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Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:25 pm
 

Seton Hall misses opportunity; will wait and pray

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK - Seton Hall will have to sweat this one out on Sunday.

The Pirates missed out on a golden opportunity to punch their NCAA ticket with a 61-55 loss to Louisville Wednesday night in the Big East tournament. 

"Nobody expected us have as much success as we had," Seton Hall senior big man Herb Pope said following the loss. "I think we should be in the NCAA tournament, but it's not up to me." 

The game wasn't just important for Pope and fellow senior Jordan Theodore and their chances to get into the Big Dance, but it also could be important for Kevin Willard. Seton Hall didn't get to the NCAA tournament last season and, after losing Pope and Theodore after this season, it would be a stretch to think the Pirates can get there a year from now. 

Which means Willard could go into his fourth season without an NCAA tournament berth on his resume. 

But the flip side is that Willard and the Pirates get in this season -- and it certainly gives him more security going forward. 

Willard has done an impressive job getting this team in position to be considered for an at-large berth. He's been integral in the maturity of Pope -- and has a group loaded with five freshmen, two sophomores and two guys sitting out via transfer. Seton Hall has won 20 games -- which bodes well since 147 of 152 Big East teams with 20-plus victories have earned a spot in the field. 

The Pirates have wins against Georgetown, UConn and West Virginia. They also have losses to DePaul, Rutgers and Villanova. 

"It's really tough for me and Herb to have to leave it up to the selection committee on Sunday," Theodore said. "We wanted to go out there and prove a point, and we came up short tonight, so it's a tough one." 

Now Seton Hall becomes scoreboard watchers, checking to see how Miami and N.C. State fare in the ACC, whether Northwestern can do anything of note in the Big Ten tourney -- and what happens out west in the Pac-12 with the likes of Cal and Washington. 

"We'll just go to church and hope and pray," Pope said. 

Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:57 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:01 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: LIU-Brooklyn

When LIU-Brooklyn clinched homecourt advantage throughout the Northeast Conference tournament, the Blackbirds became the heavy favorites to win the automatic bid. After all, they have won 27 in a row at the WRAC in Brooklyn. Jim Ferry’s troops followed through, cruising to a 90-73 victory over Robert Morris in Wednesday’s championship game.

C.J. Garner led the way with 21 points, as LIU-Brooklyn will head to its second-straight NCAA tournament. In the second half, the Blackbirds turned an eight-point halftime lead into a run-and-gun show, including a halfcourt alley-oop from Garner to Julian Boyd that gave LIU a 14-point lead.

With Boyd and Jamal Olasawere dominating the paint, and Jason Brickman controlling tempo and making plays for himself and teammates, the Blackbirds won’t be an easy out. They like to get out and push the tempo, and they have plenty of finishers. LIU also has Big Dance experience, losing by 15 in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament to North Carolina.

LIU-Brooklyn is heading to its second straight NCAA tournament after beating Robert Morris in the NEC title game. (AP)

Player to know: Julian Boyd. He was the NEC’s Player of the Year for a reason, and that reason is his dominance at both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-7, 230-lb. big man is a load to handle in the paint and on the glass, totaling 14 double-doubles this season. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the championship win, and has finished with 20 or more points in five of his last eight games. Boyd won’t be pushed off the block, as long as he stays on the floor (he’s fouled out five times). 

The Vitals:
Record: 25-8 overall, 16-2 in Northeast Conference
Most recent tournament appearance: 2011, 16 seed, lost to North Carolina
We’re thinking: 16 seed
KenPom ranking: 174
Sagarin ranking: 163
RPI: 90
Best wins: vs. Wagner, vs. Vermont
Worst losses: at Hofstra, at Norfolk State, at Monmouth
Notable stat: The Blackbirds don't fly -- they run. The team averages 74.5 possessions per game, third-most in the nation.

-- Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander

Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:18 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:08 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: Lehigh

A year ago, Lehigh lost on a last-second shot at Bucknell in the semifinals of the conference tournament. This season, the Mountain Hawks got revenge, going into Lewisburg, Pa. and knocking off the top-seeded Bison, 82-77, to win the Patriot League championship and getting an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Player of the Year C.J. McCollum went for 29 points and five assists, while forward Gabe Knutson had one of the best games of his career, finishing with 23 points and seven rebounds. The Mountain Hawks were able to speed up the tempo, and didn’t let Bucknell make it a half-court game.

Lehigh, coached by Brett Reed, has been consistent throughout the season, suffering only bad loss in the non-conference season and losing to no one outside the top four of the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks won their final five games of the regular season, including a road game at Bucknell that gave them confidence heading into the title game.

