Columbia Sends Out Seniors With a CIT Championship 

By Kevin Sweeney

One of the greatest senior classes in Columbia basketball history ended their careers with a bang, earning the Ivy League’s first postseason tournament championship since 1975 by winning the CIT Championship over UC Irvine on Tuesday. Senior guard Grant Mullins led the way for the Lions with 20 points. 

 Despite having to face a raucous Columbia home crowd, UC Irvine had control early. Junior guard Luke Nelson was especially hot in the earlygoing, scoring 11 of the Anteaters’s first 14 points. However, the Lions used a 15-2 run capped by a 3 by Luke Petrasek to take a 29-22 lead as the first half wound down. The run helped Columbia take a 31-26 lead into halftime. UC Irvine scored just 4 points in the final 7:40 of the first half, with their only 2 scores coming on dunks by 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye. 

The Anteaters quickly cut into the halftime deficit in the second half, evening the score at 37 less than 4 minutes into the half. UC Irvine provided a unique challenge for the Lions, as the Anteaters’s have as much size as any team in the country. Yet Columbia hung in tough, with backup forward Jeff Coby coming up big with 14 points and 10 rebounds. As a result, the Lions actually outrebounded UC Irvine 38-34 on the game. As the game wound down, Columbia took control. Maodo Lo, despite struggling with his shot all night, hit a huge 3 with under 2 minutes to play to give the Lions a 6 point lead. Down the stretch, Columbia made enough foul shots to hold on, and the Lions were CIT Champions!

It will be interesting to see the future of both programs. For UC Irvine, its top 2 scorers have eligibility remaining, but Mamadou Ndiaye could leave for the NBA. Columbia loses its top 3 scorers, including Lo, one of the best players in school history. Columbia could also lose coach Kyle Smith, who has been heavily connected to the San Fransisco vacancy. 

Syracuse Stuns Virginia to Continue Cinderella Run

By Kevin Sweeney

For much of the night, nothing seemed to go right for Syracuse. 

However, the Orange concluded the game on a 29-8 run over the final 9 and a half minutes to shock Virginia and earn a trip to the Final Four. Malachi Richardson led the way for the Orange with 23 points. 

In the first half, the Virginia defense suffocated the Syracuse offense, holding them to just 21 points while shooting just 30.8% from the field. Richardson and Michael Gbinije especially struggled, shooting just 0-5 and 3-9, respectively. On the other side, Virginia shot 48%, with London Perrantes scoring 15 points on 5-7 from downtown. This led to a 14 point halftime deficit for the Orange.

Syracuse’s hopes continued to look bleak as the second half began. While the Orange showed signs of life, they struggled to truly chip into the Virginia lead. In fact, with 9:37 to go, Syracuse still trailed by 14 points. However, the Orange finally started to make their move, and Malachi Richardson started to take over. Despite being guarded by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the 6’6″ freshman knocked down a couple of big 3’s to trim the deficit and give the momentum back to Syracuse. The Orange were also able to slow down the Virginia offensive attack, utilizing full-court pressure that took the ball out of the hands of Perrantes and Brogdon. In just 4 minutes, the Orange went from dead in the water to leading, after a layup by Richardson gave Syracuse a 59-58 lead. The Orange kept the pressure on, extending their lead to 6 with under 2 minutes to play. Virginia had the ball down just 3 with under 30 seconds to go, but neither Brogdon nor Perrantes took the shot, with Devon Hall missing on a 3 and giving Syracuse the win. 

For the Orange, its improbable tournament run continues. After having to sweat through Selection Sunday just to see if they would reach the NCAA Tournament, the Orange are now headed to Houston for the Final Four. Syracuse advances to take on the winner of North Carolina and Notre Dame.

Oklahoma, Villanova Punch Tickets to Houston

By Kevin Sweeney

Last night, 2 teams locked up berths in the Final Four and kept their national championship aspirations alive. 

In the earlier game, Oklahoma used a big first half to knock off top seeded Oregon in convincing fashion, 80-68. National player of the year front-runner Buddy Hield perhaps cemented himself as the nation’s top player with a 37 point outburst highlighted by 8 3-pointers. Hield led a 3 point barrage from the Sooners that knocked down 12-24 from downtown. After a big win over Duke on Thursday, Oregon was unable to deliver a similar performance on Saturday, digging themselves a deep hole early and never really recovering. After 2 days of controversy regarding the post-game conversation between Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Oregon leading scorer Dillon Brooks, Brooks was unable to get going, scoring just 7 points and turning it over 3 times. 

