NCAA Tournament: Is South Carolina Winning a Fluke?

Is it a Fluke that South Carolina is Still Dancing?

Everyone is wondering how South Carolina made it to the Sweet 16. In fact, only five percent of brackets had them making it this far, and 2.1 percent of those people picked the Baylor-South Carolina matchup. Not many people expected them to get here. Honestly, this small percentage could just be loyal fans that picked them out of obligation.

In the first round, the Gamecocks defeated Marquette 93-73. In the second round they took care of Duke with a seven-point margin, beating the Blue Devils 88-81. Here are three reasons why it is not a fluke and how they’ll match up with Baylor.

1. Coach Frank Martin has done his Homework

Following the win on Sunday night Coach Frank Martin said he was impressed by his team’s fortitude.

“I am unbelievably proud of my guys and they have become mentally-tough as mentally-tough can be,” Martin said.

This team and their recent wins aren’t a byproduct of luck.

Coach Martin has put in his time. His philosophies on offense and defense have been developed over time. They were implemented at Kansas State University where he was Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2010 and have now carried over to South Carolina.

He preaches an early offense attack. This means that in order to have success in scoring, you have to run and run all the time, not just when you are up.

The other benefit of having a high-energy pace all the time, is that the defense has to foul in order to slow it down. As a result, the Gamecocks have shot 799 free throws this season and made 556 of them.

When asked about his defense, he commented on modeling it after past, legendary Duke teams. He knows that defense leads to his fast-paced offense. He stresses not letting the opposing team set up plays, because then you are already beat. Make the other team work for their points.

2. they are peaking at the right time

The Gamecocks finished off the regular season with back-to-back losses to Ole Miss and Alabama. They also went 4-6 on the last 10 games of the season. Now they are playing some of the best basketball that fans have seen all season.

Despite being down in the first half against Duke, the team rallied to score 65 points in the second half. South Carolina out rebounded the Blue Devils 37-34 and had 10 more shots overall. Duke turned over the ball 18 times while the Gamecocks limited themselves to 11 turnovers.

NCAA Tournament: Is South Carolina Winning a fluke?

P.J. Dozier brings the ball up the court for South Carolina (WLTX.com)

South Carolina wants it more. That was evident in their second half effort against Duke. Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. Duane Notice also scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half. P.J. Dozier has also been giving good production for the Gamecocks and freshman Maik Kotsar struggled with Duke but added seven points against Marquette.

The Gamecocks are in fact playing some of the best defense in the country. As many coaches say, “defense propels the offensive end of the floor.”

Sindarius Thornwell has made this obvious as he scored 24 points in the second round against Duke while pulling down six rebounds. It’s the same story for Marquette as he scored 29 points while grabbing 11 rebounds and getting three steals.

If South Carolina can keep up the defensive prowess, than there isn’t any reason they can’t move on past Baylor.

3. Possible Home Court advantage

Anyone who says home-court advantage isn’t a factor, probably hasn’t played in a true home environment. Madison Square Garden is closer to South Carolina than Baylor and fan base is everything in a big game.

Let’s go back to Duke for example. The second round game was played in Greenville, South Carolina roughly two hours from the Gamecocks’ campus. In other words, it was practically a home game and that environment definitely didn’t help Duke.

South Carolina fans have every reason to be at this game. The program isn’t exactly known for its tournament history. Two years ago they didn’t make it to the NIT and last year they lost in the second round of the NIT. Coming into the weekend, South Carolina had not won a NCAA tournament game in 44 years.

Needless to say, South Carolina should have some serious backing in New York.

baylor matchup

Unfortunately South Carolina is a young team, as they have a lot of freshman. The past two games have proved that they can play on the big stage, but will the success continue for another game?

The Gamecocks have in fact taken it upon themselves to keep winning. Coach Martin told his players, “We are not responsible for the drought but we are responsible for this moment.”

His players can be the ones to keep making history.

This is compared to a Baylor team who has been in the spotlight all year long, and rightfully so. They have some very impressive guys but they have also had some scoring droughts.

Jake Trotter commented, “Superior talent allowed them to overcome such dry spells in their first two tournament games, but that won’t be easy moving forward.”

NCAA Tournament: Is South Carolina winning a fluke?

