Wednesday, March 31, 2010
NCAA Cranked Up: Four for the Final
Butler Bulldogs (32-4) vs.
Michigan State Spartans (28-8)
6:07 pm EDT
Butler enters the Final Four for the very first time in school history, but does so with a flourish, sporting not only the best record of all participants, but also the longest winning streak in the nation, a solid 24 straight.
The Bulldogs will have the advantage of playing just 7 miles from their campus, in what amounts to a short home tournament. They will benefit from having many of their fans n hand, though that could also work as a distraction leading up to the Saturday games and possibly a final game showdown for all the marbles.
Butler is led by Gordon Hayward, the Horizon League Player of the Year, who brings size and talent to the front court. In the big games, Hayward has stepped up. He scored 17 points with 5 rebounds against Syracuse and had 22 and 9 in the reginal final win over Kansas State. A lean, 6'9" forward, he's a nightmare to defend.
Shelvin Mack is the scoring guard for the Bulldogs. He too has been on his game in the tournament. Ouside of his 1-for-10 3-point effort against Syracuse, Mack has nailed 12 of 18 from beyond the arc. His scoring will be essential, but Butler wins with defense, mostly in the form of a 2-1-2 zone.
The Spartans have become accustomed to playing under big lights in big pressure games, so Tom Izzo will have his players ready for action. Michigan State has been hobbled by injury, most notably the loss of point guard Kalin Lucas, who is out for the duration of the tourney but has been admirably replaced by Korie Lucious, who staved off elimination with a last-second three-pointer to shock Maryland in the regional semi-final.
Forwards Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers will be called upon again to carry the scoring load for the Spartans, while Delvon Roe and Draymond Green will do the dirty work under the rim. Summers has carried the team through the tournament, all of which have been close calls for the Spartans. He's scoring at a 20 points per game clip, nearly double his seasonal average. Michigan State comes with grit and determination, but the Bulldogs display much the same attitude. This game will be a war. Butler is a slim, 1 1/2 point favorite.
West Virginia Mountaineers (31-6) vs.
Duke Blue Devils (33-5)
8:47 pm EDT
After the Butler - Michigan St. melange, this game will look like the Varsity kids following the JV game onto the floor. While the previous two teams will be engaged in what may look, at times, like a cage fight, the two more polished squads out of the Big East and ACC bring more finesse and subtlety in their games, especially the Blue Devils.
It's not likely that West Virginia will hold Duke's regular season leading scorer, Kyle Singler, to the 5 points he had in his prior game. Expect Singler to take his shots from the perimeter (he's a 38% three-point shooter) and also bang away inside, though the Mountaineers inside presence should slow him down a little.
Duke's other two top scorers - Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith - both have been on the money during the past two games of the tourney. Smith had a career-high 29 points in the win over Baylor which got Duke on its way to Indianapolis. Scheyer scored 18 against Purdue and poured in 20 against Baylor, hitting 5 3-pointers in the process.
Of the many edges Duke has in this game, their front court size and free throw shooting should serve them well. Brian Zoubek goes 7'1", starter Lance Thomas stands 6'8" and the two Plumlees - Miles and Mason - each go 6'10" and should see plenty of floor time. At the foul line, Scheyer hits at an 88% clip; Singler, 79%, Smith, 78%, and all three get there with stunning regularity.
West Virginia appears to have destiny on their side. Coach Bob Huggins, who played for the Mountaineers from 1975-77, is in his third year with the school, and has developed a great rapport with his players, many of whom he personally recruited. The go-to guy is slick DaSean Butler, who has made a case for himself as tournament MOP. After seeing limited action - and just 9 points - in the opening round win over Morgan St., he put up 28, 14 and 18 points in wins over Missouri, Washington and Kentucky, nabbing 27 rebounds along the way. Butler, a senior, is the floor leader and, if the game comes down to one shot, he will be the one taking it.
Up front, the Mountaineers can keep fresh, tall bodies flowing into the game. Deniz Kilicli, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones can all rebound and defend, though they, like most of the West Virginia squad, are not particularly deadly on the perimeter. Point guard Joe Mazzula played a pivotal role in the win over Kentucky and he'll need to step it up again. The condition of Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who was the regular point guard until suffering a broken bone in his foot, is still up in the air. He hasn't practiced as of Tuesday, though it was announced that he would play against Duke. Having him back would be a boost.