In the nightcap, Villanova knocked off Kansas  64-59 and win the South regional. After weeks of criticism of this Villanova team as to whether they would follow in the footsteps of underwhelming NCAA Tournament performances in the past, the Wildcats finally were able to shut down the doubters. In a game that was hotly contested the entire way, with neither team ever holding a double digit lead, Villanova used big runs in the middle of each half to keep the #1 overall seed Jayhawks at bay. It was a 13-0 run in the middle of the first half that gave the Wildcats a 9 point lead with under 5 minutes to go in the first half. In the second, Villanova responded to Kansas taking their largest lead of the game with a 10-0 run to take back a 5 point edge. In a game in which Kansas star forward Perry Ellis scored just 4 points, the Jayhawks relied heavily on the guard trio of Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, and Wayne Selden to carry the load. They answered the bell, cutting the deficit to 2 with under a minute to play. But on the ensuing possession, Graham dove to the ground to grab a loose ball but was whistled for his 5 foul for tripping Josh Hart. Villanova made all 6 of their free throws down the stretch to seal the deal. 

Looking ahead to the matchup between these 2 teams, I think it will come down to stopping Buddy Hield. I don’t think that their is a single team in the country who can beat Oklahoma when Buddy Hield scores like he did last night. For Villanova to knock off the Sooners, they’ll need to hold Buddy in check.  

Sweet Sixteen Preview: Which Teams Will Take the Next Step Towards the Final Four?

By Kevin Sweeney

Thursday night, the NCAA Tournament will resume with 8 teams in action as part of the Sweet Sixteen.  8 more will play on Friday.  As the stakes rise, here’s my preview of all 8 games to be played in the Sweet Sixteen.

Miami vs Villanova: Thursday at 7:10pm

This game should showcase some of the best guard play the tournament has to offer.  Villanova’s duo of Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart will be matched up with Miami’s Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan.  The roads to get to this point have been much different, as Villanova blew out each of its first 2 opponents, while the ‘Canes have been forced to work in wins over Buffalo and Wichita State.  I feel that this game will come down to which team’s supporting cast plays better.  Both sets of guards will get it done, but is someone like Kris Jenkins for Villanova or Tonye Jekiri for Miami is able to have a big game, they will put their team at a huge advantage.

My Pick: Miami

Texas A&M vs Oklahoma: Thursday at 7:37pm

Following a miracle come-from-behind win over Northern Iowa, Texas A&M seems like a team of destiny.  However, they now have to deal with the best player in the country in Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield.  A dominant scorer and lethal outside threat, Hield will demand constant attention from the Texas A&M defense. The Sooners will need Hield to carry them in this one, especially if guys like Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins aren’t making their shots.  If the Aggies can shut down the Oklahoma supporting cast, they have an excellent chance to win.

My Pick: Oklahoma

Maryland vs Kansas: Thursday at 9:40pm

So far this tournament, the Terrapins have shown signs of brilliance and signs of mediocrity.  Against 2 mid-major opponents, the Terps have dominated one half and have been outplayed in the other.  For them to knock off the overall #1 seed Kansas, they will have to put it all together.  Personally, I think that Maryland matches up well with the Jayhawks, as Maryland has lineups to offset the versatility of this Kansas team.  To pull the upset, they will need Melo Trimble and Jake Layman to come up big.  After struggling with his shot towards the end of the season, Trimble has heated up in his 2 games in the Big Dance.  Layman must provide some shooting as well as defense against Wayne Selden and possibly Perry Ellis.

My Pick: Maryland

Duke vs Oregon: Thursday at 10:07pm

In this matchup, one thing that concerns me for both teams is depth.  Both teams are basically 7 deep, so foul trouble could easily become a big factor.  If Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram are hot for the Blue Devils, they are very difficult to beat.  However, Duke struggles defensively, and relies heavily on Allen and Ingram for production. Oregon is better defensively and has more balance on offense than the Blue Devils.  It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke win this one, but I think that Dillon Brooks’s versatility will give the Blue Devils fits and earn the Ducks a spot in the Elite Eight

My Pick: Oregon

Iowa State vs Virginia: Friday at 7:10pm

This game will be all about contrasting styles.  Virginia and Tony Bennett’s heralded pack-line defense is all about keeping opponents under 60 points and slowing the tempo.  However, Steve Prohm’s Cyclones want the game to be fast-paced and high scoring.  Neither team has a ton of size, but it will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers match up point forward Georges Niang, who plays like a guard with forward height.  Malcolm Brogdon is probably too small,  but Anthony Gill might be an interesting matchup for Niang.

