College Basketball Nation: Joe Harris


A look around the East Region ...

IOWA STATE vs. UCONN

What to watch: Tempo. The Cyclones like to go, go, go, and UConn is more content in the half court. Not that the Huskies can’t push, but they may not have the firepower to match Iowa State bucket for bucket. Whoever wins the tempo battle could win the game.

Who to watch: Shabazz Napier versus DeAndre Kane? Yeah, that will work. The two senior point guards have essentially put their teams on their backs in this NCAA tournament, leading not just in scoring but also in rebounding and assists. This might be one of the more entertaining one-on-one battles in the regionals.

Why watch: In just two years, coach Kevin Ollie already has put his stamp on the Huskies, easing them through APR banishment last season and reconfiguring them into an NCAA tourney team this season. A win here would only solidify that this is his team now. Fred Hoiberg, meanwhile, has resurrected his alma mater from ground level, reinvigorating a fan base that was ready to be charged. An Elite Eight berth might turn the Mayor into the Governor.

VIRGINIA vs. MICHIGAN STATE

What to watch: The Spartans as a team might be hard-pressed to score 41 points, let alone Adreian Payne solo, against the defensive-minded Cavaliers. This game will be a rock fight, in which case rebounding will be key. Michigan State ranks 70th nationally in rebounding compared to 140th for the Cavaliers, who squeezed out just one offensive board against a far-less-talented Coastal Carolina team in the round of 64.

Who to watch: Tricky choice because Virginia is such a team-oriented group. But if forced to pick, you have to say it’s the Harrises: Michigan State's Gary Harris and Virginia's Joe Harris. Both are capable of some streaky shooting, and if one gets hot, that could mean ballgame.

Why watch: If there can be such a thing as an underdog No. 1 seed, Virginia is it. Practically no one is talking about the Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the collective thinking is that the Spartans are both woefully underseeded and national title favorites. We’ll see about all of that here.

Video: Virginia's Harris talks expectations

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
9:00
AM ET

Andy Katz talks to Virginia guard Joe Harris as expectations for the Cavaliers continue to rise.

Five things: ACC championship game

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16
3:17
PM ET

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Virginia matched its ACC regular-season championship with a conference tournament title after a 72-63 win over Duke on Sunday. It may have also put an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed in play for the Cavaliers, but for now they’ll savor winning just their second ACC tournament title ever.

Here are five observations from Virginia's win over Duke:
  • Need any more proof that the Cavaliers are for real? They have the three areas that generally lead to long NCAA tournament runs, starting with a tough defense that held Duke below 40 percent shooting from the field. They also have a playmaking point guard in London Perrantes. And they have multiple go-to players in Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris for those close-game situations where they absolutely have to have a basket. Brogdon almost single-handedly disproved the theory that the Cavs can't score. He led the team with 23 points and always had an answer when the Blue Devils were making a charge.
  • Jabari Parker is being way more assertive than earlier in the season. At one point in the second half, the freshman forward scored eight straight points for the Blue Devils. One basket came when he stole an entry pass in the post and took it coast-to-coast for a dunk. The next possession he followed with a 3-pointer and -- what’s becoming his trademark -- kissed his fingers. He finished with 23 points but was just 9-of-24 shooting from the field.
  • It’s tough to get to the rim against the Cavaliers. It seems like few teams protect the basket better without a dominant 7-footer in the middle. (Mike Tobey is 6-foot-11 but is not exactly an intimidator.) Their rotations are always timely, and Akil Mitchell and Anthony Gill will surprise you with their shot-blocking ability. Parker and Rodney Hood are used to driving and scoring around the rim, but they found the going a lot tougher against the Cavs.
  • That said, Mitchell could have easily been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. At one point in the first half, Parker squared him up and attempted to shoot a jumper, but Mitchell blocked the shot with his left hand. In the first half, Parker found the going so tough against Mitchell that he resorted to shooting jumpers.
  • Duke sorely needs a consistent backcourt scorer to emerge. With Parker and Hood struggling from the floor, the Blue Devils didn’t have a third option to take over the scoring. Rasheed Sulaimon was held to two points and Quinn Cook had five. Andre Dawkins did have nine off the bench, but Duke will need more in the NCAA tournament.


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The last time the Virginia Cavaliers won the ACC regular-season title, none of the current team members had been born. None of them would be for at least another decade. Head coach Tony Bennett was 11 years old.

On Saturday afternoon, the Cavaliers ended that 33-year drought, picking apart Syracuse’s 2-3 zone in the game’s second half en route to a 75-56 win over the fourth-ranked Orange. Afterward, as the capacity crowd of 14,593 stood watching, Virginia cut down the nets -- a surprise exclamation point on a record-breaking regular season.

[+] EnlargeVirginia
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsVirginia won its first regular-season ACC title since 1981.
"We weren’t really expecting to cut down the nets," senior Joe Harris said.

Forty-five minutes before tipoff, John Paul Jones Arena was already half full. Paul Tudor Jones II, a 1976 Virginia graduate, was in attendance, as was his father, Jack, for whom the arena is named. A fan sitting behind the basket said someone had offered him $2,000 for his extra ticket -- but he wouldn’t give it up.

"This is what I’ve been coming to games for," the fan said. "Coach Bennett and his program -- they’re the real deal."

Throughout the afternoon, the arena was so loud that senior Akil Mitchell said his ears were popping. Bennett said afterward that he’d never heard such a loud crowd here, save for a Taylor Swift concert. A few weeks ago, UVa students trying to enter the ticket lottery for this final regular-season home game crashed the entire system because so many hands were clicking simultaneously.

This is what Bennett envisioned when he arrived in Charlottesville, Va., five years ago. It’s the vision he described to his first recruiting class, of whom Harris and Mitchell are the two remaining members.

"Come help us turn this program around -- that was my vision," Bennett said, a piece of the game net sitting in his coat breast pocket.

