UMBC Becomes First 16 Seed to Take Down #1

It’s finally happened. Never before had a 16 seed defeated a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Since 1939, we’ve had scares, we’ve been told teams that could pull it off, but we’ve never seen it. Until now. The University of Maryland- Baltimore County just changed history. After knocking off the Virginia Cavaliers 74-54, UMBC will forever be in the history books.

This was Virginia’s year. Tony Bennett’s team went from unranked to the best in the nation, and many thought Bennett was the sure fire coach of the year. One loss does not take away from the season the Cavaliers had. It was one of the best years in school history. When they got to the top of the AP Poll this season, it was the first time since 1982 they were #1. They were still outright ACC champions, and sat atop the poll for most of the year. With guys like Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and DeAndre Hunter back, they’ll find their way towards the top of the conference again next season.

UMBC may never win a national championship, but they will be talked about for the rest of time. The world now knows the name Jairus Lyles, just a guard from Silver Springs, Maryland. The senior who was absolutely electric, finishing with 28 points. Basketball junkies knew about Lyles, who took over the American East Conference tournament. Vermont fans hate Jairus Lyles, who drained a three pointer at the buzzer to win the American East championship. Now everyone knows the name Jairus Lyles. Everyone knows UMBC.

16 seeds often start out games playing 1 seeds tough. We even see games tight at the half, sometimes into the second half. This game was different. After a tied score at half, UMBC came out more confident. They came out and punched Virginia in the mouth, and UVA had no response. You could sense the feeling in the building beginning to shift, even if you were just watching from TV. The Retrievers took a 16 point lead midway through the second half and the dream started becoming a reality. You can say Virginia was without freshman DeAndre Hunter, a player who became crucial to them. But the Cavaliers were simply outplayed tonight. It’s that simple.

This NCAA Tournament is different than any other tournament. It’s historic. For Virginia, it’s a history lesson they would like to soon forget. For UMBC, it’s something they will never forget. No one will. This is the best time of year, and it’s not a debate.

Previewing the Big Ten Conference Tournament

Most conferences are wrapping up regular season play this week. The Big Ten, however, conference tournament action begins this week. 14 teams will try to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. If you’re Michigan State, Purdue Ohio State and Michigan, you don’t need to win the tournament to ensure your trip to the big dance. For anyone else, winning the conference tournament is pretty much the only way to guarantee a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s break down the Big Ten tournament and see what to expect.

Bubble Teams

Nebraska and Penn State have some work to do if they want to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. The Cornhuskers are the 4th seed in the Big Ten tournament, and were in line with an NCAA bid, until they lost to Illinois ten days ago. Up until then, Nebraska had not had any bad in conference losses. The loss to Illinois, coupled with St. John’s and UCF, leaves Nebraska in need of some wins to make themselves feel more comfortable on Selection Sunday. They’ll have a chance to pick up a big win against Michigan, assuming the Wolverines can beat the winner of Iowa/Illinois.

For Penn State, they can hang their hat on a season sweep of Ohio State. Unfortunately, they have dropped three straight to end the regular season, moving them more off than on the bubble. If the Nittany Lions can beat Northwestern in their first game, they’ll have a chance for a third straight win against Ohio State. A win here would get them back in the discussion, but anything less will probably have them NIT bound.

Can Purdue Regain Form?

The Boilermakers looked like one of the best teams in college basketball for much of the regular season. They owned a 19 game winning streak, including wins over Arizona, Butler, Louisville and sweeps of Maryland and Michigan. Carson Edwards looked fantastic and Isaac Haas was superb in the middle. A three game losing streak, and uninspiring wins against Penn State and Illinois brought the perception of Purdue down a little bit. After such a good season, they amazingly enter the Big Ten tournament a bit under looked as the #3 seed. Can Purdue get back to their midseason form in time for the tournament?


The Big Ten had a down year this season. They didn’t get any help with Minnesota, Maryland and Northwestern not meeting preseason expectations, for various reasons. The top of the conference is strong though. All four tournament locks have a chance to make at least the Elite Eight, if not the Final Four. This could set up for a very entertaining semifinal and final.

There is potential for a Michigan vs Michigan State rematch. The Wolverines topped the Spartans at their place earlier in the year. Ordinarily you would expect a Tom Izzo coached club to get their revenge in March, but this has been such a dysfunctional year that I’m going to pick Michigan to win again. Michigan State looks to be clicking, so of course they’ll lose right before the tournament. That’s just how this season has gone.

