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Saturday’s Things to Know: Conference titles get decided; Murray State and Ja Morant earn an autobid

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ja Morant, Murray State

Many consider the sophomore point guard to be among the nation’s best players, but Morant hasn’t received the type of national attention that he got on Saturday night. And the future lottery pick delivered in a big way.

Helping Murray State to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, Morant pick put up 36 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists as the Racers took down Belmont to earn the autobid in the Ohio Valley Conference.

With some fans tuning in to see Morant play for the first time, he didn’t disappoint, as he displayed the breathtaking playmaking ability and jaw-dropping athleticism that scouts have been raving about. One night after producing the go-ahead three-point play in the OVC semifinals, Morant again put his team on his back and got them back into the Big Dance.

March Madness just got soooo much better knowing that we get at least one more national showcase for Morant.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Michigan State Spartans

On Senior Day at the Breslin Center, if you’re going to kiss the Spartan logo at center court, then you better have the win in-hand before checking out for the final time. Especially when the Big Ten title is on the line and it’s a battle against bitter in-state rival Michigan when both teams are ranked in the top 10.

Michigan State rallied in impressive fashion in the second half to claim a share of the Big Ten title while also preventing the Wolverines from achieving the same with a 75-63 win. Trailing by eight points in the second half after a sluggish first 20 minutes, Michigan State started firing on all cylinders as junior point guard Cassius Winston’s hot stretch ignited a 25-4 Spartans run. After an ice-cold 1-for-8 start to the evening, Winston buried five straight shots to end the game with a team-high 23 points and seven assists.

This Big Ten title is especially impressive for Michigan State because the Spartans did it without Joshua Langford and Nick Ward playing for large stretches of time during the season. Missing two of their top players, and still earning a Big Ten title, speaks to the depth of the Spartans while Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo accomplished one of his most impressive feats.

Now the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, Michigan State is hoping to ease Ward back into the lineup so he can contribute during the NCAA tournament. The phrase “Izzo in March” is usually reserved for the NCAA tournament. But it feels okay to use it here given the extraordinary late-season circumstances.

SATURDAY’S WINNERS

Co-ACC Champions North Carolina and Virginia: The Tar Heels swept the regular-season series with the Blue Devils to claim their share ACC glory as Roy Williams continues to own Coach K in the regular-season ACC title department since taking over the Tar Heels in 2004. Even though North Carolina had some question marks entering this season, most notably at lead guard, they’ve put themselves in position to potentially earn a No. 1 seed with their play this season.

Virginia shook off the historic NCAA tournament loss to No. 16 seed UMBC to earn another ACC title with a win over Louisville as Tony Bennett continue to have the league’s number. Looking stronger, deeper and more dangerous than last season, Virginia is the rare No. 1 seed with a legitimate chip on their shoulder entering the postseason.

Buckle up for a fun ACC tournament next week, as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia all have solid cases to potentially earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

LSU: Playing without head coach Will Wade and freshman starting guard Javonte Smart, the Tigers still took care of business in a big home win over Vanderbilt. The victory gave the Tigers the outright title in the SEC — something few could have predicted entering the 2018-19 season given the strength of Kentucky and Tennessee. The recent Wade/Smart scandal has dominated the headlines and cast a black cloud over young LSU’s surprising season. It’s also easy to forget that the Tigers had to deal with the loss of teammate Wayde Sims in late September as he was tragically killed in a shooting. There’s a very real potential that this SEC championship will eventually get erased from the record books. But for now, LSU deserves to celebrate a special season in which they’ve overcome some incredibly difficult circumstances to become one of the best teams in the country.

Purdue: Splitting the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State after a road win at Northwestern, nobody expected head coach Matt Painter and his Boilermakers to have this type of season. With only one returning starter in Carsen Edwards, and with a mostly-new supporting cast, Purdue has been one of the nation’s pleasant surprises this season as Painter deserves National Coach of the Year chatter. In a brutally-tough Big Ten, Purdue seemed to only get better as the season wore along as they proved to be more than just Edwards and his scoring punch.

Co-Big 12 Champions Texas Tech and Kansas State: Who could have predicted these two winning the Big 12 championship? While Kansas State was a preseason top-10 team in the eyes of some following last season’s Elite Eight appearance, Texas Tech is another included on the list of most surprising teams in the country. The Red Raiders overcame the loss of six of their top eight scorers as head coach Chris Beard basically put an entirely new rotation on the floor from his own Elite Eight appearance last season. The national focus has drifted mostly towards Kansas losing its 14-year Big 12 regular-season title streak. Not enough credit has been given to Kansas State and Texas Tech both overcoming slow conference starts to bring home a league title.