Four members of that original recruiting class transferred. Bennett’s first Virginia team won only 15 games. But his teams have improved every season since. With this season’s 25 (and counting) wins, the Cavaliers are the first team in the nation to improve their win total each season in the past five.

The Cavs’ 16-1 ACC record is a program best and makes UVa only the second team in ACC history to win 16 conference games. Saturday’s win was Virginia’s 18th consecutive ACC home-game victory, a school record, and the longest active streak in the league.

And for a program that’s been overshadowed by traditional top-tier programs or even by the ACC’s new arrivals, the Cavs' regular-season title might foreshadow what lies ahead.

"We’re overlooked because we don’t play the flashy game with the highlights on ESPN," sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon said. "But that’s not really a bad thing."

What has stood out about this team in particular -- and what could carry it further into the postseason than most pundits would’ve predicted in October -- is its depth. Last season, Virginia won a stunner at home against Duke on Feb. 28 before losing two straight games on the road and in the first round of the ACC tournament. That team leaned heavily on Harris because it lacked a balanced offensive attack.

This season’s team has proven it has the depth even when Harris isn’t hitting. He had just seven points on Saturday, but Brogdon picked up the slack. He was their leading scorer; his 19-point performance capped a run of 17 consecutive games of double-figure scoring.

Mitchell dominated at both ends in the game’s first five minutes, while sophomore center Mike Tobey, who entered the game having scored more than four points only once in his past eight games, battled under the basket, grabbing rebounds and finishing with 11 points. London Perrantes, Brogdon and sophomore guard Justin Anderson combined for just six points in the first half but went for 30 points in the second.

[+] EnlargeLondon Perrantes, Trevor Cooney
Rich Barnes/Getty ImagesLondon Perrantes, right, had six points and seven assists Saturday.
And the team has rarely wavered from the hallmark of Bennett’s coaching style, as he reminded his team the day before the game: "We win it with the defense."

That game plan doesn’t showcase the talents of one or even two stars. It’s a collective effort. Everyone has to buy in to the pack-line defense. UVa limited Syracuse’s leading scorer, senior C.J. Fair, to 13 points and held the Orange to 35.7 percent shooting.

"Virginia is that good that their defense won’t allow those shots that we needed," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said afterward.

After early nonconference losses to VCU, Wisconsin, Green Bay and Tennessee, the Cavaliers have held 17 straight opponents and 33 straight ACC opponents to under 50 percent shooting.

"They have been the best team in the league so far this year," Boeheim said. "This is the first game all year that we have been out of the game. We have to give tremendous credit to both their offensive ability and their defensive team, too."

Bennett cautioned his team against big celebrations on Saturday, reminding it of what lies ahead. He promised his seniors -- Mitchell, Harris and Thomas Rogers -- that if they held their emotions in check during pre-game court celebrations with family, he'd throw them a pool party, complete with a DJ, once the season is finished.

Still, Mitchell couldn't help but show emotion when his roommate, Rogers, nailed a 3-pointer for Virginia's final score.

"I've never jumped so high in my life," Mitchell said, grinning.

After the final buzzer, he and Harris carried the ladder toward the basket, a fitting metaphor for the duo's role in the turnaround of Virginia basketball. And while they're graduating, it's a metamorphosis that might just be getting started.

"I don’t think we’ve grasped it yet," Perrantes said. "But it’s a great feeling right now."

DURHAM, N.C. -- Surely you didn’t expect Duke to lose at home to Virginia.

No matter how odd it is seeing Duke in the bottom fifth of the polls and in the bottom half of the ACC standings, let’s not get carried away with its demise.

“Losing here is not a good feeling, it’s like a gloomy cloud over Durham every time we lose,” Duke guard Quinn Cook said. “Everybody was against us. I don’t think that nobody believed that we could win today because those guys are a great team.”

The Blue Devils have always been capable of pulling out a 69-65 win at home like they did against the Cavs on Monday. We shouldn’t get too carried away with proclaiming the Blue Devils back, either.

The Cavaliers, despite entering the day tied for first place in the ACC standings with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, lost for the 16th straight time in Cameron Indoor Stadium dating back to Jan. 14, 1995.

“We lost two games and we haven’t been playing well as a ballclub,” Duke forward Jabari Parker said. “To get to play one of the top three teams in the ACC and beat them just brings us back to where we want to be.”

The fact that the Cavs are even a measuring stick should be a red flag. This is the same Virginia team that lost by 35 at Tennessee.

If Duke’s two league losses at Notre Dame and at Clemson didn’t prove it to be a flawed team, then surely Virginia’s rally from down 13 did. The Cavs trailed the entire game until taking a one-point lead with 38 seconds left.

[+] EnlargeDuke
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeRasheed Sulaimon scored a season-high 21 points to lead Duke.
It was short-lived, as Amile Jefferson tied his career high by rebounding a Rodney Hood miss. His job being to rebound and redirect, Jefferson kicked the ball back out and the sequence ended with Rasheed Sulaimon scoring the go-ahead basket when he got a friendly bounce on a 3-pointer.

Jefferson set his career high with his 15th rebound after a Joe Harris miss that could have tied the game with four seconds left.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Jefferson “an animal” for scrapping to get seemingly every rebound.

“The last few seconds [he] just willed us to win,” Krzyzewski said. “That was one of the great sequences that I’ve seen.”

And that is one of the sequences he expects to see much more of from Duke moving forward.

Krzyzewski revealed he hadn’t gotten over his brother’s passing on Dec. 26 and all but promised the Blue Devils would be a different team from now on.

“We haven’t been at our best since the start of conference and I haven’t been at my best since Christmas,” he said. “That’s my responsibility. I’ve been knocked back and today we weren’t knocked back.”

Krzyzewski said he needed to be more observant of his team. He said part of the reason why the Blue Devils were getting dominated by opposing frontcourts was fatigue. That changed against Virginia.