My Pick: Virginia

Wisconsin vs Notre Dame: Friday at 7:27pm

Both teams are coming off of thrilling buzzer-beating victories over the weekend. For Wisconsin, Bronson Koenig hit a fall-away 3 as time expired to upset Xavier, while Rex Pflueger had the game-winning tip-in with 1 second to play against Stephen F. Austin. The point guard matchup in this one should be awesome, as Koenig matches up with 2nd-team all-ACC performer Demetrius Jackson.  Both teams come with the experience of a deep tournament run last season, making this game one to watch.

My Pick: Wisconsin

Gonzaga vs Syracuse: Friday at 9:40pm

Both of these teams have been extremely impressive in their first 2 NCAA Tournament games.  The Bulldogs handled Seton Hall before dominating Utah in the second round.  While Syracuse did avoid Michigan State, they won in blowout fashion in each of their first 2 games.  What makes this matchup so intriguing to me is how Gonzaga will attack the Syracuse 2-3 zone.  While big men Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis are capable of scoring from the high post, the Bulldogs lack good guard play.  For Gonzaga to reach the Elite Eight, they will need one of their guards to step up to open things up on the inside.

My Pick: Gonzaga

Indiana vs North Carolina: Friday at 9:57pm

Indiana seems like a team on the rise. After easily beating Chattanooga, the Hoosiers knocked off rival Kentucky to reach their first Sweet Sixteen since 2013.  An interesting factor for the Hoosiers will be the performance of OG Anunoby.  Despite averaging under 5 points per game in the regular season, Anunoby has scored 13, 14, and 7 in his last 3 games.  He has also made an impact on defense, averaging 2 steals and 2 blocks per game in that span.  He may be the piece that puts the Hoosiers over the top against a North Carolina squad led by player of the year candidate Brice Johnson.  If Anunoby continues his strong play, and players like Yogi Ferrell have big games, the Hoosiers have an excellent chance to knock off the Tar Heels.

My Pick: Indiana

 

Syracuse Pulls Away to End Middle Tennessee’s Cinderella Run

By Kevin Sweeney

You can debate whether or not Syracuse should have even made the NCAA Tournament. 

Whether they deserved to be there or not, the Orange now seem to be playing their best basketball of the season, and after another strong performance, are headed to the Sweet Sixteen. 

Syracuse pulled away in the second half to easily knock off Middle Tennesee 75-50 Sunday night in second round action in Saint Louis, Missouri. Michael Gbinije led the way for the Orange with 23 points. 

After a quick start set the tone for MTSU in their upset win over Michigan State, Syracuse made sure to keep the Blue Raiders from gaining momentum early in this one. The Orange ran out to a 24-12 lead just over 10 minutes into the contest and seemed in control in the early going. It was senior guard Trevor Cooney who led the early push, knocking down 3 3-pointers. However, the upset-minded Blue Raiders weren’t ready to go away. They finished the half on a 9-3 run to close the gap to just 4, despite leading scorers Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts combining for just 3 points in the half. 

The Blue Raiders used the momentum from the end of the first half to make first run in the second half. A 3 from Potts gave MTSU their first lead since 5-4 with 18:33 to go in the ballgame. That’s when Syracuse made their closing push. They went on a 21-2 run spanning nearly 10 minutes to put the game away. It was the Orange’s patented zone defense that set the tone for the run. The length and athleticism of the Syracuse players bothered the Blue Raiders, especially Gbinije at the top and forward Tyler Lydon down low. Gbinije had 3 steals, and Lydon swatted 6 shots. The run was too much for the Blue Raiders to recover from, and Syracuse cruised down the stretch to a 75-50 win. 

Syracuse advances to take on 11th seeded Gonzaga on Friday in Chicago, Illinois. For Middle Tennessee, the season may be over, but the future is bright. They should return their top 2 scorers next season with the experience of an NCAA Tournament run. 

The Impact of a Historic Friday at the NCAA Tournament

By Kevin Sweeney

There were upsets.  Buzzer-beaters. Comebacks. Elation. Agony. And of course, lots of busted brackets.

It was everything you could possibly ask for in one day of the NCAA Tournament.

Now, what do some of these outcomes mean for the rest of the Tournament? We examine that here.

