College Basketball Nation: Valparaiso Crusaders

3-point shot: ACC and MSG?

May, 16, 2013
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1. The ACC coaches want to get the conference tournament in Madison Square Garden and discussed it at length during the league meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., on Tuesday and Wednesday. But whether or not they can pull that off is out of their control. MSG has long wanted a regular tenant, based on the busy March schedule with outside events, as well as primary hosts the Rangers and Knicks. The ACC is reviewing MSG's deal with the new Big East. MSG is unlikely going to go with a conference that would only make a cameo in the building every so often. The ACC is not going to move the conference tournament out of North Carolina (Greensboro or Charlotte) for more than one year every three or four years. If MSG wanted to maximize the opportunity it has in front of it then it should get the Big East to move its tournament to early in championship week and take the ACC the latter part of the week. If not, then the ACC has to see if it can wedge its way into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn around the A-10, or push the A-10 to play earlier in the week. Meanwhile, as expected, C-USA voted Wednesday at its league meetings to have all 16 teams go to the 2014 C-USA tournament in El Paso.

2. Valparaiso picked up a key big man in Alabama 7-foot transfer Moussa Gueye. Gueye, according to Valpo coach Bryce Drew, can play immediately. Gueye originally committed to the Crusaders before going to Alabama. Gueye blocked 52 shots last season for the Tide. He'll be a major distraction for teams in the Horizon League and give the defending conference champs quite a frontline with 6-9 Bobby Capobianco, 6-8 Rice transfer David Chadwick and 6-10 big man Vashil Fernandez.

3. Colorado and Harvard have agreed to play in Boulder (contract still being signed) as the Crimson make their way to Anchorage, Alaska. The Crimson desperately needed another quality game on the schedule. The Crimson have quality local games at UConn and at home against UMass and BC. But the Great Alaska Shootout lost its other star power team when Iowa backed out of the event to go to Atlantis. Playing Fordham, BU, Northeastern, Rice on the road or Howard and Vermont at home and against Holy Cross at TD Banknorth Garden won't deliver the necessary power-rating pop. Harvard has a Top 25 team and needs as many tests as possible before Ivy League play, where their power rating will drop. Colorado coach Tad Boyle once again is scheduling up. The Buffaloes already had Kansas at home and Oklahoma State at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as headline games.

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Quick thoughts from No. 3 Michigan State’s 65-54 win against No. 14 Valparaiso in a round of 64 game at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Overview: Valparaiso came out with energy, with focus and, for 10 minutes, a decent defensive plan for Michigan State.

Ten minutes, though, wasn’t going to give Valpo any shot in an NCAA tournament game and Michigan State made sure of it. The Spartans' defense, which has been a strength for much of the season, completely shut down the Crusaders. How bad was it? Valparaiso essentially lived on the 3-point line for much of the game, but it didn’t matter out there, too.

The Crusaders just looked flat scared to shoot unless they were wide open, and Michigan State will never give a team too many of those looks in a game. And in electing not to shoot -- there was a four-minute stretch where Valpo took, not made but took, two shots -- the Crusaders had no chance for an upset.

Turning point: Michigan State’s Adreian Payne got the ball inside and scored the bucket along with being fouled by Valparaiso’s Matt Kenney with 5:40 left in the first half. The Crusaders called a 30-second timeout to try and stop the Michigan State run, but they could not. The three-point play gave the Spartans a 25-12 lead and Valparaiso never recovered.

Key player: Michigan State forward Derrick Nix took advantage of a soft Valparaiso interior and bodied up every player the Crusaders even attempted to put on him. Even doubling him in a trap didn’t work, because he was able to find a shooter or Keith Appling on the outside to re-set the offense and give him another chance at it. Nix finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, but if he really wanted, he could have had 20 boards.

Key stat: 2. The number of field goals Valparaiso hit over the final 10:14 of the first half. The Crusaders’ lack of scoring and, in many cases, refusal to take even somewhat open shots, was key. In the meantime, Michigan State kicked away a slow start to go on a 22-8 run to end the half and essentially make the game an exhibition the rest of the way.

Next game: Michigan State moves on to face the winner of No. 6 Memphis-No. 11 Saint Mary’s in the round of 32.
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.

Video: Valparaiso 62, Wright State 54

March, 13, 2013
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Erik Buggs' 22 points led Valparaiso to a 62-54 victory over Wright State in the final of the Horizon League tournament, giving the Crusaders their first NCAA berth since 2004.