He substituted entire lineups throughout the game to keep players fresh. Cook joked, “It felt like my Little League team.”

But the Blue Devils knew the stakes were big.

That’s why Krzyzewski extolled the crowd to make noise when coming out of a first-half timeout. It’s why Tyler Thornton grabbed Sulaimon and hugged him during a lineup change, happy for his fast start. It’s why Andre Dawkins nearly choked Jefferson in a headlock on the bench after his game-saving rebounds in the final seconds.

“It was a pretty emotional game -- for some personal reasons, but also for this team,” said Sulaimon, who scored a season-high 21 points. “It was a must-win. We had to protect Cameron.”

Duke played with a sense of urgency that it lacked in its road losses. Thornton said no one had to make a stirring speech or discuss how important the game was. They all knew their record and the league standings.

“We at the bottom of the league, 1-2, that was the facts,” Thornton said. “We had no other option but to come out here and get a win.”

Jefferson, he of constantly undersized battles in the post, emerged from the game with his jersey ripped down the right side. He said the game was symbolic of the team’s renewed sense of urgency.

“Tonight was us starting to fight as Duke and as one unit and we need everybody, tonight was a team win,” Jefferson said. “You can’t look at the scoreboard and say one person carried us, it was everyone. Everyone came in the minutes they played, fought and played hard and I think that’s something we have to do going forward.”


Survive and advance begins now

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
11:48
PM ET

  • For a vast majority of the possessions they played during the 2012-13 season, the Virginia Cavaliers were a solid college basketball team. Virginia held opponents to the 16th-lowest effective field-goal percentage in the country last season; they finished 24th in defensive efficiency; they ranked 40th overall; they beat Duke and North Carolina and nearly toppled the ACC champs (Miami) on the road; and their best player, guard Joe Harris, was an all-conference first-teamer.

If you repeated the above information to the uninitiated -- and yes, I will take credit for not shoehorning a Bane joke in here -- you would assume Virginia ended the 2012-13 season in the NCAA tournament.

Nope: UVa spent March in the NIT. There were a few reasons for this: a soft schedule, missed opportunities, a few untimely ACC flops. But more than anything, Virginia missed out because by Christmas it had already lost to George Mason (RPI: 123), Delaware (RPI: 141) and -- worst of all -- Old Dominion (RPI: 318!). The Cavaliers never did enough to recover.

[+] EnlargeCharles Mitchell
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsCharles Mitchell scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Maryland's win over Abilene Christian.
Since 2009, when the men's basketball committee stripped the "last 12 games" barometer from its tourney resumés and gave equal weight to early results, more than a few teams have learned Virginia's lesson. It is a simple one: Be ready to play on Day 1. What happens in November could come back to haunt you in March.

On Wednesday night, Providence, Maryland and Illinois -- 2014 tourney hopefuls all -- avoided precisely that fate.

Providence's win over Brown was the most harrowing of the bunch. The Friars, a promising and talented group under impressive third-year coach Ed Cooley, handled the lion's share of their home matchup with Brown with expected ease. Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton and Co. opened an early 20-4 lead over the Bears, and stretched it to 42-27 in the closing minutes of the first half. The rout appeared to be on.

But Brown, believe it or not, came roaring back in the second half. Providence went cold. Brown's Cedric Kuakumensah got hot. By the 9-minute mark, it was 58-58. With five minutes to play, Brown led 63-60. But if not for two late 3-pointers by LaDontae Henton and Josh Fortune, Providence may well have lost to a team that finished 12-20 and ranked 240 in the RPI last season. Is it possible the Bears are much better this season? Sure. It is almost certain a home loss to Brown would have destroyed Providence's RPI? Yes.

That damage would have paled in comparison what would have happened to Maryland had the Terps fallen to -- gulp -- Abilene Christian. Mark Turgeon's team pulled away in the second half, and eventually cruised to a 67-44 win that will look fine three months from now. But Maryland actually entered halftime trailing -- yes, trailing -- the Wildcats 30-29. Heck, Abilene's lead lasted during a disconcertingly large chunk of into the second half; they were up 44-38 with 14 minutes to play. If you think a loss to Brown would be bad, try on a home loss to a team that wasn't even in Division I last season. Thanks to Maryland's bonkers 29-0 game-ending run, it didn't have to come to that. But still, what a nervy 25 minutes.

Illinois' win over Valparaiso may have been a bit less drastic. Valpo, after all, won the Horizon League last season. It is a name mid-major program. It is no Brown, to say nothing of Abilene. But still, the Cavaliers lost six seniors, including stars Kevin Van Wijk and Ryan Broekhoff, from last season and are in full-on rebuilding mode in Bryce Drew's second season, which made their mere two-point deficit at the six-minute mark of the second half in Champaign all the more troubling.

Throw Indiana into this mix, too. The Hoosiers narrowly survived LIU-Brooklyn at home Tuesday night. Don't get it twisted: The Blackbirds have made the last three tournaments for a reason. That's a good program. They schemed IU well and baited the Hoosiers into too many outside shots. But no matter. IU is supposed to beat LIU-Brooklyn at home, and a loss would have veered the young Hoosiers in an RPI ditch in the first week of the season.

Instead, all of these teams survived résumé calamity. Wednesday night hardly offered the most inspiring slate of games. It was a harsh comedown after Tuesday night's Champions Classic high. But for Illinois, Providence and Maryland, Wednesday was a season-changing night.

You know the NCAA tournament cliché, survive and advance? It's a good one. Just remember: You have to survive November first.

VCU survives battle of contrasts with UVa

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
11:29
PM ET

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Fans who tuned in to the final three minutes of No.14 VCU’s 59-56 victory over No. 25 Virginia on Tuesday night didn’t quite witness a display indicative of the entire game. Those last possessions, culminating in Treveon Graham’s highlight-reel 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining, were certainly more dramatic.