Johnathan Motley finishes a dunk for Baylor (Photo courtesy of Houston Chronicle)

Baylor’s lengthy zone can be intimidating and the combination of Johnathan Motley, Manu Lecomte and Jo-Laul Acuil Jr. is also reason for fear. However, South Carolina isn’t necessarily the underdog.

If Baylor can establish a good inside game to pair with their three-point shooting, they will be hard to stop. On the other hand, if Thornwell can have another game for himself with some help then South Carolina is equally as deadly.

Make sure you are watching 7:29pm ET on TBS to see all the action.

 

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Players That Can Lead Their Team to an Upset Victory in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

The best part of the NCAA Tournament year in and year out are the upsets. The unheralded team knocks off the national powerhouse and goes down in history. Every team that pulls off the upset has a player that leads them to victory. C.J. McCollum scored 30 points on Duke in Lehigh’s upset. Sherwood Brown dropped a total of 41 points in Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16.

Not all upsets have to be extreme as a 15 seed beating a two seed, like the ones previously mentioned, but every upset needs a star. Here are some players that can be that catalyst for their team:

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier Musketeers

The Xavier Musketeers are a popular pick to beat Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers will be without point guard Edmond Sumner, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. If they do pull off the upset it will be in no doubt because of Bluiett.

Bluiett is averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 44% from the floor. He has the ability to get hot in an instant and can go from no points to 20 within minutes as a classic shooter, who hardly ever drives to the basket. Bluiett has been in the NCAA Tournament before, but has yet to score more than 10 points in a game in five career tournament games.

His crowning moment this year was his performance against cross-town rival Cincinnati. He scored 40 points on 12 of 15 shooting. He made nine of 11 three pointers in that game, in an unbelievable shooting night. Xavier ended up losing the game, but had he gotten more shots up, things could’ve been different.

With not having scored a lot in the NCAA Tournament, Bluiett is going to have all the motivation he needs to have a good game and lead his team to victory.

Chris Flemmings, UNC Wilmington

Flemmings has one of the best backstories in college basketball. He had to email UNC Wilmington to get a chance to play for them after playing at nearby Barton College, a division II school. Last season he came close to helping the Seahawks pull off an upset over Duke with 18 points.

Chris Flemmings

Photo courtesy: foxsports.com

UNC Wilmington has made it back to the dance and Flemmings has had another good season. He has averaged 15.8 points per game on 47% shooting. He hasn’t been as good at defense, as last year, but that is because he is tasked with guarding bigger players all the time. The Seahawks lack height and Flemmings usually has to pick up the slack by guarding power forwards.

The first round match-up for UNC Wilmington will be tough as they play an elite defensive team in Virginia. Flemmings will need to score a lot (which may not be as much as usual against such a good defensive team), and guard players bigger than him well.

JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee

After starting his career at Arkansas, Williams has played his last year of eligibility at Middle Tennessee. He didn’t do much with The Razorbacks, playing behind Bobby Portis and only averaging 4.8 points per game his junior season.

Williams sat out last season because of the NCAA transfer rules, but has been lighting up the scoreboard for the Blue Raiders this season. He is averaging 17.3 points per game and has given them another big presence in the paint, averaging 7.3 rebounds. He is shooting 54 percent on the season, which is about the percentage that will be needed for Middle Tennessee to advance.

The Blue Raiders will need him to be at his best, as they are playing a Minnesota team that has a lot of size. He may not need to score every basket, but does need to find the open man, if the Golden Gophers choose to double him in the post.

Keon Johnson, Winthrop

Johnson is one of the shortest players in college basketball at 5 feet 7 inches tall, but can score with the best of them. He is by far the most important player for the Eagles.

Keon Johnson

Photo courtesy: whri.com

His average of 22.5 points per game is good enough for 10th in the country. He steps up in big games, scoring 38 at Illinois and 24 at Dayton. Johnson is shooting 40% from behind the arc, but also does his part getting to the basket to amass his points.

Butler is an above average defensive team, but Johnson should be able to get his shots up. If he converts, Winthrop can take Butler to the wire.

Marcus Marshall, Nevada

Nevada has been a trendy pick to pick Iowa State and Marshall is the reason why. Marshall played his first three seasons at Missouri State before transferring to Nevada.