The Wolverines I think will meet Purdue in the Big Ten final. I don’t think Indiana, Minnesota or Rutgers will pose much of a threat to Purdue, even though 2/3 of them played them tight this year. It will set up a great semifinal against Ohio State, and this time I expect Purdue to get their revenge on the Buckeyes. A last second put back by Keita Bates-Diop took down the red hot Boilermakers back in early February. I think Purdue takes care of business in the rematch.

And I’m going to predict Purdue to win. I’m buying “low” on this team right now. This was one of the hottest teams in college basketball at one point this year. A mediocre couple of weeks made a lot of people jump off the band wagon. I think Carson Edwards makes a name for himself at MSG and I think Purdue will be your Big Ten champions. Selection Sunday is ELEVEN days away. It’s starting to get real.

Major Changes on the Horizon in College Basketball

College basketball as we know it could soon be changing. What has been one of the crazier college hoops seasons in recent memory could quickly become overshadowed by an absolute bombshell of a FBI report. According to Yahoo Sports, material gained during this ongoing FBI investigation is so much it could “threaten the fundamental structure and integrity of the sport.” No one is sure how or when these findings will be released, but the teaser is alarming to say the least.

This just got much bigger than ten assistant coaches being arrested in late September. This is more than just a couple of players and schools being named in a few reports and wire taps. Remember the reaction when the Louisville news broke? Get ready to times it by one hundred. The FBI has over 4000 intercepted calls, in addition to bank records and other reports. And that’s just what we know.

We know they have information on top of information from Andy Miller, a former NBA agent. According to Yahoo’s Pete Thammel, the FBI has enough to potentially implicate 50 Division 1 programs. FIFTY. And no one appears to be above the law.

“Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible….”

Sunday night, CBS announced their top 16 seeds for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A number of those teams and players appear to potentially fall on this list of schools that would be subject to penalty. Imagine seeing a Selection Sunday without some of the best teams in the sport? Imagine seeing coaches who have walked a school’s sidelines for years not be there anymore? This could be a reality soon.

It’s not like these reports were ever earth shattering news to hoops fans. Accusations and rumors circulate all the time when a program lands a big time recruit. Whether it’s from an inside source, or a bitter rival on a message board, people are fast to say a school cheated when they land a top prospect. The difference now is there is evidence to support these claims.

It’s almost ironic if you think about it. News of a scandal first broke in September. What followed was one of the most unpredictable college seasons ever. It’s been such a wild year that many people forgot about the scandal, or at least pushed deep into the back part of their brains. This week we were reminded though that this investigation never went away. It’s here, always has been. And it’s going to be big.

Enjoy the next three weeks of college basketball. It may never be the same.

How Much Blame Should Bill Self Get in Last Night’s Kansas Loss?

Photo via 247Sports

In the week leading up to Kansas and Oklahoma’s Super Tuesday match up on ESPN, each team had different storylines. For Kansas, they took over sole possession of first place, something no one expected at the start of Big 12 play. For Oklahoma, they dropped two games, and the narrative was ‘Is Trae Young forcing too much?’ Both storylines changed Tuesday, when the Sooners topped the Jayhawks 85-80 in Norman.

Kansas held a 10 point lead with under 10 minutes to play in the second half. After a Svi Mykhailiuk made three pointer, KU looked to be in control. But then, Matt Freeman checked in. Freeman, a sophomore, plays 12 minutes for the Sooners, but he changed the game when he came on the floor. How does a player change the course of a game while finishing with zero points, zero assists and zero rebounds? He fouls. A lot.

Freeman fouled out in just two minutes of play, as Lon Kruger and Oklahoma resorted to the “Hack-A-Shaq” game plan on KU’s Udoka Azubuike. Seemingly unable to stop the Jayhawk offense, Kruger decided to make Azubuike, a 38% free throw shooter, beat them down the stretch. Azubuike went 1-7 from the line. That left the door for Christian James and Brady Manek to drain huge three pointers, and push Oklahoma to a win.

The loss gives the Sooners a much needed sigh of relief, but for Kansas, they are left with a sour taste in their mouths. Did Bill Self make the right decision to leave in his center during such a crucial situation? After the game, Self said it was not the right decision, but said it was a confidence move for his player. While a win would have set the Jayhawks up nicely for a 14th straight Big 12 title, I think Self made the right move in this scenario.