Graham’s trey -- and UVA’s missed 3 on the game’s final possession -- sent the vocal visiting VCU fans into a frenzy while the Cavalier faithful fell silent amidst the sellout crowd of 13,881 inside John Paul Jones Arena. Ultimately, the Rams’ 3-pointers -- 5-for-14, four of which they hit in the second half -- and their swarming havoc defense gave them the edge over the Cavaliers, who shot 1-for-8 from behind the arc.

The score stayed close the entire night (nine ties, six lead changes, each team holding a seven-point lead at one point) in a deliberately-paced, whistle-ridden battle between Virginia’s two top-25 teams that hadn’t faced each other since 1998.

Five minutes in, the teams totaled eight fouls -- and had only taken 10 shots. Foul calls were up to 27 by the end of the first half, 48 by game’s end. UVa struggled offensively in the early minutes, passing too many times and not driving the lane enough. Meanwhile, VCU hit an offensive rhythm, driving to the basket on consecutive possessions and drawing fouls. Still, the Cavaliers kept the score close with fiery plays like senior Joe Harris’ 3-pointer four minutes into the game (Harris led all Cavalier scorers with 18 points in 34 minutes) and Mike Tobey’s blocked shot with two minutes remaining in the half.

[+] EnlargeTreveon Graham
AP Photo/Steve HelberTreveon Graham's 3-pointer late vaulted VCU to victory over Virginia in the first meeting between the schools in 15 years.
And though they'd prepared for weeks in practice, the Cavaliers still struggled against Shaka Smart’s swarming full-court pressure (which led the country in steals last season), turning the ball over 11 times in the first half.

Despite the numerous foul calls, neither team shot well from the free throw line, with VCU only hitting 40 percent of its foul shots to Virginia’s 57.6 percent.

With just over three minutes remaining in the first half, the Cavaliers surged, taking their first lead of the game, 22-21, while the Rams missed several baskets and struggled against the Cavaliers' defense.

“This game is an example of why Virginia is so good on the defensive end,” Smart said afterward. “They take you out of what you are trying to do. I thought we did a good job of playing fast but we did not have too many opportunities.”

Virginia held a two-point lead at halftime and started the second half strong, crashing the boards for rebounds and passing efficiently while driving the basket. VCU kept the score close by hitting two 3s in the opening minutes of the half.

Each time UVa looked to move ahead, VCU answered, often with a basket from Graham, who led all scorers with 22 points and stepped up after VCU's big men got into foul trouble early in the second half. Both teams picked up their offensive pace while slowing their foul pace. VCU still worked to force turnovers, adding eight more (last season the Rams were 27-1 when forcing 15 or more turnovers).

The Wahoos broke through VCU’s defense more effectively and turned the ball over less in the second half, building up to a seven-point lead with six minutes remaining. But the Rams refused to go away, staying tough defensively and forcing hurried shots.

“It’s tough,” Harris said of VCU’s defense. “That’s their whole mantra -- trying to play up-tempo offensively and up in your face defensively in the half-court and full-court. It’s definitely a different way to play.”

With a minute remaining, UVa was down by one and had possession. Harris airballed a 3-point and the Cavaliers fouled Briante Weber, who missed the front end of a one-and-one. Virginia rebounded and sophomore Malcolm Brogdon drove the lane, drawing the foul. Brodgon missed the first free throw but nailed the second, tying the score with 9.7 seconds remaining.

And then, almost in slow motion, the Rams took control, passing the ball several times before dishing it out to Graham.

“When I got the ball back, I knew there were only three seconds left,” Graham said. “I take those kind of throwback shots every day in practice. I was confident enough to know if Rob [Brandenberg] would throw it back I would have made it. It was close toward the end of the game, so I was thinking that I needed to pick up my game.”

In doing so, Graham sealed the close win for the Rams, who next face Winthrop on Saturday. The Cavaliers will battle Davidson in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday, and said tonight’s close loss was a boost in looking ahead at their next opponents.

“I think this loss is going to end up being a blessing,” Brogdon said. “Even though we started the year ranked, we need to not get too high on ourselves, take it down a notch and work harder in practice. We won’t play another team that plays at a faster tempo, so we’ll be ready for any kind of pace a team tries to play against us.”

Unless these two teams meet again in the postseason, of course.
1. The Anaheim Classic is going through some changes that should make it a more intimate event, building up toward a more unique championship day. The tournament, played over Thanksgiving weekend, has been at the Anaheim Convention Center, but has had plenty of sparsely populated games. So, the plan is to move the first two days of the tournament to Cal State-Fullerton's Titan Gym. The final day of the event will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim to give it more of an elite ending. And to raise the profile of the event, the name will no longer be the Anaheim Classic but rather the Wooden Legacy. The first two rounds will be Nov. 28 and 29 with the championship day on Dec. 1. The tournament has headline teams in Creighton, San Diego State, Marquette, Arizona State and Miami with the College of Charleston, George Washington and the host Titans. Fullerton needs to take advantage of their homecourt and play well for two reasons -- to play rare higher-level games at home and to ensure the crowds are decent.

2. The cuts for the World University Games team playing in Russia could be some of the hardest for USA basketball. Junior national director Jim Boeheim of Syracuse will have a hard time whittling down this list. The team, which will train the last week of June in Colorado Springs, should be the overwhelming favorite in the event. But getting down to the cut list of 24 will be quite a chore for Boeheim and WUG coaches Bob McKillop (Davidson), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and John Beilein (Michigan). Here is the list: Eric Atkins (Notre Dame), Markel Brown (Oklahoma State), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Quinn Cook (Duke), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Davante Gardner (Marquette), Treveon Graham (VCU), Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), P.J. Hairston (North Carolina), A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Luke Hancock (Louisville), Joe Harris (UVA), Tyler Haws (BYU), Andre Hollins (Minnesota), Rodney Hood (Duke), Josh Huestis (Stanford), Cory Jefferson (Baylor), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Devyn Marble (Iowa), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Chasson Randle (Stanford), Will Sheehey (Indiana), Aaron White (Iowa), Kendall Williams (New Mexico).

