NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by KDoyle on March 29th, 2013

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We continue the Sweet Sixteen tonight with games from the South Region in Arlington, Texas, and the Midwest Region in Indianapolis. Here are the breakdowns for tonight’s games.

#1 Louisville vs. #12 Oregon Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen (at Indianapolis, IN) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

It's Russ' World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

It’s Russ’ World, We Just Live In It (Credit Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Midwest Regional descends on Indianapolis this weekend, with Louisville and Oregon kicking off the action in a matchup of red-hot teams. If not for Florida Gulf Coast’s otherworldly Tournament performance last week, we would likely be looking at the two most impressive teams of the first weekend. As the top overall seed in the Tournament, Louisville’s tour de force in Lexington may not have been unexpected, but it did drive home the notion that the Cardinals are still the team to beat – in this region, and beyond. On the flip side, Oregon’s pair of resounding victories were not expected (despite getting significant play as the most underseeded team in the field on Selection Sunday), but have quickly afforded the surging Ducks a lot of respect. They will head into a virtual road game as massive underdogs on Friday, but the last two weeks have proven that this is a talented and tough basketball team.

Do not expect Oregon to struggle with the aggressive Louisville defense as much as North Carolina A&T and Colorado State did. A quick briefing of the Oregon statistical profile may suggest otherwise – the Ducks are 264th nationally in turnover percentage – but that number is a bit misleading. For one, quick tempo teams are generally going to turn the ball over more, and Oregon plays fast (48th nationally in possessions per game). Also remember that starting PG Dominic Artis (I know, I know — how could we forget at this point?) missed more than half the Pac-12 season, and that backup PG Johnathan Loyd is just now beginning to hit his stride. These two guards will come as close to replicating the quickness and athleticism of that Louisville Siva-Smith combo as any duo the Cardinals have seen all season. Throw in athletes almost everywhere else on the floor – Emory and Dotson on the wings, Kazemi and Woods in the post – and there can be reasonable expectation that Oregon might actually be able to weather the turnover storm that has felled many Louisville foes.

If Oregon can manage that turnover battle, expect this to be a 40-minute game. Points will not come easily for the Cardinals against a well-school (and athletic) Oregon defense, and the Ducks are also a better rebounding team — at least on paper. Dana Altman’s X-factor will be the burgeoning freshman Dotson. If Dotson and others – here’s looking at you EJ Singler — can replicate the three point barrage that undid Saint Louis, Altman’s group has a legitimate change to swing the upset. Too much to ask for? Probably. This is not your typical #12 seed (how is Oregon a #12 seed again?), but they have run into a #1 seed that is playing its role all too well. I expect Oregon to prove a worthy challenger in all facets – managing turnovers, defending the dynamic Louisville backcourt, finding ways to score themselves – but ultimately they run into a team that is just a little better across the board. The Ducks will hang around, but Louisville should be safely bound for the Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville

#1 Kansas vs. #4 Michigan – South Regional Semifinal (at Arlington, TX) – 7:37 PM ET on TBS

The last time Michigan advanced this deep into the NCAA Tournament was all the way back in 1994 with the Fab Five coached by current San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher. Ranked in the Top 10 for much of the season, John Beilein’s team certainly won’t be content just advancing to the second weekend; it is Atlanta or bust for the young Wolverines. To advance to Sunday’s South Regional Final, they will have to knock off a team with a wealth of NCAA Tournament experience in the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas advanced to the championship game last season losing to Kentucky, but are missing two key components of that squad—Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. While Bill Self has led Kansas to another very successful season—a Big 12 regular season and tournament championship and 30+ wins for the fourth straight year—this edition of Kansas basketball is lacking a rock-solid point guard and dominant scorer. One could certainly make the argument that freshman Ben McLemore is that scorer, but he has largely been a no-show in Kansas’ first two games scoring just 13 points on 2-14 shooting from the field. The combination of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe at point guard has dished out 11 assists to ten turnovers. Nobody will argue their frontcourt dominance anchored by the defensive prowess of Jeff Withey, but seniors Kevin Young and Travis Releford are prototypical role players and not go-to threats. As such, when looking up and down the roster, this has been yet another good coaching job by Bill Self. If Kansas is to defeat Michigan and advance to Atlanta, Ben McLemore must play up to his Top 5 NBA Draft pick ability. Kansas’ most glaring weakness happens to be Michigan’s clear strength: point guard play. This game will be decided in the backcourt, and Trey Burke along with Tim Hardaway Jr. are simply playing much better basketball than Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Also, let’s not forget the emergence of freshman Mitch McGary who has stepped up in a big way with Jordan Morgan’s nagging ankle injury. Morgan may return to the regular rotation tonight, but he is just 6’8” and would struggle handling Jeff Withey on the insdie. John Beilein doesn’t expect McGary to have a double-double kind of game like he had against Virginia Commonwealth, but if he is able to neutralize Withey then it is mission accomplished. Kansas would be the first one to tell you that they played just 20 good minutes of basketball in their first two games. If they get off to another slow start out of the gate like they did against Western Kentucky and North Carolina, they’ll be hard-pressed to climb their way back into the game.