Marshall averages 19.8 points per game and hits 3.3 three point field goals per game. He scored 32 points at Washington, against future top draft pick Markelle Fultz. He can score against premier talent and will have to do so against Iowa State.

He will be matched up against Monte Morris, one of the best point guards in the country. If he can match him shot for shot, Nevada has a chance to win.

 

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NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Tournament Time: Who You Should Cheer For

As Dick Vitale would say, “It’s tournament time baby!” I don’t know who is more excited, the fans or the players. Even if your team didn’t make it to the dance, there is still a lot to cheer for.

I know the term bandwagon fan carries a lot of negative connotation, however for bragging rights, you want to be cheering for the right teams. Now fair warning, these might not be the teams that have the best statistics or record. Half of the battle is figuring out how the bracket is set up, which has a large impact on how teams do rather if it is admitted or not. Here are the teams to root for if yours didn’t make the cut.

The underdog: Middle Tennessee State

The beauty of tournament time is that anyone can win on any given day. Pay attention to the season statistics but also expect the unexpected when the final buzzer sounds.

Middle Tennessee State is that Cinderella team that could get out of the first round and surprise us all. The Blue Raiders are 20-1 in its last 21 games and they only have three underclassmen. So if they want it to happen, this is the year to do it.

Their team is ranked in the top 50 for overall defensive efficiency. All four of their losses this season have been relatively close and they only allow 63.3 points per game (ranked 21st). Let’s not forget MTSU beat Michigan State last year and could very well do the same to Minnesota.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Root For

Giddy Potts of Middle Tennessee State (DNJ.com)

Giddy Potts is leading the charge for his talented squad. Potts is averaging 15.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game. What makes him special is his work effort and ability to score at all three levels consistently.

He was named MVP for their conference tournament after putting up 30 points against Marshall. Potts is the guy who will hit contested threes, but burn his opponent with a quick first step if they close out too hard.

Potts may be getting buckets, but he isn’t out on an island. He has the help of JaCorey Williams who is shooting 54.1 percent from the field right now.

Reggie Upshaw and Tyrik Dixon are also contributing large minutes and statistics for the Blue Raiders.

After beating Minnesota, the Blue Raiders will take on either Butler or Winthrop. Butler is a good tournament team and known for upsets in the past, but Middle Tennessee State has proven to be a tough team.

Keep an eye on notre dame

The Irish have proven to be a wholesome team over the duration of this season. They are coming off a close loss to Duke which should propel them throughout the tournament.

The key to success for Notre Dame is sharing the ball. They are 37th in the nation for assists, averaging 16 per game. They have strength at all positions and when they share the ball, they can’t be stopped.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Bonzie Colson of Notre Dame (Photo Credit to Zimbio.com)

If Bonzie Colson is having a game for himself, Notre Dame is just as good as any team in nation. Duke may have won the ACC tournament but Colson put up 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds in a stellar performance.

Colson isn’t putting on a one man show though. Matt Ferrell is a special point guard dishing out 5.5 assists per game and shooting 41.3 percent from behind the arc.

The Irish are killer from behind the arc because of Ferrell and a few other key players. Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem are shooting over 36 percent from three-point range. This will be tough to guard for their opponents.

The Irish often are over looked when it comes to tournament time. Last year they made it to the Elite 8 and lost to UNC. This year they have a better record coming out of regular season play and more experience.

Arizona deserves a lot more respect than they’re getting

All of the talk regarding the PAC-12 has been about UCLA mostly because of Lonzo Ball and his father’s interesting comments. Most recently LaVar Ball said he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan in his hay day and his son is better than Steph Curry. One could see why the press would jump on that. UCLA is also ranked 78th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to pre tourney data (kenpom.com) which is a weakness for sure.

However the real team to watch from the PAC-12 is Arizona. They just won the conference tournament, and beat Oregon and UCLA to do so. They likely won’t see any true competition until the Sweet Sixteen if they play to the best of their ability.

Right now it’s the combination of Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier that are making offense flow for the Wildcats. Markkanen is a freshman with the skills to play inside and out. Trier is basically doing it all from scoring and rebounding to distributing the ball. Both guys are shooting over 40% from behind the arc.

