Coming off of a season in which it won 26 games and a share of the SEC regular season title, the Auburn Tigers have enough talent to once again be a player both within the conference and nationally in 2018-19. However, depth at the point guard position was a bit of a concern even with starter Jared Harper back for his junior season.
Tuesday afternoon the Tigers received a needed boost to its depth, as Lee College (Texas) point guard J’Von McCormick announced that he will be joining the Auburn program. The 5-foot-11 McCormick, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game as a sophomore.
Leading Lee College in both points and assists, McCormick shot 42.8 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three and 64.8 percent from the foul line.
Despite leading scorer Mustapha Heron’s decision to transfer to St. John’s, Auburn will still have two returning starters in the backcourt as both Harper and Bryce Brown are back after entering the NBA draft without hiring an agent. Also factoring into the perimeter rotation will be VCU transfer Samir Doughty, senior Malik Dunbar and junior forward Danjel Purifoy.
Purifoy, along with Austin Wiley, missed all of last season due to the FBI investigation that rocked college basketball and will have to sit out Auburn’s first nine games of the 2018-19 season before regaining eligibility.
Even with those options — Doughty has the versatility needed to fill multiple roles on the perimeter — adding another player who can man the point was something Bruce Pearl and his staff needed to do this summer if possible. Adding McCormick means that Harper, who played 30.6 minutes per game last season, will have additional help in handling the point guard responsibilities.
And given the depth that expected SEC contenders such as Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee boast, Auburn could ill-afford to go into the season with just one bonafide option at the point.
For a half, it looked like it was happening again.
Gardner-Webb came out on fire. They were carving up Virginia’s ball-screen defense, they were hitting threes left and right and they jumped out to a 28-14 lead of the No. 1-seed Wahoos, who are still dealing with the after effects of becoming the first No. 1-seed to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
That all changed once Virginia decided to wake up.
De’Andre Hunter scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half and the Cavaliers used a 53-22 surge to run away with a win in the first round, knocking off No. 16-seed Gardner-Webb, 71-50.
Tennessee survived a scare from No. 15 seed Colgate as the Volunteers claimed a 77-70 win on Friday afternoon in a South Region NCAA tournament first-round game in Columbus.
The Volunteers led by 12 at the half and by as many as 14 points in the second half before Colgate responded with a furious push to take a 52-50 lead with under 12 minutes left. But Tennessee responded with scoring from a variety of sources to regain the advantage and close out the game.
Admiral Schofield (19 points) buried back-to-back three-pointers when it was a one-possession game to put this game out of reach for Tennessee. Jordan Bone (16 points), Jordan Bowden (14 points) and Lamonte Turner (13 points) also finished in double-figures while All-American Grant Williams (nine points, eight rebounds) had a quiet game.
Playing most of Friday without leading scorer and Patriot League Player of the Year Rapolas Ivanauskas (vision issues; 0 points, 0-for-4 shooting), Colgate (24-11) gave Tennessee a legitimate scare during its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Conference tournament title-game hero Jordan Burns had another great day shooting from the perimeter as he finished with 32 points on 8-for-13 three-point shooting.
Colgate was 15-for-29 from distance as a team on Friday as treys kept them in the game. Junior forward Will Rayman (10 points) and freshman guard Tucker Richardson (10 points) also finished in double-figures for the Raiders.
Tennessee advances to face No. 10 seed Iowa on Sunday in a second-round matchup in Columbus. The Vols will need to play much better in order to get past Iowa as the Hawkeyes used hot second-half shooting to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati.
Williams had an off-day and wasn’t putting up his normal production, but it’s a positive sign for Tennessee that its guards all stepped up to contribute double-figures.
And the Anteaters go marching on.
Max Hazzard hit five threes, including a critical three with less than two minutes left on the clock to give UC Irvine a five-point lead, and scored 19 points to lead the No. 13-seed to the first real upset of the NCAA tournament.
