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Rothstein Files | Auburn still fighting for respect

Jon Rothstein




1. Syracuse has another chance to take over New York

Championship Week in college basketball used to mean an opportunity for Orange alums to make Madison Square Garden their own personal sanctuary at the old Big East Tournament.

That time has come and gone.

Now Syracuse fans and alumni have to take their passion to Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament and boy will their team need it on Wednesday.

The Orange’s showdown with North Carolina doesn’t just represent an opportunity for Jim Boeheim’s squad to advance, it represents an opportunity for this team to play their way into the field of 68.

Syracuse has beaten Louisville at Louisville and Miami at Miami. If it can beat the Tar Heels on a neutral court, it may find a way — just like it did in 2016 — to sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

2. Oklahoma State could give the Big 12 a ninth team in the NCAA Tournament

90.0 percent of one league in the field of 68?

It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Mike Boynton has surpassed everyone’s expectations in his first year as a head coach, leading the Cowboys to an 18-13 record with a number of quality wins.

What will it take for him to lead Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament?

Two more victories.

The Cowboys open the Big 12 Tournament against Oklahoma on Wednesday night and if they win, they’ll get an opportunity to beat Kansas for the third time this season.

If Oklahoma State wins its next two games, it will have three wins over Kansas, two wins over Oklahoma, and one win against West Virginia, Texas Tech, and Texas. In addition to those victories, the Cowboys also beat Florida State on a neutral court in December.

If that’s not the resume of an NCAA Tournament team, then what is?

3. Auburn is still fighting for respect

The Tigers were left for dead when an FBI probe led to the indefinite suspensions of their starting power forward and center — Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley — before this team ever played a game.

What followed was one of the single greatest coaching jobs I’ve seen in all of my years covering college basketball as Bruce Pearl led Auburn to a 25-6 record despite not having Purifoy and Wiley for a single minute this season. This team’s starting center — Anfernee McLemore — was also lost for the season a few weeks ago following an ankle injury.

But despite all those obstacles and 25 wins in 31 attempts, the world is still not respecting the Tigers.

The SEC selected 16 different players for its first and second team which was released on Tuesday and Mustapha Heron — Auburn’s leading scorer — was not on either team. That’s inconceivable.

According to a tweet from Pearl himself, it was the first time since 1956 that the SEC regular season champion didn’t have a player on the league’s first team. The Tigers shared the title with Tennessee.

If this team needed any extra motivation entering the postseason, they’ve certainly got it.

4. Killian Tillie is a burgeoning star

The 6-10 big man played behind Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins, and Johnathan Williams in Gonzaga’s front court last season, but now he’s emerging as a major force.

Tillie averaged 24.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ three WCC Tournament games while shooting 28-36 from the field and 13-14 from three-point range

That’s utterly ridiculous.

This could be one of the breakout stars in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

5. Saint Mary’s resume is similar to the one that Wichita State had in 2016

Two years ago the Shockers were still in the Missouri Valley Conference and lacked a plethora of quality wins that moved the needle in the eyes of the selection committee.

Wichita State’s best win during the 2015-16 season was a non-conference triumph over Utah and despite losing in the semifinals of its conference tournament — just like Saint Mary’s did on Monday — the Shockers still earned at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Gregg Marshall’s squad beat Vanderbilt in the First Four and then Arizona in the Round of 64 before losing to Miami in the Round of 32.

Like Wichita State in 2016, Saint Mary’s only has one major victory on its resume — a road triumph over Gonzaga — which should carry weight on Selection Sunday.

The Gaels will be 28-5 overall when the brackets come out later this weekend while the Shockers were 24-8 two years ago.

Will both of these teams wind up advancing to the NCAA Tournament?

We’ll find out on Sunday night.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via ITunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.