O26 Game of the Week: VCU Visits Saint Louis in Defensive Clash

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Virginia Commonwealth (19-5) at Saint Louis (22-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game punctuates what could be a decisive week in the Atlantic 10. If VCU can take down George Washington on Wednesday night, it will claim sole possession of second place and remain just two games back of Saint Louis heading into Saturday. A victory would pull Shaka Smart’s club within a game of the top spot, setting the stage for a crucial rematch on March 1st; a loss would give the Billikens an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league, nearly guaranteeing a second-straight regular season title. And conference implications aside, this game offers each team—both stingy-defensive units with second-weekend potential—the opportunity to notch a resume-bolstering victory just one month out from Selection Sunday. A lot will be at stake in Chaifetz Arena.

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If last year was any indication, Saint Louis should have no problem handling VCU and its HAVOC defense, which is predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition. In their only regular season meeting of 2013, the Billikens—who run a slow-paced, ball-control offense—broke the Rams’ press time after time down the floor, committing just eight turnovers and getting countless easy looks under the basket. In turn, VCU was unable to get anything in the way of transition buckets—a huge problem against a dominant half-court defense adept at taking away the three point shot, the Rams’ next-best scoring method. Saint Louis coasted to a 14-point home victory in that one and validated it a month later in the A-10 Championship game, again staving off VCU’s pressure on its way to claiming the league’s postseason crown.

So, then, what hope could the Rams possibly have this year, on the road against virtually the same team? Well, for starters, the Billikens have been skating on the thin ice in recent weeks. Three of their last five games have been one possession contests in the final minute of regulation, including an overtime home victory over then-winless George Mason. They won all three—part of a current 16-game winning streak—but showed slight vulnerabilities on defense and at times struggled to score. If Saint Louis continues playing with fire, odds say it will eventually get burned. Plus, this season’s Billikens aren’t quite the offensive team they were a year ago (scoring at a modestly lower rate), and VCU is even better on defense. Anytime a middle-of-the-pack offense meets an elite defense, the former is probably going to have trouble at various points in the game. Of course, the same can be said for VCU’s offense and Saint Louis’ defense, but the point remains: the Rams certainly have a chance. And if they do manage to pull one out on the road, the A-10 will become a whole lot more interesting.

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O26 Game of the Week: MAC on the Line as Toledo Faces Ohio

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2014

As conference hierarchies begin taking shape and teams gear up for the stretch run, this week offers a whole host of compelling O26 contests that are sure to impact the picture come March. Let’s take a look at the most intriguing match-ups on tap.

Game of the Week

Toledo (17-2) at Ohio (14-5) – 1:00 PM ET, ESPNU, Saturday.

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

The Bobcats host the 17-2 Rockets on Saturday in a huge MAC tilt. (John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

Efficient offense meets stingy defense in what could very well be a preview of the MAC Championship game on March 15. After losing at home to a gritty, defensive-minded Bowling Green group last Wednesday night, Ohio again found itself in serious trouble at Eastern Michigan last Saturday, trailing by 13 points late and completely unable to generate baskets against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bobcats ripped off 20 points in the final eight minutes — including a 12-0 run to take their first and final lead — and stunned EMU to remain a game back of Akron for the MAC East’s top spot.  It was a big win for Jim Christian’s crew, but Saturday’s contest will be a different beast altogether.  For all of the conference’s tough defensive teams, Toledo is the stand-alone offensive power, ranking 11th nationally in offensive efficiency and featuring five starters each within the top 500 in offensive rating. That ability to score has helped the Rockets to a 5-1 conference record and a stellar 17-2 mark overall, among the best in the entire country.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Toledo, Jerrelle Benimon, UTEP & Chicago State…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 22nd, 2014

The rigors of conference play began taking its toll last week as several O26 league favorites discovered just how hard conference road games can be. Some teams dealt with these hurdles better than others, the results of which ranged anywhere from surprising upsets to crazy comebacks to clutch shots. Let’s pass out a few awards to the performers who handled themselves best during the O26 week that was.

O26 Team of the Week

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH)

In part thanks to some Juice Brown heroics, Toledo had an excellent week. (Jeremy Wadsworth/Blade)

