NIT Wednesday Recap: Bonaventure Bounced

By Kevin Sweeney

With 7 games in total tonight in the NIT, here’s a look at some of the results from today’s first round action. 

Wagner Upsets Saint Bonaventure

Wagner advanced to the second round of the tournament with a win over #1 seed Saint Bonaventure. They ran out to an early lead despite dueling a sellout Bonaventure crowd, as they led 40-26 at half. The Bonnies refused to go down without a fight, pushing back the entire second half to cut the deficit to 2 points with just 2:36 to go. Then, the Seahawks made a strong closing push to take control. Romone Saunders knocked down a dagger 3 to stretch the Wagner lead back to 5. The Seahawk defense did their job, and Wagner was able to hold on for a 79-75 win. They will take on Creighton next. 

Monmouth Advances With Hard-Fought Win Over Bucknell

Justin Robinson had 23 points to lead the way as Monmouth fought off a pesky Bucknell squad to earn a second round appearance in the NIT. With Monmouth coming off the disappointment of being snubbed from the NCAA Tournament, there were questions as to what mentality the Hawks would have coming in. Monmouth seemed energized and excited to be playing, but still had to beat a tough Bucknell squad. The pesky Bison challenged the Hawks, trailing by just 6 at halftime. They continued to stick with Monmouth, but going down the stretch, Monmouth pulled away. They went on a 13-5 run to stretch their lead to 14 and seal the deal. They advance to play the winner of Hofstra and George Washington. 

10 Mid-Major Players to Watch in the Big Dance

By Kevin Sweeney

It’s been said that stars are born on the biggest stage.  This is true with March Madness.  A player who is unknown by most people can burst onto the scene with a big game in the NCAA Tournament.  Here’s a look at 1o players that the world will be talking about this weekend.

1. A.J. English-Iona

English can flat-out score. The senior guard leads the way for an Iona team who is matched up with a beatable Iowa State squad in the first round.  He averages 22.4 points, over 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per contest.  A finalist for the Jerry West Award given to the top shooting guard in the nation, English is a lethal 3-point threat who once made 13-19 from 3 point land in one game. If hot, English could help the Gaels make some noise in the Big Dance.

2. Thomas Walkup- Stephen F. Austin

Walkup is the leader of an experienced Stephen F. Austin team making its 3rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance.  This kid does it all, averaging over 17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game.  He is the heart of a swarming SFA defense that forces over 18 turnovers per game.  The Lumberjacks will face a tough West Virginia team in the first round.

3. Jameel Warney-Stony Brook

For Stony Brook to have a chance to knock off Kentucky, they will need a huge day from Warney.  The senior center averages a double-double with nearly 20 points and 11 rebounds per contest. He had a monster performance in the America East Championship game, putting up a career-high 43 points. He has to anchor the post against a tall Kentucky squad for the Seawolves to have a chance in this one.

4. Marvelle Harris- Fresno State

Harris is one of the more prolific scorers in the country.  The Mountain West Player of the Year, Harris averages over 20 points per game and recently became the school’s all-time leading scorer.  He is also an excellent distributor, as he leads his team in assists per game.  Harris is the type of explosive player that can single-handedly lead his team to March Madness glory.

5. Joel Bolomboy-Weber State

Bolomboy is a BEAST in the paint.  He puts up nearly 13 rebounds per game, a number that puts him near the top in the country.  he is also great at getting to the free throw line, as he attempts over 6.5 free throws per game.  He isn’t just a post player, as he has the ability to stretch the defense from outside as well.  For Weber State to pull a monumental upset, Bolomboy will have to have a great night.

6. Justin Sears- Yale

The back-to-back Ivy League Player of the Year, Sears is the driving force behind a Yale squad making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1962.  The senior forward averages 15.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this season.  Sears, along with front-court teammate Brandon Sherrod, will be instrumental in their upset bid, as they are taking on a team in Baylor with a lot of size up front.

7. Stefan Jankovic- Hawaii

Jankovic is one of the most versatile players in the tournament.  A 6-11 forward, Jankovic can rebound like a forward and stretch the floor from downtown.  This combo of size and skill makes him a match-up nightmare, even against major conference foes.  In a game this season against Oklahoma, Jankovic put up 17 points as the Rainbow Warriors took the Sooners to the final buzzer.  Against Cal, Jankovic must lead the way if Hawaii wants to shock the world.

