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The Morning Dish – Sunday, March 15, 2015

March 15, 2015 The Morning Dish No Comments
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Unwatchable? In a state of crisis? We challenge anyone who watched even a little bit of the college basketball action on Saturday to come to those conclusions about this sport.

While college basketball certainly has areas with room for improvement-and indeed, sometimes is not pretty-the fact is the product still provides consistent drama-and we haven’t even started the NCAA Tournament. Contrary to some of what you hear, the sport is not dying. College basketball still delivers, over and over.

This was proven again so many times on Saturday, a day packed with action from coast to coast. Great stories were everywhere, so abundant that it’s impossible to do justice to many of them. To pick out a few of them:

  • The America East final brought us a buzzer-beater as well as the many emotions of Championship Week all wrapped up into one game. Albany got a three-pointer from Peter Hooley with just over a second left for a 51-50 win over Stony Brook. The story was well-shared yesterday: Hooley missed eight games in the middle of this season to return home to Australia to be with his mother Susan, who passed away from colon cancer in January. It was an emotional win for the Great Danes…and almost equally emotional loss for the Seawolves. Stony Brook now has lost in the tourney final four times in five years-and was defeated in the semifinals as the tourney’s top seed in the other year-and is still searching for its first NCAA Tournament bid. The Seawolves played a superb game for 39 minutes, answering every time Albany threatened, but were aced out by a shot that will live on in conference tournament lore for a long time.
  • To settle its regular season tie for the title, the Ivy League held a winner-take-all final game for its automatic bid, and Harvard edged old rival Yale 53-51 as Steve Moundou-Missi hit a jumper with 7.2 seconds left for the winning points. The Crimson will appear in its fourth consecutive NCAA tourney, while the Bulldogs are left to think about just how close they came. Yale just needed to defeat 14-14 Dartmouth in its season finale to clinch the regular season title outright, but it’ll be at least another year until it can break what is now a 53-year NCAA Tournament drought.
  • Most of the news from UAB the past several months has been about the controversial shutting down of its football program, so some deserving sunshine was received when the Blazers won a surprising Conference USA Tournament final. Notably wearing jerseys that said just “Birmingham” on them-still wondering if the school’s athletic department thinks it was hosed by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees?-UAB defeated Middle Tennessee State 73-60 to win a very unlikely NCAA bid. CBS’s Seth Davis said it best when noting that when he saw the Blazers at the Battle4Atlantis in November, he never could’ve imagined them as an NCAA tourney team. UAB was terribly young and not very good at all to start the season. As much as perhaps any team in the country, the Blazers have come a long, long way this season.
  • Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt is 63 years old, and he will get to the NCAA Tournament as a head man for the first time after a 45-43 win over San Diego State in the Mountain West final. There were few better moments in the day than when Shyatt made a point to find wife Pam just a few moments after the buzzer, motioning her down to the court and trying to get her past a security guard. She was finally allowed through and the two engaged in a happy embrace. Making it all the sweeter is that Shyatt will get to go to the tourney at the school that gave him his first coaching job in 1997-98, and where he returned in 2011-12. The NCAA Tournament will be better with Larry Nance Jr. in it, and the Cowboys are in the tourney for the first time since 2002.
  • You like comebacks? Notre Dame trailed North Carolina by nine midway through the second half, then went on a 26-3 run to win the ACC Tournament for the first time with a 90-82 victory. Iowa State was down 17 early in the second half but put together one of it what are becoming patented comebacks, outscoring Kansas 47-26 the rest of the way for a 70-66 Big 12 Tournament title. And Eastern Washington trailed Montana on the road by nine with 4 1/2 minutes left but finished on a 17-4 run for a 69-64 win in the Big Sky Tournament final. That was just in championship games; VCU trailed 16-4 early on before coming back to roll Davidson 93-73 in an Atlantic 10 semifinal, Connecticut trailed by eight with under four minutes left before finishing on a 14-1 run for a 47-42 win over Tulsa in the American Athletic Conference semifinals, and Michigan State rallied from a 17-point deficit to top Maryland 62-58 in the Big Ten semis.
  • Bobby Hurley is going back to the NCAA Tournament, this time as the coach of the University of Buffalo. The Bulls out-bombed the three-point bombers from Central Michigan, hitting 10 three-pointers in an 89-84 win in a wonderfully entertaining MAC Tournament final for the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. All five starters scored in double figures for a Buffalo team that is going to be a very tough out in the tourney.

