Overlooked Pac-12 teams making noise in NCAA Tournament

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After living on the fringes of the AP Top 25 during the regular season, Pac-12 teams are making a statement in the NCAA Tournament.

All five Pac-12 schools in the bracket advanced to the round of 32, including UCLA winning two games already. The 11th-seeded Bruins knocked off Michigan State in the First Four and then upset sixth-seeded BYU in the first round. It’s only the third time in conference history the Pac-12 has advanced five teams to the round of 32.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin said it’s about time the conference gets its due.

“You’re finding out that the Pac-12 not being ranked all year was an absolute joke,” Cronin said. “And some people ought to be ashamed of themselves. Now, maybe people (in the East) can’t stay up late, and I don’t blame them because I can’t either. So maybe people can’t stay up for our games.”

Oregon State, the Pac-12 Tournament champion, came in as a 12 seed and earned its first NCAA Tournament win in nearly four decades with a rout of fifth-seeded Tennessee. Fifth-seeded Colorado had no trouble with No. 12 Georgetown, and sixth-seeded USC took care of No. 11 Drake.

Seventh-seeded Oregon advanced after positive COVID-19 tests forced VCU out of the tournament.

The stacked Big 12 went 5-1 and would have run the table in the first round if third-seeded Texas hadn’t been upended by No. 14 Abilene Christian on Saturday night. The Big Ten went 6-2 but took some lumps. Second-seeded Ohio State was sent home by 15 Oral Roberts in the biggest upset of the opening round, and fourth-seeded Purdue fell to 13th-seeded North Texas.

The Big Ten misery continued when Illinois, the top seed in the Midwest, was beaten by eighth-seeded Loyola Chicago in the second round Sunday.


Ohio coach Jeff Boals says there’s plenty of room on the Bobcats bandwagon for everyone, including Buckeyes fans.

“We’ll take every Buckeye fan that wants to keep cheering,” Boals said a day after the West Region’s 13th-seeded Bobcats’ first-round upset of fourth-seeded Virginia left them the last Ohio-based school in the tournament.

“I think somewhere scarlet can turn into green,” he added, referring to Ohio State’s and Ohio’s colors.

Boals means that as no slight to Ohio State. The second-seeded Buckeyes lost 75-72 to 15th seed Oral Roberts on Friday.

Boals maintains a soft spot for the in-state rival after spending seven seasons as an assistant on Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State from 2009-16.

Matta attended the Bobcats’ win.

“It meant the world to me. I saw him before the game introduction and gave him a little fist bump,” Boals said. “I would not be here without him.”


Southern California coach Andy Enfield avoided mentioning UCLA when asked how a 72-56 win over Drake in the first round had the potential of increasing the Trojans’ presence back home.

Enfield said his team deserves the attention.

“We have 45 wins the last two years, which is third in the country behind Baylor and Kansas,” said Enfield, who was the Pac-12 coach of the year this season, the first USC coach to be so honored since George Raveling in 1992.

“So after a two-year break, this meant a lot to our program,” he added, noting the Trojans would likely have secured a berth last year with a 22-9 record had the tournament not been canceled because of the pandemic.

USC will face third-seeded Kansas on Monday.


First, a meeting with NCAA President Mark Emmert. Down the road, maybe an audience with President Joe Biden.

Those are among the hopes of Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon. He’s among the players leading the way in a social media effort to raise awareness about inequities in college sports.

Bohannon, Isaiah Livers of Michigan and Geo Baker of Rutgers helped start a movement that calls for rules changes. The hashtag (hash)NotNCAAProperty was trending on social media.

Bohannon promised other ideas moving forward. He said the players involved in the campaign are hoping to meet with Emmert within the next few weeks.

“It’s really important what we did, to continue to create awareness,” Bohannon said. “You saw from the women’s standpoint, a couple days ago, the women speaking out about the weight room being different. If you look at that, that was just absolutely ridiculous. Look at Mark Emmert, he was nowhere to be found to answer any questions. … At the end of the day, a leader’s got to step up and lead and he wasn’t there again to state his reasoning behind it all.”