Seton Hall: The Pirates had the best week of any bubble team in the country, and frankly, there doesn’t feel like a close second place. Earning back-to-back Q1 wins over Marquette and Villanova, the top two teams in the Big East, Seton Hall essentially punched its ticket into the NCAA tournament by grabbing two more monster wins during the final week of the regular season. Myles Powell is playing with a ton of confidence right now and the Pirates will be a fascinating team to follow at Madison Square Garden during the Big East tournament.

Temple: A home win over UCF could be the final ingredient in getting the Owls into the NCAA tournament. In head coach Fran Dunphy’s final season on the sidelines, Temple is hoping to be the fourth team from the American to make it into the Big Dance. During a season where many bubble teams are hovering near .500, while drawing the ire of college hoops diehards, it’s hard not to root for a story where a respected veteran coach leads his team into the field.

Villanova (even in a loss): Suffering a disappointing road loss at Seton Hall, the Wildcats still got lucky enough to win the Big East title, outright, thanks to Marquette’s shocking home loss to Georgetown. Even though Villanova struggled down the stretch this season — losing five of their last eight games — they still captured a conference title during an up-and-down season. Earning a No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament was an added bonus as Villanova tries to figure things out before the NCAA tournament.

SATURDAY’S LOSERS

Marquette: This recent stretch will haunt Marquette fans for years to come. Losing four straight games to close out the regular season, the Golden Eagles blew a shot at the Big East regular-season title on numerous occasions. As noted above, Villanova lost five of its final eight games. That allowed Marquette every opportunity to stay in the race. None of those chances were more apparent than Saturday. After the Wildcats fell to Seton Hall to begin the afternoon slate of games, Marquette took the floor at home against Georgetown knowing that they could win and earn a share of the Big East championship. And just like the previous three games, Marquette faltered in the final minutes to blow another winnable game. The Golden Eagles have been pitiful late in games over the last two weeks as they’re suddenly in a freefall heading into MSG for the Big East tournament. On the bright side, Marquette has single-handedly kept the Big East’s bubble teams afloat by gifting recent wins to Creighton, Seton Hall and now Georgetown.

Tennessee: Entering Saturday, the Vols were given a chance to be co-SEC champions with LSU. Tennessee squandered those circumstances with a road loss at Auburn to start the afternoon. Although it’s never easy to win at Auburn now that Bruce Pearl and the Tigers have that place rocking, Tennessee has to be kicking themselves knowing that they could have won the league in back-to-back seasons.

Loyola: We won’t be seeing Loyola and Sister Jean in the 2019 NCAA tournament following last season’s memorable Final Four run. The top-seeded Ramblers were upset by Bradley in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Saturday as Loyola’s two Conference Players of the Year, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, were held to only 17 points combined on 7-for-27 shooting.

South Dakota State and Mike Daum: One of college basketball’s all-time greats will not be playing in the 2019 NCAA tournament as No. 1 seed South Dakota State shockingly fell to No. 8 seed Western Illinois in the Summit League tournament quarterfinals. Making an NCAA tournament appearance the past three seasons, it will feel bizarre not to have Daum and the Jackrabbits in the Big Dance during his final college season. Daum finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the loss as he only attempted 10 field goals on the night (making five).

FINAL THOUGHT

In looking over the power conference champions decided on Saturday, it’s crazy to think about how quickly things changed in college basketball throughout the course of this regular season. Let’s do a brief rundown in a bullet format to make things easier.

  • A few weeks into the season, Duke going undefeated was a legitimate storyline that people were discussing. Flash forward a few months later and North Carolina and Virginia split the ACC crown.
  • Listed as the preseason No. 1 team and national title favorite by many pundits, Kansas faltered and saw its dominant 14-year reign in the Big 12 come to an end. Kansas State started the Big 12 season 0-2 and Texas Tech was 4-3. Both of those teams pulled it together and shared the league title.
  • Within the last month, two top-10 tilts between Kentucky and Tennessee dominated the SEC headlines. LSU snuck in the back door to claim the SEC title over both of them. Outright.
  • Villanova was left for dead during nonconference play with losses to Furman and Penn. St. John’s and Marquette became trendy picks to win the Big East as conference play started. The Wildcats prevailed and still ended up gaining the Big East title.
  • And the Big Ten focused on Michigan’s early-season dominance only to see the Wolverines relinquish the league crown to rival Michigan State and Purdue. The Spartans lost arguably two of their top three players for most of conference season and still won while Purdue replaced four starters and became one of the nation’s biggest overachievers.

