NCAA hopefuls, beware of those pesky ‘Bid Thieves’

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The bid thief doesn’t linger very long. It gets in, gets out, and handles it’s business. The bid thief is one of the last things a desperate bubble team wants to see in early March. The longer a bubble team or potential at-large team can stay alive in a conference tournament, the better their chances get at being safe from to bid thievery. Bubble teams that make a quick exit in their conference tournament leave their March Madness fate in the hands of the committee, and that’s exactly when a team becomes the most vulnerable.

But not all bid thieves are the same.  The 2008 Georgia Bulldogs were not the same as the 2010 New Mexico Aggies, who were not the same as the 2010 Houston Cougars who were not the same as the 2006 Syracuse Orange. Bid thieves thrive in unexpected circumstances. They come in all shapes and sizes, and usually, they play like there’s no tomorrow or there’s nothing to lose.

So, for fans of St. Joe’s, South Florida, Xavier, Miami, Southern Mississippi, and Colorado State: take heed and pay close attention to the following teams over the next nine days. Their performances could directly impact your team’s tournament status.

Cal-State Fullerton – Big West

Long Beach State has been the best team in the Big West for the past two years, but they have faltered in the tournament both seasons. If there is going to be a team to beat them, it’s the Titans. They feature a high-scoring offense that is necessary in order to beat Long Beach State. It’s not probably, but it’s certainly possible. Long Beach State’s strength of schedule will give them some help if they have yet another tournament slip-up. Fans of bubble teams should be vehemently rooting against the Titans next week.

Colorado – Pac-12 Conference

Does anybody actually know how many teams the Pac-12 is going to get in the NCAA Tournament? Even top teams like Arizona, Cal and Washington could be considered potential bid thieves. But of the teams that nobody is really talking about, Colorado could do the most damage. They hold wins over the four teams in front of them in the standings and a successful postseason push could put the Buffs on the right side of the bubble. This is the Pac-12 we are talking about. Anything could happen.

Denver – Sun Belt

The last thing bubble teams want is dominant mid-major squad thrown into the mix at the last-minute. Since December, Middle Tennessee State has been projected to win the Sun Belt tournament, but the Raiders also have a decent non-conference schedule in the event that they get ousted in the conference tournament. Denver was the only team to put a real hurting on Middle Tennessee this season, and having won four of the last five games, could be in a position to bounce Middle Tennessee onto and potentially off of the bubble.

Evansville – Missouri Valley Conference

Considering the MVC is one of the most competitive conferences in the country, there is a very good possibility that a bid thief emerges from the tournament. Wichita State and Creighton are NCAA Tournament locks. If neither of them hoist the MVC Tournament title, bubble teams could be in big trouble. Evansville poses the biggest threat in “Arch Madness”. They have already beaten Creighton, and if they can get past Missouri State in the first round, whom they beat in the last game of season, could face Creighton again in the semifinals. Plus, Evansville guard Colt Ryan is a dynamic scoring threat who can heat up in a hurry. He scored a career-high 43 points during the Aces previous meeting with Creighton.

George Mason – CAA

The CAA might not have as much talent is years past, but the top teams are just as tough, and capable of going on a hot streak.  George Mason lacks the non-conference resumes need to grab an at-large bid, but both teams have the leadership, toughness and experience to run the tables in Richmond. The Drexel Dragons are the top seed and could potentially grab an at-large bid if George Mason can win the tournament or make a deep run. Because of their recent postseason success, it would be foolish of us to count out the Patriots.

Illinois – Big Ten

Yup, that’s right, Illinois. It’s not a conventional pick, but neither was Georgia in 2008 or Syracuse in 2006. Sure, they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games, but the Illini have beaten some of the best teams in the Big-10. What if Brandon Paul gets hot again? What if Myers Leonard finally decides to assert himself as a force? Crazier things have happened before. Think about what happens if Illinois some how makes the NCAA Tournament. Will that save Bruce Weber’s job status?

Iowa – Big Ten

All told, Iowa hasn’t had a great season. Yes, they’re much better than they were a year ago, but this does not look like an NCAA Tournament team. Well, unless the put together a feverish run in the Big-Ten Tournament. They are finishing up the regular season strong, with two wins against top-25 teams (albeit at home). With a gun-slingin’ mercenary like Matt Gatens leading the way, the Hawkeyes do have a shooters chance. But anything short of an overtime buzzer-beating loss in the tournament finals (and that’s still probably not enough) will leave them out of the postseason.

Loyola (Md.) – MAAC

The Iona Gaels have an outside shot at receiving an at-large bid, and the Loyola Greyhounds could be the team to force their hand in the MAAC Tournament. Loyola has had a banner year this season, going 21-8 and finishing 13-5 in the conference. They split the season series with the Gaels, and swept the season series against No.3-seed Manhattan.

