2014-15 Season Preview: Ten possible ‘Cinderellas’

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Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Part of the fun in filling out your bracket in March is attempting to figure out which teams are most capable of pulling off an upset (or multiple upsets) in the NCAA tournament. While some teams may be relatively obvious given factors such as their play throughout the season and the matchup in front of them, others can slip under the radar. Below are ten teams to be mindful of as the 2014-15 season moves towards its most exciting month.

1. Harvard: Tommy Amaker’s Crimson have appeared in multiple preseason Top 25 rankings, and from an NCAA tournament standpoint the program has managed to win a game in each of its last two appearances. Point guard Siyani Chambers and wing Wesley Saunders are good leaders for this group, which doesn’t lack for depth in the front court. The one question for Harvard: do they have enough perimeter shooting to get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament?

2. Georgia State: Ron Hunter’s is led by the perimeter tandem of R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, and they’ll have the added motivation of last year’s Sun Belt title game loss to Louisiana. Kevin Ware adds depth on the perimeter, and experienced forwards Curtis Washington and Markus Krider return for another season in Atlanta. The Panthers will be a dangerous team should they get into the 68-team field.

3. Louisiana Tech: Michael White’s Bulldogs were one of four teams to finish tied for the Conference USA regular season title, and they reached the league’s tournament final as well (losing to Tulsa). Kenneth Smith and Raheem Appleby lead the way on the perimeter, and Michale Kyser is the anchor in the middle for a team that returns four starters.

4. FGCU: Joe Dooley’s team fell one win short of a return trip to the NCAA tournament last season, but with their experienced perimeter rotation the Eagles are the favorites to win the Atlantic Sun. Brett Comer runs the show, with preseason A-Sun POY Bernard Thompson and Jamail Jones on the wings. If their four front court transfers, including Demetris Morant, are ready to go FGCU could grab the nation’s attention for the second time in three years.

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Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes (AP Photo)

5. Green Bay: The Phoenix lose inside-out big man Alec Brown but they do return one of the best point guards in the country in senior Keifer Sykes. Brian Wardle’s team returns four starters, and in junior forward Jordan Fouse they likely have the best defender in the Horizon League. And like three of their four teams ahead of them on this list, Green Bay will have a conference tournament title game loss to use as fuel.

6. Toledo: Tod Kowalczyk’s Rockets won a share of the MAC West regular season title, only to fall in the MAC tournament title game to Western Michigan. Four starters return, led by senior guards Juice Brown and Justin Drummond, and Mississippi State transfer Dre Applewhite will be eligible at the end of the fall semester to add depth to the perimeter.

7. Iona: There aren’t many teams that are as productive offensively as the Gaels, with senior David Laury IV and juniors A.J. English and Isaiah Williams leading the way. However Iona may have the toughest path to an NCAA tournament bid of any team on this list, with the Gaels likely having to fend off rival Manhattan and Siena (which will host the conference tournament) to win the MAAC’s automatic bid.

8. UC Irvine: Russell Turner’s Anteaters were the Big West’s best defensive team last season, and that should once again be the case with forward Will Davis II and center Mamadou Ndiaye back on campus. In total UC Irvine returns four starters from last year’s Big West regular season champion squad, with guards Alex Young and Luke Nelson being the others.

9. Murray State: Steve Prohm welcomes back four starters with three of those players (led by guard Cameron Payne and forward Jarvis Williams) being double figure scorers. Add in sixth man T.J. Sapp, who averaged 13.2 ppg once he became eligible (mid-year transfer from Clemson) and the Racers have the talent and production needed to win the OVC.

10. Northern Iowa: With the assumption being that Wichita State will once again be in the NCAA tournament, the question to be asked is whether or not the Missouri Valley can earn multiple bids. And if any team can help the league accomplish that, it’s Ben Jacobson’s experienced team. Seth Tuttle leads the way for a team that returns all five starters (reserves Deon Mitchell and Nate Buss as well), and newcomers Paul Jesperson (Virginia transfer) and Wyatt Lohaus are expected to compete for minutes as well.