8. Wes Washpun- Northern Iowa

Washpun is a dynamic point guard with a flair for the dramatic.  He hit a buzzer-beater to send the Panthers to the Big Dance.  2 of his best games this season came when the Panthers pulled shocking upsets of UNC and Iowa State earlier this season.  In the Iowa State game, he set career highs with 28 points and 11 assists.  Don’t put it passed Washpun to put up another huge game in the Big Dance and make the Panthers the Cinderella’s of the entire tournament.

9. Quinton Chievous- Hampton

He may be undersized at just 6-6, but Chievous is a ferocious rebounder and scorer for the Pirates.  He averages 17 points and 11 rebounds per game.  He has put up some monster games, including a 29 point, 23 rebound performance against Winthrop as well as a 21 point, 19 rebound game against Delaware State.  He also brings the experience of a previous NCAA Tournament appearance, in which he had double-doubles in both games.  Even though he was outsized drastically by Kentucky, he still put up 22 points and 10 rebounds.

10. Carrington Love- Green Bay

Love is the leader of the highest-scoring offense in the NCAA Tournament.  His 17.7 per game paces Phoenix attack, which averages 84.4 points per game.  He is an electrifying 3-point shooter, knocking them down at a 35% clip despite being the focal point of the opposing team’s scouting report.  He has had games with 8, 6, and 5 3’s made this season, with 8 against Youngstown State, 6 against Stanford, and 5 against Wisconsin.  He will need to be hot from downtown if the Phoenix are going to make their stay in March Madness an extended one.

Note: I didn’t include Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet, Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer, or anyone from the Atlantic 10 on this list because they wouldn’t exactly be bursting onto the scene.

 

Once Again, Committee Shows No Love For Mid-Majors

By Kevin Sweeney

Monmouth. Valparaiso. San Diego State. Saint Bonaventure. Saint Mary’s. 

These teams all didn’t get in on Selection Sunday. Instead, the selection committee once again rewarded middling high-majors with bids over the top mid-majors who got bounced in their conference tournament. 

We always hear the lip service from the committee about “total résumé”, “strength of schedule”, and “challenging non-conference slate”.  Teams from mid-major leagues get such few chances to bolster their résumés. However, Monmouth did everything they could in the non-conference, playing at UCLA, at USC, at Georgetown, as well as neutral site games against Notre Dame, Dayton, and USC (again). They went 4-2 in those games. Yet the committee chose to keep the Hawks out of the field, instead putting in Vanderbilt, Michigan, and Tulsa. Vanderbilt lost 13 times this season. Michigan was a middling team without quality wins who knocked off Indiana in tournament play and was rewarded with a bid. Tulsa was seen as out after losing to Memphis, yet were still put into the field. 

What is perhaps the most frustrating thing for mid-majors is the stinging reality that the regular season doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who you play, who you beat, or how well you play all season. If you don’t win the conference tournament, you are nothing in the eyes of the committee. 

The committee sent a clear message to mid-majors tonight: they don’t care about you. They will still reward high majors because of their strong résumés. I feel that it is unfair to simply compare résumés between mid-majors and high majors. Majors get more opportunities, so their résumés will always be better. The committee needs to look at the eye test and see that mid-majors can easily play at the highest level. 

Isaiah Whitehead Leads Seton Hall to Big East Crown

By Kevin Sweeney

Isaiah Whitehead had 26 points, including a huge 3-point play with 18 seconds to play, to help Seton Hall earn a 69-67 win over Villanova Saturday night in the Big East Championship Game at Madison Square Garden. The win gives Seton Hall their first Big East title since 1993 and their first NCAA tournament berth since 2006. 

After a hot start helped the Pirates to an upset over Xavier last night, Seton Hall ran out to yet  another flying start to take momentum right away. Villanova sustained the first Seton Hall push, but the Pirates began to break away during the middle stages of the half. A 13-4 run culminated by a 3 by senior guard Derrick Gordon gave the Pirates a 32-21 lead with 5:14 to go in the first period. Seton Hall extended their lead to 12 by the end of the half, putting the top-seeded Wildcats on upset alert. 

However, Villanova quickly cut into their deficit in the second half, as another 3 by Kris Jenkins, who knocked down 5 triples on the night, evened the score at 50 with just under 10 minutes to play. The teams traded punches for the next few minutes, with Villanova earning their first lead of the half on another 3 by Jenkins with 52 seconds to go. Whitehead just wouldn’t go away, finishing an impossible 3-point play through contact to give the Pirates a 1 point lead with just 18 seconds to go. Villanova had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds, but were unable to capitalize, and it was Seton Hall’s turn to celebrate. 