In order to win this game, West Virginia will have to challenge Duke's outside shooters and maintain a solid presence inside, easier said than done. The match-ups favor Duke in many regards and the Mountainers are not a good free throw shooting team. Of the starters, Butler is the leader, at 78%. Not surprisingly, Duke is favored by 3 points.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Duke's Nolan Hits Career High 29 in Win over Baylor
The Duke Blue Devils advanced out of the South region to the NCAA tourney Final Four with a sharp, 78-71, win on Sunday. The win enabled Duke's first trip to college hoops Nirvana - the Final Four - since 2004, when the Blue Devils lost to UConn, 79-78 in the semi-final.
Propelling the Blue Devils past Baylor was the exceptional play of junior guard Nolan Smith, who posted a career-high 29 points on a night that Kyle Singler - Duke's scoring leader - was held to an uncharacteristic 5 points. Smith hit shots from everywhere, going 9-for-17, including 4 three-pointers. He was also near-perfect from the foul line, cashing 7 of 8 freebies.
Duke faces West Virginia in a semi-final game on Saturday, April 3 in Indianapolis.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard (through games of March 28)
Big East (8-7)
Big Ten (9-4)
Big 12 (9-5)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-2)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Final Four Finished: Duke - West Virginia; Butler - Michigan St.
5 Michigan St. 70
6 Tennessee 69
Michigan State advanced to the Final Four by the slimmest of margins over a very credible Tennessee squad. Neither team was ever able to establish any kind of working lead, and the game was tied on numerous occasions as the lead see-sawed back andd forth. Once again, Durrell Summers came up with a big effort, scoring a game-high 22 points on 8 of 10 shooting, including 4 of 6 3-pointers.
The Volunteers put forth a valiant effort, but the Spartans would not be denied their 6th trip to the Final Four in the past 12 years and second in a row. Michigan State lost last season to North Carolina in the final. The Tar Heels did not even make it into the tournament field this year.
Michigan State will face Butler in one of two semi-final games on Saturday, April 3rd in Indianapolis.
1 Duke 78
3 Baylor 71
Duke was put to the test by an aggressive Baylor defense which held the Blue Devils' top scorer, Kyle Singler, to just 5 points, all from the foul line. It was the first time in Singler's three-years at Duke that he was held without a field goal.
Singler's teammates picked up the slack, however, and used offensive rebounds and second-chance scores to pull away late in the second half after Baylor had forged a 35-32 lead at the half. Nolan Smith was sensational with a career and game-high 29 points. Smith canned 9 of 17 shots, including 4 of 6 threes, and 7 of 8 from the free throw line.
Jon Scheyer added 20 points for the Blue Devils, who advance out of the South region to the Final Four to face the champions of the Big East tourney and NCAA tourney East region, West Virginia, on Saturday, April 3.
Hayward Earns Saturday's Player of the Day
The Butler Bulldogs advanced to the Final Four for the first time in school history with a 63-56 win over the #2 seed, Kansas State, but their emergence from the West region was by no means a fluke.
The Bulldogs knocked off four good teams to reach the pinnacle of college basketball. After first and second round wins over UTEP and Murray State - who took the Bulldogs to the limit - Butler downed Syracuse, the region's top seed. Through those first four rounds, Horizon League Player of the Year Gordon Hayward has provided backbone, scoring and rebounding, but his effort against the Wildcats on Saturday was his best game of the tournament, registering game-highs with 22 points and 9 boards.
Hayward and the Bulldogs are a dead-serious contender to take the whole shooting match, especially with the decimated brackets which by Sunday afternoon will have wiped out 5/6ths of the top 12 seeds, including either all of the 1s or all of the 3s, pending the outcome of the South region final between #1 Duke and #3 Baylor. Butler will get a bit of a break, playing the winner of the Midwest region, either #6 Tennessee or #5 Michigan State, though either team will give the Bulldogs a good game.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Shock and Disbelief: Bulldogs, Mountaineers Skin 'Cats
5 Butler 63
2 Kansas St. 56
The Butler Bulldogs stunned the Kansas St. Wildcats and advanced to the Final Four out of the West region, employing a scrambling defense and timely offense spearheaded by Horizon League Player of the Year, Gordon Hayward, who had game highs in scoring and rebounding with 22 points and 9 rebounds. The Bulldogs shut down the wildcat guards, Jacob Pullen and denis Clemente, holding the backcourt duo to a combined 32 points. Pullen was 4-for-13, Clemente, 7-for-17.
Butler took an early lead and held on throughout, though the wildcats did take a brief one-point lead midway through the second half, but the Bulldogs beat Kansas St. in most of the important categories: shooting percentage, 3-point shooting, free throws and rebounds. Butler, the #5 seed, knocked off both the #1 seed, Syracuse, and now the #2 seed in the region.