Defending the Head Coach’s Move

Kansas has a collection of experienced guards, and inexperienced post players. Azubuike, albeit a sophomore, only played in 11 games last season due to a hand injury. As a result, Self needs to know what he can get out of, basically his only legitimate post player, in crunch time. Azubuike leads the team in rebounding, and has has one of the highest field goal percentages in the country. He’s a guy you want on the court in end of game scenarios for a number of reasons. While winning the conference is great, coaches are judged, fair or not, by how they do in March. In order for Self to succeed in March, he needs to know how he can handle end of game situations with this KU team. It would be better to learn this lesson now than in March, right?

Aside from that, Self’s options were thin. Last night may have been an exception, as backup center Mitch Lightfoot had a strong game. But in general, Lightfoot is wildly inconsistent when he’s on the court. He can sometimes be soft down low, and doesn’t rebound as well as Azubuike. For a Kansas team that already struggles to rebound the basketball, you want your leading rebounder in there. With a lead and thing bench options, you want to leave in your leading rebounder and hope you can close it out on the defensive end. You would hope Azubuike would be able to at least split his free throws.

Lastly, as a coach, you want to show support in your players. I know at the end of the day, the goal is to win. It’s how coaches keep their jobs. But Bill Self isn’t going anywhere unless he chooses to. It benefits Kansas in the long run for Azubuike to know his coach and team have faith in him. You put faith in your player to keep his focus and confidence knowing his team is behind him. I know the results are not what Rock Chalk faithful wanted, but I believe it will help down the road.

Kansas still controls their own destiny in the Big 12. It would be great to be two games up over everyone in the conference, but they still rest at the top alone. They have that big win at West Virginia, something most teams will not get. This will be a game that stings KU and their fans right now, but it will be forgotten. It doesn’t compare to how badly those losses in March sting. And that’s what Self was playing for. Self’s decision last night, while playing a big hand in the loss, will help this Kansas team in a big game when the season is on the line.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Good News or ACC or Bad News For Big Ten

The ACC/Big Ten “Challenge” has been around for 10 years now. A non-conference event that matches up a Big Ten team against an ACC team so see which conference can take home the bragging rights. It’s a bit of a mismatch, as the ACC is typically the deepest conference in college basketball year in and year out. This year however was different. The ACC blew the doors off the Big Ten. This makes us wonder, is the ACC really that good? Or is the Big Ten worse than expected?

The ACC won the challenge 11-3, with the only wins coming from Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State. Otherwise, it was not close. There were moral victories, sure. Indiana went toe-to-toe with Duke for 35 minutes. It showed us a much different team than the one that gone manhandled by Indiana State at the beginning of the year. However, there were not many other positives to take away from this challenge for the Big Ten.

Minnesota, a favorite in the conference, lost at home, albeit to a good Miami team. Michigan got pounded by a Tar Heel team that was embarrassed by Michigan State a few days prior. Shows the gap between those two rival schools. NCAA Tournament hopeful Northwestern lost to Georgia Tech at the buzzer. Wisconsin managed just 37 points against Virginia’s defense. And the list goes on.

Is the ACC Good? Is the Big Ten Bad?

Such a lopsided result poses the question: Is the ACC that good, or is the Big Ten that bad? We knew the Big Ten was top heavy. Michigan State is a title contender, and Purdue and Minnesota are expected tournament teams. Outside that though, there are major question marks that were not answered. Michigan did not look capable of competing with top teams, Northwestern suffered its third non-conference loss, and Illinois lost to a struggling Wake Forest team. There’s not much to take away.

Don’t get me wrong, the ACC is tough. Duke, UNC, Notre Dame, Miami are VERY good. They will all sit around the top 15 much of the year, as will Lousiville. We learned Syracuse is more real than we thought, thanks to the emergence of Frank Howard. Virginia is Virginia, and their defense will have them dancing again. But outside them, who else is legit? Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech are not locks by any means. Wake Forest has had major struggles and Georgia Tech is still a question mark with their suspensions.

It’s not expected for the Big Ten to win this challenge. I’m not sure any conference can beat the ACC in this challenge. But the Big Ten’s inability to keep it close at all, shows there are major weaknesses in the conference. It’s possible we only see three, maybe four teams make the big dance come Selection Sunday.