FIVE OTHERS TO CONSIDER

1. UCSB
2. Yale
3. Manhattan
4. Weber State
5. Akron

Bill Self on Kansas-Kansas State brawl: ‘It’s an embarrassment’

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas and Kansas State ended Tuesday night Sunflower Showdown with a wild brawl that spilled into the disabled seating behind the Wildcats’ basket that included punches, shoving and at least one player threatening to swing a stool.

“Obviously it’s an embarrassment,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “It’s not something to be proud of. What happened showed zero signs of toughness. It’s a sign of immaturity and selfishness more so than toughness. If I was a fan watching, depending on your perspective, there would be nothing about that intriguing me to watch more.”

The Jayhawks were dribbling out the time on their 81-60 victory when Silvio De Sousa was stripped by DaJuan Gordon near mid-court. Gordon tried to go for a layup and De Sousa recovered to block his shot and send the freshman sprawling, then stood over Gordon and barked at him — triggering both benches to empty into what amounted to a rugby scrum.

At one point, De Sousa picked up a stool and held it over his head before Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard grabbed it from him from behind. The Jayhawks’ Marcus Garrett and David McCormick were also in the thick of the scrum along with the Wildcats’ James Love and David Sloan, who was the first player to come to Gordon’s defense.

It took both coaching staffs, the officials and Allen Fieldhouse security to separate the teams.

“Without knowing exactly everything that went down, it was obvious to me that we played a role in what transpired and there will be penalties for that,” said Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who was already shaking hands with Kansas State counterpart Bruce Weber when the chaos erupted. “I need to see the film to comment or have any definitive thoughts on exactly why or how it got started, because to be honest with you I don’t have any idea about that.”

The fight came three days after St. Francis and Sacred Heart were involved in a wild fracas following their game in Pennsylvania. But while that incident in the Northeast Conference went largely unnoticed, the pedigree of Kansas and the fact that both schools play in the Big 12 instantly turned the Kansas brawl into a national event.

Then, adding to the bizarre finish, five players from each team were summoned back from the locker rooms by officials and one-tenth of a second was put on the clock. Kansas State shot technical free throws to booing from a few thousand fans, and the one make necessitated a change to the final box score.

The reason only those players returned? The rest of the players from each team — including those dressed in street clothes — were ejected because they had left the bench while the game was in progress.

“It should have been avoided,” Weber said of the Kansas brawl. “It’s my guys, it’s my fault. They came here wanting to have a game, compete, and we didn’t compete the way we needed to, and probably a little frustration, especially the young guys.”

Weber had instructed his players to back off in the closing seconds and let the game run out. And while Self said he didn’t agree with the steal and layup attempt, he did acknowledge that Kansas State was merely playing to the final whistle.

“Silvio knew he was being defended,” Self said. “He took his ball, and certainly the way Silvio reacted to getting his ball taken, going and blocking his shot, that’s fair game. What transpired after that is what set everything off.”

While he won’t be alone, De Sousa is likely to receive the stiffest punishment from the Kansas brawl — the latest chapter in a career that has brought far more embarrassment and frustration to Kansas than pride and success.

It was De Sousa whose name surfaced in the FBI probe into college basketball in October 2018, and that in part led to an NCAA investigation of Kansas. The school received a notice of allegations last September that outlined major violations in men’s basketball, levied a head coach responsibility charge against Self and alleged a lack of institutional control. Those violations are being appealed and a decision is not expected until well after the season.

De Sousa was suspended last season for his role in the case, and he was supposed to sit out this season as well. But the school successfully appealed the decision, allowing the junior forward to return to the court.

Asked what his message was in the locker room after the game, Self replied: “There was no discussion on what happened from their vantage point. We talked to them and relayed to them how selfish it was. We relayed how disappointed we are. We should be in here talking about Christian Braun and selfishness created a situation where that’s not going to be the story line whatsoever. There was no communication back and forth. It was one way.”

Indeed, Braun was the story of the game until the final seconds after hitting six 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 20 points in his first Sunflower Showdown. The freshman guard grew up in nearby Burlington, Kansas.

Devon Dotson added 18 points and Udoka Azubuike finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds for Kansas (15-3, 5-1 Big 12), which beat the Wildcats for the 14th straight time at Allen Fieldhouse. Xavier Sneed had 16 points and David Sloan had 14 for the Wildcats (8-10, 1-5), who played a part in ending the Jayhawks’ conference title run last season.

