College Basketball Nation: Mercer Bears

Top 10 biggest upsets of this year's tourney

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
1:00
PM ET
March Madness certainly lived up to its name during this first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with exciting finishes and surprising winners. We rank the 10 biggest upsets according BPI pre-game win probability, starting with number 10...

10. Harvard (41.0% chance to win) over Cincinnati
Harvard picked up an NCAA tournament win for the second straight season with its win over the fifth-seed Bearcats. The Crimson are the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA Tournament game in back-to-back seasons since Princeton in 1983-84.

9. Kentucky (40.5%) over Wichita State
Kentucky ended Wichita State’s perfect season, handing the Shockers their first loss in 36 games. Did you know: the previous two teams that were unbeaten entering NCAA Tournament were eliminated by the eventual national champion (1979 Indiana State by Michigan State; 1991 UNLV by Duke).

8. Baylor (34.6%) over Creighton
Baylor routed Creighton by 30 points, the third-largest margin of victory by a 6 seed in NCAA Tournament history. The Bluejays, who got just 15 points from Doug McDermott in his final collegiate game, fell to 0-8 all-time in Round of 32 games, the worst record by any team.

7. Connecticut (33.6%) over Villanova
Connecticut advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 2011, which is also the last time the Huskies won the National Championship. After early foul trouble, Shabazz Napier led the Huskies down the stretch, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.

6. Dayton (30.6%) over Ohio State
Dayton started the Madness with the upset win over Ohio State on Thursday afternoon, in a game that featured eight ties and 15 lead changes. The Flyers scored 20 transition points against an Ohio State team that had allowed a Big Ten-best 10.1 transition points per game this season.

5. North Dakota State (30.4%) over Oklahoma
North Dakota State earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, shooting 52.9 percent from the field. North Dakota State outscored Oklahoma by 22 points in the paint, including 6-0 in overtime.

4. Dayton (28.1%) over Syracuse
Dayton advanced to its first Sweet 16 since 1984 with an upset of the third-seeded Orange. Syracuse made 1 of 19 shots from outside the paint, while Dayton made nearly half its shots from outside the paint.

3. Stanford (24.8%) over Kansas
Stanford reached its first Sweet 16 since 2008, holding Kansas to just 28 percent shooting against its zone defense. The Jayhawks entered the game shooting a Big 12-best 47.8 percent against zone defenses.

2. Stephen F. Austin (21.7%) over VCU
Stephen F. Austin extended its win streak to 29 games in the win, notching its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in its second appearance. The Lumberjacks turned the ball over just once in overtime against VCU’s “Havoc” defense.

1. Mercer (12.6%) over Duke
Mercer outscored Duke by 16 points in the paint, holding the Blue Devils to a season-low 10 paint points. Duke became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to have five losses to double-digit seeds as a top-3 seed.

Mercer seniors leave a legacy

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
10:51
PM ET
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The win over Duke still stands. And that, for Mercer's 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, will be what everyone remembers when the stories are retold. Not the Bears’ 83-63 loss to Tennessee, which advanced to the Sweet 16 to face Michigan.

Mercer’s disbelief had less to do with losing than the realization that the careers of seven seniors who played together the better part of four years were over.

"We had an amazing four years, those kinds of things stay in your mind forever," senior guard Langston Hall said. “You tell your kids, 'Back when I was playing in the NCAA, we beat Duke.’”

The Bears matched up favorably with No. 3 seed Duke and were able to lean on their experience to pull off the upset. From the outset on Sunday, the game took on a very different tone than the Bears’ win over the Vols last season in the NIT. Tennessee never trailed and Mercer found it difficult to keep its deficit around 10 points.

Mercer had no one who could match up with Tennessee’s pair of 6-foot-8, 260-pound forwards, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon.

[+] EnlargeJosh Richardson
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTennessee's Josh Richardson drives to the basket against Mercer's Darious Moten.
Stokes had outrebounded Mercer’s entire squad for most of the game. Stokes finished with 18 rebounds and 17 points. The Bears managed just 19 rebounds.

“Stokes was a man on the boards,” Hall said. “We tried to help with the bigs, he was throwing us all out of the way. He’s a load to handle.”

Maymon helped keep Mercer senior center Daniel Coursey from having much of a presence inside. Early in the game, the Bears resorted to launching 3-pointers before they ever got settled into a half-court flow.

“Their two bigs are absolutely enormous,” Coursey said. “They played a lot harder than last year [in the NIT]. I hope they win it all.”

Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said his seniors helping to win the Atlantic Sun title and beating Duke for the program’s first tournament victory left a legacy that has planted a seed for future teams.

“It’ll be hard to match what these guys accomplished,” Hoffman said. “There’s no doubt what these guys are going to be remembered for. They’re champions and they will always be champions.”