The team itself is highly efficient from three point and on offense in general. Their top five player of Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen, Rawie Alkins, Dusan Ristic and Kadeem Allen are all shooting over 37% from three-point land. They are also all over 44% from the field. Not only that, they also allow only 65.4 points per game on the defensive end.

The west is a tough region but the Wildcats have the personnel to do some damage.

Iowa state could go far in the midwest

Lots of people are saying that Kansas has a cake walk to the National Championship game. Everyone seems to forget that Iowa State has gone 10-2 in its last 12 games including a road win against Kansas.

They beat Miami early on in the regular season. They only lost to Baylor by two early on, then beat them by three in late February. The Cyclones also beat Kansas in overtime in early February as previously mentioned. To sum up, they have the heart and the gumption to beat some high caliber competition.

NCAA Tournament Teams to Cheer For

Monte Morris flexes on the baseline after a big play (Photo Credits to YouTube)

The team itself is comprised of a bunch of guys who put up good numbers. They aren’t anything out of the ordinary, they just get the job done. Monte Morris leads the team with 16.3 points per game but the next few guys are all putting up anywhere from 12-16 points on average.

After a win over Nevada, they will likely see a very good Purdue team.

When it comes down to it, all the statistics in the world can only tell so much. March is the month of madness for a reason.

 

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NCAA Tournament Bracketology 3/11/17

March 11, 2017 Bracketology

The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching. March Madness is here. This NCAA Tournament bracketology is an outlook of what the bracket could look like in a few days. Click on the picture to zoom.

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NCAA Tournament Bracketology 3/8/17

March 8, 2017 Bracketology

 

The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching. March Madness is here. This bracketology is an outlook of what the bracket could look like in a few days. Click on the picture to zoom.

 

 

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Baylor and Kansas State: The Game You Need to Watch this Week

It is now March 7th and for college basketball fans, it’s like Christmas Eve. Fans all across the country are so excited anticipating the NCAA tournament, but there is one game in particular that should not be over looked. Kansas State and Baylor will go head-to-head on Thursday at 9pm ET in the Big 12 quarterfinal. Don’t miss it, I’ll tell you why.

past meetings

Kansas State has given the bears trouble all season. In their first meeting, the Wildcats had a two-point lead with ten minutes to go. However Baylor outscored them 32-21 from that point on. Another key factor was Johnathan Motley fouling out with 4:34 to go in the game, which definitely worked in the Wildcats’ favor. But not enough for the Wildcats to get the win.

In their second meeting Kansas State rallied to beat the Bears by two on their home home court in Waco, TX. They played some of the best first-half basketball that their coach had seen all year. The Wildcats shot 50% from the field and only had one turnover in the first 17:37 of the game. They held control for most of the game and outscored the Bears 26-22 in the paint.

The Bears tried to make a second half effort, and outscored Kansas State 32-19 in the second half. However when you put yourselves at a 15 point deficit at halftime, it’s hard to come back from that. Johnathan Motley also missed two shots towards the end to tie it.

What the bears have going for them

Baylor has quite a few names you want to know, if you don’t know them already. First Johnathan Motley who is averaging 17.5 points per game, 10 rebounds per game and it shooting 51.7% from the field. He has put on quite a show this season in big games. Most recently against West Virginia he put up 19 of his 23 points in the second half to get a nine point victory at home.

Next is Jo Laul-Acuil Jr. who is shooting 54.9% from the field which ranks fifth in the conference. He is a 7-0 junior averaging 9.2 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. But he is more than just statistics though. The kid knows how to play. In the Bears man defense, he parks it in the middle of the paint and deters anyone from getting too close to the hoop. On the offensive end, he has a nice touch around the rim to finish off any assists from Manu Lecomte.

Lecomte is former Miami Hurricane but he is doing big things for the Bears this year. As a junior he is averaging 4 assists per game (9th in the conference) as well as contributing 12.4 points per game. He also leads the team in overall assists with 115 and the senior Ishmail Wainright has a close 99. Both Lecomte and Wainright are great when it comes to distribution of the basketball.

As a team they have a big presence in the paint. Baylor leads the Big 12 as a team with 4.9 blocks per game and Jo Laul-Acuil Jr. single-handedly leads the Big 12 with 2.6 blocks per game. Their bread and butter is relying on defensive prowess to stop teams because they only average 75 points per game.

