Sunday, March 12, 2017

SMU: 2016-17 American Athletic Men’s Basketball Champions


HARTFORD, Conn. -- Sterling Brown scored 18 points to help send No. 12 SMU streaking into the NCAA Tournament with a 71-56 victory over No. 15 Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Sunday.

Tournament MVP Simi Ojeleye added 14 points, Jarrey Foster had 13 and Ben Moore scored 12 for Mustangs (30-4), who won their 16th straight game and second AAC title in three years. The Mustangs took the championship in 2015, but missed last year's postseason under NCAA sanctions.

Jarron Cumberland had 14 points to lead Cincinnati (29-5), which has not won a conference title since capturing the Conference USA crown in 2004.

SMU started the year 4-3, but has reeled off 26 wins in 27 games. They went 17-1 to win the league's regular-season title, with the only loss coming by two points at Cincinnati in January.

The Mustangs never trailed in this one. They shot 50 percent from the field and made 10 of their 19 shots from 3-point range.

Brown scored six points to spark SMU on a game-opening 11-2 run. A 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer by Ben Emelogu from just inside the midcourt logo gave the Mustangs a 32-23 lead.

It was the lowest scoring first half of the season for the Bearcats.

Cincinnati made just one of its first 15 shots from the field, shot 34 percent for the game and missed 20 of 24 shots from behind the arc.

SMU hit four of its first five 3-point attempts in the second half to extend a nine-point lead to 17 at 48-31.

BIG PICTURE

SMU: The Mustangs have more wins than any team in program history. They have won six straight AAC Tournament games and were hoping for their highest NCAA Tournament seed in 12 trips. SMU was seeded fourth in 1957, fifth in 1985 tournament and received a sixth seed in 2015 after winning the AAC Tournament in Hartford.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats will be heading to the NCAA Tournament for a seventh straight time. They one of just seven teams in that position (Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina, VCU and Wisconsin).

UP NEXT:

SMU and Cincinnati both await their NCAA Tournament seeding.

Michigan: 2016-17 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Champions



Michigan won the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament on Sunday, capping a four-game run to the finish by beating Wisconsin, 71-56, in Washington, D.C. It comes on the heels of a season in which Michigan wasn’t that good and a week that started with what could’ve been a devastating plane crash. Now the Wolverines are champions.

Their plane to Washington last Wednesday was blown off the runway in Ypsilanti, Mich., causing a scare but thankfully no debilitating injuries. The Wolverines arrived in Washington a few hours before beating Illinois by 20 points in their first-round game on Thursday, which they had to play in practice uniforms.

Then the No. 8 Wolverines kept winning: by four points in overtime against top seed Purdue, by seven against No. 4 Minnesota, and then in the final against No. 2 Wisconsin. They were the lower seed in the last three games.

Michigan was an underdog, not because of its travel nightmare but because of its season before that. The Wolverines were 10-8 in Big Ten play in the regular season, and they spent much of the year looking like a fringy NCAA tournament team. But they turned things on a bit in the last month of the regular season, and they should head into the Dance with tons of confidence.

The championship game came down to Michigan’s efficient offense. The unit’s been one of the best in the country all year, even as the defense has often lagged. Against Greg Gard’s elite Wisconsin defense, Michigan shot 55 percent from the field. Veterans Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, and D.J. Wilson had strong scoring afternoons, and Wisconsin’s offense didn’t have the juice to keep pace with them.

The Big Ten had a weird, mostly bad year. It didn’t have a single elite team, with the possible exception of the Purdue team that lost its first tournament game to Michigan. It didn’t have a serious national player of the year candidate, and it often felt like there was no difference between the second- and eighth-best teams in the league. After this tournament, it’s still hard to peg the NCAA prospects of so many.

But none of that’s on Michigan. The Wolverines were an ordinary Big Ten team with a great offense in a down Big Ten year, and they emerged when nobody else did. This four-game tournament run should go down as one of John Beilein’s most impressive coaching jobs yet in Ann Arbor.