Coursey believed the words, but found them hard to accept in the wake of their loss to Tennessee. But he hopes he’ll come to appreciate the impact of the winningest class in school history.

“It’s kind of hard to realize,” Coursey said. “Hopefully when we go home and sit down a while and talk about it we realize what we’ve done has been pretty unbelievable.”

Top stats to know for Sunday's games

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
8:24
PM ET
Sunday's NCAA Tournament slate features eight compelling Round of 32 games, and we've got you covered with a look at the key matchups in each contest.

KANSAS vs STANFORD
Stanford is the third-most efficient team in the country on pick-and-roll, ball handler plays, averaging more than a point per play on those plays.

Kansas ranks 221st in points per play allowed while defending pick-and-roll, ball handler plays.

That could be a big factor with Joel Embiid not there to protect the rim on pick-and-roll plays.

WICHITA STATE vs KENTUCKY
Kentucky ranks second in offensive rebound percentage (42.1%) and scores 9.4 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, fifth-most in the country.

Wichita State ranks fifth in the country in defensive rebound percentage (74.2%) and only allows 4.3 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, 17th-fewest in the country.

IOWA STATE vs NORTH CAROLINA
Iowa State relies heavily on 3-point shooting. The Cyclones rank in the top 25 in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made per game.

North Carolina is holding teams to 30 percent 3-point shooting in its last 14 games. The Tar Heels have held 13 of their last 14 opponents below 40 percent on 3-point shooting. They're only allowing 5.4 3-pointers per game in their last 14 games.

TENNESSEE vs MERCER
Mercer's opponents are attempting 23.1 3-pointers per game in its last 10 games. Mercer is 9-0 when its opponents attempt at least 24 3-pointers (12-1 when they attempt at least 23), including a win over Duke (37 attempts).

Tennessee hasn't had more than 24 3-point attempts all season. They average 17.1 3-point attempts per game.

UCLA vs STEPHEN F. AUSTIN
UCLA ranks in the bottom 20 of the country in turnover percentage. The Bruins only turn it over on 14.9 percent of their possessions.

Stephen F. Austin forces 16.2 turnovers per game, eighth-most in the country. However, SFA is only forcing 11.6 turnovers per game in its last five games.

CREIGHTON vs BAYLOR
Creighton is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (4-6 when shooting less than 35 percent). Creighton is 15-1 when making at least 11 3-pointers (12-6 when making 10 or fewer).

Baylor's opponents are shooting 38.5 percent on 3-pointers in its last 10 games. Baylor has allowed higher than 40 percent 3-point shooting in five of its last 10 games and at least eight 3-pointers in six of its last 10 games.

VIRGINIA vs MEMPHIS
Memphis ranks second in the country in transition offense with 21.2 points per game. The Tigers rank 21st in transition field goal percentage (59.3%).

Virginia excels in transition defense. The Cavaliers allow seven transition points per game, second-fewest in the country. Virginia also ranks in the top 25 in field goal percentage defense in transition.

Pace will be a factor, as well. Virginia has the third-slowest pace (60.7 possessions per game), while Memphis ranks 34th in pace (71.2 possessions per game).

ARIZONA vs GONZAGA
Gonzaga is very efficient on offense, ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Arizona ranks third in defensive efficiency, allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions. The Wildcats are 15-0 this season when allowing fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions.

Gonzaga hasn't faced a single team all season that ranks in the top 30 in offensive efficiency.

Search for new memories in Raleigh

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
7:38
PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin played "One Shining Moment" enough times when his team struggled during the season that junior forward Jarnell Stokes said the team should have the song memorized by now.

Martin showed the video montage that concludes every NCAA tournament after a debilitating loss to Texas A&M. He even played the Luther Vandross song without the visual clips so his players could just feel it.

Martin said he wanted the Volunteers to realize they could still salvage their season.

"To have a chance to do that right now -- I think at certain parts of the year we didn’t even think we’d get in the tournament, so it just makes it that much more fun," Stokes said.

The "moments" are part of what makes the NCAA tournament so special, and there are plenty of reasons the four teams vying to leave Raleigh with one more win on Sunday would savor it.

[+] EnlargeCuonzo Martin
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTennessee coach Cuonzo Martin hopes to leave Raleigh with at least one more shining moment.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner can taste his first Sweet 16 berth. For Virginia, which has had a lot of "first since" moments this season, it would be its longest foray in the tournament since 1995. For Martin and the Vols, it’d be validation that his method is working.

For No. 14 seed Mercer, though, it would mean Monty Brown gets another chance to build his tournament memories. The cruel irony of the Bears’ upset of No. 3 seed Duke on Friday is that Brown doesn’t remember much from it.

The 6-foot-11 reserve senior center played just four minutes before suffering a concussion in the first half against Duke. Brown had the ball and pump-faked, Duke’s Jabari Parker jumped and Parker's hip crashed into Brown’s head.