Video: Valparaiso's buzzer-beater

March, 9, 2013
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Ryan Broekhoff's last-gasp 3-pointer gave top seed Valparaiso a 70-69 victory over Green Bay in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament.

Saturday's conference-clinching scenarios

March, 2, 2013
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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
A few observations from another exciting Saturday evening in college basketball ...

Let’s talk about Alex Len: The 7-foot-1 sophomore from Ukraine got paid Saturday. Settle down, NCAA. No runners were involved. But the young man clearly elevated his NBA draft stock with his grown-man performance in Maryland’s 83-81 victory over No. 2 Duke, a crucial victory for the Terrapins' at-large résumé. Seth Allen's late free throws sealed the win after a furious late push by the Blue Devils turned Maryland’s 80-72 lead into an 81-all tie in the final seconds. But Len’s performance was the difference. He was a star (19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks), while Duke counterpart Mason Plumlee (4 points, 2-for-7) struggled.

The Terrapins don’t have any postseason guarantees right now. It’s a soft bubble but they’re still on it. Right now, the Terps are on Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out” list, but every game on their remaining ACC slate is winnable. Maryland, however, needs this Len every night. He had failed to crack double figures in three previous losses. But on Saturday, he showcased the talent that has fueled the NBA lottery buzz that currently surrounds him. If he gives the Terps that juice over the next six games, they might not lose again in the regular season.

[+] EnlargeEvan Gordon
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsEvan Gordon knifes in to give Arizona State the OT win at Colorado with this buzzer-beater.
Arizona State stays in the Pac-12 race with crazy win: The Pac-12 has given college basketball fans multiple exciting finishes this season. And the conference did not disappoint Saturday, when both Oregon-Washington State and Arizona State-Colorado were decided in overtime. The latter matchup ended on Evan Gordon's buzzer-beating layup. The Sun Devils’ 63-62 road win was significant in their pursuit of the Pac-12 crown.

Freshman Jahii Carson (18 points, 4 assists) can take Herb Sendek’s program there. It won’t be easy, especially since the Sun Devils have road games against UCLA and Arizona in the coming weeks. But at least they’ll face two of the Pac-12 teams slotted ahead of them in the standings. Arizona State just made the Pac-12 race more interesting.

UNLV needed this one: The Runnin’ Rebels were desperate Saturday. They’re now 6-5 in the Mountain West, three games behind first-place New Mexico. But a lot can happen over the next five games, especially in a volatile league such as the MWC. A loss Saturday, however, would have certainly removed the Runnin’ Rebels from the conversation. And their so-so at-large résumé would have taken another hit, too.

They played like a team that understood the stakes in the 72-70 victory over San Diego State. Khem Birch blocked Jamaal Franklin's shot in the final seconds as UNLV preserved the win, completed a sweep of the Aztecs and maintained a place in the Mountain West race. Anthony Bennett (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Birch (16 points) could lead the Rebels to a strong finish and help the team solidify a bid. The latter seems far more reasonable and feasible. I don’t think I would have felt that way about either if UNLV had lost.

Kansas State recovers: On Monday, the Wildcats went to the Phog and suffered a 21-point loss to archrival Kansas. On Saturday, they beat Baylor by 20 points. No better way for a team to clear its head after a tough loss. I think the 81-61 win says a lot about Kansas State’s mental makeup.

Sure, Baylor has been inconsistent all season. But the Bears also are one of the Big 12’s top defensive teams. The 81 points they surrendered to Kansas State were the most they’d given up in Big 12 play this season. Angel Rodriguez led the Wildcats with 22 points and 10 assists. Four Wildcats recorded double figures in a game that helped K-State remain in the Big 12’s three-way tie for first place (Kansas and Oklahoma State both won Saturday, too). And it helped the program move past Monday’s lopsided loss to the Jayhawks.

Memphis? I think the Tigers have the athleticism and talent to compete with other top-25 teams at neutral sites. Their problem is they don’t have many opportunities to show it right now due to the limited competition in Conference USA. Much like Gonzaga or Florida, the only way for the Tigers to prove their value nationally is to stomp opponents in league play.

To their credit, they’ve won three games by 13 or more in February. They returned to the national rankings last week based on that dominance. They beat Marshall (71-59) on Saturday. There were highlights for the Tigers. But there also were a few confusing moments.