“When I wake up tomorrow, it’ll probably hit me. But I’m just enjoying the feeling right now. It’s amazing.” a jubilant Isaiah Whitehead said. “It’s like picture perfect.”

Both teams are in position to earn good seeds in the Big Dance. The Pirates should be in the 4-6 range in terms of seeding. The Wildcats still have a chance for a 1 seed, but may drop down to the 2 line with today’s loss.  

Warney’s Monster Game Sends Stony Brook to the Big Dance

By Kevin Sweeney
Jameel Warney had a career-high 43 points as Stony Brook came back from a 15 point second half deficit to beat Vermont 80-74 in a Saturday matinee at IFCU Arena. The win earns the Seawolves their first NCAA tournament berth in program history. 

The first half didn’t exactly go as planned for Stony Brook. After taking an early 15-10 lead, Vermont, despite foul trouble, went on a 16-5 run to quiet a raucous sold-out crowd. While Stony Brook leaned heavily on their superstars in the first, Vermont was able to thrive on balance. Stony Brook had just 3 players score in the first half, while Vermont had 8 players tally points in the period. The half ended with Vermont on another big run, 11-2 this time, to set a halftime score of 36-27 in favor of the Catamounts. 

With Stony Brook’s struggles in previous years in the conference championship, it seemed important that the Seawolves start the second half strong to ease the thoughts of “Is this happening again?” from entering their minds. However, the upset-minded Catamounts continued to give Stony Brook all they could handle, extending their lead to 15 with just 15:17 to go. However, Stony Brook seniors Carson Puriefoy and Warney just wouldn’t let the Seawolves go away. Warney put on a clinic down low, establishing excellent position and finishing strong. Puriefoy injected energy with some clutch 3’s to swing the momentum back to Stony Brook. The Seawolves took their first lead of the game on a Warney free throw with under 6 minutes to go, but the Catamounts weren’t done yet. They responded with a pair of 3’s to push their lead back to 4 points. Warney just refused to lose, however. He scored 10 points in the final 4:09 of the ballgame to help the Seawolves pull away and take the win. 

“I don’t think we ever thought we were out of the game. We had great resolve. I’m just extremely proud of this group.” Puriefoy said. For Puriefoy, the win must have been extra sweet, as his missed free throws last year kept Albany alive before Peter Hooley’s well-publicized shot sent the Danes to the Big Dance. 

Puriefoy had 23 points, and Lucas Woodhouse, who scored just 2 points, was instrumental in getting the ball down low to Warney. He had 8 assists in the contest. Vermont’s balanced attack was led by Trae Bell-Haynes’s 17 points and Ernie Duncan’s 11. 

The Seawolves are positioned to receive a 12-13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Don’t be surprised if they pull an upset next weekend. Vermont will likely be invited to a postseason tournament like the CBI or CIT. 

UCONN Outlasts Cincinnati in 4OT Thriller

By Kevin Sweeney

There have been some crazy games this year in college basketball. This one may have been the craziest.

UCONN, who was projected to miss the NCAA Tournament with a loss today, survived 4 overtimes to knock off Cincinnati in a quarterfinal matchup in the AAC Tournament. Daniel Hamilton had a career day for the Huskies, scoring 32 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and adding 8 assists.

With the stakes high for both teams, it was Cincinnati who came with the hot hand early. The Bearcats took an 11-4 lead in the opening minutes and didn’t look back for the rest of the half, as they led all the way. UCONN at one point cut the deficit to just 4, but a quick 9-0 run by the Bearcats quickly quieted a fairly large UCONN fan contingent. The first half ended with Cincinnati up by 9, and UCONN knowing that they had to make a push to keep their season alive.

The second half opened in a much different way than the first. This time, it was UCONN who made the first push. The Huskies went on a 16-2 run to take a 4 point lead with 11:00 to go in the ballgame. UCONN maintained this lead until around the 4 minute mark, when Troy Caupain took over for the Bearcats. He scored 6 of the half’s final 11 points to help the Bearcats overcome a seven point deficit and send the game to overtime. Caupain had a shot to win the game as the clock ran out, but he couldn’t get it to fall.

