Associated Press

Mid-majors capable of wrecking some brackets

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It never fails.

Every March some plucky underdog seemingly comes out of nowhere to pull off an upset in the NCAA tournament, wrecking brackets across the country in the process. The key word in that sentence is “seemingly,” because each year there are teams that show signs throughout the season that they’re capable of winning once in the NCAA tournament.

Below are ten programs capable of pulling off an upset in the NCAA tournament as we approach the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

1. UAB: Jerod Haase’s Blazers pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 NCAA tournament, as they sent home three-seed and trendy Final Four pick Iowa State in the round of 64. All five starters from that team have returned, including two players in forward William Lee and guard Nick Norton who ranked among the top freshmen in Conference USA a season ago and conference tournament MVP Robert Brown. Reigning C-USA Sixth Man of the Year Chris Cokley anchors a deep and experienced bench. And with Brown being the Blazers’ lone senior, they could be at the top of this list in 2016-17 as well.

2. Valparaiso: The Crusaders narrowly missed out on an upset back in March, falling by just three points to four-seed Maryland. Vashil Fernandez receiving his fourth season of eligibility means that head coach Bryce Drew can call upon one of the top front court tandems around, pairing Fernandez with junior Alec Peters. Peters was a first team all-Horizon League selection last season, with Fernandez being the Defensive Player of the Year. In total ten of the eleven players who scored a point for Valparaiso last season are back, with guards Tevonn Walker and Darien Walker and wing E. Victor Nickerson among those contributors.

3. Stephen F. Austin: Brad Underwood’s first two seasons at SFA have produced consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and the Lumberjacks have enough experience and talent to push that streak to three. Five seniors led by reigning Southland Conference Player of the Year Thomas Walkup have seen a lot in their college careers, including a wild win over VCU in the 2014 NCAA tournament. A group that was good on both ends of the floor (they ranked fifth in defensive turnover percentage, too) and won 29 of their final 30 games a season ago should pick up right where they left off in March.

4. Belmont: Like the three teams ahead of them on this list Rick Byrd’s Bruins reached the NCAA tournament a season ago, where they ran into a tough matchup in Virginia’s pack line defense. However it should be noted that Belmont scored 67 points in that loss, a mark met or surpassed by Virginia opponents just four times in 2014-15. Four starters from that team are back in Nashville, led by the OVC’s best player in senior guard Craig Bradshaw and the nation’s field goal percentage champion Evan Bradds (68.8 percent). The Bruins are highly efficient offensively, and that could make life difficult for an opponent unfamiliar with their style/personnel.

5. Old Dominion: Jeff Jones’ Monarchs fell short of their goal of an NCAA tournament bid a season ago, but they didn’t sulk once in the Postseason NIT. Trey Freeman and company reached the semifinals of that event, and the postseason experience should serve this group well. Freeman’s one of the best players in Conference USA, and in total ODU welcomes back three starters and four of their top six scorers. East Carolina transfer Brandan Stith pairs up with leading rebounder Denzell Taylor to help ODU account for the loss of Jonathan Arledge and Richard Ross from their front court, and this is a group that can be dangerous in a one-and-done scenario.

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Old Dominion’s Trey Freeman (AP Photo)

6. UC Irvine: The prohibitive favorites in the Big West, Russell Turner’s Anteaters had eventual Elite Eight participant Louisville on the ropes back in March. UC Irvine fell by just two points on that day, and many of the key contributors from that team have returned for another run at the NCAA tournament. That includes experienced guards Alex Young and Luke Nelson, wing Dominque Dunning and a front court with some serious size led by 7-foot-6 junior Mamadou Ndiaye. While UC Irvine isn’t an explosive offensive team, their defense is what makes them such a tough matchup for team not used to their style and personnel.

7. Iona: There’s no denying the fact that Tim Cluess’ Gaels are going to score points. Last season Iona averaged 79.5 points per game, and from an adjusted tempo standpoint only 11 teams played faster. Iona does have to account for the loss of MAAC Player of the Year David Laury, but four of the team’s top five scorers from a season ago are back led by high-scoring guards A.J. English and Shadrac Casimir. The key for Iona, especially in the MAAC tournament where they’ve fallen to rival Manhattan in each of the last two title games, will be their commitment on the defensive end. As we saw with Eastern Washington in March, being able to score doesn’t mean much if you can’t get stops.

8. Evansville: The Purple Aces have one of the better inside/out combinations around in high-scoring guard D.J. Balentine and forward/center Egidijus Mockevicius, who combined to average 32.6 points per game in 2014-15. That tandem helped lead Marty Simmons’ team to the CIT championship, and with all five starters back expectations are high for the Purple Aces. They’re in position to challenge preseason Missouri Valley favorite Wichita State, and given their talent and experience should Evansville reach the NCAA tournament they can cause trouble.

