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Mid-major stars to watch during championship week

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The beauty of the mid-major tournaments that we will be obsessed with this week is that this is where stars will be born.

They’ll burst onto the national scene if they find a way to get to the NCAA tournament, but this is where they’ll earn themselves the right to have that chance. 

So who might end up being the next Harold Arceneaux or the next Jairus Lyles? Can anyone go from being a cinderella to an NBA player like C.J. McCollum or Kyle O’Quinn? Who might end up giving us a memory that lasts longer than Bryce Drew’s game-winner or a double-order of onions like Ronald Moore did?

These are your best bets:

CONFERENCE TOURNEYS: 21 Mid-Major Stars | Best Bets | Bid Thieves | Schedule

1. JA MORANT, Murray State

If you don’t know who Ja Morant is at this point, I don’t think you can call yourself a college basketball fan. He’s going to be a top five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft — he might go No. 2 — because he is an uber-athletic dunking machine that just so happens to lead the country in assists (10.3 per game) while averaging 24.1 points. The world needs Morant in the NCAA tournament, trying to put a 50-burger on whatever poor No. 4 seed happens to draw Murray State in the first round.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/8, 9:00 p.m. in the OVC semis

2. CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell

Clemons is 5-foot-9. He’s currently averaging 30.1 points, and no Division I player has finished a season averaging 30 points since Charles Jones (LIU) and Bubba Wells (Austin Peay) did it in 1997. He is currently sixth on the Division I all-time scoring list at 3,136 career points. He’s 14 behind Doug McDermott for fifth on the all-time scoring list with a very real shot of getting to No. 2 if he can find a way to play four more games.

And if you’re not careful, he will dunk on you:

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/7, 6:00 p.m. vs. No. 8 seed Hampton

3. MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State

Clemons is not the only 3,000 point scorer in college basketball right now, because the 6-foot-9 Daum has climbed past Hersey Hawkins and Oscar Robertson into ninth on the career scoring list. He makes threes. He dominates the glass. He can’t really guard anyone, but it doesn’t matter all that much when he’s putting up 25 and 10 every night. The Jackrabbits have reached the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons, so Daum is hardly a secret at this point in his career.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 6:00 p.m. vs. No. 8 Western Illinois

4. C.J. MASSINBURG, Buffalo

You really should know who Massinburg is at this point. He averaged 18.5 points in the NCAA tournament last season, when he led Buffalo to an upset win over No. 4 seed Arizona in the first round of the tournament and gave Kentucky all they could handle in the second round. Then he went for 43 points as the Bulls won at West Virginia in the first week of the season.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The MAC tournament starts 3/11

5. FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford

Magee is 14 made three-pointers away from becoming the all-time Division I leader in career three-pointers made. He’s averaging better than 20 points for the second straight season. He shoots more than 10 threes per game, and he’s never had a season where he shot worse than 42.3 percent from beyond the arc.

But here’s the craziest part — the threes that he shoots look like this:

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 12:00 p.m. in the SoCon quarters

6. JORDAN FORD, St. Mary’s

Ford might be the best guard that St. Mary’s has had since the days of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavadova. He’s averaging 21.5 points this season, nearly doubling his scoring output from a season ago, and he has a chance to one day play in the NBA. The Gaels have the best chance to win the WCC automatic bid of teams not named Gonzaga and that’s going to be the only way that St. Mary’s can actually get to the NCAA tournament.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/11, 8:30 p.m. in the WCC semis

7. JORDAN DAVIS, Northern Colorado

Northern Colorado is second in the Big Sky. That’s good. Davis averages 23.7 points and 4.7 assists for UNC. That’s better. But the real reason that you need to know who this dude is? He might do this again:

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Big Sky tournament kicks off March 13th

8. DYLAN WINDLER, Belmont

Windler needs his breakout moment. While Morant is out here setting records, Windler has a case to be the OVC Player of the Year. He’s the only Division I player averaging 20 points, 10 boards and 2.5 assists, and in OVC play, he’s putting up 23.0 points and 10.9 boards while shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s an NBA prospect, but he has yet to have a blow-up game in front of the world.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 7:00 p.m. in the OVC semis

