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Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:17 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 11:23 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: Detroit

Talk about validation for Little Ray. 

Everyone questioned Ray McCallum's decision to spurn the big boys -- UCLA and Arizona included -- to play for his dad in the Horizon for Detroit. 

However, the father-son duo just got the Titans into the NCAA tournament after an upset over top-seeded Valparaiso in the hostile confines of the 5,000-seat Athletics-Recreation Center. 

The win got Detroit into the Big Dance for the first time since 1999 and also snapped a five-game losing skid against the Crusaders.

McCallum finished with 26 points, six rebounds and five assists in the semifinal win over Cleveland State and had 19 in the victory against Valpo. 

But this team has more than just Little Ray. Senior guard Chase Simon helps on the perimeter and the Titans have a couple of legitimate bigs in LaMarcus Lowe and Eli Holman, the Indiana transfer who comes off the bench. 

Ray McCallum and his father led Detroit to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Ray McCallum - Little Ray opted to play for his dad despite having offers from plenty of high-major programs. The sophomore point guard had a terrific season, averaging 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4 assists per game this season. He's led the team in scoring, assists and steals both years in college. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 22-13 overall, 11-7 in Horizon
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 1999
  • We’re thinking: 14
  • KenPom ranking: 131
  • Sagarin ranking: 133
  • RPI: 136
  • Best wins: Cleveland State, Butler (twice)
  • Worst losses: UIC, Youngstown State
  • Notable stat:  Ray McCallum is in his third head coaching gig. He was 126-76 in seven seasons at Ball State, spent four years at Houston (44-73 mark) and is in his fourth season at Detroit. 

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:35 pm
 

Casey, Harvard players celebrate tourney berth

By Jeff Goodman

Tommy Amaker had to take the call on the other line -- and who could blame him. 

"It's Coach K," Harvard's head coach said just moments after his team earned its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1946 via Penn's loss at Princeton. 

Of course, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was calling his former player and assistant coach to offer his congratulations. 

"It's exciting," Amaker said on his team's automatic berth. "No question about it." 

And how are his players celebrating?

"Some of them have mid-terms tomorrow," Amaker said. 

Others, like Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, were officiating intramurals. 

"We kept our routine like normal," Casey said. "People kept coming over and giving us the score of the Penn game. We got back to our room and started playing Call of Duty." 

Then they found out the final score -- and the players rounded up and ran through the floors yelling and screaming. 

"I'm so pumped," Casey said. "This is a huge reason why we all came here." 

Amaker has pulled off one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country since getting fired at Michigan and taking a job that many began to question his sanity. Harvard was a graveyard job. The last time the Crimson had even finished over .500 in the Ivy was back in 1997. 

I covered every Harvard home basketball game for a few years in the mid 90s -- and Lavietes Pavilion was basically dead. Now the Crimson have become a hot ticket around these parts, selling out home games. Harvard earned a share of the Ivy League crown last season, but lost to Princeton in a one-game playoff. This time the Crimson won the league title outright and, more importantly, have earned a trip to the Big Dance. 

"It's unbelievable for the seniors," Casey said. "They were the first recruiting class for Coach Amaker. They deserve it." 

I remember the day Casey committed to Harvard. He said he was going for the education and to make history, with the intent of taking the program back to the NCAA tourney. 

He and his teammates have done just that. 

"I'm almost speechless," he said. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:17 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:23 pm
 

Hall gets needed win -- is 20 enough?

Jordan Theodore had 13 assists, one shy of the Big East record, Tuesday night. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — With a no-doubt-about-it 79-47 win over No. 15 Providence, did Seton Hall ensure itself of an NCAA tournament appearance Tuesday night?

The decision gave the Pirates their first 20-win season in eight years and only the third one in the past 19. This meant a lot to the program and a lot to Pirates head coach Kevin Willard, who probably won’t have a team with this much talent next season. So that means getting to 20 wins in 2013 will be more of a challenge than it was in 2012, and we now know how grueling this achievement turned into. The time is now to make an appearance in the NCAAs and advance the program forward for its second-year coach.  

