College Basketball Nation: Montana Grizzlies

1. Texas lost 18 games last season. The Longhorns won seven in the Big 12 and were shut out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since head coach Rick Barnes arrived in 1998. Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis were third and fourth, respectively, on the team last season in turnovers with a combined 112 and are both transferring. Jaylen Bond, who battled a foot problem for most of the season, also left. According to a source, the decisions weren’t solely the players'. Should Texas be worried that these three, as well as NBA-draft-bound guard Myck Kabongo (23-game amateurism suspension), are out of the program? If last season’s freshmen class is on board with the way Barnes wants to play, the answer is no. Ioannis Papapetrou, Javan Felix, Connor Lammert, Demarcus Holland, Prince Ibeh and Jonathan Holmes will be the core of next season’s team. Holland clearly likes the idea of what remains in Austin. He tweeted after a workout on April 30: “Honestly never loved a team like I do now. Feels great when you can get it in, say family on three, and really feel like brothers. #Horns.’’ At the time, Bond, McClellan and Kabongo were all gone. Barnes told his staff that he wants to get back to the teams he has had in the past, with players who will play with toughness and display the passion for winning. According to someone close to the program, despite the defections, the staff has looked at this spring as one of its best in terms of player development. The Longhorns also brought in four newcomers for next season. Texas will be picked in the lower half of the league, below Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State. The onus is on this crew, led by someone like Holland, to propel Texas back to its rightful place in the Big 12, in competition behind Kansas. If these departures are addition by subtraction, Barnes will know early on. If not, next season could seem like a dog year.

2. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said there were logistical issues that could not be worked out for the proposed Dec. 7 game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., to honor former Spartans coach and Spokane resident Jud Heathcote. So the game is off -- along with the proposed undercard of Washington State versus Montana. Wazzu coach Ken Bone said Idaho had been willing to move a date for the Cougars, but now that is unnecessary. Meanwhile, an SEC official said the league didn’t have criteria for not including Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee in the inaugural SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Scheduling conflicts and the need to balance the series were why those four schools were omitted in a challenge between a 14-team SEC and a 10-team Big 12. Still, organizers probably could have tried to get star-laden Oklahoma State a higher-profile game than hosting rebuilding South Carolina.

3. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said being away from his family was the reason he is stepping aside from coaching the U.S. under-19 team with Florida’s Billy Donovan and Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart in the world championships June 27-July 7 in Prague. Along with the practice sessions, it becomes nearly a month's commitment. The three coaches won gold a year ago in Brazil with the under-18 squad. Virginia coach Tony Bennett will take Few’s spot on the staff. In an event taking place July 6-17 in Kazan, Russia, Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Michigan’s John Beilein and South Carolina’s Frank Martin will coach the U.S. team at the World University Games. Meanwhile, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is diversifying his international basketball career. Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said Ejim will play for Canada this summer after playing for Nigeria a year ago. Hoiberg said Ejim has dual citizenship from the two nations.
1. Syracuse wasn’t the only newcomer the ACC took care of in scheduling. Notre Dame has a tremendous first-year schedule in the league with home games against North Carolina and Duke. Three Big Ten nonconference games are also on Mike Brey's daunting overall schedule, two of which were out of his control. It was Notre Dame’s turn to play Indiana in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis, and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge gave the Irish a road game at Iowa. Notre Dame had already scheduled the Gotham Classic in Madison Square Garden against Ohio State. “We’ve got three Big Ten teams on the schedule but I don’t want our fans to think we’ve joined the Big Ten,’’ said Brey. The Irish will also play three potential postseason teams in Delaware, Bryant and North Dakota State in the Gotham Classic in leading up to the Ohio State game Dec. 21 in NYC. Santa Clara and Indiana State, two other teams with postseason ability, come to South Bend. “Our fans are going to be spoiled by getting Carolina and Duke coming to South Bend,’’ said Brey. “We’ve got BC, Georgia Tech as our repeat games and Virginia and UNC too. Having Duke and Carolina coming here in the first year in the ACC is knocking it out of the park. We’re fortunate.’’ Brey considered playing a road game against Baylor in Dallas to start the season but then decided against it and wanted to get a home game for new point guard Demetrius Jackson. “He’s a key guy for us so I want to him to play 20-something minutes at home,’’ said Brey. “With the schedule we have, we’ve got enough games on the road and neutral.’’

2. Washington State coach Ken Bone said Idaho coach Ron Verlin agreed to move a game against the Cougars on Dec. 7 so Wazzu could participate in the Jud Heathcote event -- an event celebrating Heathcote's legacy at the four schools where he has either coached or -- in the case of Gonzaga -- has a passion for. Washington State will play Montana in the undercard while Gonzaga will host Michigan State at Spokane Arena on Dec. 7. Heathcote lives in Spokane where he coached high school basketball at West Valley High. He’s a regular at Gonzaga games. He also coached at Montana and Washington State before winning a national title with Magic Johnson at Michigan State in 1979. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo served under Heathcote before replacing him. Gonzaga coach Mark Few has become extremely close with Heathcote, as well.

3. Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel and Anthony Bennett all will be unable to participate in next week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago on Thursday and Friday (live coverage on ESPNU 10 a.m. to 2 p.m./ 2-3 p.m. ESPN2 each day). That means there will be ample opportunity for even more players to shine in what has become a wide-open draft. At each of the five listed positions, there is at least one player who could really benefit from the lower numbers. Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, who is being discussed as a first-round lock, has a real shot to move up among the point guards. This will be a critical few days for those watching Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin among the shooting guards. The same is true of Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas with the small forwards, BYU’s Brandon Davies with the power forwards and Kansas’ Jeff Withey with the centers.
1. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Thursday on our ESPNU College Basketball podcast that underclassmen should be able to work out for NBA teams before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft. That was the rule before the change by the NCAA in 2009. Izzo saw forward Adreian Payne take his time before opting to return to East Lansing. Izzo is a proponent of one date instead of the two current ones -- the NCAA's arbitrary one, with nothing binding, a week after the Final Four and the NBA's real deadline on the last Sunday in April. "I've never seen so much confusion,'' Izzo said. Izzo was also agreed with the point that if NBA teams paid for the workouts, it would alleviate one of the concerns the NCAA has had about extra benefits for draft hopefuls.

2. Izzo also said Michigan State and Gonzaga are trying to finalize a game at Spokane (Wash.) Arena on Dec. 7 to honor the life of former Michigan State coach and current Spokane resident Jud Heathcote. Heathcote attends Gonzaga games when he is able. Izzo said the plan was to have a doubleheader involving the four schools Heathcote coached or has a strong affinity for: Michigan State, Gonzaga, Washington State and Montana. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said he'd love to do it, but Washington State coach Ken Bone said he has a scheduling conflict.

3. The NCAA Board of Directors officially recognized and ratified the new Big East Conference and the name change of the old Big East to the American Athletic Conference. That means the NCAA tournament will officially have 32 automatic berths in 2014 and 36 at-large berths. It also means that everyone had better get used to the American conference because unless significant expansion occurs again, the American is here to stay.

Seven things to know from Thursday

March, 22, 2013
1. Harvard won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history. The Crimson defeated No. 3-seed New Mexico. Harvard is the first 14-seed or lower from the Ivy League to win an NCAA tournament game.

2. Since seeding began in 1979, the 46-point victory by 5-seed Virginia Commonwealth over No. 12 Akron was the largest margin of victory ever by any team seeded lower than 2. That record lasted for about an hour. Syracuse, a 4-seed, broke it with a 47-point win over Montana.

3. Southern's six-point loss against Gonzaga was the closest by a No. 16 seed against a No. 1 seed since 1996, when Western Carolina lost by two against Purdue. Southern is only the fifth No. 16 seed in the past 20 years to come within single digits of a 1-seed.

4. Vander Blue's go-ahead layup with one second remaining against Davidson was the first game-tying or go-ahead shot made in the final 10 seconds of a game in the past two NCAA tournaments. Prior to Blue's shot, players missed the previous 22 attempts in those situations, dating back to the 2011 NCAA tournament.

5. With Butler's win over Bucknell, Brad Stevens is now 12-4 in the NCAA tournament. Stevens is the seventh coach to win at least 12 of his first 16 NCAA tournament games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only coaches with a better record in their first 16 NCAA tournament games are Tom Izzo and Steve Fisher.

6. Russ Smith had eight steals for Louisville in its win over North Carolina A&T, matching the most in any NCAA tournament game (steals became official in 1986). The last player with eight steals in a game was North Carolina's Ty Lawson in the 2009 national championship game.

7. With its loss to No. 12-seed California, UNLV, a No. 5 seed, became the third team ever to lose four consecutive games in the round of 64 as the higher seed, joining Clemson (1998-2010) and BYU (1995-2009).

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Syracuse dominated Montana from bell to bell. Here are some thoughts on the Orange's 81-34 win.

Overview: When the higher-seeded team shoots well and the underdog shoots terribly, well, that's a recipe for a final count like this one.

Turning point: When Syracuse opened a 15-3 lead to begin the game, looking physically dominant in the process, you had a pretty good idea this one wouldn't get terribly tense.

Key player: Syracuse guard Brandon Triche finished with a game-high 20 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He added four assists and five steals. He was a lot better than the guards opposing him.

Key stat: Let's talk field goal percentages. Syracuse shot 52.9 percent from the field. Montana shot 20.4 percent. The Grizzlies were 4-of-31 from 3-point range (12.9 percent). The Orange shot 20 fewer 3s and made five. Do we really need to say more?

Next: Syracuse will face No. 12 seed California on Saturday with a spot in the Sweet 16 at stake. The Bears slipped by UNLV 64-61 on Thursday.
I know the feeling. You’re nervous. You know the big names -- Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke -- but who’s this Nate kid I keep hearing about? Let me help you. Here are 10 mid-major stars who could really mess up your bracket in the coming days.

Mike Muscala (Bucknell) -- The Muscala Monster is a dangerous creature. The Bison are capable of upsetting Butler in the second round Thursday in Lexington because they’re led by one of America’s most underrated stars. He scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a two-point loss to Missouri in January. Muscala (19.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG) dropped 18 points in a win against NCAA tourney participant La Salle in December. He’s finished with 25 points or more in 10 games. He also has the strength of 10 men. Not really, but he’s legit and more than prepared to help Bucknell ruin brackets worldwide.

