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Introducing Cinderella: Northeastern defeats top-seed Hofstra to win CAA crown

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Hofstra spent much of this season living the good life. The Pride had a stumble in November against Marshall and then took expected losses at Maryland and VCU before ripping off 16-straight victories to emerge as on of the more intriguing mid-majors in the country. Northeastern then got them in Boston – no big deal – before eyebrow-raising losses to UNC Wilmington and James Madison, the latter coming at home. Still, a pretty great regular season.

That’ll likely be the pinnacle for the Pride.

Hofstra’s bid for an NCAA tournament berth came to a close Tuesday when CAA runner-up Northeastern knocked them off in the title game in impressive fashion with an 82-74 win in which the Huskies led by as many as 18 points.

Hofstra shot just 39 percent from the floor and 30 percent on 20 3-point attempts while the Huskies were 14 of 31 from 3 and shot 50 percent from the floor overall. Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica scored 21 to lead the Huskies, who actually coughed up their huge lead and were tied with the Pride by the 9-minute mark but eventually pulled back away to nab their first tourney berth since 2015.

Justin Wright-Foreman scored 29 to lead Hofstra, but he was just 9 of 22 from the floor and 2 of 9 from 3-point range, doing much of his damage at the free-throw line for Hofstra, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament under coach Joe Mihalich despite winning or sharing the CAA regular-season title twice in four years.

CONFERENCE: Colonial Athletic Association

COACH: Bill Coen

RECORD: 23-10, 14-4 CAA

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 79
  • NET: 82

PROJECTED SEED: Northeastern has some truly nice wins on its resume, including two over Hofstra, but some nasty losses are likely to relegate the Huskies to something close to a 14. That’ll give them a difficult first-round matchup, but they won’t be completely overmatched against whichever 3-seed they get matched up against.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Vasa Pusica, a great name with plenty of game. The Serbian national and San Diego transfer shootings 49.5 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from 3-point range to lead the Huskies in scoring at 17.6 per game, and he also is tops in assists (4.4) and steals (1.5). Jordan Roland puts up 14.8 points per game while shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: The Huskies got a huge win in November when they knocked of Alabama on a neutral floor. They also beat Harvard in Cambridge, and beat Hofstra once in the regular season before claiming a second win against the Pride in Tuesday night’s title bout. On the other side of the ledger, losses to Delaware (KenPom 259) and Towson (289) are going to get noticed by the committee.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Northeastern is going to concern whatever high-major coaching staff that will be tasked with scouting it because of everything they can do from the 3-point line. The Huskies convert from distance at a 38.8 percent clip, which is 14th-best in the country. Perhaps the scarier thing, though, is they shoot a ton of 3s, ranking 21st nationally with 46.3 percent of their overall attempts coming from beyond the arc. They’re going to hoist a whole handful of triples in their first-round matchup and if they get hot, that’s an upset waiting to happen.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: If you’re a college basketball junky, you might recognize some Huskies from previous stops as the roster is has a number of transfers, including Vasa Pusica (San Diego), Greg Eboigbodin (Detroit), Jordan Roland (George Washington) and Shaquille Walters (Santa Clara).

FINAL THOUGHT: Pusica is the real deal, and the Huskies’ ability to convert from 3-point range are going to make them a pesky opponent. If they’re able to get up their customary amount of 3-point attempts, it could be a real problem for opponents and a magical run for the Huskies.

Tennessee survives scare from No. 15-seed Colgate

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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.

No. 13-seed UC Irvine pulls off upset of No. 4-seed Kansas State

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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.

Jarrett Culver’s big game leads No. 3 Texas Tech past No. 14 Northern Kentucky

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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.

Oklahoma advances past Ole Miss in rout

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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.

No. 10 Iowa rallies past No. 7 Cincinnati

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Iowa rallied from a slow start to get past No. 7 seed Cincinnati with a 79-72 win on Friday in a South Region NCAA tournament game in Columbus.

Cincinnati generated an early 18-5 lead in the first half as they fed off of the Bearcat-friendly Columbus crowd only to see the No. 10-seed Hawkeyes get hot in the second half.

Things turned in Iowa’s favor about midway through the first half when the Hawkeyes started working the ball more inside. Behind sophomore big man Luka Garza (20 points, 8-for-11 shooting), the Hawkeyes were able to establish an inside presence while opening up the team’s perimeter-shooting options.

In the second half, freshman Joe Wieskamp (19 points) and the Hawkeyes started to make an abundance of threes as they finished 11-for-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter — including a blistering 7-for-10 mark in the second half. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon also tallied 13 points while Nicholas Baer added 10 points as Iowa outscored Cincinnati 48-36 in the second half.

Using the hot shooting of senior point guard Justin Jenifer (19 points), Cincinnati appeared to be completely in the driver’s seat in the first half. But once Iowa started responding with a flurry of second-half threes, the Bearcats struggled to play from behind in the final minutes. Jarron Cumberland (18 points) didn’t get rolling as a scorer until the second half while big man Nysier Brooks (11 points) fouled out with a few minutes left. Tre Scott also finished with 10 points on the afternoon for the Bearcats. Cincinnati struggled to match Iowa’s hot perimeter shooting as they were 6-for-27 from three-point range (24 percent) on the day.

This is a great comeback win for Iowa, as they overcame the bad start by working to take better shots. Forcing a lot of early looks, once the Hawkeyes started getting Garza comfortable on the block, it opened up looks for their shooters. It’s also notable that junior forward Tyler Cook, one of Iowa’s best players, was limited to only five points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Iowa was playing sluggish basketball the final three weeks of the regular season. Friday’s second half was a reminder of how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be if they are hitting shots. And for Iowa to rally when Cook was playing this poorly is yet another positive sign that the Hawkeyes are not to be taken lightly going forward.

With Iowa’s win, the Big Ten now moves to 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tournament after a 5-0 start on Thursday. Iowa advances to face the winner of No. 2 seed Tennessee and No. 15 seed Colgate on Sunday in Columbus.