Like the fact that Memphis scored 43 points in the first half but just three points in the first 10 minutes of the second half in a matchup against a Marshall squad that is at the bottom of C-USA and had lost five of its previous seven entering the game.

The Tigers might have the skill to make noise in March. That ugly second half, however, didn’t convert anyone.

On the Horizon: Detroit and Valparaiso might have played the best game of the night. Detroit was down by 15 points with 10 minutes remaining in its road game against the Crusaders. But the Titans launched a 17-2 run over the next five minutes. They eventually won by 10 points, 84-74, and now they’re a half-game behind Valpo in the Horizon League standings. Nick Minnerath and Jason Calliste scored 21 points apiece, while Ray McCallum Jr. added 15 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. In the first meeting between the two teams, Detroit led by 18 at halftime and 11 with three minutes to play -- but lost by one. Sweet revenge tonight.

Numbers to Know: Tuesday recap

February, 6, 2013
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Player of the Night -- Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Noel posted 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in Kentucky’s win against South Carolina, as the Wildcats matched a season high with their fourth straight victory. Noel and Anthony Davis are the only Kentucky players with multiple games of at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks over the past 15 seasons. Noel leads the country with 4.6 blocks per game this season.

Clutch Performer of the Night -- Michael Snaer, Florida State
Snaer did it yet again. For the third time in the past two weeks, he made a game-winning shot in the final seconds -- this time a layup at the buzzer to defeat Georgia Tech. Snaer is now 6-for-11 over the past two seasons on game-tying and go-ahead shots in the final minute of the second half or overtime, including 4-for-7 on 3-point attempts.

Stat Sheet Stuffer -- Bobby Capobianco, Valparaiso
Capobianco came off the bench to contribute 10 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in a win against Illinois-Chicago. He’s the first player to put up those numbers off the bench since UMass’s Chris Lowe had 14 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds in March 2008 against La Salle. As a team, Valparaiso put on a shooting clinic. It was the first time the Crusaders shot at least 60 percent from the field, 50 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent on free-throw attempts since a December 2007 win against Detroit.

Bench Player of the Night -- Rion Brown, Miami (FL)
Brown came off the bench to score a game-high 22 in Miami’s win against Boston College. The 22 points match Brown’s career high, which he also scored off the bench exactly a month earlier. Over the past 15 seasons, Brown is the only Miami player to score at least 22 off the bench twice. The only other players to do it once are Guillermo Diaz, Marcus Barnes, Johnny Hemsley and Darius Rice.

Defender of the Night -- Eric Stutz, Eastern Kentucky
Stutz had quite the stat line, totaling 13 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and two blocks in just 17 minutes in a 97-31 win against Crowley’s Ridge College. Stutz is the seventh player in the past six seasons to post those numbers in a game. The others are Harvard’s Jeremy Lin, DePaul’s Mac Koshwal, Florida State’s Chris Singleton, Cleveland State’s D’Aundray Brown, Jacksonville State’s Ronnie Boggs and Appalachian State’s Nathan Healy. Stutz is the only player in the past 15 seasons with at least seven steals and two blocks while playing no more than 17 minutes.

BracketBusters matchups, TV schedule

February, 4, 2013
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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.

Ten observations from 2012's final Saturday

December, 29, 2012
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Tyler Haws AP Photo/Rick BowmerBYU's Tyler Haws had a Jimmer-esque 42 points in a win against Virginia Tech.

Here are a few things that caught my attention while watching games on Saturday:

1. Saturday’s top performance was turned in by BYU’s Tyler Haws, who did his best Jimmer Fredette impersonation by scoring 42 points in the Cougars’ 97-71 victory over Virginia Tech in Salt Lake City. Haws had 29 points in the first half, when he went 9-of-13 from the field and connected on six of eight 3-point attempts. BYU’s defense also deserves praise for holding Hokies guard Erick Green to 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Green entered the game averaging 25.4 points for a Virginia Tech squad (9-4) which has fizzled after a 7-0 start that included a victory against Oklahoma State.

2. I don’t understand the people who say Duke has hit its ceiling and that the Blue Devils aren’t going to get any better. Um, why not? Rasheed Sulaimon is a freshman who has played 12 college basketball games. Sophomore Quinn Cook, who saw limited action last season, is seven weeks deep into his first season as the Blue Devils’ point guard. Why would anyone think those players wouldn’t improve as the season progresses? With Cook and Sulaimon trending upward and with Mason Plumlee increasing his lead in the national player of the year race -- he had 22 points, 13 boards and 5 assists in Saturday’s 90-77 win over Santa Clara -- I think Duke will continue to get better. And that’s scary.