I guess the main point in all of this is that college basketball’s 2018-19 season has been absolutely insane — and that’s only touching on five major conferences to get to my point. That doesn’t even include the Pac-12’s historically awful season, Houston emerging as a legitimate top-10 team, and a point guard from Murray State being called the second best prospect in the upcoming NBA Draft only behind a dude who has been compared to LeBron.

Good luck predicting what’s going to happen over the final month of this zany season. All of the drama and surprises will be a ton of fun to watch.

Bracketology: Kentucky returns to top line

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Kentucky began its bracket journey last October as the projected No. 1 seed in the South Region.  As March nears, the Wildcats return to the top line, holding the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region.  For context, UK has lost just twice since the start of 2019, by a combined four points.

Duke continues as the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia and Gonzaga.  Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan State and Michigan remain in the top-seed discussion.  All eight have a lot at stake these next three weeks.

The cutline is equally compelling.  Will some early contenders make late runs to regain a look?  Will teams like Texas, Minnesota, and Ohio State hold on?  Will this be the year we see an at-large bid or two granted to deserving mid-majors?  The Madness is about to begin.

BRACKET UPDATE: February 25, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Temple vs. Alabama
MIDWEST REGION UCF vs. Utah State
EAST REGION ST. FRANCIS (PA) vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION PRAIRIE VIEW vs. RIDER

EAST Washington, DC   SOUTH – Louisville                           
Columbia Columbus
1) DUKE 1) Virginia
16) ST. FRANCIS / NORFOLK ST 16) SAM HOUSTON ST
8) Ole Miss 8) St. John’s
9) Oklahoma 9) TCU
Salt Lake City San Jose
5) Iowa 5) Maryland
12) Temple / Alabama 12) BELMONT
4) Kansas 4) KANSAS STATE
13) OLD DOMINION 13) VERMONT
Jacksonville Hartford
6) Louisville 6) Virginia Tech
11) Arizona State 11) Texas
3) LSU 3) Purdue
14) YALE 14) TEXAS STATE
Des Moines Columbia
7) BUFFALO 7) Villanova
10) VCU 10) Ohio State
2) Michigan 2) Tennessee
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) WRIGHT STATE
MIDWEST – Kansas City WEST – Anaheim
Columbus Salt Lake City
1) KENTUCKY 1) GONZAGA
16) BUCKNELL 16) PR VIEW / RIDER
8) Baylor 8) WOFFORD
9) Syracuse 9) Auburn
San Jose Tulsa
5) Florida State 5) NEVADA
12) UCF / Utah State 12) LIPSCOMB
4) Wisconsin 4) Texas Tech
13) UC-IRVINE 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Hartford Tulsa
6) Iowa State 6) Mississippi State
11) Minnesota 11) Seton Hall
3) MARQUETTE 3) HOUSTON
14) HOFSTRA 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Jacksonville Des Moines
7) Cincinnati 7) WASHINGTON
10) Florida 10) NC State
2) North Carolina 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) RADFORD 15) MONTANA

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Texas Temple Butler Dayton
Minnesota Alabama Clemson UNC-Greensboro
Arizona State UCF Georgetown Davidson
Seton Hall Utah State Furman Murray State

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia, Gonzaga, and Kentucky

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN STATE, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): KANSAS STATE, Texas Tech, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas

SEC (8): KENTUCKY, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, Temple, UCF

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), Rider (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), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

2018 College Hoops Year In Review: The 10 best games from the last 12 months

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The calendar is flipping ahead to 2019, and the most intriguing parts of an already strong college basketball season lie ahead of us, but we’d be remiss in not taking the moment to look back over the last 12 months of ball, which featured not only some great games, but some truly historic ones as well. Here are the top-10 2018 had to offer.

Here are the 12 best dunks from the last 12 months

And here are the 12 most memorable moments from 2018.

10. Feb. 27: St. Bonaventure 117, Davidson 114, 3OT

This list wouldn’t be complete without a game featuring multiple overtimes, and this late-February matchup between two of the A-10s NCAA tournament teams is the best of the bunch.

Davidson star Kellan Grady scored 39 points, but it was teammate Peyton Aldridge who led the team in scoring with 45 as both players logged more than 50 minutes in a losing effort. On the other side, the Bonnies had three players register at least 30 points in Courtney Stockard (31), Matt Mobley (33) and Jaylen Adams (34) as a 10-0 run in the final minute powered St. Bonaventure to victory.

