Utah uses Navy SEAL training to improve toughness, teamwork

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Utah was a much-improved basketball team in 2013-14, finishing the season with a 21-12 record (9-9 Pac-12) and earning a trip to the Postseason NIT in what was the program’s first postseason appearance since 2009. However things could have been even better for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, and while their non-conference slate (non-conference strength of schedule ranking: 341, per RPI Forecast) certainly didn’t help matter there was another issue for the young Utes.

Of Utah’s 12 losses eight were by four points or less, and in those tight games mental and physical toughness are critical for a team. With the goal of changing his team’s fortune in those contests and turning a group led by Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor into a Pac-12 contender, Krystkowiak added some activities to the team’s offseason training regimen.

During the spring the team took up boxing, and last week the Utes went through a Navy SEAL training course with that particular activity becoming more popular in college basketball in recent years. Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a story about Utah’s experience last week, with the exercise designed to not only get them tougher individually but also help them improve the way in which they work together.

The drills focused on cooperation, which Taylor thinks will help translate to the court this season. One of his big takeaways from the training was a traditional military axiom: “Two is one and one is none.”

“Basically everything we did made you depend on your teammates, because you couldn’t do anything without them,” Taylor said. “Them getting us out of our comfort zone and us being able to push through it was amazing. It’s just like the season.

The season is tough, at the end of the day, you gotta push through it with your coaches and your teammates.”

Thanks to the work of Krystkowiak and his staff, Utah enters the 2014-15 season in a better position than they’ve been in at any point during their short time in the Pac-12. More will be expected of this group, and in order to reach the NCAA tournament they’ll need to be better in close games. And if their offseason training methods have the desired effect, Utah should hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

No. 15 Creighton takes down No. 19 Marquette

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Creighton earned a massive Big East road win by holding off No. 19 Marquette 73-65 on Tuesday night.

Ty-Shon Alexander fought through an early-game throat injury to finish with a team-high 22 points to pace Creighton. The Bluejays did an admirable job defending Marquette star Markus Howard as well. Holding the nation’s leading scorer without a point in the first half, Howard struggled to 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting on the night.

The win keeps the No. 15 Bluejays firmly in the Big East title race. Creighton remains one game behind Seton Hall in the loss column with two weeks to go in the regular season. And with four games left on the schedule, Creighton only plays one game away from home — a winnable game at St. John’s. The regular season closes in Omaha with the Bluejays facing a Pirates team they just beat on the road last week.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

Creighton has gone early-season afterthought to potentially winning one of the toughest top-to-bottom leagues in the country. It’s come with a roster that is continually evolving as the season moves along.

Once transfer forward Denzel Mahoney entered the mix for Creighton the Bluejays turned into a different team. Mahoney became eligible for Creighton after missing the first 10 games of the season after sitting out from Southeast Missouri State.

The 6-foot-5 junior isn’t recognized as one of Creighton’s most talented offensive players. Mahoney only scored nine points and collected five rebounds in the win over Marquette on Tuesday. Alexander, point guard Marcus Zagorowski and veteran shooter Mitchell Ballock are all more gifted offensive weapons than Mahoney.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCOREBOARD

But Mahoney gives the Bluejays something they’ve greatly lacked in recent seasons: a junkyard dog who can defend up to all five spots on the floor. In the modern small-ball world of basketball, Mahoney is versatile enough to do damage without anything getting run for him. He’s the Big East equivalent to Draymond Green during the Warriors’ dynasty.

Greg McDermott is known for his offensive-minded approach as Creighton’s coach. The man tailored an entire college offense around his son. Doug McDermott became one of college basketball’s greatest modern scorers.

Creighton teams don’t often feature rugged and physical players like Mahoney. With Mahoney’s added edge, however, Creighton has been one of the best teams in the country after the first month of the season.

The Bluejays can bury you offensively at multiple spots. This team moves the ball as well as anybody in the country. And now Creighton has unique lineup versatility that is very tough to prepare for. Mahoney can play small-ball five and give the Bluejays all sorts of different combinations. It’s helped make Creighton one of the best teams in college basketball that nobody is talking about.

Very quietly, the Bluejays are in position to play themselves for a share of the Big East title with a final home game against Seton Hall.

Illinois outlasts No. 9 Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ayo Dosunmu felt well enough during warm-ups to return to lineup. That was enough for Illinois against No. 9 Penn State.

Dosunmu, the Fighting Illini’s leading scorer who missed the previous game with a knee injury, scored 24 points, and Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak with a 62-56 victory over Penn State on Tuesday night.

