Georgia beats Winthrop 87-82 for its 3rd win in a row

uga-basketball-winthropGeorgia’s (7-1) offense was highly efficient over the last 4 minutes of Tuesday night’s game as they got points on 7 of their final 8 possessions.  The Dawgs were able to score consistently when they needed to down the stretch, and that played a critical part in this team being able to escape with a 87-82 win over Winthrop (5-4) last night.

With the game knotted up at 74 apiece, freshman Rayshaun Hammonds broke the tie with a three from the top of the key that made it 77-74 UGA with 3:20 remaining.  The Dawgs scored their next 6 points in the paint on baskets by Mike Edwards, Yante Maten and Turtle Jackson, and those buckets turned out to be enough to keep the Eagles at bay.

Georgia’s strong play at the end of the game was a stark contrast to its play towards the end of the first half.  The Dawgs shot just 2 of 11 from the floor and committed 3 turnovers during the final 7 minutes before the break.  Despite leading 17-5 early on and holding leads of 7 to 9 points for much of the first half, UGA went into the intermission with just a 40-38 advantage.

Winthrop actually took and held the lead for significant chunks of time in the second half.  This game featured 10 lead changes, and it wasn’t until the aforementioned three-pointer from Hammonds and the subsequent run that followed it that Georgia was able to really take control of this one.  This contest definitely had the potential to be a huge letdown for the Dawgs following big wins at Saint Mary’s and Marquette, so credit UGA for taking care of business inside Stegeman and avoiding what certainly would have been a bad loss.

Georgia’s biggest issue on the night was carelessness as the Bulldogs gave the ball away 16 times, which led to 22 points for the Winthrop Eagles.  When Georgia wasn’t giving the ball to Winthrop, they played pretty sound offense: 53% from the field, 53% from 3PT line and 17 assists.  Georgia’s success from beyond the arc might have been the difference in this one with Maten and Turtle Jackson hitting 3 each, and Hammonds knocking down 2 triples.

Maten and Winthrop’s Xavier Cooks had quite the back and forth battle on offense on Tuesday night.  The Eagles made a couple of defensive decisions regarding Maten that turned out to be quite costly: they left him open for 3’s from the top of the key, and they tried to play him one-on-one in the paint.  Yante took full advantage of both of those coaching choices and scored 25 points and grabbed 11 boards for his 4th double-double of the year.

Winthrop’s Cooks netted a game-high 31 points himself (22 of them coming after halftime).  At 6’8″, Cooks was a matchup nightmare for Georgia due to his ability to get into the lane off the dribble; he only made 2 of 11 from the floor prior to the break, but he found his rhythm once the second half kicked off.

Georgia began this game extending its man defense to the perimeter to limit Winthrop’s looks from the three-point time, and it worked for about 16 minutes as the Eagles had just 1 triple. However, Winthrop, a team that entered this game making nearly twelve 3’s a night, buried 3 shots from beyond the arc during the final 4 minutes of the first half; they finished the game with 8 three-pointers on a 42% shooting effort.

UGA’s perimeter defense continues to be a soft spot for this team.  The Dawgs’ backcourt has had trouble keeping opposing teams from driving by and getting into the lane for easy baskets.  Tonight, Winthrop carved Georgia up for 40 points in the paint, which is far too many considering UGA’s size advantage compared to the Eagles.

The Bulldogs ended up with four other players – Jackson (14), Mike Edwards (11), Rayshaun Hammonds (10), Derek Ogbeide (10) – in double-figures along with Maten.  Turtle had a game-high 7 assists to go long with his points.

The Dawgs have a 10-day layoff during Final Exams before returning to action on December 16th when Georgia travels to take on UMass.

 

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Georgia upends #21 Saint Mary’s to earn 3rd place in the Wooden Legacy

William “Turtle” Jackson willed in a pair of free throws to give his team an 83-79 lead with just 16 seconds remaining, and that buffer was enough to hold off Saint Mary’s as the Gaels failed to score quickly on the ensuing possession; center Jock Landale got a bucket, but only 1 second remained on the clock, and Georgia ended up knocking off the #21 team in the nation 83-81 in overtime for its first win against a ranked opponent in two years (#25 South Carolina).