9. Dec. 9: Tennessee 76, Gonzaga 73

Both of these teams will make appearances later in this list – with opposite results – but there battle in the final month of the year warrants inclusion.

Gonzaga was just a few weeks removed from a win against Duke and a Maui Invitatoinal title, ranked No. 1 and undefeated with games against the Vols and North Carolina the only things standing in the way of legitimate run-the-table talk. Admiral Schofield was having none of it.

The Tennessee senior scored 30 points, making 6 of 12 shots from distance, while grabbing six rebounds in 30 minutes and the Vols announced themselves are true national title contenders and Gonzaga saw any discussion of a perfect season come to a halt, with coach Mark Few probably not too beat up over that last development.

 8. March 17, Second Round: Loyola (Chicago) 63, Tennessee 62

This game is important for a lot of reasons. One, it unlocked a Final Four run on par with those by George Mason, VCU and Butler in recent memory. Two, it was a great game, decided in the final second. Third, and most importantly, it made Sister Jean an international celebrity.

 7. Jan. 20: Oklahoma State 83, Oklahoma 81, OT

This game might have been the moment where the nation’s relationship with Trae Young went from infatuation and intrigue to doubt and degradation.

The freshman guard scored 48 points and had eight assists, five rebounds and two steals while going 12 of 12 from the free-throw line in 43 minutes…but took 39 shots (20 from distance) and had seven turnovers in what ultimately was a loss. If you were a Young believer, it was evidence of his talent and his teammates’ shortcomings. If you were a Young doubter, it was further proof that his game was big but the team results were small.

Whichever side was right – and there will never be agreement to which was – the final results are indisputable – the Sooners lost 12 of their final 16 games and bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the first round – while Young led the country in scoring and assists.

 6. April 2, Title Game: Villanova 79, Michigan 62

Frankly, the game that crowned a champion for the 2017-18 season wasn’t all that compelling. After a strong start from Michigan, Villanova spent the game’s final 30 minutes just dismantling the Wolverines.

There was more to this game than 40 minutes of basketball, though.

It established Villanova as a no-doubt blue blood, putting it at the top of the college basketball hierarchy with a second title in three years. Jay Wright’s team did it again with a different kind of blueprint, relying on season vets rather than talented one-and-dones. Villanova, though, didn’t win on pluck and grit. The Wildcats had experience and elite talent, with four players from its title team – Miikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, Jalen Brunson and title game star Donte DiVincenzo – all off to the NBA after cutting down the nets.

This game was a coronation for Wright and the Villanova program.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

 5. March 18, Second Round: Nevada 75, Cincinnati 73

There was a time that it looked like Nevada’s NCAA tournament highlight would be knocking off Mo Bamba and Texas in the first round. That’s not a bad trip through the sport’s premier event, even if it doesn’t last longer than a weekend. Down 22 in the second half to two-seed Cincinnati, though, it appeared that the Wolf Pack’s time had run its course. Eric Musselman’s team wasn’t done, though.

The Wolf Pack underwent a wild 32-8 run against the Bearcats in the final 10 minutes, getting a go-head bucket – Nevada’s only lead of the game – with nine seconds to play to complete the second-largest comeback in tourney history.

What Nevada showed that day – and what it returned on its roster – makes its 12-0 start to this season considerably less surprising than that Sunday tilt in Nashville.

4. March 17, First Round: Michigan 64, Houston 63

Great games are nice, but iconic finishes are better. This game had it both.

A seesaw affair that was never separated by more than six points, Michigan and Houston delivered a great second-round game that pitted an under-appreciated Michigan team against an upstart Houston team. Ultimately, though, this game will be remembered for Jordan Poole.

The freshman from Milwaukee played just 11 minutes and scored only eight points, but he put himself among legends in Ann Arbor and NCAA tournament lore when as the final 3.6 seconds slipped off the clock, he set up beyond the trip point line and waited impatiently for the ball to find him. When it did, he caught, gathered and let his future fly, connecting on a buzzer-beater that edged the Cougars and put the Wolverines on the path to John Beilein’s second national championship game.

3. Nov. 21: Gonzaga 89, Duke 87

It’s hard for a game in the first month of the season to register this high on the list, but given the teams, programs and tournament involved, this game earned this spot.

