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

No. 1 South Carolina tops fifth-ranked UConn 81-77

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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HARTFORD, Conn. – In a rematch of last season’s national championship game, South Carolina came out on top again over UConn thanks to a strong fourth quarter by Aliyah Boston.

Geno Auriemma stepping onto the court to spike a water botte, that helped them, too.

Boston scored 23 of her 26 points in the second half, including 14 in the final period, to help the No. 1 Gamecocks beat the fifth-ranked Huskies 81-77 on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd.

“Aliyah is just relentless, she plays relentlessly although she had a subpar (first half) as far as statistics, she impacted the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She doesn’t get flustered. she knew she didn’t play up to her standards. What does she do? Raise her standard. Bad first half or not she’s going to continue to play.”

While there wasn’t as much on the line as the title game last April, there was a high intensity to it, including Auriemma getting the technical late in the fourth quarter after getting frustrated by the officiating enough to throw the bottle.

“I thought there were a lot of things being overlooked. It was difficult for some of our guys to move out on the floor,” said Auriemma, UConn’s coach. “I didn’t think it was one key play, I just couldn’t keep quiet any longer. It was bad. … Dumb mistake by me. Bad decision.”

The Gamecocks (23-0) have won 29 consecutive games since losing to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game last year. They’ve won four of the past five meetings with the Huskies, including a victory in the NCAA championship game last season. That ended UConn’s perfect 11-0 record in title games.

“This was a national championship-like game. I wanted us to feel what it takes to do this,” Staley said.

Now South Carolina finally has a win in Connecticut after winning there before.

South Carolina used its size again to top the Huskies. The 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year helped the Gamecocks have a 42-30 advantage on the boards, including grabbing 25 offensive rebounds.

Boston finished with 11 rebounds for the 76th double-double of her career. Cardoso added 17 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

With her team leading by four in the fourth quarter, Boston took over. She scored the next 12 points for South Carolina, two of those came when Auriemma tossed the water onto the court and was charged with the technical foul.

Boston hit the two free throws. She then hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and another basket to give the Gamecocks a double-digit advantage.

“I’m kind of in attack mode. In the second half I made more shots then I did in the first half,” Boston said.

Despite seeing their starting backcourt foul out, the short-handed Huskies (21-3) wouldn’t go away. They whittled the lead down to 80-77 with 10.8 seconds left on Aubrey Griffin’s three-point play.

Raven Johnson hit the first of two free throws a second later and UConn couldn’t convert to close out the game

“They have a lot to feel good about once they get past what it feels like to lose,” Auriemma said. “I feel better at 3 o’clock today then I did at 12 o’clock. I didn’t know how we’d respond. I knew we’d play hard and compete like hell. I didn’t know who was going to make a big play, who was going to get a big rebound, make a big shot. I know now more than I did at noon and I feel better about my team.”

Aaliyah Edwards led UConn with 25 points.

UConn got off to a solid start, outscoring South Carolina 25-14 in the opening period. Lou Lopez Senechal capped the strong start, hitting a running 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

South Carolina asserted its size in the second quarter with Cardoso scoring 11 points in the period. Her putback with just under 10 seconds left tied the game at 34 heading into the half.

TIP-INS:

UConn is 8-10 against No. 1 teams all time. … The Huskies are still missing guards Azzi Fudd (knee), Caroline Ducharme (concussion) as well as Paige Bueckers (knee) and Ice Brady (knee), who are both out for the season. … Many former UConn players were in the crowd including Sue Bird, Jen Rizzotti, and Napheesa Collier sitting a few rows behind the Huskies bench. … South Carolina has gone 41-6 against ranked teams since the start of the 2019-20 season.

DEPTH:

The Gamecocks reserves outscored UConn’s 37-0. The Huskies only had eight healthy players.

UP NEXT:

South Carolina: visits Auburn on Thursday before a showdown with No. 3 LSU on Feb. 12

UConn: visits Marquette on Wednesday.

No. 16 Duke tops No. 9 Notre Dame 57-52 for 1st place in ACC

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Celeste Taylor scored 14 points and No. 16 Duke came from behind for a 57-52 victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday to move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Trailing for most of the game’s first 28 minutes, the Blue Devils (20-3, 10-2 ACC) took the lead for good in the final minutes of the third quarter to knock off the Fighting Irish (18-4, 9-3) before a sellout crowd of 9,149 at Purcell Pavilion.

A jumper by Jordyn Oliver put Duke ahead 45-44 with 1:20 left in the third quarter and the visitors never trailed after that.

“I’m proud of my players for finishing the game,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said.