Conference results don’t mean anything in the NCAA tournament. But I wouldn’t want my school to play Michigan later this week, and I suspect you wouldn’t, either.

Troy: 2016-17 Sun Belt Men’s Basketball Champions



NEW ORLEANS -- Jordon Varnado had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Troy defeated Texas State 59-53 in the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Sunday at Lakefront Arena.

The sixth-seeded Trojans (22-14) advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 after winning their third game in three days and fourth in the tournament.

The fourth-seeded Bobcats (20-13) defeated top-seeded UTA 83-62 in the semifinals.

Troy never trailed in the game after pulling even at 9-9, though the score was tied twice in the second half.

Varnado scored 10 straight points for the Trojans as they took control with a 57-50 lead with 14 seconds remaining.

Wesley Person, who was named the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament, scored 16 points and Jeremy Hollimon had 15 for Troy.

Kavin Gilder-Tilbury led Texas State with 19 points, scoring 16 in the second half.

Troy, which led the Sun Belt with 305 3-pointers, won despite making just 1 of 17 3-point attempts.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: The Trojans enter the NCAA Tournament with momentum after beating the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds in a three-day stretch.

Texas State: The Bobcats, who dominated a short-handed UTA team in the semifinals, could never get any consistent offense going against Troy.

UP NEXT

Troy: Waits to hear its destination, seeding and first opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

Texas State: Was hoping to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997, waits to hear whether its season will be extended by an invitation to another postseason tournament.

Kentucky: 2016-17 Southeastern Men’s Basketball Champions



De'Aaron Fox scored 18 points, and No. 8 Kentucky won its third straight Southeastern Conference Tournament championship by beating Arkansas 82-65 on Sunday in Nashville, Tenn.

The Wildcats (29-5) added their 30th tournament title all-time to their 48 regular season championships in convincing fashion.

The Razorbacks couldn't string together points the way they usually do, not with Kentucky answering every big bucket with its own run. The big spurt came as Kentucky scored 13 straight points to end the first half and into the opening minute of the second that turned a three-point lead to a 46-30 edge.

Arkansas (25-9) fell to 1-6 in this championship, having lost to Kentucky for the second time in three years.

The game got very chippy inside the final couple minutes after Arkansas hit six straight shots, the last a 3-pointer by Jaylen Barford, to pull within nine for the only time in the second half.

Dusty Hannahs was given a flagrant foul for knocking Kentucky guard Dominique Hawkins to the court with his forearms, then Moses Kingsley went to the locker room with 1:02 left for his physical foul of Fox in the paint.

Kentucky finished by outscoring Arkansas 9-1, the final points a 3 by Fox.

Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo each finished with 17 points, and Hawkins added 14 for Kentucky.

Daryl Macon led the Razorbacks with 18 points, Hannahs had 14 and Barford 13.

Kentucky started much quicker than the Wildcats have in recent games, never trailing by more than two in a fast-paced first half that featured four ties and six lead changes. Arkansas last led at 18-17 midway through the half before Monk scored to put Kentucky ahead for good.

When Macon hit a 3-pointer with 3:33 left to pull Arkansas within 33-30, the Wildcats took over.

Derek Willis hit Kentucky's first 3-pointer after the Wildcats missed their first four, Hawkins followed with another and Mychal Mulder beat the buzzer with a 3 for a 42-30 halftime lead.

Adebayo started the second half with two free throws and a layup to push Kentucky's lead to 16 points. The Wildcats pushed that to as much as 19 to finish off another title.

Rhode Island: 2016-17 Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Champions



The Rhode Island Rams are dancing after beating VCU, 70-63, in a game they never trailed. They take the Atlantic 10 tournament title and the NCAA tournament’s automatic bid that comes with it.

Get to know guard E.C. Matthews as the sentimental star of this team, recovering from a torn ACL last year to have a nice comeback campaign. Hassan Martin is great in the middle as an enforcer, and URI blocked seven VCU shots during the win.