This team pushes the tempo, but takes care of the ball and has several guys who can knock down 3-pointers. With McCollum leading the way, the Mountain Hawks won’t back down.

Lehigh went onto the homecourt of top-seeded Bucknell and won the Patriot League title game. (US Presswire)

Player to know: C.J. McCollum. A two-time Patriot League Player of the Year, the 6-foot-3 junior guard is one of the most productive all-around players in the country. He has scored at least 20 points in 11 of his last 12 games, and is also a tremendous rebounder for his size. McCollum also creates for others, too. In games against St. John’s, Iowa State and Michigan State, he averaged 18.0 points per contest. He is capable of carrying the Mountain Hawks.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 26-7 overall, 11-3 in Patriot
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2010, No. 16 seed, lost to Kansas 90-74 in the first round.
  • We’re thinking: 15 seed.
  • KenPom ranking: 88
  • Sagarin ranking: 97
  • RPI: 101
  • Best wins: Bucknell (2), Wagner
  • Worst losses: Cornell, Holy Cross
  • Notable stat: Lehigh could be tough in a close game. The Mountain Hawks rank second in the country in free-throw percentage, at 77.8 percent.

-- Jeff Borzello

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 7:38 pm
 

Arizona's Josiah Turner suspended indefinitely

By Jeff Borzello

It looked like Arizona freshman guard Josiah Turner was figuring things out.

He had cut down on his turnovers and was playing more consistently for the Wildcats. In fact, he had a 15-point, six-assist, zero-turnover performance in a win over USC two weeks ago.

Now, though, comes the news that Turner has been suspended indefinitely and did not make the trip to the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday.

“I am disappointed in Josiah for his actions,” head coach Sean Miller said in a release. “Unfortunately this suspension comes at a time of great excitement and opportunity for our team.  However, the standards of our program will not be compromised under any circumstances.  Hopefully, Josiah will learn a valuable lesson from this experience.”

Turner had previously been suspended this season, on December 7, after “violations of team policy.” He also missed a game against Ball State and was late to a pregame shootaround prior to an early November contest against Duquesne.

The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 6.8 points and 2.4 assists this season. 

Posted on: March 7, 2012 5:52 pm
 

Ashton Gibbs takes blame for Pitt's season

By Jeff Goodman

Ashton Gibbs was about as stand-up as it gets. 

"It's been a rough season from beginning to end," Pittsburgh's senior guard said after the Panthers were knocked out of the Big East tournament by Georgetown on Wednesday. "A lot of it has to do with me not living up to expectations." 

"I didn't live up to it," he added. "I did a bad job leading this year and it clearly showed." 

But let's be honest. It was far more than just Gibbs not performing up to his potential. 

"This team lost a lot," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We've been able to overcome it in the past. We weren't able to do it this year." 

Three years ago, Dixon lost his top three players -- Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields. Pittsburgh wound up winning 25 games the next season and finished 13-5 in Big East play. 

The Panthers have been a rock in the Big East since Dixon followed his former boss, Ben Howland. No program has had more success in league play over the past 11 years. There's the 290-87 overall mark, the 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and the 20 Big East tournament victories. The Big East tourney titles in 2003 and 2008. 

That's why everyone penciled Pittsburgh into the league title race and handed the Panthers a spot in the Top 25 prior to the start of the season despite losing Brad Wanamaker, Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown. 

But this year's edition is now 17-16 overall and finished 5-13 in the Big East - likely headed to the NIT. 

"It's obviously something I didn't even think about," Gibbs said. "I wouldn't have believed it in a million years that we wouldn't make the NCAA tournament at the end of the season." 

"But we'll play in NIT if we get invited," he added. "If not, we'll move on."

Gibbs' leadership -- of lack thereof -- was a piece. So was the injury sustained to starting point guard Travon Woodall which kept him on the sidelines for 11 games. There was the transfer of highly touted big man Khem Birch after the first semester and also numerous injuries to senior Nasir Robinson, Gibbs and others. 

"It all started with me not being the senior leader," Gibbs said.

Noble, but not entirely accurate. 

Posted on: March 7, 2012 4:12 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 5:23 pm
 

WVU blows lead, is officially out of the Big East

Huggins' team led most of the way, but after Kevin Jones didn't get shots near the end, UConn stole it. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — West Virginia’s Big East membership ends with a whimper and an ill-attempted fall-away shot by Paul Williamson.

Who?

Exactly.

Meanwhile, UConn Big East tournament storyline gets another injection and dollop of hype thanks to the Mountaineers’ inability to close out a 63-54 lead with 3:40 to go during Wednesday afternoon’s conference quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers, a .500 team in the Big East this season that hasn’t beaten a surefire NCAA tournament club since Jan. 21 (Cincinnati), made things more complicated upon their swift exit out of the league.