Just a couple weeks earlier, Duke opened the season and eyes with its dominant performance against Kentucky in which the raw talent and uncanny cohesion of its top-ranked recruiting class announced itself as not only a force to be reckoned with not only for presumably their one season in college but in the history books. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones were that good that early. On the other side of the ledger sat the Bulldogs, just 18 months or so removed from a national title game with a top-five team and a transcendent player in Rui Hachimura. The setting was the title game of the Maui Invitational, an notable game every year but maybe never more so than this with an amazing field battling at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Gonzaga looked as though it may pull away early, but the Blue Devils battled back to make it not only a game but an event. The two teams looked ready to compete for a national title, not just a November tournament championship. It was extremely high-level hoops with two of the best programs of the last two decades operating at perhaps the height of their powers. Gonzaga won, and it’s not hard to imagine a potential March or April rematch topping this list come 2019.

2. March 25, Elite Eight: Kansas 85, Duke 81, OT

Just by virtue of these two programs meeting with a Final Four on the line, this game was destined to be a classic. The Jayhawks and the Blue Devils battling for a spot in the sport’s pinnacle weekend, that by itself is a historic occurrence. Add in storylines like Grayson Allen’s final season, Kansas’ flawed-but-successful-roster, Duke’s first-round freshmen and the two coaches leading both teams, the setup was a dream.

The 45 minutes of action actually lived up to it, too.

Allen narrowly missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation, and the Jayhawks out-muscled Duke in the extra frame to claim a victory and the third Final Four under coach Bill Self. The game had 18 lead changes and 11 ties, keeping even the most-casual bracketologists on the edge of their couches on a Sunday afternoon that won’t soon be forgotten.

1. March 16, First Round: UMBC 74, Virginia 54

In a sport that’s often defined by upsets and underdogs, it can be hard to truly separate yourself as a special Cinderella. College basketball just has had so many memorable ones over the years. UMBC, though, found a way to join the pantheon of of historic spoilers when the Retrievers (the name alone is notable) became the first-ever 16-seed to topple a No. 1 when they downed Virginia, which was not only the top seed in the south region but of the entire tournament.

And it was an absolute shellacking.

There were 135 16-seeds that came before the Retrievers (I can hardly write that name with a straight face), and all were sent home by the top seeds, usually in cursory fashion with a few close shaves mixed in. This time, though, UMBC just thrashed Virginia, connecting on 12 3s while holding the Cavaliers to 4 of 22 from distance. Tony Bennett’s team just crumbled in a way we’ve truly never seen before. The game wasn’t so much good as it was completely shocking and unprecedented. It’s hard to be surprised in 2018, but a team called Retrievers found a way.

2018 College Hoops Year In Review: The 12 most memorable moments from the last year

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College basketball had a lot of memorable happenings during 2018 as on-court drama and off-court changes led to a lot of major headlines for the sport. The FBI’s investigation and trials about corruption in college hoops cast a light on some of the sport’s big issues while the NCAA tournament featured a monster upset and some great runs from new and old characters.

Here are some of the major things to remember in 2018 from college basketball as the sport will surely have more on some of these storylines in the upcoming year.

Here are the 12 best dunks from the last 12 months

And here are the 10 best games from 2018.

1. No. 16 seed UMBC shocks No. 1 seed Virginia in the NCAA tournament

When we look back on 2018, it will always be associated with one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports. Many believed a No. 16 seed would never take down a No. 1 seed.

And it happened. And it happened in blowout fashion to a team that rolled through a great ACC.

The stunning UMBC win was enhanced by a national audience that kept slowly tuning in as the realization set in that crazy history was happening. Time seemed to stop. Twitter went ballistic. UMBC helped seize the moment by going on a social media run that enhanced their exploding national reputation.

Some questioned Tony Bennett’s style of play. Others made jokes on Virginia’s behalf that will likely continue for decades. Unless No. 16 upsets over No. 1 seeds become more common — or Virginia wins a national title — the Cavaliers will forever be associated with this game.

2. Villanova captures its second national title in three years by beating Michigan

Etching its name into the blueblood equation with a second national championship in three seasons, Villanova marched its way through the 2018 NCAA tournament with a dominating effort. The Wildcats culminated their efforts with a big win over Michigan in the title game.

Although Villanova’s 2018 title wasn’t as exciting as the buzzer-beating win in 2016, this group will be remembered for its incredible group of veteran talent. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo helped the Wildcats win multiple national titles before all three left school with eligibility remaining to become NBA draft picks. Omari Spellman quickly developed into a draft pick of his own after a redshirt year and only one season with the team.