Kansas state has the right guys

The Wildcats are not short-staffed in any form. They have the right personnel to beat the Bears, and they have proven that in the regular season.

Wesley Iwundu looks to score (photo courtesy of collegian media group)

Wesley Iwundu is leading the way statistically averaging 12.6 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. But he can’t be mentioned without talking about D.J. Johnson and Barry Brown.

These are two exceptional players that you notice right away while watching the Wildcats play. Johnson is shooting 60.9% from the field, leading the Big 12 and a senior who doesn’t want his career to be over. Most recently he scored 19 against Texas Tech to keep their hopes of the NCAA tournament alive.

Barry Brown is a 6-3 sophomore averaging 2.4 steals per game (second in the conference). He’s a crafty guy who scored 15 against Texas to pull out a big win mid-February after losing six out of seven straight.

Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes also are big factors to the Wildcats’ success, so keep an eye on them too. Stokes especially who is averaging 4.3 assists per game.

Wednesday night’s matchup

What you can take from all the statistics, is that each team has respectable numbers in their given categories. When comparing the Bears and Wildcats side by side, they are identical in team statistics.

Each team has won one in the regular season, but Kansas State really needs this win for better consideration in the tournament. Baylor also could use the win to better their chances for a higher seed.

Now putting statistics aside, this will be a good game. It’s conference tournament time and everything is amped up. Seniors don’t want to be done, and players dream of going to the ‘ship. This will not be one you want to miss.

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Cinderella Teams who can Win in the 2017 NCAA Tournament Part Two

As the college basketball season goes on, we are finding out more and more about teams that could end up being stories in the NCAA Tournament. Cinderella teams are teams that are commonly unexplored before March, but in order to be ahead of the curve, they most be studied now.

Cinderella Teams- Part One

Monmouth Hawks

A lot of people know about the Hawks from last year’s team. The bench had crazy celebrations and the team pulled off some good upsets. Unfortunately, they fell short of the NCAA Tournament and settled for the NIT. The Hawks are back this season and if they can make the tournament, can win.

They may not have the quality wins that they had last season, but the Hawks are 16-2 in conference and have a big win on the road against Memphis. The Tigers aren’t a great team, but it is a solid win for a MAAC team nonetheless. The Hawks are ranked 46 in RPI.

Monmouth is led by one of the best guards in the country Justin Robinson. Robinson averages 19.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. He is one of the most effective players in transition, which has fueled an offense that averages 81.1 points per game. With lanky guard Micah Seaborn and sharpshooter Je’lon Hornbeak, the Hawks have a lot of scoring punch from their guards.

Inside scoring is a bit of a problem for Monmouth, but with the guards firing on all cylinders, that isn’t too much to worry about. They are a great rebounding team, averaging 39.5 rebounds per game, which should help them do battle with good teams in the NCAA tournament.

Defense is the main issue with the Hawks, as they give up 73.5 points per game, meaning they will have to outscore their opponent(s) in March, rather than shut them down.

Illinois State Redbirds

Most of the time when people hear the conference Missouri Valley, they think of Wichita State, but Illinois State is having a great season.

Cinderella Teams

Deontae Hawkins (Photo courtesy: dudesonsports.com)

The Redbirds are 23-5 with an RPI of 33. At 15-1 in conference, they are on pace to share the MVC regular season title with the Shockers. Illinois State and Wichita State have split their two meetings, each winning at home. Right now the Redbirds are on the bubble, so they need to make the tournament first, but could be dangerous if they get in.

Illinois State has three players averaging over 10 points per game. Forwards Deontae Hawkins and MiKyle McIntosh both have inside-out games. Guard Paris Lee scores and sets up his teammates well with 5.2 assists per game. He also shoots well, hitting 42% of his three point field goals.

Those players will need to have big games in the NCAA Tournament scoring wise. If those players are able to score for the Redbirds, the defense will be able to hold up. Illinois State boasts the 10th best defense in terms of points allowed per game in the country at 61.9.

UT Arlington Mavericks

UT Arlington is a team that has already had an impressive season and looks to continue that into March.