2 West Virginia 73
1 Kentucky 66
In an even more shocking development, West Virginia derailed John Wall and the Kentucky express, beating the Wildcats with a combination of first-half three-point shooting and second-half defense and canniness. The Mountaineers, not known for long-range shooting prowess, hit 8 3-pointers in the first half and took a 28-26 lead into intermission.
In the second half, West Virginia worked the ball inside more often and stymied the Wildcats with their 1-3-1 zone defense. Frustrated by their inaccuracy from long range, Kentucky didn't hit a shot from beyond the arc until the game was in its final minutes, finishing an embarrassing 4-for-32 on 3-point tries. Kentucky also damaged its own chances, connecting on just 16 of 29 free throw attempts. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, were 10-for-23 from 3-point land and 23 of 34 at the charity stripe.
As usual, Da'Sean Butler led his team in scoring with 18 points, but the performance of the night came from Joe Mazzulla, who posted a career-high 17 points, even though he missed most of the final six minutes due to foul trouble and then, after a brief return, fouling out. Mazzulla handled the ball and directed the offense most of the night, which led to, at one point, a 16-point edge. Kentucky tried to crawl back into it late, but did not have the shots nor the time to make a significant run.
In a tournament that has been chock-full of upsets and surprises, these two are remarkable, as is what's left of the high seeded teams. At this juncture, with just 6 teams left in the tourney, three #1s, #2s and #3s have already been eliminated. After tomorrow's games, either all of the 1s or 3s will be gone, as the South region final features #1 Duke vs. #3 Baylor. The Midwest, already decimated by losses to #1 Kansas, #2 Ohio State and #3 Georgetown, features a 6-5 match-up between Tennessee and Michigan State.
Regardless of tomorrow's results, this years Final Four will consist of just 2 of the top 12 seeds, pretty much an unprecedented event and certain to have blown up all the bracket pools around the country.
Another piece of history: West Virginia has reached the Final Four for just the second time in school history. The last time was in 1959 when California defeated West Virginia 71-70, though basketball legend Jerry West just missed a desperation heave from half court that would have won the game. Despite the loss, West was named tournament MVP. Today, 51 years later, West's son, Jonny West, plays for the Mountaineers.
Elite Eight Match-up Analysis; Summers POTD
SATURDAY, March 27
4:30 pm EDT: 5 Butler (31-4) vs. 2 Kansas St. (29-7)
EnergySolutions Arena (Salt Lake City, UT)
Key Players: Butler: Gordon Hayward (15.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg); Shelvin Mack (14.1 ppg, 3.1 apg); Kansas St.: Jacob Pullen (19.5 ppg); Denis Clemente (15.5 ppg)
Tournament Win Margin: Butler: 8; Kansas St. 12.3
Instant Analysis: Butler needs to stay in zone defense, work ball inside to Hayward and Howard; K-State's Pullen and Clemente best back-court in nation. K-State defense underrated.
7:00 pm EDT: 2 West Virginia (30-6) vs. 1 Kentucky (35-2)
Carrier Dome (Syracuse, NY)
Key Players: W. Virginia: Da'Sean Butler (17.4 ppg, 3.2 apg); Kevin Jones (13.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg); Kentucky: John Wall (16.6 ppg, 6.6 apg); DeMarcus Cousins (15.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg)
Tournament Win Margin: W. Virginia: 16.3; Kentucky: 25.3
Instant Analysis: Butler has much to do against killer KY defense; Wall and Cousins provide inside-outside game, suporting cast is phenomenal. KY has best record and largest win margin of any team left in tourney.
SUNDAY, March 28
2:20 pm EDT 6 Tennessee (28-8) vs. 5 Michigan St. (27-8)
Edward Jones Dome (St. Louis, MO)
Key Players: Tenn.: Wayne Chism (12.6 ppg, 7.3 pg); Mich. St.: Raymar Morgan (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Durrell Summers (10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Tournament Win Margin: Tennessee: 7; Michigan St.: 4
Instant Analysis: Spartans have squeaked by, keeping games close, Summers has stepped up huge in tourney; Chism is do-it-all guy for Vols, but has talent all around him. will be a war on the boards, where Tenn. has advantage.
