Which March Madness Cinderella is Staying?

The Sweet 16 is an amazing accomplishment in it amongst itself. It’s an accomplishment that many college basketball programs don’t see very often. High expectations come with it.

Winning in college basketball is hard, and winning in the NCAA tournament is even harder. Time after time we’ve seen favorite teams go down. Some top teams don’t even make it past the round of 64.

Winning two games in the NCAA tournament and making it to the Sweet 16 isn’t a fluke. The teams in the Sweet 16 deserve to be there because they all won two games (sometimes three if they were in a play-in game). That is a hard thing to do in the NCAA.

We’ve now officially gotten to the point where we find out which teams are for real. We will find out in this next round what the Cinderella teams are made of and if they are here to stay.

Cinderella teams are traditionally defined as teams that are seeded ten or over. All of these teams are not necessarily “Cinderella” teams, but they are by no means the favorite to win or even be here in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the teams that most people didn’t expect to be here and how they might fair along the rest of the way.

Xavier

March Madness Cinderella

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett goes up to score against Florida State Defender in their game last weekend. (Photo/ Getty Images)

The Xavier Musketeers make their eighth appearance in the Sweet 16 as the highest seed (11) left in the tournament.

A victory over Maryland in the first round and nearly a 30-point victory in the second round over third-seeded Florida State puts the Musketeers a step closer to their third appearance in the Elite eight in program history.

Junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who averages 18.5 points a game, helped Xavier finish 21-13 overall with a conference record of 9-9. That was good enough for an 11 seed after losing to Creighton in the Big East tournament.

They now face their toughest task yet, the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats come in as a two seed and a favorite for many to win the entire tournament. Xavier will look to become the highest seed to ever win the tournament after their two big wins.

Michigan

The Michigan Wolverines are arguably the team with the most momentum and burst into the Sweet 16 as a seven seed. The Wolverines are coming off of a Big Ten tournament championship after their plane skidded off the runway en route to Washington D.C. for the tournament. They are poised, hungry and very good.

They beat Oklahoma State in the first round and a really good second-seeded Louisville team in the second round. The Wolverines had a rocky regular season, but with the leadership of senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. and the outbreaking stardom of sophomore forward Moritz Wagner from Germany, Michigan is in good shape to move onto the next round.

With a matchup against the Oregon Ducks, who lost one of their key contributors Chris Boucher before the start of the tournament, many believe this game to be the one where the underdog prevails.

South Carolina

March Madness Cinderella

South Carolina players celebrate their victory over Duke on Sunday with their coach Frank Martin (Photo/Bob Donnan)

South Carolina advanced to their first Sweet 16 since 1973 with a big win over second-seeded Duke. The Gamecocks look to advance to their program’s first Elite Eight.

With another tough matchup against third-seeded Baylor, the Gamecocks look to their leader, Sindarius Thornwell, to lead them to victory. The Gamecocks are not always your most flashy and good-looking team, but they get the job done.

Baylor may be the perfect opponent for the Gamecocks due to both teams’ scrappy and fast-pace play. That will make an interesting and entertaining matchup.

Wisconsin 

Wisconsin comes in on a high after taking down tournament number one seed Villanova. Many believe the Badgers were underseeded and should have gotten a better seed. Nevertheless, here they are.

With a matchup against the Florida Gators, who are also coming off of an utterly dominant victory over Virginia, the Badgers are actually favored by many despite being the lower seed.

The Badgers look to win their first NCAA championship since 1941, and they very well could.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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 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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2016-17 Big East Basketball Preview

On the heels of Big East media day there is a lot of buzz surrounding the conference that produced the 2015-16 champion, Villanova. A conference compiled of non-FBS football schools finally had its major breakthrough.  However, there is still plenty to talk about 2016-17.

They’re Back!

So you thought Villanova was a one time deal? Wrong.  Despite the major losses of Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono the Wildcats are still very much a threat.  They were the overwhelming pick for the top spot in the preseason poll. Jay Wright’s reigning champions return the preseason player of the year in Josh Hart, championship hero Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson. Jenkins was voted preseason First Team All-Big East and Brunson was given honorable mention.