“He knows we struggled without him,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He did what really, really good players do. He elevated his game.”

Kofi Cockburn added 14 points for the Fighting Illini (17-9, 9-6 Big Ten), who led most of the way and ended Penn State’s eight-game winning streak.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

The win also snapped Illinois’ six-game losing streak against Penn State.

Lamar Stevens scored 13 points for the Nittany Lions (20-6, 10-5), who entered with their highest ranking in the AP Top 25 since they were No. 9 at the same point of the 1996 season.

Izaiah Brockington added 10 points for the Nittany Lions, who trailed 30-26 at halftime and by as many as nine points with 5:35 to play.

Penn State got a pair of free throws from Seth Lundy that cut its deficit to 58-56 with a minute left, but Dosunmu iced it with a layup 30 seconds later.

The Nittany Lions made just 21 of 58 shots, well below their 45% average. Penn State shooters made just 4 of 19 3-pointers.

“We haven’t shot this poorly the way we’ve been playing,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Obviously, that was shocking to me.”

COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCOREBOARD

It was back-and-forth early as teams swapped the lead five times in the first. The Illini controlled play for 9:06 and Griffin gave them their biggest lead of the half when he hit a 3-pointer, drew a foul and hit the ensuing free throw to put the Illini up 21-16 with 8:54 before halftime.

Penn State used an 8-1 run, capped by a steal and dunk by Lundy, to retake the lead 4:22 later.

But Illinois got eight straight points from Dosunmu before a put-back by Giorgi Bezhanishvili to go up 30-26 at the break.

“This is definitely a reality check,” Penn State guard Myles Dread said. “We’ve been on cloud nine for eight games. As good as it feels to win, it feels much worse to lose.”

EXHALE AND EXALT

Illinois players hooted, shrieked and hollered as they filed off the court and into the Bryce Jordan Center’s visiting locker room.

The celebration continued when Underwood and the rest of the coaches entered. They praised their team’s resilience and highlighted Da’Monte Williams’ defensive efforts against Stevens, who was 3 for 11 from the floor.

“We had won seven in a row and you become the hunted,” Underwood said. “We’re not desperate. I think there was some urgency, but desperate is never in my vocabulary.”

ROUGH PLAY

Watkins picked up a technical foul for shoving Dosunmu shortly after the whistle as both had been jostling for a loose ball.

Watkins’ temper had been rising in the moments leading up to their confrontation. Penn State’s big forward was surly after he had drawn physical coverage down low on his previous two shot attempts and failed to get foul calls

The sequence drew the ire of Penn State fans who booed the officiating crew as they disappeared into the tunnel for halftime and again when they emerged for the second half.

THE BIG PICTURE

Illinois: For the Illini, getting Dosunmu back certainly helped. The sophomore guard had missed Saturday’s loss at Rutgers after suffering an injury to his left knee is a win over Michigan State on Feb. 11. Despite their recent shooting woes, they looked confident against a strong Penn State defense that’s been nearly flawless at home.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions entered a game behind Maryland in the hunt for the Big Ten’s top seed. There’s still plenty of time for them to recover and make up ground.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Nebraska on Monday.

Penn State: Visits Indiana on Sunday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

All-out brawl mars the end of Jackson State-Prairie View A&M game

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After a chippy end to Prairie View A&M’s 70-61 win over Jackson State on Monday night, several players were involved in a fight that came after the buzzer sounded and knocked over fans sitting courtside.

The skirmish started during the handshake line, when Jackson State’s Dontelius Ross appeared to take exception to something that was said by Prairie View’s Darius Williams. He was initially held back, but the melee continued elsewhere on the floor.

Here is another angle of the brawl:

Monday’s Things To Know: Kansas is ready for Baylor, UNC drops another heartbreaker

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Monday was a slow night for college basketball, but we did get a couple of fun finishes around the country.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. NORTH CAROLINA’S HEART-BREAKING SEASON CONTINUES

No team in the country has suffered more soul-crushing losses than the Tar Heels have this season.

Remember when they lost to Virginia Tech in double-overtime? Remember when they lost to Clemson in the Dean Dome for the first time ever because Roy Williams forgot to tell his team to foul up three? What about the time they lost to Boston College because Brandon Robinson sprained his ankle while “fouling” a three-point shooter with 17 seconds left? We all remember the collapse against Duke, but did you see Tomas Woldetensae’s game-winning three for Virginia on Saturday?

