For awhile, it looked like No. 1 seed Duke was in for a fight with No. 16 seed Robert Morris. After star freshman center Jahlil Okafor missed an open reverse dunk for the Blue Devils, the Colonials went on a 10-0 run to cut Duke’s lead to 54-44 with 12:22 left.
After that run, the Blue Devils woke up, took control and rolled to an 85-56 win in the South Regional. Senior guard Quinn Cook led Duke with 22 points while Okafor added 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Freshman guard Tyus Jones, senior center Marshall Plumlee and junior forward Amile Jefferson all chipped in 10 points each for the Blue Devils.
Duke’s offense did a great job of moving the ball and finding the open man as the Blue Devils had 28 assists on 34 field goals on Friday night. Freshman wing Justise Winslow had a solid floor game with six points, seven assists and 11 rebounds while Jones also contributed seven assists.
Robert Morris did everything they could to stay with Duke but didn’t have the bodies to run with the Blue Devils. Junior forward Rodney Pryor led the Colonials with 23 points while guard Marcquise Reed added 20 points.
The Blue Devils shot 63 percent (34-for-54) from the field and 47 percent (10-for-21) from 3-point range. Duke moves on to face the winner of the St. John’s/San Diego State game in the Round of 32 on Sunday.
No. 4 seed Maryland gets a stop on the final possession in knocking off No. 13 seed Valparaiso
Maryland has been great in close games throughout the 2014-15 season and that trend continued in a 65-62 win over No. 13 seed Valparaiso on Friday in the Midwest Regional. The No. 4 seed Terrapins went 11-1 in games decided by six points or less during the season, and once again, played with tremendous confidence and poise down the stretch in a tight game.
The Crusaders had a chance to tie on the game’s final possession, but junior point guard Keith Carter’s 3-pointer was stripped by Maryland senior guard Varun Ram, and Terrapin forward Evan Smotrycz grabbed the ball as time expired. The play probably could have been whistled for a foul, but no call was made by officials.
The offense for Maryland was balanced as senior guard Dez Wells and freshmen Melo Trimble and Jared Nickens all finished with 14 points each. Valparaiso was able to stay in the contest thanks to strong 3-point shooting (12-for-26), but couldn’t get over the hump in the game’s final minutes. Sophomore forward Alec Peters led the Crusaders with 18 points, while guard Tevonn Walker contributed 14 points.
With the game tied at 49 with 6:23 to go, Nickens nailed two free throws to give Maryland the lead for good. From there, Maryland held a lead between one and six points for the rest of the game as they closed out another tight game thanks to solid free-throw shooting (18-for-24) and a big 3-point play from Wells with 1:44 left off of a fantastic offensive rebound and finish in traffic.
No. 2 seed Virginia made a late push in the second half to pull away from No. 15 seed Belmont for a 79-67 win in the East Region. The ‘Hoos had a difficult time distancing themselves from the Ohio Valley Conference-champion Bruins, as a Craig Bradshaw 3-pointer pulled Belmont within two points at 62-60 with 4:36 left.
From there, Virginia (29-3) calmed down and closed out the game on 17-7 run, as they shot 21-for-25 from the free-throw line as junior guard Malcolm Brogdon led with 22 points. The Cavaliers also had 16 points from forward Anthony Gill, 15 points from forward Justin Anderson and 10 points from Darion Atkins on the afternoon as Virginia shot 45 percent (26-for-57) from the floor.
Anderson, an All-American candidate before going down with injury in February, played his best game since returning from injury. After going scoreless against Florida State and North Carolina in 26 minutes of action in the ACC Tournament, Anderson looked far more aggressive and assertive against Belmont, as he was 4-for-6 from the field and 6-for-7 from the charity stripe.
A healthy Anderson is critical for Virginia during the rest of the 2015 NCAA Tournament because they look like a serious Final Four threat with him near 100 percent.