9. MIYE ONI, Yale

Bryce Aiken of Harvard is the guy that gets all the hype in the Ivy League, but Oni is probably the best player in the league. A 6-foot-6 native from California, Oni is a junior that is averaging 18.3 points and 6.5 boards. He’s a borderline first round pick as of today, and the best part? He was originally committed to the same Division III school that former Michigan guard Duncan Robinson played for.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Ivy League tournament starts 3/16

10. JALEN PICKETT, Siena

Pickett is probably the best freshman in the country that you have never heard of. He averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 assists and 4.6 boards for the Saints, who finished tied for second in a wide-open MAAC. He had 46 points and 13 assists in a game earlier this year. Keep an eye on this dude, he could end up being an NBA player.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 9:30 p.m. vs. No. 4 Rider

11. JUSTIN WRIGHT-FOREMAN, Hofstra

Hofstra steam-rolled the CAA this year thanks in very large part to the nation’s second-leading scorer, Wright-Foreman. He put up 26.8 points this season, and he also hit what might be the shot of the year:

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/10, 12:00 p.m. in the CAA semis

12. JOHN KONCHAR, Fort Wayne

The season did not end well for the Mastadons, as they lost their last four regular season games to fall out of the Summit League title race. That will make it that much more difficult for Konchar, who averages 19.7 pints, 8.5 boards and 5.3 assists, to make a national name for himself, but it is doable.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/10, 8:30 p.m. vs. No. 6 South Dakota

13. ANTOINE DAVIS, Detroit

Antoine is the son of Detroit head coach Mike Davis. He’s the nation’s third-leading scorer at 26.0 points. He’s a freshman. He has made 128 threes this year, which breaks the record that was set by one Stephen Curry. The problem? Detroit is the No. 7 seed in the Horizon League tournament.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/6, 7:00 p.m. vs. No. 2 Northern Kentucky

14. ANTHONY LAMB, Vermont

We all know how good the UVM program is at this point, and Lamb is currently the star in Burlington. He had 24 points at Kansas this year. He put 34 on Yale and 37 on Harvard. He had 42 points against St. Bonaventure. People that loved Georges Niang will be thrilled to see his dopplegänger get some run if UVM can get to the Big Dance.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 7:00 p.m. vs. No. 8 seed Maine

15. GRANT RILLER, Charleston

There may not be a more dangerous scorer in college basketball than Riller right now. The junior guard is averaging 22.3 points and 4.0 assists, but he popped off for 43 points against Hofstra, 33 points against Northeastern, 32 against Memphis and 30 at VCU.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/10, 8:30 p.m. vs. No. 6 Drexel

16. CHARLES BASSEY, Western Kentucky

Bassey is a former five-star recruit and a future NBA draft pick. He hasn’t quite lived up to expectations playing for WKU this year, but he’s still averaging 15.1 points and 10.6 boards. He’ll be the big body that will allow the Hilltoppers to matchup with the frontline of whatever power conference team they face off with in the NCAA tournament.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The CUSA tournament starts on 3/13

17. JAKEENAN GANT, Louisiana

The former Missouri forward is currently averaging 20.8 points, 8.7 boards and 2.7 blocks, the only player in Division I to post a line like that. The Sun Belt regular season hasn’t come to an end yet, but the Ragin’ Cajuns are currently sitting at .500 with two games left. They likely aren’t destined for the NCAA tournament, but you never know.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Sun Belt tournament starts 3/12

18. JAYLIN WALKER, Kent State

Walker has finally moved his way into the starting lineup, but the 6-foot-3 senior spent much of the year averaging 21.6 points off the bench for the Golden Flashes. Kent State is going to have to beat out Buffalo for the MAC automatic bid if they are going to be dancing.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The MAC tournament starts 3/11

19. D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State

Simonds had a bunch of NBA hype heading into his sophomore season, but the jump shot never came around. He’s still not shooting it great this year, but he is averaging 18.9 points, 4.9 boards and 3.7 assists for a team that is tied for first in the Sun Belt right now.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Sun Belt tournament starts 3/12

20. LAMINE DIANE, Cal St.-Northridge

If Pickett isn’t the best freshman you’ve never heard of, Diane is. He’s the Big West Zion Williamson, averaging 24.2 points, 10.8 boards, 2.2 blocks, 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals. I know this is going to shock you, but Diane is putting up these numbers for a team coached by Mark Gottfried that is currently sitting at 7-7 in the Big West.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Big West tournament starts 3/14

21. MATT RAFFERTY, Furman

Furman’s star has as well-rounded of a stat line as you’ll find: 17.4 points, 9.2 boards, 4.2 assists, 2.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 62.8% FG, 36.4% 3PT. That’s how you upset Villanova on the road, I guess.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 8:30 p.m. vs. No. 6 Mercer

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot to be ‘out a while’

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North Carolina’s freshman center Armando Bacot suffered a left ankle injury in the first half of Wednesday night’s game against Ohio State and did not return.