The Bulldogs used the off day in Fullerton on Saturday to totally reinvent themselves offensively as Mark Fox’s team didn’t resemble anything of the squad that lost to San Diego State and just snuck by Cal State-Fullerton.  Georgia worked the ball inside to its bigs from the start and scored 16 of its 28 points in the paint prior to the break.  The Dawgs took shots earlier in possessions, and they only turned it over 9 times in 45 minutes of play, while dishing out 14 team assists.  Georgia shot over 50% from the floor and made more than 41% of its attempts from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs had five players finish in double-figures with Tyree Crump leading UGA with a career-high 17 points (Yante Maten finished with 16).

The Dawgs weren’t the only ones enjoying being on offense as the Gaels turned in a nice effort themselves in the game that defense forgot.  Saint Mary’s shot over 50% from the floor, but that’s to be expected when a team scores 58 of its points in the paint.  Georgia’s Derek Ogbeide was left on an island to deal with All-American Jock Landale, and that strategy did not pan out well for Ogbeide as Landale torched UGA for 33 points to go along with his 12 boards.  I kept expecting for Fox to switch his team into a zone so that he could give Ogbeide some help inside, but it never happened.  Landale enjoyed an array of one-on-one situations on the block in which he peppered the Georgia bigs with a combination of hook shots and up-and-under moves.

UGA also struggled to corral Saint Mary’s point guard, Emmet Naar, who got into the lane all afternoon en route to 21 points (12 of which came prior to the break).

Aside from the less than stellar defense, credit the Bulldogs for never backing down in a game against a potential NCAA Tournament team.  The Dawgs held a 35-34 advantage at the half; Georgia pushed its lead out to 58-50 with a little over 11 minutes left in regulation following a three-pointer by Tyree Crump, only to see that lead vanish down the stretch.  UGA actually trailed the Gaels 69-67 with 3:06 remaining, but a clutch jumper by Juwan Parker (14 points) and an incredibly strong take by Turtle Jackson (15 points) on the Dawgs’ final possession allowed UGA to push Saint Mary’s to overtime.

The biggest and most obvious takeaway from this tournament has to be the emergence of Turtle as a legitimate scoring threat and key part of the offense.  Jackson averaged 16 points over the past three games, and I can’t imagine the junior is excited to leave Fullerton after making 47% of his three-point attempts in the Titans’ gym.

Nicolas Claxton has also turned out to be a nice early-season surprise for the Dawgs as he is long and incredibly active off the bench.  Claxton played 20 minutes today, and though he wasn’t quite as productive (3 pts, 3 rebs, 2 blocks) as last game, he is constantly around the ball and really attacks the glass.  I realize that Mike Edwards was dealing with some food poison related issues this past weekend, but it’s hard to not see him yielding minutes to the freshman moving forward.

This win comes at the heels of a pair of underwhelming performances in the Wooden Legacy tournament, and it has to give this Georgia team a spark of confidence that it most desperately needs as Mark Fox’s team comes home to prepare for another challenge away from Athens when they play at Marquette as the undercard to next Saturday’s SEC Championship game.

 

 

Georgia overcomes sluggish 1st half to advance past California State-Fullerton

Georgia’s Yante Maten, who had missed over 9 minutes in the first half and had just 2 points well into the second, chose an opportune time to come alive in the Dawgs’ match up with the California State-Fullerton (CSF) Titans.  Maten broke a 43-43 tie with a free throw and just 6:25 remaining; he then proceeded to score 10 more of his 15 points over the next 4-plus minutes in what turned out to be a key 12-6 UGA run that was capped off by a three-pointer by Yante from the top of the key.  With its biggest lead of the game, Georgia managed to salt away this contest from the free throw line to secure the 64-57 win, which pushed UGA’s record out to 4-0 overall.

Coming off a 24-turnover effort against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last Sunday, the Georgia offense once again look rather pedestrian.  For much of the night, the Titans ran a zone that extended out beyond the three-point line in an effort to hamper UGA’s ability to get comfortable and pound the ball inside to its bigs.  Georgia’s guards seemed content to either dribble the ball or pass it around the top of the Titan zone, which resulted in numerous turnovers and hurried looks as the shot clock melted away.  In the first half, UGA shot under 31% from the floor and turned the ball over 11 times, and that carelessness led to 11 points for CSF, who held a 27-21 lead at the break.