Senior guard Anthony White Jr., who was on the court standing in the corner when the play happened, initially didn’t think Brown was injured. When White encouraged him to shake it off, he knew something was wrong.

Senior guard Kevin Canevari, who will be Brown’s best man in his wedding this summer, went over and asked if he was all right.

"He was like, 'What’d you say?' and kind of looking very dazed," Canevari said. "It was a little bit scary at first. It’s definitely sad that it happened, but we’ll be praying for him."

Although Brown sat on the sideline for the remainder of the game with earplugs to block out the noise, senior Jakob Gollon said his teammate had trouble recalling the victory.

On Saturday, Brown couldn’t even attend the team’s practice and media sessions. He was at the hotel, likely sitting in a room with little light. His teammates couldn’t even talk to him much after the win because he was so sensitive to noise.

"Beyond his injury and not being able to play for us, as far as memories are concerned, that’s a pretty big deal," Gollon said. "Obviously, this is a pretty big experience that we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives. He may or may not be able to recall some of the things that happened during this time."

Brown wasn’t in the locker room when Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski made an impromptu visit to congratulate the team. He didn’t get to ride the team bus back to the hotel and hear his teammates' amusement over the #LordhaveMercer hashtag that was trending on Twitter.

Brown’s concussion meant what could arguably be the greatest single moment of his basketball career might be forever lost in the haze of his brain.

"This is what you live for. This is what you dream of as a kid," senior guard Bud Thomas said. "Especially playing Duke and Coach K. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to go out and beat them and pretty much shock the world. We’re getting all this press and Monty is pretty much in the shadow."

[+] EnlargeMercer
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMercer's Monty Brown wasn't able to celebrate Friday's win over Duke with his teammates. The Bears are hoping another win will give him the opportunity to rejoin them next week.
Brown averaged only 9.5 minutes, 4.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game this season. His numbers on the court can be replaced when the Bears play Tennessee on Sunday, but he is viewed like an elder on a team full of seniors.

Mercer coach Bob Hoffman called Brown "one of the unsung heroes on our squad."

The Bears view Brown as an "old head" who offers up wisdom and encouragement. After all, as Langston Hall put it, he is getting married. Senior center Daniel Coursey said Brown is the one who "tells us not to do stuff and be all responsible."

"No matter what’s going on, his spirits are always high," White said. "He’s always telling you it’s all right, get to the next thing if something bad happens. If something good happens, he’s the first person to come out and congratulate you."

The Bears are hoping to celebrate one more upset and have one more chance to watch Canevari dance the "Nae Nae," because that would mean Brown could have one more chance to rejoin them on the floor next week and enjoy his own NCAA tournament experience.

"Of course, he can watch the video on ESPN, but it’s another thing to be able to experience that," White said. "And Kev’s dance -- he would have been right there, right behind him jumping up yelling a little bit."

Five things: Mercer upsets Duke

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
2:34
PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mercer’s student section started the game with chants of “I believe that we will win,” and the No. 14-seeded Bears followed suit with a 78-71 victory over No. 3 seed Duke in the 2014 NCAA tournament’s biggest upset so far.

Here are five thoughts from the game:
  • This is why experience matters. Mercer started five seniors against Duke. They were not intimidated by the Duke name or playing on the big stage of the NCAA tournament. The trio of Jakob Gollon, Langston Hall and Daniel Coursey carried the Bears offensively. Gollon had 20 points, Coursey 17, and Hall 11 points and five assists. Mercer never strayed from its game plan even as Duke seemed to gain control late in the first half. Trailing by seven with five minutes left in the half, the Bears responded and trailed just 35-34 at halftime.
  • With first-time NCAA tournament participants Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker struggling -- they scored a combined 20 points -- junior Quinn Cook and sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon took control offensively for the Blue Devils. Cook hadn’t shown as much emotion and confidence since early in the season. He set a new career high with seven 3-pointers, and his 23 points were the most he’d scored since netting 24 against Michigan on Dec. 3. Sulaimon nearly matched Cook’s efficiency from behind the arc with five 3-pointers of his own and finished with 20 points.
  • It was strange to see both Parker and Hood struggle the way they did in the same game. The duo combined to shoot 6-of-24 from the field. Mercer’s Gollon, a 6-foot-6 senior, kept Hood from driving and scoring in the lane. Mercer coach Bob Hoffman sprinkled in the use of zone, which kept Coursey, a 6-10 senior, stalking Parker nearby and kept Parker from scoring in the post. The result coaxed Parker and Hood into taking more jumpers than usual and led to their low shooting percentage.
  • Ike Nwamu's lift from off the bench cannot be underestimated for Mercer. He didn’t score a single point in the second half, but his 11 points in the first kept the Bears from fading when Duke got its offense together.
  • Duke’s lack of an inside presence finally caught up to it. The Blue Devils had no one to protect the rim -- Mercer outscored them in points in the paint 26-10 en route to shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. Duke had no one to throw to in the post for high-percentage baskets.

