Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:54 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 3:57 pm
 

Championship game preview: Sun Belt

The first conference tournament to get turned upside-down this year was the Sun Belt, which saw three of the top four seeds – including the top two seeds – lose in the quarterfinals. The fun didn’t stop on Monday, as the remaining favorite, No. 3 seed Denver, was toppled by No. 7 Western Kentucky. On the other side of the bracket, No. 5 seed North Texas will head to the title game for the third straight season after beating No. 9 Arkansas State.

North Texas won the first meeting between the two teams, in mid-January. In that game, the Mean Green shot better than 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range en route to a 17-point win.

Western Kentucky is a very different team than it was back then, as Ray Harper took over as the head coach and completely turned around the Hilltoppers’ season. They knocked off regular-season champion Middle Tennessee in the season finale and also beat the top tournament contenders in the conference tournament. During their recent five-game winning streak, the Hilltoppers are playing far better offensively and showing more consistency on the defensive end.

Plenty of impressive freshmen will be on display Tuesday night in Hot Springs, Ark. North Texas’ Tony Mitchell is one of the top newcomers in the country, capable of dominating at both ends of the floor. Western Kentucky counters with Derrick Gordon and George Fant.

North Texas has been far more balanced lately, with Alzee Williams, Jacob Holmen and Roger Franklin all picking up the slack with Mitchell struggling in the postseason. If Mitchell returns to the form he showed in the regular season, Western Kentucky could have trouble.

The winner of this game will likely be the lowest-rated team in the field, meaning the winner could end up in Dayton for the First Four.  

-- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:08 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:20 am
 

Tiny Dancers: Saint Mary's Gaels

For the first time in program history, Saint Mary's takes home the regular-season and postseason championships in the WCC. It was the third WCC title for the Gaels overall, as they won an epic overtime game and WCC final against blood rival Gonzaga Monday night. No matter what happens in the NCAA tournament, this is a huge year -- more than just a double-banner one -- for SMC, which for so long has fought to catch up to Gonzaga. Within the conference, it achieved that with this title. Saint Mary's has traded and landed enough blows to be side by side with Gonzaga in stature for the near-future.

Now it's on to the bracket that matters most, so where can you expect to see the Gaels seeded? A five seems likely, but the team's overall profile actually feels more like a six. While Saint Mary's looked good for most of conference play, the team didn't greatly challenge itself outside of the WCC, and when it did, it lost (72-59 to Baylor; 65-51 at Murray State). It only has four top-100 wins, all coming against Gonzaga and BYU.

It's a very fun team, though. They will be in, from start to finish. whatever game they're slotted with. Remember the 2010 Gaels with Omar Samhan? That team wasn't quite as good as this one, and even if it had more entertainment value, this batch of Gaels comes close. Point guard Matthew Dellavedova, a guy who looks like he wouldn't back down from anyone in a bar fight, is the spark. Rob Jones is pound-for-pound one of the toughest 6-6 guys in the sport. It's a group that doesn't ooze talent but shoves and elbows its way to victories. It truly earned its conference championships this season.

Matthew Dellavedova and his patented massive mouthguard look will be a five or a six seed. (Getty Images)

Player to know: Dellavedova. He's the league's best player, a very creative guy on the court and the one who will be responsible for getting this team to the second weekend -- which could be a challenge. He's a danger whenever he's got the ball because he's liable to shoot it, drop a nasty dime or fool you into a helpless defensive position that allows him to get off a quirky shot. There aren't five players in the country more fun to watch play than Delly.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-5 overall, 14-2 in MAAC
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2010, No. 10 seed, reached the Sweet 16, where it lost to No. 3 Baylor, 72-49.
  • We’re thinking: 5 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 44
  • Sagarin ranking: 35
  • RPI: 31
  • Best wins: at BYU, vs. Gonzaga
  • Worst losses: vs. Loyola Marymount, at Denver
  • Notable stat: The secret weapon for Saint Mary's is Clint Steindl. The senior forward isn't a focal point of the offense, but he averages more than 1.3 points per possession -- a top five rate in the nation. 
-- Matt Norlander

Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:07 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:11 am
 

Tiny Dancers: Davidson

By Jeff Borzello

For the first time since Stephen Curry was the go-to guy for Davidson, the Wildcats are back in the NCAA tournament.

They survived a double-overtime contest against Western Carolina in the championship game, constantly overcoming clutch shots by the Catamounts. Davidson had five guys score in double-figures in the title game, with three of them playing more than 40 minutes. It was head coach Bob McKillop's sixth conference tournament championship.

Davidson was one of the few regular-season champions to get through the conference tournament unscathed so far this season, winning three in a row after going 14-2 during the campaign. The Wildcats started 9-0 in the league before dropping a three-point game at Samford in late January. During the non-conference season, Davidson knocked off Kansas in Kansas City; this team can play.

