2018 NCAA Tournament: The Cinderellas you need to pick in your bracket

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There tends to be at least one “Cinderella” in every NCAA tournament, be it a team from a smaller conference that springs an upset that wrecks some brackets or a middling squad that gets hot at the right time and makes a deep run.

While this year’s bracket certainly has some powerhouse programs at the top, beginning with top overall seed Virginia, there are also teams capable of causing some chaos this week (and beyond).

Here are some teams you need to keep in mind as possible Cinderellas as you go through the time-honored tradition of filling out your bracket.

FOUR TEAMS THAT CAN WREAK HAVOC EARLY

LOYOLA-CHICAGO (11-seed, South): It’s been a while since Loyola-Chicago has reached the NCAA tournament, with this being the program’s first appearance since 1985. But this isn’t a team that’s going to show up for its game against Miami with a “we’re just happy to be here” attitude. Porter Moser’s team has won 28 games and the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament titles, and they’ve been flat-out stingy defensively. The Ramblers have limited opponents to 41.2 percent shooting from the field and 32.9 percent from three, and they’ve also forced a turnover on 20 percent of their opponents’ possessions.

Senior guard Ben Richardson, the Valley’s Defensive Player of the Year, sets the tone on that end of the floor but the entire team is committed defensively. Offensively, league Player of the Year Clayton Custer has led the way for a balanced attack that has five players averaging double figures. According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Loyola’s ranked in the top 20 nationally in both two-point and three-point percentage and eighth in effective field goal percentage. The Hurricanes should be on notice for this dangerous matchup.

DAVIDSON (12-seed, South): There’s no denying the fact that Kentucky is playing its best basketball of the season, with the Wildcats having won the SEC tournament title. There’s also no denying the fact that, while young, John Calipari’s got a team that doesn’t lack for talent. That being said, their matchup with the Atlantic 10 tournament champions is one that Kentucky cannot afford to take lightly because of the presence of senior forward Peyton Aldridge and freshman guard Kellen Grady.

Aldridge, Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year, is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, with the offensive production coming by way of his shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three-point range. Grady, the A-10’s top rookie, is averaging 18.0 points per game and is shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three. As a team Davidson’s shooting 39.1 percent from three, and they’re one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. If Kentucky doesn’t remain disciplined defensively, this game could be a handful.

NEW MEXICO STATE (12-seed, Midwest): In the program’s first season under head coach Chris Jans, all the Aggies did was win 28 games and the WAC regular season and tournament titles. New Mexico State’s two best non-conference wins came at the Diamond Head Classic in December, as they beat NCAA tournament participants Davidson and Miami before falling to USC in the championship game. And this is a group that has prior NCAA tournament experience, from Jans’ time on Gregg Marshall’s staff at Wichita State to the returnees who reached the Big Dance last season.

Jemerrio Jones was one of the nation’s best rebounders last season and he’s been even better in 2017-18, averaging 13.2 rebounds per game along with 11.0 points per contest. Zach Lofton, a former SWAC Player of the Year at Texas Southern who also has prior NCAA tournament experience, leads the way offensively with 19.5 points per night, and A.J. Harris, Eli Chuha and Sidy N’Dir shouldn’t be overlooked either. A concern for the Aggies is the foul shooting, as they’ve made just 64.3 percent of their attempts, but they’ve got enough to make things tough on Clemson.

MARSHALL (13-seed, East): For much of this season, the conversation regarding Wichita State has centered on the team’s defense. In short, this particular group isn’t as good on that end of the floor as they’ve been in the past. A big issue for the Shockers has been defending the three, with opponents shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc (247th nationally).

Under head coach Dan D’Antoni, Marshall can spread opposing defenses out and in guards Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks the Thundering Herd has a tandem that’s averaging a combined 43.3 points per game. Marshall shoots 35.6 percent from three, but while that number isn’t all that impressive 45.6 percent of their field goal attempts have been threes. And that could prove problematic for Wichita State given its struggles defending that shot.

SLEEPERS THAT CAN MAKE A RUN TO SAN ANTONIO

GONZAGA (4-seed, West): While the other west coast juggernaut in the field, Arizona, was placed in a region that looks absolutely loaded the Bulldogs’ path to San Antonio may be a bit more manageable. UNC Greensboro followed by either Ohio State or South Dakota State, and Mark Few’s team is in a region that’s led by top seed Xavier and 2-seed North Carolina. Not to say that either of those teams is weak, but Gonzaga has the pieces needed to reach a Final Four for the second consecutive season.

Killian Tillie was outstanding at the WCC tournament, and the front court has other talented options in Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura. Josh Perkins has done a good job of running the show, and players such as redshirt freshman Zach Norvell and Silas Melson have been notable contributors as well. Per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers there are only three teams in the country ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency: Duke, Michigan State and Gonzaga.

FLORIDA (6-seed, East): This feels like a pick that could either work out well or go up in flames from the start, as either St. Bonaventure or UCLA has the potential to be a tough matchup for the Gators given some of the personnel on both of those teams. That being said, Florida has shown at various points in the season that it is capable of beating just about anyone. Chris Chiozza is a more than capable leader at the point, and in total Mike White’s team has four double-digit scorers in Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen.

The issues Florida will need to address if its to play deep into the tournament: defending the three and closing out possessions with a rebound, and making sure Allen is engaged and in “attack mode.” Allen’s had a tendency to play passive at times, and Florida cannot afford for that to be the case this week and beyond. If he’s on and attacking defenses, that benefits everyone in the rotation.

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.

No. 3 UConn rallies past No. 9 Iowa to win Phil Knight title

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Azzi Fudd scored 24 points to rally No. 3 UConn past No. 9 Iowa 86-79 Sunday in the championship game of the first Phil Knight Legacy women’s tournament.

“It really was difficult to play against these guys,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I don’t think we felt really good about ourselves at halftime. I thought we came out in the third quarter and really took control of the game.”

Fudd had plenty of help, with Aaliyah Edwards (20 points, 13 rebounds) and three other Huskies (5-0) scoring in double-figures. Edwards was named MVP of the tournament.

Iowa (5-2) star Caitlin Clark had 25 points, and Kate Martin added 20.

Edwards got UConn off to a strong start, scoring 10 points while the Huskies built a 20-14 edge.

Clark and the Hawkeyes then surged with a 13-2 run to begin the second quarter and led 41-35 at halftime. Clark scored 17 points in the first half.

Martin hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter for a 52-41 lead, but UConn countered with 11 straight points and led 61-57 entering the fourth.

Iowa opened the final quarter with nine straight points for a 66-61 lead, but the Huskies countered and pulled away in the middle of the period, leading 79-70 after Carolina Ducharme’s 3-pointer with 3:42 left.

“Azzi Fudd really came to life in that third quarter,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I was really pleased with our first half. If it wasn’t for that third quarter, but yes, we play four. And we missed some shots in the fourth quarter that we usually make.”

BIG PICTURE

Iowa: Iowa dominated the battle of the 3-point line for much of the game. The Hawkeyes made 13 3-pointers to only eight for UConn.

UConn: Sunday was a tale of two halves for Fudd. Fudd started the game 1 for 8 from the field but was red-hot in the second half, going 9 for 11.

UP NEXT

Iowa: The Hawkeyes will host N.C. State on Thursday.

UConn: The Huskies will host Providence on Friday.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.