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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.

VIDEO: Patsos shakes imaginary hands after Rider storms off court

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Apparently unhappy with how the game unfolded late, Rider decided against the traditional handshake line Tuesday in its 78-68 loss to Siena.

That didn’t stop Saints coach Jimmy Patsos from going through with it anyway.

The animosity apparently extends from the ejections of Siena’s Marquis Wright and Rider’s Anthony Durham following an altercation between the two, according to the Times-Union. Both Patsos and Rider coach Kevin Baggett were also hit with technicals. Baggett, who had to be held back by assistants, apparently had words with Wright.

Theatrics aside, the win was the fourth-straight for Patsos’ Saints after a 1-3 start to MAAC play. Lavon Long had 29 points to lead the way. Rider has now dropped three in a row and is 4-4 in the league.

Update:

Baggett told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman he elected to immediately remove his team from the court “because I didn’t want anything to escalate again between the teams. That’s my prerogative to protect my team whether anyone else thinks it’s good sportsmanship or not.”

MAAC Preview: Resurgent programs look to join familiar contenders

Iona's Kelvin Amayo, Manhattan's RaShawn Stores (AP Photo)
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the MAAC.

The 2014-15 season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference produced two repeat performances: Iona won its second straight MAAC regular season title, but once again they fell to rival Manhattan in the MAAC tournament title game. The two programs, separated by about ten miles, have been the class of the MAAC recently and, given the returnees in New Rochelle and Riverdale, it would surprise no one if the Gaels and Jaspers once again fought it out for the title.

Iona returns four starters from last season’s team, led by senior guard A.J. English, who averaged 20.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. English should once again be one of the nation’s best scorers, and with sophomore guard Shadrac Casimir coming off of a season in which he was named the MAAC’s best rookie Iona can make a claim of having the conference’s most explosive scoring tandem. Add in Isaiah Williams and Kelvin Amayo, and head coach Tim Cluess has the combination of skill and experience that coaches desire.

Iona’s one key loss was an important one, as forward David Laury IV, 2015 MAAC Player of the Year, was an incredibly versatile player who ranked second on the team in scoring (19.8 ppg) and first in rebounding (9.7 rpg) and blocked shots (45 blocks). How players such as James Madison transfer Taylor Bessick, Wake Forest transfer Aaron Rountree and Indian Hills CC transfer Jordan Washington perform in the paint will have a significant impact on the Gaels’ fortunes throughout the season.

As for Manhattan, Steve Masiello received great news in July when the NCAA granted the team’s heart and soul, point guard Rashawn Stores, a fifth year of eligibility. Stores’ return may not jump out to some who focus solely on stats, but there’s no denying the impact that he has on the Jaspers as a leader. With experienced players such as senior Shane Richards and junior Rich Williams also back, not to mention a forward in junior Jermaine Lawrence who they’ll need to be more productive in his second season in the Manhattan program, the Jaspers have enough to contend if not win the MAAC.

All that said, entering the 2015-16 season it’s clear that there are other programs capable of challenging those two and winning the MAAC themselves.

When discussing other possible contenders, three immediately jump out: Monmouth, Rider and Siena. King Rice’s Hawks took a needed step forward defensively last season, and with Oklahoma transfer Je’lon Hornbeak and fellow guard Micah Seaborn — a non-qualifier last year — eligible, Monmouth adds two talented options capable of having an immediate impact. They’ll join a group anchored by leading scorers Justin Robinson and Deon Jones, and if Monmouth can find enough production in the paint, the Hawks will be a team to watch.

Just over an hour away in Lawrenceville, N.J., sits a Rider program that won 21 games and finished second in the MAAC last season under head coach Kevin Baggett. The Broncs welcome back three starters from that team led by guards Teddy Okereafor and Jimmie Taylor, but the key for this team will be the progression of forwards Xavier Lundy and Khalil Thomas. One of Rider’s personnel losses was center Matt Lopez, a first team All-MAAC performer who led the team in both scoring and rebounding a season ago.