Loyola-Marymount – West Coast Conference

The Lions have won seven of their last nine, beat Valparaiso in BracketBusters and own road victories against BYU and St. Mary’s. The West Coast Conference is still anybody’s to win. If LMU can avoid Gonzaga in the conference tournament, their chances at snagging a bid from a bubble team increase dramatically.

Northern Iowa – Missouri Valley Conference

In the Missouri Valley Conference, nothing is set in stone. This team is known for their post-season magic, and Anthony James looks to be the guy that might keep it alive in the postseason. The Panthers have been woefully inconsistent, but you have to remember that this is the MVC we are talking about. You never can count a team out until they are cutting down the nets.

Northwestern – Big Ten

Northwestern is becoming the reincarnation of Virginia Tech. The only major conference team to have never reach a NCAA Tournament has been on the wrong side of the bubble each of the past three seasons. A heart-breaking loss to Ohio State this week firmly entrenched them on the bubble’s weaker side. But the Wildcats fared well on a neutral court earlier in the season, winning the Charleston Classic, and the only ugly losses they suffered were on the road. John Shurna is a desperate man. Sometimes desperation is all it talk to create some magic.

Penn – Ivy League

Sure, there’s no Ivy League Tournament for them to win, but if they win their final three games, all against the league’s weaker teams, they will be tied with Harvard for the Ivy League title. Since the teams split the season series, a one-game playoff would decide the league’s auto-bid, and we all remember what happened in last season’s one game playoff. The difference this season is that Harvard could grab an at-large bid if they are to lose to Penn in dramatic fashion, which would certainly shake things up for the bubble.

St. Bonaventure’s – Atlantic-10

Can anyone figure out the Atlantic-10 hierarchy this year? Every team has some questionable losses, and no team has been able to assert themselves as the top dog. That should make for an interesting conference tournament.  The Bonnies have played much better down the stretch, and with Andrew Nicholson, the conference’s top big-man, they could be a team to give at-large hopefuls a few nightmares.

South Dakota State – Summit League

There is only one possible scenario in which the Summit League receives two bids this season. South Dakota State would have to beat Oral Roberts for the championship in a game undecided with less than sixty seconds left. Oral Roberts would need a razor-close loss coupled together with poor performances from other bubble teams and very little bid thievery in order to snag an at-large bid. If SDSU beats them convincingly, bubble teams can probably breathe a bit easier. But SDSU has Nate Wolters, a guy who could very well become the next “Wally Szczerbiak”.

Tennessee – SEC

Cuonzo Martin thinks his team deserves a bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Volunteers have put together a very good season in year one of the post-Pearl era, but their at-large hopes are very slim. The Vols have the size, toughness and talent to make an unexpected run at the SEC Tournament title. The only problem is that Kentucky is standing in their way, and Kentucky is like really, really good. But if there was a “bid thief” to emerge from the SEC, Tennessee would have to be considered a likely candidate.

Tennessee State – Ohio Valley Conference

The Tigers have the distinct honor of being the only team in the nation to defeat the Murray State Racers this season. They also benefit from receiving a double-bye in the OVC tournament and will only have to win two games in order to earn an at-large bid. In all likelihood, they will have to face the Racers in a championship rubber-match in order to do so.

Tulsa – Conference-USA

The Golden Hurricanes are tied for third in the conference, but have no shot at an at-large bid. They do boast a sturdy C-USA record, and have only lost one conference game in regulation by more than three points. Their regular season finale against Memphis should determine if this team has what it takes to steal an auto-bid. Just two seasons ago, Houston emerged from the eighth seed to steal a bid for bubble teams. Tulsa might be able to do the same in 2012.

UConn – Big East

If the Huskies play like they did against Louisville, they will spend no more than 24 hours in New York City. But if this team decides to play with energy, cohesiveness and passion, they could do some special things. UConn has fallen so hard that they have to put together a noteworthy performance at the Big East Tournament just to get them back in bubble contention. But as we’ve seen in the past (Kemba in 2011 and Jerry-Mac in 2006) anything is possible at Madison Square Garden.

Virginia Commonwealth – CAA

Remember what you just read about George Mason? Well, all the same applies to VCU. As it stands, Drexel looks like the only team that will receive a bid to the Big Dance. But the crowd in Richmond is bound to be pro-VCU, and senior forward Bradford Burgess isn’t likely to go down without a fight. If this team is making a high percentage of their shots, they are a tough team to beat. Anything short of an appearance in the finals will send the Rams packing for one of the “Little Dances”.