5:05 pm EDT 3 Baylor (28-7) vs. 1 Duke (32-5)
Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX)
Key Players: Baylor: LaceDarius Dunn (19.5 ppg); Ekpe Udoh (13.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg); Duke: Kyle Singler (18.1 ppg); Jon Scheyer (17.9 ppg); Nolan Smith (17.1 ppg)
Tournament Win Margin: Baylor: 16.6; Duke: 19
Instant Analysis: Duke's big three - Singler, Scheyer, Smith - have to continue to carry the load and are capable; Coach K's influence obvious; Baylor has nice inside-outside game, very rugged on the boards and in lane, could dominate. Dunn is the wild card. If he can score, Baylor has great opportunity.
Player of the Day, for Friday, March 26, 2010
Michigan State's Durrell Summers played huge in the Spartans' 59-52 win over Northern Iowa, advancing to the Elite Eight.
Often overlooked, Summers was the game's high-scorer and rebounder with 19 points and 7 boards. He's played a major role in all three Spartan wins in the tourney.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Elite 8 In: Tennessee, Baylor, Duke, Michigan State
6 Tennessee 76
2 Ohio St. 73
The Tennessee Volunteers advanced past the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history off a spirited effort on both ends of the floor, knocking off the #2 seeded Buckeyes. Wayne Chism had one of the best all-around efforts of his exemplary collegiate career with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The action in this game was frenetic from start to finish, as the lead changed hands repeatedly and neither team was able to establish a comfortable lead at any point. Ohio State's Evan Turner finished with 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
9 Northern Iowa 52
5 Michigan St. 59
The Spartans finally wrested away a lead late in the second half from the very capable Panthers and held on for the win. Michigan State's Durrell Summers paced the scoring with 19 points, including four 3-pointers. Summers' seven rebounds were also high for the game. Michigan State will play Tennessee in one of two Sunday contests.
3 Baylor 72
10 St. Mary's 49
St. Mary's was put away early by the quicker and more athletic Bears, who dominated the Gaels in every way. LaceDarius Dunn paced all scorers with 24 points, including a 4-for-6 effort from 3-point range. Baylor was so completely dominant, the score at half time was 46-17.
4 Purdue 57
1 Duke 70
With both teams contesting every pass, shot and rebound, the tight defensive postures produced a low-scoring first half that had Duke up by a 24-23 score. The game remained tight until just after midway through the second period, when Nolan Smith scored 7 straight points on a pair of runners in the lane and a 3-pointer, to expand Duke's advantage to 9, and Purdue never recovered.
Kyle Singer had 24 points for the Blue Devils, Jon Scheyer added 18 and Nolan smith finished with 15. The Blue Devils face Baylor in the regional final Sunday.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard (through games of March 26)
Big East (7-7)
Big Ten (8-4)
Big 12 (9-4)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-2)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Pullen Scores 28, Delivers in 2OT for Wildcats
After scoring 34 points in the Wildcats' 84-72 win over BYU, there just didn't seem to be a need for Jacob Pullen to deliver an encore, but, forced into double overtime on Thursday night against Xavier, Pullen delivered a crucial pair of treys in the second extra period that lifted K-State to a 101-96 win and a date with Bulter in the Elite Eight.
Pullen finished with 28 points on 9 of 20 shooting, canning 6 of the 12 three-point attempts he hoisted up in his 40 minutes of floor time. Though Jordan Crawford of Xavier outscored everybody, with 32 points, Pullen made the key shots when they counted, aided by 25 points from back court mate Denis Clemente. Pullen, who goes just 6'0", managed to snatch himself 4 rebounds and dish 4 assists, both above his seasonal averages.
Kansas State will be in search of its 30th win against 7 losses when it meets Butler on Saturday. The winner will advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
3rd Round Winners: Butler, W. Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas St.
5 Butler 63
1 Syracuse 59
Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson hit back-to-back 3-point shots to bring Syracuse all the way back from a 35-25 half time deficit and take a 40-39 lead just six minutes into the second half. From there, the lead changed hands 3 times and the game tied twice, but Syracuse wrested a 54-50 lead with 2 minutes left. Butler would not be denied, however, scoring ten straight points to hold a 60-54 lead with 37 clicks remaining. Syracuse extended the game by fouling, but could only draw to within 4 before time expired and Butler moved on to Saturday's regional final.
The top-seeded Orange fell behind early, with lethargic play and 11 first half turnovers. Gordon Hayward led the Bulldogs with 17 points. Shelvin Mack added 14 and Willie Veasley had 13. Butler went to the free throw line 21 times and made 15. Syracuse was just 10-for-14.
