Introducing Cinderella

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Introducing Cinderella: Georgia State is dancing again

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Ron Hunter is headed back to the NCAA tournament for the third time in five years.

Georgia State shook off a slow start, taking over in the second half and holding on for a 73-64 win over UT-Arlington.

CONFERENCE: Sun Belt

COACH: Ron Hunter

RECORD: 23-9, 13-5 (1st Sun Belt)

RATINGS

  • KENPOM: 114
  • NET: 121

PROJECTED SEED: The Panthers were a No. 14 seed in the most recent bracket projection from NBC Sports, and considering that came after the majority of the automatic bids had been determined, it should not change all that much.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Georgia State’s star is D’Marcus Simonds. He’s a super athletic, 6-foot-3 guard with NBA potential and the ability to take over games. He had 29 points against Mississippi last season and 24 in the NCAA tournament loss to Cincinnati. He;s terrific, and one of five Panthers to average double-figures this season.

Oh, and he also called his shot in the Sun Belt tournament:

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Georgia State actually has a pretty strong resume for a mid-major automatic bid. They won at Alabama (59) earlier this year, they beat East Tennessee State at home and they have a pair of Q2 road wins in league play — Georgia Southern (125) and Texas State (134). They also beat Saint Bonaventure and Georgia on neutral courts.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: My favorite thing about this Georgia State team is that they just do not care one iota about rebounding. They rank outside the top 300 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Part of it is by design and part of it is that they play a lot of zone and that’s notoriously hard to rebound out of. Ron Hunter has said that he believes rebounding is the most overrated stat in college basketball, which is baffling, totally outside the box and has worked for him. To each their own.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Ron Hunter produced the single-most memorable sideline moment in the history of college basketball. Hunter was forced to sit on a stool while coaching his team in the 2015 NCAA tournament because he tore his achilles celebrating GSU’s win in the Sun Belt tournament, which resulted in this:

Introducing Cinderella: Yale’s going to upset someone again this season

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Miye Oni is Yale’s superstar, and with 14 minutes left in the second half of the Ivy League title game, Oni left the floor having picked up his fourth foul.

That, however, did not matter.

The Elis were immediately go on a 20-4 run, opening up a 73-59 lead that eventually turned into an 97-85 win.

The star of the afternoon for Yale was point guard Alex Copeland. He finished with 25 points and seven assists, and while he did not outplay Harvard’s Bryce Aiken — Aiken went for 38 points on 11-for-21 shooting — he did make every big play and every big shot in the second half, picking up the slack for Oni.

This is the second NCAA tournament that Yale has reached in the last four seasons, and to put that into context, they had not been to the NCAA tournament since 1962 prior to 2016’s trip. The job that James Jones has done turning that New Haven school into a Ivy powerhouse should not be overlooked.

CONFERENCE: Ivy League

COACH: James Jones

RECORD: 22-7, 10-4 Ivy (1st)

RATINGS

  • KENPOM: 84
  • NET: 86

PROJECTED SEED: There’s a chance that Yale can sneak up to the No. 12 seed line, although I do think that is is more likely they end up being a No. 13 seed when the brackets are released.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Miye Oni is this team’s star. He’s a 6-foot-6 combo-guard with a 7-foot- wingspan that is going to be an NBA draft pick. He struggled on Saturday, but he absolutely took over down the stretch in the semifinals as Yale landed a come-from-behind win over Princeton.