The 2018 title team spoke to Villanova’s ability to develop talent and bring elite groups together despite losing key pieces from a title team two seasons before.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

3. Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale knocks down back-to-back game-winners during women’s Final Four

The women’s Final Four had better games than the men’s side this year. Ogunbowale’s heroics were a huge reason why.

The junior guard buried the game-winning jumper to eliminate previously-unbeaten UConn in the semifinals. Then she one-upped that by hitting another game-winning jumper in the national title game to give the Irish the win over Mississippi State.

For her Final Four MOP efforts, Ogunbowale appeared on Ellen and met Kobe Bryant. She also made national headlines, once again, when Ogunbowale was allowed by the NCAA to compete on Dancing With the Stars. Ogunbowale placed seventh in the competition. She’s currently in her senior season for the top-five Irish as Ogunbowale recently passed 2,000 points for her college career.

4. No. 1 Kansas beats No. 2 Duke in overtime during the Elite Eight

Since the Final Four didn’t produce many memorable individual moments, this clash of bluebloods was probably the game of the 2018 NCAA tournament.

The Jayhawks had huge performances from Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk as they reached the Final Four for the first time since 2012. Although Duke had tons of one-and-done freshman talent — led by Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. — this game also served as the final time Grayson Allen took the floor in a Blue Devil uniform.

Ultimately, it had a thrilling regulation finish with two Hall of Fame coaches, many memorable college players and a trip to the Final Four on the line.

5. The national emergence of Loyola (Chicago) and Sister Jean during a Cinderella run

College basketball has increasingly become a sport of blueblood programs and elite players. Which is why Loyola captured the nation’s attention as the fun underdog during an improbable run to the 2018 Final Four.

The Missouri Valley Conference champions hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1985. But the No. 11 seed Ramblers showed a special ability to win in tight games thanks in-part to a tremendous, unselfish veteran core and Sister Jean, the school’s 98-year-old nun who became a national sensation.

Loyola won its opening-round game against No. 6 seed Miami on a Donte Ingram three-pointer and followed that up with back-to-back one-point wins over No. 3 seed Tennessee and No. 7 seed Nevada. After dispatching No. 9 seed Kansas State by double digits in the Elite Eight, Loyola became just the fifth double-digit seed to make the Final Four.

The Ramblers lost to Michigan in the national semifinals, but they made a huge imprint on college hoops. Head coach Porter Moser earned well-deserved praise and a contract extension. Recruiting has picked up at Loyola.

And Sister Jean got a bobblehead, her own signature shoes, became friends with Charles Barkley and got recruited by the Atlanta Falcons before throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field.

Nobody had a better 2018 than Sister Jean.

6. Michigan’s Jordan Poole knocks out Houston with buzzer-beater to fuel Wolverine Final Four push

The 2018 NCAA tournament didn’t have many true buzzer-beaters. Which is part of what made Michigan’s win over Houston so special. Jordan Poole’s loooong three-pointer gave the Wolverines a one-point win. It also gave Michigan a huge jolt of confidence as they ended up in the title game against Villanova.

7. Memphis brings back Penny Hardaway as he eventually lands five-star center James Wiseman

Coaching carousel movement always has some big names. Chris Mack went from Xavier to Louisville. UConn nabbed Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley and Jeff Capel upgraded from Duke assistant to Pitt head coach.

None of those hirings made as much of a national splash as Penny Hardaway replacing Tubby Smith at Memphis. Revitalizing a hungry fanbase right away, Hardaway has taken local Memphis high school connections and used them to immediately bring in local talent.

While Memphis isn’t a juggernaut this season, they’ve improved enough to have the city excited. Perhaps more importantly, the Tigers have a recruiting class to be reckoned with. This is especially true after Penny went toe-to-toe with John Calipari and Kentucky and ended up with local top-three center James Wiseman.

Memphis currently has a top-ten recruiting class with the potential to add more. Hardaway is going to be fun to watch as he tries to restore Memphis into a national powerhouse.

8. Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett usher in new Duke superteam during Champions Classic blowout over Kentucky

The 2018-19 season opened with a bang this season as the Champions Classic ushered in the first day of the season. And in front of a national audience, Duke freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett put on a show in a Blue Devil blowout win over the Wildcats.

Potentially the top two players in the Player of the Year race and the 2019 NBA Draft, these two superstar freshman had some monster plays as the Blue Devils ran past the Wildcats in a matchup of preseason top-five teams. Duke was so good that some questioned if they would go undefeated (they ultimately lost to Gonzaga at Maui).