The RTC Certified PickMichigan

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, South and West Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 19th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Oh, well. What’s a royal ball? After all, I suppose it would be frightfully dull, and-and-and boring, and-and completely… Completely wonderful. – Cinderella

It’s time for college basketball’s annual ball, which means it’s time for America to fall in love with Cinderella all over again. There are 36 teams from the 26 non-power-conferences who have been invited to this year’s Big Dance, and while the slipper no longer fits for some of the more prominent of these schools, for the bulk of them, this is a rare opportunity to make a name for themselves on the grandest of stages.

This is the first of a two-part series taking a look at the NCAA Tournament prospects for all 36 teams hailing from The Other 26. We focus today on the TO26 teams in the South and West regions, grouping them into five rough categories, and, within each category, ordering them by their likelihood of advancing.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

Can Kelly Olynyk Lead the Zags to Their First Final Four?

  • Gonzaga (#1, West) — It’s been five years since a TO26 team reached the top seed line. In 2008, Memphis rode its #1 seed all the way to the brink of a national championship, and Zags fans are hoping for the same — and perhaps more — this year. Gonzaga has no glaring weaknesses. They are led by an athletic, skilled frontcourt, the centerpiece of which is NPOY candidate Kelly Olynyk. They get steady guard play from Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and David Stockton. If they’re to run into any trouble, it will likely be against a team that (1) sports a strong, athletic interior defense that can contain Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower and pound the glass, and (2) can hit the three-point shot consistently, as Illinois did in beating them (Gonzaga’s defense allows a lot of three-point attempts). There are a fair number of teams that meet the first criteria in the West bracket, but not many with a lot offensive firepower from the three-point line or otherwise. In short, this is as good a shot as Gonzaga has ever had to make the Final Four. The eyes of the nation will be watching to see if they can make good on their promise.
  • Virginia Commonwealth (#5, South) – VCU is a popular sleeper pick for the Final Four, and there’s some merit to that notion, but here is the most important thing you need to know about them: They are 25-2 on the year (and 14-0 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate over 18 percent. And they are 1-6 (and 0-5 in A-10 play) against teams with a turnover rate under 18 percent. The Rams’ first-round opponent, Akron, falls squarely in the former camp (20.8 percent), a problem for the Zips that will be exacerbated by the absence of their legally-troubled starting point guard, Alex Abreu. After that, things get a bit trickier for the Rams. Their two potential Third Round opponents, Michigan and South Dakota State, rank in the top 10 in the country in turnover rate. Those stats are perhaps somewhat inflated by the fact that both teams play in conferences that don’t feature a lot of pressure defenses, but if you’re looking for a point guard to lead you against such a defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Trey Burke or Nate Wolters. It’s true that Michigan has struggled lately in general, and that if you look ahead to a potential match-up with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, Havoc’s odds of success improve, but I’d caution against over-exuberance at the Rams’ chances given a potentially dicey Third Round contest.

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Bracket Prep: Belmont, Florida Gulf Coast, Harvard, Liberty & Creighton

Posted by BHayes on March 11th, 2013

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The first five NCAA Tournament bids were earned over the weekend, so as each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Belmont

The Belmont Bruins Are Dancing Again

The Belmont Bruins Are Dancing Again

  • OVC Champion (26-6, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #18/#47/#50
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +13.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #10-#12

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In what is becoming a spring ritual as routine as Groundhog Day, the Belmont Bruins are back in the NCAA Tournament field. It’s the third straight year and sixth time in the last eight seasons that the Bruins have earned their league’s auto-bid to get there, with the fresh take on this go-around being the conference they represent – no longer Atlantic Sun members, Belmont will be repping the Ohio Valley. For all the March buzz the program seems to generate, they will still be seeking their first NCAA Tournament win come next week. Don’t be shocked if they are once again a trendy pick to swing a first-round upset, but is this the group that finally gets it done for Rick Byrd?
  2. Another year, another uber-efficient offensive outfit in Nashville. The senior backcourt of Ian Clark (18.1 PPG, 46% 3FG) and Kerron Johnson (13.7 PPG, 4.8 APG) will be among the most talented and experienced in the field of 68, but nearly every Bruin that steps on the floor produces at an efficient clip. Belmont is best in the country in two-piont FG%, but still gets nearly a third of their points from behind the arc. It all comes together for an effective field goal percentage of 56.8% – good for second best in the nation.
  3. Picking Belmont to win a game in past years has hardly been a foolish idea, but this year’s team should have the best shot yet to pick up that elusive first NCAA win. The seed should be the highest in program history, five upperclassmen fill out the starting lineup, and the Bruins had to emerge from an underrated OVC to get here. Their Achilles heel remains an undersized rotation that struggles to rebound on both ends, so it wouldn’t hurt to draw a less physical team unlikely to kill the Bruins on the glass. Drawing Wisconsin and Georgetown the last two years – tough, disciplined units, both – was a bit of bad luck, but there should be plenty of power conference foes on the #5-#7 lines that would not relish a first round match-up with Belmont.