6 Xavier 96
2 Kansas St. 101
The Musketeers took the Wildcats into double overtime, but Kansas State emerged with the win as Jacob Pullen was magnificent the entire game, but especially in the overtime periods, nailing important three-pointers with deadly accuracy. Pullen scored 28 points for K-State, hitting 6 of 13 shots from long range. Xavier's Jordan Crawford led everyone with 32.
11 Washington 56
2 West Virginia 69
Washington's Quincy Pondexter got into early foul trouble, but the Huskies managed to lead at the half, but West Virginia's overall size advantage eventually produced defensive stops, easy baskets and a double-digit lead. Washington got as close as 8 points with under 6 minutes to play, but could not produce any semblance of a rally.
Playing without point guard, Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who broke a bone in his foot during a practice and is out for the remainder of the tournament, the Mountaineers still proved to be too much for the undersized Huskies. Kevin Jones led all scorers with 18 points on 7-12 shooting, including 3 of 4 3-pointers and 8 rebounds.
1 Kentucky 62
12 Cornell 45
Kentucky's length and tenacious defense stifled Cornell's outside shooting, maintaining a lead established after the Big Red had opened the game with a 10-2 start. DeMarcus Cousins was a tower of power inside, leading the Wildcats with 16 points and 8 rebounds. Kentucky held Cornell to 33% shooting, with a 24% mark from beyond the arc. Cornell's fonal score was by far its lowest point total of the season in a losing effort. Their previous low was 64 points in a loss to Penn. The Big Red did score 48 points in a three-point victory over Princeton.
NCAA Tourney: Friday Night Previews
A trio of guard -forward hybrids - Bobby Maze, J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson - will be counted upon to do most of the scoring and rebounding, providing some balance, but no dominating inside presence. That's the Tennessee make-up, and they've done well with it thus far.
Ohio State features a similar squad of players between 6'3" and 6'8", led by budding superstar Evan Turner, who is a triple-double threat every time he steps onto a court. The NCAA Player of the Year, Turner average 20 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6 assists through the season and had a huge game (24, 9, 9) in the second round, 75-66, win over Georgia Tech after virtually walking through the opening win past UC Santa Barbara, 68-51, with 9 points.
The Buckeyes are dangerous on the perimeter with sharp-shooters Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford, and led by upper-classmen. 12 of the 16 players on their roster are either seniors or juniors and there are no freshman. Rounding out the starting five - each of whom will play almost the entire game - is the potential game-changer, 260-pound Dallas Lauderdale, who provides heft inside. Tennessee does not have a player that can match up with him well, nor do they have anyone with Turner's all-around ability. The Vols tenacity and team play should keep this one interesting.
10 St. Mary's Gaels (28-5) vs. 3 Baylor Bears (27-7), 7:27 pm EDT - To many, it's no surprise that either of these teams have advanced this far as Baylor was near the top of the Big 12 standings and ranked all season long and the Gaels knocked off Gonzaga in the WCC tourney final to receive the automatic bid. One could make the case that, with the PAC-10 sending only two teams, St. Mary's was under-seeded and could have been as high as a 4 or 5. At least that the way they've been playing, with 6'11" Omar Samhan dominating the interior in both of St. Mary's blowout wins in the tourney.
Though the Gaels beat Richmond by 8 in the opening round and Villanova by 7, the games were really not that close. St. Mary's held the lead for most of both contests. Complementing Samhan's interior play are a couple of gunners in Matt Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell, both gritty guards with good range. Dellavedova will also drive the ball to the hoop and always seems to be on top of loose balls. Forward Ben Allen is a key on both ends of the floor and Clint Steindl operates well on the wings and is an excellent passer.
The Bears haven't impressed much with wins over Sam Houston St. and Old Dominion, but the guy who St. Mary's will find hardest to handle is guard LaceDarius Dunn, who can light it up from anywhere on the court and is one of the quickest players in the country. Additionally, the Bears bring plenty of inside heft with Ekpe Udoh (6'10"), Quincy Acy (6'7"), Josh Lomers (7'0") and Anthony Jones (6'10"). St. Mary's hasn't seen that kind of size thus far in the tournament, though they did handle Gonzaga just prior, who can put big bodies on the floor.
This one promises to be one of the most entertaining games of the entire tournament.
9 Northern Iowa Panthers (30-4) vs. 5 Michigan St. Spartans (26-8), 9:37 pm EDT - Besides Cornell, the Panthers are the real Cinderella story of the tournament. Prior to beating #1-ranked and top-seeded Kansas on Saturday, N. Iowa hadn't even played a Top 25 team, so beating the Jawhawks was a shock and busted many a hopeful bracket sheet in the process. The big star thus far has undoubtedly been Ali Farokhmanesh, who has hit timely 3-point bombs, enabling the Panthers to move forward through the field.
