When Western Kentucky fired Ken McDonald on January 6th few envisioned the young Hilltoppers earning a bid to the NCAA tournament. But they did just that, beating North Texas 74-70 in the Sun Belt title game.
1. Another team playing their best basketball at the right time is Detroit, who pulled away to beat top-seed Valparaiso on the Horizon League title game.
Ray McCallum Sr.'s Titans struggled offensively in the first half of thir contest with top seed Valparaiso, shooting just 29% from the field. But they trailed by just three points thanks to their effort on the defensive end, forcing the Crusaders into 11 first half turnovers. Things would change for Detroit in the second half, as Ray McCallum Jr. took control of the contest and as a team the Titans shot 57.7% while limiting Valpo to 31.8% from the field. The end result was a 70-50 win for Detroit, who has now won ten of their last eleven games heading into the Big Dance.
McCallum Jr. finished with a team-high 21 points to go along with six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Jason Calliste added 17 points and LaMarcus Lowe 14 and ten rebounds, and three of Valparaiso's four best players were kept in check. Will Bogan, Ben Boggs and Erik Buggs combined to score just five points, shooting a poor 1-for-12 on the night. Depending on their seed Detroit is more than capable of throwing a scare into a high seed, and with the amount of talent at McCallum Sr.'s disposal it likely wouldn't be a stunner if they were to pick up a win next week.
2. South Dakota State caps the five-year trek with an NCAA bid, beating Western Illinois in overtime to win the Summit League.
To become a full-fledged Division I member schools have to go through a five-year provisional period, meaning that while they can compete in conferences and win regular season titles they're ineligible to compete in NCAA championship events. That five-year wait for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits was likely a rough one in that regard, but they were able to make up for Nate Wolters' off night to beat Western Illinois 54-52 in overtime.
Wolters shot 5-for-22 from the field, 4-for-17 from beyond the arc due in part to WIU's play defensively. But others stepped up, most notably Griffin Callahan, as he scored ten points and grabbed six rebounds to help lead the charge. If the Jackrabbits are to have any shot at a tournament win next week Wolters will need to have one of his best games of the season, but it will help matters if his teammates take advantage of their opportunities as well.
3. Princeton knocks off rival Penn, which gives Harvard their first NCAA tournament bid since 1946.
Rivalry games with a title on the line can be tricky affairs, especially if one team no longer has a shot at the title. That's exactly what Penn had to deal with on Tuesday night, as they visited rival Princeton looking for the win that would result in sharing the regular season title with Harvard and setting up a one-game playoff. Penn came out of the gatest slow, scoring just 17 points in the first half of what would become a 62-52 Princeton win. Zack Rosen scored 19 points to lead the Quakers, but he also had seven turnovers. Shooting would be the bigger issue for Jerome Allen's team as they shot 38.6% from inside of the arc, squandering an opportunity to take advantage of 20 Princeton turnovers. Add in a nearly unstoppable Ian Hummer and it becomes rather simple to figure out why the Crimson were able to wrap up an outright Ivy League title despite not playing. .
1. Day one at the Big East Championship didn't provide much in the way of drama as all four games were decided by at least 14 points. But most importantly both Connecticut and Seton Hall advanced, and they'll both have good opportunities for quality wins on Wednesday. UConn, who beat DePaul 81-64, takes on eight seed West Virginia in the first game of the day. Seton Hall will look to follow their 79-47 win over Providence with a win over seven-seed Louisville, and it's safe to say that both the Huskies and Pirates need to do the bare minimum and keep winning.
2. The home teams held serve in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament, with all four winning to advance to Atlantic City. This development also set up what will be a huge quarterfinal between four-seed Xavier and five-seed Dayton, as both teams are in serious need of wins at this point. The Flyers beat 12-seed George Washington 67-50, limiting the Colonials to 17 first-half points.
3. The fans will get what they wanted to see in the Big Sky: round three between regular season champion Montana and runner-up Weber State, as both won their semifinal matchups on Tuesday night. Mathias Ward scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Grizzlies' 74-66 win over Eastern Washington but it was Kareem Jamar who left his fingerprints all over the game, accounting for 18 points, 13 rebounds and two steals. Damian Lillard put up 22 points, four assists and four steals to lead Weber State to a 69-63 win over Portland State. The home team won both meetings during the regular season, but that tends to go out of the window in tournament finals.
4. Back to the Big East for a second, as it is important to point out how critical the offseason will be for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights ended their season with a 70-49 loss to Villanova on Tuesday, and while the addition of Kansas State transfer Wally Judge will help those youngers who were thrown into the fire this season need to improve if Mike Rice's team is to make a move in the Big East.
5. A lack of familiarity can spark some interesting (and unexpected) happenings, which was the case in Florida A&M's 74-72 win over Coppin State in the first round of the MEAC tournament. FAMU trailed 43-28 at the half and by six with 4:38 to go, but an 11-3 run put the Rattlers in the driver's seat. The only other lower-seeded team to win in Winston-Salem was Howard, who beat North Carolina A&T 51-50 on a Calvin Thompson layup with 46 seconds remaining