The overtime periods were full of drama and suspense. In the first overtime period, defense was the story. Both teams surrendered just 5 points each, with UCONN only having one player score. That player was Hamilton, who really controlled the game in overtime. Caupain once again had the final shot, but his 3 rimmed out and the game was headed to a second overtime.

In the beginning of the second overtime, it appeared that Cincinnati was ready to pull away. They owned a pair of 4 point leads in the period. However, UCONN center Amida Brimah scored the next 4 points to even the score once again. Caupain finished an acrobatic left-handed floater with 15 seconds to play to give the Bearcats a 2 point lead. Then, UCONN guard Jalen Adams threw a wild layup high off the window and in with 6 seconds to go. Caupain had another crack at a game winner, but his shot bounced off the back iron and fell harmlessly to the floor to force a third overtime period.

The third overtime will be the one that people talks about for a long time, the one you’ll surely see on SportsCenter. It first seemed as though the heroics of Cincinnati junior guard Kevin Johnson. Johnson, who had scored just one point the rest of the game, knocked down 2 HUGE 3’s in the final 1:17 seconds, including what appeared to be the game winner with just 0.8 seconds remaining. However, the Huskies threw the ball in quickly to the fearless freshman Adams, who sent the entire viewing audience into a mix of shock and jubilation by sinking a 3/4 court shot as the buzzer sounded. After review, the referees upheld the bucket to send the game to a 4th overtime.

Shots like that one by Adams are what make March Madness unlike any other time of year. UCONN coach Kevin Ollie, when asked about the shot by Adams, said “That’s legendary stuff. That shot’s gonna be talked about for a long time.”

The Huskies seized all the momentum after Adams’s rediculous shot, as they controlled the 4th overtime from the get-go. Adams and Hamilton dominated the period, making big shots and knocking down clutch free throws. The Bearcats received no real offensive contributions from anyone other than Caupain.

The Huskies survive to earn a huge semifinal matchup with top-seeded Temple tomorrow. While not a lock by any means, the win by the Huskies is a huge step in reaching the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats are also on the bubble, but Still have a good enough resumé that they should reach the Big Dance.

Holy Cross Culminates Cinderella Run With A Patriot League Championship

By Kevin Sweeney

No one saw this one coming.

The Holy Cross Crusaders earned their fourth road win in the conference tournament with a 59-56 win over Lehigh to win the Patriot League Tournament and earn a trip to the Big Dance.

Entering the conference tournament with just 10 wins on the season and the 9th seed in the tournament, the Crusaders weren’t given much of a chance to come out of the tournament victorious. But in 8 days, the Crusaders went on the road 4 times and knocked off higher seeded opponents, including tonight’s thriller over Lehigh, who had won 11 straight prior to tonight.

Holy Cross was able to quickly quiet a raucous Lehigh crowd with a strong start. The Crusaders shut down the potent Lehigh offense with a 1-3-1 zone that seemingly confused the Mountain Hawks. The Crusaders held Lehigh to just 14 first half points and when all was said and done owned a 25-14 lead  at halftime.

In the second half, Holy Cross repeatedly held off strong pushes from the Mountain Hawks. Senior forward Tim Kempton cashed in on 3 3-point plays in the second to keep cutting into the Lehigh deficit. However, the Crusaders knocked down big 3 after big 3 to hold onto the lead. It was junior Malachi Alexander who led the way, scoring 26 points on the game, including knocking down 6-7 from downtown. An Alexander 3 gave the Crusaders a 10 point lead with 4:26 to go. Lehigh refused to go away however, using an 11-2 run to cut their deficit to 1 with just 1:21 to go. Alexander just wouldn’t let the Crusaders lose, as he scored the team’s final 9 points.

Despite Alexander’s strong play, the Mountain Hawks had multiple chance in the closing seconds to send the game to overtime. Lehigh got off 4 3-points shots on their final possession that would have evened the score, but couldn’t capitalize, leaving Lehigh stunned and Lehigh euphoric.

Overall, it was hot 3-point shooting that allowed the Crusaders to pull the upset. They made 11-29 from downtown, well over their season average of just over 7 per game.

The Crusaders are likely headed to Dayton, Ohio to participate in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. Should they win in that game, they will get the chance to become the first 16 seed to knock off a 1 seed. Lehigh likely isn’t done, as they should receive interest from postseason tournaments such as the CBI, CIT, or Vegas 16.