[+] EnlargeLouisville's Russ Smith
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesLouisville's Russ Smith had 21 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists against rival Kentucky on Saturday.
3. I’m sure most people would agree with me, so this may not be a very bold statement, but if the season ended today, I’d vote Louisville’s Russ Smith as a first-team All-American. And I wouldn’t hesitate. Smith had 21 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals in Saturday’s 80-77 victory over Kentucky and was especially huge down the stretch. If Smith continues to perform at a high level -- and there’s no reason to believe he won’t -- I think Louisville will be the team to beat in March and April. Chane Behanan is playing like a beast, Gorgui Dieng will be back in rhythm within a week or two, Wayne Blackshear will continue to improve and, defensively, the Cardinals will be as good as any team around. Throw in a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline and one of America’s best floor leaders (Peyton Siva) at point guard and it’s hard to be anything but optimistic about Louisville’s future.

4. Kentucky showed some encouraging signs in Saturday’s loss, mainly at the point guard spot, where Ryan Harrow finished with 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He did not commit a turnover in 39 minutes. But he also had just three assists. Even when Harrow is playing well, it’s clear that this UK team doesn’t have much of a shot to repeat as NCAA champions. Even winning an SEC title will be a challenge. The Wildcats don’t have a true scorer in the post, they lack an elite level point guard, have zero depth in the backcourt and don’t have a leader. That doesn’t mean this team can’t be very, very good. I just don’t expect to see Kentucky in Atlanta come March. Enjoy it while you can, Big Blue haters. The Cats won’t be down for long.

5. Nice win for North Carolina against UNLV, but this Tar Heels team still looks soft to me, both physically and mentally. Maybe I'm still having trouble shaking the memories of that Texas loss when the Longhorns made UNC -- particularly its guards -- look foolish.

6. Part of me wants to be excited about Maryland, but good gosh, has anyone looked at its schedule? The Terrapins have won 11 straight since a season-opening loss to Kentucky, but their most impressive victory is either against George Mason or Northwestern, which is the only school from a "power six" conference that Mark Turgeon’s squad has faced. Maryland blew out Delaware State 79-50 Saturday and will now turn its attention to a highly anticipated face off against IUPUI on New Year’s Day.

7. Oregon State pulled off one of the biggest choke jobs of the season Saturday when it blew a 19-point lead at home in a 67-66 overtime loss to Towson. Marcus Damas won it with an 18-foot jumper with eight-tenths of a second remaining. Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon had 20 points and 21 rebounds (the sport's first 20-20 of the season) for Towson, which improved to 5-8. Pat Skerry’s Tigers have made significant strides after going 1-31 a year ago. Oregon State, meanwhile, fell to 9-3 and saw its five-game winning streak end.

8. As bad as the Towson loss was for OSU coach Craig Robinson, who entered the season on the hot seat, it was even more damaging for the Pac-12, whose reputation was in shambles following a 2011-12 campaign so embarrassing that its regular-season champion (Washington) didn’t even get an NCAA tournament bid. As if the Beavers’ meltdown wasn’t bad enough, the conference took another hit Saturday when Cal lost to depleted Harvard. At home. Arizona and UCLA may be better but, overall, this is still a very bad league. Sorry if that stings, but it’s the truth. If the Pac-12 was good, then Cal and Oregon State wouldn’t lose home games to Harvard and Towson, Arizona State wouldn’t get blown out by DePaul, Washington wouldn't lose to Albany and USC wouldn’t lose to UC-Irvine. Utah wouldn’t lose to Cal State Northridge and ... well, you get the picture.

9. On the flip side, the Horizon League had a solid showing Saturday, as Loyola ended DePaul's seven-game win streak and Valparaiso handed Isaiah Canaan and Murray State an extremely rare home loss with a 66-64 victory. Ryan Broekhoff had 18 points for the Crusaders and Jordan Coleman added 10. Valpo outrebounded Murray State 38-25 and forced 17 turnovers.

10. Trey Burke had 22 points, 11 assists and only one turnover in Michigan’s 88-73 victory over Central Michigan. Nearly two months into the season, Burke is my choice as the nation’s top point guard. That could certainly change, of course. Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), Phil Pressey (Missouri), Canaan (Murray State), Pierre Jackson (Baylor), Peyton Siva (Louisville) and Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s) are all having great seasons, but Burke has been the most consistent and well-rounded thus far.