[+] EnlargeNate Wolters
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsCan Nate Wolters and South Dakota State upset Michigan in the NCAA tournament's second round?
Nate Wolters (South Dakota State) -- He plays with a chip on his shoulder. Few Division I schools sought his services when he was a high school standout in St. Cloud, Minn. Every season since, however, Wolters has proven he was clearly overlooked. He led the Jackrabbits to their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance via a silky game that’s caught the attention of NBA scouts. He’s one of the nation’s most explosive offensive performers. Wolters (22.7 PPG, 39 percent from the 3-point line) recorded a Division I-high 53 points in a Feb. 7 win against IPFW. He’ll make Thursday’s matchup against Michigan in Auburn Hills interesting.

Will Cherry (Montana) -- Damian Lillard is arguably the top player in the NBA’s rookie class. When he was a Big Sky star at Weber State, Cherry was his top adversary. The senior is known for his defensive prowess (1.9 SPG), but he’s a talented offensive player, too. Cherry is averaging 13.9 PPG for a Montana team that will face Syracuse in San Jose on Friday. The Grizzlies don’t have top scorer Mathias Ward, who is out for the season with a foot injury. But Cherry is a proven leader. He’s tough, too. He missed a few games in early March after aggravating a foot injury that cost him the first few months of the season. But he hasn’t shown any signs of regression since his return.

Siyani Chambers (Harvard) -- The West Region is probably the easiest region. With Gonzaga as the 1-seed, it just seems more wide open than the other three. So expect the unexpected. Harvard could spur some madness in its second-round matchup against New Mexico in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The Lobos are the better team. But the Crimson have overcome adversity to reach this point. Stars Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry left the team prior to the season because of an academic scandal. Chambers (12.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 44 percent from the 3-point line), just a freshman, helped Tommy Amaker’s squad recover from those losses and earn another automatic berth with its second straight outright Ivy title.

Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s) -- The senior was a member of the Australian national team in the London Olympics. He’s struggled in his past two games, but Dellavedova will be ready for the NCAA tourney. The Gaels will face Middle Tennessee in Dayton in the First Four on Tuesday night. If they get past the Blue Raiders, they’ll see Memphis in the next round. Dellavedova (15.8 PPG, 6.4 APG, 38 percent from the 3-point line) is not just recognized as a mid-major star. He’s one of the best point guards in America, regardless of level. He’s talented and experienced. And he might help the Gaels nullify your bracket.

Jamal Olasewere (LIU Brooklyn) -- I don’t think we’ll see the first 16-over-1 upset. But if it is to happen, I pick the Blackbirds to pull off the feat. Why? Because Olasewere (18.9 PPG, 8.5 RPG) is a tough matchup for any team in the country. The 6-foot-7 forward is active inside, and he’s efficient in transition. The Blackbirds must get through James Madison in the First Four in Dayton on Wednesday. If they do, they’ll see Indiana on Friday in Dayton. If something crazy happens, Olasewere will certainly be involved.

[+] EnlargeLamont Jones
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsSenior guard Lamont Jones, who is averaging 23.0 PPG, will have Iona prepared to face Ohio State.
Lamont “Momo” Jones (Iona) -- Iona is second in America with an average of 80.7 PPG. Jones, who started his career at Arizona, is the catalyst for the Gaels’ offense. He’s averaging 23.0 PPG, third in the nation. He’s recorded 30 points or more in six different games. He’s certainly a potent performer who guides a Gaels squad that can score in bunches. Iona, however, is facing one of the hottest teams in America right now. Ohio State has won eight games in a row, a streak that the Buckeyes capped with a Big Ten tournament title in Chicago on Sunday. But the Gaels play fast (17th in adjusted tempo per Ken Pomeroy). And their defense is porous. Still, Iona can overwhelm teams with its high-powered offense. That’s what makes its second-round matchup against Ohio State in Dayton on Friday so intriguing.

Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso) -- The 6-7 forward from Australia cracked ESPN's "SportsCenter" recently when his buzzer-beating 3-pointer knocked UW-Green Bay out of the Horizon League tournament. He’s one of the top mid-major players in the country. Broekhoff is averaging 15.9 PPG and 7.3 RPG for a Crusaders squad that will face Michigan State on Thursday in Auburn Hills. The atmosphere will favor the Spartans, but Valpo will be tough. The Crusaders are a versatile team with an offense that’s ranked 44th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. And Broekhoff is the key to that success.

Doug McDermott (Creighton) -- The Bluejays might be the most dangerous 7-seed in the field. They certainly hit a few bumps during Missouri Valley Conference play. Overall, however, they’ve been one of the top mid-major programs in the country. They have wins against Wisconsin, Arizona State, Akron and Cal. They lead the nation with a 50.8 percent clip from the field. Their defense is suspect (78th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). But McDermott, their leader, is a legit star. He’s averaging 23.1 PPG and 7.5 RPG. He could really go off in the Big Dance. First, he has to lead his team through a tough opening-round matchup against Cincinnati in Philly on Friday. Creighton is definitely a sleeper in the Midwest Region.