No. 1 South Carolina tops fifth-ranked UConn 81-77

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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HARTFORD, Conn. – In a rematch of last season’s national championship game, South Carolina came out on top again over UConn thanks to a strong fourth quarter by Aliyah Boston.

Geno Auriemma stepping onto the court to spike a water botte, that helped them, too.

Boston scored 23 of her 26 points in the second half, including 14 in the final period, to help the No. 1 Gamecocks beat the fifth-ranked Huskies 81-77 on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd.

“Aliyah is just relentless, she plays relentlessly although she had a subpar (first half) as far as statistics, she impacted the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She doesn’t get flustered. she knew she didn’t play up to her standards. What does she do? Raise her standard. Bad first half or not she’s going to continue to play.”

While there wasn’t as much on the line as the title game last April, there was a high intensity to it, including Auriemma getting the technical late in the fourth quarter after getting frustrated by the officiating enough to throw the bottle.

“I thought there were a lot of things being overlooked. It was difficult for some of our guys to move out on the floor,” said Auriemma, UConn’s coach. “I didn’t think it was one key play, I just couldn’t keep quiet any longer. It was bad. … Dumb mistake by me. Bad decision.”

The Gamecocks (23-0) have won 29 consecutive games since losing to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game last year. They’ve won four of the past five meetings with the Huskies, including a victory in the NCAA championship game last season. That ended UConn’s perfect 11-0 record in title games.

“This was a national championship-like game. I wanted us to feel what it takes to do this,” Staley said.

Now South Carolina finally has a win in Connecticut after winning there before.

South Carolina used its size again to top the Huskies. The 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year helped the Gamecocks have a 42-30 advantage on the boards, including grabbing 25 offensive rebounds.

Boston finished with 11 rebounds for the 76th double-double of her career. Cardoso added 17 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

With her team leading by four in the fourth quarter, Boston took over. She scored the next 12 points for South Carolina, two of those came when Auriemma tossed the water onto the court and was charged with the technical foul.

Boston hit the two free throws. She then hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and another basket to give the Gamecocks a double-digit advantage.

“I’m kind of in attack mode. In the second half I made more shots then I did in the first half,” Boston said.

Despite seeing their starting backcourt foul out, the short-handed Huskies (21-3) wouldn’t go away. They whittled the lead down to 80-77 with 10.8 seconds left on Aubrey Griffin’s three-point play.

Raven Johnson hit the first of two free throws a second later and UConn couldn’t convert to close out the game

“They have a lot to feel good about once they get past what it feels like to lose,” Auriemma said. “I feel better at 3 o’clock today then I did at 12 o’clock. I didn’t know how we’d respond. I knew we’d play hard and compete like hell. I didn’t know who was going to make a big play, who was going to get a big rebound, make a big shot. I know now more than I did at noon and I feel better about my team.”

Aaliyah Edwards led UConn with 25 points.

UConn got off to a solid start, outscoring South Carolina 25-14 in the opening period. Lou Lopez Senechal capped the strong start, hitting a running 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

South Carolina asserted its size in the second quarter with Cardoso scoring 11 points in the period. Her putback with just under 10 seconds left tied the game at 34 heading into the half.

TIP-INS:

UConn is 8-10 against No. 1 teams all time. … The Huskies are still missing guards Azzi Fudd (knee), Caroline Ducharme (concussion) as well as Paige Bueckers (knee) and Ice Brady (knee), who are both out for the season. … Many former UConn players were in the crowd including Sue Bird, Jen Rizzotti, and Napheesa Collier sitting a few rows behind the Huskies bench. … South Carolina has gone 41-6 against ranked teams since the start of the 2019-20 season.

DEPTH:

The Gamecocks reserves outscored UConn’s 37-0. The Huskies only had eight healthy players.

UP NEXT:

South Carolina: visits Auburn on Thursday before a showdown with No. 3 LSU on Feb. 12

UConn: visits Marquette on Wednesday.

No. 16 Duke tops No. 9 Notre Dame 57-52 for 1st place in ACC

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Celeste Taylor scored 14 points and No. 16 Duke came from behind for a 57-52 victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday to move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Trailing for most of the game’s first 28 minutes, the Blue Devils (20-3, 10-2 ACC) took the lead for good in the final minutes of the third quarter to knock off the Fighting Irish (18-4, 9-3) before a sellout crowd of 9,149 at Purcell Pavilion.

A jumper by Jordyn Oliver put Duke ahead 45-44 with 1:20 left in the third quarter and the visitors never trailed after that.

“I’m proud of my players for finishing the game,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said.