3. The list will be cut down to 12. Everyone could use making the team to better themselves. But Hood could use it more than anyone else after sitting out last season as a transfer from Mississippi State. Hood needs game action before he starts to star for Duke. Fair, Grant, Hairston, Jefferson, McDermott and Payne all are trying out for the team after making the decision to return to school. The fact that two players from Indiana, Duke, Notre Dame, New Mexico and Iowa are on the first list is a sign about these three teams' future next season. Kirk and Grant have a chance to be headline players next season. So too, does White. The one player who could benefit as much as anyone is Ferrell, who will have to be even more of a playmaker next season without Victor Oladipo on his wing.

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. The bubble is soft. It is 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.

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 2013 NCAA tournament selection committee. These are their stories:

Tennessee

What their fans would say: We're not too far from Middle Tennessee State, and we've seen them play, and frankly, we're better. The Sun Belt is terrible! Saint Mary's beat one good team the whole season! We beat Florida, Wichita State and Missouri! But seriously ... we went 9-2 down the stretch. All of our nonconference losses were to good-to-great teams.

What the committee would say: We respect the Vols' above-average nonconference schedule, and the nine top-100 wins were more than many bubble teams. But the schedule wasn't that good, and Tennessee had a ton of opportunities -- Oklahoma State, Virginia, Georgetown, Memphis — to prove it was anything more than another thoroughly mediocre SEC outfit. It never did.

Virginia

What their fans would say: We have a good team! Pretty much every advanced metric smart people use to discern teams' relative qualities says that Virginia is at least one of the best 40 teams in the country, if not better (KenPom.com's efficiency system ranks the Cavaliers No. 27). You say you want teams to perform on the road in the nonconference? We won at Wisconsin. We also beat Duke, UNC and NC State. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are two of the best players in the ACC.

What the committee would say: Most of what you just said is ... well, it isn't irrelevant, exactly, but it's only tangentially related to what we look for when we're selecting and seeding the field. We are impressed by the top-50 wins, especially at Wisconsin, but are we impressed enough to overlook the (count 'em) seven losses to teams ranked below the RPI top 100? Or that 3-10 road-neutral record, where you lost to Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest, George Mason, Old Dominion and Clemson? Were you so good that we could pretend we haven't spent the last half-decade telling everyone how important we think it is that teams schedule tough in the nonconference, and pretend your nonconference strength of schedule wasn't ranked No. 299 in the country? No, no, no and no.

Maryland

What their fans would say: We beat Duke twice! It's been nearly 20 years since a team did that and didn't make the tourney. Look, that's two wins over the No. 1-ranked RPI team in the country. We have a lottery center on our team! That's more than Middle Tennessee State! What is Middle Tennessee State, anyway? Seriously, how are we not in the tournament?!?

What the committee would say: Those two Duke wins are excellent, no doubt. Unfortunately, the season is more than two games, and the rest of the year you went 5-11 -- 5-11! -- against the RPI top 150. Your nonconference schedule rated out worse than Virginia's, but honestly we didn't even get that far with you. You were 5-11 against the RPI top 150. You have no argument.

Alabama

What their fans would say: What I can't seem to wrap my head around, [PAWWWWWL], is why on Earth y'all wouldn't invite the Alabama Crimson Tide Football Winter Diversion Program to the NCAA tournament, if only on the off chance that Coach Nick Saban will grace y'alls weird shootin' hoops game with his magisterial presence. Roll Tide?

What the committee would say: Anyway ... while we admire the Tide's willingness to go on the road in spots in nonconference play, they went 0-6 against the RPI top 50 and lost four games below the RPI top 100 line. Either of those things are automatic disqualifications, especially if you lack elite strength of schedule numbers. There was never much here.

Southern Miss

What their fans would say: In addition to referencing the Golden Eagles' tidy RPI figure (34), I'd imagine their case would sound something like coach Donnie Tyndall's: “I don’t want to become a lobbyist, but the bottom line is, that’s a borderline Final Four-type team we just lost to,” Tyndall said of the Tigers. “We need to be in the NCAA tournament. We deserve to be in, and I feel like if we get in, we can win a game or two. I really believe that."

What the committee would say: We believe that you believe that, and you may well be right. The problem is you had all season to prove it, one way or another, and while it's not your fault the rest of Conference USA was atrocious, it is your fault you lost to Memphis three times and that you finished the season with just three top-100 wins. That's just not good enough.

Kentucky

What their fans would say: [Silently watch 2012 Kentucky commemorative DVDs while wearing 2012 Kentucky commemorative sweatshirt; toss all evidence of 2012-13 into burning barrel in corner of room.]

What the committee would say: Kentucky still had a chance to get in the tournament after the injury to Nerlens Noel, even as late as the SEC tournament, and if we're being 100 percent honest, all things equal, we probably would have given the benefit of the doubt to a blue blood program coming off a national title. But then Kentucky laid an infamous egg against Vanderbilt in the SEC tourney -- you guys weren't even competitive against a 10-seed in the awful SEC, c'mon -- and adding that to an already blah profile was just about all we needed to see.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- NC State’s upperclassmen well remember the intestine-churning anxiety of entering the ACC tournament on the NCAA bubble, of knowing that each win or loss would impact their chances of making the field of 68.

Thus, they understood Virginia’s plight Friday.

And they showed absolutely no sympathy.

Wolfpack wing Scott Wood lit it up from the outside (23 points, seven 3-pointers), big man Richard Howell (12 rebounds, six points) dominated the boards despite a late first-half thigh injury, and forward C.J. Leslie recorded another double-double en route to a 75-56 blowout in the ACC quarterfinals.