However, Ali is not even one of the team's top scorers. He's actually 4th, after center Jordan Eglseder, forward Adam Koch and point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe. Johnny Moran fills oout the starting five, who each play about 33-35 minutes per game. Northern Iowa is the classic "five iron men" who will go toe to toe with anyone in the nation. They are well-organized, solid in fundamentals and good defenders. They also have that extra X-factor that comes with winning 30 games in a season - they know what they are.
Michigan State comes into this game battered and bruised. Starting point guard Kalin Lucas will miss the remainder of the season with a ruptured left Achilles. He was replaced in the Spartans' second round win over Maryland by Korie Lucious who hit the game-winner at the buzzer for the 85-83 victory. Coach Tom Izzo's kids are trained to be tough and resilient, so it's no surprise they're here even without their point guard. They absorb adversity like a sponge and move forward, much of the load now shifting to forwards Durrell Summers and Raymar Morgan, both of whom have stepped it up in the first two rounds.
Inside, Draymond Green will provide an interesting match-up with Eglseder, though he's giving up 6 inches and about 50 pounds to the Northern Iowa center. A couple of inside bangers, Delvon Roe and Derrick Nix will see plenty of action, as Izzo will try to wear down the Panthers with fresh bodies. On the wing, Chris Allen is a real unknown, though he's capable of big games as well as being somewhat invisible for long stretches.
This one will go to the team that displays the best survival skills, especially if the refs let them go at it physically.
1 Duke (31-5) vs. 4 Purdue (29-5), 9:57 pm - Here is a game in which a #1 seed could easily been seen waving good-bye to its tournament hopes at the final buzzer. Purdue has regrouped after injury sidelined their #2 scorer and rebounder, replacing Robbie Hummel with gutsy, tough-as-nails senior guard Chris Kramer, a defensive specialist who will likely have the assignment of taking Duke's sharp-shooting Jon Scheyer off his game.
Should Kramer be successful, the rest of the Boilermaker squad looks like a solid match for the Blue Devils. Purdue can get plenty of scoring from center JaJuan Johnson and guard E'Twaun Moore, who is plays with emotion and quickness. Duke will be going to their best player, Kyle Singler, along with guard Nolan Smith for their scoring punch, while using Brian Zoubek and twins Miles and Mason Plumlee to clog up Johnson inside.
There isn't much separating these two teams, especially considering that, with Hummel, the Boilermakers might have even been the favorite. Coach K gives Duke an edge, though Purdue is by no means an easy out.
NCAA Tourney: Thursday Night Previews
Obviously, the level of competition in the Horizon League wasn't strong this season, as the Bulldogs ripped through the regular season and the conference tournament unscathed and unfazed, tearing up Wright St. in the final, 70-45. Butler easily won their opening round game over UTEP, 77-59, but survived a scare against Murray State, winning 54-52. The win over Murray State put Butler's determination and game-ending abilities on display against a very capable team. The Bulldogs trailed much of the game, but stepped up as time wound down, making key buckets and finally stopping the Racers - with a chance to tie or win - from getting off a final shot. Besides their obvious talent on offense, Butler can defend as well.
Syracuse seems to not miss Onuaku at all, winning their tourney opener against Vermont by 23 points and pounding Gonzaga by 22. The Orange 2-3 zone defense seems to be all its cracked up to be, allowing 56 and 65 points respectively in the first two rounds.
Even without their center, Syracuse appears likely to advance due to their explosive offense. They will have four or five players on the floor at any time who can single-handedly run up the score. Wes Johnson is coming off his best game of the season and has seemingly unlimited upside. Andy Rautins is one of the best pure shooters left in the tourney, and Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson can all fill it up. Butler will be racing to keep up with the expected Orange scoring onslaught. Butler beat Xavier by a point and topped Ohio State earlier in the season, though the Buckeyes were without Evan Turner at that time, a difference-maker. Losses to Georgetown, Minnesota and Clemson might be more indicative of their true quality.
11 Washington (26-9) vs. 2 West Virginia (29-6), 7:27 pm EDT - Both teams won their conference tournaments and received automatic bids. The Mountaineers have won 8 straight, the Huskies 9 in a row. Washington relies heavily on Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, their only players who average in double figures, though Elston Turner has stepped up in their first two tourney games and is their best 3-point shooter.