Georgia’s inability to get into its offense against extended pressure is disconcerting.  Last night’s game exposed just how much the Dawgs are going to miss J.J. Frazier, who would have blown by the Titan perimeter players and attacked the basket, which after a few times would have forced them to retreat out of the zone.  UGA doesn’t have a guard this year that can put a defense on its heels, and it’s certainly the glaring weakness of this team thus far.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Dawgs offensively as they cleaned up their act somewhat after the intermission.  Mark Fox’s team shot the ball much better in the second half (58%) and they only gave the ball away 4 times.  A major catalyst for Georgia’s second half resurgence was Turtle Jackson, who scored 14 of his career-high 16 points following the break.  For the fourth consecutive game, Jackson hit 2 shots from beyond the arc, and his second three-pointer was particularly important for UGA as it brought the Dawgs to within 1 with a little over 10 minutes left to play (nearly wiping out a 37-31 CSF advantage).

Georgia put forth a fairly strong defensive effort on Thursday, especially in the second half when Mark Fox put his team into several different zone looks.  After a layup by CSF’s Davon Clare that gave the Titans a 39-35 lead with 10:40 left, Georgia held Fullerton without a field goal for nearly 8 minutes before Kyle Allman buried a three-pointer to make it 49-48 Georgia with 2:47 remaining.  Other than the fact that UGA allowed Allman to net 34 points, the Dawgs kept the Titans in check for much of the night as they limited them to under 36% from the field.  The Bulldogs bigs did an excellent job on the defensive glass as they yielded just 5 offensive boards to the Titans and only 2 second-chance points.

UGA will take on the San Diego State Aztecs in the second round of the Wooden Legacy in what will easily be the Dawgs’ biggest challenge of the year to date.  SDSU, who destroyed Sacramento State 89-52 in the first round, is a veteran-laden team that will get after Georgia defensively in a way the Dawgs haven’t seen yet this season.  Even though the Bulldogs are 4-0 on the year, they will have to play better than they have been if they want to advance in the winner’s bracket of the Wooden Legacy tournament.

 

Georgia struggles once again to put away a lesser opponent

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s (TAMCC) Joseph Kilgore tried to tie the game at 68 with a last-second three-point attempt, but fortunately for Coach Mark Fox’s sanity he missed, which was surprising considering Kilgore basically made everything he tossed up in the second half as he scored 20 of his game-high 22 points.

In a game in which Georgia held leads of 19-2 and 27-8, the Dawgs found themselves once again fighting for their lives against a mediocre mid-major team late into the second half.  The Islanders came into the season without the services of its senior point guard Ehab Amin, who averaged over 18 points a game last year as well as leading the nation in steals.  I shudder to think what the outcome of today’s contest might have been had Amin not been injured.  TAMCC, a team that Ken Pomeroy deems to be 256th in the nation, nearly upset Mark Fox’s team with three freshmen in its starting lineup.

UGA got it’s third win of the season to push its record to 3-0 on the year, but it was not pretty.  In todays’ 68-65 victory, the Dawgs turned the ball over 24 times in a game that featured a combined 43 turnovers by both teams.  TAMCC capitalized on the Dawgs’ carelessness as they ended up with 28 points off of the UGA mishaps.  After shooting only 25% prior to the intermission, the Islanders hit nearly 60% of their attempts in the second half.

Even though we are just three games into the young season, it’s hard to determine this Georgia team’s identity.  At first glance, the Dawgs look like a team that should be able to dominate the paint night in-night out with its imposing frontline of Yante Maten, Rayshaun Hammonds and Derek Ogbeide.  For some reason though, UGA is struggling to take advantage of its bigs.  Today, many of Georgia’s turnovers were a result of sloppy entry passes; when the ball did make it in there, UGA’s big men struggled to get the ball up to the glass.

Yante Maten led the way on offense with 19 points to go with 13 rebounds for his 3rd double-double in as many games, but his effort was overshadowed by his game-high 7 turnovers.  The TAMCC Islanders swarmed Maten whenever he received the ball inside, and Yante did not handle the pressure well.  Maten either was indecisive, which resulted in him being double- and triple-teamed, or he tried to force passes through the lane that had no business being attempted.