And if that wasn’t enough, the Tar Heels lost at Notre Dame on Monday night when Nate Laszewski hit a three with 1.8 seconds left for a 77-76 win in South Bend.

That is now six straight losses for the Tar Heels, if you’re scoring at home. Four of the six are one possessions losses. They lost by six at Florida State in a game they led by eight late in the first half, too. They are really not all that far away from being a team with a pretty good record, but as it stands, they are now going to finish the season under .500.

It’s been a tough, tough season for the Tar Heels.

2. ZACH FREEMANTLE SAVES XAVIER

Zach Freemantle, a freshman forward for the Musketeers, scored four points in the final 10.4 seconds as Xavier landed a key win at St. John’s on Monday night.

The Musketeers are still fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament. They do have some room to spare right now, but if they can find a way to win out during the regular season, the Musketeers will have a shot of climbing up past the 8-9 game. They’ve now won four of their last five games.

3. DEVON DOTSON SHOWS OUT AS KANSAS IS FINDING A RHYTHM OFFENSIVELY

Kansas has picked a great time to get hot.

On Saturday, the Jayhawks put up 87 points — the most points they have scored in regulation against a high-major opponent this season — in a 17 point win over Oklahoma on Saturday. They shot 11-for-22 from three in that game.

On Monday, they Jayhawks put up 91 points after shooting 12-for-27 from three against Iowa State. Marcus Garrett scored 24 points on Saturday. Devon Dotson scored 29 points on Monday.

Why is this important?

Because the Jayhawks play No. 1 Baylor in Waco on Saturday. When these two teams last faced off, the Bears beat the Jayhawks 67-55 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. They’ll be ready for the rematch.

Bubble Watch: Breaking down every team in at-large conversation

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It’s that time of the year again, which means that we are diving head first into our annual NCAA tournament bubble watch.

The way that it will work is simple: We’ll be looking at every team that our Dave Ommen, the best bracketologist in the business, considers in the mix for an at-large bid. In an effort to keep this somewhat manageable, we are going to assume that the top 36 teams in the field — every team that is a No. 9-seed or above — is “off the bubble”. This does not mean those teams are a lock to dance, it just means that they have given themselves enough room for error that we can take them out of the conversation until they do something dumb.

Dave’s latest bracket can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

So with all that in mind, let’s get into the full NCAA tournament bubble watch:



ACC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Duke (NBC: 2), Florida State (NBC: 2), Louisville (NBC: 4)

VIRGINIA (NET: 55, NBC: 11): Tomas Woldetensae hit a three with a second left on the clock to beat North Carolina (95) in Chapel Hill on Saturday. The Wahoos are now 17-7 overall with a 7-6 mark against the top two Quads thanks to this win. They do have three Quad 1 wins, but just one of them — Florida State (15) at home — is a surefire Quad 1 win to go along with a Quad 3 loss at Boston College (143). Perhaps the biggest issue is that UVA has just two potential Quad 1 wins left on their schedule. They can’t afford slip-ups, and could really use a win over Duke (6) or Louisville (7) next month. But as of today they are in a pretty good spot.

N.C. STATE (NET: 61, NBC: First four out): The Wolfpack landed their third Quad 1 win of the season by going into the Carrier Dome and picking off Syracuse (69) on Tuesday night, but they followed that up with their third Quad 3 loss, a 71-68 loss at Boston College (143). N.C. State has just one win over a top 50 team — a home win over Wisconsin (33) — but they do have those three Quad 1 road wins. Three Quad 3 losses weigh things down quite a bit, but if they’re going to get to the NCAA tournament, they can earn it this week when they host Duke (6) and Florida State (14).


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 8)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 46, NBC: 10): The Shocker shook off a recent three-game losing streak with back-to-back impressive wins against the bottom of the AAC. They have beaten VCU (52) and Oklahoma (47) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just three potential Quad 1 games left on their schedule — all of which are on the road — the Shockers need to get hot, and soon. I think they need to win two of at Cincinnati (51), at SMU (67) and at Memphis (60)

MEMPHIS (NET: 59, NBC: NExt four out): The Tigers are now in the midst of a three-game losing streak after losing yet another nailbiter at UConn (71). They’ve now lost their last three games by a total of 11 points, one of which came in overtime. In total, they have lost five of their last eight and seven of their last 12 games, and they are playing without D.J. Jeffries, their second-leading scorer. They have more Quad 3 losses (two) than Quad 1 wins (one) and the two best teams that they have beaten on the season are on the bubble. I don’t think this ends well for Memphis.