[+] EnlargeScott Wood
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneNC State used an aggressive defense to hand Virginia a costly loss in the ACC tourney on Friday.
Fifth-seeded NC State (24-9), which has found its “groove” according to coach Mark Gottfried and appears to be in pretty safe territory for at least an at-large NCAA bid, will play top-seeded Miami in the semifinals on Saturday.

The Cavaliers (21-11), who shot only 38.9 percent, got outrebounded by 11 and saw their leading scorer, Joe Harris, make only 4 of his 13 shots, are left to wait and wonder about their bubble hopes. They now have lost three of their past four games.

“If we play like this, we don’t deserve to play in the NCAA tournament,” Virginia guard Jontel Evans said. “If we play the way we play like Duke and Maryland and North Carolina, we should deserve to play.”

And there’s the conundrum for the NCAA selection committee.

While the Cavs boast quality regular-season wins over Duke, NC State, UNC and Wisconsin, they also have seven losses to teams outside of the RPI top 100, including three CAA teams (George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion) and four of the ACC's worst (Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson).

At the beginning of Friday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected the Cavs as a No. 12 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and this loss didn’t help.

“What will be, will be,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We have some quality wins, we have some bad losses and who knows what will happen. I’m sure people won’t give us much of a chance. The committee will make their decision.

“[Winning] this would have helped and I thought we had the right mindset going in. We prepared hard and knew the keys.”

Even so, NC State dominated from the outset, beating the Cavs at what they are usually known for: defense. The Wolfpack held Virginia to 31.2 percent shooting and just a 1-for-10 tally on 3-pointers in the first half.

The Wolfpack led 30-21 at halftime, and a Wood-centric 11-4 run (he had three 3-pointers) to open the second half gave them a 41-25 cushion. The Cavs never cut to within single digits after that. Not with Howell -- who got kneed in the right thigh twice, but kept battling in the lane despite a limp -- continuing to pull down rebounds. And not with Leslie and Wood continuing to hit shots.

“It was a really good win for our team,” Gottfried said. “I think our team is beginning to find that groove; I think we’re getting in a good spot.”

And a slightly different spot than a season ago, when the Wolfpack knew they had to keep winning to secure an NCAA berth. Although they lost in the ACC semifinals last year, they were the last team announced on the selection show -- and ended up in the Sweet 16.

With even bigger goals in mind this time around, they’re aiming for even bigger wins -- and longer tournament runs.

Which means no sympathy for Virginia, or anyone else.

“No, definitely not,” Howell said, smiling. “We know how it felt, we were in their shoes last year … but our focus is on what we can do.”

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
7:30
AM ET
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski often has said he doesn’t believe in revenge games. But after losing at Miami by 27 points in January, and getting beaten at Virginia on Thursday night, is there much doubt there will be some extra, er, motivation for the Blue Devils when they host the Hurricanes on Saturday? In the meantime, here's an attempt at this week’s ACC power rankings:

1. Miami: The now-No.-5 Hurricanes bounced back from their first ACC loss of the season (by 15 points at Wake Forest) by beating up on Virginia Tech. Since then, they’ve been able to focus on the game everyone’s been talking about: Saturday’s rematch with Duke: "It's going to be a blast," guard Trey McKinney Jones said, according to The Associated Press. "We beat them here this year, and we beat them there last year, so they're going to be gunning for our heads."

2. Duke: Plus, the No. 3 Blue Devils should be especially fired up after shooting worse than 40 percent and never leading during the 73-68 loss at Virginia on Thursday. Forward Ryan Kelly, sidelined since January with a foot injury, returned to practice this week, but isn’t expected back until after Saturday’s game.

3. Virginia: Nothing like beating the No. 3 team in the nation to bolster your NCAA tournament hopes. Joe Harris scored a career-high 36 points and teammate Akil Mitchell added a double-double Thursday night as the Cavs toppled the Blue Devils and remained tied for third place in the ACC standings.

4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels are now 4-1 since they went to a four-guard starting lineup, and as their momentum grows, so does their NCAA tournament résumé. UNC secured another 20-win season with Thursday night’s victory at Clemson, and junior Reggie Bullock has averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds the past two games.

5. NC State: The Wolfpack bounced back from their loss at UNC by blasting Boston College, securing back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since Herb Sendek was coach. Next up: a trip to Georgia Tech, with an eye on trying to work back into the top four of the conference standings. State now stands in fifth place, a game behind the Cavs and Tar Heels.

6. Maryland: The Terps are 1-6 on the road in conference play after losing at Georgia Tech, with their only ACC road win coming at last-place Virginia Tech. They still travel to Wake Forest and Virginia, and play UNC at home, during the regular season, but Maryland’s at-large NCAA tournament bid hopes are diminishing.

7. Florida State: The Seminoles remain the worst rebounding team in the league (31.3 per game) but could get a boost when 6-foot-8 Terrance Shannon -- who suffered a neck injury on Jan. 19 but has been cleared to play -- returns. FSU beat Wake Forest earlier this week, but has still lost four of its past six games.

8. Wake Forest: After scoring 23 points en route to a court-storming win over then-No. 2 Miami, Demon Deacon C.J. Harris made only one field goal, and finished with nine points, in a loss at Florida State. So continue Wake Forest’s road woes. As some consolation, two of its final three games are at home.

9. Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory called his team’s win over Maryland earlier this week the most consistent 40 minutes of basketball it has played this season. Freshman forward Robert Carter Jr. posted his fourth double-double; and at 15-12 with three games left, Tech is guaranteed at least a .500 regular-season finish.

10. Clemson: Even with double-doubles from big men Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, the Tigers couldn’t outmatch the Tar Heels’ smaller starting lineup. Thursday’s defeat marked Clemson’s third consecutive loss and sixth in its last seven games, as the Tigers continue to struggle to score.

11. Boston College: It was a tough week on Tobacco Road for the Eagles, who followed a 21-point loss at Duke with an 18-point loss at NC State. Ryan Anderson averaged 17.5 points in the two defeats.