Ian Clark (Belmont) -- On paper, there’s a lot to like about Belmont. The Bruins are a strong squad that’s faced some of the best teams in the country in nonconference matchups. Belmont can beat Arizona in the second round Thursday in Salt Lake City. And a Sweet 16 run isn’t a crazy concept for this veteran squad. Clark (18.1 PPG, 46.3 percent from beyond the arc) is just one of the weapons that the Wildcats will have to neutralize when the two teams meet. He’s a stud who could really disrupt brackets throughout the country.
1. Highlights from Tuesday's Katz Korner show on ESPNU: Kentucky coach John Calipari didn't hold back his feelings about the SEC tournament. Calipari said the tournament is for the fans and noted a number of UK fans at the SEC tournament don't normally get to Rupp. He said the conference tourney is just a prep for the next (NCAA) tournament. "I don't like this,'' he said. "Three games in three days does nothing to prepare you for anything. I wish none of us had these tournaments.'' ... Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said in reaction to this being the Irish's last Big East tournament that the Big East, "made me in my coaching career.'' He said it was odd to tell his team Tuesday morning at breakfast that this would be their last Big East tournament. ... Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said it's hard to explain his past year: from being fired at Illinois to Big 12 coach of the year. He said his daughter pointed out that "I lost my job on March 9 and then it was March 9 this year that we won an unexpected Big 12 championship and the first one here since 1977.'' ... VCU coach Shaka Smart offered this advice for bubble coaches heading to the First Four in Dayton next week after the Rams started their Final Four run their in 2011, "Be aggressive confident and loose. You want to be an attacking team, no matter what style of play.''...Michigan's Trey Burke said the Wolverines will be looking forward to playing teams in the NCAA tournament not from the Big Ten, "It's a well-scouted conference, once we get outside of the conference, conference tournament, we'll be able to play at a higher level because those teams won't be scouting us each other day.''

2. One of the best decisions the NCAA/NIT made was ensuring the regular-season champs had a postseason home. A number of teams that won their leagues in the regular season weren't able to win the conference tournament: Northeastern (CAA), Robert Morris (NEC), Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Charleston Southern (Big South), Niagara (MAAC) and Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt). Middle Tennessee State is the only school that has a chance to make the NCAA tournament out of this group as an at-large. But the NIT has to guarantee bids to all of them. The regular-season title should have meaning and guarantee a postseason berth.

3. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle had quite a championship week -- in his family. His Grizzlies won the Big Sky for the second-straight season. His son, Tres, won the Montana AA high school title and was the most valuable player. His daughter, Joslyn, a senior at Stanford won the Pac-12 title and his youngest daughter, Elle, a freshman at the Gonzaga, won the WCC title. "How blessed are we?'' Tinkle said. But he said the real MVP of the family is his wife, Lisa, a member of the Montana Hall of Fame for "all the miles she logged.'' The Grizzlies will attempt to get back to the NCAA tournament but will likely have a challenge from nemesis Weber State. Montana hosts the Big Sky tournament in Missoula and gets a bye to the semifinals, while Weber State, the No. 2 seed, has to play two games to get to the finals since there are only seven teams in the field.

The 11th and final BracketBusters event began Friday night and continues over the weekend all around the country. Here's my take (along with some predictions) on what I think are the seven best matchups:


Iona at Indiana State, 11 a.m. ET, ESPNU: Remember when Indiana State was the sexy bubble team? That's no longer the case. ISU has lost three in a row and four of its last six. The Sycamores are in a can't-lose situation in this matchup with Iona. They have wins over Miami, Ole Miss and Wichita State, which helps. But they also have losses to the four teams in the bottom of the conference (Bradley, Drake, Missouri State and Southern Illinois). Figure that one out. Iona boasts one of the nation's most potent offenses (19th in adjusted offensive efficiency) but has lost five of six. Few teams have caught as many bad breaks as Iona. Three of those losses were sealed after regulation (one in overtime, two in double-overtime). The other two defeats were by three points or fewer. Iona is one or two stops away from being the MAAC's best team.
Prediction: Iona 76, Indiana State 74

Montana at Davidson, 3 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Montana had won 14 consecutive games prior to a 24-point loss at Weber State on Valentine’s Day. Turnovers (14) were an issue in that game, and they’ve been a problem for the program all year (turnovers on 19.1 percent of their possessions, 117th in the nation per KenPom). In the Southern Conference, Davidson has held opponents to 58.5 PPG. The Wildcats took some blows in the nonconference slate, but they’ve won 11 in a row, and Jake Cohen (14.6 PPG) and De'Mon Brooks (13.1 PPG) comprise one of the most talented duos in the mid-major ranks. Both squads will be equipped to seal a tight game at the charity stripe. Montana (76.3 percent) and Davidson (81.3 percent, first in the nation) are top-10 nationally from the free throw line.
Prediction: Davidson 73, Montana 69

Detroit at Wichita State, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Titans have soared toward the top of the Horizon League with an offense that's averaging 79 PPG, sixth in the nation. They're 20th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, as Ray McCallum Jr. (18.7 PPG) leads a unit that possesses high-major athleticism at every position. But they'll have to decipher a Shockers squad that's found its groove again after a rocky three-game losing stretch that threatened its position in the Missouri Valley Conference. Gregg Marshall's team is back on top of the league with a feisty defense that's allowed only 59.7 PPG in MVC play (second in the conference). Six-foot-8 forward Cleanthony Early is a matchup dilemma due to his versatility (6-for-12 from the 3-point line in his last two games) and fellow 6-8 forward Carl Hall uses his brawn inside to make an impact. This is a matchup between a fluid offense and a stingy defense. Something has to give.
Prediction: Detroit 73, Wichita State 71