While other contenders have a key personnel loss to focus on entering 2015-16, Siena’s key boils down to two words: stay healthy. Brett Bisping played in just six games due to injury and center Imoh Silas being lost before the season even began due to a torn ACL. Of Siena’s top nine scorers only three — Marquis Wright, Javion Ogunyemi and Ryan Oliver — managed to play in all 31 games. With most of that rotation back, head coach Jimmy Patsos has a group that’s capable of contending. The x-factor for the Saints is Ogunyemi, who is waiting to see if he will be available to play. He initially transferred to Boston University this offseason before returning to Siena.

While Canisius will have to account for the loss of three of its top four scorers, led by guard Zach Lewis, Jim Baron has some players who can help the Golden Griffins emerge as a sleeper of sorts in the MAAC. Central Connecticut State transfer Malcolm McMillan, who averaged 10.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a junior in 2013-14, joins the ranks with forwards Phil Valenti and Jermaine Crumpton among the returnees.

Teams such as Marist (guard Khalid Hart) and Fairfield (forward Marcus Gilbert) have individual talents whose names will be on the end of season all-conference team lists come March, which should make for an entertaining (and challenging) 20-game slate for each MAAC team. In each of the last three seasons the same two rivals have faced off with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. And while Iona and Manhattan will be expected to extend that streak to four, there’s no doubt that others are capable of claiming the MAAC title as their own.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • Favorite: “There are four or five teams looking to accomplish what Iona and Manhattan have [in recent years]. But from a recognition standpoint you can’t talk about the MAAC without talking about Manhattan and Iona, because they’re the teams that have [been successful].”
  • Sleeper: “I think Canisius is always a dangerous team. One thing about Jim Baron is that he always gets his guys to play above the level that they’re supposed to, and I think that’s a gift. He’s done a great job of that throughout his career, and when he has the talent that’s supposed to win he wins. And when he’s had talent that made you say ‘I don’t know how good they’re going to be,’ he wins then too.
  • Star to watch: “I think there are a number of guys. Obviously A.J. (English) has a great résumé in terms of what he’s accomplished; from a numbers standpoint he’s accomplished a lot of great things. I think a guy who could have a monster year is (Marist PG) Khalid Hart. I just think he’s a special young man who can really go.”

PRESEASON MAAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: A.J. English, Iona

As one of the nation’s best scorers English averaged 20.1 points per contest as a junior. But he isn’t simply a shooter/scorer either, as English also accounted for 5.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. The ability to be productive in multiple areas is one reason why English has been on the receiving end of attention from NBA scouts.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-MAAC TEAM:

  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth: Monmouth’s best team since joining the MAAC will be led by Robinson, who averaged 13.4 points and 3.6 assists per game in a first team All-MAAC 2014-15 campaign.
  • Shadrac Casimir, Iona: One of the best perimeter shooters in the MAAC, Casimir shot 42.3 percent from three and averaged 14.5 ppg as a freshman.
  • Shane Richards, Manhattan: Richards averaged 13.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season, and his role gets even larger with the departures of Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey.
  • Marcus Gilbert, Fairfield: A third team All-MAAC selection last season, Gilbert averaged 16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @ryanarestivo

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Iona
2. Manhattan
3. Monmouth
4. Rider
5. Siena
6. Canisius
7. Marist
8. Fairfield
9. Quinnipiac
10. Niagara
11. Saint Peter’s

MAAC announces change to conference tournament format

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For conferences in which at-large bids to the NCAA tournament are tough to come by, the conference tournament is an incredibly important event. With that being the case, some leagues have looked give their top teams in the regular season an advantage when it comes to the conference tournament setup.

For some that advantage comes in the form of home court advantage, while others may do things such as advance their top seeds to the semifinals of the event. Thursday afternoon the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which in the past rewarded its top two seeds with a bye into the semifinals, announced that it has changed the format for its men’s and women’s conference tournaments.

Both tournaments, which are held at the same site (the Times Union Center, Siena’s home court in Albany, New York), will begin on Thursday, March 2 with three first round games in the women’s tournament followed by three games in the men’s bracket. The biggest change comes on Friday, with the top two seeds in both brackets taking the court against the winners of the 8/9 and 7/10 games respectively.