“Credit to them. They kicked our butt,” said Weber, whose chin was reddened by what he called a stress-induced reaction. “I’m just happy nothing major happened to either team where there was an escalated fight. It was a bad play at the end. It’s disappointing. Life lessons for our young guys and hopefully next time they’ll be a little smarter.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas played its best game in weeks, but it could come at quite the cost — several Jayhawks appeared to throw punches in the fracas, and that is almost certainly going to lead to suspensions. How long they last could impact how the Jayhawks fare in a stretch coming up that includes the Big 12-SEC Challenge.

UP NEXT

Kansas State heads to Alabama on Saturday.

Kansas welcomes back ex-Texas coach Rick Barnes with Tennessee on Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Kansas and K-State Brawl, TCU’s signature win, Villanova beats Butler

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College basketball had plenty of action on Tuesday night.

But instead of a bevy of upsets and huge top-25 games, the action came in the form of a Kansas/Kansas State brawl and a new bubble team picking up a signature win.

There was also a top-25 matchup in the Big East as Villanova squared off against Butler. 

Kansas/Kansas State brawl erupts at end of rivalry game

The big story of Tuesday night involves Kansas and Kansas State.

This inner-state rivalry lost some steam with the Wildcats in rebuilding mode this season. But as we found out Tuesday, there is still plenty of intensity when these Big 12 rivals take the floor.

At the end of a Jayhawk blowout home win, a brawl started under a basket. Video came from all over the place as Kansas and Kansas State players took swings and even picked up a chair.

It overshadowed a rivalry win for the No. 3 Jayhawks. Suspensions will likely be handed out. These teams also have a return matchup at Kansas State to look forward to on Feb. 29. We’ll hear more about this fight throughout the week.

TCU picks up signature win against No. 18 Texas Tech

During a major season of turmoil where upsets are normal and road wins are nearly impossible, TCU has stayed in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid with a positive 11-5 start.

The Horned Frogs lacked a signature win though.

That changed on Tuesday night with TCU claiming a 65-54 win over No. 18 Texas Tech. Now with a Q1 win on the profile, TCU should make a move up the NET to get in respectable bubble territory.

TCU still has work to do if they want to secure a bid. Only one Q1 win, one Q2 win and a combined 2-5 record in those two quadrants isn’t going to cut it.

But with a 4-2 record in the Big 12, TCU is a team to keep tabs of the next several weeks. After getting absolutely destroyed by an average of 26 points per game the last two losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma, this is a quality bounceback win for the Horned Frogs. And the type of win that can jumpstart a postseason push.

No. 9 Villanova cruises past No. 16 Butler for Big East home win

Tuesday night’s only top-25 clash was in the Big East. Villanova ran past Butler for a 76-61 home win to keep pace with Seton Hall in the Big East standings.

Jermaine Samuels paced five double-figure scorers for Villanova with 20 points.

Big East brutality continued for Butler meanwhile.

The Bulldogs have lost three straight games in conference play. All three losses have come by at least eight points. It’s not only that Butler is losing but they’re playing poorly.

It feels like the Wildcats will once again remain in the Big East title picture this season. If Butler wants to say the same, they’ll need to figure things out quickly to fix its January swoon.

TCU upends No. 18 Texas Tech

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Desmond Bane scored 27 points, Kevin Samuel had 11 points and 11 rebounds and TCU returned home after a miserable week on the road to upset No. 18 Texas Tech 65-54 on Tuesday night.

The Horned Frogs (13-5, 4-2 Big 12) pushed ahead to stay with a 13-2 run to start the second half. Bane had a 3-pointer and layup in the first 74 seconds after halftime, and his one-handed floater off the glass capped that spurt to put them up 40-33 with just over 16 minutes left.

Samuel, the 6-foot-11 sophomore center later had three consecutive baskets for the Frogs, with his dunk starting that stretch for the first double-digit lead. Then came two layups, the latter when after a near turnover he was able to get the putback when the ball rolled on the rim when the shot clock went off before falling through for a 51-38 lead.

Jahmi’us Ramsey had 15 points for Texas Tech (12-6, 3-3), which lost for the first time in its seven meetings as a ranked team against TCU. Terrence Shannon and TJ Holyfield each had 10.

