College Basketball Nation: Drexel Dragons

BPI Talk: Iowa State is No. 1

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
9:28
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The Iowa State Cyclones are perhaps the least-discussed team of the six remaining undefeated teams in college basketball. Now might be the time to start talking about the 13-0 Cyclones.

Iowa State is ranked No. 1 in BPI. Why are the Cyclones ranked ahead of fellow unbeatens Ohio State, Wisconsin, Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State?

The Cyclones are the most consistent team in the country in terms of variation in BPI game score from game to game.

Their worst performance –- an 86.3 BPI game score in a two-point win at BYU –- is better than the best performance of 148 Division I teams this season.

Iowa State isn’t just some undefeated team that has played a bunch of cupcakes. Unlike the other five remaining unbeatens, the Cyclones have not faced a team ranked outside the top 300 in BPI.

The Cyclones are the only team in the country that is undefeated against the BPI top 100 and hasn’t faced a team ranked outside the top 300.

Iowa State has one of its toughest tests of the season thus far when it hosts Baylor (No. 36 BPI) tonight at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

What about Pittsburgh?
What is it going to take for the Pittsburgh Panthers to get more respect?

Pittsburgh still has not entered the AP Top 25 despite being ranked No. 5 in BPI.

The lone blemish on Pitt’s schedule is a one-point loss on a neutral court against No. 26 Cincinnati. It came on a Titus Rubles offensive putback with less than five seconds remaining. That’s how close Pitt is to being undefeated right now.

Sure, Pitt hasn’t played the most difficult schedule –- its strength of schedule is ranked 90th.

But the Panthers have fared well against their toughest opponents. Other than their one-point loss to Cincinnati, they’ve won each of their other five games against top-100 opponents by at least nine points. Their average margin in those five wins is 17 points.

Thirteen of Pitt’s 14 wins are by at least 12 points. Its closest win was by nine points, 78-69 against No. 81 Penn State.

Inconsistency hurts Kansas State
The Kansas State Wildcats entered the AP Top 25 at No. 25 this week after defeating Oklahoma State on Saturday. But Kansas State is ranked No. 62 in BPI.

The Wildcats have quality top-100 wins lately over George Washington and Gonzaga, in addition to Oklahoma State. But we can’t forget about their early-season losses to No. 140 Northern Colorado at home and No. 97 Charlotte on a neutral court.

KSU is the most inconsistent team in the BPI top 90.

What happened to Drexel?
The Drexel Dragons started the season off strong, ranked No. 24 in BPI after the month of November. They had a win over Alabama and their only losses were by five points or fewer against UCLA and Arizona.

Since the calendar turned to December, Drexel hasn’t been the same. The Dragons rank 198th in BPI since Dec. 1. Their decrease in BPI is by far the largest decrease of any team currently ranked in the top 100.

In their last six games, they have three wins against teams ranked outside the BPI top 200, a three-point home win against No. 175 Buffalo and two road losses by a combined 37 points at Saint Joseph's and Southern Miss.

BPI Rankings

Five things: Arizona over Drexel

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
9:22
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NEW YORK -- Five quick thoughts from Arizona’s 66-62 win over Drexel on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off:

Got nerves? Drexel jumped out to a 27-8 lead with 6:59 left in the first half, stunning the Garden crowd. No. 4-ranked Arizona, not Drexel, looked like the nervous, tentative squad -- perhaps due to its youth? The Wildcats do start a freshman and two sophomores.

Arizona got its act together after that. The Wildcats closed to within nine at halftime, and took the lead less than four minutes into the second half. Drexel didn’t fold, but Arizona eventually put the Dragons away. You can expect a better start from the Wildcats in Friday’s championship game.

Diaper dandy: Arizona’s highly touted freshman forward, Aaron Gordon, did not disappoint, with 10 points and 13 rebounds against Drexel.

Gordon didn’t blow anyone away Wednesday night -- he took only six shots from the field, scoring most of his points from the foul line. But he was active, particularly on the glass. It’s his fourth double-double in his first six collegiate games.

Size matters: The biggest difference in this game? Arizona’s front line. Drexel ultimately could not handle the starting group of 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, the 6-9 Gordon and 6-8 Brandon Ashley. The Dragons’ undersized post players were in foul trouble seemingly all game long.

That’s no disgrace. Most teams in America will have difficulty against a front line that big.

Real deal: Drexel is definitely a dangerous mid-major squad. The Dragons almost slayed No. 19 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion earlier this month as well.

Coach Bruiser Flint has an experienced starting backcourt in seniors Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat, two guards who can really fill it up. The Dragons were picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association behind Towson, but can certainly win that conference.

Up and down: You have to feel good for Fouch, a Bronx, N.Y., native who starred at Rice High School. A sixth-year senior who sat out last season with a broken ankle, Fouch scored a game-high 29 points in his New York City homecoming.

On the flip side, Drexel’s second-leading scorer, Damion Lee, suffered a right leg injury midway through the second half and did not return. Lee couldn’t put any weight on the leg -- it could be a serious injury, and a crippling blow to Drexel’s season.

Recapping Saturday afternoon's games

December, 1, 2012
12/01/12
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Some assorted thoughts on the bulk of Saturday's afternoon action:

Baylor 64, No. 8 Kentucky 55: With the benefit of a couple months' distance, it's entirely likely we will look back at this game as nothing more than a good win for Baylor. We will cite it in bubble calculations, and that will basically be that.

Maybe that's for the best. Because while Baylor surely deserves some credit for holding on to win in Rupp Arena -- the first in 55 games and the first in John Calipari's tenure, so no easy feat -- this loss was almost entirely about the Wildcats and the massive offensive funk they find themselves in.

At Notre Dame, Kentucky's poor offense was a product of excellent help and rotations by an experienced Irish team. In South Bend, UK's skittishness could be ascribed to the tough road environment -- the type of thing a young team is supposed to do in its first road game of the season.

On Saturday, things were even simpler: Kentucky just played poorly. Baylor, an OK defensive team that largely relies on athleticism and up-tempo offense -- and which had lost to Colorado and Charleston this season -- scored 0.83 points per trip, committing 19 turnovers in the process. Any other day in Lexington, those numbers mean you're going to get mercilessly crushed.

But thanks to missed shot after missed shot -- 3-for-14 from Nerlens Noel, 1-for-11 from Kyle Wiltjer, 2-for-9 from Julius Mays -- Kentucky scored just 0.73 per possession, the worst tally of the Calipari era.