Belmont (22-10) was led by a 10-for-19 shooting day from Bradshaw, as he finished with 25 points, but the high-scoring junior guard didn’t have much help from his Bruin teammates. Guard Evan Bradds was the only other Belmont player to finish in double-figures with 10 points.
While star players tend to get the majority of the chatter in the days leading into the NCAA tournament, and rightfully so as their productivity is the reason why, the task of winning a championship takes a collective effort. With that being the case, at some point in a team’s run to a national title they’ll need an player (or more) from the “supporting cast” to step forward. Below are ten players who have the ability to step forward into the spotlight.
1. Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin): Koenig’s seamless transition from reserve to starter after senior point guard Traevon Jackson went down with a broken foot helped the Badgers maintain their grip on the Big Ten regular season title. And he was also a key factor in their run to the Big Ten tournament title this past weekend. At this point it would be unfair to label Koenig “unheralded,” as he’s shown himself capable of stepping into a starring role for Wisconsin.
2. Gabe York (Arizona): The Wildcats have three players averaging at least 10.9 points per game and three more averaging between 9.1 and 9.8 ppg. One of those three is York, who is averaging 9.1 points per game and is the team’s best three-point shooter (56 made three-pointers, 38.9 percent). In his sixth man role York will be a key player for Arizona, as they’ll need him to knock down the shots that can spread out opposing defenses.
3. Josh Hart (Villanova): Villanova has multiple players worthy of this distinction, but the pick here is Hart as he’s coming off of a very good weekend in New York. Hart shot 21-for-29 from the field in three wins at the Big East tournament, becoming the first reserve to win tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. And given the way he’s played throughout the season, Hart’s capable of having a similar impact in the NCAA tournament.
4. Byron Wesley (Gonzaga): Wesley has plenty of college experience, as he began his career at USC, but this is his first NCAA tournament appearance. And given his ability to provide scoring on the wing (10.8 ppg), Wesley certainly has the ability to step forward as a primary scoring option should the Bulldogs need him to do so.
5. Trey Lyles (Kentucky): Picking a Kentucky player here is tough because they have a nine player rotation that has proved extremely difficult to stop. Lyles gives Kentucky size and offensive skill at the three when used there, and his ability to score will come in handy at some point in the tournament.
6. Abdel Nader (Iowa State): Nader’s averaging just 5.8 points per game this season, but on multiple occasions he’s stepped forward the Cyclones. His most recent outing came in Iowa State’s win over Kansas in the Big 12 tournament title game, as he scored 13 points in 25 minutes of action.
7. Nate Buss (Northern Iowa): Seth Tuttle is the headliner for a team that can go ten deep, and of the players capable of producing is senior forward Nate Buss. Averaging 7.4 ppg, Buss averaged 15.7 points per game at Arch Madness and was named to the all-tournament team.
8. Brandon Taylor (Utah): With Delon Wright being the team’s leader, it may be easy for some to overlook Taylor. That would not be a good idea, as he’s averaging 10.7 points per game and is Utah’s best perimeter shooter. Earlier this season the junior had a stretch of six consecutive double-digit scoring outings, and he scored 24 point in the Runnin’ Utes’ Pac-12 tournament loss to Oregon.
9. Darion Atkins (Virginia): Atkins was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s averaging 7.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Atkins scored just 11 points in two games at the ACC tournament, but he is capable of providing more. And with Justin Anderson still working his way back into form, the Cavaliers will need Atkins to do just that.
10. Amile Jefferson (Duke): Freshmen Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow and senior guard Quinn Cook receive most of the attention and rightfully so. But Jefferson is a player capable of helping the Blue Devils in areas other than scoring. A solid defender, Jefferson’s greatest value will come in that area as well as on the glass should Duke run into a team with interior depth.
Throughout the season multiple teams have stepped forward as possible threats to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament. But at this point in the season the list of teams capable of not only getting to the Final Four but finding a way to win the national title has shrunk considerably. Factors such as talent, how well a team is playing entering the NCAA tournament, experience and their path to a title have to be considered when having this conversation.