So, why was Williamson in the game, and why was he even shooting the ball with seconds ticking away in overtime? The rarely used man was inserted after the best beard in college basketball and the man attached to it, Deniz Kilicli, fouled out with 4:20 to go in regulation. Huggins opted to use a few different lineups once Kilicli was unavailable. Trailing 71-67, the entertaining, gruff coach had seen enough of his young team and its unreliable guards give the game away. So up went Williamson’s shot on a play Huggins refrained from expounding upon afterward. The ball met the side of the backboard, and it was in that moment that many inside the Garden looked at each other and asked, “Who is that?”

With the shot failing, it signaled West Virginia’s biggest problem and the only reason that it lost this game. Where was Kevin Jones? He’s the guy Bob Huggins is ticked off about not winning the league’s Player of the Year award (Jones came in second to Marquette’s Jae Crowder). Because Jones was hounded by future NBA lottery pick Andre Drummond — a bright moment for the UConn freshman in a game that saw him miss a field goal as if he was putting from 30 feet out — the young Mountaineers got tunnel vision and backed their way into overtime against No. 9 UConn.

Once in overtime, West Virginia didn’t make a field goal. Oh-for-11. The team couldn’t find Jones and Jones couldn’t get open. He didn’t attempt a shot in the final 7:15 of regulation.

“I feel a little bit of disbelief, disappointment,” Jones said. “We didn’t make the correct decisions at the end. I think it was a little bit that they had Andre Drummond on me. Some of my teammates weren’t able to find me. UConn made the correct plays at the end of the game.”

Was this an emotional ending for Huggins? Uh, no, at least not outwardly. When one reporter addressed him and the players in the postgame press conference, Huggins was either lost in the riveting stat sheet or just flat out ignoring the question. He lifted his head up when the room was silent after the question was completed, as if he’d been called on in class and got caught daydreaming.

Jones answer the question. Eventually, Huggins did talk when another was asked.

“It’s been a good run,” he said of West Virginia’s 17-year stay in the Big East. “We’ve enjoyed it — most of it, anyway. There’s nothing like coming to the Garden to play in the tournament.”

That was all Huggins had to say about it. And as for Williamson’s involvement, I asked him how the play broke down. He responded, “He made a hard shot.”

Made? What? I don’t even know. Maybe he misheard. What's evident now and has been the case for most of this season and the majority of his career: Huggins is ticked. He should be, because this team’s been inconsistent and a frustrating one for him to coach this season. If not for Jones, WVU isn’t even in the NIT.

“He (Jones) was playing with a bunch of freshman that don’t have any idea what the hell they’re doing,” Huggins said. “And they don’t mean to, but to do what this guy’s done … with seven freshmen and a junior college transfer who didn’t play … we couldn’t ask him [and senior Truck Bryant] to do any more. You hope that your freshmen get better and start to understand a little bit better. You can’t give them the ball at the end and knowing full well it’s hard to guard him at the foul line.”

As for the mandatory are-they-in question, I think WVU is headed to the First Four, or just barely dodge it with an 11 seed. They've got enough inventory to clear the 10-or-so teams fighting to squeeze in. Here is Huggins’ defense of WVU's resume:

 “We’ve played more games against top 100 than anybody in the country. We’ve played more games against top 50 teams. We’ve done more things than they’ve asked us to do, except win a couple of games,” Huggins said.

It's that last part that always catches up with teams.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 3:51 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:56 pm
 

It's not last year, but UConn has tourney magic

UConn's come-from-behind overtime win against West Virginia set up a quarterfinal showdown with Syracuse. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK - Two down, three to go. 

It's already begun, with people tossing around the name "Kemba" after the UConn Huskies have reeled off two wins in the Big East tournament. It's in reference to last year's ridiculous run to the tourney crown, but this isn't the same team. Jim Calhoun knows it and so do veterans like Alex Oriakhi, who was around for last year's memorable five victories in five days. 

That team was fun to watch. 

This team is a complete enigma. 

"We're just taking it one game at a time," Oriakhi said after the 71-67 victory. "It's been a tough year." 

The Huskies were down nine points with less than four minutes remaining against West Virginia on Wednesday afternoon before Shabazz Napier did his best Kemba Walker impression -- going off in the second half to rescue UConn. He went for 22 of his 26 points after the break. 

"It was looking ugly," Oriakhi added. 

Now Calhoun, who has led his team to three straight victories since returning from back surgery, should be able to breathe easy when the NCAA Selection Committee unveils the bracket on Sunday. It would be difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn't have UConn in the field. 