The Mountaineers sport more balance on offense, though their key player, Da'Sean Butler is a big-play guy with ice in his veins. If any game comes down to the wire, Butler is sure to have the ball in his hands, and he usually produces a winning play. Tourney play usually produces a number of stars, and Butler looks like one. He only scored 9 points in the opening round win over Morgan State, but wasn't really needed as West Virginia won by 27 points. Against Missouri, he was unstoppable, scoring 28 points and helping out on the boards with 8 rebounds.
West Virginia has a distinct size advantage over the Huskies. Pondexter, Washington's best inside player, is only 6'6", but plays bigger. Butler, who lines up as a guard, goes 6'7". Kevin Jones is 6'8", Devin Ebanks, 6'9" and Wellington Smith stands 6'7". If the size doesn't get to Washington, the Mountaineers can bring on their outside gunners, John Flowers and Jonnie West, son of West Virginia and NBA legend Jerry West.
This could turn into a coaching clinic as well. Washington's Lorenzo Romar is arguably the best coach in the PAC-10 and a brilliant tactician. Bob Huggins is coaching at his alma mater. This is his dream team.
6 Xavier (26-8) vs. 2 Kansas St. (28-7), 9:37 pm EDT The Xavier Musketeers have flown somewhat under the radar all season even though they've been ranked in the top 15 or 20 most of the season. They've won 9 of their last 10, the only loss coming to Richmond in the A-10 tourney final, which put three teams from that conference into the tourney. Xavier is the last one standing as Richmond and Temple were wiped out in the opening round.
Jordan Crawford is Xavier's go-to guy, scoring at over 20 points per game on average and coming up big in the tourney with 28 against Minnesota and 27 in the second round win over Pitt.
While Crawford is a one-man highlight reel, K-State offers an abundance of talent, especially in their back court, where Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente have ruled all season. The front line of Curtis Kelly, Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels can get after as well. Their combined 30 points per game, with Pullen and Clemente's combined 35, gives the Wildcats unusual scoring balance and plenty of options.
K-State's record down the stretch may be a little misleading. After winning 7 straight in the Big 12, they ended the regular season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State, and then lost to Kansas again in the conference tourney final, but they remained motivated, easily handling North Texas and BYU in the first two rounds. They will be further energized by the departure of Kansas from the tourney field, knowing that they were the second-best team in the Big 12 all year and now have a shot at the Final Four. A meeting with #1 seed in the West region, Syracuse, seems inevitable.
1 Kentucky (32-2) vs. 12 Cornell (29-4), 9:57 pm EDT - This game could be a shocker or a Kentucky rout. It depends on whether the upstarts from upstate - the Cornell Big Red - can continue their torrid shooting pace against the tallest - and possibly the best - team in the nation.
Cornell bombed Temple, 78-65, and blistered Wisconsin, 87-69, shooting 56% against the Owls and an incredible 61% against the Badgers. The Big Red has shocked higher seeds - Temple was 5, Washington a 4 - but Kentucky poses other problems. Still, any team that shoots over 50% is going to be in any game, and the Cornell offense, predicated on ball screens, three-pointers and back-door cuts is extremely disciplined and they carry a nine-game win streak into the fray.
Kentucky comes into the game with about as much swagger and confidence a young, 34-2 team can offer. Guard John Wall has been touted as the NBA's next big thing, forward DeMarcus Cousins is a true powerhouse inside and the balance of the team is absolutely loaded with talent. The Wildcats can, and have, done damage inside or out, in transition or in their half-court sets.
The only knock on them - if there is a legitimate one - is their youth. They will put four freshman on the floor at any given time. Along with Wall and Cousins, guard Eric Bledose and forward Daniel Orton are also freshmen, but they will be aided by junior Patrick Patterson, a blue chip player in his own regard, who could prove to be the wild card for the Wildcats. Cornell simply doesn't have a player who can match up to his size and speed.
Cornell counters with plenty of experience, the biggest man on the floor, center Jeff Foote, Ivy league player of the year, Ryan Wittman and a bevy of 3-point bombers. The Big Red owns the top percentage from beyond the arc in the nation, and, if they're on the mark, will make this game much closer than many expect.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Johnson's 31 and 14 Earn "Day's Best" Honors
A very tough call on which was the most impressive performance in Sunday's second round action as three blue-chippers: DaSean Butler, Evan Turner and Wesley Johnson each led their respective teams to victory.