Bob McKillop has steered Davidson back to the NCAA tournament. (US Presswire)

Player to know: De’Mon Brooks. The Southern Conference Player of the Year could have been the hero in the first overtime of the title game, but his leaner rimmed out as time expired. Brooks still managed to finish with 19 points and eight rebounds, staying true to his extremely efficient self. In games against Duke, Vanderbilt and Kansas, Brooks averaged 16.3 points and 6.0 rebounds.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 25-7 overall, 16-2 in SoCon
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2008, No. 10 seed. Beat Gonzaga in first round, beat Georgetown in second round, beat Wisconsin in Sweet 16, lost to Kansas in Elite Eight.
  • We’re thinking: 14 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 58
  • Sagarin ranking: 66
  • RPI: 65
  • Best wins: Kansas, Penn, Richmond
  • Worst losses: Samford, Charlotte
  • Notable stat: Davidson could be tough in a close game. The Wildcats rank ninth in the country in free-throw percentage, shooting 76.6 percent from the foul line.

-- Jeff Borzello

Posted on: March 5, 2012 10:19 pm
 

Miami's Charlie Coles calls it a career

By Jeff Goodman

Charlie Coles has finally called it a career. 

Miami-Ohio's head man, one of the more likable guys in the industry, announced his retirement moments after his team was knocked out of the MAC tournament Monday night. 

Coles replaced Herb Sendek back in 1996 and was in the final year of his contract. He was 70 years old, but it was the numerous health issues that may have ultimately caused him to retire. 

He had a heart attack in 1986 while at Central Michigan, collapsed on the court during a MAC tourney game in 1998 and underwent bypass surgery a decade later. Recently, Coles was in the hospital for a couple days due to a virus. 

Coles played at Miami and was an assistant under Sendek. He coached a Wally Szczerbiak-led team to the Sweet 16 in 1999. 

Coles leaves with a 266-226 mark at Miami. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:43 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 11:41 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: VCU

Shaka is back.

A year ago, Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams made the magical and improbable run from the First Four to the Final Four.

They could have another crack at it.

Smart and his more inexperienced Rams took care of George Mason in the semifinals and then held off top-seeded Drexel, which came in on a 19-game winning streak, to win the CAA tournament championship on Monday night.

This is obviously a different team from the one that shocked the nation a year ago.

Gone are Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon and Brandon Rozzell.

It's now senior Bradford Burgess and a bunch of youngsters who may not shoot it as well, but get after it on the defensive end - and are headed back to the NCAA tourney.

It's a different cast of characters, but Shaka Smart and VCU are back in the NCAA tournament. (US Presswire)

Player to know -- Bradford Burgess - He's not a big-time scorer (he averages a little more than 13 per game), but he finished with 20 points and knocked down a handful of 3's in the semifinal win over George Mason. Burgess struggled offensively against Drexel, but he's started an NCAA-record 144 consecutive games since he arrived at the school and can really get after it on the defensive end. He's also a guy who isn't afraid to take -- and make -- the big shot.

The Vitals:
Record: 28-6, 15-3 in the CAA
Most recent tournament appearance: 2011 (Final Four)
We’re thinking: 11 seed
KenPom ranking: 46
Sagarin ranking: 50
RPI: 49
Best wins: South Florida, Akron, Drexel
Worst losses: Georgia State, Georgia Tech
Notable stat: According to KenPom.com, VCU leads the nation in defensive turnover percentage at 27.3. I'm fairly certain that means that opponents turn the ball over 27.3 times per 100 possessions. That's pretty impressive.

-- Jeff Goodman

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:38 pm
 

Tiny Dancers: Loyola Greyhounds

It's already a lovefest on Twitter for the Greyhounds and their coach, Jimmy Patsos. Patsos' story will become something you can recite instantly by the start of the Greyhounds' first tournament game, as the bartender-turned-basketball coach will receive as much love from the media as any other. The reason for that is his team's 48-44 MAAC championship win Monday night over No. 4 Fairfield. Loyola played itself to a No. 2 seed this season, and after Fairfield took care of top-seeded Iona in the semis, Loyola won the rubber match with the Stags.

Patsos won the league's Coach of the Year award this year as well.

It's the second NCAA tournament bid for the Greyhounds in program history. Their other one came 18 years ago, in 1994, when a young Skip Prosser guided the team there in his first and only season in Maryland.

This team is solid at rebounding on the offensive glass, good at getting to the foul line -- and miserable at defending 3-pointers. The team doesn't have the look of a Cinderella, but Patsos and the program's story more than makes up for that. There won't be many, if any, teams and coaches that cherish the first tournament weekend more than this one.