CINCINNATI (NET: 48, NBC: Play-in game): Cincinnati avoided disaster by beating East Carolina in overtime on Sunday. It’s their third straight overtime game: they beat Memphis (60) and home and lost at UConn (71). They’ve won seven of their last eight games and nine of their last 11, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are two major problems with Cincinnati’s resume right now: They don’t have an elite win and the best win available to them during league play is at Houston (29) in two weeks. They do have a pair of Quad 1 wins and an 8-5 mark against the top two Quads, but with three Quad 3 losses to their name, there is still some ground for them to makeup if they want to feel comfortable. They need to keep on winning, but the Bearcats are probably in the NCAA tournament as of today. My gut says they do enough to get there.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)

VCU (NET: 42, NBC: Off the bubble): The Rams are in a terrible spot after losing three of their last four games, including a blowout loss at Richmond (45) on Saturday. Ig they do not beat Dayton (5) on Tuesday next week, than discussing the rest of their resume will not matter. They will not be a tournament team. We’ll talk Wednesday.

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 34, NBC: 11): URI did what they needed to do and picked off St. Joseph’s (237) at home on Saturday. They’re 19-6 overall and they have just one Quad 1 win, but they are 6-5 against the top two Quads. The loss to Brown (219) is ugly, but as long as URI avoids the landmines on their schedule, I think they can get an at-large even with a loss to Dayton (5) at home in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 52, NBC: Play-in game): The Spiders picked up a win in the toughest game they have left on their schedule, beating VCU (52) by 18 points at home. For my money, the Spiders’ at-large hopes are a longshot. I cannot see how they are going to be able to get enough wins to stay on the right side of the cutline without a win over Dayton (5). But stranger things have happened, and they could end up getting another shot at the Flyers in the Atlantic 10 tournament.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 5), Texas Tech (NBC: 8), Oklahoma (NBC: 9)

No one on the bubble.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 3), Creighton (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 4), Marquette (NBC: 6), Xavier (NBC: 9)

GEORGETOWN (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): Without question, the biggest bubble winner the week is Georgetown, who landed their fifth Quad 1 of the season and by far their best win of the year by going into Indianapolis and knocking off Butler (20). There are two major problems with Georgetown’s NCAA tournament profile: The first is that they already have ten losses, but some of that is explainable: They are 5-9 against Quad 1 opponents and 9-10 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents. They have played 19 games against top 75 teams. That’s a lot of good games, and a 9-10 record against them is hardly a bad thing. The other issue was a lack of elite wins, but they already had a win over Creighton (13) in their back pocket, and now they can add a road win over a top 20 team to the mix.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Maryland (NBC: 2), Penn State (NBC: 4), Michigan State (NBC: 5), Iowa (NBC: 6), Ohio State (NBC: 6), Illinois (NBC: 7), Michigan (NBC: 7), Wisconsin (NBC: 8), Rutgers (NBC: 9)

INDIANA (NET: 63, NBC: 10): Indiana is 16-9 on the season and 6-8 in the Big Ten, which is not ideal. Neither is their 1-6 record on the road. But the Hoosiers do have four Quad 1 wins and are sitting at 6-9 against the top two Quads without a single loss to a team that ranks outside the top 50. They’ve beaten three top 20 teams at home. Indiana fans are losing their minds, but they are in a better spot right now than they realize. Beating someone other than Nebraska (175) on the road would certainly make a different.

PURDUE (NET: 33, NBC: FIRST FOUR OUT): The biggest issue currently facing Purdue after losing at Ohio State (18) is that they now have 12 losses on the season, including a pair of Quad 3 losses, and the rest of their schedule is absolutely brutal. The most losses and at-large team has ever had is 15. For context, Indiana last season was 17-15 with six Quad 1 wins and nine Quad 1 and 2 wins and they were left out. Purdue is 3-9 against Quad 1 opponents and 7-10 against the top two Quads with a 3-7 record on the road. Their best road win is at Indiana (58). They’re in a tough spot right now.