Kris Jenkins and the Wildcats cut down the nets in Houston. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Kris Jenkins and the Wildcats cut down the nets in Houston. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

The team returns six players that played in all 40 games.  This includes sophomore Mikal Bridges. A highly touted recruit, Bridges could be the one to replace Arcidiacono’s production after a productive first tour. The team did take a serious blow in their quest to fill the void left by Ochefu.  Five star recruit Omari Spellman likely would have been in the starting five for the Wildcats, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible. This makes Eric Paschall the only notable addition to the team.  A Fordham transfer, he is the former 2014-15 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. He did practice with the team last year, thus is familiar with the system.

Despite the departed pieces of the current champs, Nova will have a successful season.  There is no reason that they should not win the regular season conference title. Even with all of the talent concentrated at places like Duke, Kentucky and Oregon, the Wildcats should be in the running for another NCAA title. At minimum they should make the Elite Eight. Anything other than that would be a let down.

Other Contenders

The Xavier Musketeers finished second in the preseason poll, right where they did in the 2015-16 standings. The Musketeers had an early exit from the NCAA Tournament due to Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig’s fall-away jumper in the second round. Chris Mack’s team loses two big bodies in Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, as well as former Indiana transfer Remy Abell.

Trevon Bluiett (5) and Edmund Sumner (4) are two of the best returnees in the Big East. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

Trevon Bluiett (5) and Edmund Sumner (4) are two of the best returnees in the Big East. (Photo courtesy of zimbio.com)

The team does return Big East preseason first teamers Edmund Sumner and Trevon Bluiett. The two were the leading scorers on the team in 2015-16. Bluiett showed improvements in several statistical categories including a seven percent increase from deep to 39.8%. Sumner is an excellent distributor and will lead the team at the one this year while still grabbing more than three boards per game. Another key returnee would be Myles Davis, however his status for the season is uncertain as he is under an indefinite suspension. The team did add three  four star recruits, as well as Florida A&M transfer Malcom Bernard who averaged 14.4 points and 7.0 rebounds along with 2.3 steals per game. Bernard could help the Musketeers on both ends of the floor in place of Abell.

Third in the poll are the Creighton Blue Jays who added Marcus Foster from Kansas State. After sitting out the 2015-16 season, Foster is ready to contribute. Foster would be on the receiving end of Maurice Watson Jr. The former transfer is a prolific creator for those around him. Watson Jr. led the Big East in assists last season after transferring from Boston.

With no notable recruits Foster, Watson Jr. and fellow returnee Cole Huff will be counted on to lead the team in 2016-17.  All three are transfers which have become a key part of Greg McDermott luring players to Omaha. Senior Isaiah Zierden will also play a key role.  He was among the teams leading scorers last year and his advanced stats show that he also had an impact on the defensive end.

Creighton Blue Jays Transfer Players
Player Former School
Maurice Watson Jr. Boston
Marcus Foster Kansas State
Cole Huff Nevada
Kaleb Joseph* Syracuse
*Not eligible for 2016-17 season.

Georgetown, Seton Hall and Butler are all possible contenders, but not likely to make much noise.  Seton Hall won the Big East tournament but lost Isaiah Whitehead early to the NBA. John Thompson’s Hoyas did not even crack the AP top 25 last season. Butler lost two program staples in Roosevelt Jones and Kellan Dunham to graduation.  Of these three, Butler had the most success last year, but also lost the most going into this season.

Off the Map

The Providence Friars were a power packed team in 2015-16. Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn left early for the NBA as they should have. Dunn was one of the most prolific point guards in the country as a junior. Bentil stepped up and led the team in scoring and rebounds.

With their exit, Providence loses nearly half of its 74 points per game. They will rely on Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright for their team identity.  The only other notable addition is four star recruit Alpha Diallo. Diallo possesses the ability to move the ball on the wing, but will need to improve his shot if he wishes to impact the Friars season. The degree of difficulty to replace two talents like Bentil and Dunn likely means a rebuilding year for Providence.