“The vote for the revised format was 9-1-1, with Manhattan opposed and Quinnipiac abstaining,” MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said in the release.  “The format change has been accepted by the Times Union Center (Albany, NY) which is hosting the 2016 & 2017 championships under a current three-year contract.”

And the winners of those games get a day off ahead of Sunday’s semifinals, which could especially pay dividends for teams that aren’t especially deep. News of a format change was first reported by the Asbury Park Press on Tuesday, and the paper got some comments from Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello.

And it’s safe to say that he isn’t all too thrilled with the timing of this change.

“I can’t recall a time when some changes happen within eight, nine months. Why not wait until the next contract?,” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello told the Asbury Park Press via phone on Thursday afternoon.

“Basically, to have this changed, I have yet to get an answer why, which is what I find very puzzling. I think maybe people are tired of Manhattan and they don’t want to talk about that elephant in the room, our style and our depth. We’ve been to three title games in three years, back-to-back winners in two. I have a feeling that people didn’t like that because maybe we weren’t supposed to be there.”

The MAAC’s contract with the Times Union Center runs through the 2017 MAAC tournaments. Next year’s MAAC tournament schedule breaks down as follows:

Thursday, March 
Women’s First Round
9:30 a.m. 8 seed vs. 9 seed
11:30 a.m. 7 seed vs. 10 seed
1:30 p.m. 6 seed vs. 11 seed

Men’s First Round
5:00 p.m. 8 seed vs. 9 seed
7:00 p.m. 7 seed vs. 10 seed
9:00 p.m. 6 seed vs. 11 seed

Friday, March 4
Women’s Quarterfinals
12:00 p.m. 1 seed vs. 8/9 winner
2:30 p.m. 2 seed vs. 7/10 winner

Men’s Quarterfinals
7:00 p.m. 1 seed vs. 8/9 winner
9:30 p.m. 2 seed vs. 7/10 winner

Saturday, March 5
Women’s Quarterfinals
12:00 p.m. 3 seed vs. 6/11 winner
2:30 p.m. 4 seed vs. 5 seed

Men’s Quarterfinals
7:00 p.m. 3 seed vs. 6/11 winner
9:30 p.m. 4 seed vs. 5 seed

Sunday, March 6
Women’s Semifinals
11:00 a.m. 1/8/9 winner vs. 4/5 winner
1:30 p.m. 2/7/10 winner vs. 3/6/11 winner

Men’s Semifinals
4:30 p.m. 1/8/9 winner vs. 4/5 winner
7:00 p.m. 2/7/10 winner vs. 3/6/11 winner

Monday, March 7
Women’s Championship 
Semifinal winners, Time TBD

Men’s Championship
Semifinal winners, Time TBD

Maryland headlines field for 2015 Cancun Challenge

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Another in-season tournament for the 2015-16 season has finalized its field, as the eight teams that will participate in the Cancun Challenge were announced Wednesday. Leading the way is Maryland, a team seen by many as the early favorites to win the Big Ten.

Head coach Mark Turgeon welcomes back key contributors such as guard Melo Trimble and forward Jake Layman, and he’ll also add both size and skill in the front court with the arrival of Diamond Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter Jr. being eligible after sitting out last season. Maryland, which is also the only team in the field to make the NCAA tournament last season, is joined in the Riviera Division by Illinois State, Rhode Island and TCU.

Maryland will face Illinois State in one of the Riviera Division semifinals November 24, with TCU and Rhode Island meeting in the other semifinal. The championship and third-place games will be played the following day.

Of those three expectations are highest for Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island squad, which won 23 games and played in the Postseason NIT last season. Rising juniors E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin return, as does rising sophomore Jared Terrell, and the Rams have some solid additions joining the rotation as well.

Illinois State just missed out on the NCAA tournament, losing to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title game, and TCU looks to account for the loss of point guard Kyan Anderson. Each of the four teams in the Riviera Division will play two home games against squads in the Mayan Division: Cleveland State, Houston Baptist, Rider and South Dakota State.