Evan Leonard added 19 points, six boards, four assists and four steals, making four free throws to ice the game in the final 20 seconds, as No. 4-seed Kansas State went down, 70-64.
Kansas State entered this game as the co-Big 12 champion, but they were playing without their star, Dean Wade, who is dealing with foot issues that cost him the Big 12 tournament as well. His absence hurt. He is the best shooter, the best passer and the best player for the Wildcats, and his absence contributed to Kansas State’s 38.6 percent shooting now and an 8-for-27 performance from three.
But that should not take any of the credit away from Irvine. Remember, Kansas State reached the Elite 8 last season with Wade playing.
The credit belongs to Russell Turner, his game plan and the way his team executed it. Turner is a former Standford assistant that had a shot at getting the Cal job when the Bears hired Wyking Jones. He’s won four of the last six Big West regular season titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament twice in his five year tenure. This is the kind of performance that will make him an in-demand coach during the carousel this season, and he should have been all along.
But that’s neither here nor there.
The truth is that this Irvine team is really, really good. They take away the paint, they are as good defensively as any high-major that you’ll find and they have the size to match up with anyone. They are going to be a tough out for whoever wins tonight’s Wisconsin-Oregon first round battle.
All-American Jarrett Culver had a monster outing as No. 3 seed Texas Tech cruised to a 72-57 win over No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky during a Friday afternoon NCAA tournament first-round game in the West Region.
Finishing with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Culver was efficient and dominant for the Red Raiders as they opened up the game in the second half. Only a 30-26 lead for Texas Tech at the break, the Red Raiders clamped down and used the offense of Culver and it’s No. 1 overall defense to break the game open.
The Big 12 Player of the Year had one of the best individual games of any player in the first round as he was 10-for-17 from the floor and 3-for-5 from three-point range. Big man Tariq Owens also finished in double-figures for Texas Tech with 12 points while Davide Moretti added 10 points.
Northern Kentucky (26-9) stayed in the game for a half thanks to the hot shooting of junior guard Tyler Sharpe as he finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Norse couldn’t generate much consistent offense outside of Sharpe, however, as Northern Kentucky shot 5-for-21 from the three-point line. Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald was held to only five points on 2-for-12 shooting as he struggled to get going. Dantez Wilson (11 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Norse.
The Red Raiders advance to face either No. 6 seed Buffalo or No. 11 seed Arizona State in Tulsa on Sunday.
Rashard Odomes and Christian James both popped off for 20 points and Kristian Doolittle added 19 points, 14 boards and five assists as No. 9-seed Oklahoma blew out No. 8-seed Ole Miss, 95-72, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Sooners, with the win, will advance to face No. 1-seed Virginia as long as Virginia can get past Gardner-Webb in the first round.
This was something of a cathartic win for an Oklahoma team that was among the handful of at-large invites that had thoroughly mediocre performances in league play. The Sooners opened the Big 12 season with eight losses in their first 11 games and finished with a 7-11 record in the conference.
One game samples really should not determine whether or not a body of work merited inclusion in an event like that, but it’s hard to see the performance that this team — and the Big 12 as a whole — put together thus far in the event and think the committee was wrong to add a sub-.500 team from the Big 12 to the field.
It’s also a sign for what this Oklahoma program is and can be under Lon Kruger.
It’s difficult to compare things like this year over year, but it is certainly interesting to note than not only did Oklahoma get a better seed this year than they did last year, with Trae Young on the roster, but they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, which is something they did not do with Trae.
That’s not to say that the team is better without him — frankly, I think that’s a silly argument to make. Guys are a year older and a year better, which matters, and I think that the 7-11 mark in Big 12 play says more than the result of a one-game knockout tournament.
It is, however, important to note that Kruger has this thing to the point that they can lose a guy that is now averaging 18.5 points and 7.8 assists in the NBA and still be good enough to get a bid and win a game.