Balanced No. 6 seed Buffalo advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year with a convincing 91-74 win over No. 11 seed Arizona State in a first-round matchup in Tulsa on Friday
Facing Bobby Hurley, their former head coach before he left for the Sun Devils four years ago, the Bulls knocked out a Pac-12 opponent in the first round for the second straight year. This time feels much different than last season’s upset win over No. 4 seed Arizona and Deandre Ayton.
Buffalo (32-3) had four double-figure scorers during a dominant win on Friday as they continue to look like the top-25 team they’ve been for most of the season. Jeremy Harris (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Nick Perkins (21 points, 10 rebounds) both finished with double-doubles for the Bulls while C.J. Massinburg (18 points) and Jayvon Graves (13 points) also finished in double-figures. The Bulls dominated on the glass as they won 39-25 on the boards as they had 11 offensive rebounds. Bench production was also important for Buffalo as they had 33 bench points on Friday.
Arizona State (23-11) knocked out St. John’s in a First Four game on Wednesday night as they shot the ball poorly from the perimeter on Friday. The Sun Devils didn’t knock down a three-pointer until the second half as they finished a dismal 3-for-22 shooting from distance. Zylan Cheatham was one of the few bright spots for the Sun Devils as he finished with 22 points while big man Romello White chipped in 12 points. After scoring 21 points in the win on Wednesday, freshman and leading scorer Luguentz Dort struggled to get going as he had 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
Buffalo advances to face No. 3 seed Texas Tech on Sunday in Tulsa as the Bulls will try to maintain their great offense against the No. 1 defense in the country. Besides for being a fun matchup of mid-major against Big 12 champion, Buffalo will also have its hands full trying to stop Big 12 Player of the Year Jarrett Culver, as he came up with a huge game on Friday as Texas Tech knocked out Northern Kentucky.
The saying goes, it’s guards that win games in the NCAA tournament, and the history is there to back it up. Whether it’s a point guard making his teammates better (Tyus Jones, Duke) or dominating play (Kemba Walker, UConn). There will be a whole host of guards, some we know and some we don’t, that’ll make a huge difference over the next month.
Here we’ll take a look at a group that maybe aren’t quite as well known as the country’s absolute top-tier. So you won’t find R.J. Barrett or Cassius Winston or Carsen Edwards or Ja Morant here. You will, however, find a group that can make or break a bracket.
Markus Howard, Marquette
It’s a bit surprising that Howard hasn’t broken through as a major star in college basketball given he’s a 5-foot-11, sweet-shooting guard who absolutely fills it up. He’s a high-volume guy with one of the highest usage rates in the country while still shooting 40.8 percent from 3-point range en route to averaging 25 points per game. Howard is certainly no secret to those who follow college basketball closely, but given how celebrated 3-point shooters are in this day and age, Howard, truly one of the country’s elite in that department, seems broadly under-appreciated. His shooting is potent enough to put the Golden Eagles on a run, even if they’re entering the tournament on a downward trajectory.
Josh Perkins, Gonzaga
There have been plenty of questions about Perkins on these pages but he’s largely answered the bell this season for the Zags. He’s averaged 11 points with an assist-to-turnover ratio great than 3:1. He’s shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He’s run the point for one of the best and most successful teams in the country. But…there are still a couple of red flags. Perkins had four turnovers and was 4 of 14 (0-3 from 3) in the Zags’ loss in the WCC title game to St. Mary’s, and in Gonzaga’s last loss before that, all the way back in December, he had six turnovers against North Carolina. He had nine assists in a loss to Tennessee, but was also 0-6 from the field. There might be some that say Killian Tillie is Gonzaga’s x-factor, but with how good they are already in the frontcourt, I still think Perkins remains the guy that can swing the pendulum the most in either direction for the West’s No. 1 seed.
Sam Merrill, Utah State
Merrill has been the best player you haven’t heard of this season. He’s averaging 21.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.0 boards for a Utah State team that won the Mountain West tournament. He’s averaging 27.2 points over the last five games, in which the Aggies beat Nevada to lock up an at-large bid and then rolled through the field to win their league’s automatic bid. He’s terrific.
Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State
An foot injury sidelined Wigginton for most of November and December, and the former five-star prospect has been coming off the bench for an up-and-down Iowa State team since returning. A year after being the Cyclones’ best and perhaps only scoring option, Wigginton now finds himself a part of a more balanced attack that actually features another player – Virginia transfer Marial Shayok – more than him. Still, he’s a 38 percent 3-point shooter with high-level athleticism, and his ability to score in bunches could be the catalyst that keeps the Cyclones hot after their Big 12 tournament championship.
Fletcher Magee, Wofford
The Terrier senior has a chance to become a Big Dance darling thanks to his 41.3 percent shooting from 3-point range and his prowess for big-scoring games ( he’s averaged 20-plus for two years). Wofford became something of a national novelty as they cracked the Top 25 for the first time in school history, but here’s guessing Magee shows why the Terriers weren’t just a collecting wins in the Southern Conference – they’re actually a serious threat over the next few weeks.
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
If St. John’s is going to storm out of the First Four and make a dent in coach Chris Mullin’s first NCAA tournament with his alma mater, Ponds is going to be what’s powering it. The 6-foot-1 Brooklyn native is averaging just under 20 ppg with 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game as well. Ponds is a threat to go for 30-plus every time he steps on the floor.
C.J. Massinburg, Buffalo
It’s hard to live up to the hype when you drop 43 in an overtime win at West Virginia in the season’s first week, but the Bulls’ senior has been really good all season. Massinburg is a statsheet stuffer with 18.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3 assists per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3 and 46.4 percent overall. It’s not going to be surprising at all to see Buffalo outperform its six seed with its senior guard leading the way.
BJ Taylor, UCF
The Orlando native has starred for the hometown Knights as they’ve secured their first NCAA tournament berth since 2005. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 16 points and 3.3 assists per game. He converts at a 36.8 percent clip from 3-point range.
This might not be the Year of the Big Man, but the country has produced some really good ones this year.
There are some you know – there’s one everybody knows even if they’ve never even seen him play – and some you might not. T
hey are, however, all important to get acquainted with when you’re filling out your bracket.
Zion Williamson, Duke
I feel like I don’t need to explain this one. Just spend a couple minutes watching Zion do Zion stuff.
Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga
The Bulldogs have the best frontcourt duo in the country, and it gets to be an embarrassment of riches if you factor in Killian Tillie, who has hardly played this season due to injuries. Both Hachimura and Clarke could be NBA draft lottery picks in a couple months, and they’re a big reason why the Zags once again secured a No. 1 seed and could be headed back to the title game. Clarke might be the best two-way player in the country, shooting 69 percent from the floor while swatting 11 percent of opponents’ shot attempts while he’s in the game while also being an elite rebounder with the ability to defend on the perimeter. Hachimura might be the better pro prospect with a little-used-but-effective 3-point stroke to go along with his athleticism and 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame. Together, it’s an incredibly formidable frontcourt.
Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan
The freshman from Ontario is a major reason while the Wolverines look capable of returning to the Final Four. He’s averaging 15.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. He’s not alone in the Wolverine fonrtcourt, though, getting help from 7-foot-1 junior Jon Teske, whose rebounding and shot-blocking are solid complements to Brazdeikis.
Luke Maye, North Carolina
Luke Maye wasn’t the first-team All-American type many thought possible this season, but he’s been really good for a No. 1 seed. The senior is averaging 14.7 points and 10.5 rebounds. He’s got tournament experience – NCAA tournament hero experience, no less. Oh, and championship experience. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him replicate both.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
The Badger big man hasn’t been in the conversation for national player of the year for a lot of legit reasons, but his production would suggest he’s one of the country’s best players. He’s more central and critical to Wisconsin’s offense than nearly any other player for any other team nationwide, and he’s still incredibly productive and efficient. He’s a premier rebounding, a fantastic passer and assistman and a strong fundamental defender, even if his shot blocking isn’t high-level. Wisconsin’s supporting cast has been the question for much of the last two seasons – which included Wisconsin’s first missed NCAA tournament in two decades last year – but Happ is good enough to get the Badgers through tough spots. As long as he doesn’t have to shoot free throws, an area in which his percentage has plummetted from 64.3 percent as a freshman to 46.5 percent as a senior.
Cameron Jackson, Wofford
Wondering how Wofford got so much love this season? Well, they’re really good, for one, but Jackson is a huge part of that success. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Virginia native averages 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1 block per game while shooting 58.1 percent from the floor. He’s a high-usage player and a very good rebounder that helps give the Terriers their bite.