Compounding UGA’s problem of not being able to force its will in the paint on offense is the Dawgs’s proclivity for putting up shots from beyond the arc at a high rate.  Georgia has taken over 20 three-pointers in each of its first three games, and that feels like far too many perimeter shots for a team that is shooting just 31% from long range.  The Dawgs shot 23% from the three-point line this afternoon; Tyree Crump made only 1 of his 8 attempts.

Aside from Maten’s 19 points, the only other Bulldog to finish in double-figures was the freshman Hammonds, who netted 15 points, including a pair of three-pointers.  Had Fox not been able to sign Hammonds, this team might have struggled to end the year with a winning record.  The UGA freshman is clearly Georgia’s second most important player, and he may eventually become the go-to guy in crunch time this season as he seems to be the best player on this squad at creating his own shot.

Georgia got all it could handle earlier this week from USC Upstate, a team that Pomeroy ranks 280th.  I wanted to label that game as an early season anomaly, but after watching today’s contest I’m starting to worry that it’s closer to the norm than I could have possibly anticipated.  Mark Fox lauded this year’s team as his deepest and most talented yet, but so far they haven’t played that way.  Georgia heads out to California this week to take part in the Wooden Classic.  Their first round opponent, Cal State-Fullerton, is another mid-major opponent, but they will be better than anyone UGA’s faced thus far.  Should the Dawgs get by CSF they will most likely see the the defensived-minded San Diego State Aztecs in the second round, where Fox’s team could be in store for quite the reality check.

Georgia squeaks by USC Upstate

The USC Upstate Spartans’ scheme on Tuesday was rather simple: (1) get up as many three-pointers on offense has humanly possible and (2) sit in a packed in zone defense and force the opposition to beat them from the outside.

On Tuesday night, the Spartans, a team that had shot over 30 three’s in its first two games, hoisted up 36 attempts from beyond the arc.  To be fair, Upstate started and played with four guards for pretty much the whole game, which is probably also why the undersized Spartans were content to play zone against the Dawgs to try to minimize Georgia’s size advantage in the paint.

Unfortunately, UGA played an undisciplined game offensively, and it almost resulted in a horrific home loss.  I suppose the Dawgs got jealous of the outside shots that Upstate was taking, and they just couldn’t resist shooting a few themselves as Mark Fox’s team put up 22 three-pointers in this contest (making  only 5 of them).  Shooting three’s was exactly what Upstate wanted Georgia to do; it’s why they played zone for most of the night.  For whatever reason, UGA seemed reluctant to pound the ball into the paint and punish the smaller Atlantic Sun team, and rather, the Dawgs obliged the Upstate game plan.

Georgia’s futility on the offensive side of the ball almost cost them dearly as the Spartans took their first lead of the game with 13:02 left on a three by Deion Holmes.  Upstate would lead for nearly the next 8 minutes until Rayshaun Hammonds seized momentum back for the Dawgs when he knocked down a corner three to put his team on top 60-59.  The freshman scored on a fast break on the ensuing possession, which gave UGA a 62-59 advantage with 3:39 remaining.  Georgia managed to slowly pull away from that point, and they would end up with the 74-65 home win.

Hammonds had another solid outing as he netted 13 points and nabbed 7 boards.  William “Turtle” Jackson also finished in double-figures as he scored a career high 13 points to go along with 4 assists.  Turtle has now hit 4 three-pointers through two games, and he’s looking like the team’s most consistent outside threat in the early going.

Georgia’s defense wasn’t the problem in this one as the Dawgs held Upstate to 65 points, which marked its lowest output of the season.  UGA limited the Spartans to under 37% from the floor and just 27% from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs played primarily man defense with Coach Fox mixing in some 2-3 and matchup zones.  For the most part, though, Georgia followed the scouting report and contested the perimeter to make it more difficult for USC Upstate to get clean looks.

UGA jumped on Upstate early as they started the game with a 13-2 run that was capped off by a three-pointer from Yante Maten, who notched his second double-double in as many games as he scored 22 points and grabbed 14 boards.  Coach Fox’s offense went moderately stagnant over the next 16 minutes as they settled for too many outside shots, which enabled the Spartans to go into the intermission trailing by a scored of 34-30.

