star guard Isaiah Wong said it is a great era for the Hurricanes, who are just two victories away from matching the school record.

“It’s just an honor being part of this program, with the history we have,” Wong said. “We have a great team this year and last year too, and I feel like it’s great to see how we came up.

“My first year we wasn’t as good, but for the last two years, we’re going to the Sweet 16, and last year the Elite Eight.”

Still, guard Jordan Miller said that Miami also doesn’t receive the level of respect it should.

“I wouldn’t say underappreciated, but at the end of the day, all we can do is just come out and win basketball games,” Miller said. “I feel like winning a game in itself is a way to get recognition. We’re going to the Sweet 16. That’s a lot of recognition. We don’t necessarily care about what the media says.”

Wong averages a team-best 16.1 points and Miller is right behind at 15.1 Nijel Pack and Norchad Omier both average 13.4 points with the latter collecting a team-leading 10.1 rebounds per game.

Omier grabbed 17 rebounds in Sunday’s 85-69 victory over Indiana. That was a program record for boards in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the 14 he collected two nights earlier in a 63-56 victory over Drake.

“If I’m being honest, I really don’t know,” Omier said of his success. “I just like playing with my teammates. They always motivate me to go do what I love to do, and I love rebounding.”

Wong scored 27 points against Indiana.

Miami guard Wooga Poplar, who injured his back against Indiana, has yet to be cleared but will be in the starting lineup if he can play.

Houston holds a 9-5 series edge over Miami but the schools haven’t met in 52 years.

The winner faces either second-seeded Texas or third-seeded Xavier in Sunday’s regional final.