Syracuse rallies to take down Arizona State

Syracuse rallied from a second-half deficit to take down Arizona State, 60-56, in a First Four game in Dayton on Wednesday night.

Arizona State had a chance to win, down by two, with under 10 seconds left as Shannon Evans II took a three-pointer from the corner but the shot missed. The Orange collected the defensive rebound and closed out the game with two Frank Howard free throws.

Syracuse (21-13) found themselves down 49-42 with 7:04 left but they made an 8-0 run to regain the lead. From there, the Orange relied on a great game from Oshae Brissett as the forward led Syracuse with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Brissett’s ability to create was one of the few bright spots for the Orange on offense. Tyus Battle (15 points) knocked down the go-ahead jumper with under two minutes left and Howard (12 points) also finished in double-figures for Syracuse while no other player on the team had more than five points.

The last team to get in the 2018 NCAA tournament, Syracuse gets the satisfaction of knowing that they at least proved critics wrong by winning this game and advancing to the next round. With the Orange’s length and ability to limit good looks, they could be a dangerous No. 11 seed if a player like Brissett or Battle gets hot.

Arizona State (20-12) shot 11-for-32 from three-point range (34 percent) and 3-for-10 from the free-throw line as their potent offense went cold at the wrong time. The Sun Devils averaged over 88 points per game entering the NCAA tournament but Arizona State was held to Syracuse’s slow pace.

The Sun Devils really struggled at times to crack the Orange’s 2-3 zone. Generating minimal offense outside of occasional three-point flurries, Kodi Justice (15 points) Shannon Evans II (14 points) and Tra Holder (11 points) were the only three double-figure scorers for Arizona State.

After a 12-0 start to the season that saw wins over No. 1 seeds like Kansas and Xavier, the Sun Devils barely got in the field and lost in the First Four. Arizona State went from a top-ten team to start 2018 to a team that lost six of their last seven games.

Syracuse advances to face No. 6 seed TCU in the Midwest Regional in Detroit on Friday. That game will tip at 9:40 p.m. EST and should be an intriguing first-round matchup. Although the Horned Frogs had a strong season, they’ve lost two straight games entering the NCAA tournament as they look susceptible to a potential upset.

Former President Barack Obama is going with Michigan State in the men’s bracket and UConn in the women’s bracket of the 2018 NCAA tournament.

Revealing his picks on Twitter and through the Obama Foundation website on Wednesday, Obama is hoping the Spartans make it back-to-back correct picks on the men’s side. Obama successfully picked North Carolina to win it all in 2017.

While Obama made the right call on the men’s side last year, UConn fell short in the national semifinals to Mississippi State. Going with the Huskies once again this season, Obama has the unbeaten No. 1 overall seed claiming the title.

In the men’s Final Four, Obama has the Spartans with the Tar Heels, Virginia and Villanova as he picked Michigan State to prevail over Virginia. For the women’s Final Four, Obama selected the Huskies to be with Mississippi State, Louisville and Notre Dame. Hoping UConn gets revenge, Obama has UConn beating Mississippi State for the title.

You can see all of Obama’s picks below or on the Obama Foundation website.

Texas Southern earned its first NCAA tournament win in eight appearances with a 64-46 First Four win over North Carolina Central on Wednesday night. The opening game of the second night of action from Dayton, the Tigers jumped out to an early double-digit lead and rode that until the end.

Sophomore point guard Damontrae Jefferson established himself early in the game with 17 first-half points as he finished with 25 points to pace Texas Southern. The flashy 5-foot-7 Jefferson became a favorite of local fans and announcers as he also hauled in eight rebounds.

The Tigers (16-19) showed a strong effort on the defensive end as big man Trayvon Reed was a presence at the rim with 10 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots. Senior guard Donte Clark also chipped in 18 points for Texas Southern. Sixth in the country in free-throw attempts at around 23 per contest, Texas Southern was 16-for-19 from the charity stripe.

The SWAC champions started the season 0-13 playing all road games against bigger conference opponents but now they have an eight-game winning streak following Wednesday night’s win. Texas Southern’s victory was also the first postseason win in school history as the Tigers were 0-9 including two NIT appearances.

North Carolina Central (19-16) was led by junior center Raasean Davis as he contributed a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds. The MEAC champions were the No. 6 seed entering the conference tournament before making a surprise run to the NCAA tournament. But the five-game winning streak was snapped for the Eagles as they lost in the First Four for the second consecutive season.

Ice cold from the floor, North Carolina Central was 0-for-14 from three-point range and only shot 30 percent (21-for-69) from the field.

Texas Southern moves on to face No. 1 seed Xavier in the West Region on Friday. That game will be a 7:20 p.m. EST tip in Nashville. The Musketeers will, quite obviously, be the heavy favorite in that one but it will be fun to see if Jefferson can keep the Tigers in the game after a brilliant opening-game performance.

Alabama junior big man Donta Hall is still day-to-day after suffering a scary fall during the SEC Tournament that led to him being under concussion protocol.

Hall was flipped and landed on the back of his head as he jumped early to contest a jumper against Auburn. The Crimson Tide were eliminated by Kentucky the next day when they played with him.