In a way, that should give UK fans some hope. I mean, your team isn't going to shoot 29.6 percent at home all that often. It isn't going to go 4-for-22 from 3 frequently either. (The last time UK shot that poorly from beyond the arc was when John Wall's team fell to West Virginia in the Final Four.) When the offense comes together a bit, organizationally and individually, UK will look much more daunting.

But Saturday's result is disconcerting. After taking some expected lumps on the road Thursday night, UK returned home, where it has been unbeatable against Calipari, and laid the ultimate egg. It's a long way to March, but that's not the type of thing you often see from national title contenders, even in December.

No. 5 Louisville 69, Illinois State 66: Saturday nearly became an awful day for everyone in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Illinois State led for much of the game. Louisville had to get a bunch of stops between the 10- and 5-minute marks of the second half to crawl back in front and needed a Chane Behanan block, some late Peyton Siva free throws, a missed 3 by ISU and a very close no-call* to slink away with a three-point home win.

*For the record, I thought it was the right no-call. If you watch the play again (and I have, over and over), you can see Illinois State guard Tyler Brown basically lean in and initiate the contact with a jumping Behanan. Were it not a last-second heave, he might have gotten the call, but in head-fake/jump-in situations, the tie should never go to the offensive player. Go make a basketball play instead.

Louisville didn't play particularly well -- shooting 5-for-21 from 3 and getting basically nothing from role guys Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear, Zach Price and Kevin Ware -- but you should walk away from this result knowing not just that Louisville will occasionally struggle to score (duh) but also that Illinois State is very much the real deal in the Missouri Valley Conference. Jackie Carmichael (20 points, 9 rebounds) is one of the best rebounders in the country, and he has added some really smart, intuitive offensive post work to his repertoire. Brown is a really strong player at the guard spot. Northwestern's three-point overtime win over Illinois State last Saturday was a much better win for the Wildcats than anyone realized at the time.

No. 17 Cincinnati 58, Alabama 56: There are a few things you know you're going to get from a game featuring either Cincinnati or Alabama: rebounding, physicality and, above all, hard-nosed defense. The Bearcats entered this game ranked No. 9 in the country in efficiency defense; the Crimson Tide arrived in Cincinnati ranked No. 11.

Defense -- and an incredibly tight, well-played second half -- is exactly what we got. Neither team broke a point per possession, and while Anthony Grant's team rebounded better, it also turned the ball over more. When it did break through, Cincinnati's scoring was typically balanced, as JaQuon Parker, Sean Kilpatrick, Cheikh Mbodj, Titus Rubles and Cashmere Wright all scored at least eight points. But it could never score efficiently enough against Alabama's defense to build any sort of cushion down the stretch.

All of which brought us to a tied game with 6 seconds remaining. Wright raced down the floor, stepped back to the left baseline and arced up a gorgeous floating fallaway jumper that couldn't have been better; it barely even touched the net. After an afternoon of defense was ended by a brilliant offensive play, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin turned to Grant and dramatically rolled his eyes, as if to say "Ah, jeez -- what are you going to do?"

Virginia Tech 81, No. 15 Oklahoma State 71: Virginia Tech wasn't supposed to be good. Virginia Tech wasn't even supposed to be average.

Virginia Tech was supposed to be a mess. The school fired Seth Greenberg this summer, replacing him with former Hokies assistant James Johnson, hired not only out of affinity but as a way to maintain "continuity" in the program. That didn't work: The Hokies' best player, NBA prospect Dorian Finney-Smith, transferred. Top recruit Montrezl Harrell asked for a release and got it (he now plays for Louisville). The Hokies would be Erick Green and not much else, another of the ACC's rebuilding projects, move along, nothing to see here.

One November of basketball later, it is clear the Hokies are not what we thought at all.

On Saturday, the Hokies took down a ranked Oklahoma State -- the same Marcus Smart-led team that impressed us early with wins over Akron, Tennessee and a 20-point victory over NC State -- on their home floor in Blacksburg, Va. It was the Hokies' second victory of the week. The first came in arguably more impressive fashion, when Tech drubbed Iowa on Tuesday night, but even then, with no good wins to compare it to, it was easy to surmise that Iowa was merely really bad at defense.

Indeed, the common denominator between that game and Saturday's was offense, specifically Virginia Tech's and even more specifically Green's. Green had 28 points and 7 rebounds Saturday, which brought his season averages to 24.3 points, 5.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. (He entered Saturday with a 129.8 offensive rating on 28.1 percent usage in a ton of minutes, all of which is awfully good.) Earlier in the season, Green was one of many players casually thrown on the preliminary Wooden Award ballot. That inclusion no longer appears so casual.

Virginia Tech may not be an ACC contender -- home wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State are nice and the Hokies are playing great on the offensive end, but let's not go too far -- but that is not the applicable curve on which to grade this team. What's important is that Johnson didn't slide into Wake Forest territory, even if it looked like he had every personnel-related excuse. There will be no historically bad rebuilding seasons here. I did not see that coming.

Other afternoon results of note: Xavier moved to 6-1 with a nice win at Purdue. Wasn't Xavier picked ninth in the Atlantic 10 this year? Whoops. … No. 11 Creighton hosted A-10 favorite Saint Joe's, which was one of the premier games of the day right up until the point when Creighton decided to score 1.16 points per trip and hold the Hawks to just 0.76. Creighton won 80-51. … No. 25 New Mexico seems incapable of playing anything but close games. It also seems quite good at winning them. The Lobos moved to 8-0 with a 77-68 overtime win at Indiana State. … After Tuesday's big home win over Michigan State, you could have forgiven Miami for a letdown on the road at Massachusetts. Not so much. The Hurricanes won 75-62 in Amherst, and it must be said that UMass doesn't look anywhere near as good as some of the preseason hype suggested. … How bad is the Colonial Athletic Association this season? Its overwhelming preseason favorite, Drexel, lost by nine at home to Rider, which would be bad even if it weren't Drexel's fifth loss of the season already. Yikes.

DIRECTV Classic primer

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
11:00
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Don't be fooled by the name; this is not a new tournament. It is merely a repackaged Anaheim Classic that is no longer leaving naming-rights sponsorship money on the table. This would normally be the part where we criticize soulless corporate sports sponsorship ... but, I mean, it's the Anaheim Classic. Surely we can find a better target for our outrage.

Anyway, let's talk about this basketball tournament, huh?

The basics: Nov. 22-25, Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif.

The set matchups (Nov. 22): Pacific vs. Xavier, 2 p.m. ET; Drexel vs. Saint Mary's, 4:30 ET; Rice vs. Georgia Tech, 9 ET; Drake vs. Cal, 11:30 ET.