12. Virginia Tech: The Hokies snapped a nine-game losing streak by besting FSU, only to lose at Miami. The Canes held senior guard/nation's-leading-scorer Erick Green to 16 points, only the second time during the conference season that he’s failed to score at least 22.
A few observations from a wild Thursday night:

Virginia ... college basketball’s mystery. As Virginia began to separate itself from No. 3 Duke in a 73-68 victory, I really didn’t think about the Blue Devils’ flaws as much as I considered the Cavaliers’ strengths ... and weaknesses.

This is the same Virginia team that suffered losses to Delaware, Old Dominion, George Mason, Clemson and Wake Forest. This is the same Virginia team that also defeated North Carolina and Wisconsin. And the Cavaliers have positioned themselves to win 13 ACC games (they’re 10-5 now).

The win over Duke enhanced Virginia’s mysterious at-large profile. ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi had placed the Cavs among his “last four in” heading into Thursday's action.

That makes sense.

Does this?

A Duke team pushing for a No. 1 seed -- a No. 1 seed it might have lost for good Thursday -- loses to an unranked squad, days before a prime-time matchup against ACC powerhouse Miami?

In 2012-13? Yes, it does.

Every day, folks ask me to pick a national-title favorite. Can’t do it yet. Too many talented teams have failed to perform on the road. So it’s difficult to project success when we have so many skilled programs that can’t duplicate their home efforts during off-campus matchups.

Duke isn’t the only top-10 team that has suffered a road loss to an unranked squad. Just the latest one.

Six minutes into the second half of Thursday’s game, Virginia led by double digits. A late Duke run closed the gap, but Virginia controlled the game. Duke couldn’t stop Joe Harris, who registered a career-high 36 points (shooting 12-for-20). The Blue Devils didn’t get enough offense or defense from Rasheed Sulaimon (who shot 2-for-10). And they were soft on both ends of the floor.

Once Ryan Kelly returns, Duke should improve. That’s assuming he’s healthy and truly ready to contribute after missing a chunk of the season with a foot injury.

But the Blue Devils have been torched too often by solo acts. And they give up too many easy shots (ACC opponents are shooting 45.2 percent from the field, ninth in the conference). Kelly alone can’t solve those issues.

Sure, Virginia was hungry for a victory that ultimately boosted its résumé.

But Duke failed to make stops in the second half. It’s that simple. Harris is good. But the Blue Devils made him look like a superstar.

Now, Virginia will enter the final stretch with more confidence about its postseason status. Questions remain about Duke’s defense. Thursday’s loss only magnified those concerns.

But I’m not going to act as though Duke losing at Virginia is any different than Indiana losing at Minnesota or Miami losing at Wake Forest.

[+] EnlargeKelly Olynyk
AP Photo/Rick BowmerKelly Olynyk and Gonzaga are likely headed upward, to a No. 1 ranking, after winning at BYU.
This is the norm this season with the elite teams in college basketball. To be honest, I like the parity.

Should set up a fabulous NCAA tournament.

What do you want from Gonzaga? Yes, there’s a good chance the Zags will earn the top slot in the new Associated Press poll next week. That’s assuming they defeat Portland this weekend. If that happens -- it should -- Mark Few’s program probably will secure its first No. 1 ranking. A No. 1 seed makes sense, too, following Thursday’s gutsy 70-65 road win over a BYU squad that gave Gonzaga a scare with a late charge.

Saint Mary’s and BYU are the only two teams in the West Coast Conference with top-60 RPIs. But the Zags defeated both by an average of 11.8 points in four regular-season matchups.

On Thursday, they escaped the Cougars at the Marriott Center, one of the nation’s toughest venues. With 10:53 to play, the Zags led by 11 points. With 4:18 on the clock, however, BYU had tied the game 60-all after a 17-6 rally.

That run changed the arena vibe. The Zags were clearly vulnerable in a foreign venue. But they survived. And in 2012-13, that’s worth something.

So many nationally ranked squads have fallen to unranked opponents on the road that it’s expected now. I give credit to any team that can secure a victory outside its home venue. And that’s what the Zags did.

It definitely wasn’t pretty down the stretch, but they pressured the Cougars in the final minutes to preserve the win.

I understand the doubts about Gonzaga’s position as a likely No. 1 squad and seed. The WCC has provided only minimal competition for Few’s team. The Bulldogs lost to Butler in January. They suffered a home loss to Illinois in December.

But Gonzaga is doing what any team in its position should. It is dominating its opponents. The Zags clearly are the best team in their conference and one of the best squads in the country. Plus, their nonconference wins over Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State look even better now.

Until later in March, however, they won’t have many opportunities to prove they’re the best team in America. They don’t face Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State in league play. They don’t go to Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut each week.

They’re stuck with average teams in the WCC and multiple below-average squads. Still, they outplayed another conference opponent in a tough environment Thursday.

Is that enough to warrant a No. 1 slot? Maybe, maybe not.

But what other options do the Zags have? They’re doing everything they can right now to prove they’re legit.

Video: Virginia 73, Duke 68

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
11:31
PM ET

 
Joe Harris exploded for 36 points as host Virginia upset third-ranked Duke 73-68. The Blue Devils, who got 28 points from Seth Curry, fell three games behind Miami in the ACC standings heading into Saturday's meeting.

3-point shot: The brutal Big Ten

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
5:00
AM ET
1. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Tuesday on "Katz Korner" that he told Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski that at least two ranked Big Ten teams might not get byes in the conference tournament, stressing how difficult it will be when the tourney kicks off March 14 in Chicago. He's right. The Big Ten tournament might be more difficult for a Big Ten team to win than the NCAA tournament. This was true for Connecticut in 2011, when it had to get through a five-night, five-day Big East gauntlet to win in New York before winning six to capture the NCAA tournament title. National champs don't always go through three, let alone four, ranked teams to get to the national title. Yet, for a team like Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan or, let's say, Wisconsin to win the Big Ten tournament, it would have to go through a grind like no other this season in at least three consecutive days in Chicago. Whomever gets through that March 17 final will be beaten down, yet will probably feel invincible going into the NCAA tournament. That team probably won't face as daunting a slate of teams, assuming it can get to the Final Four in Atlanta.

