What’s Trending: Let’s Dance…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 9th, 2020

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

After a January 18 loss at Boise State, Utah State’s record fell to 14-6 (3-4 Mountain West) with a NET Ranking of 83rd and any bubble hope seemingly out of reach. After a stretch of winning 11 of its next 13 games, however, Utah State found itself playing for a Mountain West title over the weekend against San Diego State. After a tightly fought second half, the Aggies had possession with the score tied and the clock winding down…

Sam Merrill’s game-winner was his sixth made three of the game. The star guard played every second of the game, scored 27 points and helped carry the Aggies right into the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. The senior averaged 27.7 points per game in the MW Tournament and is the type of player than can definitely wreck opponent’s dreams next week.

While winning the Mountain West title would have capped a tremendous pre-NCAA Tournament season for the Aztecs, Jon Rothstein outlines below why San Diego State’s loss could end up benefitting the team in the long run. The roughly 125-mile trip from Viejas Arena to Staples Center definitely beats the 2,800 miles between San Diego and Madison Square Garden (if the Aztecs had gotten the #1 Seed in the East Region).

Belmont last year made the NCAA Tournament in head coach Rick Byrd’s final season leading the Bruins. Entering the season, the school needed to not only replace Byrd, but also the team’s two-leading scorers — Dylan Windler (21.3 PPG) and Kevin McClain (16.8 PPG). New head coach Casey Alexander began the season with a shaky loss to Illinois State and an even more surprising defeat at the hands of SIU-Edwardsville, but things started to click by OVC play. Down a point to Murray State on Saturday, Belmont went to a program classic, the backdoor cut. Like last year’s team, the Bruins are dancing.

The opening week of the conference tournaments would not truly be “mad” without “Arch Madness” — and the 2020 version of the Missouri Valley Tournament did not disappoint.

After a 14-4 conference season, Northern Iowa opened the tournament against Drake, the same team that the Panthers had defeated by 27 points in the regular season finale. A career-best 26 points from Drake’s Roman Penn and a lackluster shooting day from Northern Iowa (5-of-25 3FG) were too much for the top seed to overcome. The Panthers certainly made history, but it was not the history they were hoping to make.

Northern Iowa’s first round exit was matched by #2 Seed Loyola (Chicago). With both teams out of the tournament early, the door was opened for another team to grab the league’s automatic bid. That eventually would go to defending MVC Tournament champion Bradley. Brian Wardle’s squad now enters the dance with its three leading scorers all averaging more than 10 points per game and having played in last year’s NCAA Tournament against Michigan State.

The 2020 Big South Championship went to Winthrop on Sunday — a group that beat Saint Mary’s earlier this season and was competitive in losses against East Tennessee State and Duke as well. In the Big South title game, Winthrop was led by DJ Burns‘ 16 points off the bench. The freshman has split time in the starting lineup and as a reserve this season, but he is capable of scoring in bunches whenever he is on the court.

The Atlantic Sun Tournament experienced little surprise at the top as Liberty won three straight home games to clinch a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Much like last year’s team, the Flames play at a snail’s pace, do not turn the ball over, and shoot the ball extremely well. Liberty’s Caleb Homesley was the Atlantic Sun POY, averaging 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in league action.

By finishing in third -place in the WCC standings, Saint Mary’s had to play in the WCC Tournament quarterfinals over the weekend. The Gaels led by as many as 13 points in the second half, but the play of Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross (43 points) forced the Gaels into a double-overtime thriller. Saint Mary’s also got 42 points from Jordan Ford, which will now take on BYU in the semifinals while Gonzaga looms on the other side of the bracket.

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League play in the Big East this season has been its usual bloody battle. The race for the top spot came down to the final day with Creighton hosting Seton Hall and emerging with a 77-60 victory. The Bluejays have earned the #1 Seed in this week’s Big East Tournament…

The home victory also gave Creighton a chance to celebrate afterward, as it was the team’s first Big East title since joining the league seven years ago. While work remains to be done, celebrating at home made sense…

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That is, unless you asked Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. After the game, Willard said, “I’m really pissed off that people are cutting down the nets and my guys are down there [in the locker room].” If these teams were to meet again in the Big East Tournament, Kevin Willard will definitely be reminding his players about this.

UCLA had a chance to clinch a share of the Pac-12 title if it could beat USC over the weekend. In an offensively-challenged slugfest, the Bruins had a one-point lead with just nine seconds to go. USC gave the ball to Jonah Mathews — who earlier in the game had became the school’s all-time leader in made three-pointers — which proved to be the right move…

Kentucky’s week began with a game in which it blew a 17-point second-half lead at home to Tennessee. By the end of the week, the Wildcats were celebrating a win against Florida in a game in which Ashton Hagans was left in Lexington and Tyrese Maxey missed 10 of his 11 field goal attempts.

Welcome to March!

Matthew Eisenberg (110 Posts)


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