3-point shot: Scoping out BracketBusters

November, 15, 2012
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1. Participants for 2013's BracketBusters and the home/road breakdown were released Wednesday, and already it's easy to pick out what should be the best matchups for the Feb. 22-23 event. The home-road split works out for a Creighton-at-Murray State matchup. If the two teams continue to perform well during the next two months (before actual pairings are announced Jan. 28), that will be a natural game. Davidson and Valparaiso are the other marquee home teams and the Wildcats and Crusaders probably should get either a team from the Missouri Valley (Illinois State), the Mid-American Conference (Ohio or Kent State) or Horizon (Detroit). The other two teams to keep an eye on over the next two months to see if they are worthy of a high-profile game are road teams Albany (won at Washington) and UC Irvine (lost in overtime at UCLA).

2. The surprise of the Tip-Off Marathon might have been Wichita State upsetting Virginia Commonwealth. Sure, Xavier playing as hard as it did and dominating Butler was a shocker. The Bulldogs being so offensively challenged and without a game-changing guard was disappointing. Gonzaga's shutdown of West Virginia was the most significant development. But the Shockers' two-point victory in Richmond should send shock waves in the Valley that Wichita State will be a player in the race behind Creighton. Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said Tuesday that he is playing with eight newcomers and that they "competed their ass off. (VCU) had not lost in November since 2002. In the last two-plus seasons we have the best winning percentage on the road in the country now at 21-3.'' If Marshall's stats are correct, they indicate how much he has his team ready for foreign courts. And if the first week is any indication, the Shockers will have shelf life through the winter.

3. Let's just give Mississippi State a pass for the season. This simply won't be fair. New coach Rick Ray is down to six scholarship players for next week's Maui Invitational. The latest setbacks are an injury to Jalen Steele (fractured right wrist) and a suspension of Colin Borchert; Andre Applewhite and Jacoby Davis are already out. Ray said Wednesday that he'll have two walk-ons to use against North Carolina on Monday in Hawaii. The Bulldogs split the first two games -- a loss at Troy and a win over Florida Atlantic. But to expect much out of this Bulldogs team is simply not right. Ray deserves a freebie this season as he establishes his program.

ESPN.com's Horizon League preview

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
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Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Horizon League, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:



Blue Ribbon's in-depth previews of all nine Horizon teams: Insider

Cleveland State
Detroit
Green Bay
Illinois-Chicago
Loyola (Ill.)
Milwaukee
Valparaiso
Wright State InsiderFree
Youngstown State

3-point shot: More time for BC rebuild

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
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1. UNLV coach Dave Rice is optimistic that USC transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will be able to play when the Runnin’ Rebels open the season against Northern Arizona on Nov. 12. Jones is out with a broken left hand. “He’s one of the toughest guys around,’’ said Rice. If Jones can’t go, the Rebels do have depth at the guard position with Katin Reinhardt, Justin Hawkins and Savon Goodman adding to a deep perimeter. UNLV is the favorite in the Mountain West, but will be in for quite a tussle from San Diego State, Colorado State, New Mexico and Nevada.

2. The hiring of Brad Bates as athletic director at Boston College should give Steve Donahue some more time to continue rebuilding the Eagles. Bates has to deal with the football situation and the future of coach Frank Spaziani. Donahue, entering his third season at the Heights, should have an improved squad, with more experience and players who fit his system. The problem is that the ACC is a bit deeper this season than it was a year ago and next season adds Pitt and Syracuse (and possibly Notre Dame if the Irish can get out of the Big East early). Bates, who arrives from Miami (Ohio), is well-respected in the industry and will likely be thorough in his evaluations over the next year-plus.