If Seton Hall wants history on its side, it’s got it. In 152 occurrences when Big East teams have won 20 games in a season, 147 of those have earned a dance ticket. 

Almost nearly as impressive as the win was the way Seton Hall shed its DePaul hangover. The Pirates were embarrassed in their season finale 86-58 against the Blue Demons. The loss put the team’s postseason tournaments in doubt; lots of bubble teams have bad losses, but did any from a major conference has a loss as bad as that one? If so, I want to see evidence you found.

So on Tuesday night, fresh off that lashing by DePaul, Seton Hall opened up the game with a scoreless first five minutes. Uh-oh? No, no. After trailing 9-0, the Pirates put up 2.26 points per minute and made the game a laugher by halftime, when they led 36-23.

"Our total body of work is pretty darn good," Willard said. "I think I have two of the better seniors in the country. That last two games before this game, we played a real tough rival (Rutgers), Senior Night, who needed a win. And then the other night at DePaul they played real well and we just struggled. The overall body of work I think is pretty good.”

Jordan Theodore’s body of work Tuesday night stood out from everyone. The Seton Hall senior point guard had 13 assists, one shy of the Big East tournament record. He looked good making all those passes and committing only one turnover. If his team was that good consistently, well heck, we know the Pirates would be playing for a seed instead of a bid — and they wouldn’t be doing it in the opening round of the Big East bracket.

"To be honest, I have talked about the NCAA all season, but before this game, it wasn’t on my mind," Theodore said. "The only thing I was worried about was leading my team and coming in here and getting a win."

That’s believable, if for no other reason that Theodore’s performance. Then again, how couldn’t he and fellow senior Herb Pope have urgency in a game like this? How couldn't he have the circumstances factor in? The Selection Committee was watching, and the magnifying glass is in their hands with every possession now.

"I hope they seen that the Pirates is not the team that was at DePaul," Theodore said.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Seton Hall, so much so I’m not sure the mood swings and losing streaks have affected others like the Pirates, who continually are trying to crawl out of the Big East’s basement. It's not only a schedule the team's trying to beat, it's a culture, a reputatoin. Willard’s had help along the way. Two fellow league coaches, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Rick Pitino of Louisville, have been therapists throughout, even when those coaches’ teams have failed them many times this year.

"I’m a little different in this league, from the fact that I worked with Mick Cronin. We vacation together every summer," Willard said, while I lifted my head from typing this quote with a response of shock and confusion.

Willard added that he talked to Pitino and Cronin every week for much of this season, especially recently. Pitino is his mentor, a guy Willard worked with for a decade, so the willing ear was relieving.

"He was great this year, when we were struggling … he called me twice during that stretch, which is unheard of in this league," Willard said.

On Wednesday, Willard gets to coach against Pitino. That will be tough, a little awkward, and the ideal latest challenge for his team, which would be securely in the field if it gets one more win. The Cardinals and Pirates played once this season, on Jan. 28. Louisville won, 60-51. Twenty wins may be enough, but No. 21 could be the hardest for more reasons than Willard wants to think about.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:56 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:08 pm
 

What-to-know conference previews: SEC

So who's gonna finish second to Kentucky in New Orleans?

That's an obvious question to ask heading into the SEC Tournament.

It's probably also a reasonable question to ask about the NCAA Tournament.

Because the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite in the SEC Tournament and will be most people's pick to win the NCAA Tournament, too. They're talented and dominant and generally great. They've only lost once all season and that was on a buzzer-beater at Indiana. They ran through the SEC in a way that impressed even Nick Saban. If no SEC team could beat them in 16 tries during the regular season, why would any SEC team do it here?

Answer: No SEC team will.

So who's finishing second to Kentucky in New Orleans?

I'll go with Vanderbilt.