but he’s far from alone. Copeland, as we saw Saturday, can take over a game. Jordan Bruner is the kind of skilled four that makes Yale so hard to guard — he averages 10.2 pints, 8.4 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals as a 6-foot-9 athlete. Blake Reynolds can play. Trey Phills is really good. Azar Swaim is a guy that can pop off for 15-20 points from time to time. This is a good, talented team that will be a threat to beat whoever they draw in the first round.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Yale has a handful of wins that sound better than they look this season. They beat Miami on a neutral court. They won at Cal. They beat Iona and Albany at home, and also took Memphis to overtime in Memphis. The problem is that every one of those teams is in something of a down year this year, which is why we’re looking at Yale as more of a 13 seed than a borderline at-large like Lipscomb, Belmont and the like.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: The strength of this Yale team is on the offensive side of the ball. They were far and away the best offensive team in a pretty good Ivy League. They have guys that will play in the NBA. They can shoot it from three and they have multiple players that can create in the halfcourt. They’re just a good, well-coached team.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: Yale went out and beat Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament, which is memorable for two reasons: 1. Makai Mason going for 31 points and becoming an Ivy League legend. 2. That game led to this March moment:

FINAL THOUGHT: James Jones is a heckuva coach. Yale had no basketball history to speak of when he took over in 2000, and while it took a while for him to get here, he has this program absolutely rolling. The Bulldogs are heading to their second NCAA tournament in four seasons, and if it wasn’t for some unfortunate injuries that they had dealt with in recent seasons, that number might have been higher. Some high-academic school at a bigger level — Tulane? George Washington? Cal? — would be smart to give him a long, long look.

Introducing Cinderella: UC Irvine rolls to Big West title

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One year after losing to Cal State Fullerton in the championship game of the Big West tournament, UC Irvine avenged the defeat in dominant fashion Saturday night in Anaheim. Max Hazzard and Collin Welp scored 23 points apiece to lead the Anteaters to the 92-64 victory, with UC Irvine shooting nearly 62% from the field and 10-for-14 from beyond the arc.

Russell Turner’s team, which earned the program’s second-ever NCAA tournament bid, was the class of the Big West all season long and the Anteaters backed that up this weekend. After beating UC Riverside in the quarterfinals UC Irvine avenged its lone conference loss, beating Long Beach State by eight to advance to the title game.

The last time UC Irvine gave Louisville all it wanted before losing by two in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament. While the 2018-19 version doesn’t have a 7-foot-7 center patrolling the paint, UC Irvine still defends at a high level and is a bit better offensively as well. Whichever team draws the Anteaters better be ready; this is a team that’s more than capable of advancing next week.

CONFERENCE: Big West

COACH: Russell Turner

RECORD: 30-5 (15-1 Big West)

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 81
  • NET: 73

PROJECTED SEED: The Anteaters will most likely be a 13-seed, although with their profile a 12-seed may be possible depending on which teams the selection committee tabs for the final at-large spots.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: 6-foot-10 senior forward Jonathan Galloway (8.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.1 bpg in conference games) was not only a first team All-Big West selection, but the conference’s best defender as well. And three other Anteaters received all-conference honors, with junior guard Max Hazzard (12.2 ppg, 2.5 apg) named second team All-Big West and junior guard Evan Leonard (11.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg) and junior forward Tommy Rutherford (7.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) receiving honorable mention nods. And Collin Welp is an effective option off the bench, as he averaged 9.1 points per game in Big West play.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: UC Irvine went 2-3 in Quadrant 1/2 games with the wins coming on the road against Saint Mary’s (Quadrant 1) and Texas A&M (Quadrant 2). Saint Mary’s is one of two automatic qualifiers that the Anteaters picked up wins over, with the other being Big West champion Montana. UC Irvine went 17-1 in Quadrant 4 games, with the lone blemish being an 80-70 home loss to Long Beach State on January 16.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: As noted above this is one of the better defensive teams in the country, as they rank fourth in field goal percentage defense (37.9%), first in two-point percentage defense (40.2%) and 50th in adjusted defensive efficiency (96.5, per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers). Offensively, the Anteaters are averaging 72.3 points per game while shooting 45.5% from the field and 35.3% from three. Those aren’t numbers that jump off the page, but they’ve been good enough for a team that’s won 30 games.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: As noted above four years ago UC Irvine nearly upset Louisville, and that team had four players listed at 6-foot-10 or taller including 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye. Also, the Anteaters have been a fixture in the Big West title game in recent years. UC Irvine has appeared in five of the last seven finals, winning two.