3. The Horizon League will lose national recognition with the departure of Butler to the Atlantic 10. But if this is a one-bid league in March, then the top schools vying for the bid can’t complain. Valparaiso and Detroit would have had a legitimate shot to knock off Butler in the regular-season chase and in the conference tournament. Now, neither has to sweat it one bit. Valpo was picked to win the league, with Detroit on its tail. The Titans have the player of the year in Ray McCallum Jr. And the good news for the Horizon League is that the entire all-league first team returns from last season (which says a bit about Butler’s problems in 2011-12). McCallum is joined by Valpo’s Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk, Youngstown State’s Kendrick Perry and Green Bay’s Alec Brown.
1. Ben Howland took Larry Drew II into his office Monday to continue coaching his mind as much as his playmaking skills. He needs both from Drew for UCLA to be a Pac-12 champ in the upcoming season. The North Carolina transfer has one season to play for the Bruins but he is the only true playmaker for UCLA. “He has the quickness and speed that we haven’t seen since Darren Collison,’’ said Howland. “He’s a very good decision maker. He’s gotten much stronger and improved his body. We have high expectations for him.’’ The only other option for UCLA at the point isn’t really a true point in 6-foot-7 Kyle Anderson. Howland said Anderson isn’t cleared yet for contact after offseason thumb surgery while fellow freshman Shabazz Muhammad isn’t working out with the team yet either. Muhammad is recovering from a sprained ankle from earlier in the month. Howland said the Bruins will start practicing for an August trip to China on July 31, Aug. 1-4 and then Aug. 14-21 with one day off on Aug. 18. The Bruins won’t be practicing in the renovated Pauley Pavilion until October.

2. Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew is doing everything he can to put together a possible at-large schedule if the Crusaders don’t win the Horizon League automatic berth. Drew capped his schedule with a road game at Atlantic 10 favorite Saint Louis. Drew had already said the Crusaders will play at Murray State (OVC favorite) and New Mexico (MWC contender) in addition to possibly challenging games against Nebraska, Kent State, Oakland and Missouri State.

3. Former URI and current Canisius coach Jim Baron said that the Rams hadn’t settled up on his final two years that he was owed after being fired in March. URI responded Monday: “The University of Rhode Island Athletics Department continues to honor its financial obligation to former URI head men's basketball coach Jim Baron, since he was released from the final two years of his contract on March 4, 2012,” said URI spokeswoman Linda Acciardo. “University officials have had ongoing discussions with Coach Baron's attorney to negotiate a final resolution. Although we are disappointed that this remains unresolved, we will continue to work with Jim Baron's representatives to negotiate a fair resolution.’’ URI said Baron has received a total of $126,708.09 in regular salary payments since he was fired. Baron earned $350,000 a year in his final URI deal.
1. New Mexico coach Steve Alford won gold at the 1984 Olympics, when he was a player at Indiana. That gold medal was eight years before the 1992 Dream Team. The debate about whether to send amateurs and professionals has arisen again, with NBA commissioner David Stern broaching the subject of a 23-and-under cutoff for the Olympics going forward. Alford isn’t a fan. “That ship has sailed,’’ said Alford. “We have to send our pros. Everyone else is doing it. The international game has grown and it has grown because we’ve helped it grow. We have sent players over there for decades, doing clinics and everything else. We’ve had as much to do with the international game growing by sending our best. We have to send our pros.’’

2. Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan has been all over the summer scene. Canaan was at the Chris Paul, Deron Williams and LeBron James camp. He has been in and out of Murray, Ky., taking classes, and according to coach Steve Prohm has taken another step up in being a leader. But the Racers can’t equal last season’s NCAA tournament run to the third round on Canaan alone. Prohm said Ed Daniel has been sensational in following a similar path to the Amare and LeBron camps. The key may be rising sophomore Zay Jackson, who has been a hit in workouts and can complement Canaan on the perimeter. Prohm is banking on Daniel’s defense and rebounding as a staple, but he’s learning to finish with more consistency. Daniel’s scoring in the paint is a must in the absence of Ivan Aska.

3. Valparaiso should be picked over Detroit for the Horizon League title now that Butler is out. Valparaiso won the regular season a year ago but lost to Detroit at home by 20 in the conference tournament title game. Crusaders coach Bryce Drew is attempting to enhance the nonconference schedule in the oft-chance the Crusaders can’t win the conference/tournament. Drew said he has scheduled games against Nebraska, New Mexico, Murray State, Kent State, Missouri State and Oakland. The games against Murray and UNM are quality RPI games and both will return in 2013. Drew is still trying to get Pitt to agree to a game. Drew would also like to get a home-and-home series with the return game being at the United Center in Chicago in his attempt to be creative for a strong series. Meanwhile, the Crusaders will be more formidable if Cal transfer 6-6 Alex Rossi gets a waiver to play immediately. Rossi, who played sparingly at Cal in three games, came home for family reasons. The Crusaders are already adding 6-1 South Florida transfer LaVonte Dority at semester. Dority played in nine games last season, playing 15 minutes a game.

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