TCU, a 2 1/2-point underdog, has won 14 of its last 19 conference home games, but was coming off losses of 32 points at No. 14 West Virginia and 20 at Oklahoma last week.

The Frogs scored the game’s first five points, but Texas Tech pushed to a 23-15 lead on a 3-pointer by Davide Moretti. After a jumper by Bane, the teams then traded turnovers before a dunk by Kyler Edwards, and the Red Raiders still led 31-27 at the break.

BIG PICTURE

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders never really were able to recover after TCU’s opening spurt in the second half despite an always loud and large group of fans encouraging them with chants of “Raider Power” that at times were louder than the home fans. They were 0-for-7 on 3-pointers after halftime.

TCU: Bane was 10-of-15 shooting, including 6 of 8 on 3-pointers. When he wasn’t making deep shots, he was able to penetrate for layups and short floaters.

UP NEXT

Texas Tech hosts No. 15 Kentucky on Saturday in the only game of the Big 12/SEC Challenge matching two ranked teams. The Red Raiders are 0-4 against the Wildcats, but haven’t played them since 1994.

TCU is on the road to play Arkansas on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

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

No. 21 Illinois runs away in 2nd half to sweep Purdue

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) After watching No. 21 Illinois play an uncharacteristic first half Tuesday night, coach Brad Underwood gave his team some simple instructions.

Then the Fighting Illini reverted to form.

Kofi Cockburn scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, Trent Frazier added 21 points and Illinois pulled away in the second half to beat Purdue 79-62.

“I don’t know if you can ever count on going 9 of 10 to start the second half, but I thought our guys executed,” Underwood said. “All you can ask is for an opposing coach or players to say `You guys played really, really hard and out toughed us.’ ”

It’s another milestone victory for the resurgent Illini (14-5, 6-2 Big Ten), winners of five straight.

They’re off to their best conference start since 2005-06, ended a seven-game losing streak at Mackey Arena and swept the season series with Purdue for the first time since 2008-09.

And after an atypical start to the game, Underwood got his team to follow a more common theme over the final 20 minutes. They outscored Purdue 50-32 in the second half, never giving the Boilermakers a chance.

Nojel Eastern had 14 points and Trevion Williams scored 12 to lead Purdue (10-9, 4-4), which has lost four of five and watched a 15-game winning streak in conference home games end.

“We were struggling to keep them out of the paint,” said Matt Haarms, who had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks. “That was one of the points of emphasis before the game and we just weren’t to able to execute it.””

The Illini swung the momentum quickly, opening the second half with seven straight points to erase a 30-29 halftime lead. Then, after making five straight baskets to make it 49-39 with 13:30 to play, they extended the margin to 60-45 on Giorgi Bezhanishvili’s 3-pointer with 8:27 left.

Underwood’s defense didn’t allow Purdue to get closer than nine again.

“They didn’t do anything differently (in the second half), they executed better,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Illinois’ fight is so much better than ours. They have a great competitive spirit.”

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini pulled off a rare feat by winning a Big Ten road game. And the reason is obvious – defense travels. Illinois came into the game allowing 57.3 points as teams shot just 36.6% from the field and 31.1% on 3s during their previous four wins. They weren’t quite as good Tuesday, allowing Purdue to shoot 41.1% from the field and 37.5% on 3s – but they were more than good enough.

Purdue: The Boilermakers keep struggling to score, and it caught up to them again on Tuesday. After scoring only 37 points in the first meeting with Illinois, the Boilermakers couldn’t reach the 60-point mark on their home court until the final minute. If coach Matt Painter can’t find a solution soon, with the midway point of conference play fast approaching, it could be an even tougher final two months.

STAT SHEET

Illinois: Ayo Dosunmu finished with 18 points and a career high 11 assists. Bezhanishvili had 10 points. … Cockburn nearly posted a double-double in the first half with nine points and nine rebounds. … Frazier’s streak of turnover-free basketball ended at 193 minutes Tuesday. The guard went nearly 6 1/4 games between turnovers. … The Illini also snapped a seven-game losing streak at Mackey Arena.