Duke led 48-46 going into the fourth quarter after trailing Notre Dame by as many as five points in the third quarter. A steal by Elizabeth Balogun in the final 15 seconds helped seal the win.

A 13-4 run helped Notre Dame take its biggest lead of the first half for either team at 31-23. The Irish led 31-25 at halftime.

“We fell short, but you know it’s a part of our growth,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “It’s part of our journey.”

Taylor scored 10 points for Duke in the second half. Balogun and Shayeann Day-Wilson finished with 9 points apiece and Taya Corosdale and Oliver had 8 each.

Maddy Westbeld, playing all 40 minutes, led Notre Dame with 15 points, Sonia Citron scored 14 and Olivia Miles added 11.

“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Lawson said of Miles, who logged just over 31 minutes. “We didn’t have to go against her for a quarter of the game.”

COLD SHOOTING

Neither team shot well in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame made just 2 of 13 shots from the floor and Duke was 3 of 13.

“We just talked about staying disciplined defensively and making it hard,” Lawson said. “I though we challenged shots.”

Ivey also addressed that stretch of the game.

“Some of those opportunities were in transition and we didn’t get a chance to capitalize,” she said. “We did a good job of finding the open person, we just didn’t nail the shots.”

SUPERB SUBS

Led by Corosdale and Oliver, Duke enjoyed a 21-4 edge in reserve scoring.

“I’m really proud of my players off the bench,” Lawson said. “Jordyn Oliver was really good.

“We needed to have that depth in scoring. Not only did they score but they were efficient from the field.”

The Blue Devils’ bench shot 9 of 15.

SHORT-HANDED IRISH

Notre Dame graduate student Dara Mabrey was lost for the season in the Jan. 22 game against Virginia.

Lauren Ebo, a 6-foot-4 graduate student, has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury.

“Ebo does a great job of being a precence on the block with her size and ability to rebound and play post defense,” Ivey said. “She’s been working really hard (at rehabilitation).

“It’s kind of day to day.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish fell out of a first-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings.

Duke: The Blue Devils are now alone atop the conference standings.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: The Irish meet Pitt in two of the next four contests – on Thursday in South Bend and on Sunday, Feb. 19 at Pittsburgh.

Duke: The only regular-season meeting between the Blue Devils and Boston College is Thursday at Boston.

Colorado State sorry for ‘Russia’ chant at Ukrainian player

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State has apologized for a group of fans who chanted “Russia” at a player on an opposing team who is from Ukraine during Saturday’s game.

Utah State’s Max Shulga is from Kyiv and was shooting free throws when TV cameras picked up the chant from the student section during the game in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

“On behalf of Colorado State, we apologize to the student-athlete and Utah State. This is a violation of our steadfast belief in the Mountain West Sportsmanship Policy and University Principles of Community,” Colorado State said in a statement.

“Every participant, student, and fan should feel welcomed in our venues, and for something like this to have occurred is unacceptable at Colorado State.”

Utah State beat CSU 88-79.

Duke edges North Carolina 63-57 behind Roach, Lively

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
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DURHAM, N.C. — Jeremy Roach scored 20 points, Dereck Lively II had career highs of eight blocks and 14 rebounds and Duke defeated North Carolina 63-57.

Kyle Filipowski added 14 points and Tyrese Proctor 11 for the Blue Devils (17-6, 8-4 ACC), who won their third straight and beat the Tar Heels (15-8, 7-5) for the first time in three meetings, including in last year’s Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 63rd career double-double, extending his own program record, Leaky Black had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Caleb Love added 12 points and RJ Davis 11.

Roach scored eight of Duke’s final 10 points, including the last four after Lively’s tiebreaking dunk with 1:35 to go. North Carolina missed its last five shots, including a trio of 3-point tries in the final minute.

The Blue Devils’ six-point winning margin matched their largest lead.

Neither team reached 40% shooting but Duke outscored North Carolina 20-2 off fast breaks and was 11 of 15 at the free-throw line to only 2 of 3 for the Tar Heels.

The stat sheet was fairly even at halftime when Duke led 33-32 except for one telling stat, a 16-0 advantage for the Blue Devils on fast-break points as they scored repeatedly off transition.

A 14-5 run erased a seven-point North Carolina lead — the Tar Heels’ largest — and put Duke in front 26-24 with just under four minutes left in the half. A Proctor 3-pointer broke the fourth tie before Bacot cut it to the one-point margin at the break. Bacot had 12 points in the first half. Roach had 10.

The game matched two men who played in this rivalry and are now leading the programs they played for: first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, in his second year for North Carolina.

The teams will meet again in their regular-season finale at Chapel Hill on March 4. Duke plays at No. 23 Miami on Monday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.