Dedric Lawson, Kansas
This season was disappointing by the standards set by Kansas, which missed out on the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time in 14 years, but things didn’t totally crater largely because of Lawson’s excellence. The Memphis transfer averaged 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds along with 1.7 assists per game. He was the center of everything the Jayhawks did as they lost players to suspension, injuries and a leave of absence. If Kansas is going to go on a run, the Jayhawks are going to need someone like Marcus Garrett, Devon Dotson or Quentin Grimes to outpace their regular-season production, but Lawson will be the foundation that off of which they’ll build.
Bruno Fernando, Maryland
The 6-foot-10, 240-pounder is one of the more physically imposing players in the country with the stats to back it up. He’s a high-level rebounder and a good shot blocker that figures to be a first-round pick come June. If he gets the ball around the goal, he’s probably scoring.
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
The Big Ten’s all-time career rebounder, Murphy should surpass 1,300 career boards against Louisville on Thursday. He’s averaging 11.5 boards per game this season, doing most of his damage of the defensive end with a 28.5 rebounding percentage there. He’s a capable scorer at 14.5 points per game with a shooting percentage of 48.3 percent, but it’ll be his work on the glass that’ll help the Gophers try to win their first NCAA tournament game under Richard Pitino, against his father’s former employer, no less.
Darnell Cowart, Murray State
Ja Morant deservedly gets the headlines, but if the Racers make a play for the second weekend, it wouldn’t be surpringing to see Cowart, at 6-foot-8 and nearly 300 pounds, play a big part. He’s an elite offensive rebounder at 14.5 percent, and averages 10.4 points per game. Now, I did mention Morant, so by rule we have to take a moment to watch him dunk.
Nick Muszynski, Belmont
The 6-foot-11 freshman is both an excellent passer and solid shot blocker. He’s posting 2.2 swats per game along with 2.7 assists. Add that to his 61.4 percent field goal number, and he makes a pretty strong complement to Dylan Windler.
Scottie James, Liberty
If James shoots it, it’s likely going in. As in an overwhelming likelihood. The Liberty big man is shooting 70.3 percent from the floor this season, top-15 in the country. He’s also a great rebounder, corralling 15.6 percent of his own team’s misses and 27.6 percent of his opponents’, both of which are top-25 numbers nationally.
Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky
The Horizon League player of the year is averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season while shooting 38.4 percent from 3. The Norse’s upset chances likely hinge on how well he plays against Texas Tech.
NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis West Region
The West Region has an intriguing draw with Gonzaga gaining the top seed and Michigan, a Final Four team from last season, getting the No. 2 seed. This region has some potential darkhorse Final Four team and some trendy potential upsets to keep an eye on during the first weekend.
The No. 1 seed is Gonzaga. Despite a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game, the Bulldogs still earned a No. 1 seed out west as they face the play-in winner between No. 16 seeds Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M.
It should be a matchup of a lot of length and athleticism when No. 8 seed Syracuse and No. 9 seed Baylor collide. The health of Orange star guard Tyus Battle (hip) and Bears senior guard Makai Mason (toe) could very well decide who advances in that one.
The best lead-guard matchup of the first round goes down in Hartford with No. 5 seed Marquette and All-American Markus Howard battling OVC champion and No. 12 seed Murray State and Ja Morant. The Golden Eagles struggled down the stretch in Big East play as they went from Final Four darkhorse into a potentially-popular first-round matchup.
A dangerousNo. 4 seed could be Florida State as the Seminoles just knocked off Virginia in the ACC tournament over the weekend. Coming off of an Elite Eight appearance last season, the Seminoles could be a sleeper Final Four team out of this region. The Seminoles collide with No. 13 seed Vermont, a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The America East champions had a beatdown of UMBC in the conference tournament title game.
After an impressive season in the MAC in which they became a consistent top-25 team, Buffalo gets a No. 6 seed. The Bulls could get a fascinating first-round matchup as they await the winner of the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Arizona State and St. John’s. If the Sun Devils advance past Dayton, it’ll be a matchup of Bobby Hurley-coached programs as he left Buffalo for Arizona State a few years ago.