Toledo. First it was the expected-but-still-disappointing loss to Kansas followed by a forgettable defeat at Western Michigan, and all of a sudden the Rockets — once unbeaten and the talk of the mid-major world — were in serious jeopardy of losing their groove. Some teams might have become deflated, lost confidence and continued to slide, but not Toledo. Head coach Tod Kowalczyk remained calm after falling to the Broncos, noting “We didn’t play well in two games all year. This is one of two… we’ll be fine.” His team has responded in similar fashion, handling Central Michigan with ease two Saturdays ago before collecting a pair huge wins this past week to remain the MAC West kings. First was a home contest against surging Buffalo, a squad on a four-game winning streak that looked poised to make it five in a row. The Bulls jumped out to a quick lead in the opening minutes that it wouldn’t hand over until midway through the second half, even then not backing down from the Rockets. A big reason for that was because Javon McCrea was his usual beastly self, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks and enabling his team to keep pace and ultimately knot things up at 59 with a minute and a half to play. But just when the game appeared to be headed for overtime, Toledo point guard Julius “Juice” Brown made the magic happen, capping off an eight-point, 90 second stretch by receiving the second pass off a full-court inbounds play, hoisting from just inside the arc, and nailing a buzzer-beater to win the game, 67-65. It was one of the most exciting finishes you will see all season and an emphatic completion to an important win for the Rockets.

Despite the mid-week heroics, though, it was Saturday morning’s match-up at Akron that was supposed to provide the drama, with two teams pegged to win their respective divisions in the preseason and each featuring first-team all-conference talent. But as the game wore on, it became more evident that this was not going to be the hotly contested battle many thought — Toledo thoroughly and resolutely outplayed the Zips for much of the 40 minutes, pounding them on both ends of the glass and putting the game completely out of reach midway through the second half. Brown finished with his second straight 20+ point outing, while former Ohio State forward J.D. Weatherspoon — who has emerged as a vital paint presence in recent games — scored 20 points and secured a game-high 14 rebounds. The win was something of a statement for the Rockets, an assertion of dominance over a club predicted by many to win the league and return to the NCAA Tournament this season. Now 15-2, Kowalczyk’s group has regained its status as one of the more dangerous non-power conference teams in America, a position it hopes to maintain through MAC play and into the postseason. The wins over Buffalo and Akron were key steps on that path and important demonstrations of resiliency, earning Toledo our award for Team of the Week.

Honorable Mentions: George Washington (2-0: vs. VCU, @St. Bonaventure); Towson (2-0: @Drexel, @College of Charleston); UTEP (2-0: @Middle Tennessee State, @UAB).

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Bracket Prep: Louisville, New Mexico, Ohio, & Mississippi Valley State

Posted by EJacoby on March 11th, 2012

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. In this post, we have your Big East, Mountain West, MAC, and SWAC conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.

Louisville

Peyton Siva was Named Big East Tournament MVP (AP Photo/F. Franklin)

  • Big East Champion (26-9, 14-8)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #18/#20/#18
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Louisville might be one of the toughest teams in America to project for the NCAA Tournament, by virtue of the fact that they’ve had such a schizophrenic season full of ups and downs. After winning 11 games in a row to start the season, the Cardinals then dropped five of seven. Then, after going on another hot streak to win six Big East games in a row, Louisville dropped four of its final six regular season contests before its most recent four-game surge to win the Big East Tournament. So which team should we expect to show up next week? The story will be told in the type of opponent that Rick Pitino‘s team draws.
  2. Louisville has almost no offensive firepower to speak of — six players average between nine and 14 points per game, but they can’t shoot straight (48% from two; 31% from three) and have trouble avoiding long scoring droughts — rather, the Cardinals have won 26 games through its exceptionally tough defense (ranked #2 in defensive efficiency). They cause over 15 turnovers per game and force teams into tough shots both on the interior and beyond the three-point line. In the Cardinals’ last 10 games, their opponent has only reached 60 points three times. It’s somewhat instructive, though, that Louisville went 6-4 in those games because they broke the 60-point barrier only four times themselves.
  3. We’d suggest that you be careful in presuming that a Big East Tournament champion is poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament just because they’re the Big East champion. Marquette was the only solid offensive team that the Cards defeated this week, and they’re likely to face teams that can really cause them some problems in the first two rounds. As a potential #4 or #5 seed, Louisville could be matched up against a dangerous team like Long Beach State (and Casper Ware) in the first game and a team like Creighton (and Doug McDermott) in the next round. While Pitino’s defense is likely to keep the Cards in either game, they’ll have significant trouble scoring enough points down the stretch to pull out a victory, while the other teams have players who can make plays. For that reason, this is a team that you’ll want to think carefully about putting deep into your bracket — the Cardinals can be successful playing other offensively-challenged teams, but those teams tend to not play very far into March and will be few and far between.

New Mexico

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ATB: Power Conference Round Up – All Leagues Now in Tournament Action, Big East Works Overtime

Posted by EJacoby on March 9th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime

Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)

The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
  • Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.