Conference Tournament Wrap-Up:

  • AAC: Top seed SMU rolled again, taking care of Temple 69-56 in the first semfinal. It should be little surprise to anyone that Connecticut is the other team in the title game. That the Huskies are there is a testament to what happens when a team stops playing offense. The Golden Hurricane led by eight with under four minutes to play but went into too much of a stall, and paid for it dearly. Most likely, Tulsa is headed to the NIT. Hoopville’s Phil Kasiecki has been at the American tourney with reports the past few days, including this one on UConn.
  • Atlantic 10: VCU will face Dayton in the championship game after the Flyers defeated Rhode Island 56-52 in the second semi. CBS will love that title game. How close was URI to making the NCAA Tournament? Of the Rams’ nine losses, six are by five points or less and a combined 18 points.
  • Big East: Villanova is the king of the conference this year in every way and showed it once again in a 69-52 win over Xavier in the tourney final. At 32-2, the Wildcats seem primed for a deep run in the NCAAs.
  • Big Ten: It seems like Michigan State is always in the tourney final, and the Spartans are there again. They’ll meet Wisconsin, which trailed Purdue at the half but dominated the second half to win 71-51.
  • Big West: At last, UC Irvine is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. The Anteaters recovered from a slow start to stop Hawaii 67-58 in what was a very entertaining tourney.
  • MEAC: Hampton is headed to the NCAA Tournament with a 16-17 record after pulling away for an 82-61 win over Delaware State in the championship game. The Pirates were one of the league favorites coming into the season but didn’t play like it until March.
  • Pac-12: Arizona overwhelmed Oregon 80-52 in the title game. A big-time statement by the Wildcats before the NCAA tourney.
  • SEC: The early rounds were dominated by upsets, but the title game now will leave us with the SEC’s top two teams. Kentucky is now 33-0 after a 91-67 win over Auburn, while Arkansas slogged through a 60-49 win over Georgia in the second semifinal.
  • Southland: No reason to worry about Stephen F. Austin as an at-large candidate, as the Lumberjacks took care of Sam Houston State 83-70 in the tourney final.
  • Sun Belt: Georgia State gained some revenge for its tourney final loss to Louisiana-Lafayette last year, holding off the Ragin’ Cajuns 83-79 in a semifinal game. Georgia Southern won the second semi, 44-43 over Louisiana-Monroe in another of those ugly games we saw too much of Saturday.
  • SWAC: No automatic bid was on the line, since Texas Southern already had clinched it due to Southern’s ineligibility for the postseason, but this one was a typically spirited SWAC battle. TSU trailed 58-56 with under a minute left but pulled out a 62-58 win, in part due to a Flagrant 2 foul call in the final minute that resulted in ejection of the Jaguars’ Tre’lun Banks on a breakaway layup.
  • WAC: New Mexico State was the class of the conference all year, and the Aggies proved it in the conference tournament again, handling Seattle 80-61. NMSU will be an underdog in the tourney again, but has the size to cause problems.

Side Dishes:

  • Oliver Purnell is leaving DePaul after five years trying to turn around the Blue Demons. Purnell finished his tenure in Chicago with a 54-105 record. It briefly looked for a time this year like his team was making a turnaround, but DePaul finished the season losing nine of its final 10 games. Hopefully Purnell catches another job, as he is an up-tempo coach whose teams play a style worth watching. (For a list of all of this year’s coaching changes click here.)

Today’s Menu: The final day of conference tournament action includes five final NCAA automatic bids to decide

  • AAC: Sixth-seeded Connecticut takes on SMU (3:15 p.m. EST, CBS). If there was ever a path for a lower seed to win its conference tourney, the Huskies have it here.
  • Atlantic 10: Fifth seed VCU goes against No. 2 Dayton in the final (1 p.m. EST, CBS).
  • Big Ten: Michigan State and Wisconsin meet in the championship game in Chicago (3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)
  • SEC: Kentucky’s last hurdle to getting to the NCAA Tournament undefeated is Arkansas (1 p.m. EST, ESPN).
  • Sun Belt: An intriguing final has Georgia Southern going against Georgia State (1 p.m. EST, ESPN2). The Panthers try to take care of unfinished business from last year, while the Eagles are searching for their first bid since 1992.

Enjoy your Selection Sunday.

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