Head coach Avery Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that Hall still hasn’t been able to do much in practice. As of Tuesday, Hall was still only able to ride a bike and didn’t participate in basketball activities. Johnson said Hall is a game-time decision for Thursday’s NCAA tournament opener against No. 8 seed Virginia Tech and also said it was probably 60-40 right now for Hall’s status.

Hall has been an important piece inside for the Crimson Tide this season as he’s averaged 10.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while also spiking 2.1 blocks per contest as the team’s most effective rim protector.

It will be tough for Alabama to advance if Hall isn’t playing and productive, but Hall’s long-term health after a head injury is the most important thing to handle.

Kansas sophomore center Udoka Azubuike will be a game-time decision for the Jayhawks when they open the NCAA tournament on Thursday against No. 16 seed Penn.

The 7-foot-0 Azubuike has been out since last week with a left knee injury suffered during practice. Kansas won the Big 12 Tournament without its starting big man as Mitch Lightfoot and freshman Silvio de Sousa was effective enough to help the Jayhawks prevail.

But with the Ivy League-champion Quakers going 24-8, they aren’t a typical No. 16 seed. And Kansas isn’t in a position to lose like they theoretically could have last week. So Azubuike and the Kansas staff are optimistic that he can at least see a few minutes against Penn — especially if the Jayhawks need him in a tight game.

“We feel and the docs feel that he’s making unbelievable progress,” Kansas coach Bill Self said to reporters. “We do not want to have a setback. His availability (Thursday) will probably be a game-time decision, but certainly we feel he’s getting better each day, and each day certainly played out to be a pretty big improvement from a rehab standpoint.”

According to a report from Matt Galloway of the Topeka Capital-Journal, Azubuike wouldn’t comment when asked about a pain scale or how the injury happened in practice. Azubuike would like to try to see some action on Thursday, if only to help gain confidence for Saturday’s potential second round game.

Kansas would obviously love to have Azubuike in the lineup but they showed they’re still a top team without him by marching through the Big 12 Tournament. If Azubuike doesn’t play much during the Penn game, it might not mean much if the Jayhawks don’t need him. The subplot will come if Azubuike is prepared for the second round or if Kansas is in a tight game and needs him inside.


No. 12 DAVIDSON over No. 5 KENTUCKY: The biggest reason that I like this upset to happen is that Davidson runs an offense that is a nightmare to prepare for. If you talk to coaches in the Atlantic 10, that’s what they’ll tell you. And this Kentucky team, made up of all freshmen and sophomores that have never experienced an offense like this, are going to be asked to slow it down after learning about it for three days? We’ll see.

But the other side of this is that Davidson also has some talent. Peyton Aldridge is probably the best player — currently, as of today — that is going to be on the floor in this game while Kellan Grady is a freshman with NBA potential in his own right. This will be a fun game.

No. 12 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE over No. 5 OHIO STATE: There are four things that South Dakota State has going for them when it comes to picking upsets:

  1. They lead the nation in turnover percentage.
  2. They are top 20 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.
  3. They are top 30 nationally in three-point shooting percentage.
  4. They have Mike Daum, who is a matchup nightmare for the Buckeyes.

All the dots connect on this one.

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No. 11 LOYOLA-CHICAGO over No. 6 MIAMI and No. 3 TENNESSEE: The Ramblers ended up with a pretty perfect draw for a team looking to make a run. They are a good defensive team going up against Miami in the first round while Miami will be without their best player. They can cut off penetration, and if you do that, you cut off Miami’s offense. Then they draw Tennessee, who is good but is certainly not unbeatable this season. They may be the best matchup for Loyola when it comes to a No. 3 seed. If there is going to be a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16, I think it will be the Ramblers.

No. 13 MARSHALL over No. 4 WICHITA STATE: This pick is relatively simple for me: Marshall run one of the wildest, most up-tempo offensive systems you’ll ever see. Wichita State really struggles to guard people. This is the kind of game that could end up getting played in the 80s or 90s, and if that is the case Marshall can absolutely win that.

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No. 9 ALABAMA over No. 1 VILLANOVA: The dots on this one connect. There are, essentially, two things that need to be done in order to beat this Villanova team: You have to be able to run them off of the three-point line and you need to have a dynamic playmaker at the lead guard spot to take advantage of some of their defensive deficiencies. The Crimson Tide are 13th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’re top 20 nationally in defensive three-point percentage. And they have this guy named Collin Sexton, who is pretty good.

Now, remember, Alabama still has to beat Virginia Tech first. And they are a team with 15 losses this season that didn’t play well away from home until those two games in the SEC tournament. But strictly from a strength-on-strength perspective, I think this matchup makes some sense.

No. 10 PROVIDENCE over No. 2 NORTH CAROLINA: Where North Carolina has a tendency to struggle is with ball-screen defense, and one of the things that Ed Cooley loves to do more than just about any other coach in the country is to … run ball-screens. Cooley’s proven his coaching chops over the years, and there aren’t many coaches out there who are better when it comes being able to scheme a way to get his playmakers in a position to, you know, make plays. Kyron Cartwright is that guy this year, and if the Friars can get past Texas A&M, this may be the matchup to look at when it comes to a No. 2 seed losing.

Keep in mind, in each of the last eight NCAA tournament, a No. 2 seed has failed to make it out of the first weekend of the tournament. Will North Carolina be this year’s victim?

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