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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.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Who will be the breakout star of this year’s tournament?

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What makes a breakout star is a subjective thing. Zion Williamson could average 50 and 25 as Duke cruises to a national title, but the only thing he’d be breaking is records.

Ja Morant plays for a mid-major, but he’s going to be a top-five pick come June’s draft.

So there’s a sweet spot of either being a role player thrust into prominence, an OK team who advances because of its best player or an unknown star for a mid-major.

That’s at least the criteria we’ll be looking at here.

LONGSHOTS

Amir Coffey, Minnesota

Coffey was a major prospect before an ACL tear in high school kept his recruitment a bit lower-key, and he ultimately stayed home to play for the Gophers. At 6-foot-8 with athleticism and guard skills, Coffey  is super talented and productive. He has the ability to absolutely go off, too, having scored 30-plus three times against Big Ten opponents. The trouble for him will be sticking around long enough to get noticed with Minnesota drawing the 10 seed in the east with No. 7 Louisville first and then potentially No. 2 Michigan State, which beat the Gophers by 24 in the teams’ only meeting this year.

Matt Mooney, Texas Tech

The Red Raiders, along with Kansas State, ended Kansas’ 14-year reign over the Big 12, and with Chris Beard the architect of their defense, there’s a real shot at a deep run here. Jarrett Culver draws the headlines and NBA scouts, but Mooney, a South Dakota transfer, is a decent bet to outperform expectations. He’s shooting 50 percent on 3s in the last month and if Texas Tech is going to be a true Final Four threat, they’ll need to give Culver some help offensively.

GETTING CLOSER

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

The Catamounts’ star is a high-scoring, rebound-grabbing, sweet-shooting and major-usage player in the form of the 6-foot-6 Rochester, N.Y native. Lamb averages 21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. He shoots 37 percent from 3 and 52.1 percent overall. He shoots a ton – taking nearly 35 percent of his team’s attempts while he’s on the floor – and sometimes volume is the key to Big Dance stardom. The only way to make a bunch of shots is to take a bunch of shots. The draw is a little tough with Florida State in Round 1, but then a sinking Marquette team or good-but-not-daunting Murray State team between them and the Sweet 16.

Matt McQuaid, Michigan State

The 6-foot-5 senior is an absolute sharpshooter for one of the country’s best teams. Shooting from 3 at a 43.3 percent clip, McQuaid is going to be tasked with taking and making big shots for the Spartans, who are looking to get back to the Final Four after three-straight first-weekend flameouts. Cassius Winston is the Spartans’ star, no doubt, but here’s betting McQuaid finds himself in a situation or two where he can be a hero on a big stage.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

Ponds is an electrifying guard that can take over a game – the NCAA tournament loves players like that – and he averaged 19.5 points per game for Chris Mullin and Co. He can really fill it up, and it’s fun to watch him cook when he’s at his best. The problem is, he can run hot and cold, plus there’s the issue of St. John’s being exiled to Dayton and the First Four. Ponds has the game and the role to breakthrough, but there’s plenty working against him, too.

ONE SHINING MOMENT HEROES

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati

The Bearcat junior is a name hoop-heads know well, but isn’t on the radar of NBA draftniks or casual fans by virtue of playing in the AAC. Cincinnati is a basketball brand, though, and that could help Cumberland capture hearts and minds. The 6-foot-5 AAC player of the year averaged 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His shooting percentage is ugly at 40.4 percent overall, but that’s because he struggles inside the arc, shooting just 41.3 percent on 2s. Outside the arc, it’s a strong 39.1. He’s another high-usage player, who if he gets hot will put up monster numbers. The path isn’t horrible either, with No. 10 Iowa in the opening round and then a Tennessee team that’s great but  also just took a 20-point L to Auburn.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Clarke shouldn’t be on this list. He plays for one of the best programs in the country and is having an absolutely astounding season. Honestly, it’s been fantastic. He wasn’t, however, names as a Naismith semifinalist or on the final watch list for the Karl Malone power forward award (or the Abdul-Jabbar for center if you see him as a five). So, apparently, he’s not getting the due he deserves, whether it’s because Gonzaga basically stops being part of the conversation for two months in the WCC, the discussion on Killian Tillie’s health sucked up the oxygen or playing next to Rui Hachimura just makes it hard to get noticed. The truth, though, is that Clarke is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country, and one of it’s most versatile and productive defenders. Maybe March is the time for the public to learn all that.

Corey Davis Jr., Houston

The senior guard is the best player on the team we don’t talk about enough after they went 31-3 in the regular season. Davis averaged 16.7 points per game and shot 38 percent from 3-point range. With Georgia State in the first round and then either an inconsistent Iowa State team or a mediocre Ohio State awaiting them, Houston’s path to the Sweet 16 isn’t overly formidable. Then it’s an excellent-but-beatable Kentucky and then maybe the field’s weakest 1-seed in North Carolina away from the Final Four. If it happens, bet that Davis will be a big reason why.

THE PICK

Brandon Clarke

Given the stage he’ll be given provided the Bulldogs take care of business, Clarke is going to make it wildly apparent how good he is and how early we’ll hear his name from Adam Silver later this summer.

NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis South Region

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The South Region is led by some top seeds who were bounced early in the NCAA tournament last season as Virginia and Tennessee look to redeem themselves after strong seasons.

The South Region is led by No. 1 seed Virginia. Following last season’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round, the Cavaliers will get a chance to redeem themselves against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, the champions of the Big South.

The No. 8/9 matchup is a matchup between SEC and Big 12 as Ole Miss and Oklahoma battle. The Rebels were one of the most pleasant surprises of any team in the field this season while Oklahoma has won some games down the stretch to earn another bid.

Wisconsin draws the No. 5 seed as the Ethan Happ-led Badgers get a major test in No. 12 seed and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon. Although the Ducks struggled during the regular season — particularly after the loss of star freshman Bol Bol — they’re a dangerous team with two recent wins over Washington.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

The No. 4 seed is Kansas State as they are still hoping to get senior forward Dean Wade (foot) healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament after he missed all of last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. They’ll face No. 13 seed UC Irvine, the champions of the Big West.

Defending champion Villanova drew no favors from the committee with the No. 6 seed. There hasn’t been a No. 6 seed in the Final Four since 1992 as the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to make the Final Four for the third time in four years. They draw No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s as the Gaels gained a lot of momentum in winning the WCC title over No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Earning a surprising share of the Big Ten regular-season title this season, Purdue draws the No. 3 seed as they get a tough first-round opponent in No. 14 seed Old Dominion.

The committee also didn’t help No. 7 seed Cincinnati as the Bearcats had an impressive showing in an AAC title-game win over Houston on Sunday. The Bearcats will face No. 10 seed Iowa in a clash of styles and tempo.

After falling short in the SEC tournament title game, No. 2 seed Tennessee gets a matchup with No. 15 seed Colgate — a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Although the Raiders feature the Patriot League Player of the Year in forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, they’ll face one of the best frontcourts in the tournament with the Vols’ veteran combo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

Sunday’s Things to Know: Houston wins AAC title; three autobids earned; bubble madness in the Big Ten

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The final regular-season Sunday in college basketball had some drama as a major conference title was decided. On the postseason side, three more autobids were also claimed while the bubble had some action as well.

Houston runs past Cincinnati to claim AAC regular-season title

Houston earned its first regular-season conference title since 1992 with a convincing 85-69 road win at No. 20 Cincinnati. The No. 12 Cougars poured on 48 second-half points as they went on a 35-12 run to put the game away. Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points while freshman Nate Hinton produced a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds — knocking down some key three-pointers to ignite the comeback run.

For the fourth time in the last six games, Houston scored at least 85 points, which is a notable accomplishment considering the Cougars generally prefer to play on the slower side (232nd in adjusted tempo on KenPom). Houston already has a top-15 defense, so if its offense is getting hot before the postseason, then it’s a trend to keep an eye on during Championship Week.

Autobids handed out to Bradley, Gardner-Webb and Liberty

Sunday didn’t have very many regular-season games left. But there were plenty of conference tournaments to keep track of with three autobids being handed out in traditionally one-bid leagues.

The Big South kicked the autobid day off as Gardner-Webb earned its first NCAA tournament bid in school history by knocking off Radford for a true road win. With back-to-back true road wins during the conference tournament, the Bulldogs certainly earned their way into the Field of 68 with two difficult wins.

Things got crazy during the second half of the Missouri Valley Conference title game shortly after as Bradley rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to stun Northern Iowa. A day after knocking out a Final Four team from last year in Valley No. 1 seed Loyola, the Braves followed it up with their eighth win of the season in which they were trailing at halftime to come back and win. This will be Bradley’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 when they stunned the nation as a No. 13 seed who made the Sweet 16.

Finally, Liberty gutted out yet another road win for a team in an autobid situation by advancing in front of a sold-out crowd at Lipscomb. A high-level game featuring two teams who deserve a real look from the NCAA tournament committee, the Flames are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. While Liberty is a potentially-dangerous double-digit seed, Lipscomb remains on the bubble as they have a long week of waiting ahead.

The bubble gets crazy in the Big Ten

Among bubble teams playing on Sunday, things got especially chaotic in the Big Ten. Indiana began the conference’s bubble day with a home win over Rutgers. Winners of four consecutive games, the Hoosiers have played their way back into the serious at-large discussion after a mid-season freefall.

Later in the afternoon, No. 21 Wisconsin outlasted Ohio State for an overtime road win that brutally hurts the Buckeyes’ bubble profile. Rallying from 23 points down to tie the game and force overtime, this was a golden opportunity for Ohio State to add some insurance by getting another Q1 win. Instead, they’ve dropped three straight games as the slide continues entering the postseason.

These two results mean that Thursday’s Big Ten tournament matchup between Indiana and Ohio State will have massive implications for the bubble. Both of these teams appear to be teetering right on the edge of the cut line as this result could ultimately put one team in while leaving the other team out of the proceedings.

NBC Sports Top 25: The final power rankings of the college basketball season

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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.