With those factors in mind, below are eight teams capable of winning six more games and cutting down the nets in Indianapolis. And the team at the top of the list won’t a surprise to anyone.
1. Kentucky (34-0): John Calipari’s Wildcats have vanquished every challenger to this point in the season, and they’ve done so at a level that has made them an even bet to win it all. The backcourt, led by the Harrison twins with Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis coming off the bench, has been good all year and the deep front court is anchored by Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns.
2. Arizona (31-3): Surprised to see a two-seed this high on the list? Well, you shouldn’t be. Sean Miller’s Wildcats don’t lack for skill or toughness with point guard T.J. McConnell being the leader. They also have depth, and with Brandon Ashley playing the best basketball of his career heading into the tournament Arizona has a piece they did not have a season ago (he missed the final month-plus with a broken foot).
3. Wisconsin (31-3): The Badgers won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles on the strength of one of the nation’s best offensive attacks (ranked tops in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com). Of course there’s the front court led by national Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky, and sophomore guard Bronson Koenig’s steadily improved since moving into the starting lineup after Traevon Jackson broke his foot.
4. Duke (29-4): The Blue Devils put together arguably the best set of road wins of any team in the country (they won at Wisconsin, Louisville, Virginia and North Carolina to name four), and that was why they landed on the one line in the bracket. The freshmen, led by Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, were the headliners as the season began but senior guard Quinn Cook has been incredibly valuable. This can be a very tough team to slow down offensively, and Duke can get to Indy if they make some strides defensively.
5. Villanova (32-3): Jay Wright’s Wildcats have been the class of the Big East for the last two seasons, and after the disappointment of last year’s NCAA tournament appearance they’ll be motivated to play deeper into the Big Dance this time around. Villanova has a number of perimeter options, led by Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard, and JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu have been good in the paint.
6. Virginia (29-3): As the highest-ranked two-seed on the selection committee’s seed list, the Cavaliers weren’t far off in regards to earning a one-seed. Tony Bennett’s team has been outstanding defensively, but if there’s one question the Cavaliers will have to address it’s the health of Justin Anderson. After a broken finger on his shooting hand healed he they had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. He wasn’t himself at the ACC tournament, which is understandable, and if he’s shaken off more of that rust Virginia has the pieces to win it all.
7. Iowa State (25-8): When they’re rolling offensively Fred Hoiberg’s team is incredibly difficult to stop, as they’re capable of spreading teams out and attacking gaps with point guard Monté Morris and forward Georges Niang being their best playmakers. If the Cyclones are consistent offensively and don’t allow the ball to “stick,” which was an issue at times in the Big 12 tournament, Iowa State can get hot in the NCAA tournament.
8. Gonzaga (32-2): The Bulldogs tend to be overlooked because of their conference affiliation, but this is Mark Few’s best team and one that’s equipped to get to Indianapolis. They have both depth and skill in the front court, with Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, and the perimeter is deep with seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. leading the way.
While the NCAA tournament selection committee released its official seed list, we’ve decided to rank the teams in the field from one to 68 as we saw fit. While there’s little debating the fact that Kentucky is the top team in the field and Hampton, the lone participant with a losing record (16-17), is 68th, there are a number of changes that can be made in between.
Below are the power rankings of the 68 teams in the field, with a brief statement on each team.
1. Kentucky: The Wildcats enter the tournament as the clear favorites to win it all.
2. Arizona: Winners of 11 straight (nine by double digits), Arizona’s playing its best basketball of the season.
3. Wisconsin: Led by Frank Kaminsky, the Big Ten champions have received even better play from guard Bronson Koenig of late.
4. Duke: Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones are as good of a three-headed attack as you’ll find in the field.
5. Villanova: Jay Wright’s Big East champions have lost just two games all season long, and they’re built to make a deep run.
6. Virginia: The top two-seed on the committee’s list, Virginia is one of the nation’s best defensive teams.
7. Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones won another Big 12 tournament title, and they’re one of the most entertaining teams in the field.