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ATB: Bids Earned From Montana to Brooklyn While Power Conferences Do Battle…

Posted by EJacoby on March 8th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. The Big East Tournament continued in the early afternoon, but nothing crazy has happened in New York City, yet, with all favorites moving on to Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Big 12 and Pac-12 tournaments also got underway on Wednesday, but all of the top seeds had byes until later rounds. The most exciting action once again took place in the smaller conference tourneys, providing more do-or-die action with Big Dance tickets on the line. We start with the best game of the night, which took place in the Patriot League:

Your Watercooler Moment. C.J. McCollum Outduels Mike Muscala for Lehigh Victory

C.J. McCollum Put the Team on his Back to Send Lehigh Dancing (Getty Images/R. Martinez)

The Patriot League final took place on #1 seed Bucknell’s court, and the home team’s star player went off for 30 points and 14 rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the conference’s leading scorer made a few more plays for the road team. C.J. McCollum, the league Player of the Year who put up ridiculous numbers this season, again ran wild for the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 29 points with five assists, three rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, doing it all for Lehigh including hitting 10-13 free throws with several of them in the final four minutes. Mike Muscala had a monster double-double for Bucknell, but he could not convert on the team’s final couple of possessions and didn’t get enough help from his teammates. Lehigh held on to win, 82-77, and is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Brooklyn Represents the Northeast Conference Once Again. LIU-Brooklyn is one of the highest scoring teams in Division I, and not even the NEC’s best defensive team could slow down the Blackbirds on Wednesday night. LIU defeated Robert Morris, 90-73, on Wednesday night to capture its second consecutive NEC title. The Blackbirds head back to the NCAA Tournament where they last were disposed of by North Carolina in a high-scoring round one game. Expect much of the same for an LIU team that has high-flying forwards (Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere each average about 17 points per game), but doesn’t play a whole lot of defense. The attacking style worked in the NEC, but could it work as a #15 seed in the NCAAs? Regardless, Brooklyn will be in the house for the Big Dance. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Madness Ensues During Four Classic Conference Tournament Finishes Monday Night

Posted by EJacoby on March 6th, 2012

Last Night’s Lede – Not a single power conference team played on Monday night and there were only 12 total games played, yet it ended up being one of the best nights of the entire season. Why’s that? Because it was the first full night of Championship Week, in which all games taking place from here on out will come during postseason tournaments. Monday saw four conference tournament finals take place – two at 7:00 PM ET, two at 9:00 PM ET – on ESPN or ESPN2, and each game came down to the final possession. The four championships were decided by 13 total points and included three overtime sessions. There was also important action taking place in other mid-major tournaments, so let’s jump right into it…

Your Watercooler MomentVCU Returns to the Tournament

Brad Burgess and VCU Shot Their Way Back to the Big Dance (Washington Examiner/L. Alvarez)

Last year’s unbelievable Cinderella story has guaranteed itself a place in the Big Dance once again this year. Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams were squarely on the bubble heading into Monday night’s CAA Tournament final, as was their opponent, Drexel. A hard-fought game in which VCU led by double-digits for much of the game wound up being close at the end and came down to the final possession when Drexel guard Frantz Massenat’s three for the tie hit the back iron. VCU earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and there’s not a single team in the bracket that wants to face Shaka Smart’s team in the first game next week. The Rams got 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals from Darius Theus while their star Brad Burgess had just six points. Drexel, which had just eight assists compared to 18 turnovers, now must sweat it out on Selection Sunday with a very strong conference showing but some weak overall profile numbers such as the #226 strength of schedule that won’t be pleasing to the NCAA Tourney committee. Don’t be shocked, though, if Drexel ends up making it so that you’ll see both of these teams playing again next week.

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Night Line: Ohio University and DJ Cooper Deserve Your Attention

Posted by EJacoby on December 21st, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

After another impressive road victory, it’s time to get Ohio University on the national radar. The Bobcats of the MAC improved to 10-1 with Tuesday’s night’s impressive win over Northern Iowa, another one-loss team coming into tonight’s game. Ohio entered the contest as six-point underdogs and left with a 17-point victory. They have now won road contests over Oakland, Marshall, and UNI, and they had a five-point lead at Louisville with under three minutes to play before poor execution down the stretch lead to a late loss. That near-upset remains the Bobcats’ only loss of the season. Ohio has passed all of its major non-conference tests with flying colors, and they certainly look the part of an NCAA Tournament team. Barring a stunning loss in one of their next three home games against weaker opponents, star point guard D.J. Cooper and his team will head into MAC conference play as the league favorite and with a good resume worthy of at-large bid consideration.

DJ Cooper and Ohio Are 10-1 and Nearly Got By Louisville (AP)

Ohio is led by the junior guard Cooper who simply does it all. The 5’11”, 165-pounder doesn’t have the physical make-up of a high major player, but he’s been as productive as any guard in the country. His playmaking skills on both ends of the floor have been remarkable. Cooper led the entire country in total steals as a freshman, not to mention finishing the season with a 13/5/6 APG average that season. As a sophomore, Cooper accumulated the second-most assists in the nation, dishing out 7.5 per game. He’s back at the task this year, contributing across the board with 14.6 points, 6.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. His one struggle is shooting the ball from deep, where he’s made just 30% of his career three-point shots despite attempting over five per game. If he were ever to cut down on his volume of deep shots, then we’d be looking at an even more dangerous player.