Anyway, here is my final Top 25 of the season:

1. Duke (26-5, Last Week: 1)
2. Gonzaga (29-2, 2)
3. Virginia (28-2, 3)
4. North Carolina (26-5, 4)
5. Texas Tech (26-5, 6)
6. Tennessee (27-4, 5)
7. Kentucky (26-5, 7)
8. Michigan State (25-6, 12)
9. Purdue (23-8, 9)
10. Kansas State (24-7, 10)
11. LSU (26-5, 11)
12. Houston (29-2, 12)
13. Michigan (26-5, 8)
14. Nevada (28-3, 15)
15. Florida State (25-6, 18)
16. Virginia Tech (23-7, 17)
17. Buffalo (28-3, 20)
18. Wofford (27-4, 22)
19. Wisconsin (22-9, 19)
20. Kansas (23-8, 16)
21. Marquette (23-8, 14)
22. Auburn (22-9, NR)
23. VCU (25-6, NR)
24. Mississippi State (22-9, NR)
25. UCF (23-7, 25)

Dropped Out: 21. Iowa State, 23. Villanova, 24. Cincinnati
New Additions: 22. Auburn, 23. VCU, 24. Mississippi State

No. 12 Houston beats No. 20 Cincinnati 85-69 for AAC title

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CINCINNATI — Galen Robinson Jr. raised his arms at midcourt as the buzzer sounded and red-clad Cincinnati fans headed glumly for the exits. No. 12 Houston has just drubbed the American Athletic Conference’s defending champion, leaving no doubt about who’s best this time around.

It’s the Cougars, and it’s not even close.

Corey Davis Jr. scored a career-high 31 points Sunday, and Houston dominated the second half for an 85-69 victory over No. 20 Cincinnati that clinched the AAC’s regular-season title outright.

The Cougars (29-2, 16-2) knocked off the defending champs and earned their first league title since 1992 in the Southwest Conference. Coach Kelvin Sampson got a celebratory dousing from his players afterward.

“At no point in time this year did I think we were a great team, but I thought we were a pretty good team and it showed on the road,” said Sampson, who had a white towel draped over the back of his soaked blue shirt.

Down by six early in the second half, Nate Hinton hit back-to-back 3s that started a 35-12 spurt. Davis’ back-to-back 3s put the Cougars up by 17 points and sent Cincinnati fans headed home with 4:22 to go.

“Corey Davis is the best two-way player in this league, plays both ends with the same voracity,” Sampson said. “Corey’s been consistently good. He never had a bad practice, never had a bad game.”

Hinton added 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds as Houston scored at least 85 points for the fourth time in the past six games.

Last year, the Bearcats (25-6, 14-4) won the regular-season title and the AAC Tournament, beating Houston in the title game. This time, the Cougars swept the season series, winning in Cincinnati for the first time after 16 losses.

The Bearcats were outrebounded 42-28, with the Cougars getting 18 offensive rebounds. Coach Mick Cronin said the rebounding performance was embarrassing and suggested he’d invite some of Cincinnati’s football players to try out after such a poor showing.

“You give a team like that extra chances, they’re going to light you up,” Cronin said. “There’s not a whole lot to say when you get whipped that bad physically, dominated physically. The dam’s going to break eventually.”

The Cougars put themselves in position for a league title by beating the Bearcats 65-58 in Houston on Feb. 10, holding Cincinnati scoreless for the final 6:11.

Jarron Cumberland scored 20 points for Cincinnati on 4-of-11 shooting from the field.

Cincinnati held a slim lead through most of the first half, but Davis Jr. made a jump shot, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in the last 1:33 that sent the Cougars into halftime up 37-35. They missed eight of their first nine shots in the second half, and Cincinnati pulled ahead 47-41 .

Hinton hit back-to-back 3s that sparked the decisive run. The Cougars went 8 of 14 from beyond the arc in the second half while pulling away.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

While Houston held its ground, the Bearcats’ losses this week to UCF and Houston could knock them out of the Top 25.

BIG PICTURE

Houston finally overtook the team that had dominated them until this season — Cincinnati leads the series 31-5. The Cougars also set a school record with 29 regular-season wins, topping the 28-win team from 1967-68.

Cincinnati fell to 0-4 against ranked teams on the season, the main reason they never gained much traction in the poll despite their gaudy record. The Bearcats opened the season at home with a loss against then-unranked Ohio State and concluded it with the loss to the Cougars.

RARE DRUBBING

Houston handed Cincinnati its most lopsided loss since a 75-59 defeat at Temple on Feb. 10, 2015. It was the Bearcats’ most lopsided loss at home since a 68-47 defeat against VCU on Dec. 20, 2014.

FAREWELL

The Bearcats honored senior point guards Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome pregame.

TOUGH AAC HOME

The Bearcats have rarely lost an AAC home game, going 34-3 in the past four seasons. The only other losses were against Temple and Wichita State. Overall, Cincinnati is 49-5 in AAC home games since the league was formed for the 2013-14 season.

UP NEXT

Both teams will start tournament play Friday in the quarterfinals in Memphis, Tennessee.

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