Bacot, who came down on a defender’s foot and had to be helped off of the floor, immediately when back to the locker.

“It was swollen by the time he got to the locker room,” coach Roy Williams said. “My guess is he’ll be out a while.”

The 6-foot-10 Bacot was averaging 11.7 points and 9.6 boards and was coming off of his best game of the season, when he posted 23 points, 12 boards and six blocks while playing a season-high 30 minutes against Oregon.

Michigan, Kentucky schedule basketball game in London

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan and Kentucky have agreed to play a basketball game in London next season as part of a three-year deal that also includes a home-and-home series between the two programs.

Michigan announced the deal Thursday. The teams will play at O2 Arena in London in December 2020. The teams will meet at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor in 2021 and at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena in 2022.

“When the idea of playing Kentucky came up, we knew it would be an exciting opportunity, not only for ourselves, but for our fans as well,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “What a unique three-game series. First, we get to showcase collegiate basketball overseas in London before playing that traditional home-and-home series in front of two of the nation’s best basketball environments.”

The teams have met seven times previously, with Kentucky holding a 5-2 edge. The Wildcats beat Michigan in a 2014 Elite Eight game in their most recent contest. When Howard was a player at Michigan, his Wolverines beat Kentucky in a 1993 national semifinal.

Film Room: How Ohio State handed North Carolina their worst loss in nearly two decades

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At this point, no one should be surprised when Chris Holtmann does something smart as a head coach, and I certainly was not surprised to see him find a way to smother North Carolina on the defensive side of the ball on Wednesday night.

In a 74-49 win in the Dean Dome, the worst home loss the Tar Heels have taken since 2002, when Matt Doherty was in charge, the Buckeyes held North Carolina to just 27.8 percent shooting from the floor. They shot 25.6 percent on two-point field goal attempts, the lowest number of the Roy Williams era. And I think so much of it had to do with what Holtmann did defensively on Cole Anthony.

The game-plan was, frankly, pretty simple. When Anthony had the ball, Ohio State climbed up in him, they hedged hard on all ball-screens and they sent bodies at him whenever he put the ball on the floor to drive. They made a conscious decision to force Anthony into either playing 1-on-2 and 1-on-3 or giving the ball up to a teammate. As soon as he gave the ball up, they face-guarded him. Full denial, even if it meant playing 4-on-4 for the rest of that possession.

And it worked.

Starting point guard C.J. Walker did the heavy lifting on Anthony, but he was hardly the only one. Luther Muhammad started out on Anthony before getting into four trouble and playing just nine minutes. D.J. Carton, Andre Wesson and Duane Washington all took a shot at UNC’s freshman stud as well. That’s a lot of bodies, all of whom have some size, some length and some athleticism and happen to be good individual defenders. Anthony got tired before they did.

This method was effective mainly due to the fact that because is one of the nation’s elite defenses. Combining all those athletic wings with a center in Kaleb Wesson that dropped the baby fat this summer is a luxury for Holtmann.

But it wasn’t all Ohio State.

Because what became painfully obvious for those that had not yet recognized it is that North Carolina has a startling lack of offensive weaponry. It’s almost like losing five NBA players to the draft is tough to deal with.

No matter who is on the floor with him, defenses are going to dedicate the majority of their attention to Anthony. He’s a game-changing talent. We saw him blow the game wide open against Notre Dame in the opener. He’s going to be the most dangerous player on the floor in just about every game he plays this season. But with a limited supporting cast to rely on, this is the decision Ohio State forced Roy Williams into:

1. Allow Anthony to go full iso-ball and try to win this game on his own taking deep, contested threes off the dribble or driving into two or three defenders; or

2. Run offense for the other guys on the roster even if the shots they are getting are tough shots for them. To put this into context, watch the clip below:

North Carolina ran that first play for Cam Johnson, the No. 11 pick in the draft, last season. This year it’s Brandon Robinson. In past seasons, the guy getting the post touch in the second clip was Kennedy Meeks, or Luke Maye, or Brice Johnson. Last night, it was Brandon Huffman. When they’re running pick-and-pop action like the third clip, it’s Garrison Brooks, not Maye, that is taking those jumpers.