Mercer pulled off the first huge bracket buster of the tournament by knocking out Duke on Friday.

Just 3.3 percent of the 11 million Tournament Challenge brackets had the Bears winning, by far the least popular of the 14-seeds to advance.

Conversely, 20.9 percent of brackets had Duke in the Final Four and 5.3 percent had the Blue Devils winning it all, the seventh-most-popular choice overall.

There are now 2,185 perfect brackets (out of 11 million) in Tournament Challenge. Heading into the game, there were 18,741 perfect brackets.

Experience not in Duke's favor

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
3:18
PM ET
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mercer is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski figures it’s been at least that long since he’s had a team configured like this.

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJabari Parker will be playing in his first (and maybe last) NCAA tournament game on Friday against Mercer.
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, the Blue Devils' two most gifted players, are as inexperienced as the Bears when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Krzyzewski said he can’t remember the last time his two best players were both in their first year of playing. The names he brought up -- Johnny Dawkins and Mark Alarie -- were part of his first recruiting class that made a Final Four.

“Rodney and Jabari, this is their first NCAA tournament just like for the guys at Mercer,” Krzyzewski said. “For a number of our guys, for almost half our team, it’s our first NCAA tournament. So I hope it’s a good one for us.”

It could actually be the only tournament moment for Parker and Hood, as both could end up turning pro at the end of the season.

“[Mercer is] kind of looking forward to the game too, because it’s their first appearance for a long time,” Parker said. “So we’re going to try to treat it like them, because this may be the last time we might play together with the guys on the team.”

Mercer uses seven seniors in its top nine rotation, including its five starters. Krzyzewski said the Bears won’t be intimidated and that this group of Blue Devils had to prove something to themselves.

“It’s not given to you, you got to keep earning it,” Krzyzewski said. “But because of what we’ve done [as a program], a lot of people think that this group of guys have done that. They haven't done it.”

Mercer coach Bob Hoffman has been quick to point that fact out to his players. Hoffman doesn’t want his team focusing on the Blue Devils’ Final Fours and national championships when only Andre Dawkins remains from their 2010 national title team.

“We’re not playing all those other guys who have made runs,” Hoffman said. “We’re playing the team that’s going to walk on the floor tomorrow.”

Mercer has an edge about it. The Bears -- not Florida Gulf Coast -- were supposed to amaze the college basketball world in last season’s tournament after winning the Atlantic Sun regular-season title. But a loss in the conference tournament sent FGCU to the tournament and its improbable, yet endearing, run to the Sweet 16. Mercer was relegated to the NIT.

“We were right there, had won the regular season, and then they beat us on our floor, cut the nets down,” Hoffman said. “And for 365 days, our guys worked harder than any team in the country individually to get a chance to get back to the same moment.”

Saturday's under-the-radar performances

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
10:35
PM ET
On a slow Saturday for college basketball, there just weren’t many gems. North Carolina struggled with Richmond but eventually pulled away to win 82-72. Louisville dismissed Fairfield 71-57, which set up a marquee Sunday matchup against the Tar Heels.

Winless Tulsa gave Creighton a scare. But overall, it certainly wasn’t the game’s sexiest Saturday. But there were a variety of under-the-radar and mid-major programs that offered some impressive individual efforts.

These are some of the players who usually go unnoticed for the majority of the year until March approaches and we’re all scrambling to find the next Butler or VCU. Well, remember these names. These athletes might be more relevant in the coming months.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Ireland
Orlando Ramirez/Icon SMILoyola Marymount G Anthony Ireland turned in a huge effort on Saturday.
1. Keon Lewis (UTSA) -- The UTSA junior guard had a monster game in his team’s 87-76 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He recorded 30 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. He also went 13-for-13 from the charity stripe and 3-for-5 from the 3-point line.

2. Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount) -- The 2012-13 All-WCC first-teamer scored 25 points in a 76-70 win over Marist in the Paradise Jam. The senior also recorded 6 assists and 3 steals. And he made 10 of 11 free throws.

3. Jameel Warney (Stony Brook) -- The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward was in Beast Mode during Stony Brook’s 67-61 win over Florida Atlantic. He finished with 23 points and 19 rebounds in that game. He was crucial for the Seawolves, who were locked in a tied game early in the second half.

4. Langston Hall (Mercer) -- The 6-4 senior led Mercer to an 81-54 win over Yale. He connected on four of his seven 3-point attempts. He also registered 18 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds and 1 steal.

5. Anthony Stitt (Charleston) -- The junior finished the Cougars’ lopsided 89-55 win over Furman with 4 steals. He also made 4 of 8 3-point attempts on his way to 21 points.