9. Central Michigan: Keno Davis’ Chippewas won 23 games and a MAC West Division title last season with an offense that shot the ball well and took good care of it too. All five starters, led by guard Chris Fowler and forward John Simons, are back on campus which should allow them to hit the ground running in 2015-16. The key for this group will be to get better on the defensive end of the floor (MAC foes shot nearly 54 percent from two), as they ranked 11th in field goal percentage defense, seventh in three-point percentage defense and ninth in effective field goal percentage defense (conference games only).

10. Louisiana: The biggest reason for the Ragin’ Cajuns’ inclusion on this list is the fact that they’ve got a likely pro in Shawn Long in their front court. The 6-foot-11 senior is the preseason pick for Sun Belt Player of the Year, coming off of a junior campaign in which he averaged 16.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. All five starters are back for head coach Bob Marlin, and while the Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t reach the NCAA tournament they did play in the CIT (losing to Evansville in the quarters) so there is some postseason experience to call upon.

Five others to keep in mind: Hofstra, Columbia, North Florida, Stony Brook, Pepperdine

AP Poll: Baylor remains No. 1 in week with few changes at the top

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Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor is No. 1 for a second straight week in a college basketball AP poll that had no major changes at the top, a rare bit of stability in a wildly unpredictable season.

The Bears stayed well ahead of No. 2 Gonzaga in Monday’s poll, part of an unchanged top seven for the first time this season. In fact, the only change in the top 10 came with Villanova moving up a spot to No. 8 to swap positions with No. 9 Duke. That comes in a season that has seen seven different teams reach No. 1 this season, matching a record set during the 1982-83 season.

Baylor (17-1) hopped over Gonzaga last week to reach No. 1 for the second time in program history, then earned 44 of 64 first-place votes to keep a firm hold on the top spot after beating Oklahoma and Florida last week.

The Zags earned 19 first-place votes to remain either No. 1 or No. 2 in the poll since the middle of December, followed by Kansas, San Diego State — the last unbeaten team in Division I — and Florida State.

Louisville, Dayton, Villanova, Duke and Seton Hall rounded out the top 10.

No. 22 LSU, No. 23 Wichita State and No. 24 Penn State were the week’s new additions, re-entering the poll after appearances earlier this season. Texas Tech, Memphis and Arizona fell out of the rankings.

Here is the full college basketball AP Poll:

1. Baylor (44 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (19)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Villanova
9. Duke
10. Seton Hall
11. Oregon
12. West Virginia
13. Kentucky
14. Michigan State
15. Maryland
16. Butler
17. Auburn
18. Iowa
19. Illinois
20. Colorado
21. Houston
22. LSU
23. Wichita State
24. Penn State
25. Rutgers

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

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

ACC fines Brey for his officiating comments

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) The Atlantic Coast Conference has fined Notre Dame $20,000 and publicly reprimanded Fighting Irish basketball coach Mike Brey for his comments about officiating after Saturday’s loss at Florida State.

The league announced the penalties Monday, saying Brey’s comments “were in direct violation” of the league’s sportsmanship policy that states that public criticism of officiating “is not in the best interest of intercollegiate athletics.”

Brey referenced several issues after the 85-84 loss to the Seminoles, including a technical foul called on the Irish bench with 2:31 left. He also mentioned game official John Gaffney by name as he left the news conference in Tallahassee.

“We’re treated by the officials like we haven’t brought football as a full member (to the league), but yet we get a full share of the ACC Network TV, are you kidding me?” Brey said, a reference to Notre Dame’s independence in football even as it remains a member of all other league sports.

Moments later, a frustrated Brey waved both hands as he got up to leave and continued his comments as he left the room.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, man,” Brey said, raising his voice. “Come on, man. We’re in the league, too.”

The league said in a news release that the matter is closed and declined to make additional comment. The fine will go toward an ACC scholarship fund that assists athletes with pursuing graduate degrees after completing undergraduate requirements.

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

Monday Overreactions: Ayo Dosunmu, Maryland and Nick Richards’ takeoer

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Ayo Dosunmu did it again.

Illinois’ sophomore star and leading scorer finished with 27 points, none of which were bigger than the final shot of the game as Dosunmu hit a foul line jumper over Zavier Simpson with 0.5 seconds left on the clock to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor:

It’s the sixth straight win for the Illini, who have climbed all the way up to No. 21 in the AP poll, and no one has been more influential in that run than Dosunmu. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 5.4 assists over the last five games, and in a conference where winning road games is notoriously difficult, the Illini have won at Wisconsin, at Purdue and at Michigan during that stretch.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Maryland Terrapins

No team in the country has elicited a louder chorus of doubters throughout the course of the season than Maryland.