Despite what the tournament seedings and national rankings suggest, the Commodores are, in my opinion, the SEC's second best team. They just don't play like it all the time, which is a problem. But that's another issue for another day. For now, let's just focus on the event's first-round games. Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida earned byes to the quarterfinals. The other eight schools start play Thursday.



TOURNAMENT BRACKET

LSU (8) vs. Arkansas (9): There was a time when nobody could beat Arkansas at Arkansas, but that time ended just after Valentine's Day. That's when Florida destroyed the Razorbacks at Bud Walton. Then Alabama handled them there. Then Ole Miss handled them there, too. Suddenly, the Razorbacks were no longer considered a bubble team. They looked more like a ninth-seed in a 12-team league, which is exactly what they turned into. If they beat LSU on Thursday, they'll play Kentucky on Friday. So I'm not sure winning Thursday is wise.

Alabama (5) vs. South Carolina (12): The Crimson Tide were on the verge of falling apart when several players were suspended, including Tony Mitchell, who was ultimately dismissed. But Anthony Grant held things together, the Crimson Tide closed the regular season by winning four of their final five games, and they're now (I presume) safely in the NCAA Tournament. Meantime, South Carolina is on a five-game losing streak. So barring a surprise, Grant will spend Friday coaching against Florida while Darrin Horn spends Friday dreading a meeting with his athletic director.

Ole Miss (7) vs. Auburn (10): Proof that the bubble is super soft is that Jerry Palm has Ole Miss just on the wrong side of it despite the fact that the Rebels are 1-6 against the Top 50 and 7-11 against the Top 100. To be clear, they probably need to beat Auburn on Thursday, Tennessee on Friday and Vanderbilt, Mississippi State or Georgia on Saturday to be seriously considered for an at-large bid. But Andy Kennedy's team has a shot. That's the point I'm trying to make.

Mississippi State (6) vs. Georgia (11): Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs are in most bracket projections right now, but just barely. In other words, they'd better not lose to Georgia on Thursday because if they do they won't play Vanderbilt on Friday ... or in the NCAA Tournament at all.

-- Gary Parrish
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Gary Parrish, SEC
 
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:43 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:43 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: Harvard

A year ago, Harvard lost to Princeton on a last-second shot in a one-game playoff. 

It appeared as though the Crimson might again be forced to play a winner-take-all contest, this time against Penn. However, the Quakers lost Tuesday night at Princeton, which meant that Tommy Amaker's team will make its first NCAA appearance since 1946. 

Harvard got an automatic bid rather than having to sweat it out on Sunday. The Crimson went 12-2 in the Ivy and had a couple of impressive wins this season - including a victory over Florida State back in November down in the Bahamas. But there were a pair of league setbacks to Penn and Princeton that put Amaker & Co. on the bubble. 

Now Harvard is able to celebrate -- by studying for mid-terms on Tuesday night. 

The Crimson are a balanced group. 

Kyle Casey leads the team at 11.3 points per game. Senior big man Keith Wright is at 10.7 points and shooter Laurent Rivard is next at 9.7 points. The starting backcourt of Brandyn Curry and Oliver McNally combines to average a shade over 15 points per contest. 

But that's what makes Harvard dangerous. These guys are unselfish, share the basketball and defend. 

After losing in a playoff last season, Tommy Amaker steered Harvard to its first NCAA tournament since 1946. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Kyle Casey - The junior forward led a balanced team in scoring at 11.3 points per game and he's the most talented guy on the team. Athletically, he can match-up against guys from bigger leagues. Casey played much of last season with a broken foot, but he's healthy and finished the season averaging 15.5 points over the final four games. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 26-4 overall, 12-2 in Ivy
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 1946
  • We’re thinking: 10 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 37
  • Sagarin ranking: 35
  • RPI: 43
  • Best wins: Florida State, St. Joe's
  • Worst losses: Fordham, Princeton
  • Notable stat:  The Crimson earned its first national ranking in program history this season. Harvard was ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll at one time. 

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:32 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:27 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: Western Kentucky

We have our first true Cinderella story of March.