6. Chris Horton (Austin Peay) -- The sophomore big man is averaging 3.8 BPG. And he maintained that pace when he finished with four blocks in a 78-72 victory over Montana State. He also finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds.

7. Sean Armand (Iona) -- The 6-5 guard powered the Gaels in their 89-73 victory over Paul Hewitt’s program. Armand was 10-for-16 from the field in a 30-point performance. It was his season high in George Mason’s first blemish of the season.

8. Ray Lee (Eastern Michigan) -- What a performance by the freshman in his team’s fifth consecutive win. He scored 38 points, went 12-for-15 from the field and made all five 3-point attempts in Eastern Michigan’s 74-69 victory over Texas-Arlington. Another interesting note? His real name is Raven.

9. Shawn Long (Louisiana-Lafayette) -- Check out this stat line by the 6-9, 245-pounder: He finished with 24 points, 17 rebounds and 5 blocks in the Ragin' Cajuns' 84-75 victory over Oakland. He also hit a 3-pointer.

10. Mark Henniger (Kent State) -- The 6-9 senior led the Golden Flashes to a 102-97 win over Niagara. He was perfect. He went 6-for-6 from the field (20 points) and 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Kent State should bronze his shoes.

Nonconference analysis: Best of the rest

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
11:55
AM ET
This week, ESPN.com has been breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation's top leagues. Now let's take a look at the slates of a dozen of the top teams outside of those conferences.

BYU

Toughest: Iowa State (Nov. 20), CBE Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.)
Next toughest: at Stanford (Nov. 11), vs. UMass (Dec. 7 in Springfield, Mass.), at Oregon (Dec. 21)
The rest: Weber State (Nov. 8), Mount St. Mary's (Nov. 15), vs. Utah State (Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City), North Texas (Dec. 3), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 11), Utah (Dec. 14)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- With Tyler Haws back, BYU could steal the WCC crown from Gonzaga. The Cougars certainly will be prepared for the task. A home game against the Cyclones will be an early test for the program. The pot of gold in the Hall of Fame Classic could be a matchup against Final Four participant Wichita State (if BYU gets past Texas). Games against UMass and Oregon in December could be the kind of matchups that pull Dave Rose's team off the bubble on Selection Sunday, if they're successful.

FLORIDA GULF COAST

Toughest: at North Carolina State (Nov. 26)
Next toughest: at Nebraska (Nov. 8), Iona (Dec. 1)
The rest: Hartford (Nov. 12), at Furman (Nov. 15), Eckerd (Nov. 18), Ave Maria (Nov. 23), at FIU (Dec. 7), Samford (Dec. 14), at South Florida (Dec. 17), at Mississippi State (Dec. 19), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Florida Gulf Coast's athleticism and acrobatics enhanced the NCAA tournament experience for everyone, as "Dunk City" became a national slogan. Well, FGCU's nonconference slate belies its playmaking ability. The Eagles' toughest matchups should be road games against a Nebraska team that finished at the bottom of the Big Ten last season and an NC State squad that lost most of its impact players. The trip to Vegas yields games against Florida A&M and either Radford or Sacred Heart. And it gets worse. You'll have to Google "Eckerd" and "Ave Maria." The dunks can't make up for this disappointing schedule.

GONZAGA

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), at West Virginia (Dec. 10), at Memphis (Feb. 8)
Next toughest: vs. Kansas State (Dec. 21 in Wichita, Kan.)
The rest: Bryant (Nov. 9), Colorado State (Nov. 11), Oakland (Nov. 17), Washington State (Nov. 21), Coppin State (Dec. 1), New Mexico State (Dec. 7), vs. South Alabama (Dec. 14 in Seattle)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Zags must recover from the loss of talented frontcourt duo Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. But they're still talented enough to maintain their reign in the WCC. There will be little doubt if they succeed in the Maui Invitational. Matchups against Baylor and Syracuse could follow Gonzaga's opening round game against Dayton. A loaded Memphis squad could be a problem for the Bulldogs in February. Kansas State is less interesting because Angel Rodriguez and others transferred this offseason. The potential at the Maui Invite boosts this slate, however, especially because there's a strong chance we'll see those matchups.

HARVARD

Toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 24), at UConn (Jan. 8)
Next toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 28-30), Boston College (Jan. 1)
The rest: vs. Holy Cross (Nov. 10 in Boston), MIT (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 15), Bryant (Nov. 20), at Northeastern (Dec. 4), at Boston University (Dec. 7), Vermont (Dec. 21), at Fordham (Dec. 28), at Rice (Jan. 4), at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Tommy Amaker has one of the best rosters in Harvard history. He has the key players from last season's NCAA tourney squad. Plus, Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey are returning from last season's suspensions. We'll know more about the program's ceiling after it travels to Boulder to face Tad Boyle's talented Colorado squad. Harvard will encounter one of America's best backcourts when it goes to UConn in January. Not much beyond that. The Great Alaska Shootout features one of the weakest holiday tournament fields in the country. Nothing else in this lineup that would really interest the selection committee.