The Terps were a top ten team in the preseason, and spent the entire season ranked inside the top 20 of the AP poll and currently sit at No. 10 in KenPom’s rankings. But because of some uninspiring performances early in the season, combined with the fact that the Terps had entered the week with an 0-4 record on the road, it was easy to overlook this group as nothing more than another fraudulent Mark Turgeon roster.

This week, the narrative changed. The Terps erased a 14 point deficit on the road to knock off Northwester, 77-66, in Chicago and then followed that up by going on a 7-0 run in the final two minutes to land a 77-76 win at Indiana.

Suddenly, the Terps are on a three game winning streak with back-to-back home games coming up next.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. NICK RICHARDS IS THE SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Richards has been one of the most improved players in the country this season, but Saturday was really the first time that we saw him completely take over a game.

He finished with 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks in the 76-74 overtime win at Texas Tech, scoring the game-winning points with 10 seconds left.

This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26  against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.

Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.

I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.

As it stands, he’s now the leading scorer and rebounder for the Wildcats. He’s probably the leader in the clubhouse for SEC Player of the Year, and very much in the mix for an all-american team.

2. TEXAS TECH HAS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF WORK TO DO TO GET TO THE TOURNAMENT

I’m not sure people realize just how little there is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

As it stands, the Red Raiders are the very last team in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection.

3. THE BIG TEN IS GOING TO DISAPPOINT IN MARCH

The biggest reason that I believe this is the lack of elite point guard play. I’ve made this point roughly 18,000 times by now, but in the last decade, the only team that won the national title without having two lead guards playing together was the 2012 Kentucky team that had the top two picks playing together.

And the thing about this year’s Big Ten is that the lead guard play is not great. Cassius Winston, when he’s right, is the best in the country. Ayo Dosunmu, the way he’s been playing for the last month, is right there with him. Anthony Cowan is, in theory, on that list. Zavier Simpson? Maybe. Marcus Carr? At times.

I think that’s it.

So that’s a concern.

As is the fact that every team in the Big Ten is built around their frontcourt play.

I was struck over the weekend as I watch Michigan and Illinois down the stretch play with four centers on the floor — Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili for the Illini and Jon Teske and Austin Davis for the Wolverines. Iowa is at their best when they play with Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener. Tom Izzo loves to play Xavier Tillman with another big man. I could keep going if I had the time.

That is the only league in the country where that happens, and I think it is fair to wonder how well that will hold up in March.

4. ARIZONA IS NOT FAR AWAY FROM BEING REALLY DANGEROUS

More than anyone else in college basketball, the Wildcats are the team that appear to be the darling of the predictive metrics this season.

(I would say Ohio State, but they spent the first half of the season absolutely bludgeoning really good teams and still don’t have a loss to a team outside the top 40.)

They have one win against a top 30 team and just two wins against top 55 opponents. Their best win away from home is against Wake Forest, yet the Wildcats, at 13-6 overall, find themselves sitting at 10th in KenPom and 12th in the NET. This is what happens when you find a way to lose games close. Five fo their six losses came by five points or less, and it hasn’t always been the same formula. Arizona erased leads to land backdoor covers against Baylor, Gonzaga and Saint John’s. They blew leads on the road in league play in losses to Oregon and Arizona State. They completely collapsed in the second half against Oregon State.

So I’m not sure there is a clear-cut answer to what ails the Wildcats right now.

But I do know that with the talent on their roster, they are not as far away from being an actual top ten team as the average Arizona fan on twitter will have you believe.

5. IS SYRACUSE THE FOURTH-BEST TEAM IN THE ACC?

Someone has to be the fourth-best team in the ACC, and as far as league standings go, the Orange currently qualify. They are 6-3 in the conference, having won their last five games, and they have fully embraced the idea that this roster needs to fire up as many threes as possible to have a chance to win.

That said, they still haven’t beaten anyone. Their best win came at Virginia in overtime, but Virginia may not be a tournament team this season. The trouble is that the Orange only get the other top teams in the conference — Duke, N.C. State, Florida State and Louisville — once each.

They probably need to win at least two of those games to have a real shot at a tournament bid.

Bracketology: Baylor strengthens its grip on the No. 1 overall seed

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Baylor continues to strengthen its grip on the No. 1 overall seed.  The Bears won their fifth true road game (5-0 in opportunities) of the season at Florida on Saturday.  They are No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games and 10-1 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents combined.  Baylor hasn’t lost since November 8, a nearly two-month stretch of perfection.