Jimmy Patsos, left, and the Greyhounds will be the loveable underdogs of this year's field. (US Presswire)

Player to know: Erik Etherly. Etherly is considered one of the five best players in the league by opposing coaches. He's extremely versatile, leading the team in scoring (13.6), rebounding (7.6) and second in assists (1.9). At 6-7, he can play inside to out, but he is definitely best in the paint, where he's a reliable shot-maker and one of the best glass hogs in the conference. Chances are the Greyounds will be overmatched at almost every position in their first game except for this one.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 24-8 overall, 13-5 in MAAC
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 1994, No. 15 seed, lost 81-55 to Arizona.
  • We’re thinking: 15 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 133
  • Sagarin ranking: 137
  • RPI: 86
  • Best wins: at Bucknell, vs. Iona
  • Worst losses: vs. Niagara, at Marist
  • Notable stat: This is nuts. For six years, from '99 to '05, Loyola was a mess. It won 29 games, total. That's just five more than what the Hounds did this season. 
-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 5, 2012 8:04 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 8:10 pm
 

The Poll Attacks: Voter drops IU after two wins

By Gary Parrish

Tom Crean cost himself an AP vote by beating Michigan State and Purdue.

I know that sounds crazy.

But it's true and the focus of the Poll Attacks.

Associated Press poll: I've been on this Indiana thing for a few weeks because I don't understand how presumed intelligent reporters could watch basketball and/or look at bodies of work of basketball teams and conclude the Hoosiers didn't deserve to be ranked. I had to jump the 15 voters who didn't rank IU two Mondays ago, and that number dwindled to seven last week. It was better, obviously. But seven voters were still wrong.

Now?

Now only one voter is still wrong.

It's Jason Franchuk from the Provo Daily Herald.

He somehow decided to omit Indiana from his ballot even though the Hoosiers are:
  • 24-7 overall.
  • on a four-game winning streak.
  • the owners of wins over No. 1 Kentucky, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan State.
  • ranked 10th at KenPom.com and 12th at CollegeRPI.com.
  • 8-4 against the Top 50 and 11-5 against the Top 100.

I don't care if you hate Tom Crean, cream and crimson, John Cougar Mellencamp and Norman Dale -- I don't even care if you're a Purdue fan -- there's no reasonable way to keep Indiana off a Top 25 ballot. It stupid. It makes no sense.

But you know what makes less sense?

The fact that Jason had Indiana ranked 22nd last week.

Seriously.

Jason had Indiana ranked 22nd last week. Then he watched Indiana beat Michigan State and Purdue to move from 22-7 to 24-7. Then he dropped the Hoosiers straight off his ballot. I'm just gonna assume that's an oversight. Has to be, right? Otherwise, man, I don't know.

Coaches poll: It's clearly just a coach throwing an off-the-radar program a bone, so I don't really mind it much. Honestly, I don't mind it all. But Montana getting a vote in the coaches poll is a little silly. Yes, the Grizzlies are the Big Sky's regular-season champions, and their 10-game winning streak has moved their record to 23-6. But they're 2-3 against the Top 100 with three losses outside the Top 130, and that's just not a rankable resume. Again, it neither matters much nor bothers me much. But that doesn't make it any less wrong.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 4:18 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 6:38 pm
 

Report: Syracuse players violated drug policy

The Yahoo Sports story on drug violations is the latest off-court distraction for the Orange program. (AP)

By Matt Norlander


UPDATE: Syracuse University released this statement: "In accordance with NCAA regulations, it is the University's practice to self-report possible violations to the NCAA. We self-reported issues with drug testing to the NCAA, and there is currently an ongoing inquiry. The inquiry does not involve any current SU student-athletes. To ensure the integrity of the ongoing process, we are unable to comment further at this time."

Yahoo Sports is reporting Syracuse men's basketball has dealt with a pattern of violated drug tests over the course of the past 11 years. And not only that, but the program often overlooked, or ignored, those violations while players continued to be eligible. These transgressions could lead to action by the NCAA, if it deems the program willfully violated protocol. The 2003 NCAA championship season is currently under speculation, though not directly or solely, and could be retroactively investigated by the NCAA.

The news comes just as Syracuse finished one of its greatest regular seasons in program history, finishing with a 30-1 record and on the cusp of a No. 1 seed in next week's NCAA tournament. Does this mean anything for this year's team? That is unclear, but seems unlikely right now. The NCAA hasn't offered up a statement, and Jim Boeheim offered no comment to Yahoo Sports when they told him of their story.

From Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson and Pat Forde:
Over the course of a three-month investigation, four sources with intimate knowledge of the Syracuse men’s basketball program told Yahoo! Sports at least 10 players since 2001 have tested positive for a banned recreational substance or substances. The sources said all 10 of those players were allowed to practice and play at times when they should have been suspended by the athletic department, including instances when some players may not have known of their own ineligibility. The four sources said Syracuse violated its drug policy in at least two areas: failing to properly count positive tests; and playing ineligible players after they should have been subject to suspension.
There is no indication the drug policy violations have taken place this season, willfully or otherwise.

This news adds to the most dramatic off-court narratives during a season in the history of the program, as the allegations of sexual molestation against Bernie Fine was a fireball of a story at the start of this season. There was also a minor off-court story from January was a grades issue related to Orange center Fab Melo, who missed three games.

Syracuse is the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament and plays a to-be-determined opponent in Thursday's noon ET game at Madison Square Garden.

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