The last time Rhode Island won the A-10 tournament, they did so in dramatic fashion in 1999, when Lamar Odom pulled up with this shot at the buzzer to send URI to the dance.

There’s an argument that URI didn’t necessarily need to win this game to get into the tournament, but it certainly makes for a much more comfortable selection show and a much easier week for the team. Our resident bracketologist, Chris Dobbertean, had the Rams in the First Four, which would mean a play-in game in Dayton before the first round. But auto-bids that don’t get a No. 16 seed earn the right to not be in the First Four.

As far as VCU goes, they’re still a fairly safe bet to make the tourney. Our bracketologist currently projects them as a No. 8 seed.

Rhode Island’s auto-bid might cause some hand-wringing among other bubble teams, though — not that URI cares.

Princeton: 2016-17 Ivy League Men’s Basketball Champions



Hopefully the Princeton fans and players like to dance, because the Tigers punched their ticket to the biggest one in the nation.

Princeton defeated Yale by a score of 71-59 in the inaugural Ivy League tournament game behind an energetic crowd filled with a majority of fans clad in the iconic black and orange. The Tiger players and fans alike celebrated the win as the clocked ticked to zero, storming the court and shooting off confetti as Princeton punched their ticket to their first NCAA tournament since 2011.

It wasn’t a picture perfect game for the Tigers by any means. Princeton started off slow on offense as the Yale defense forced plenty of early turnovers and airballs. After senior Steven Cook’s turnaround jumper in the first 15 seconds, the Tigers would wait nearly four minutes to score their next field goal – a tip in by freshman Will Gladson at the 15:36 mark.

But the Tigers knew, as they have all season, that their defense would always keep them in games. Having one of the top defenses in the Ivy League all season, the Tigers put that on display here, preventing Yale from ever getting any sustained success on offense. Highlighted by Cook’s emphatic dunk on an attempted Yale lay-up, the defense held serve until the offense found their rhythm and took this game over.

The offense found its rhythm at the 11:40 mark when junior Amir Bell connected on a mid-range jumper to end another scoreless drought. The Tigers followed this up with a three-pointer by Cook to give the Tigers a 14-11 lead. A few minutes later, Cook would strike again, elevating high to slam the ball in and force a foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Yale would strike back, taking a 26-24 lead late in the first half, but Princeton would right the ship and reclaim the lead heading into halftime up 31-29.

In the second half, the Tigers smelled blood in the water and relentlessly attacked the Bulldogs. What ensued in the second half was a three-point clinic by the Princeton offense. A corner three from Cook put the Tigers up six at the 17:41 mark and forced Yale into a timeout. Sophomore Devin Cannady would later connect with his own three from NBA range. Sophomore Myles Stephens had a three-point play of his own driving to the basket and generating the foul on a nice layup. Gladson would add another three at the 8:05 mark, putting the Tigers up 58-45. Yale would have one final run in them midway through the second half, but a deep three by Stephens put him over 20 points for the game and took the life out of the Bulldogs.

The Tigers overcame some serious foul trouble throughout the game. Bell picked up two fouls earlier in the game and Cook picked up four in the game. Yale was in the bonus early and often but could not find the bottom of the basket, converting less than 70 percent of their free throws. On the other hand, Princeton wrapped up this game making their free throws and by the final minute were receiving endless standing ovations from the crowd.

Despite a valiant effort from Yale’s Sam Downey, the star of this game is Princeton's Stephens. The Princeton star showed why he was the defensive POY for the Ivy League and finished with 23 points, showing his offensive prowess as well. Complimenting him on the scoreboard were Cook and Cannady who both had double-digit points. But make no mistake, this was a team effort like it has been all season, and as a team they will celebrate.

The Tigers overcame a slow start and roared their way to a decisive Ivy League tournament title. They will indeed be dancing – we will find out where and against who later tonight.

Congratulations to Yale on an incredible season of their own right. But this day has – and forever will – belong to the Princeton Tigers. A wire-to-wire conference season and the second-longest winning streak in the NCAA.

It doesn’t get any better than this.