South Dakota State, which reached the Summit League title game last season, faces Houston Baptist in one Mayan Division semi with Cleveland State and Rider meeting in the other November 24 in Cancun.

Below is the complete schedule of games, with those being played in Cancun (November 24 & 25) in italics.

Nov. 19 – Houston Baptist at TCU; South Dakota State at Illinois State
Nov. 20 – Rider at Maryland
Nov. 21 – Cleveland State at Rhode Island
Nov. 24 – Mayan Division: South Dakota State vs. Houston Baptist; Rider vs. Cleveland State
Nov. 24 – Riviera Division: TCU vs. Rhode Island; Illinois State vs. Maryland
Nov. 25 – Mayan Division: Third-place and Championship games
Nov. 25 – Riviera Division: Third-place and Championship games
Nov. 28 – Cleveland State at Maryland
Nov. 29 – Rider at Rhode Island

MAAC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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AP

With the Gaels and the Jaspers lined up on opposite sides of the bracket, are we in for a Iona-Manhattan MAAC Tournament championship game for the third straight March?

The rivals have split the last two tournament titles with Iona reaching a second-consecutive NCAA tournament in 2013 and Manhattan punching its ticket for the Big Dance for the first in a decade last year. Rider, the No. 2 seed, is without star big man Matt Lopez for the rest of the season while Monmouth and Canisius look to replicate success against the MAAC’s elite again this season.

If we do see Manhattan and Iona for the third time this season, you won’t hear any complaints from me. The teams have met twice with Iona winning both games by a combined seven points.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

Bracket

source:

When: March 5, 7-9

Where: Times Union Center (Albany, New York)

Final: March 9, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Iona

The Gaels have two guys in line for the MAAC Player of Year in A.J. English and David Laury, Schadrac Casimir, who should be the unanimous choice for MAAC Rookie of the Year and last week got back Isaiah Williams, who is also averaging double figures.

And if they lose?: Manhattan

Like mentioned above, the Jaspers play their rival tight, including a three-point win in last year’s MAAC Tournament championship game. The Jaspers can’t look ahead to March 14 because they’ll likely get Quinnipiac, which has been a torn in their side, in the quarterfinals.

Sleepers:

  • Rider: Odd that the Broncs are being referred to as a sleeper as the No. 2 seed, but they might be written off heading into postseason play after Matt Lopez tore his ACL last week. He was leading the team in scoring and rebounding.
  • Monmouth: The Mountain Hawks have already defeated Iona once this season — losing by one-point in the rematch. It’s worth noting, the No. 4 seed has reached the MAAC Tournament title game in three of the last four years.

Player of the Year: A.J. English, Iona

He’s not even his team’s leading scorer, but he’s the conference’s best player who is luring NBA scouts to New Rochelle. The 6-foot-4 junior scoring guard is top-3 in the MAAC in scoring at 19.5 points per game, grabbed 5.2 rebounds and dished out a conference-best 5.2 assists per game.

Coach of the Year: Kevin Baggett, Rider

The Broncs were picked to finish seventh in the MAAC preseason poll and enter’s the MAAC Tournament in March as the No. 2 seed. Rider led the conference in defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com, and head to Albany winners of seven of its last eight.

All-MAAC team:

  • English
  • David Laury, Iona: The leading scorer for the Gaels averaged 20.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
  • Emmy Andujar, Manhattan: One the more versatile mid-major wings led the Jaspers in points (16.5), rebounds (7.5), assists (3.5) and steals (2.1).
  • Zaid Hearst, Quinnipiac: Top-4 in the conference in scoring at 18.4 points per game. The 6-foot-4 guard also corralled 6.2 boards per game.
  • Ousmane Drame, Quinnipiac: Averaged a double-double this season — 14.4 points and 10.8 rebounds — to go along a conference-leading 3.0 blocks per game. Registered double-doubles in 12 MAAC games.

CBT Prediction: Iona over Manhattan