Purdue: Matt Haarms had 10 points and six rebounds. Sasha Stefanovic had nine points. … The Boilermakers were outrebounded 37-19, giving Illinois an 83-53 advantage in this season’s two games. … The Boilermakers had won six straight home games against ranked opponents at home before Tuesday.

EARLY EXIT

Illinois guard Alan Griffin was ejected with 12:21 left in the first half for a flagrant 2 foul.

A replay review showed Griffin intentionally stomped on Stefanovic’s midsection after the Purdue guard had driven to the basket for a layup, bringing a crescendo of boos from the crowd. Stefanovic made one of two free throws for an unusual three-point play.

Underwood wasn’t any happier about it than the Purdue fans.

“He apologized to the young man and we don’t condone any of that,” he said. “That’s not part of anything we’re trying to do in our program.”

UP NEXT

Illinois hits the road again Saturday when it heads to Michigan.

Purdue welcomes Wisconsin in a rare Friday night contest in West Lafayette.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Ugly brawl breaks out at end of Kansas State-Kansas game

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Third-ranked Kansas and Kansas State ended their bitter showdown Tuesday night with a wild melee behind the basket that included punches, shoving and at least one player picking up a stool, moments after the Jayhawks tried to dribble out the time on their 81-59 victory.

Silvio De Sousa was stripped by the Wildcats’ DaJuan Gordon near midcourt and Gordon tried to go in for a layup. The Jayhawks’ big man recovered and blocked his shot, sending Gordon to the floor, then stood over him barking. That triggered benches to empty and punches to be thrown in what amounted to a rugby scrum. At one point, De Souza picked up a stool and held it above his head, looking like he was about to swing it at a Kansas State player before assistant coach Jerrance Howard grabbed it from him.

It took both coaching staffs and security to separate the teams. Then, adding to the bizarre finish, both teams were summoned back from the locker rooms by the officials and one-tenth of a second was put on the clock as Kansas State shot free throws to a chorus of boos from the few thousand fans who were still in the arena.

Christian Braun scored a career-high 20 points, Devon Dotson added 18 and Udoka Azubuike finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds for Kansas, which beat the Wildcats for the 14th straight time at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks, who lost to Baylor 10 days ago, also avoided back-to-back home defeats for the first time since 1988-89.

Xavier Sneed had 16 points and David Sloan had 14 for the Wildcats (8-10, 1-5), who continue to struggle on the road. They have lost all three league contests away from Bramlage Coliseum after going 7-2 in those games a year ago, when they tied Texas Tech for the Big 12 title – ending the Jayhawks’ record-setting run of 14 consecutive championships.

The Jayhawks built a comfortable 39-23 lead by the break, and all of it – and then some – came during that soul-crushing 19-2 run midway through the first half that torpedoed just about any chance of an upset.

It began when Braun hit the first of what would become three 3-pointers by the freshman during the charge. It continued when the Jayhawks forced the Wildcats into a series of blown layups and easy misses, a pair of missed free throws, a shot clock violation and five turnovers that left coach Bruce Weber stamping his feet in frustration.

The run ended – fittingly – with Braun hitting another 3, giving the Jayhawks a 26-9 lead with less than 10 minutes left.

Braun, who played a mere 4 minutes last weekend at Texas, hit another from beyond the arc as the shot clock wound down to star the second half, and Kansas more than doubled up its biggest rival at 47-23 before the Wildcats showed some life.

Sloan started their own run with an easy basket, then he followed one by Sneed with two more. Cartier Diarra answered the fans that’d been heckling him all night from an early air-ball by adding a layup, and Gordon’s 3-pointer capped a 13-2 run that got Kansas State withing 49-36 with about 14 minutes left in the game.

Braun answered with another 3 during another big run that allowed the Jayhawks to put the game away.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was playing its third consecutive ranked opponent, and should have come in with some momentum after an easy win over then-No. 12 West Virginia. But after hanging with the Jayhawks the first few minutes, sloppy play and their inability to convert layups at the rim allowed Kansas to go on the run that defined the game.

Kansas didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but the Jayhawks dominated the glass, kept turnovers to a minimum and played one of their better defensive games all season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State heads to Alabama on Saturday for the Big 12-SEC Challenge.

Kansas welcomes back ex-Texas coach Rick Barnes with Tennessee on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25