THE FAVORITE

Xavier: Major caveat alert: I could make a reasonable argument for Saint Mary's, Cal or even a banged-up Drexel, because I'm not really sure there is one clear favorite in this group of teams. But if I have to pick, I suppose I'll take the squad that shut down Butler just one week before Butler beat Marquette and drilled North Carolina in Maui. The transitive property is a fickle siren, but this early in the season it has to mean something.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's: The Australian Olympian and four-year senior is the undispusted leader of this Gaels team in ways both measurable and otherwise, and his offensive output will be (as ever) a huge key to his team's chances of getting out of Anaheim with three consecutive wins.

[+] EnlargeDee Davis
Frank Victores/US PresswireSophomore guard Dee Davis has thus far ably filled holes left by departures at Xavier.
Allen Crabbe, California: One half of Cal's two-headed returning scoring tandem (the other being fellow guard Justin Cobbs), Crabbe is essential to California's hopes of replacing Jorge Guiterrez and Harper Kamp and still making a run at the top of the revamped Pac-12.

Dee Davis, Xavier: It's early yet, but sophomore guard Davis appears to be just the latest in the Musketeers' long line of starter-minutes-ready young players to emerge after former stars depart. Through three games (including the aforementioned Butler romp) Davis is averaging 15.3 points and 6.7 assists, with a 132.2 offensive rating.

Frantz Massenat, Drexel: The Dragons suffered a big-time loss this week when guard Chris Fouch lost the rest of his season to ankle surgery, but the good news is that Massenat -- a versatile point guard who drives, dishes and shoots with near-equal skill -- remains.

Kammeon Holsey, Georgia Tech: When Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory dismissed Glen Rice Jr. in mid-March, he not only made a statement about the importance of attitude and chemistry in his program. He also left Holsey as his only notable returning scorer. Thus far, Holsey has delivered, though this tournament will be the Yellow Jackets' first real test, and we'll see if they'll be more than an ACC punching bag this season.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Is Xavier for real? The Musketeers were written off at the start of this season, and understandably so -- Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease graduated, Dez Wells was (possibly wrongly) kicked out of school, Mark Lyons transferred to Arizona, and what remained were guys most hoops fans had never heard of. So the Musketeers were picked to finish ninth -- ninth! -- despite the fact that this program has missed exactly one Sweet 16 (2011) since 2008. When Xavier tossed Butler around in the Musketeers' home opener, the write-offs looked premature. But now, outside of their own building, the young Musketeers have a real chance to prove they're not going anywhere.

Is Cal a Pac-12 contender? The Pac-12 was bad last season. We've established this ad nauseam (especially for Pac-12 fans, I'm sure) throughout the past 12 months. But for as bad as the league was, on a per-posssesion basis Cal was perfectly respectable (and pretty clearly the best team in its league), even if that respectability didn't always translate into wins. Despite the turnover, would you bet against Mike Montgomery making a run at the top of a still-volatile league this season? I wouldn't.

Does Saint Mary's miss Rob Jones? Jones was a drastically underrated player last season. Not only was he a versatile scorer, but his rebounding anchored the Gaels on both ends of the floor, particularly on defense, where he posted the nation's 16th-best defensive rebounding rate. Forward Brad Waldow is the chief successor to Jones, and will have to have a nice season for Saint Mary's to wrest another West Coast Conference title away from a very good Gonzaga team.

Is Drexel still Drexel? Bruiser Flint's team was brutally close to an NCAA tournament appearance last season, and had a fair quarrel when all was said and done. With all but one starter returning, and a Virginia Commonwealth-less Colonial Athletic Association, this season was set up as a redemption campaign. It has not gone as planned. The Dragons lost their first two games (to Kent State, which is a bad loss, and Illinois State, which is a good one) and then lost Fouch to a season-ending injury soon thereafter. A title run in Anaheim -- or at least a couple of resume wins, beginning with Saint Mary's -- would be a nice way to get this season back on track.

Who's the upset candidate? There are some solid teams in this field, but no truly great ones. Which means we could see a few wacky results. That Rice-Georgia Tech game is anyone's guess, and who knows what happens if either of those teams get hot? What if Drake springs an upset on Cal? In a week in which Texas lost to a Division II team and another dude scored 138 points, I'm not discounting any possibilities.

THE PICKS

First round: Xavier over Pacific; Saint Mary's over Drexel, Georgia Tech over Rice; Cal over Drake.

Semifinals: Saint Mary's over Xavier; Cal over Georgia Tech.

Championship: Saint Mary's over Cal.

ESPN.com's Colonial preview

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
7:25
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Before we get to team-by-team previews for the Colonial Athletic Association, here is Dana O'Neil's team-by-team analysis of the nonconference schedules in the CAA. For in-depth previews of all 11 CAA teams, check out Blue Ribbon's breakdowns: Insider

Delaware
Drexel Insider Free
George Mason
Georgia State
Hofstra
James Madison
Northeastern
Old Dominion
Towson
UNC Wilmington
William & Mary

Nonconference schedule analysis: CAA

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
4:50
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This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. We started Tuesday with the A-10 and Big East and now it's off to the Colonial Athletic Association ...

DELAWARE

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23), at Duke (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Temple (Nov. 25), at Villanova (Dec. 16)
The rest: at Lafayette (Nov. 28), Radford (Dec. 4), Delaware State (Dec. 8), Penn (Dec. 21), Rider (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale: 8 -- Kudos to Monte Ross for giving a fairly veteran Blue Hens team a schedule to truly test its worth. Delaware is trying to make inroads in this tough league and the best way to do that is to play big-boy teams. If the Blue Hens can beat Penn in the NIT, they'll most likely play at Virginia with a chance to advance to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals. It would be a huge spotlight for the program.

DREXEL

Toughest: Anaheim Classic (Nov. 22-25), Saint Joseph's (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: at Kent State (Nov. 9), Illinois State (Nov. 15), at Princeton (Dec. 8 )
The rest: at Penn (Nov. 17), Rider (Dec. 1), Tennessee State (Dec. 4), Fairfield (Dec. 16), Davidson (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale: 3 -- Really? After missing out on the NCAA tournament last season because of their lack of nonconference schedule strength, this is the best the Dragons could come up with? For a team that should be favored to win this league? They'll open with tough Saint Mary's in Anaheim, but the field out there is just not that strong. Kind of like this schedule.