The Dawgs came out of the break and took their first five shots from inside the paint; UGA made 4 of those attempts and found themselves up 42-33 after a Mike Edwards layup with over 17 minutes left in the game.  Georgia didn’t stick with this strategy of going inside, though, and Fox’s team made only 1 of their 9 second half three-point attempts.

The Spartans had four players end up in double-figures with Mike Cunningham and Malik Moore leading the way with 16 points apiece.

The Dawgs return to action on Sunday to continue this early season stretch down Murder’s Row as they play host to Texas A&M – Corpus Christi inside The Steg at 1pm.

 

Dawgs coast to 79-54 win over hapless Bryant

For nearly 12 minutes, the Bryant Bulldogs had the look of a team that did not fly all the way from Rhode Island just to lay down for Mark Fox’s team.  With 8:25 left before the break, Bryant trailed 22-13 after leading scorer Adam Grant (24 points) connected on a three.  That was the closest the other Bulldogs would get for the remainder of the evening, though, as Georgia went on an 18-4 run to finish out the first twenty minutes of play that enabled them to take a 40-17 lead at the half.

This run was fueled by 8 points from junior guard William “Turtle” Jackson, who poked his head out and notched all 11 of his points before the intermission (9 of which came from beyond the arc).

Georgia’s man defense suffocated Bryant on Friday as they held the Bulldogs to just 17% from the field for the first half (they finished the night slightly above 25%).   UGA used its superior length to make Bryant uncomfortable, which led to a lot of hurried shots form the outside by the Bulldogs.  Bryant attempted an astounding 31 shots from the three-point line, yet they connected on just 8 of them. However, it was hard to blame the smaller Bulldogs for looking for points from the perimeter as the Dawgs swatted 10 of their shots on the night, with Yante Maten and Nicolas Claxton leading the way with 4 and 3 blocks, respectively (one of Claxton’s rejections was so forceful it shot up into the 4th row of the lower level).

While the Dawgs primarily played half court defense for the majority of the night, Fox did provide a glimpse of a full-court press that could (and should) be employed more down the road: Mike Edwards defended the ball and then trapped on the side where the ball was inbounded.  The result: one steal and a deflected pass. With Edwards’s size and athleticism, this spot on the press could be a nice little defensive niche for him.

Offensively, I loved the sets where Maten received the ball at the high post.  He would give it to the guard on his side of the court, screen on the ball and then work into a little two man game as he rolled off the pick.  Maten had a solid first outing as he notched a double-double and scored a team-high 21 points to go along with 12 rebounds.  Georgia consistently pounded the ball inside to Maten where he took advantage of the helpless Bryant defenders.

Probably the biggest bright spot of the night for Coach Fox was the play of freshman Rayshaun Hammonds, who netted 17 points and snagged 7 boards.  He looked good doing it, too.  Hammonds scored effortlessly close to the basket, and he had several nice buckets from the wing in which he took his defender off the dribble; and he made a three-pointer.  Hammonds could potentially be a key contributor to replacing J.J. Frazier’s points from a year ago.

While UGA fans and players obviously shouldn’t read too much into a win over an opponent that ESPN ranked 298th in the country before the season, it was nice to see Georgia throttle a team that was clearly less talented. I’ve definitely taken in more than a few early season games in which it took nearly 30 minutes for the Dawgs to put away an inferior mid-major team.  Tonight, that was not the case.  Georgia shut this team down early and walked away with a 79-54 victory, which makes the Dawgs a perfect 1-0 on the year.

UGA basketball preview

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Maten made over 48% of his 3PT attempts a year ago.

While UGA’s football team is currently in the midst of its best start since 2005, college basketball is just around the corner, so a bye week for the football Dawgs felt like the perfect opportunity to start talking some Georgia basketball.

Last season served as a breakthrough for the SEC in regards to its basketball prestige as the conference sent 5 teams to the NCAA Tournament, with 3 of those teams reaching the Elite 8.  Had Kentucky not lost at the buzzer to UNC, half of the Final Four would have been represented by SEC teams (with South Carolina being the other).  College basketball analysts are no longer discrediting the league as merely a “football conference”; CBS Sports posited over the summer that the SEC could get as many as 7 teams in this season’s  Big Dance.