TexasTech earned the No. 3 seed out of the Big 12 following an impressive regular-season title. Although the Red Raiders made the Elite Eight last season, the roster is almost entirely different from last season. But the Red Raiders have a star in Jarrett Culver and the nation’s best defense. Northern Kentucky, the No. 14 seed, draws Texas Tech after winning the Horizon League title.
Following a disappointing regular season, Nevada is a No. 7 seed facing No. 10 seed Florida. The Wolf Pack had preseason top-10 hype but failed to deliver results in the regular season behind a loaded roster that is mostly in-tact from last season’s Sweet 16 team. The Gators needed some late wins this season to get in — most notably over LSU in the SEC tournament. Florida is dangerous but extremely inconsistent.
Rounding out the West is No. 2 seed Michigan as the Wolverines attempt to return to the Final Four. Guard Charles Matthews recently returned from injury as Michigan appears to be near full-strength heading into the Big Dance. The Wolverines face No. 15 seed Montana to open things up as the Grizzlies represent the Big Sky.
NBC Sports Top 25: The final power rankings of the college basketball season
Yes, I’m the guy that still has Duke at No. 1. I explained why in detail last week, and I’m not going to do it again, especially now that it appears Zion Williamson will be back for the ACC tournament.
And just to make it clear: This does not mean that I believe Duke should be a No. 1 seed. I don’t. Losses, even if they come when a team is not at full strength, need to matter for things like NCAA tournament seeding. They don’t matter when it comes to how the industry — and me, specifically — rank which of those teams are the best.
Beyond that, there isn’t all that much to talk about in what will be the final top 25 of the 2018-19 season.
I bumped Texas Tech up to fifth after they won a share of the Big 12 regular season title. Outside of a three-week stretch in January when Jarrett Culver forgot how to shoot, the Red Raiders were the best team in that conference. With the way they are shooting and scoring the ball in the last month combined with that defense, they are very much a threat to win a national title.
One other thing that I’ll note here: I think there are three tiers at the top of college hoops. At the top is a healthy Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia. Right behind that trio sits North Carolina, Texas Tech, Tennessee and Kentucky. I think those seven are pretty clearly the top seven teams in the country, and one you get past them, it starts to get wild. Purdue, Kansas State, Michigan State, Houston, Michigan, Florida State, Nevada. I think there is an argument for all of these teams to be ranked in the back end of the top ten.
We’re just under two weeks away from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show, and the race is on for the coveted spots along the No. 1 seed line.
Gonzaga seems like a lock to lead the West Region. At this point, a loss in the West Coast Conference tournament will do little to change the Zags’ overall profile. What it would do, however, is send ripples along the bubble, because as we stand now, the WCC appears to be a one-bid league.
Tennessee earns the final No. 1 seed today. Kentucky and North Carolina are equally strong contenders. And let’s not sleep on Michigan if the Wolverines win their rematch against Michigan State and surge to a Big 10 tournament title. We also have another matchup between Duke and UNC as we await news about the availability of Zion Williamson.
On a housekeeping note … with conference tournaments beginning this week, we’ve eliminated the CAPS referring to automatic bids; those will be reserved now as teams officially punch their tickets (exceptions made for teams traditionally known by their acronym – such as VCU).
UPDATED: March 4, 2019
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Temple vs. Seton Hall
Minnesota vs. Arizona State
Iona vs. Norfolk State
Prairie View vs. St. Francis (PA)
EAST – Washington, DC
WEST – Anaheim
Salt Lake City
16) Iona / Norfolk St
16) Prairie View / St. Francis
9) St. John’s
5) Mississippi State
5) Kansas State
12) Temple / Seton Hall
12) Minnesota / Arizona St
4) Florida State
3) Texas Tech
14) Texas State
10) Utah State
2) Michigan State
MIDWEST – Kansas City
SOUTH – Louisville
16) Sam Houston St
9) Ole Miss
5) Virginia Tech
13) New Mexico St
13) Old Dominion
Salt Lake City
6) Iowa State
11) NC State
14) South Dakota St
10) Ohio State
2) North Carolina
15) Wright State
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
TOP SEED LINE: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Gonzaga, Duke, and Tennessee
Breakdown by Conference …
ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State
Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall
American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple
Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State
Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State
Southern (1): WOFFORD
Atlantic 10 (1): VCU
Mid American (1): BUFFALO
West Coast (1): GONZAGA
ONE BID LEAGUES:Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Campbell (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Colgate (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)