Creighton at Saint Mary’s, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN: Doug McDermott (22.5 PPG) is still one of the best players in the country, but the buzz surrounding the preseason All-American is not as high as it was even a month ago due to the Bluejays' recent struggles. They're still 47th in the RPI and they have top-100 RPI wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, Indiana State and Cal. They're in a much safer spot than a Saint Mary's team that's banking on RPI alone (51) after failing to earn any meaningful nonconference wins. The Gaels will face BYU before this matchup against the Bluejays, but a win over the Cougars wouldn't carry the same weight as a victory over Creighton. McDermott and Saint Mary's guard Matthew Dellavedova are two of the most exciting players in the country, and this game means plenty to both squads. You don't want to miss it.
Prediction: Creighton 75, Saint Mary’s 70

South Dakota State at Murray State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2: South Dakota State struggled in its first three Summit League games. The team lost two of those matchups after a brutal nonconference travel stretch that seemed to tire the Jackrabbits. But they’ve won 10 of their last 12 games. Still, much like Murray State, their only ticket to the Big Dance is through the conference tournament. Can the Jackrabbits get there, however, through Nate Wolters (22.8 PPG) and the powerful offense he pilots (32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency)? Or will their defense cost them down the stretch (213th in adjusted defensive efficiency)? Murray State has been up and down all season. The Racers beat Belmont, one of the best mid-majors in the country. But they’ve lost two of their last three games. Isaiah Canaan (20.6 PPG) is a very talented player but he needs help (the Racers are shooting 31.4 percent on 3s, 11th in the conference). It’s tough to predict this matchup because both squads have been so unpredictable. But South Dakota State has overcome better teams on the road (namely New Mexico).
Prediction: SDSU 80, Murray State 74

Ohio at Belmont, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2: For a time this season, Belmont was certainly one of the best mid-major teams in the country. But a 2-2 record during a four-game road stretch has humbled the Bruins. They're the OVC's top scoring offense and defense, but they're committing turnovers on 19.9 percent of their possessions, 157th in the country per Ken Pomeroy. They'll face a team that can keep up with them on offense (Ohio averages a MAC-best 74.4 PPG). Belmont is likely still a bubble team with that high RPI (30), but the Bruins certainly haven't played like an NCAA tourney team in recent weeks. Both teams probably need conference tournament titles to guarantee slots. Yet they're also aware of the value of late-season momentum as they prepare for those league tourneys. A victory in this game would help achieve that. This contest also features a must-see guard matchup: Belmont's Ian Clark (18.9 PPG) versus Ohio's D.J. Cooper (13.6 PPG, 7.7 APG, 2.1 SPG). That alone is worth staying up late for.
Prediction: Ohio 79, Belmont 69


Akron possesses the nation's top winning streak at 17 in a row. That run has placed the Zips on the soft NCAA tournament bubble. Zeke Marshall, who is fifth in the nation with 3.48 blocks per game, leads a group that's ranked 50th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. North Dakota State was rising in the Summit League before Taylor Braun, their leading scorer at 15.2 PPG, suffered a foot injury last month. The Bison have lost four of their last eight games and are third in the league. The good news is that Braun will probably return soon. The bad news is that he'll probably miss the trip to Akron.
Prediction: Akron 76, NDSU 65

BracketBusters matchups, TV schedule

February, 4, 2013
The matchups for the final BracketBusters event aired on ESPNU tonight. See below for the television schedule and click here for Andy Katz's analysis and a wide range of insight from the head coaches involved.

Friday, Feb. 22

North Dakota State at Akron, ESPN2, 7 ET

Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State, ESPNU, 9 ET

Saturday, Feb. 23

Iona at Indiana State, ESPNU, 11 a.m. ET

Eastern Kentucky at Valparaiso, ESPNU, 1 ET

Canisius at Vermont, ESPN3, 1 ET

Pacific at Western Michigan, ESPN3, 2 ET

Montana at Davidson, ESPNU, 3 ET

Northwestern State at Niagara, ESPN3, 3 ET

Detroit at Wichita State, ESPN/2, 4 ET

Creighton at Saint Mary's, ESPN/2, 6 ET

South Dakota State at Murray State, ESPN2, 8 ET

Denver at Northern Iowa, ESPN3, 8 ET

Ohio at Belmont, ESPN2, 10 ET

The matchups for the BracketBusters games not on television can be found here.'s Big Sky preview

October, 16, 2012
Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Big Sky, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:

Blue Ribbon breakdowns of all 11 teams in the Big Sky: Insider

Eastern Washington
Idaho State
Montana State InsiderFree
North Dakota
Northern Arizona
Northern Colorado
Portland State
Sacramento State
Southern Utah
Weber State
1. SEC commissioner Mike Slive expects the men’s basketball schedule will eventually get rid of a divisional format when the league goes to 18 games and 14 teams next season. The SEC was already headed that way -- shedding its traditional East-West football breakdown -- before adding Missouri and Texas A&M. The additions shouldn't change the plan. A decision will be made when the coaches and athletic directors gather in Destin, Fla., at the annual SEC meetings in May. This would be a critical development for a number of the teams in the former “West” division like Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State, which have been hampered by playing schools like Kentucky and Florida only once.