INDIANA STATE

Toughest: at Notre Dame (Nov. 17), at Saint Louis (Dec. 18)
Next toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27-30)
The rest: Ball State (Nov. 9), at Belmont (Nov. 14), Truman State (Nov. 22), at Eastern Illinois (Dec. 7), at Missouri-Kansas City (Dec. 14), IUPUI (Dec. 21), Belmont (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Sycamores are Wichita State's biggest challenger in the Missouri Valley Conference now that Creighton has moved on to the new Big East. Jake Odum and three other starters return. They'll have to get comfortable off campus. Road matchups against Notre Dame and Saint Louis will be their toughest nonconference games. The Sycamores play five true road games before MVC play begins, and that does not include the Great Alaska Shootout. The latter features a subpar field, but Indiana State could get Harvard in the title game at least. The program might regret two nonconference meetings with Belmont once Selection Sunday arrives.

IONA

Toughest: at Kansas (Nov. 19)
Next toughest: at Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 1), at Dayton (Dec. 19)
The rest: at Cleveland State (Nov. 9), Wofford (Nov. 16), George Mason (Nov. 23), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 14), at Nevada (Dec. 22), at Northern Iowa (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Tim Cluess' program has reached the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons. And despite losing Momo Jones, the Gaels could return. Most of their starters from last season are back. Their nonconference slate, however, features few opportunities to boost their at-large resume. They'll play Andrew Wiggins and Kansas in Lawrence in November. George Mason, Florida Gulf Coast and Northern Iowa are all matchups they could lose. But even if they win all three, they'll probably need more quality wins to get some help on Selection Sunday.

LONG BEACH STATE

Toughest: at Arizona (Nov. 11), Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), Creighton (Dec. 3)
Next toughest: at Kansas State (Nov. 17), at Washington (Nov. 30), at NC State (Dec. 7), at Missouri (Jan. 4)
The rest: Hawaii-Pacific (Nov. 9), Loyola Marymount (Nov. 14), USC (Dec. 19), Montana State-Billings (Dec. 21), at Nevada (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Dan Monson's program dismissed standouts Kaela King and Tony Freeland in the offseason. But the 49ers still can win the Big West, especially with former UCLA guard Tyler Lamb becoming eligible after the first semester. They'll need everyone to step up to deal with this strenuous nonconference schedule. The program will face national title contender Arizona on the road in early November. The 49ers open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with a matchup against Michigan, another national title contender. The tourney also includes VCU and Georgetown. Big East title favorite Creighton travels to the West Coast for a matchup in early December. The slate ends with a matchup against Missouri in Columbia. Now that is a nonconference schedule.

LOUISIANA TECH

Toughest: vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 14 in Oklahoma City)
Next toughest: at Saint Mary's (Nov. 8), at Oklahoma (Dec. 30)
The rest: Centenary (Nov. 13), Central Arkansas (Nov. 20), Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, Fla. (Nov. 25-27), at Jackson State (Dec. 1), UL-Lafayette (Dec. 4), Southern (Dec. 7), Northwestern State (Dec. 11), McNeese State (Dec. 17), at UL-Monroe (Dec. 22), Longwood (Jan. 4)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Last season, Louisiana Tech won 27 games and cracked the AP's top 25 poll. The Bulldogs didn't reach the tournament, but they're still a potential favorite to win Conference USA in their inaugural season in the league. But they'll probably enter conference play with an inflated record. Their mid-December game against national title contender Oklahoma State is the only one that stands out. Road games against Saint Mary's and Oklahoma could be factors if Louisiana Tech is on the bubble at the end of the season. The Bulldogs' lack of quality nonconference wins hurt them last season. They at least have a shot at a few decent ones this season.

MERCER

Toughest: at Ole Miss (Dec. 22)
Next toughest: at Texas (Nov. 8), at Oklahoma (Dec. 2)
The rest: Reinhardt (Nov. 13), Seton Hall (Nov. 16), at Evansville (Nov. 18), Johnson & Wales (North Carolina) (Nov. 20), Yale (Nov. 23), at Ohio (Nov. 26), at Valparaiso (Nov. 29), Denver (Dec. 7), Alcorn St. (Dec. 16), St. Andrews (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Mercer brings back four starters from a team that won the Atlantic Sun's regular-season crown in 2012-13. That's the good news. But it's usually a bad sign when you have to Google some of the names featured on a team's nonconference slate. Yes, Johnson & Wales is a real school. Yes, Mercer is playing a bunch of high majors, too. But they're only high majors in name as 2013-14 approaches. Ole Miss should be its toughest game and the Bears have had success against the SEC in recent years. Texas has lost everyone, and Oklahoma has to replenish, too. Those three teams are not expected to contend for the title in their respective conferences. And then, there's Johnson & Wales.