If you’re coaching against North Carolina, I think you’re just five with Brooks shooting 17-footers. That’s the shot you live with.

Now, to be clear, Robinson is not a bad player. In fact, he’s significantly better than I realized coming into the season. And the x-factor here is that Armando Bacot played just seven minutes before spraining his ankle. He may “be our for a while,” as Roy Williams put it after the game, and even then, he’s been much better was a guy that cleans up misses than as a go-to scorer in the post. According to Synergy, he’s scored just .769 points-per-possession on post-ups, which is in the 42nd percentile nationally. You just saw all four of the post-up buckets he’s scored against high-major foes this season.

Bacot is a monster on the offensive glass, and his return will help keep defenses honest because of that. Sell out on a Cole Anthony drive like this, and Bacot is putting that miss back with a tip-dunk.

But that only mitigates the issue North Carolina has this season.

They don’t have enough talent around Cole Anthony.

Three Things to Know: Big Ten dominates, DePaul stays perfect, Georgetown wins

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It turned out to be a pretty wild night of basketball Wednesday. Purdue absolutely stomped Virginia. Villanova had trouble with Penn. Ohio State thumped North Carolina.

There is more where that came from, though, so here’s what else you need to know from a busy night of hoops around the country.

1. The Big Ten dominated the ACC in the challenge’s final night

As noted above, the Big Ten not only took care of business in the two highest-profile games of the third and final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but absolutely walloped their opponents. Truly, Purdue and Ohio State embarrassed Virginia and North Carolina.

That wasn’t the limits of the Big Ten’s success, however.

Third-ranked Maryland decimated Notre Dame (72-51) and Penn State smacked Wake Forest (76-54). Georgia Tech did beat Nebraska (73-56), and NC State outlasted Wisconsin (69-54), in the lower-tier games.

What we learned Wednesday was that the Big Ten’s strength at the top of the conference is legit, which may have been somewhat in question – at least in the immediate, attention-span deficient times we live in – after Michigan and Michigan State took losses to Louisville and Duke, respectively, last night.

The headliners, though, are what count Wednesday. What Purdue and Ohio State did sends the message that the Big Ten looks to have a real claim on being the country’s toughest conference.

2. DePaul trending up, Texas Tech not so much

Given just how bad DePaul has been in recent years – they avoided finishing out of the Big East cellar just twice in 10 years – it’s been fair to wonder how real this undefeated start to the season has been.

By beating Texas Tech, 65-60 in overtime, the Blue Demons made some progress in quieting doubts about the potential of this being a tournament team.

Dave Leitao’s team now has three wins against top-75 KenPom teams, with two (Minnesota and Iowa) coming on the road. They also knocked off Boston College on the road. Hey, the Eagles are still an ACC team.

Their statistical profile still isn’t great – they don’t shoot it all that well, they don’t take a lot of 3s and they aren’t strong on the boards – but they’re winning. All they’re doing is winning, actually.

It’s certainly a team with a lot of improved talent, and at some point, talent and track record have to take over from a history of losing.

That time appears to be quickly approaching.

As for Texas Tech, Chris Beard’s preseason top-10 team has now lost three straight to a trio of teams – Iowa, Creighton and DePaul – that aren’t expected to compete for conference titles, even if they ultimately prove themselves solid, tournament-level teams.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Raiders struggle given the amount of turnover from last year’s national runners-up, but unless they figure out a way to beat top-ranked Louisville on a neutral floor Tuesday, they’re going to enter conference play with the best win on their resume being Eastern Illinois (KenPom: 245). That’s not a great place to be.

3. Georgetown wins at Oklahoma State

This is a hard one to get a handle on.

On one hand, the Hoyas got a nice road win against a solid Oklahoma State team after losing two major contributors earlier this week.

On the other hand, Georgetown had two players on the floor against the Cowboys who are facing serious accusations of wrongdoing. Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing released a statement saying no player gets “special treatment,” but it still seems strange to see the Hoyas allow players under an unsettled cloud of accusations to take the floor.