2. The Wildcats should look long and hard at Illinois State coach and former Kansas State player Tim Jankovich as well as Georgia coach Mark Fox, a former Kansas State assistant, to replace Frank Martin. Jankovich has strong ties to the region and was once a junior college coach. He nearly upset Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Fox will have Georgia relevant again here soon if he were to stay in Athens. The Wildcats won’t replace the persona of Martin so they better get someone who is natural to the region.

3. Colorado State should seriously consider Montana’s Wayne Tinkle if it wants to stay relevant in the Mountain West-Conference USA hybrid deal. Tinkle has been a winner in Missoula from the moment he took the job. Tinkle will listen to the Rams if they call.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Reaction from No. 4-seeded Wisconsin's 73-49 win over No. 13 Montana.

Overview: The last time the Badgers played at The Pit, in 2000, they went to the Final Four.

But that was a regional final.

This is just a second- and third-round event. But the Badgers had the look of an efficient team that will be a tough out going forward. Wisconsin made 3s, forced Montana into taking bad shots and ran its offense to perfection with limited unforced turnovers.

The Grizzlies had their March moment by winning the Big Sky tournament in Missoula. It was a program-changing event for head coach Wayne Tinkle. The Grizzlies had been an elite Big Sky team but hadn’t won the event on their home court since the '90s.

Still, they ran into a Wisconsin team that is ascending in March, not descending. Regardless of who the Badgers play next, the nets at The Pit were friendly.

Turning point: Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz buried a 3-pointer that stretched the Badgers' lead to 53-38. Montana had mounted a mini-comeback and appeared to be on the verge of getting The Pit crowd into the game. But Bruesewitz helped snuff out the Grizzlies.

Key player: Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor ran a steady game for the Badgers. He scored when he needed to give the Badgers a run. He was efficient in dishing out assists and didn’t turn the ball over. The Badgers were run like a machine that knew what it wanted to do on every possession.

Key stat: The Badgers don’t have the low-post presence that previous Wisconsin teams have had under Bo Ryan. So for Wisconsin to advance in this tournament, they have to make 3s. Well, the Badgers did so in waves, making nine 3s in the second half that pushed the Badgers to a 16-point lead at one point. The lead eventually grew to 20.

Miscellaneous: Montana had to get off to a good start to have a chance. But the Grizzlies’ defense couldn’t hold the Badgers. Wisconsin scored 39 points in the first half. ... I have to admit, few people could pull off a deep maroon sport coat like Tinkle. ... The Grizzlies had to have a good shooting game from Will Cherry. They didn’t get one. ... Tinkle needs to get a look at some higher-level jobs. He’s that good. ... I’m not sure Bo Ryan would say this is his best team at all. But it’s one of his most improved from midseason to now.

What’s next: Wisconsin will take on the winner of No. 5 Vanderbilt-No. 12 Harvard. The winner of that game will certainly be given a legitimate shot of winning the Sweet 16 game and advancing to the Elite Eight, assuming it’s Wisconsin or Vandy.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A look at Thursday's early games at New Mexico's famed Pit:

No. 4 Wisconsin (24-9) vs. No. 13 Montana (25-6), 2:10 p.m. ET

This may be Wisconsin's worst team under Bo Ryan. Yet he's still in the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed with a solid chance to advance to the third round and possibly the Sweet 16. That's how good the system is for Ryan and the players he has found to flourish.

The Badgers lost an unprecedented three home games and still finished strong enough to win at Purdue and knock off Ohio State on the road to earn a No. 4 seed.

"We just have to stick with what we've been doing all year long,'' said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor. "I know based on the numbers or whatever, it is, I think you could say everybody plays at a quicker tempo based on the possessions or whatever you want. But it's not like we're trying to slow it down or anything or are looking to drag out the shot clock. We're just trying to get a good shot every time down. It's been working for the most part.''

Wisconsin may want to limit possessions. Montana will want to increase them. The Grizzlies will want to push the tempo and had no problems running Weber State and Damian Lillard out of the Big Sky tournament. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said this team is better than the one two years ago that narrowly lost to New Mexico in the first round. Montana has won 14 straight, and the backcourt of Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar will push the Badgers as much as any in the Big Ten.

"They've got a lot of shooters,'' Taylor said. "They're pretty good defensively, especially Will Cherry.''

The bigs of Montana are much like Wisconsin's, with the ability to stretch the floor by making perimeter shots. But they have maybe even more of a rugged side to their on-court existence.

Cherry said he grasps that the Badgers put five players on the court who can all pass.

"If we can try to use our length on the defensive end and our speed and athleticism against them, I feel like we could speed them up,'' Cherry said.

The problem is the Badgers don't turn the ball over much and play with more control.

The last time Wisconsin played at the Pit, it went to the 2000 Final Four with an Elite Eight win over Purdue.