"I'm so proud of this team," Calhoun said. 

For what? 

This group has earned the 2011-12 title of "Ultimate Underachievers." The Huskies have a pair of likely lottery picks in Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, in addition to a few more guys that could well be playing in the NBA one day. Sure, their Hall of Fame coach missed 11 games this season and freshman guard Ryan Boatright sat out two separate occasions due to an NCAA investigation.  

"No excuses," Calhoun said. 

UConn will face Syracuse in the quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon -- and a win against the Orange will bring more questions about a repeat of last season. 

"There's no magic," Calhoun said. "It's just us." 

Napier showed why he's the most important player on the UConn roster on Wednesday. He brings the consistent toughness to the table that's clearly lacking with Drummond and Lamb. 

"We already felt like we're in the tournament," he said after the win. "We're trying to prove to ourselves. It's all about us." 

The interesting aspect now for next week becomes whether the Huskies can pull of the upset of the Orange and move up to an 8-9 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

Just imagine a matchup in the round of 32 between UConn and, say, a Kentucky or North Carolina. 

But once again, we're starting to get ahead of ourselves -- just as some were doing at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. 

"It way too early," Oriakhi said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves." 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:38 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:56 pm
 

Poppin' Bubbles: Focus is on Big East bubblers

South Florida kept itself in the at-large discussion by winning ugly over Villanova. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Borzello

The bubble of the Big East has been discussed nonstop for the past several weeks, and the conference takes center stage on Wednesday. All four of the bubble teams are in action, with two of them facing off. Cincinnati is in good shape, especially with the double-bye, so it gets a reprieve until Thursday. It remains to be seen if anyone that loses today can survive on Selection Sunday; teams need to get to the quarterfinals.

Winners

Connecticut: Thank you, Shabazz Napier. The Huskies have essentially locked up a bid, by coming from behind and knocking off West Virginia in overtime. Now we don’t need to really debate whether Connecticut is worthy of an at-large bid. The Huskies are 6-6 against the top-50, with 10 wins against the top 100. They needed to win three in a row at some point down the stretch, and they finally reached that achievement. Connecticut is now 7-8 away from home, so the negatives on the resumes are becoming limited. No matter what happens against Syracuse on Thursday, Connecticut will hear its name on Selection Sunday.

South Florida: It wasn't pretty -- or even remotely attractive -- but the Bulls came out with a win over Villanova in the second round of the Big East tournament. Will that be enough to get an at-large bid? South Florida went 12-6 in conference play, and has a pretty solid computer profile. Avoiding a bad loss to Villanova was important, as it gives them something to separate from Seton Hall and West Virginia. The Bulls are only 1-9 against the top 50, with the lone victory coming at Louisville a week ago. They did go 5-0 against teams 50-100, but there's also three sub-100 losses. In the quarterfinals, South Florida will be pitted against Notre Dame. If the Bulls can knock off the Fighting Irish, there will be no need to sweat on Selection Sunday. A loss there, and the lack of quality wins could catch up to them.   

Losers

West Virginia: Heading into the Connecticut vs. West Virginia matchup, the stakes were pretty clear: the winner is a lock heading into Selection Sunday, and the loser will sweat it out. Well, the Mountaineers blew a late lead and couldn’t execute in overtime en route to a 71-67 defeat. West Virginia moves to 4-8 in its last 12 games, and although that’s not a criterion anymore, it doesn’t bode well. The Mountaineers have a solid computer profile, but they are just 4-8 against the top 50 (and one of those wins, Oral Roberts, is on the cutline). They have nine top-100 wins and are 4-2 on neutral courts. What could help them is the bubble wins; West Virginia has defeated Miami, Cincinnati, South Florida and Oral Roberts. The best wins are Georgetown and Kansas State, but they also have two sub-100 losses. It will be a close call, but we have West Virginia in as of today. 

Seton Hall: The Pirates will have a long next four days to wait until Selection Sunday, after losing to Louisville in the second round of the Big East tournament. Seton Hall now has losses in three of its last four games, and four of its last games. The two games that the Pirates may end up regretting if they get left out could be the season-ending losses to Rutgers and DePaul. Had they won those two, Seton Hall would have been a lock heading into the Big East tournament. Now, the Pirates are in trouble. The computer profile is not very impressive, and the non-conference strength of schedule is fairly high. The Pirates are 4-8 against the top 50, with wins over Georgetown and Connecticut. They have also defeated fellow bubblers West Virginia, Dayton and Saint Joseph's, which could help. The three sub-100 losses and 5-10 record to finish the season could cost them, though. 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com