Cinderella Teams

Kevin Hervey (Photo courtesy: NCAA.com)

The Mavericks have a great win over St. Mary’s, which improves their resume tremendously. The win was on the road, making it even more impressive. They have a record of 21-6 with an RPI of 34. Their conference record is 11-3 and they are in the driver’s seat to win the Sun Belt.

Kevin Hervey is the Maverick’s leading scorer and is a double-double threat every time he steps on the court. He is averaging 17.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Two guards, Jalen Jones and Erick Neal, also help provide a scoring punch.

While the Mavericks don’t have anything they do extremely well, they are pretty good at offense, defense and rebounding. Their biggest competitive advantage is Hervey and he is going to have to be a star in order for UT Arlington to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

 

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North Carolina Controls its own Destiny

What a week of college hoops. Duke has found its groove with a big win over Virginia. Louisville barely beat Virginia Tech. Kansas beat Baylor by just two points and Pitt took one from Florida State.

Let me remind all college basketball fans, it is only Feb. 21st. This means the best is still yet to come. Lately all eyes have been on the ACC, and rightfully so.

The ACC should stand for Always (in) Constant Conversation, instead of Atlantic Coast Conference. College basketball is constantly talking about the competition in the ACC and I am going to jump on that bandwagon. This season if any, is proving why it’s one of the toughest conferences to play in. North Carolina sits at the top, but will they still be there in a few weeks?

acc current standings

TEAM CONF OVERALL
North Carolina 11-3 23-5
Louisville 10-4 22-5
Duke 10-4 22-5
Notre Dame 10-5 21-7
Florida State 9-5 21-6
Virginia 8-6 18-8
Miami 8-6 18-8
Syracuse 8-6 16-11
Virginia Tech 7-7 18-8
Georgia Tech 6-7 15-11
Wake Forest 6-9 15-12
Pittsburgh 4-10 15-12
Clemson 4-10 14-12
NC State 3-12 14-14
Boston College 2-12 9-18

As you can see, North Carolina is in first place, by a single win. Louisville and Duke hold second place, and Florida state dropped with its loss to Pitt over the weekend.

The Tar Heels have earned their top ranking position in the conference. They have consistently bounced back after losses to Kentucky and Georgia Tech early, and more recently Miami and Duke. With Baylor’s recent loss to Kansas, there has been talk of a #1 ranking for North Carolina. The best part is that they control their own destiny from here on out.

north carolina men’s basketball has a lot going for them

Justin Jackson has been outstanding from the beginning. His junior season is nothing short of NBA material and the scouts are noticing. Back in mid-December Jackson scored 34 points in a great effort against Kentucky, despite the loss. Now it’s February and Jackson is still improving and playing better than ever.

Against Virginia this weekend he scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. Jackson was cranking threes from 30+ feet without reservation. That is the kind of production and confidence you want from a leader.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Justin Jackson gets excited about a play (newsobserver.com)

When Jackson isn’t putting on a show, it’s usually time for Joel Berry II to shine. In a nail-biter against Clemson, Berry II put up 31 points in addition to Jackson’s 18 to clinch the win. In a close win over Pitt, Jackson scored 20 and Berry II added 19. Against Florida State Berry II continuously answered runs by the Seminoles and finished with 26 points, Jackson had 22.

They are the dynamic duo leading the team, but are often lost in the spot light of duos like Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox or Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart.

If those two aren’t scoring, they are dishing the ball to Kennedy Meeks in the post or Isaiah Hicks, who are number one and two in rebounding respectively.

Theo Pinson has also been adding some nice numbers the past few games, and starting for the Tar Heels. When the bench comes in, the Tar Heels still have success. Tony Bradley and Luke Maye contribute good minutes when UNC needs it.

Needless to say, as March is fast approaching the Tar Heels are getting better and have all the right pieces.

Who stands in their way

It might seem like the Tar Heels have a cake walk through the rest of the regular season. This is far from the truth. Justin Jackson and his team still have to play Louisville Wednesday, then take on Pitt and Virginia on the road and finish up with Duke at home.