"I hope we can definitely carry some of that good karma,'' said Wisconsin's Jared Berggren. "Our coaches talked about it a little bit. We hope to make some more good memories here and advance to the next round.''

Three players to watch

Jordan Taylor, 6-1, Sr., Wisconsin: Taylor has the ability to take over a game and score in bunches. But he also can go through droughts. He's a steady lead guard who needs the ball in his hands to steer this offense.

Jared Berggren, 6-10, Jr., Wisconsin: Berggren can knock down the deep 3-pointer and really stretch the Grizzlies' defense. If he starts making face-up shots and pulls Derek Selvig away from the basket, then the Badgers are in good shape.

Will Cherry, 6-1, Jr., Montana: The Grizzlies guard can push the basketball with any guard in this field. He averages nearly three steals a game. If he flusters Taylor then the Grizzlies have a shot.

No. 5 Vanderbilt (24-10) vs. No. 12 Harvard (26-4), 4:40 p.m. ET

Since Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for Syracuse, it seems the trendy thing to do is pencil in Vanderbilt as the Elite Eight representative out of the top part of the East Region.

And why not? The Commodores just beat mighty Kentucky in the SEC tournament title game, right?

Whoa, whoa; let's slow down. This is Vanderbilt we're discussing here. This is the same program that has lost in the first round to double-digit seeds (Murray State, Siena and Richmond) in each of its last three tournament appearances.

This team may be suddenly surging after the performance in New Orleans, but the players haven't proved they can be trusted in the pressure-packed NCAA tournament -- no matter how much Melo's suspension might open things up.

"We deal in truth and reality, not perception and prediction,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "What happens in the rest of the bracket doesn't impact us at all. Nothing does except how we play.''

But if the Commodores play the way they played in New Orleans last week, 12th-seeded Harvard will have a short stay in its first NCAA tournament in 66 years.

At the SEC tourney, Vandy's defense kept Georgia and Ole Miss under 60 points and held Kentucky to a mere 64. The significance of that win cannot be overstated.

"I would say you go from a team that knows it's capable of playing with anybody in the country to one knowing that they're capable of beating everybody in the country,'' Stallings said. "You have to beat the teams to prove it to yourself. We played them tough twice. But until you beat them, you're not 100 percent sure that you can. There is an extra bounce in their step and a sense of accomplishment and a sense of confidence. There's also a sense of excitement too.''

Vanderbilt is probably the worst possible matchup for Harvard. The Crimson get a team that's as hot as any in the country and one that plays a similar style to Harvard but has better, more productive players. Harvard probably would have been better served with a less disciplined opponent that can't make 3s.

"They are very athletic, more athletic than people give them credit for being in the SEC with incredible athletic teams that have been known throughout the years in that league,'' said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker.

Stallings was quick to compliment the Crimson on their fundamentals, the ability to shoot, ball-handle, pass and score inside as well as get to the foul line. He also doesn't hesitate to reference his school as "the Harvard of the South."

"I've used it a few times and I hope that the Harvard people don't take that as a slap in the face,'' Stallings said. "We obviously feel like we'd be comparing ourselves to greatness. We obviously really admire Harvard as an institution.''

The NCAA tournament selection committee says it doesn't consider opponents. But it's odd to see how much the two schools share a similar athletic vision. They are two of the most academic-rich schools in the field. And two of the hungriest.

"We basically ask the question 'Why not?' We just felt like our name and our school are as powerful as any,'' Amaker said. "There are other great ones obviously but we felt we were as powerful as any name in higher education and why not? Why can't we present this as an option for the correct kids that would want to see this as something to do something different, to make history?"

The Crimson have made their own history with a first bid in the modern era of the sport. A win would be a historic first.

Three players to watch

John Jenkins, 6-4, Jr., Vanderbilt: Jenkins was the SEC tournament MVP. He's one of the top shooters in the field. If he's on from the perimeter, the Commodores will be a tough out, and not just here but in Boston.

Jeffery Taylor,6-7, Sr., Vanderbilt: Taylor can score more as a slasher but his defense sets him apart. Taylor could be the key player in shutting down Harvard's wings.

Kyle Casey, Jr., F, Harvard: Casey is the one player on the Crimson who could pose some matchup issues for the Commodores. He has a knack for coming up big in key games and was instrumental in the Crimson's run to the Ivy League title thanks to his efficient offensive production.
Well, it’s early, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to make predictions. And in my opinion, you don’t waiver. You make statements and projections and you stand by them, regardless of what happens in the coming weeks. Hold me to the following bold predictions about the NCAA tournament:

  1. No Big East team will reach the Final Four: Another big haul for the Big East. Nine of its teams will participate in this season’s edition of the NCAA tournament. But I don’t think the conference will send any teams to New Orleans. I think Syracuse, a team that’s vulnerable due to its challenges on the glass, has a tough path in the East with Ohio State and a pair of hot squads (Florida State and Vandy) standing in its way. Georgetown, Cincy and UConn could lose in the first round. Marquette has to get through Missouri. I just don’t see it. No Big East in the Big Easy.
  2. [+] EnlargeKim English
    Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireKim English and the Tigers could be one of two teams representing the Big 12 in New Orleans.
    The Big 12 will send two squads to New Orleans: Among the 2-seeds, Missouri has the easiest path to New Orleans. The Tigers’ speed and perimeter versatility will pose matchup problems for every team in the West Region, including No. 1 seed Michigan State. Kansas losing in the first round to Detroit? Nah. The Jayhawks will beat every team in the Midwest, including the Tar Heels if they face them in the Elite Eight.
  3. Vanderbilt will reach the Final Four: I know it’s the sexy pick following its win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament title game. But the Commodores shouldn’t be judged by that victory. And they shouldn’t be dismissed because of premature exits in past years. They have veterans. And they’ve built momentum down the stretch, a la Connecticut a year ago. They’ve hit nearly 40 percent of their 3s this season. The East Region is stronger than it looks with teams such as Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida State and Wisconsin in the mix. But the Commodores can emerge with their senior leadership and shooting. Plus, they have the confidence that comes from beating Kentucky, a team that they challenged in two previous meetings, too.
  4. Iona will win two games: I don’t agree with the Gaels’ inclusion. Washington and Drexel had stronger arguments. But just because many don’t believe they belong doesn’t mean that they won’t prove critics wrong. I think the Gaels, who own the No. 1 scoring offense in the country (83.3 ppg), are dangerous. To reach the third round in the West Region, the Gaels will have to get through BYU in Dayton and Marquette in Louisville. Mark it down. The Gaels are playing a pair of shaky defensive teams. They have three NBA-level talents in Scott Machado, Michael Glover and Lamont “Momo” Jones. As much I thought Iona didn’t have a case for a slot in the field of 68, I think the Gaels can show doubters that they’re worthy.
  5. The Badgers will go home early: I’m picking Montana over Wisconsin in the 13/4 matchup in the East Region. Wisconsin’s offense has stalled multiple times in recent weeks. Even though the Badgers are capable of neutralizing any offense, they’ve had problems capitalizing due to their own inconsistent offense. Montana will be ready. The Grizzlies beat their Big Sky rivals Weber state by 19 points in the conference’s tournament title game, their 14th consecutive victory. Plus, Will Cherry (16.0 ppg) can match Jordan Taylor. Grizzlies will advance.
  6. Long Beach State is a Sweet 16 team: Numerous NCAA tournament teams have hungry veterans. But few upperclassmen have gone through the things that T.J. Robinson, Larry Anderson and Casper Ware have throughout their careers. The seniors missed the past two NCAA tournaments after losing in the conference tournament title game to UC Santa Barbara twice. But this season they earned the Big West’s automatic bid. If Anderson’s not ready (knee injury), then that will change Long Beach State’s March Madness potential. But even without Anderson, the league’s defensive player of the year, this is a talented team that’s played the top nonconference schedule in the country. The 49ers will not be intimidated. They’ll beat New Mexico and Louisville on their way to the Sweet 16.
  7. [+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
    AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziCreighton's Doug McDermott may meet up with former high school teammate Harrison Barnes of North Carolina.
    Michigan State will be the first No. 1 seed to fall: Call me crazy. But I think Memphis’ athleticism will create problems for the Spartans in the third round. I understand the “How will the Tigers guard Draymond Green?” question. But what about Will Barton and Joe Jackson? In the Big Ten, the Spartans didn’t play teams that possessed the raw athleticism that’s anchored Memphis’ roster. The Spartans will be tougher than the Tigers in this East Region matchup, but the latter has an element that Michigan State hasn’t faced since its season-opening to loss to North Carolina.
  8. Doug McDermott will outplay Harrison Barnes on Sunday: I expect North Carolina and Creighton to advance and set up a Sunday matchup in the Midwest Region between former high school teammates Doug McDermott and Harrison Barnes, who earned two state titles together at Ames High School in Ames, Iowa. The Tar Heels will win the game, but McDermott will be the star. Both guys have talked about this potential matchup in the past. The McDermott vs. Barnes buildup will be immense. But McDermott will outperform his prep teammate in their first collegiate meeting, albeit in a loss.
  9. The VCU/Wichita State winner is headed to the Sweet 16: It’s unfortunate that this game will eliminate a potent mid-major. Wichita State and VCU, a Final Four team last year, are two of the best in the country. I predict that the winner of this game will end up facing Kentucky in the Sweet 16. They’re both tough, physical defensive teams that will pressure Indiana in the round of 32. The Hoosiers have struggled outside of Bloomington. And whether they face the Shockers or the Rams, they’ll be in for a battle, one that I expect them to lose.
  10. The West Coast Conference won’t win one game: BYU will lose to Iona. Saint Mary’s will go down against Purdue. West Virginia will beat Gonzaga. I thought the WCC would turn the corner this year with the way BYU, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga fought for the WCC title. But all three have looked vulnerable in recent weeks. I just don’t think they’re going to advance. Plus, tough matchups for all three teams in their first games. Iona is very talented. The Boilermakers are tough, too. Kevin Jones will lead the Mountaineers to a win over the Bulldogs.

Video: Katz's takeaways from Wednesday

March, 8, 2012

Andy Katz with five things he took away from Wednesday's action, including momentum from Connecticut and UCLA, Seton Hall's lost opportunity, Montana's big night, and a mid-major star to know while filling out your brackets.