GEORGE MASON

Toughest: Virginia (Nov. 9), Paradise Jam (Nov. 16-19), vs. Maryland (Dec. 2 in Washington, D.C.), at South Florida (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: at Bucknell (Nov. 13), Boston U (Nov. 24), Northern Iowa (Dec. 8), vs. Richmond (Dec. 22 at Richmond Coliseum)
The rest: at Rhode Island (Nov. 28), UMBC (Dec. 4)
Toughness scale: 8 -- This could get even better if the Patriots make their way through the Paradise Jam and square off against UConn (the opener is against A-Sun favorite Mercer). As it is, it’s pretty darned good anyway, what with the likes of the three big six tourney contenders at the top and some decent mid-majors filling out the middle.

GEORGIA STATE

Toughest: at Duke (Nov. 9), at BYU (Nov. 13)
Next-toughest: Southern Miss (Dec. 18), at Rhode Island (Dec. 22)
The rest: Monmouth (Nov. 19), Tennessee State (Nov. 20), South Alabama (Nov. 21), East Carolina (Nov. 26), Louisiana Tech (Nov. 30), at Liberty (Dec. 2), Southern Poly (Dec. 8), at Troy (Dec. 15), at Georgia Southern (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 7 -- Ron Hunter didn’t take long to put his stamp on the Georgia State program, leading the Panthers to the second-most wins in school history. This team might have a hard time matching that number with a schedule like this (opening at two of the toughest places to play in the country), but recognizing the value of playing people for a mid-major, Hunter built a good foundation for the Panthers this season with this nonconference slate.

HOFSTRA

Toughest: at Purdue (Nov. 11)
Next-toughest: Marshall (Nov. 18), at LIU-Brooklyn (Dec. 8 )
The rest: at Monmouth (Nov. 9), District of Columbia (Nov. 17), at Manhattan (Nov. 21), at George Washington (Nov. 24), SMU (Dec. 1), Wagner (Dec. 4), Wright State (Dec. 15), vs. Tulane (Dec. 22 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 1)
Toughness scale: 4 -- Mo Cassara is trying to get things back on track at Hofstra and has a fairly young roster, so a little wiggle room is understandable. Still, for a team that has its share of talent to call on in the form of Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Taran Buie (who were suspended for the first two games of the season), you’d kind of hope for and expect more.

JAMES MADISON

Toughest: at UCLA (Nov. 15)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Dec. 8), at Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 24)
The rest: at Duquesne (Nov. 19), vs. Youngstown State (Nov. 20 in Pittsburgh), vs. North Dakota State (Nov. 21 in Pittsburgh), George Washington (Nov. 28), Winthrop (Dec. 1), East Tennessee State (Dec. 5), UNC-Greensboro (Dec. 16), vs. San Jose State (Dec. 22 in Las Vegas), vs. San Diego (Dec. 23 in Las Vegas), at Hampton (Jan. 7)
Toughness scale: 7 -- Nothing like two cross-country trips from Harrisonburg, Va., to make life fun, especially when one includes a stop in Westwood. There are some opportunities here for a roster that includes three returning starters -- and getting Richmond and GW at home is nice.

NORTHEASTERN

Toughest: at Princeton (Nov. 13), Massachusetts (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Boston U (Nov. 9), Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 21-24), La Salle (Dec. 8), UNC Asheville (Dec. 18)
The rest: Vermont (Nov. 17), Maine (Nov. 28), at Central Connecticut State (Dec. 21), at UAB (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 3 -- Besides home games against A-10 sleepers UMass and La Salle, not much here to get terribly excited about, not when the rest of the league is putting some name-brand games on the schedule. Maybe a second-round game against Belmont in Anchorage?

OLD DOMINION

Toughest: at Murray State (Nov. 24), VCU (Dec. 7), vs. Virginia (Dec. 22 in Richmond)
Next-toughest: at Cleveland State (Nov. 17), Richmond (Dec. 4), UCF (Dec. 14), at Charleston (Dec. 18)
The rest: Holy Cross (Nov. 10), UTSA (Nov. 11), VMI (Nov. 21), Fairfield (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 7 -- In his last go-round in the CAA, Blaine Taylor has a good schedule that is both meaty and winnable, the perfect combination of games that might catch the committee’s eyes but aren’t impossible mountains for his team to climb.

TOWSON
Toughest: at Georgetown (Dec. 8), at Temple (Dec. 12), at Oregon State (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: at Charleston (Nov. 9), at Vermont (Dec. 5)
The rest: vs. Radford (Nov. 16 in Richmond, Ky.), at Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 17), vs. Kennesaw State (Nov. 18 in Richmond, Ky.), vs. Cincinnati Christian (Nov. 19 in Richmond, Ky.), at UMBC (Dec. 1), North Dakota State (Dec. 15), Coppin State (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale: 5 -- After the Tigers finished 1-31 a season ago (the one win came in conference play), there are plenty of games you can go ahead and put in the L column, including those toughies on the road in December. But Towson should be improved enough -- and a few opponents bad enough -- that a repeat of the one-win nightmare is highly unlikely.

UNC-WILMINGTON

Toughest: at Ohio (Nov. 16), at Purdue (Nov. 21), at Davidson (Dec. 15)
Next-toughest: UNC Asheville (Nov. 11), at Richmond (Nov. 13), at Marshall (Dec. 1), at Georgia Tech (Dec. 8 )
The rest: Wofford (Nov. 24), Hampton (Nov. 25), Coker (Dec. 5), UNC-Greensboro (Dec. 19), at Campbell (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 6 -- Buzz Peterson still has work to do in Wilmington, so a schedule that doesn’t kill his team makes sense. But Coker? Really? That said, there's quite a road gantlet here -- one that includes stops at Purdue, Ohio, Davidson, Richmond, Marshall and Georgia Tech. That should be fun.

WILLIAM & MARY

Toughest: at Purdue (Dec. 29), at Vanderbilt (Jan. 2)
Next-toughest: at Wake Forest (Nov. 23), at Richmond (Nov. 28)
The rest: Hampton (Nov. 9), at Liberty (Nov. 12), at High Point (Nov. 17), Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 21), Howard (Dec. 6), at Radford (Dec. 8), Salisbury (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 4 -- This is the all-name schedule. Purdue, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest have the national recognition, but none of them will exactly be at their best this season -- although each will be heavily favored over the Tribe. For a program that has struggled so much lately, though, there are some winnable confidence-builders mixed in.