The scary part for North Carolina is they have everything to lose and their opponents are going to bring the heat. It’s not that their opponents have nothing to lose, but North Carolina definitely has a big weight on their shoulders and target on their back.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Donovan Mitchell throws down a powerful dunk for Louisville (usatoday.com)

Louisville is first up on the four-game tour. The Cardinals are relatively equal with the Tar Heels in most statistical categories. However, UNC is significantly better at sharing the ball (averaging 18.3 assists per game) which leads to 92.3 points per game, which is also higher than Louisville.

Not to mention the Tar Heels also beat Virginia and Florida State whom Louisville lost to. The best part about college basketball is any team can be beaten on any given night, and this game is no exception.

The Tar Heels have the best for last, because Duke will be waiting on a silver platter for them March 4th. This final regular season game is everything that you want in a big game. A historic rivalry, senior night and two of top teams in the ACC going head to head.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the Tar Heels still have to take care of business in February before there can be talk about March.

tournament talk for north carolina

At least Dicky V has confidence in the Tar Heels. It is clear they have the offensive weapons and have played tough teams to prepare them for March.

The Tar Heels are very highly ranked on various offensive categories. They lead Division I in points per game and field goal percentage. They are third for assists per game and number one for rebounds per game in the nation. The statistics speak for themselves, this North Carolina team controls their own destiny in their ability to perform.

We can only wait and see how they decide to play and where they will be seated after the completion of regular season games.

 

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Biggest College Basketball Injuries of the 2017 Season

In college basketball, injuries are inevitable. Teams hope for the best and fear the worst when a player goes down. The phrase “out for season” is one that sends shivers up the spines of coaches, players and fans alike. Here are the the biggest college basketball injuries thus far this season.

Maurice Watson Jr., Creigthon Blue Jays

College Basketball Injuries

Maurice Watson Jr. led Creighton to an 18-1 start. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

Greg McDermott and Creighton were having a stellar year. This looked to be one of the best teams in Omaha, ever. The Blue Jays rolled to a 17-1 record and traveled to Cincinnati to face Big East rival Xavier.

Disaster struck when the NCAA’s leading distributor, Maurice Watson Jr., went down with a knee injury. Medical reports revealed that it was the dreaded ACL and Watson Jr. was finished for the season.

Creighton won a huge test on the road but that was largely marred by the loss of their key player.

Watson Jr. transferred from Boston University and sat out a year after averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 assists. This year, Creighton added Marcus Foster from Kansas State along with a great returning cast of Cole Huff and Khyri Thomas.

Freshman Justin Patton also arrived on the scene to give Watson Jr. another target. At 8.5 assists per game and 12.5 points, Watson Jr. was a key part of the offensive flow. Since he went down, the team has gone 2-3 after Saturday’s loss to Xavier in Omaha.

Their ceiling has dropped tremendously. While before the Final Four was on the table for one of the most prolific (84.7 points per game) and efficient (52.1% field goal percentage, second in the nation) offenses, this is no longer a reality. Without Watson Jr., this team does not get past the Sweet 16.

This is a major blow for a team with the potential to win more than just a Big East title.

OG Anunoby, Indiana Hoosiers

With Thomas Bryant returning, the Indiana Hoosiers looked to make some noise even in the post-Yogi Ferrell era. OG Anunoby was a large part of that campaign. He is a multifaceted forward with the ability to score, rebound, defend and create.

Anunoby averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and led the team with 1.3 steals per game. Anunoby was efficient with a 23.7 PER and offensive box plus/minus of 5.4 this year and also effective on the defensive end with a defensive box plus/minus of 4.5. This means that Anunoby adds about as much value on the offensive end as the defensive end of the floor.

College Basketball Injuries

OG Anunoby’s injury put Indiana’s tournament hopes in danger. (Photo courtesy of fansided.com)

In the first half of their contest against Penn State on Jan. 18, they lost Anunoby for the year. The news was confirmed by Tom Crean a few days alter that the forward would need surgery on his right knee.

With the Hoosiers allowing 71.6 points per game and plenty of Big 10 games to go as of yet, that is where he will be missed most. The Hoosiers have stumbled their way to a sub .500 conference record (5-6) and are 2-3 since losing their key asset. In those games the team gave up an average of 83.8 points.

Even though the Hoosiers grabbed wins against Michigan State and Penn State, Anunoby’s presence is already sorely missed.