Introducing Cinderella: Abilene Christian earns first-ever NCAA bid

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Gardner-Webb won’t be the only school making its NCAA Division I tournament debut, as Abilene Christian punched its ticket with a 77-60 win over New Orleans in the Southland Conference tournament title game Saturday night. Senior forward Jaren Lewis led the way with 20 points, six rebounds and three steals, but it’s worth noting that Abilene Christian pulled away from UNO while its leading scorer was on the bench with four fouls.

Senior guard Jaylen Franklin added 16 points and six assists, and forwards Hayden Farquhar and Joe Pleasant scored 14 points apiece while also combining to grab 14 rebounds. Abilene Christian shot better than 56% from the field Saturday night, and defensively the Wildcats forced New Orleans into 20 turnovers.

Joe Golding’s program, which won no more than 13 games in any of its first four years back in the Southland (as a provisional Division I member), has won a total of 43 games over the last two seasons. And now the Wildcats will be a part of of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament for the first time.

CONFERENCE: Southland

COACH: Joe Golding

RECORD: 27-6 (14-4 Southland)

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 151
  • NET: 155

PROJECTED SEED: Abilene Christian may land on the 16 line despite the impressive overall record. For selection purposes the team is 23-6 (only games vs. Division I opponents are counted), and it’s ranked 342nd in strength of schedule. The Wildcats played a total of five games against teams in the first three quadrants, going 2-3.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Seniors Jaren Lewis and Jaylen Franklin are two names to know, with the former being a second team All-Southland selection and the latter earning third team all-conference and all-defensive team honors. The 6-foot-6 Lewis entered Saturday averaging 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, with Franklin accounting for 10.0 points, 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per. Another upperclassman who’s figured prominently in the team’s success is junior guard Payten Ricks, an honorable mention All-Southland pick who’s averaging 11.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: All five of Abilene Christian’s games against Quadrant 1/2/3 teams were played on the road, with wins over Pacific and Lamar and losses to Texas Tech, Pepperdine and Sam Houston State. The Wildcats’ worst defeat: a one-point loss at Stephen F. Austin back on January 23.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Abilene Christian is allowing just 63.2 points per game, a figure that ranks 17th nationally. The Wildcats are also ranked seventh in steals per game (8.6) and 17th in turnover margin (plus-4.5). Offensively this is a team that is shooting 38.7% from three on the season, and they’re shooting 47.1% from the field overall.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: You may not know a great deal about Abilene Christian unless you hail from Texas. But there are some recognizable individuals who spent some time on the campus before going on to make a name for themselves. Professional boxer and actor Randall “Tex” Cobb briefly attended the school before leaving to take up karate in his first foray into combat sports, and former Dallas Cowboy Clint Longley played quarterback at ACU.

Also, Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard earned his master’s degree in education from Abilene Christian.

Introducing Cinderella: Old Dominion wins Conference USA tournament

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Old Dominion won the Conference USA tournament for the first time in school history Saturday, beating Western Kentucky 62-56 in Frisco, Texas. Xavier Green scored 14 second half points, finishing with 16 to lead the way with B.J. Stith (13 points) and Ahmad Caver (ten) also scoring in double figures.

ODU won the C-USA regular season and tournament titles this season, allowing 70 points or more in just six of their 21 games against conference opponents. Jeff Jones’ team isn’t prolific offensively, but this is a group that has the potential to pull off an upset due to the presence of guards Stith and Caver, and the team’s ability to defend and control tempo.

The last time ODU reached the NCAA tournament: 2011, when Blaine Taylor was the head coach and the Monarchs were a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.

