College Basketball Nation: Liberty Flames

Video: North Carolina A&T 73, Liberty 72

March, 20, 2013

North Carolina A&T fights off Liberty in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, 73-72. A&T will now face Midwest No. 1 seed Louisville.
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. On Tuesday, it's the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.

No. 16 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 16 Liberty, 6:40 p.m. ET, truTV

Here’s the bad news. The winner of this First Four matchup will face Louisville, the top overall seed in the tournament, on Thursday in Lexington, Ky. So it’s like, “Hey, you win!” quickly followed by, “And you kind of lose, too.” But a win is a win. And both teams can snap their lengthy droughts in the NCAA tournament.

Neither team has ever won an NCAA tournament game. So tonight will be a first for one of these squads. North Carolina A&T has been to the Big Dance nine times but not since 1995. Liberty has gone twice (1994, 2004).

So history is certainly on the line.

Liberty will represent the Big South even though the Flames finished the regular season with a 6-10 conference record. They’ve lost 20 games. But they won the conference tourney. And that’s what matters. John Caleb Sanders has one of the best names in the entire tournament, and he leads the Flames with 14.2 PPG.

The Aggies of North Carolina A&T are on a four-game winning streak. They’ve forced turnovers on 23.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions per Ken Pomeroy, 20th in the country. But that number is inflated by the level of competition the Aggies have faced in the MEAC. But their defensive aggression could be the difference in this matchup.

No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee, 9:10 p.m. ET, truTV

Some people questioned the Blue Raiders’ inclusion in the field of 68. They lost two games in the weak Sun Belt conference and they failed to win their conference tournament. But they’ve also won 28 games. That includes a win over SEC tourney champion Ole Miss.

They’re ranked 20th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.

And the Blue Raiders have the poise, experience and talent to pull off a VCU-like run in the NCAAs. Plus, they’re going to play with a chip on their shoulder because so many folks have doubted them.

But advancing past Saint Mary’s won’t be easy. If Gonzaga were in a different league, the Gaels would be the undisputed kings of the West Coast Conference. The Zags have defeated Saint Mary’s three times this season. The Gaels also have losses to Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa. A BracketBusters win over Creighton was impressive.

The jury is still out, however, on the Gaels. Is this a program that’s just been misjudged based on its losses to the No. 1 team in America? Or is this a squad that’s as average as its nonconference losses suggest that it is?

We’ll find out soon. Matthew Dellavedova (15.8 PPG, 6.4 APG) is a magician with a basketball. But the Blue Raiders’ pressure could make the Australian star and his teammates disappear.

Yes, that was corny. I know. Enjoy the tournament.

Weekend recap: Ratliffe efficient for Mizzou

January, 23, 2012
Player of the Weekend – Ricardo Ratliffe
Ratliffe scored a career-high 27 points to go with eight rebounds, as Missouri came away with an 89-88 win at Baylor. He went 11-for-14 from the field, and now has a 77.2 field goal percentage on the season. That’s on track to break Steve Johnson’s Division I record of 74.6 percent in 1980-81. How efficient has Ratliffe been? Consider that he’d need to miss his next 18 shots just to fall into second place in the nation.

Filling Up the Stat Sheet – Jesse Sanders
Liberty’s Jesse Sanders came into Saturday averaging 12.6 PPG, 7.9 APG and 7.9 RPG this season, yet somehow a triple-double had escaped him. That changed in an 84-78 win at High Point, as Sanders finished with 14 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. The senior has now had a triple-double in all four years on campus. Sanders is now averaging 8.0 RPG and 8.1 APG. No one has done that in at least the past 15 seasons.

Losing Legends – Boeheim, Calhoun, Krzyzewski
Syracuse, Duke and Connecticut all lost Saturday, meaning the three winningest active coaches all fell on the same day. Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski hadn’t lost on the same day since Jan. 18, 2003. That’s a span of 3,291 days. The fourth-winningest active coach (Bob Huggins) did manage a win on Saturday, as West Virginia topped Cincinnati in overtime.

Lofty Historical Comparison – Tony Mitchell = Michael Beasley
On Saturday, Missouri picked up its biggest win of the season down in Waco. Meanwhile, just two hours to the north, a former Tiger recruit had a huge game. Tony Mitchell had 30 points and 17 rebounds in North Texas’ overtime win over Denver. In just 11 career games, he's hit 30 points and 15 boards twice. The last freshman with multiple such games? Michael Beasley, who did it five times in 2007-08.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend - Brandon Young
Shadowed by Hugh Robertson for most of the game, DePaul’s Brandon Young went 0-for-13 from the field in Sunday’s 75-59 loss to South Florida. It’s the most attempts without a make by a Division I player this season. The last Big East player to go 0-for-13 or worse was South Florida’s Collin Dennis in 2006.'s Big South preview

November, 1, 2011
Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Big South, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:

Blue Ribbon team breakdowns:

Charleston Southern
Coastal Carolina
High Point
UNC Asheville
Winthrop InsiderFree

Editor's Note: Presbyterian is not yet eligible for the postseason and therefore did not get previewed by the Blue Ribbon Yearbook.

More Big South content:

Matchups for BracketBusters released

January, 31, 2011
The matchups are in for the ninth annual BracketBusters. See below for the televised games and check back in later for Andy Katz's early analysis of the event. For a complete list of the non-televised games, click here.

Friday, Feb. 18 (all times ET)
7 p.m. - VCU at Wichita State (ESPN2/
9 p.m. - Kent State at Drexel (ESPNU)

Saturday, Feb. 19
11 a.m. - Hofstra at Wright State (ESPNU)
1 p.m. - Austin Peay at Fairfield (ESPNU)
3 p.m. – Iona at Liberty (ESPNU)
5 p.m. – Missouri State at Valparaiso (ESPN2/
5 p.m. – Vermont at Charleston (ESPNU)
7 p.m. – George Mason at Northern Iowa (ESPN2/
9 p.m. – Utah State at Saint Mary’s (ESPN2/
11 p.m. – Montana at Long Beach State (ESPN2/

Sunday, Feb. 20
1 p.m. - Cleveland State at Old Dominion (ESPN or ESPN2)

Of the 15 conferences involved in BracketBusters, 13 are included in the television schedule:

BracketBusters national TV appearances, by conference
5 - CAA
3 - Horizon, Missouri Valley
2 - MAAC
1 - America East, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, MAC, Ohio Valley, Southern, WCC, WAC
0 - MEAC, Summit, Independents (Seattle)