8. Gonzaga: Mark Few’s team has depth, skill and experience. Will that result in their first Final Four appearance?
9. Kansas: The Jayhawks are to be respected, but Perry Ellis’ health and Cliff Alexander’s absence are issues they’ll have to navigate.
10. Notre Dame: Winners of their first ACC title, the Fighting Irish are led by one of the nation’s best in Jerian Grant.
11. Oklahoma: Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield leads the way for a team that’s actually ranked fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency per kenpom.com.
12. Baylor: Scott Drew’s team is back in the NCAA tournament after going to the Sweet 16 last year, and in Rico Gathers Sr. they have one of the nation’s best rebounders.
13. Maryland: Melo Trimble’s been a huge addition for the Terrapins, but the leadership of Dez Wells and the improvement of Jake Layman have been important as well.
14. North Carolina: After having some issues with consistency during ACC play the Tar Heels are playing well heading into the NCAA tournament.
15. Utah: Larry Krystkowiak’s work in Salt Lake City results in an NCAA tournament berth, and if you like versatile guards you’ll love Delon Wright.
16. West Virginia: “Press Virginia” has Bob Huggins back in the NCAA tournament, but will Juwan Staten be rusty after missing time due to injury?
17. Arkansas: The Razorbacks were the SEC’s second-best team, with SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis and the high-flying Michael Qualls leading Mike Anderson’s deep rotation.
18. Northern Iowa: Forward Seth Tuttle’s a national Player of the Year candidate, but he has plenty of help as Ben Jacobson has a 10-man rotation.
19. Louisville: Rick Pitino’s worked some magic in past postseason appearances, but the offense has been a struggle for the Cardinals this season.
20. SMU: Larry Brown has the Mustangs back in the tournament for the first time since 1993, and they’ve got the pieces needed to make some noise.
21. Georgetown: The Hoyas haven’t had the best track record in recent NCAA appearances, and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and company will look to avoid a similar fate.
22. Wichita State: One year after entering the tournament undefeated the Shockers are back, and in all honesty they may be underrated.
23. Providence: The tandem of Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton have been exceptional for most of this season, and they’re capable of carrying the Friars to the second weekend.
24. Michigan State: Tom Izzo’s teams have made a habit of making runs deep into the NCAA tournament, and he’s got a senior class that hopes to avoid leaving East Lansing without a Final Four appearance.
25. Butler: Beginning the year as the interim head coach (the tag’s since been removed), Chris Holtmann’s managed to lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA tournament.
26. VCU: Treveon Graham looked healthier this weekend as the Rams won the A-10 tournament, and that’s a good thing for a group looking to account for the loss of Briante Weber.
27. Xavier: The Musketeers are coming off of a run to the Big East tournament final, and they’re an unselfish group with multiple scoring options.
28. Oregon: Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young has led the way, and freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks have been important additions.
29. Iowa: Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff are the best scoring options for Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes.
30. NC State: The Wolfpack have depth at every position with the exception of point guard, which makes the play of Cat Barber important for this team’s hopes this weekend.
31. San Diego State: The offense has been a struggle at times this season, but the Aztecs are good enough defensively to win games even when shots aren’t falling.
32. Cincinnati: Larry Davis has done a very good job as the acting head coach, and he’s got a point guard in Troy Caupain who’s only going to get better in the future.
33. Oklahoma State: Le’Bryan Nash has quietly had a solid senior season, but they need to get Phil Forte III going again from three.
34. Purdue: Matt Painter’s young Boilermakers have improved over the course of the season, with big man A.J. Hammons taking important steps forward in the post.
35. LSU: The Tigers have the talent needed to pull off some big wins, but they’ve also had lapses in focus that have led to some perplexing losses.
36. Ohio State: D’Angelo Russell is talented enough to put the team on his back, but the Buckeyes will need production from their seniors as well.
37. Davidson: The Wildcats won the Atlantic 10 regular season title thanks to their having one of the nation’s best offenses.