Emmert is open to the conversation.

An NCAA spokesperson said in a statement Sunday that the NCAA chief “would be happy to connect either virtually or in person when appropriate with any student-athletes who want to engage.”


The underdogs from Oregon State got into the spirit of playing at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Hours before their game against Oklahoma State on Sunday, the Beavers posted a video on Twitter of 7-foot-1 center Roman Silva carrying 6-3 guard Gianni Hunt over to the basket to measure the rim’s height. Coach Wayne Tinkle also helped with the measuring.

It was an homage to a scene in the movie “Hoosiers” that was shot at Hinkle.

West Virginia, others overcome obstacles to get to NCAAs

Bob Huggins hugs Bob Faulkner
Alex Martin, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Enquirer

Two days apart in late December, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins got a double dose of bad news: A promising freshman was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Then one of the few five-star recruits in program history quit the team.

Huggins needed to make some fast adjustments. The ensuing roster tweaks helped the Mountaineers get through a rugged Big 12 season and has put them on solid ground entering the NCAA Tournament.

In a season full of adversity and challenges, in addition to dodging the usual stops and starts of the coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia didn’t just survive.

It got better.

“It changed the way we played,” Huggins said Wednesday. “But I think it changed the way we played for a positive.”

The Mountaineers (18-9) earned a No. 3 seed and will play 14th-seeded Morehead State (23-7) on Friday night in Indianapolis.

West Virginia wasn’t alone in adapting on the fly. Look at Florida’s resolve after losing Keyontae Johnson to a health scare, Drake losing two key players to injury in February or Ohio University pushing through a long pandemic pause to win the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The decision to quit by 260-pound Oscar Tshiebwe, one of the Big 12’s top freshmen a year ago, wasn’t as big a surprise to West Virginia as his production: Tshiebwe’s scoring and rebounding were down compared to a year ago by the time he left.

Like Tshiebwe, 6-foot-10 freshman Isaiah Cottrell could attack the rim and was a solid passer. Cottrell gave the Mountaineers some valuable minutes off the bench before he got hurt.

West Virginia was 8-2 at the time. Huggins decided to use a group of talented guards along with redshirt freshman forward Jalen Bridges to spread out opposing defenses who otherwise had packed the lane trying to fend off the tandem of Tshiebwe and forward Derek Culver.

West Virginia allowed an average of seven more points per game after Tshiebwe’s exit, although that coincided with the conference schedule that included six ranked opponents.

“The reality is, is when Oscar left, we became a much better offensive team,” Huggins said.

Culver, with more room to roam without Tshiebwe, recorded 11 double-doubles. Bridges replaced Tshiebwe in the starting lineup and brought an outside scoring touch.

Sophomore guard Miles McBride became the team’s leading scorer, had a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and tied for the Big 12 lead with 49 steals. Taz Sherman, a senior coming off the bench, more than doubled his scoring average from a year ago.

“I’ve got to give it to our coaches,” McBride said. “They always have a plan for, honestly, anything. We came together as a team. Everybody knew they had to step up, top to bottom.”

Johnson, the Southeastern Conference preseason player of the year, collapsed on the court during a Dec. 12 game. The Gators postponed their next four contests and Johnson was released from a hospital 10 days later.

With Johnson out for the season, the Gators went 11-8 the rest of the way. Sophomore Tre Mann took over the team scoring lead, including four of his top five performances heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Mann’s role “has continued to grow here over the course of this year, and he continues to get better,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Hopefully, he can finish really strong.”

Florida (19-12) is a No. 7 seed and will meet 10th-seeded Virginia Tech (15-6) on Friday.

The Hokies have had plenty of their own ups and downs. They’ve played just three games over the past five weeks due to COVID-19 issues.

Backup guard Cartier Diarra, a Kansas State graduate transfer, opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Second-leading scorer and rebounder Tyrece Radford served a four-game suspension after a January arrest. Jalen Cone has not played since a Feb. 6 ankle injury.