CONFERENCE: Conference USA

COACH: Jeff Jones

RECORD: 26-8 (13-5)

RATINGS:

  • KENPOM: 116
  • NET: 101

PROJECTED SEED: ODU projects to be either a 13 or 14-seed when the bracket is revealed Sunday evening.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: There aren’t many guard tandems that have the combination of talent and experience that seniors B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver boast. Stith, Conference USA’s Player of the Year, averaged 17.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season with Caver posting averages of 16.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. Both Stith and Caver were first team all-conference selections, and sophomore guard Xavier Green earned a spot on Conference USA’s All-Defensive team.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: ODU has two wins over NCAA tournament teams on its resume, as it beat VCU at home in late-November and picked up a win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in mid-December. As for “bad” losses, the Monarchs dropped a neutral site game to Northern Iowa on November 19 (they avenged that loss with a home win over UNI four days later) and a road game at Saint Joseph’s November 9. ODU is 11-6 in Quadrant 3 games this season.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Old Dominion is ranked tenth in field goal percentage defense (39.2%) and seventh in two-point percentage defense (43.5%). The Monarchs aren’t the best offensive team however, as the team is shooting just 41.1% from the field overall and 44.6% inside of the arc, and its average of 66.3 points per game ranks 314th nationally. Old Dominion is also ranked 326th in adjusted tempo, so don’t expect to see this group attempting to get in a “track meet” next week.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: If you followed Virginia basketball at all during the 1990’s then a couple names should be familiar. Jones, who played at UVA for Terry Holland and is one of the school’s all-time assist leaders, served as an assistant at the school from 1982-90 before taking over as head coach following Holland’s retirement. Among Jones’ players during his eight seasons at head coach at Virginia was Bryant Stith, who’s now an assistant on his staff at ODU.

Jones’ story also has emotional pull, as in 2015 he underwent treatment for prostate cancer, and in September he announced that the disease had returned.

Introducing Cinderella: Montana returns to the NCAA tournament

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Montana is heading back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.

The Grizzlies dug themselves an early hole, trailing Eastern Washington by double-digits in the first half, but the best team in the Big Sky played like it in the second half.

Sayeed Pridgett scored 18 points to lead four players in double-figures in a 68-62 win.

CONFERENCE: Big Sky

COACH: Travis DeCuire

RECORD: 26-8

RATINGS

  • KENPOM: 137
  • NET: 123

PROJECTED SEED: Montana was a No. 15 seed in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection. Their 25-8 record is impressive, and they do have wins at South Dakota State (103) and against Georgia State (128) and North Dakota State (222) at home. They should avoid the 16 seed line.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Montana has played the majority of this season without their leading scorer and rebounder, Jamar Akoh, which has been a major blow. Without him in the middle, the Grizzlies rely even more on the play of their talented backcourt. Ahmaad Rorie is probably the best of the bunch, Michael Oguine has carried this roster at times this season as well. Sayeed Pridgett can play, too.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Montana hasn’t really beaten anyone of note beyond a couple of the better mid-majors in college hoops.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Without Akoh on the floor, the Grizzlies have become one of the better three-point shooting teams in college basketball. They make 37.9 percent of the three that they take, and they have been forced to use lineups that play five perimeter-oriented players. Donaven Dorsey, Bobby Moorehead and Pridgett play

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: The Grizzlies have been one of the best programs in the Big Sky for a long time. This is their second NCAA tournament in a row and the fifth they’ve reached this decade. It’s also a place where a number of terrific coaches have launched their careers: Wayne Tinkle, Larry Krystkowiak, Blaine Taylor, Stew Morrill, Mike Montgomery, Jud Heathcote …

FINAL THOUGHT: … and it looks like the next guy on that list is going to be Travis DeCuire. Considering the job that he has done with the injuries that this team has dealt with throughout the season, that is going to get him noticed by bigger schools looking to make a relevant hire. DeCuire has made it to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and he has won three Big Sky titles. Someone is going to want to bring him into the fold.