Bracket reveal: Anaheim Classic

July, 26, 2012
7/26/12
12:00
PM ET

Tournament bracket for the 2012 Anaheim Classic

When and where: Nov. 22-23, 25 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Initial thoughts: On the surface, this isn’t a very sexy tournament but there are some intriguing teams here to keep an eye on. Now that VCU and Old Dominion have bolted, most everyone agrees that the CAA is Drexel’s league to lose this season. Still, Bruiser Flint knows well the need to build up a nonconference resume and wins here would help.

[+] EnlargeAllen Crabbe
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireA Cal team led by Allen Crabbe is a favorite in this tournament.
I’m really curious to see what Xavier is all about after last year’s turbulent season. Mark Lyons is gone, which could be a good thing for the Musketeers. A terrific player, he was a handful to coach and while losing him, plus Tu Holloway, hurts in the scoring column, Xavier might be better off in the long run parting ways with Lyons.

California should be among the better teams in the potentially resurgent Pac-12, but has to adjust to losing Jorge Gutierrez.

Mfon Udofia has to be both leader and scorer for Georgia Tech now that Brian Gregory has dismissed Glen Rice Jr. from the team.

Drake coach Mark Phelps rolls out a roster with eight newcomers, not exactly what you want against the more experienced lineup that Cal will present.

Ben Braun got Rice to turn the corner last season, gobbling up the Owls’ most wins (19) in seven years. He welcomes back his two top scorers, as Rice could be a bit of a sleeper here.

Saint Mary’s is coming off an historic regular season, winning both the West Coast Conference regular season and tournament, but had a disappointing loss to Purdue in the NCAA tournament. Matthew Dellavedova is back, but Rob Jones is gone.

Matchup I can’t wait to see: Drexel vs. Saint Mary’s. One of the nation’s best defensive teams against one of the country’s best offensive squads? Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch going up against Dellavedova? What’s not to like here? This game could be high-caliber enough to qualify as a BracketBuster.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Cal vs. Saint Mary’s. It’s a California tournament. Why not let the two in-state teams from NorCal duke it out for the title?

Key players to watch

Robert Carter, Georgia Tech: The native son has been viewed as a sort of savior for the Yellow Jackets. The power forward, ranked 33rd in the country in the ESPN 100, is certainly a critical piece as Brian Gregory tries to resurrect Tech.

Allen Crabbe, Cal: One of the top returning scorers in the Pac-12, Crabbe, along with teammate Justin Cobbs, serve as a 1-2 punch of optimism for the Golden Bears this season.

Matthew Dellavedova, SMC: The WCC player of the year will spend his summer in London, playing for the Australian Olympic team. Expect that experience to make the playmaker only that much better.

Arsalan Kazemi, Rice: You might never have heard of Kazemi, but in three years few players have been as steady as he has been for Rice. Kazemi has averaged a double-double in each of his collegiate seasons.

Frantz Massenat, Drexel: Massenat figures to be one of the mid-major players plenty of people will keep an eye on this season. The Dragons’ leading scorer from a year ago averaged 13.7 points per game as a sophomore.

Ben Simons, Drake: The third-leading scorer in the Missouri Valley a year ago, Simons doubled his scoring output between his sophomore and junior years. With a roster full of newcomers, expect Simons to be asked to score even more this season.

Dez Wells, Xavier: Wells goes from understudy to front and center, now that Holloway and Lyons are gone. He’s been terrific in a supporting role, averaging 9.8 points as a freshman.

Title-game prediction

Cal over Saint Mary's: College basketball, like most sports, isn’t that complicated. Talent and experience make for a pretty good combo and the Bears have more of each than anyone else in this field.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Saint Mary's over Cal
Andy Katz: Drexel over Cal
Jason King: Cal over Saint Mary's
Myron Medcalf: Drexel over Cal
1. The Colonial Athletic Association will announce Tuesday if it has reversed course and allowed departing members Old Dominion (C-USA) and Georgia State (Sun Belt) to compete in the 2013 conference tournament, according to the league office. The CAA deliberated on the issue last week. The CAA is down to seven eligible members for its tournament at this juncture, with Towson and UNC Wilmington barred by the NCAA for poor APR scores. The CAA has a bylaw that prevents a school from competing in a championship if it is departing. That’s why VCU left abruptly for the A-10 instead of waiting a year.

2. The CAA is also looking at options for moving the conference tournament out of Richmond now that VCU has split. The deal with Richmond goes through 2014. C-USA decided to pull its conference tournament out of Memphis because the Tigers are leaving for the Big East. C-USA moved its tournament to Tulsa for 2013. The CAA is now investigating the feasibility of putting its 2013 tournament at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia, which would be a major coup for league contender Drexel. Drexel’s campus is a block or two away from Penn’s Palestra homecourt. Baltimore and Atlantic City are also being discussed as potential future CAA tourney homes. A decision is due soon.

3. The new rule that allows college coaches to work with players if they’re in summer school has been met with rave reviews so far. A number of coaches began the individual sessions last week and it has continued this week as summer school begins in earnest on college campuses. “I like it due to the fact that you get to see the guys,’’ said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. College coaches have long wanted to work out their own players in the summer and for good reason. A number of them have found refuge working out with agent-sponsored trainers since there was never an option to stay put on campus with their own college coach.
1. The Colonial Athletic Association will meet June 1-2 in Hilton Head, S.C., and the site of the 2013 tournament is expected to be a hot topic. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said he could see the tournament moving to Baltimore, out of Virginia Commonwealth's home base in Richmond. The problem is that a school like Towson would have to support the event. The CAA is going to have an odd year in 2013 now that VCU is gone to the Atlantic 10, Georgia State is ineligible to play in the tourney since it’s leaving for the Sun Belt and Towson and UNC-Wilmington aren’t eligible due to poor APR scores. That leaves eight schools available for the tourney. The elite of Drexel, Old Dominion and George Mason (as well as possibly Northeastern) should all be near the top of the league.

2. The A-10 will find out that a school like VCU has the size and strength to bump the league up a perceived level immediately. The Rams will be an instant competitor for the A-10 title in year one. Don’t be surprised to see VCU and Butler in the thick of the race for the championship in 2014, too. One of the big winners is the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The A-10 made the prudent move to Brooklyn instead of Atlantic City. Having a tournament with Xavier, VCU and Butler as the headline teams will be a draw. If Saint Joseph’s, UMass, Dayton and others in the area can be factors, the buzz for the event will only increase.