Drake (25-4) won its first 18 games, then lost leading scorer and rebounder ShanQuan Hemphill and point guard Roman Penn to foot injuries two weeks apart. The Bulldogs lost three of their final nine games yet still made the tournament.

For Ohio, the problem wasn’t a grueling stretch of games, but simply a lack of them.

With fresh legs, the Bobcats won their first MAC championship since 2012 after playing three times over 36 days prior to the league tournament due to pandemic-related postponements or cancellations.

“The most proud I am of this group is their character, what they’ve been able to go through in the last month-and-a-half to get to this point,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. “This group is going to have a memory of a lifetime now.”

Don’t count them out in the Big Dance, either. The Bobcats lost at Illinois by a basket, 77-75, on Nov. 27. They’re a 13 seed and will meet fourth-seeded Virginia (18-6) on Saturday night.

Bobcats forward Ben Vander Plas doesn’t have to look far for postseason advice. His father, Dean, and sister, Taylor, also played in the NCAA Tournament.

“For both of them, it’s their greatest basketball memory,” Vander Plas said. “To be able to do it with this team, I’m just so excited.”

Dosunmu scores 24 as No. 8 Illinois holds off Ohio 77-75

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Ayo Dosunmu scored 24 points, Kofi Cockburn had 13 points and 11 rebounds and No. 8 Illinois rallied to beat Ohio 77-75 on Friday.

It was Cockburn’s 15th double-double in 35 games for Illinois (3-0).

Jason Preston scored 31 points for Ohio (2-1). Ben Vander Plas added 20 points and Dwight Wilson scored 12 for the Bobcats.

“Preston is a very, very good guard and I think we saw that today,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s an NBA talent.”

Ohio coach Jeff Boals agreed: “We know what Jason can do and today the nation saw that.”

Ohio went ahead 71-67 on Preston’s free throw with 1:56 remaining. Dosunmu tied it at 71 with a 3-pointer and Da’Monte Williams put Illinois ahead 74-73 on a 3 with 35 seconds left.

Wilson hit a jumper with 7.9 seconds left to give Ohio its last lead. After a timeout, Dosumnu was fouled going to the basket and sank both free throws to put Illinois up 76-75 with 2 seconds remaining.

“They drew up a great play,” Dosunmu said of the coaching decision to get him the ball inside. “I just wanted to get to the rim and it ended up successful and I made two free throws.”

Trent Frazier stole the inbounds pass and was fouled with less than a second left. Frazier sank the first free throw and missed the second on purpose to eat up time. Ohio got off a last-ditch shot from mid-court that fell well short.

Williams and Adam Miller added 11 points each for Illinois.

Illinois was 20 of 58 (48%) from the field, while Ohio was 31 of 65 (48%).


Ohio forced Illinois into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers while only committing seven.

“We have to execute better,” Underwood said. “I was extremely frustrated with our turnovers today, obviously. They’re mental and it’s something we need to get out of minds.”


Ohio hung with the Illini throughout a first half that saw numerous lead changes. Illinois went on a 9-0 run to take a 30-21 lead but Ohio rallied with 10 straight points, going ahead 31-30 on a 3-pointer by Preston, who had 20 points at the half.

Illinois battled back and led 35-34 at the break.

“I think we played well enough to win today,” Boals said. “I’m proud of our guys. They fought hard and showed some real toughness today.”


Illinois struggled to find its rhythm on offense early in the game, but its smothering defense led by Frazier kept it close.

Illinois was coming off two easy wins and may have taken Ohio for granted while also looking ahead to its road matchup with No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday.

“Lesson learned,” Underwood said.


Illinois narrowly averted a disastrous upset that would have likely cost it a top 10 spot. As it stands, Illinois took care of business, winning all three games of a three-day, four-team event as expected and could move up in the poll after No. 4 Virginia’s loss.


Ohio: The Bobcats aren’t due to play again until Dec. 13, when they travel to Marshall.

Illinois: The Illini get one of their biggest tests of their season against Baylor.