This is one of those injuries that causes a team to falter from a season of work. ESPN bracketologist Joe Liunardi currently has the Hoosiers at an 11 seed and one of the last four in the tournament, but to be sure of their place in March Madness the Hoosiers need to finish at or above .500 in the Big 10 at a minimum.

That means getting some combination of key wins against 23rd ranked Purdue and Caleb Swanigan who they play twice, a 25th-ranked Northwestern squad or the likes of Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa. They are not safe just yet. Anunoby’s injury puts them in grave risk.

Edmond Sumner, Xavier Musketeers

Xavier basketball looked to finally reach the promised land in Phoenix in 2017 coming into the season. At least they had a great shot to do so. Even with the unexpected departure of Myles Davis, the Musketeers hope were not dashed just yet.

Fresh off of a heavyweight bout with the Cincinnati Bearcats in the crosstown shootout, Chris Mack’s team traveled to New York to take on Chris Mullin and the St. John’s Red Storm. Sumner went down with a torn ACL and so did Xavier’s hopes for playing in early April.

College Basketball Injuries

Sumner (4) was a key piece of the Musketeer offense before his injury. (Photo courtesy of bustingbrackets.com)

The previously projected first round draft pick averages 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He is a dynamic guard with the ability to score, pass and rebound well for his size.

The Musketeers have not necessarily struggled throughout the season to put points on the board (76.7 points per game),  but they have had some poor showings and slumps. Sumner’s exit means less flow for the Xavier offense, so any struggles will increase.

There are no nights off in the Big East and the schedule will intensify for Xavier. Saturday they took down Creighton (minus Watson Jr.) in Omaha. They still have games against Villanova, who clobbered them in their first meeting, Butler and two games against a surging Marquette Golden Eagle squad.

There is a real potential for this team to finish with ten or more losses in the season. They are not in danger of missing out on the Big Dance, but they will not be around come Final Four Saturday.

 

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NCAA Mid-Season Bracket Reveal is Pointless

Selection Sunday is a holy day of obligation for college basketball fans. It is the day when all is revealed about the NCAA Tournament and the true fun can commence. It is the quiet eye of the hurricane with one side being a hectic week of conference tournaments and the other being the extravaganza that is the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA attempted to enhance some of that amusement with their most recent announcement. On February 11th, they will reveal a mid-season version bracket. The top 16 teams will see where they are per the committee.

So what does this actually do?

Honestly, it really does nothing.

There is not much information to really get fans talking since the all-important bubble teams are not included in the mid-season reveal.

When asked about the move, Xavier University coach Chris Mack called it ridiculous, among other adjectives.

“If you want, why don’t you show the teams that are on the bubble? That’s more intriguing,” Mack said. “Who cares if Kentucky is a one seed or a two seed?”

Mack’s poignant comments get to the heart of this move’s hypocrisy.

The NCAA is attempting to create a buzz around the sport earlier than usual, but is not revealing information that will spark anything. College basketball fans do not sit for hours upon end and debate why teams are a three seed instead of a four seed. All this does is tell us who may or may not be in the top 16 seeds which really does not merit a conversation.

On top of the fact that there is so much basketball left to play, it simply is not controversial and thus not what will spark conversation among fans. The thing about controversy is that it creates a palpable buzz. You want more controversy, not less of it, to a certain extent.

A good case study is the 2016 Syracuse Orangemen. Jim Boeheim’s squad was considered an outsider at best to make the NCAA field. In a highly questionable move, the committee gave them one of the 68 entry tickets.

This was so controversial that committee chair Joe Castiglione made a statement about their reasoning. The debate then became whether Syracuse’s Final Four run proved they merited entry or if they never should have been permitted to begin with.

This is what gets people talking, not unnecessary, meaningless updates.

Finally, what happened to good things coming to those who wait? Selection Sunday is the end of the road from a long season of build up. It is the culmination of all of the fear and anxiety that bubble teams go through. It is the one day that we wait for to kick things off.

Why divide our attention to two days? Why taint or spoil the momentum that leads into the first week of March?

There is no reason to change what is working. The NCAA should not look at expanding the tournament. They should not look at elongating the Selection Show. Things are fine the way they are.  We already have the greatest month-long spectacle in sports, there is no need to ruin it.

 

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