A road win against a Big 12 opponent, even if the Cowboys were down a starter, is going to help the Hoyas build a resume that’s going to be much harder to compile without James Akinjo – whose departure is separate from any legal issues his former teammates are having – and Josh LeBlanc, but the way this is being handled makes that seem beside the point.

No. 6 Ohio State hands No. 7 UNC worst home loss in 17 years

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Duane Washington scored 14 points, E.J. Liddell added 12 points off the bench and Ohio State held Cole Anthony to 4-for-15 shooting as the No. 6 Buckeyes went into the Dean Dome and treated No. 7 North Carolina like they were the Michigan football team.

The final score was 74-49. It’s North Carolina’s worst loss since losing by 26 points at Miami in 2013. It’s their worst home loss since the Matt Doherty era, when then-No. 1 Duke won by 29 points in the Dean Dome in 2002.

That isn’t pretty.

Here are the three things to take away from this performance:

1. NORTH CAROLINA DOES NOT HAVE ENOUGH HELP FOR COLE ANTHONY

Cole Anthony is a stud. He’s one of the most entertaining scorers in all of college basketball, and he is going to spend the majority of this season putting up absolutely monstrous numbers.

The problem is that he is going to have to put up those numbers if the Tar Heels are going to have a chance to win at anywhere near the level they expect, because there is a real dearth of scoring firepower on the roster around him.

You want proof?

The Tar Heels have yet to break 80 points in a single game this season. That’s not the norm for Roy Williams’ teams.

Now, to be clear, North Carolina played the majority of this game without Armando Bacot – we’ll get to that – and he is the second-best scoring option on this roster. So that certainly played a role in UNC’s struggles, as did the fact that Ohio State is the second-best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom.

But there are going to be plenty of games this season where the Tar Heels have to square off with teams that are really good defensively. And this game was played in the Dean Dome. UNC cannot blame a 27.4 percent shooting performance entirely on their opponent.

The truth is this simple: The Tar Heels have a bunch of pieces on their roster that should thrive in a role. Brandon Robinson is a good defender, a good passer and a guy that can make open jumpers. Garrison Brooks can get to the offensive glass and bang in the paint defensively. Leaky Black has the kind of length and versatility everyone is looking for.

But none of them have played well enough to be the third-option offensively for a team with ACC title and Final Four aspirations. The grad transfers, Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, are nothing more than bench options, and rightfully so.

That means the Tar Heels are in a tough spot.

2. ARMANDO BACOT’S ANKLE INJURY SOUNDS BAD

I just spent 400 words explaining to you why North Carolina needs secondary scoring options alongside Cole Anthony.

Their best secondary scorer is Armando Bacot. He sprained his left ankle in the first five minutes of Wednesday night’s game. Roy Williams told reporters after the game that “he may be out awhile.”

North Carolina plays at Virginia on Sunday. They play at Gonzaga Dec. 18th. Uh oh.

3. THIS WAS AN OHIO STATE-MENT

First and foremost, yes.

I said that.

It wasn’t an editor.

It was me.

And it was good.

Second of all, this isn’t exactly breaking news, but this Ohio State team is awesome. As of this very moment, they rank second overall on KenPom, behind only Louisville. They are the nation’s second-best defense, and they are allowing just 0.781 points-per-possession on the season. (That’s really good.)

We all thought we knew this already. The Buckeyes beat Cincinnati at home. They blew out Villanova at home. But Cincinnati has been terrible since then, Villanova was playing their first road game of the season with a really young team and we had yet to see the Buckeyes play away from home. Like Louisville on Tuesday night, this was a chance for Ohio State to make themselves known on a national stage with everyone watching.

They did.

But here’s why this win was so impressive to me: It’s the second-worst loss that North Carolina has experienced at home in the last 56 years, and it came on a night where Luther Muhammad played just nine minutes and Kaleb Wesson finished with just 10 points, nine boards and six turnovers.

The Buckeyes can win when their best players don’t play well, because A) They’re deep and balanced, B) They are a team built on their defense and C) They are as well-coached as anyone in the country.

The Big Ten is absolutely loaded at the top this year.

And Ohio State may be the best of the bunch.

Which means they may be the best team in the country.

Who saw that coming?