MINNESOTA (NET: 40, NBC: Off the bubble): After blowing a late, eight point lead to Iowa (28) at home, the Gophers have lost four of their last five and five of their last seven games. They are 4-10 against Quad 1 opponents and sit at 6-12 against the top two Quads. Their 12-11 record on the season is certainly a problem, but their “worst” loss is DePaul (67) at home. The biggest red flag with Minnesota is that they have just one win away from home on the season — at Ohio State (15). They need to start winning, but they are in a place where getting hot for two weeks will be enough to get them up as high as a No. 8 seed. But they need to start winning now.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 4), Colorado (NBC: 5), Arizona (NBC: 7)

USC (NET: 49, NBC: 10): I think USC is in a pretty good spot after sweeping the Washington schools in LA this week and doing so without Onyeka Okongwu. They only have two Quad 1 wins, but they are 8-6 against the top two Quads. The home loss to Temple (106) is not ideal, but it is survivable. They should be OK as long as they don’t do anything stupid down the stretch.

STANFORD (NET: 37, NBC: NEXT four out): The Cardinal lost their fourth straight game on Saturday night at home against Arizona (8). It was their seventh loss in the last eight games. They have an ugly Quad 3 loss to Cal (155) and just two total Quad 1 wins. Stanford will have chances down the stretch, but should we actually trust them to take advantage of those chances?

ARIZONA STATE (NET: 50, NBC: 10): The Sun Devils won their fifth straight game on Saturday night, winning at Cal (155) three days after they beat Stanford (37) on the road, their fourth Quad 1 win. They’re now 4-6 against Quad 1 opponents with three of those wins coming on the road. They are 7-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents and their “worst” loss is a Quad 2 loss at Washington State (107). Should I mention that they are tied for the lead in the Pac-12 with four other teams? Arizona State is in a good spot right now.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 4), Auburn (NBC: 4), LSU (NBC: 7), Florida (NBC: 9)

ARKANSAS (NET: 48, NBC: Next four out): The Razorbacks fell at the buzzer on Saturday when Mississippi State’s (53) Abdul Ado tipped in a missed shot with less than a second left. They ave now lost four straight games, are sitting with a 4-9 recorded against the top two Quadrants with just two Quad 1 wins — at Alabama (36) and at Indiana (63). They desperately need to get Isaiah Joe back.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 53, NBC: First four out): Abdul Ado made the biggest player of the year for the Bulldogs, tipping home a game-winning bucket with less than a second left on the clock in a 78-77 win at Arkansas (48) on Saturday. The enormity of this win cannot be overstated. For starters, Mississippi State only had one Quad 1 entering the day, and adding a second Quad 1 win means they now have the same number as their Quad 3 losses. But the bigger issue is that MSU’s schedule down the stretch features precisely one top 65 opponent. This was their last chance at a good win for their resume until the SEC tournament, and they got it.

ALABAMA (NET: 36, NBC: First four out): The Crimson Tide picked up an enormous win on Saturday, as they knocked off LSU (29) in Tuscaloosa for their second Quad 1 win of the season. Alabama is now 14-11 overall and while their 6-10 record against Quad 1 and 2 opponents is solid, a 3-6 mark on the road, a home loss to Penn (153) and just two Quad 1 wins is not a good sign. At this point, I think Alabama needs to win out during the regular season for the simple fact that their schedule is not all that strong. But they have a shot if they do.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 65, NBC: Next four out): Suddenly, South Carolina is in the mix for the bubble. They are 7-7 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents with a trio of Quad 1 wins — Kentucky (24), at Arkansas (48), at Virginia (55). They do have a Quad 3 loss — Boston (152) — and a Quad 4 loss — Stetson (290) — so they do have some more work to do. With a schedule that includes a pair of games against Mississippi State and dates with LSU and at Alabama, they’ll have a chance to build.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), BYU (NBC: 7), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 9)

UTAH STATE (NET: 41, NBC: Play-in game): After beating Fresno State, the Aggies have won four in a row and seven of their last eight games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as three weeks ago. Wins over LSU (27) and Florida (38) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 40, NBC: 11): The Panthers lost at Loyola (94), which is hardly a bad loss, especially in the MVC, but I’m not sure that it is a loss they can afford. Their strong NET and wins at Colorado (17) and over South Carolina (66) on a neutral keep the Panthers in the conversation, but losses at Southern Illinois (151) and Illinois State (203) are killers. UNI cannot lose another game unless it is against Loyola-Chicago in the MVC tournament if they really want a chance at an at-large, and even then, it will be tough.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 41, NBC: 11): ETSU has a win at UNCG (61) and a win at LSU (27). With a 20-4 record and a loss to Mercer (205) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lost to only UNCG or Furman (73) in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that will be a bit of a longshot. They went 2-0 this week.