2. Arizona State has opportunities many teams on the bubble don't over its final three regular-season games. The Sun Devils can play their way into or out of the NCAA tournament with games at UCLA, USC and Arizona. The Sun Devils suffered a disappointing loss at home to Washington on Saturday. For the Sun Devils to get past UCLA on Wednesday, assistant coach Eric Musselman said, they've got to contain UCLA's wing scorers Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, cut down transition baskets and establish paint scoring. To beat USC on Saturday, regardless of what occurs against the Bruins, the Sun Devils must defend the 3-point shot and play with intelligence, according to Musselman. ASU can't be pleased that it put itself in this situation, but all is not lost. The Pac-12 could get six teams into the NCAA field if the Sun Devils can show well and win (one of three? two of three?) in the final two weeks. I'm fairly confident Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, Cal and Colorado will all get into the field.

3. Saturday's Miami-Duke game is worthy of the hype. Duke got hammered by 27 in January in Coral Gables. If Duke wins the rematch with the visiting Hurricanes, the ACC regular-season title is still within reach; the Blue Devils could still get a No. 1 seed and likely a No. 1 ranking, for what that's worth, over even No. 2 Gonzaga, after No. 1 Indiana lost at Minnesota on Tuesday (not saying I agree, but voters might do that if Duke beats Miami). But hold on. While I'll assume Miami beats Virginia Tech at home Wednesday, Duke could have a tougher time Thursday at Virginia, where the Cavaliers will make the Blue Devils play their game. Virginia's coaches haven't discussed the Miami-Duke promotional hype (on ESPN) days in advance of the Duke-Virginia game one bit. The coaches are simply locking in on what they do best: Ensure the Cavs defend, play hard and feed off of Joe Harris, who probably is the least-heralded most valuable player to a team in the country (which is from the staff, but another point that I'm on board with). For Virginia to beat Duke, according to the staff, the Cavs must cut the transition baskets and limit the extra possessions.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
7:30
AM ET
With roughly two weeks left in the regular season, the race is on for a top-four seed (and first-day bye) in the ACC tournament. In the meantime, here are this week's rankings based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Miami. Clemson and Virginia both tested the Canes, but a late 3-pointer from Kenny Kadji at the Tigers and Reggie Johnson's tiebreaking layup versus the Cavs kept Miami undefeated in league play. The 13-0 record marks the hottest league start since Duke went 16-0 en route to the conference title in 1998-99.

2. Duke. The Devils bounced back from a close loss at Maryland with a blowout win at Virginia Tech as Mason Plumlee followed a four-point, three-rebound performance with a double-double Thursday night. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is now third on the career list for victories at one school (877), behind Dean Smith and Jim Boeheim.

3. NC State. The Wolfpack got a big boost by inserting 6-foot-8 T.J. Warren into the starting lineup this week. Not only did he turn in a 31-point, 13-rebound performance against FSU, but the team grabbed a season-best 45 boards. The Pack have won three straight, and it will be interesting to see whether they stay big against the Tar Heels this weekend.

4. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams continues to start a smaller lineup with sophomore P.J. Hairston at the 4, and the Tar Heels continue to look faster and more aggressive with another scorer on the floor. Forward James Michael McAdoo's double-double at Georgia Tech, after he scored in single digits for three straight games, is a good sign, too.

5. Virginia. The Cavs are in the midst of a tough stretch. They lost at both UNC and No. 2 Miami in the past week, play a Georgia Tech team this weekend that beat them earlier this month, and then face another test in No. 6 Duke coming up next week. Junior Joe Harris, though, continues to be on a tear, averaging 22.4 points over his past five games.

6. Maryland. Another (way) up and (way) down week for the Terps, who upset the then-second-ranked Blue Devils at home, only to lose on the road to a focused Boston College team that had won just three previous ACC games. After posting an impressive 19-point, nine-rebound game against Mason Plumlee, Maryland big man Alex Len managed only four points against the Eagles.

7. Florida State. For all his last-second shots this season, Seminoles point guard Michael Snaer hadn’t managed 20 points against an ACC foe this year, until this week. He followed a 21-point game in a win against Boston College with 20 during a loss at NC State. Next up: a trip to Virginia Tech.

8. Clemson. Another week, another home heartbreaker for the Tigers, who lost to Miami on Kadji’s 3 after losing to NC State on a Scott Wood 3 on Feb. 10. At least they won a close one in the middle at Georgia Tech. Devin Booker posted his fifth double-double of the season in Clemson’s latest loss.

9. Georgia Tech. Freshman Robert Carter Jr. hit two free throws in the final 10 seconds to beat Wake Forest before Georgia Tech lost by double figures to the Tar Heels. The Yellow Jackets were an ouch-worthy 4-for-11 from the free throw line in their latest game and remain the worst foul-shooting team in the league (63.2 percent).

10. Boston College. And to build on the above note about the importance of free throws: The Eagles hit 16 straight down the stretch to protect the lead in their win over Maryland. Freshman Olivier Hanlan scored a career-high 26 points in that game, and BC has won two of its past three.

11. Wake Forest. A three-point loss at Boston College followed by a one-point loss to Georgia Tech? The bottom tier of the ACC likes to make things interesting, at least. The Deacs are second in the league in steals, sandwiched between UNC and Duke, and C.J. Harris continues to lead the team with 14.8 points per game.

12. Virginia Tech. Erick Green is still really good, adding a 22-point game against Duke to his nation-leading scoring average. His team still is struggling, though, losing nine in a row -- including two in overtime and Thursday's loss to the Blue Devils.

SPONSORED HEADLINES