Which brings me to Georgia.  The 2017-2018 campaign will mark year 9 of head coach Mark Fox’s 10-year plan.  In my humble opinion, UGA basketball has reached the point where it must reach the NCAA Tournament for this season to be considered a success, or the Dawgs might need to look elsewhere for leadership.  Last year’s team returned to the NIT only to be torched at home by the Belmont Bruins.  A similar conclusion to this year’s season is simply unacceptable.

Here are some reasons to be optimistic about Georgia’s chances of dancing in March:

Yante Maten. Yante Maten. Yante Maten.

Maten was named Co-SEC Player of the Year in the league’s preseason awards, and he was recently added to the watch list for the Karl Malone Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top power forward.  There’s a reason for this: Yante Maten should be hard to guard this year.  ESPN projects Maten will average 19.6 ppg, or the 4th highest scoring average in the nation.  Last season, Maten was virtually unstoppable when he received the ball in one-on-one situations in the paint, and I expect this season to be no different.  He also developed a three-point shot from the top of the key that connected over 48% of the time, and rumor has it that Maten can now make it from other parts of the perimeter as well.

Most likely, teams are going to use zone and help defense to double Maten as much as possible when he gets the ball on the block.  The benefactors of such an approach will be Derek Ogbeide and Rayshaun Hammonds, both of whom should serve as viable outlets for Maten when defenses collapse on him.  Ogbeide’s numbers have trended up since his freshman season, going from 4 points a game to over 7; this year Derek could easily average close to 10 a game, and he should be able to put up a number of double-doubles considering his rebounding prowess.  Hammonds, a 4-star recruit from Gwinnett County, should be able to contribute immediately on offense, especially since opposing teams will be forced to dedicate so much attention to Maten.

Another reason that the Dawgs could land an at-large bid is that their SEC schedule is quite favorable.  While UGA does start the conference slate with a New Year’s Eve road game in Lexington, they fortunately only have to play Kentucky once.  Georgia plays Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Missouri just once apiece as well; all of these teams were projected to finish ahead of UGA in the conference standings.  The Dawgs get two games each with both Tennessee and LSU, both of whom are expected to be SEC bottom dwellers this year.  Georgia also plays both South Carolina and Auburn twice, and while the Gamecocks and the Tigers will certainly be tough outs, it could be worse: Florida has to play Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Alabama both home and away.

Speaking of Florida, the Gators should be strong again this season as they return three starters from last year’s team, which was just a few possessions away from reaching the Final Four.  The Dawgs do play the Gators in both Athens and Gainesville this season, but that is Georgia’s only home-and-away matchup where UGA could be underdogs in both games.

Here are a few reasons as to why Georgia may go back to the NIT:

Losing J.J. Frazier is going to hurt.  Badly.  Frazier averaged over 18 points a game last season, or 26% of Georgia’s offense. He was the catalyst that got everything going. Frazier had the ability to completely take over a game on offense as he could score from both the perimeter and around the bucket.

Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris played sporadically as freshmen; they are going to be relied upon heavily as sophomores.  I expect both of these youngsters to show improvement on the offensive side of the ball, but I’m not so sure that either of them is ready to start scoring in double-figures.  Juwan Parker developed a midrange game last season that saw him average over 9 points a game. Parker could put up similar numbers this year, but it seems unlikely that he will score too much more since his offensive game is somewhat limited.  My biggest fear regarding the UGA guards situation is that Crump and Harris will yield too many minutes to Turtle Jackson, whom Fox may play more since he tends to be loyal to his upperclassmen.

If Georgia’s backcourt can’t find a way to make up for the departure of Frazier, the Dawgs may struggle to score over 70 points per contest as they did a year ago.  While Maten was predicted to get 19.5 a night by ESPN this year, it should be noted that that is just one point more than he netted last season.  Maten was great last season, and he should be great again this year, but when you start getting more than 18 points and nearly 7 boards a game, there’s not a lot of room for improvement on those already impressive numbers.

Fox will need either Crump, Harris or both to score in double-digits if this team doesn’t want to experience a drop-off on offense.

My prediction: Georgia goes 22-11 and earns an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.