The Favorite Bounced

A lot of people saw some big upsets coming, but no one saw this happening.  In perhaps the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, 15th seed Middle Tennessee State knocked off tournament favorites Michigan State 90-81 on Friday afternoon.  The Blue Raiders jumped out to a 15-2 lead and held off numerous Spartan comeback bids to send themselves to the Round of 32.  What does this mean? First, it means your bracket is busted.  On ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, over 22% of entries chose Michigan State to win it all, on the other hand, just 2.2% had them losing to MTSU.  It also makes Virginia the favorite to reach the Final Four.  Between Michigan State and Purdue going down in the first round, the 2 most difficult match-ups for Virginia are out.

Hellish Week for Cal Ends in Upset Loss

In the week leading up to the NCAA Tournament, a team hopes to have as few distractions as possible.  For Cal, the opposite occurred.  An assistant coach was fired for sexual harassment, leading scorer Tyrone Wallace was injured and ruled out for the entire tournament, and on the morning of the game, Jabari Bird was ruled out with back spasms. What resulted was a loss to Hawaii in which the Warriors led for the majority of the game.  Cal wasn’t helped by foul trouble for Jaylen Brown, who had just 4 points and fouled out with around 5 minutes to go. Hawaii now takes on a Maryland team who struggled down the stretch and survived a comeback to beat South Dakota State.

Stephen F. Austin Makes a Major Statement

Coming in, we knew that the match-up between Stephen F. Austin and West Virginia would be fast-paced and full of turnovers.  After all, they stood 1 and 2 in turnovers forced per game in all of college basketball.  What we didn’t know was that the Lumberjacks would beat, and for some periods, dominate the Mountaineers at the style they are known for.  The Lumberjacks turned the ball over just 7 times against the vaunted West Virginia press, and on the other end, scored 29 points off of 22 West Virginia turnovers.  A huge game from Thomas Walkup, who scored 33 points and grabbed 9 rebounds last night, led the way for Stephen F. Austin, who will meet Wisconsin the Round of 32.

Is Northern Iowa the Team of Destiny?

Paul Jesperson hit a half-court heave as time expired to send Northern Iowa to the Round of 32 with a win over Texas.  It’s the second straight game that Northern Iowa won at the final buzzer.  With a match-up with Texas A&M looming, the Panthers have their hands full, but with a player of the quality of Wes Washpun, UNI has a chance in every game they play in.

Yale Upsets Baylor Behind Mason’s Huge Game

By Kevin Sweeney

Makai Mason had a career-high 31 points as Yale held off late-charging Baylor and earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament win, 79-75, on Thursday afternoon in a first round matchup in Providence, Rhode Island. The win sets up Yale for a second round matchup with Duke on Saturday. 

The first half opened with Baylor in control, running to an early 15-9 lead. The 3 point ball was flowing in the early-going for the Bears, as they knocked down 3 triples in that 15-9 start. That seemed to spell trouble for Yale, who knew they couldn’t allow a 3-point barrage if they wanted to pull the upset. However, Mason took control of the game, turning the tides in favor of the Bulldogs. Overall, Mason had 17 of the Bulldogs’s 39 first half points to help turn the early 6 point deficit into a 5 point halftime lead for Yale. 

Often, players come into a big game with their emotions running too high. It is always essential that players control their emotions in these big games. While Baylor seemed tense and on the edge the entire ballgame, Yale seemed cool and collected. At one point, Baylor stars Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, both seniors, got into a physical altercation during a timeout. 

On the other hand, the level-headed sophomore Mason kept Yale composed, even as Baylor made a huge push down the stretch. “I tried not to get too high or too low.” Mason said. 

The second half went opposite to the first half. It was Yale who drew first blood in the second, extending their lead to double figures for extended stretches in the middle of the second half. Baylor, trying to avoid a first round exit for the second year in a row, started to turn things around. Jonathan Motley and Prince keyed the run, as Baylor was able to trim an 11 point deficit with under 6 minutes to play to just 2 with 1:12 to play. The Baylor full-court press bothered Yale. However, Mason was rock-solid from the foul line, 11-11 on the game, and Baylor turned it over with 2.2 seconds to go with a chance to tie or take the lead, and Yale escaped with the upset with. 

Prince led the way for the Bears with 28 points. Motley added 15, and Ishmael Wainwright stuffed the stat sheet with 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. 

For Yale, Justin Sears supported Mason’s monster game with 18 points. Brandon Sherrod added 10 points and sealed the deal with 2 free throws in the closing seconds. 

Yale will play Duke for the second time this season. In the first meeting, Yale lost 80-61 but trailed by just 2 at halftime. Duke provides a much different challenge than Baylor, as Duke’s guard play is the key, compared to Baylor’s size.