Western Kentucky, which was 5-14 at one point this season, ran through the Sun Belt Conference tournament as the No. 7 seed, beating the Nos. 10, 2, 3 and 5 seeds along the way. It was capped with a come-from-behind 74-70 win over North Texas in the championship game, led by big men George Fant and Teeng Akol combining for 40 points and 11 rebounds.

Head coach Ray Harper took over the program on January 6 after Ken McDonald was fired, going 4-7 over the next 11 games. On February 19, it was announced that Harper had his interim tag removed and therefore became the permanent head coach of the Hilltoppers. Since that announcement, Western Kentucky is 6-0. 

Western Kentucky is a young team, starting three freshmen and two juniors. It’s certainly not the same team that made back-to-back NCAA tournament in 2008 and 2009, winning three postseason games in two years. With that said, the Hilltoppers are miraculously dancing again.

Western Kentucky won four games in four days to get into the NCAA tournament with a 15-18 record. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Derrick Gordon. Playing alongside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dexter Strickland and Kyrie Irving at St. Patrick (N.J.), Gordon was often overshadowed. He has made sure that didn’t happen in the Sun Belt, entering the league as a freshman and making an impact immediately. Gordon struggled in the semifinals and title game, but he had been on a tear in the previous stretch. The 6-foot-2 guard had 25 points and 15 boards in the upset of No. 2 seed Arkansas-Little Rock. 

The Vitals:

  • Record: 15-18 overall, 7-9 in Sun Belt
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2009, No. 12 seed, beat Illinois 76-72 in first round, lost to Gonzaga 83-81 in second round.
  • We’re thinking: 16 seed (play-in game)
  • KenPom ranking: 197
  • Sagarin ranking: 206
  • RPI: 197
  • Best wins: Middle Tennessee, Denver
  • Worst losses: Troy (2), FIU, Furman
  • Notable stat: Western Kentucky gets to the free-throw line with exceptional effectiveness. The Hilltoppers took 118 foul shots in the Sun Belt tournament.

-- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: March 6, 2012 4:52 pm
 

What-to-know tourney previews: Mountain West

The Mountain West shrank to eight teams this season, but with that downsize, the league actually became one of the best in the country. There's an argument to be made about the MWC vs. the ACC. After all, both could end up with four teams in the NCAAs. And even though most will side that the ACC is the better league, there's no doubt the MWC usurps the uninspiring Pac-12. The conference went 88-27 in the non-conference, putting it up there with every other league in terms of winning percentage. None of the teams entered conference play under .500.

And here's a little advance notice: the MWC will be even better next season. We'll save that talk for the summer and fall, though.

This year, the conference has three teams that can reach the second weekend, meaning it could win more than four tournament games for the first time in more than a decade. It's going to be the third consecutive year the MWC sends at least three to the NCAAs, too.

Last year's tournament was the Jimmer show. Although BYU's gone, don't expect this year's bracket to be any less entertaining. Let's get to the quarterfinal tilts and assess the possibilities in the coming days.

The carousel has turned for the top three teams in the Mountain West. Is SDSU the true best team? (US Presswire)

TOURNAMENT BRACKET

San Diego State (1) vs. Boise State (8): The Aztecs are one of the most surprising teams of 2011-12, considering the group lost so, so much of its production from last season. Remember, this was a team that was a No. 2 seed -- its highest ever in the NCAA -- in 2011. This could've been a rebuilding year, but instead sophomore guard Jamaal Franklin was the league's best player and guided SDSU to a 24-6 record. He averages 16.7 points per game. But here's the hitch: as far as this matchup is concerned, Boise State is a tough out for the Aztecs, who only earned a two-point home win over the Broncos in February. It'll be a fist fight, but SDSU should move on.