 

Early College Basketball Top Five for 2016-2017

The college basketball season was very competitive and had a lot of drama that lasted through the championship game. Now the wait is on. Seven months without college basketball. It is never too early to start talking about next season. Here are my top five teams for next season:

Grayson Allen will try to lead Duke to another championship next season. Photo courtesy espn.go.com.

  1. Duke Blue Devils- Duke lose Brandon Ingram and Marshall Plumlee, but returns every other key player. Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard can light it up from the floor. Amile Jefferson will be back for another year and fill the role of glue guy in the post for the Blue Devils. Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton will be expected to make huge strides this off-season. In addition to all these players coming back for Duke, they will also have three top recruits that will help them next season. Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum are the top two recruits in the country and should be solid forwards for Duke. Frank Jackson is a shooting guard who should be able to provide the Blue Devils with depth in his first year.

    Isaiah Briscoe will need to improve his shooting before next season. Photo courtesy kentucky.com.

  2. Kentucky Wildcats- Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, Skal Labissiere and Alex Poythress are all gone for the Wildcats, but everyone else should return to school for another year. Guard Isaiah Briscoe will bring defense, toughness and driving ability to the team next season. Dominique Hawkins will also be a defensive force at the guard position for the Wildcats. Charles Matthews is the only true wing returning and should be much improved next season. There will be a lot of big guys on Kentucky next season and hopefully a few of them can step up. Derek Willis will be back to stretch the defenses with his three point shooting. Marcus Lee needs to add a post move or two this off-season, but will be an athletic big at the very least next season. The Wildcats will have two physical big guys in Isaac Humphries and Tai Waynard. In addition to these role players the Wildcats also have the number one recruiting class in the country. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk will see a lot of playing time with the loss of Ulis and Murray and are more than capable of being successful. Bam Adebayo is a power forward who is the most physically ready for college basketball out of the entire recruiting class.

    If Trevon Bluiett goes back to school, the Musketeers will be tough to beat. Photo courtesy usatoday.com.

  3. Xavier Musketeers- Only two players should be leaving the Musketeers this off-season. James Farr and Remy Abell are both graduating. These are two important players, but Xavier will be fine without them. Jalen Reynolds and Trevone Bluiett have their names in the draft, but will probably elect to come back to school. Bluiett is a star, who can take over a game with his offensive game. Reynolds is a physical force on the inside, but needs to keep his head in the game in order to be great. Myles Davis and J.P. Macura will provide great outside shooting. At point guard Ed Sumner will create match-up troubles with his size and driving ability. Sean O’Mara will have to step up and play well behind Reynolds. The Musketeers were very deep last season and should be again next season, if players like Kaiser Gates, Larry Austin and Makinde London can all take a step forward.

    Bronson Koenig was clutch last year for the Badgers and should see continued success next season. Photo courtesy stack.com.

  4. Wisconsin Badgers- The Badgers literally lose no key players from their team heading into next season. The problem is, as of now, they aren’t bringing any in either. Wisconsin had a rough start to the season with a lot of distractions of Bo Ryan retiring, but once Greg Gard got the team they settled in and made it to the Sweet 16. Bronson Koenig is one of the more underrated point guards in college basketball and should be a great floor general yet again. On the wing Nigel Hayes has turned into a good all-around player. The most important player for this ranking is Ethan Happ, who really came on late in the season for the Badgers and provided a good inside presence.

    Dillon Brooks returns and will lead the Ducks to another great season. Photo courtesy usatoday.com.

  5. Oregon Ducks- Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are graduating, but two other seniors should get another year of eligibility. Chris Boucher, their best big man, got a waiver from the NCAA for an extra season. Dylan Ennis is also applying for an extra year of eligibility after only playing 21 minutes this season due to injury. Those two guys are good, but the main reason Oregon is on this list is that they return Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, both of whom are stars for an Oregon team that received a one seed this season.

Stay tuned for the rest of the top 25!