Florida Gulf Coast

Andy Enfield - Welcome to the Dance...

Andy Enfield – Welcome to the Dance…

  • Atlantic Sun Champion (24-10, 16-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #95/#126/#124
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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The Other 26: This Is Not Mark Few’s Best Team… Yet

Posted by IRenko on February 16th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

After a 17-point win at St. Mary’s on Thursday night pushed Gonzaga’s record to 24-2 and cleared its biggest hurdle to a regular season record tainted with just two losses, some are wondering whether this is the best team that Mark Few has put together in his 14 years at the helm. It’s a fair question, given the way they’re playing. But the best ever? Sure, not since Adam Morrison was dragged off the court after a heartbreaking loss to UCLA ended his college career, have the Zags had a player with the combination of star power, All-American credentials, and curious hairstyle that Kelly Olynyk has brought this year. And, true, moreso than the Morrison-led team of 2006, this squad is a well-balanced offensive machine, with a multitude of frontcourt and backcourt options. They proved that on Thursday, when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, who have deferred most of the scoring load this year to Olynyk and Elias Harris, dropped a combined 38 points on St. Mary’s.

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

This Gonzaga Team is Good, But Not Mark Few’s Best … Yet (James Snook / USA TODAY Sports)

But Few’s best team ever? They have a ways to go before they can claim such an honor. Take, for example, the 2004 team, which also dropped just two contests heading into the NCAA Tournament.  That squad was led by All-American senior guard Blake Stepp, and like Olynyk, he had lots of help. Junior Ronny Turiaf, sophomore Morrison, and senior Cory Violette shared the scoring load, with all four players averaging in double-digits. They coasted through league play undefeated, never winning a game by less than double digits, and ended the season on a 20-game win streak en route to a 2 seed in the Tournament, Gonzaga’s best ever. Their two pre-Tournament losses were to St. Joe’s and Stanford, both of which went on to earn 1 seeds that year. By contrast, this year’s Gonzaga team lost to Illinois, a bubble team, at home by 11 points.

Of course, this year’s squad could prove itself a superior to the 2004 team — or any team that Few has coached — if it can get past the Sweet Sixteen. Since Gonzaga burst onto the college hoops scene 14 years ago with a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight, they’ve yet to get reach the brink of a Final Four, much less a Final Four itself. The ballyhooed ’04 squad was upset by 10th-seeded Nevada in the second round, the ’05 team squandered a 3 seed with a second round loss to Texas Tech, and the ’06 Zags memorably collapsed against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen (a game to which one cannot refer without remarking that it was perhaps the finest moment of Gus Johnson’s illustrious career). This Gonzaga team stacks up well with those predecessors, but unless it breaks through to the second game of the second weekend, it won’t prove to be their clear superior.

What’s undisputed, however, is that the Zags have been dominant enough to remain at the top of this year’s Top 10.  On to that, our Honor Roll, and this week’s games to watch  . . .

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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and the Southern Conference. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • 1,200 Wins. ETSU needed a second-half rally to earn the 1200th win in program history. Sitting on 1,199 wins, the Bucs faced UNF for the first time since being eliminated by the Ospreys in the semifinals of the 2011 A-Sun Championship. UNF jumped out to a 15-point first-half advantage and held ETSU to 31% shooting. Adam Sollazzo scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half and hit the game-winning free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining
  • Dramatic Finishes. Monday featured three dramatic finishes. In addition to ETSU’s second-half comeback at UNF, a pair of A-Sun contests needed overtime to determine a winner. Jacksonville scored its first win of the conference season after withstanding a tying by USC Upstate at the end of regulation and beat the Spartans in the extra session. The second overtime thriller featured a game-winning three-pointer by Lipscomb’s Damarius Smith in the waning seconds lifting the Bison past Stetson and into a fourth-place tie in the A-Sun race.
  • Coaching Battle. After 16 years seated next to each other on the Belmont bench, Rick Byrd and Casey Alexander met as opponents when Byrd’s Belmont welcomed Alexander’s Stetson Hatters to the Curb Event Center. The Hatters showed they have quickly picked up the trademark Belmont offense hitting 15 3-pointers, the most ever by an opponent in Curb Event Center history. The Bruins, who trailed 31-29 at halftime, dispatched the Hatters with a 55-point second half, winning 84-71.

Kerron Johnson (ball) Leads A Talented Belmont Attack

Power Rankings

  1. Belmont (13-6, Previous Ranking: 1): Despite a surprising home stumble against rival Lipscomb, the Bruins remain atop the Power Rankings after handling FGCU and Stetson. In the 95-53 win against FGCU, the Bruins hit 14 3-pointers and recorded 27 assists on 35 baskets. In wins against the Hatters and Eagles, the Bruins shot a combined 54.5 percent from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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