Colorado State (4) vs. TCU (5): The Rams make for the most intriguing MWC team because they're not in the field yet, though a lot of bracketologists disagree on their place within the bubble and overall seed list. Some have them in with room to spare, while others clearly have them out, even needing an MWC final appearance to justify inclusion. The Rams have been bad on the road, so they can't help themselves any more here, but getting another win against the top three, which they beat once, all at home, is paramount. Against upstart TCU, Colorado State split the season series. I think the Rams are definitely out with a loss here. Pierce Hornung is the most reliable scorer in the conference, and he'll be huge for CSU.

New Mexico (2) vs. Air Force (7): Not much to discuss here. New Mexico absolutely dominated Air Force in both meetings this year, winning by an average of 34.5. This shouldn't be trouble, and could set up a very entertaining semifinal with ...

UNLV (3) vs. Wyoming (6): The Runnin' Rebels. You want to know about the MWC's depth? Vegas is the three seed, but I also think this team goes further in the NCAAs than SDSU or UNM. The Rebs beat UNC in November, the team's biggest W, but it's a long way from November now. UNLV and Wyoming split the season series, so there's pause there -- again, the league is deep -- but Vegas is so much faster than Wyoming. Plus, the tournament is held in Las Vegas, so is there a mild edge? History says no, as UNLV hasn't patterned out to any sort of advantage. In a given year, though, it could be a factor. Is this one of those?

-- Matt Norlander

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 6, 2012 4:12 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 5:10 pm
 

CBS 16: Why winning a title is mandatory

Patrick Ewing and Georgetown were dominant in 1985, but its loss to Villanova separates it from greatness. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Goodman

You can't be elite without a ring. 

That was my take when putting together my list of the Top 16 teams in the history of college basketball. 

There were some terrific teams that didn't cut down the nets. UNLV in 1991 immediately comes to mind. The defending national champs returned just about everyone and became the first school since Indiana State in 1979 to enter the NCAA without a blemish. But that group -- which was ultra-talented with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt -- isn't worthy of a spot on the CBS16 because it couldn't get past Duke in the national semifinals. 

Ditto for the 1975 Indiana team that was shocked by Kentucky in the regional title game. The Hoosiers went into that one at 31-0, but didn't have a healthy Scott May and couldn't get past the Wildcats. 

Patrick Ewing's Georgetown team in 1985 was dominant. The Hoyas were the clear-cut favorites after winning the national title the previous year, but wound up being upset by eighth-seeded Villanova. How about the Phil Slamma Jamma Houston group in 1983 that had Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Ojajuwon, but lost to N.C. State in the national title game?

All phenomenal teams, but none belong in this exclusive club because winning the national title should be a prerequisite to being included on the CBS16. 

We're talking about the best of the best -- and that means you've got to hang a banner in order to justify this honor. I don't care how talented the team was, or what they did in the regular-season. If you didn't perform when it mattered most, you just aren't worthy. 

That's why John Wooden's UCLA teams in 1967, 1968 and 1973 all made the cut. They hung banners. Ditto for Indiana's 1976 squad, the last team to run the table. 

I even went with Florida's team in 2007 over that UNLV team back in 1991. 

It sounds nuts because the Runnin' Rebels had more talent and were superior in the regular-season, but what's ultimately meaningful is how they fared when it was all on the line. 

The Gators won the national championship. UNLV, which stomped on opponents throughout the season, did not. The Runnin' Rebels lost to Duke, 79-77, in the Final Four. 

Regular-season success certainly has its value, but let's face it: People remember who climbed the ladder and cut down the nets. 

Those are the ones that belong on the CBS 16. 

More:

-- Transcendence is key in being the best

-- The case against modern-era teams

-- Our ballots for the top 16 teams of all time
 

CBS Sports Network will be celebrating the 16 greatest college basketball teams of all time in the upcoming, four-part series, "16." Our CBS Sports panel of experts has voted, and on March 19 and 20, you'll be able to see which teams make up our list. You can help us celebrate your favorite team by sending us your tweets -- use the hashtag #CBS16 -- or leave your comments below. Then, look for your content as we'll work to incorporate the best submissions into the series.

You can also chime in on Facebook: 
Eye on College Basketball or CBSSports.com 

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