3. Murray State coach Steve Prohm is deciding about which tournament the coveted Racers will play in next season. He’s going back and forth on whether to be in the NIT Season Tip-Off pod at Kansas State (the other three hosts are Virginia, Pitt and Michigan) or become the eighth team at the Charleston (S.C.) Classic. The seven teams signed up for the Nov. 15-18 event are: Baylor, Boston College, Charleston, Colorado, Dayton, St. John’s and Southern Illinois. It’s a tough call for Prohm. He could gamble and go to Manhattan, Kan., to try to get to New York or go to Charleston, where he’s likely to get at least two games against possible NCAA teams.
1. Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager said he was well aware that signing a new agreement with NBC Sports would likely mean the end of the CAA’s involvement in the ESPN-sponsored BracketBusters, beginning in 2013. “We are disappointed but we understand the business,’’ Yeager said. He said that the benefits of signing with NBC outweighed the risks of losing a spot in BracketBusters. VCU coach Shaka Smart agreed that no longer participating in BracketBusters wasn’t good. The CAA has had some of the best wins in the event, notably by George Mason, VCU and Drexel.

2. Third parties representing TCU and SMU showed interest in Memphis coach Josh Pastner, according to sources, but there was no interest on his part. And there shouldn’t be at this point. Pastner is at the best job in Conference USA. When Memphis goes to the Big East in 2013, he’ll be at one of the best in that league, too. Pastner should only leave if he has to or for a comparable job, not a lesser one.

3. SMU also made overtures toward Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. Amaker wasn’t interested, either. A year ago, Miami made a strong push to get him. But Amaker knows he is in a special place at Harvard and will coach another Ivy League title contender. His NCAA tournament berth last month was historic for the Crimson. And now the most recognized school in higher education cares about hoops. That in itself is quite an accomplishment.

Bracket impressions: Dana O'Neil

March, 11, 2012
3/11/12
8:44
PM ET
Bracket first impressions:

Someone on the Selection Committee must be a frustrated screenplay writer.

How else to explain the endless plots coursing through some of these regions?

In the South, Kentucky will debut as the No. 1 overall seed against either its in-state neighbor, Western Kentucky, or former Wildcat Sean Woods, the man who would have sent the Unforgettables to the Final Four were it not for a guy named Laettner.

Should the Cats get through that game, next up is defending national champion Connecticut, the team that knocked them out of the Final Four a year ago. Last we took the pulse, former New England rivals Jim Calhoun and John Calipari weren’t double-dating with milkshakes, either.

After that how about a possible Sweet 16 date with Christian Watford, er, Indiana? The Hoosiers, thanks to Watford’s shot that restored a program, are the only team to beat Kentucky in the regular season.

And then to complete the fun down South, there is perhaps an Elite Eight game against Duke (which might have to get UNLV, its program-establishing Final Four foe, first). Twenty years ago this season, the two met in in a sort-of kind-of memorable regional final.

That guy named Laettner again.

Across the way in the Midwest there are some decent storylines, too. Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott could square off in an 1-8 game. The two once, believe it or not, were on the same team. As you might expect, Ames (Iowa) High was pretty good – 53-0 with two state titles in their tenure.

In the Sweet 16, Barnes' Tar Heels could tango with Michigan. If you don’t recall, the two met in the 1993 title game. Chris Webber remembers. He called timeout.

Being a No. 1 seed ain’t what it used to be.

Back when, like last year, you could write the nation’s best through to the Sweet 16 in ink. Maybe you wouldn’t press too hard, but ink was fine.

[+] EnlargeJohn Henson
AP Photo/James CrispAnthony Davis blocked John Henson's would-be winner when Kentucky and North Carolina met in December; will he get another shot in New Orleans?
Now grab a pencil.

The No. 1s were not exactly rewarded with cakewalk 8-9 opponents.

Potentially lining up across from Kentucky: defending national champion Connecticut, a team that started the season ranked No. 4 in the country and sports two NBA first-rounders on its roster.

In line for North Carolina: How about a possible date with Creighton, one of the few teams in the country that can score with the Tar Heels and boasts an All-America candidate in McDermott to boot?

Michigan State could get a matchup with Memphis, a wildly talented No. 8 seed that has won 11 of its past 12 games.

Syracuse might say hello to Kansas State, two-time winners over Missouri.

Some other random observations:

  • Is it the nickname? If he went by something less intimidating — like his given name, James — would Bruiser Flint be welcomed to the party? His Drexel team did win 27 games after all, and that used to be the goal of the sport — winning games.
  • As usual, the 5-12 game is where the action is. Wichita State and VCU, mid-major darlings both, meet in the South; New Mexico-Long Beach State in the West and Vanderbilt-Harvard in the East. Tiebreaker in that one is a spelling bee.
Seeded too high: Colorado, Southern Miss.

Seeded too low: Memphis, Murray State, Detroit.

VCU 2012: That would be Iona. Most everyone is screaming about the Gaels being in. Understandable. But the Gaels are talented enough to make everyone eat their words just like the Rams did last year.

First team to 300 wins: That could be Creighton and North Carolina. The Tar Heels average 80 points; the Bluejays 83. Bring your oxygen tank.

Win or you’re out: That goes to all the folks who argued their merit despite failing to finish above .500 in their respective leagues. It’s not an official selection committee rule but de facto works fine by us.

And finally the potential: In October, they were tabbed the two best teams, loaded with the most talent. In December, they played an epic game in Lexington, Ky., decided only by Anthony Davis' incredible reach topping John Henson’s equally impossible wingspan. And on April 2, Kentucky and North Carolina could meet again for the national title.

Bracket impressions: Joe Lunardi

March, 11, 2012
3/11/12
7:39
PM ET
Here are my quick initial thoughts on the 2012 NCAA tournament bracket:
  • By going South (Atlanta), Kentucky was protected from a potential Elite Eight game in the Midwest (St. Louis) against Kansas. Wonder whether the Wildcats would have traded that for the chance to avoid Connecticut in a very likely third-round matchup.
  • The price for "protecting" Kentucky is having North Carolina top the Midwest instead of the South, forcing both the Wildcats (by a little) and the Tar Heels (by a lot) into additional travel.
  • Kansas was apparently ahead of Missouri on the committee's S-curve, as the Jayhawks got a more favorable No. 2 seed than the Tigers. Either way, I am glad the committee stayed at it long enough to award Michigan State (rightfully so) the final No. 1 seed.
  • I thought for a moment that Colorado's relatively good seed (No. 11) might be a good sign for California or even Washington. Not so much. The Bears get an early-week trip to Dayton, and the Huskies become the first regular-season "big six" champion to miss the NCAA tournament.
  • I'm guessing the somewhat surprising slot for the BYU-Iona winner (No. 14, West) might have something to do with BYU's "no Sunday play" rule. Either way, it is the worst at-large seed I can ever recall.
  • I can totally understand the choice of Iona and applaud it. My guess is Drexel was ultimately done in, as expected, by its weak schedule-strength numbers. We might never know which team was ultimately knocked out by St. Bonaventure's winning the Atlantic 10 championship.
  • Overall, my favorite thing about this year's field is that -- intentionally or not -- the "Joey Brackets Rule" is in effect for the most part. There was only one (UConn) at-large selection of a team under .500 in conference play. Bravo to that.
Say this for the NCAA: When it expanded the tournament to 68 teams, it accomplished at least one thing.