Even if Duke lost to another top-five team, they’re a major national title contender. Williamson and Barrett continue to put up huge highlights nearly every game.

9. The first FBI college basketball trial verdict is delivered

Late October saw the first verdict in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption. Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code and former runner Christian Dawkins were all found guilty on conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Sentencing takes place in March 2019 as appeals will likely take place.

While the guilty counts were always likely to happen, the trial did get interesting at certain points when some took the witness stand. Former five-star recruit Brian Bowen’s father testified about some of the alleged offers he received for his son while former Adidas AAU coach and runner T.J. Gassnola also revealed some intriguing details. Some big-name programs and players like Kansas and Arizona’s Deandre Ayton ended up being named during testimony.

We’ll hear a lot more about the college basketball corruptions cases in 2019 as two more trials are supposed to happen in February and April. Former college coaches and others remain heavily involved as more information could be revealed if a plea agreement isn’t reached before trial.

(Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

10. Texas guard Andrew Jones returns to action following leukemia diagnosis

A very sad story turned into an uplifting one as Texas guard Andrew Jones continued a remarkable fight against leukemia.

Announced publicly on Jan. 10, Jones left the Longhorns to start chemotherapy as he spent the spring and summer recovering and working to get better. Along the way, Jones had encouraging signs of recovery, including his first dunk, practicing with Texas again, and finally entering his first game competition in November.

Jones played in two games early in the 2018-19 season and hasn’t appeared in a game since mid-November as he’s leaving the team for several weeks to continue treatment.

11. Buffalo smashes Arizona in NCAA tournament first-round upset to end a bizarre March for the Wildcats

Arizona had a truly bizarre final month to the season in 2017-18 as they had numerous highs and lows. The ride finally ended when No. 13 seed Buffalo completely ran the Wildcats out of the tournament with a stunning first round blowout.

But before one of the biggest upsets of the first round, Arizona looked like a potential national title contender after rolling through the Pac-12 Tournament after head coach Sean Miller’s triumphant return following reports that he was on potential wiretaps talking about payments star center Deandre Ayton.

Miller has remained on the Arizona sidelines since returning as Wildcat recruiting recovered nicely with multiple five-star prospects committed in the Class of 2019.

12. The Commission on College Basketball speaks

One of the responses to the FBI’s investigation into college basketball involved the formation of the Commission on College Basketball.

Headed by Condoleezza Rice, the Commission finally delivered its recommendations in late April, as they addressed many of the hot topics in the sport. Recruiting, shoe companies, agents, the one-and-done rule, the NBA Draft and summer basketball events were just some of the things touched on when the Commission dropped its findings and proposals.

The basketball world responded with deserved skepticism, as many of the changes called for other governing bodies outside of the NCAA to change rules to accommodate what’s best for college basketball. Amateurism was also one of the topics that wasn’t touched on. While the recruiting calendar has seen some changes in June and July, there haven’t been a lot of sweeping changes yet to other areas of the game.

Martin twins lead No. 5 Nevada over Loyola-Chicago 79-65

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CHICAGO (AP) — Caleb Martin had 21 points, twin brother Cody Martin scored 20 and No. 5 Nevada beat Loyola-Chicago 79-65 on Tuesday night in an NCAA Tournament rematch.

Loyola beat Nevada by one point in the NCAA South Regional semifinals last season — the only other meeting between these programs. That victory came during a stunning Final Four run for the Ramblers.

Caleb Martin scored 17 in the first half, helping the Wolf Pack (7-0) grab a 44-28 lead. The preseason All-American shot 8 of 13 in the game, including 3 for 6 on 3-pointers.

Cody Martin was 9 of 14 with seven assists.

Jordan Caroline had 15 points and six rebounds. Trey Porter added 14 points and 10 boards.

Marques Townes — who hit the decisive 3 in the closing seconds of that NCAA game — led Loyola (4-3) with a season-high 24 points, but the Ramblers dropped their second straight game.

Loyola great Jerry Harkness presented a Final Four ring to Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt — the now 99-year-old nun and team chaplain who charmed the nation during last season’s run — prior to the game. Nevada then did its best to put this one away in the early going.

With the Martins leading the way, the Wolf Pack shot 62.5 percent while building their 44-28 halftime lead.