SAINT MARY'S

Toughest: at Boise State (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next toughest: Louisiana Tech (Nov. 8)
The rest: Akron (Nov. 12), North Dakota State (Nov. 14), Drake (Nov. 16), Alcorn State (Nov. 24), Murray State (Nov. 30), Eastern Washington (Dec. 8), American University (Dec. 19)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- This is actually better than some recent Saint Mary's nonconference lineups. But it's still so-so, even for a Gaels program that must reboot after losing star Matthew Dellavedova. A road game against Mountain West title contender Boise State is probably Saint Mary's toughest game. The Gaels could see the Broncos again if they beat South Carolina in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic. Iowa State might be waiting in the championship game. Louisiana Tech could win the Conference USA crown in its first season, so that November matchup should be meaningful. But the Gaels have just one true road game.

SOUTHERN

Toughest: at Florida (Nov. 18), at Arizona (Dec. 19)
Next toughest: at Marquette (Nov. 8), at Baylor (Dec. 22)
The rest:, at Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 10), Tulane (Nov. 13), at North Florida (Nov. 16), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 22), Blue Mountain College (Nov. 25), at Denver (Dec. 3), at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 7), Dillard (Dec. 14), Champion Baptist College (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- The squad that nearly upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament last season is ready to play the role of David again. Southern, a team that returns star Malcolm Miller, could ruin a few nonconference seasons for some of the country's best teams. The Jaguars kick off the year at Marquette. They'll face Florida in Gainesville a few weeks later. Then, they have back-to-back road matchups against Arizona and Baylor in December. That November game against Blue Mountain College is actually an anomaly on this challenging nonconference schedule. You taking notes, SEC?

WICHITA STATE

Toughest: at Saint Louis (Dec. 1), vs. Tennessee (Dec. 14 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.)
Next toughest: CBE Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 25-26), at Alabama (Dec. 17)
The rest: Emporia State (Nov. 9), Western Kentucky (Nov. 12), at Tulsa (Nov. 20), Oral Roberts (Dec. 7), North Carolina Central (Dec. 22), Davidson (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Shockers have elevated expectations after last season's Final Four run. With so much talent returning, a trip to Arlington in April seems feasible. Wichita State will get an early test against reigning Atlantic 10 champ Saint Louis, and then it will host SEC sleeper Tennessee a few weeks later. The Vols beat the Shockers in Knoxville last season. They could face BYU if they beat DePaul in the first round of the Hall of Fame Classic. Games against Bama and Davidson shouldn't be overlooked, either. But this slate lacks the power players you'd like to see a Final Four team encounter prior to conference play.

Video: Florida Gulf Coast 88, Mercer 75

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
2:40
PM ET

Florida Gulf Coast defeated Mercer 88-75 in the Atlantic Sun tourney final and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Saturday's conference-clinching scenarios

March, 2, 2013
3/02/13
11:25
AM ET
Here are the scenarios today for teams that have a chance to clinch their regular-season conference title outright. For conferences with two divisions, we use the terminology “will clinch best record” instead of “will clinch conference outright.”

Akron: Will clinch best record in MAC with win at Buffalo and Ohio loss at Bowling Green
Belmont: Will clinch best record in Ohio Valley with win vs. Jacksonville State or Eastern Kentucky loss at Tennessee State
Charleston Southern: Will clinch best record in Big South South Division with win vs. Coastal Carolina
High Point: Will clinch best record in Big South North division with win vs. Campbell
Long Beach State: Will clinch Big West outright with win at UC Irvine or Pacific loss at UC Riverside
Louisiana Tech: Will clinch WAC outright with win vs. San Jose State and Denver loss vs. New Mexico State
Memphis: Will clinch Conference USA outright with win at UCF or Southern Miss loss vs. East Carolina
Mercer: Will clinch Atlantic Sun outright with win at Stetson or Florida Gulf Coast loss vs. Kennesaw State
Miami: Will clinch ACC outright with win at Duke
New Mexico: Will clinch Mountain West outright with win vs. Wyoming and Colorado State loss at Boise State
Niagara: Will clinch MAAC outright with win vs. St. Peter's
South Dakota State: Will clinch Summit League outright with Western Illinois loss vs. South Dakota
Texas Southern: Will clinch SWAC outright with win vs. Alcorn State
Valparaiso: Will clinch Horizon League outright with win at Green Bay or Detroit loss at Illinois-Chicago
Wichita State at Creighton: Winner clinches Missouri Valley outright

Paradise Jam Primer

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
8:00
AM ET
Until Connecticut’s opening day victory over Michigan State in Germany, there wasn’t much reason to get excited about the 2012 Paradise Jam. And even after a gutty, fired-up UConn team showed us it’s not ready to wither just yet, the P-Jam (which is an abbreviation I just made up, I think; let’s go with it) is far from the best early-season tournament out there. That would be the Battle 4 Atlantis, which basically drank every other early-season tournament’s milkshake.