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Checking In On… the MAC

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2011

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the MAC. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Non-Conference MAC MVP? Miami (OH) may be mired at the bottom of the East Division with a 2-4 record, but it’s not because of Julian Mavunga. The 6’8’’ senior forward from Indianapolis is averaging nearly a double-double, and leads the conference in both scoring (21.5 PPG) and rebounding (9.8 RPG).
  • Western Michigan’s Rough Non-Conference Schedule: While the Western Michigan brass deserves some credit for scheduling a rigorous non-conference slate to steel them for the rigors of the MAC, they may have overdone it a bit. The Broncos are 1-7 and still have difficult road games left against Oakland and Duke before MAC play begins. WMU has lost to the likes of Gonzaga, Temple, Purdue and Detroit to start the season. Whether or not this helps them win the West remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the Broncos will almost certainly have to win the conference tourney if they have any Big Dance aspirations.
  • Northern Illinois is Awful: There’s really no polite way to say it.  New coach Mark Montgomery probably knew his squad was going to struggle in his first season, but he couldn’t have imagined dropping non-conference games to the likes of Utah Valley State and Nebraska-Omaha. There aren’t a lot of easy answers, either. The Huskies (0-7) are allowing more than 73 points per game and offensively are shooting a dreadful 35% from the field. To make matters worse, NIU turns it over 17 times per game. To be fair, the Huskies are very young. Five of NIU’s 10 regulars are true freshmen. Stud rookie Abdel Nader (10.1 PPG/3.9 RPG) has shown some early promise, but things are looking ugly in DeKalb.

Miami of Ohio's Julian Mavunga is Off to a Tremendous Start This Season (AP/Amy Sancetta)

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O26 Primers: Atlantic 10, MAC and MEAC Tourneys

Posted by KDoyle on March 8th, 2011

RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences.

With the completion of several conference tournaments over the weekend, the field of 68 is slowly beginning to take shape, but there is still much to be determined. The kicking off of the Atlantic 10, MAC and MEAC conference tournaments later today will weed out even more teams as we approach Selection Sunday. The Atlantic 10 is definitely a multi-bid league—it is just a matter if two or three teams make the field—while the other two conferences will only have one representative in this Tournament.

Atlantic 10

The Favorite: There was little doubt heading into the season that Xavier would be a formidable team in the Atlantic 10 and one that could do some damage throughout the season. They advanced to the Sweet 16 last year and returned do-it-all player in Tu Holloway, but after a rollercoaster non-conference performance that saw the Musketeers go 8-5 questions were raised. All these questions were answered and more as they went 15-1 in the A10. Although Temple and Richmond are right on their heels, Xavier is the team to beat heading into the tournament.

Dark Horse: Richmond concluded their season with four straight wins—all coming by double digits—and Chris Mooney has the Spiders playing some great ball. The dynamic and versatile Justin Harper is capable of taking over a game, and Kevin Anderson is a steady point guard that has the scoring ability of a shooting guard. Currently, Richmond is on the outside looking in of the NCAA Tournament and a strong run in the A10 tournament will be needed to earn an invitation to the Dance.

Who’s Hot: Aside from a fluke four point loss to Charlotte in the middle of their A10 slate, Xavier went perfect in the conference and has only two losses in 2011.

Player to Watch: If there was a player in the A10 capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them to a few wins in the tournament, it is St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson. The senior from Ontario has scored more than 30 points on four occasions this year and hit buzzer beaters in consecutive games against Buffalo and St. John’s. Nicholson is a scorer and is clutch: watch out for him.

First-Round UpsetSt. Joseph’s over George Washington. It took a while for one of the youngest teams in the nation to become acclimated to the college game, but St. Joseph’s youngsters are starting to come around. The Hawks began their A10 schedule with an 0-8 record, but went 4-4 the rest of the way.

How’d They Fare? The Atlantic 10 had a very successful regular season as they placed three teams in the Tournament, but two of them struggled and were unable to get out of the first round. Temple, the highest seed of the three at #5, lost to Cornell in the first round. #7 Richmond struggled to keep up with Omar Samhan and St. Mary’s losing 80-71. The saving grace was #6 Xavier who defeated Minnesota and then upset Pittsburgh in the second round. The Musketeers were very close to defeating Kansas State and advancing to the Elite Eight, but fell 101-96 in double overtime.

Interesting Fact: The A10 has been a multi-bid conference ever since 2005, and that looks to continue this year with Xavier and Temple being safe bets to earn a bid to the Tournament regardless of what happens in the conference tournament.

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