They led 29-9 midway through the first half after a layup by Cody Martin. He also hit a 3 with 5:22 left to make it 38-18 before Loyola cut it to 12 in the closing minutes. The Ramblers’ Clayton Custer missed a 3 that would have made it a nine-point game. Caleb Martin hit a runner and Porter scored on a layup to get it back up to 16 with 14 seconds left in the half.

BIG PICTURE

Nevada: With its strength and quickness, Nevada dominated inside and on the perimeter, particularly in the early going. That led to another convincing victory for the Wolf Pack, who have won each game by at least 10 points.

Loyola: Though they have three starters back, the Ramblers are already halfway to last season’s loss total.

UP NEXT

Nevada: Visits USC on Saturday.

Loyola: Visits UIC on Saturday.

March magic still resonates for Loyola’s Sister Jean

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CHICAGO (AP) — Not a day goes by that Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt doesn’t think about the magic and madness of last March.

She recalls waking up in Dallas before Loyola-Chicago’s first NCAA Tournament game in 33 years and realizing: “Oh my goodness, this is for real. It’s not a dream.”

It sure seemed like one.

Loyola’s stunning run to the Final Four charmed the nation and turned a lovable nun and team chaplain into — as she puts it — an international celebrity at age 98. And as a new season approaches, Sister Jean can’t help but look back on all those shining moments.

“I said, ‘Just one day at a time,'” she said. “And that’s what I’ve done ever since, never dreaming that it would mushroom to — or never thinking that it would almost go on into the new season. But I have to tell you, I’ve had a lot of fun.”

The Ramblers went from afterthought to the national spotlight, winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to earn their first NCAA appearance since 1985 and then making their first Final Four since the 1963 championship team knocked down racial barriers. By the time they were through, they set a program record for victories at 32-6 and delivered more than a few magical moments.

From Dante Ingram’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Miami in the first NCAA game to a friendly bounce on Clayton Custer’s jumper in the closing seconds against Tennessee in the next round to Marques Townes’ decisive 3-pointer against Nevada in the Sweet 16, Loyola squeezed out one thrilling victory after another before losing to Michigan in the semifinals.

By then, Sister Jean was a star. There were bobbleheads and memes, even a shoutout from Barack Obama, the former president and Chicago resident. She was also interviewed on Good Morning America .

Sister Jean got to throw out a first pitch at a Cubs game in April. The crowd greeted her with loud cheers as she was wheeled out to the edge of the grass in front of the plate and she laughed as her underhand toss bounced several times.

“She’s very important to our team,” said Clayton Custer, the reigning Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. “I think she represents Loyola better than anybody could. I’m glad Sister Jean’s known — internationally — now.”

Center Cameron Krutwig said: “She’s always just encouraging us.”

Becoming a celebrity is something Sister Jean did not envision, yet it’s gratifying at the same time.

She mentioned the emails she receives from people expressing their appreciation for the team. There was a letter from a man saying he planned to go to church for the first time in 40 years because of the way the team conducted itself.

And there was this story a Loyola alum and father of two boys — ages 4 and 3 — told her.

“Some mornings, the 4-year-old says, ‘I’m not going to eat my cereal.’ And then of course, the 3-year-old says, ‘I’m not gonna eat my cereal, either,'” Sister Jean said. “And then the father looks up at the bobblehead that’s sitting on the windowsill and he says, ‘I’m not sure that Sister Jean would like that.’ And then the two of them started eating their cereal.

“I thought that was kind of a cute story to tell me.”

Born in San Francisco, Sister Jean joined the religious order of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1937. She taught and served as a principal while coaching various sports — including basketball — for two decades in California and Illinois before arriving in 1961 at Mundelein College, a Catholic all-girls school near Loyola’s campus along the lakefront on Chicago’s far North Side.

Sister Jean stayed on after Mundelein was incorporated into Loyola 30 years later. She retired from full-time work in 1994, though she became team chaplain that year and remained active on campus.

But she doesn’t just see herself as a role model for the young. She also sees herself as an example for other elderly people by remaining active and engaged.

Though she turned 99 in August, Sister Jean is still trying to walk again after experiencing a setback in her recovery from a broken hip last fall. She stays in a downtown facility, rehabbing six days a week for two hours, but remains active on campus.

She goes to her downtown office two days a week. And two other afternoons, she’s on the main campus along the lakefront on the city’s far North side.

“I’m still keeping my contact with the students,” Sister Jean said. “They’re the ones that keep me going so I can’t lose that. And as I look toward the coming season, I see how passionate these young men are. I do have great hope for them.”

The Ramblers start the season on the fringe of the AP Top 25 poll, just behind No. 25 Washington.