Elsewhere, the top line remains in tact.  There’s room for debate across lines two through four. It’ll be interesting to see how the Selection Committee views the profiles of teams like Florida State, Louisville and Duke in the weeks ahead.  Unless something changes, there will be fewer Quad 1 opportunities in this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

Tracking the Bubble is going to keep you busy.  It’s several lines deep into the bracket today.  The margins between a nine seed and an 11-seeded play-in team are minimal.  And that’s not factoring in the next 8-12 teams knocking on the door.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 27, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION NC State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION VCU vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  ROBERT MORRIS vs. NORFOLK ST
MIDWEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. PR VIEW A&M

SOUTH Houston WEST – Los Angeles                         
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) ROB MORRIS / NORFOLK ST 16) NORTHERN COLORADO
8) Wichita State 8) USC
9) Saint Mary’s 9) Oklahoma 
Sacramento Tampa
5) Penn State 5) LSU
12) YALE 12) AKRON
4) Kentucky 4) West Virginia
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Cleveland Albany
6) Marquette 6) Colorado
11) VCU / Texas Tech 11) BYU
3) MICHIGAN STATE 3) Villanova
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) COLGATE
Tampa Spokane
7) Indiana 7) Wisconsin
10) Saint John’s 10) Memphis
2) Florida State 2) OREGON
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) UC-IRVINE 16) MONMOUTH / PV A&M
8) Ohio State 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Arkansas
Greensboro St. Louis
5) Butler 5) Creighton
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) VERMONT 13) LIBERTY
Greensboro Cleveland
6) Auburn 6) Illinois
11) DePaul 11) NC State / Arizona St
3) Duke 3) DAYTON
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany St. Louis
7) Rutgers 7) Arizona
10) Stanford 10) Michigan
2) SETON HALL 2) LOUISVILLE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) WINTHROP

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Michigan Arizona State Rhode Island Purdue
BYU NC State Virginia Tech Tennessee
Saint John’s VCU Richmond Xavier
DePaul Texas Tech Minnesota Georgetown

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (6)
SEC (5)
Big 12 (5)

ACC (4)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor, Gonzaga lead the way

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A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

I sat down at my laptop to write out a column about why I ranked certain teams in certain spots and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find a way to give a damn.

As I’m sure you all know, Kobe Bryant died today. He was in a helicopter along with eight other people, including his daughter, Gianna, and her teammate, Alyssa Altobelli along with her mom, Keri, and dad, John. They were on the way to play in a travel team game. At least two, and certainly more, families were gutted, and while we are going to be talking about Kobe for the most part, I do think that should be emphasized.

Nine people died on that helicopter. Nine.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why so many folks — like myself — spent Sunday completely torn up about the death of a person that we never met, a person that may or may not be deserving of the outpouring of love and adoration coming his way. What I came up with is this: The true heartbreak in this story is that Kobe was on the plane with one of his four daughters, the one he has spent the last couple of years proudly and publicly developing into a full-blown middle-aged sports dad with. It was awesome to see. This was not how their story was supposed to end.

Kobe and his wife also have three other daughters: a 17-year old along with a three year old and a newborn that is just seven months old. The Altobellis left a family behind, too, and what that family is going through is crushing as well, but I can’t stop thinking about what Vanessa, his wife, is going to be forced to deal with. She’s post-partum, with one daughter that will never know her father, and now has to cope with the loss of her husband and the loss of a child while trying to keep that 17-year old sane and explain to a three-year old why daddy and her big sister are never coming home.

That’s unfathomable to me.

But the reason I think this hit me so hard is that I keep putting myself in that helicopter. As a parent, the only goal in your life is keep your kids safe and happy. At any cost. It’s that simple. How do you deal with being on a helicopter with your child — and, for the Altobellis, with your spouse — knowing that something has gone wrong? Knowing what’s going to happen? Knowing the inevitability of your situation? Knowing that there’s nothing you can do to stop it, to keep your baby safe?

I don’t think that I’m alone there.

So I spent as much time as I could today playing with my kids, because arguing about ranking college basketball top 25 teams has never seemed dumber.

We can yell at each other next week.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



1. BAYLOR (17-1, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (21-1, 2)
3. KANSAS (16-3, 3)
4. FLORIDA STATE (17-2, 4)
5. LOUISVILLE (17-3, 5)
6. SETON HALL (15-4, 6)
7. DUKE (17-3, 7)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (21-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (18-2, 9)
10. OREGON (17-4, 13)
11. KENTUCKY (16-5, 14)
12. WEST VIRGINIA (16-3, 15)
13. VILLANOVA (16-3, 17)
14. ILLINOIS (15-5, 24)
15. AUBURN (17-2, 12)
16. MICHIGAN STATE (16-3, 10)
17. IOWA (14-5, 18)
18. MARYLAND (16-4, 23)
19. HOUSTON (16-4, 20)
20. BUTLER (16-4, 11)
21. CREIGHTON (16-5, 25)
22. COLORADO (16-4, NR)
23. PENN STATE (14-5, NR)
24. RUTGERS (15-5, NR)
25. ARIZONA (13-6, 19)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Colorado, No. 23 Penn State, No. 24 Rutgers
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 Texas Tech, No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Michigan