It made your argument invalid.

Once the province of outrage and disgust, the post-tournament bracket digestion process has become downright serene. It was difficult to gin up much outrage over 2011's tournament "snubs," and you'll have to stretch even harder to get there in 2012. This bubble was soft. It was really, really soft.

The opportunities were there. If your favorite high-major team didn't make the tournament, it's probably because it missed numerous chances for big wins. If your mid-major squad didn't get in, it's probably because its league was bad and it didn't prove anything outside conference play. If you're from the Pac-12 ... well, again: Nicolas Cage's hair is a bird, and your argument is invalid.

It's hard to feel much sympathy for any of these teams. If your team was good, it would have gotten in the field. If it didn't, it wasn't. Simple enough.

That said, the bubble is always a matter of relativity. And relatively speaking, a handful of teams will be able to lodge legitimate complaints against the 2012 NCAA tournament selection committee. These are their stories:

Drexel Dragons (27-6, 16-2 CAA; RPI: 64; SOS: 248)

What the committee would say: We liked Drexel's dominance in the Colonial -- we couldn't easily discount a team that won 25 of its final 27 games -- but whom did Drexel beat, exactly? The Colonial was down this season. No one in the league got a good nonconference win. Drexel got both VCU and George Mason at home (and didn't have to go on the road), and its atrocious scheduling numbers put a major dent in all those wins. Drexel was good in the CAA tournament final, but so were a lot of teams, and we don't look at margin of victory. We wish we could put them in, but we just can't do it.

What fans would say: Dudes. Dudes! Put down the nitty-gritty sheets, toss aside your dumb schedule-strength metrics and RPI nonsense, briefly come up for air, and then ask yourself: What bubble team played better basketball in the final two months of the season than Drexel? Just because the Dragons can't get the same number of games against top-50 teams doesn't mean you shouldn't reward them for beating the teams on their schedule. Sure, the entire body of work matters, but what about the win at Cleveland State? What about that 25-2 record since early December? (25-2!) Plus, the only bad losses this team took all happened four months ago. Strength of schedule is a joke, and so are you.

Also ... you put in Iona and not Drexel? What? How does that make any sense? Explain yourselves! (You can't. Ugh.)

Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-11, 8-8 SEC; RPI: 73; SOS: 87)

What the committee would say: We care about the entire body of work. We really do. But we also reserve the right to evaluate a team as it currently is, not as it was earlier in the season, and the bottom line is this: The Bulldogs collapsed down the stretch. MSU lost six of its final eight games, including two games to Georgia, one to LSU and one to Auburn. We watch teams play, and when we watched Rick Stansbury's, we saw a disjointed, disinterested bunch who looked ripe for early upset. Besides, it's not like the body of work is overwhelming. MSU has two good wins -- over Alabama and at Vanderbilt -- and really not much else. And that 73 RPI? Yeah, that's not good.

What the fans would say: Oh ... it ... we ... we have no response. That was perfect.

Washington Huskies (21-10, 14-4 Pac-12; RPI: 70; SOS: 94)

What the committee would say: This team went 7-6 in the nonconference, and its best win came at home against UC-Santa Barbara. Its best overall win came against either Oregon or Arizona. It lost by 19 at home to South Dakota State. Sure, it won its league, but so what? The Pac-12 went 1-29 in nonconference play against the RPI top 50 this season, and if Washington was so good -- or at least as good as its obvious talent -- it would have dominated that league and made an emphatic statement in the Pac-12 tourney. Instead, it lost to Oregon State. No sympathy here.

What fans would say: East Coast bias! OK, maybe not: We admit the Pac-12 was really bad. But UW did win the league, and no power-conference regular-season champion has ever missed the NCAA tournament. Plus, before you go ripping on UW's nonconference performance, please account for the fact that it narrowly lost to Duke and Marquette in a matter of days on the East Coast in early December. If you've seen this team play, you know it can make a deep tournament run. Isn't that worth something? (Answer: No. But UW fans seem to keep making this argument anyway.)

Seton Hall Pirates (20-12, 8-10 Big East; RPI: 61; SOS: 57)

What the committee would say: Seton Hall had as many chances as any bubble team in the country to get the wins it needed to impress us. With just minimal exception, the Pirates didn't. Sure, they crushed Georgetown on Feb. 21, but that win came in the midst of a 5-10 overall finish and was mixed in with missed opportunities against beatable opportunities like Notre Dame, Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati. Throw that in with a nonconference schedule that included a loss to Northwestern and no good wins, and the impression remains: The Pirates had a decent season, but they just didn't do enough.

What the fans would say: Few bubble teams have even one RPI top-50 win. Seton Hall has four. It also won at Dayton and beat West Virginia, which, OK, that's not crazy impressive, but no one's arguing the Pirates should be a single-digit seed -- just that they're more deserving than most of the bubble for one of those last at-large spots.

Northwestern Wildcats (18-13, 8-10 Big Ten; RPI: 59; SOS: 15)

What the committee would say: How many opportunities do you need? You got 11 cracks at top-50 wins. You won one of them. That's really all you need to know. We respect the strength of schedule, but it had more to do with your conference than your nonconference, and your chief nonconference wins came over Seton Hall and LSU. OK? Bottom line: Northwestern proved it was a very average team that could beat the teams it was supposed to beat but couldn't get over the hump against the kind of teams you need to beat to prove you belong. We feel for you, Northwestern fans, but you really didn't belong.

What the fans would say: [Play Morrissey's "How Soon Is Now?", throw remote control across the wall, decide to stop caring about basketball forever.]
NEW YORK – Somewhere in Philadelphia, Bruiser Flint should be crafting his argument:

"The Top 100 Reasons Why My Team Deserves To Be in the NCAA Tournament."

South Florida provided 99 for the Drexel coach.