38. St. John’s: The Red Storm will be without the suspended Chris Obekpa, but in D’Angelo Harrison they have a guard capable of scoring from anywhere on the court.
39. Georgia: The Bulldogs have managed to reach the tournament despite having to deal with a number of injuries.
40. Dayton: They only go seven deep and don’t have a player taller that 6-foot-6, but Archie Miller’s team has refused to use that lack of depth/size as a crutch.
41. Texas: The Longhorns played a lot of games against quality competition but didn’t win many of them. Will the switch flip on for Rick Barnes’ team?
42. Indiana: The Hoosiers wound up getting into the field comfortably, and their guards are good enough to cause an opponent fits.
43. BYU: Tyler Haws is the scorer and Kyle Collinsworth is the versatile guard who’s tallied an NCAA record six triple-doubles this season.
44. Ole Miss: Andy Kennedy’s Rebels are back in the tournament after missing out last season, and they’ll need improved play from Jarvis Summers to hang around for a bit.
45. Boise State: Led by Derrick Marks the Broncos won their first Mountain West regular season title this year.
46. Wofford: Mike Young’s Terriers reached the tournament last season, and led by guard Karl Cochran they’re better equipped to win in the tournament.
47. Buffalo: Bobby Hurley experienced a lot of success in the NCAA tournament as a player, and now he’s led the Bulls to their first-ever appearance.
48. UCLA: The Bruins were a highly controversial choice but they’re here, and if Tony Parker is productive inside they’ll have a shot at winning.
49. Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks eliminated VCU last March, and they’ll be a trendy pick to pull off another upset this time around.
50. Wyoming: The Cowboys don’t play particularly fast and they’ve has some issues with turnovers, but Josh Adams and Larry Nance Jr. are entertaining players to watch.
51. Valparaiso: Bryce Drew’s Crusaders, led by sophomore forward Alec Peters, are a serious threat to spring an upset this week.
52. Eastern Washington: Tyler Harvey’s one of the nation’s best scorers, but it should be noted that this team has four players averaging double figures.
53. UC Irvine: The Anteaters have the tallest player in the field in 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, and they’re good enough defensively to cause some trouble.
54. Harvard: Despite enduring struggles on offense at different points in the season the Crimson are back for a fourth consecutive year.
55. Georgia State: Don’t be fooled by Sunday’s Sun Belt title game, R.J. Hunter and company can put points on the board
56. New Mexico State: The Aggies have made the last four NCAA tournaments, and given their talent the committee likely under-seeded them.
57. Northeastern: Bill Coen’s program, currently led by Scott Eatherton and Quincy Ford, is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991.
58. Albany: Will Brown’s Great Danes are one of the best stories in the field, and they’re making their consecutive trip to the tournament.
59. UAB: The Blazers are another good story, as Jerod Haase’s team has given joy to a fan base that could use it given developments within the athletic department in recent months.
60. Belmont: The Bruins are back for the second time in three years, and Rick Byrd’s team has little trouble putting points on the board.
61. Texas Southern: The Tigers won’t be afraid to compete, and they won games at Michigan State and Kansas State this season.
62. North Dakota State: Lawrence Alexander and company return for another NCAA tournament, but they don’t have the front court pieces like they did a year ago (Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund).
63. Coastal Carolina: Senior guards Warren Gillis and Josh Cameron lead the way for a team with four double-digit scorers.
64. Lafayette: The Leopards grabbed the Patriot League auto bid despite being the four-seed in that tournament, and guard Nick Lindner was outstanding during that three-game run.
65. North Florida: Led by Dallas Moore and Beau Beech, the Ospreys are making their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.
66. Manhattan: The Jaspers aren’t as well-positioned to pull an upset as they were last season, but they are better positioned to pick up a win since they’ll take on Hampton in Dayton.
67. Robert Morris: Andy Toole’s Colonials have knocked on the door in recent years, and this time they managed to get into the tournament.
68. Hampton: Edward Joyner Jr.’s team had its issues in conference play, but they got hot at the right time.