Even so, there are a few teams and players worth keeping an eye on.

The basics: Nov. 16–19 at University of the Virgin Islands

The set matchups: Mercer vs. George Mason, 1:30 p.m. ET; Illinois-Chicago vs. New Mexico, 4 p.m. ET; Wake Forest vs. Connecticut, 6:30 p.m. ET; Quinnipiac vs. Iona, 9 p.m. ET

The favorite: Connecticut. New Mexico isn’t far off -- the Lobos are still criminally underrated in the 2012-13 Mountain West conversation -- but it’s hard to look at what UConn did to Michigan State and not be impressed (particularly because the Spartans took down Kansas four days and a 4,500-mile trip from Germany to Atlanta later). The Huskies’ backcourt -- Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and lengthy wing DeAndre Daniels -- appear to be playing fast, scrappy, motivated basketball under hungry young coach Kevin Ollie. And they have a straightforward route to the tournament title game.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Napier struggled with leadership issues throughout the Huskies’ lackluster 2011-12 season; he fully admitted other players simply didn’t want to hear it. But Napier is now a legit veteran presence with a national title on his résumé, and this greenhorn UConn team revolves much more around his perimeter abilities.

[+] EnlargeRyan Boatright
David Butler II/US PresswireRyan Boatright's making better decisions so far in his his sophomore season for UConn.
Ryan Boatright, Connecticut: Boatright’s freshman season was like many freshman seasons: promising but flawed. This season, he appears to be playing much more of a true point guard role, with Napier working more frequently off the ball, and the decision-making that made him a liability last season looks to be much improved.

Tony Snell, New Mexico: The Lobos have a really good chance to win this tournament -- if UConn is the favorite, it’s not by that much -- and Snell is a major reason why. He led New Mexico’s 86–81 comeback win over Davidson Tuesday morning with 25 points, including a final-minute shot-clock-beating 3 to help seal the deal.

MoMo Jones, Iona: Iona lost national assists leader Scott Machado and senior forward Mike Glover. It will gain former Iowa State point guard Tavon Sledge and former Toledo forward Curtis Dennis. But Jones -- the former Arizona point who transferred to Iona last summer -- should get the touches to have a very big season, even if he isn’t always the most efficient scorer in the country.

C.J. Harris, Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons still have a big talent hole to climb out of before they get competitive in the ACC again, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook Harris. The guard had a breakout junior season, shooting 50.7 percent from 2, 42.2 percent from 3 and 84.4 percent from the line while lowering his turnover rate and drawing shooting fouls frequently.

FIVE BIG QUESTIONS

Is this Connecticut thing real?

As good as UConn looked Friday night -- and it did look good -- it’s important to temper this kind of exuberance this early in the season. It was only one game (in Germany, no less) and Michigan State hardly had its finest outing. A convincing jaunt this weekend will hardly guarantee Big East title contention, but it will be another green shoot.

Where is George Mason right now?

Paul Hewitt enters his second season at George Mason with the program arguably as bereft of talent as at any point in the past five seasons. That’s what happens when you lose two leading frontcourt scorers, Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison (and your program’s best recent scorer, Luke Hancock, is preparing to debut for Louisville). Mason looks likely to slide this season, but did open with a win over Virginia. This tournament will tell us more.

Is New Mexico good enough down low?

The Lobos have plenty of perimeter talent. Kendall Williams and Snell are gifted scorers, Hugh Greenwood is a crafty point, Demetrius Walker is finally getting it, and Jamal Fenton can really go. But after losing Drew Gordon to the draft, can New Mexico find and develop some interior presence in time to compete with UNLV and San Diego State?

Is Wake on its way?

There’s no two ways about it: Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure has been a disaster thus far, and that’s before you consider the comparatively gleaming record of the man (Dino Gaudio) he replaced. But Bzdelik did improve Wake to a 13-win outfit last season after losing two starters from an 8–24 team, and Harris and Travis McKie form a really nice scoring combo. The Demon Deacons aren’t going to challenge for the ACC title anytime soon, but there’s at least a chance they won’t be horrible. So there’s that.

Will ESPN.com college football editor Brian Kelly shave his head if his alma mater, Quinnipiac, wins this tournament?

I don’t know, but I triple dog dare him.

THE PICKS

First round: Iona over Quinnipiac (sorry BK); UConn over Wake; New Mexico over UIC; George Mason over Mercer.

Semifinals: UConn over Iona; New Mexico over George Mason.

Championship: UConn over New Mexico.

SPONSORED HEADLINES