Duke led 48-46 going into the fourth quarter after trailing Notre Dame by as many as five points in the third quarter. A steal by Elizabeth Balogun in the final 15 seconds helped seal the win.

A 13-4 run helped Notre Dame take its biggest lead of the first half for either team at 31-23. The Irish led 31-25 at halftime.

“We fell short, but you know it’s a part of our growth,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “It’s part of our journey.”

Taylor scored 10 points for Duke in the second half. Balogun and Shayeann Day-Wilson finished with 9 points apiece and Taya Corosdale and Oliver had 8 each.

Maddy Westbeld, playing all 40 minutes, led Notre Dame with 15 points, Sonia Citron scored 14 and Olivia Miles added 11.

“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Lawson said of Miles, who logged just over 31 minutes. “We didn’t have to go against her for a quarter of the game.”

COLD SHOOTING

Neither team shot well in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame made just 2 of 13 shots from the floor and Duke was 3 of 13.

“We just talked about staying disciplined defensively and making it hard,” Lawson said. “I though we challenged shots.”

Ivey also addressed that stretch of the game.

“Some of those opportunities were in transition and we didn’t get a chance to capitalize,” she said. “We did a good job of finding the open person, we just didn’t nail the shots.”

SUPERB SUBS

Led by Corosdale and Oliver, Duke enjoyed a 21-4 edge in reserve scoring.

“I’m really proud of my players off the bench,” Lawson said. “Jordyn Oliver was really good.

“We needed to have that depth in scoring. Not only did they score but they were efficient from the field.”

The Blue Devils’ bench shot 9 of 15.

SHORT-HANDED IRISH

Notre Dame graduate student Dara Mabrey was lost for the season in the Jan. 22 game against Virginia.

Lauren Ebo, a 6-foot-4 graduate student, has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury.

“Ebo does a great job of being a precence on the block with her size and ability to rebound and play post defense,” Ivey said. “She’s been working really hard (at rehabilitation).

“It’s kind of day to day.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish fell out of a first-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings.

Duke: The Blue Devils are now alone atop the conference standings.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: The Irish meet Pitt in two of the next four contests – on Thursday in South Bend and on Sunday, Feb. 19 at Pittsburgh.

Duke: The only regular-season meeting between the Blue Devils and Boston College is Thursday at Boston.

Colorado State sorry for ‘Russia’ chant at Ukrainian player

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State has apologized for a group of fans who chanted “Russia” at a player on an opposing team who is from Ukraine during Saturday’s game.

Utah State’s Max Shulga is from Kyiv and was shooting free throws when TV cameras picked up the chant from the student section during the game in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

“On behalf of Colorado State, we apologize to the student-athlete and Utah State. This is a violation of our steadfast belief in the Mountain West Sportsmanship Policy and University Principles of Community,” Colorado State said in a statement.

“Every participant, student, and fan should feel welcomed in our venues, and for something like this to have occurred is unacceptable at Colorado State.”

Utah State beat CSU 88-79.

Duke edges North Carolina 63-57 behind Roach, Lively

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
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DURHAM, N.C. — Jeremy Roach scored 20 points, Dereck Lively II had career highs of eight blocks and 14 rebounds and Duke defeated North Carolina 63-57.

Kyle Filipowski added 14 points and Tyrese Proctor 11 for the Blue Devils (17-6, 8-4 ACC), who won their third straight and beat the Tar Heels (15-8, 7-5) for the first time in three meetings, including in last year’s Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 63rd career double-double, extending his own program record, Leaky Black had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Caleb Love added 12 points and RJ Davis 11.

Roach scored eight of Duke’s final 10 points, including the last four after Lively’s tiebreaking dunk with 1:35 to go. North Carolina missed its last five shots, including a trio of 3-point tries in the final minute.

The Blue Devils’ six-point winning margin matched their largest lead.

Neither team reached 40% shooting but Duke outscored North Carolina 20-2 off fast breaks and was 11 of 15 at the free-throw line to only 2 of 3 for the Tar Heels.

The stat sheet was fairly even at halftime when Duke led 33-32 except for one telling stat, a 16-0 advantage for the Blue Devils on fast-break points as they scored repeatedly off transition.

A 14-5 run erased a seven-point North Carolina lead — the Tar Heels’ largest — and put Duke in front 26-24 with just under four minutes left in the half. A Proctor 3-pointer broke the fourth tie before Bacot cut it to the one-point margin at the break. Bacot had 12 points in the first half. Roach had 10.

The game matched two men who played in this rivalry and are now leading the programs they played for: first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, in his second year for North Carolina.

The teams will meet again in their regular-season finale at Chapel Hill on March 4. Duke plays at No. 23 Miami on Monday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.