Ja Morant's Poster Dunk, UNC Sweeps Duke and Top Highlights from March 9

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 10, 2019

Murray State's Ja Morant in action during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against SIU - Edwardsville in Murray, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

One of the most electric players in college basketball is headed to the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Ja Morant, who is projected as a top-five pick in the 2019 NBA draft by most experts, led Murray State to the Ohio Valley Conference title on Saturday.

The victory over Belmont in the OVC tournament final sent the Racers back to the Big Dance for the second year in a row, and many fans will be set to choose Murray State as their upset pick in the first round given Morant's ability to take over a game.

The big story to close out the regular season in the power conferences came from the Smith Center, as North Carolina completed its season sweep over Duke.

Elsewhere in the power conferences, Michigan State and Purdue earned shares of the Big Ten title, Kansas State and Texas Tech split the Big 12 title and LSU locked up the SEC crown on a bizarre night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

                         

Saturday's AP Top 25 Scores

No. 2 Virginia 73, Louisville 68

No. 3 North Carolina 79, No. 4 Duke 70

Auburn 84, No. 5 Tennessee 80 

No. 6 Kentucky 66, Florida 57

No. 9 Michigan State 75, No. 7 Michigan 63

No. 8 Texas Tech 80, Iowa State 73

No. 10 LSU 80, Vanderbilt 59

No. 11 Purdue 70, Northwestern 57

No. 13 Kansas 78, Baylor 70

No. 14 Florida State 65, Wake Forest 57

Georgetown 86, No. 16 Marquette 84 

No. 17 Nevada 81, San Diego State 53

No. 18 Kansas State 68, Oklahoma 53

No. 22 Wofford 99, VMI 72

Seton Hall 79, No. 23 Villanova 75

Temple 67, No. 25 UCF 62

                         

Morant Rises for Massive Slam 

                     

Murray State Becomes 1st Team to Secure NCAA Automatic Bid 

                      

Williams' Late Block for UNC on Duke's Barrett

                        

White Dribbles Through Duke Defense 

 

                     

Myles Powell's Heat Check from Deep

                             

Bradley Upsets Loyola-Chicago in Missouri Valley Tournament

                            

Northern Iowa Knocks Off Drake in MVC Tournament

                      

Wichita State Beats Tulane on Buzzer-Beater

                                

Shuler Takes Off for Ole Miss

                            

Lawrence's Slam in Transition for Arizona State

                        

Michigan State Celebrates Win Over Michigan, Share Of Big 10 Title

                               

Morant Leads Murray State into NCAA Tournament

Morant scored 36 points in Murray State's OVC tournament final win over Belmont, which earned the top seed by winning the regular-season title.

The 36 points produced by the NBA prospect marked the third-highest point total in his career, per ESPN Stats & Info:

The sophomore's performance came a night after he scored 29 points in the OVC tournament semifinals in front of a ton of NBA personnel, including Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.

Saturday's victory fulfilled a promise Morant made after the Racers were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by West Virginia a year ago.

Murray State's win was also a relief to fans of mid-major basketball, who get to see Morant shine on the biggest stage in college basketball.

In recent days, South Dakota State's Mike Daum and Campbell's Chris Clemons were denied that opportunity when their respective teams lost in the Summit League and Big South tournaments.

With Murray State locked into the field of 68, the attention of the OVC turns to how Belmont can get in as an at-large team.

The Bruins, who finished 26-5, had plenty of advocates on Twitter after their loss, including CBS Sports' Matt Norlander and Seth Davis of The Athletic:

While Belmont has the resume to compete with other teams on the bubble—and an NBA prospect in Dylan Windler—it will have to wait and see how results play out to see whether if it can qualify for the Big Dance.

                             

North Carolina Completes Regular-Season Sweep of Duke

North Carolina earned its first regular-season sweep of rival Duke since 2009 on Saturday, and as the NCAA's March Madness Twitter account pointed out, that was a year in which the Tar Heels won the national championship:

Coby White led the Tar Heels in scoring with 21 points, while Kenny Williams added 18 points and made a few key defensive plays against Duke freshman R.J. Barrett.

Williams earned plenty of praise from head coach Roy Williams for his defensive abilities after the game, per Ben Sherman of Inside Carolina:

"He's our best perimeter defender," Williams said. "He's been that his entire career and he showed that again today. I was happy that some of his shots went [in]—think that's the most he's made in a game this year. He willed a couple of them in the hole."

The two rivals could be in line for a third meeting in the ACC tournament semifinals, as UNC is the No. 2 seed and Duke is the No. 3 seed.

If a semifinal matchup in Charlotte, North Carolina, occurs, Duke will have Zion Williamson back, as head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters.

If Williamson is ready to go for the ACC tournament, he will step on the floor for the first time since injuring his ankle against North Carolina on February 20.

                               

Bizarre Night at LSU

Most regular-season conference titles are met with a full-on celebration, but there were mixed emotions in the crowd as LSU clinched the SEC title Saturday night.

The Tigers' victory over Vanderbilt came one day after head coach Will Wade was suspended indefinitely after being linked to the ongoing NCAA corruption scandal. Wade was reportedly identified on a wiretap discussing an unspecified offer to a recruit in 2017.

Yahoo's Pat Forde, Pete Thamel and Dan Wetzel released a report Thursday stating Wade was discovered talking about an offer for Javonte Smart, who is a freshman on the LSU team.

Smart was held out of Saturday's game for precautionary measures, according to an LSU statement (h/t CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein), but he was still in the middle of the postgame celebrations, as Gary Parrish of CBS Sports pointed out:

In addition to dealing with the effects of the corruption trial, the Tigers played without Naz Reid, who was dealing with injuries he suffered earlier in the week.

Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger summarized the events after the Tigers clinched the SEC regular-season title:

LSU enters the SEC tournament as the No. 1 seed and on the opposite side of the bracket to Kentucky and Tennessee.

But because of the off-the-court issues surrounding the program, all everyone will want to talk about in the coming days is how those distractions will affect LSU in the postseason.

                          

Sunday's AP Top 25 Schedule

No. 12 Houston at No. 20 Cincinnati (Noon ET, CBS) 

East Tennessee State vs. No. 22 Wofford (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

No. 21 Wisconsin at Ohio State (4:30 p.m. ET) 

                        

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.

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