The Bulls, fighting to prove why they belonged in the bracket, instead gave the selection committee a litany of reasons for why they didn’t.

Forget the RPI and the 1-9 record against RPI top-50 teams. Forget the unbalanced schedule that worked against the Bulls in terms of SOS.

Just go to the eye test and watch the final few minutes of regulation and the extra period in their 57-53 overtime loss to Notre Dame. The federal government could put it on a loop to force bad guys to confess.

It was equal parts painful and foolish, a one-two self-inflicted punch that could prove to be a knockout.

Missed layups, missed front ends of one-and-ones, turnovers, dribbling aimlessly for 23 of the final 25 seconds with a four-point deficit and throwing the ball out of bounds on a last-ditch attempt to win it.

How did USF blow it? Let us count the ways.

And the Bulls blew it on a bubblicious night when Texas and Cal likely played their way in with wins and North Carolina State and Colorado State at least played their way into the discussion.

Instead, USF joined Washington, Northwestern and Mississippi State in the losers’ bracket of teams that will spend an uncomfortable Sunday evening.

[+] EnlargeStan Heath
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireStan Heath's USF squad will be biting its nails ahead of Selection Sunday after an ugly loss.
Of course, beauty or ugliness, as Stan Heath said, is in the eye of the beholder -- and when the USF coach gazed upon the mess, he saw a masterpiece.

“Hopefully we erased any doubt of what kind of basketball team we are,’’ he said. “We belong. We definitely belong. Giving that kind of effort on the defensive end, you have to really appreciate when you have teams that sacrifice themselves on the defensive end. People on the outside, the casual observer, don’t know how difficult that is, don’t understand that. Teams like us not only get in, they win and advance.’’

Heath’s assessment of his defense is fair. The Bulls do play hard and they challenge shots, using their size inside to make everything difficult. In one ridiculous effort, Gus Gilchrist managed to block Jerian Grant despite falling backward and out of bounds.

But this wasn’t about the defense making things ugly. Good defense should be lauded.

This is about the offense making things uglier.

As active and disruptive as the Bulls’ defense is, their offense is that lackluster. It is like watching chess, with players just standing around like statues.

South Florida led by three with 2:45 to play in a game when three points might as well have been 300, and lost. Frankly, it lost multiple times.

First, when with 33 seconds to play and USF up 45-44, Jawanza Poland got out on the break with absolutely no one but a row of cheerleaders near him and the basket ... and missed a layup.

“He should have finished that layup,’’ Heath said. “He’s point-blank, all by himself. He makes it and the game is over. It’s done.’’

Second, when Poland, strangely fouled by Scott Martin after that miss, clanked the front end of a one-and-one.

Third, when Poland made the worst 33 seconds of his life even worse, fouled Pat Connaughton.

Because the Irish were every bit as culpable in this disaster, Connaughton naturally missed one of two free throws to tie it with 26 seconds left.

“That was unusual,’’ Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said with a chuckle. “We threw a bomb to Pat and he got fouled. I thought, this is getting wild.’’

Ah, but there were five more minutes of wild to come. Notre Dame edged out to a four-point lead when Eric Atkins, without a field goal in the entire game, drained a 3-pointer with 30 seconds to play.

USF got the ball back and point guard Anthony Collins showed all the urgency of a senior citizen on a freeway.

It would have been a comedy of errors if weren’t so hard to understand and if the potential ramifications weren’t so bad.

“I’ll be honest, I won’t sleep,’’ Heath said. “You want to hear your name called on Sunday at 6 o’clock. I think we’ve done a great job by putting ourselves in a great position. I think our team is worthy. But there’s some people that have a lot of information that make wise decisions and we’ll let our case rest with them.’’

There is no shame in losing to Notre Dame. The Irish are a very good team, owners of a 22-10 record now and a legit top Big East squad.

And Heath should be commended for what he’s done. He has retooled a team that won 10 games all of last season into one that won 12 in the Big East alone this season.

But at this time of year it is not enough to talk about what you’ve done. You have to compare your results and your game to others.

You have to look like an NCAA tournament team -- and in its last game before Selection Sunday, USF didn’t.
There will be no hand-wringing or worrying, no public outcry or gnashing of teeth.

Virginia Commonwealth is back in the NCAA tournament, and no one can argue the Rams don’t belong.

A year after its epic run to the Final Four began amid controversy surrounding its at-large bid, VCU assured itself a second date by winning the CAA tournament and ousting top-seeded Drexel 59-56 in the championship game.

It’s the Rams’ first conference tourney title since 2009 and the first of coach Shaka Smart’s career.

“Well, the next six days, we will be checking the Bracketology and predictions a lot less than we did a year ago,’’ Smart said. “It was kind of cruel and unusual punishment last year, but that’s the way it goes. Now, Selection Sunday was a blast once our name was called, and this year it will be a blast in a different way. We know we’re in. Now it’s just a matter of what seed we are and who we’re playing.’’

This should, of course, be the start of a new narrative for the Rams. VCU lost four starters from that memorable team that went from First Four to Final Four, leaving Bradford Burgess behind to shepherd a group of former role players into key spots.

And it didn’t come easily or quickly. The Rams didn’t look pretty early, losing by double-digits to Seton Hall and awful Georgia Tech in the Charleston Classic and then dropping two of their first four league games.

But Smart stayed true and patient, and his players stayed with him, steadily climbing through one 11-game win streak and then another six-game run en route to the CAA title.

“A lot of people doubted us, didn’t think we’d be a championship-caliber team,’’ Smart said. “In November, we weren’t. We weren’t good enough to do what we did tonight. But that’s why we play and coach the way we do. We emphasized improvement. I always thought we were talented enough as a group and that if we developed the confidence and swagger and toughness, we’d be a championship-caliber team. To their credit, they did that.’’

Now that they are back in, the Rams are prepared for the inevitable. Smart long ago addressed the elephant in his locker room, encouraging his players to be respectful of people who want to talk about last year but to privately put it to rest. “Own today’’ was the motto the coach came up with, making business cards his players could tuck into their wallets.

Owning today will be more difficult starting next week when VCU, the tournament darling a year ago, steps back up to an NCAA podium.

Smart, though, intends to turn the pressure on its ear.

“With all the bubble talk, there were a lot of questions even now comparing us to last year’s team,’’ he said. “Our guys all year long have known that we’re going to have a target on our backs. But we intend to use it as an advantage. Going into the NCAA tournament, we have a lot of guys with tournament experience, deep tournament experience.’’

At least this year the Rams won’t have to prove they belong.

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