In the end, Johnson's 31 points and 14 rebounds in SU's 87-65 thrashing of Gonzaga grabs the day's best award, not only because the Orange won in such dominating fashion, but because Johnson's stroke from 3-ball land was so pure early in the game, allowing Syracuse to relax after opening up a big lead. His 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc equalled his career best and his 31 points was his highest point total ever. The 14 boards were also important considering the absence of center Arinze Onawaku. Johnson's all-around excellence allowed the rest of the team to fit into the offense effortlessly and thoroughly dismantle the Zags, usually a very disciplined team.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Purdue in OT; Duke, Xavier Still Dancing
4 Purdue 63
5 Texas A&M 61 OT
Purdue was extended to overtime. Chris Kramer's layup with 4 seconds left proved to be the margin of victory.
1 Duke 68
8 California 53
Nolan Smith scored 20 for the Blue Devils, who advance to the 3rd round to face Purdue.
6 Xavier 71
3 Pittsburgh 68
Jordan Crawford's 27 points and 6 rebounds helped Xavier escape to the regional semi-final, downing Pitt, the sixth of eight Big East teams to depart in the first two rounds. The Musketeers advance to face Kansas State.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard (through games of March 21)
Big East (6-6)
Big Ten (7-2)
Big 12 (7-4)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-1)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Moving Day: Orange, Buckeyes, Spartans, Big Red, Mountaineers Advance
10 Missouri 59
2 West Virginia 68
The Mountaineers held off a scrappy Mizzou squad, but eventually wore them out. DaSean Butler led the charge with 28 points, including 12 of 13 from the foul line.
12 Cornell 87
4 Wisconsin 69
Cinderella Cornell established an early lead and expanded it to as many as 24 points in the second half, completely dominating their Big Ten rivals. Louis Dale had 26 points and Ryan Whittman scored 24 to pace the Big Red, improving their season record to 29-4. Cornell will face the region's top seed, Kentucky, in a regional semi-final game.
10 GA Tech 66
2 Ohio St. 75
The Buckeyes advanced past Georgia Tech to the regional semi-finals on the strength of Evan Turner's all-around floor presence. Turner tallied a game-high 24 points to go with 10 rebounds and 9 assists.
5 Michigan St. 85
4 Maryland 83
Greivis Vazquez hit a jumper to give Maryland a one-point lead with 6.6 seconds left, but Cory Lucious nailed a three as time expired, enabling Michigan State to advance. Durrell Summers single-handedly kept the Spartan hopes alive with 26 points, hitting 6 of 8 threes and 10 of 15 overall. Durrell's game-high total also equalled his career best.
1 Syracuse 87
8 Gonzaga 65
Once Syracuse had established a lead early in the first half, there was no looking back as the Orange, led by Wesley Johnson's game-high 31 and 14 rebounds and Andy Rautins' 24 points, throughly disabled the Gonzaga offense with the 2-3 zone defense and demoralized Gonzaga players by bombarding them with 3-pointers and an up-tempo offense. Syracuse shot 55% for the game, hitting 12 of 25 from beyond the arc.
The Orange advance to the regional semi-final against Butler.
Pullen's Career-Best 34 Was Also Day's Best
There were a number of big efforts and big moments on Saturday, including Ali Farokhmanesh's stunning 3-pointer that helped Northern Iowa bury Kansas, and Omar Samhan's 32 points which led the way for the St. Mary's Gaels to overwhelm Villanova, another shocker.
The day's best, however, occurred in the final game of the day, as Kansas State soared past BYU, 84-72, thanks to the career-high 34 points from Jacob Pullen.
Pullen, who has scored in double figures in every one of K-State's 35 games this season, absolutely blistered the Cougars hitting 7 of 11 3-pointers, 8 of 15 overall and all 11 of his free throws.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Wildcats on the Prowl: K-State, Kentucky Advance
1 Kentucky 90
9 Wake Forest 60
This one was all Kentucky, as the Wildcats thoroughly dominated Wake Forest, earning the right to move on to the East regional semi-final. Darius Miller led the Wildcats with a career-high 20 points as coach John Calipari emptied the bench and 11 different players scored.
Kentucky will play the winner of Sunday's Wisconsin-Cornell game.
2 Kansas St. 84
7 BYU 72
With conference rival Kansas out of the way, the Wildcats of Kansas State can carve themselves a path to the national championship, having dispatched BYU in their second round match-up. Jacob Pullen was outstanding for K-State, hitting 8 of 15 shots, including 7 of 12 from three-point distance for a game-high and career-best 34 points.
The #2 seed in the West, Kansas State can look forward to playing the winner of Sunday's Xavier-Pitt contest.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard (through games of March 20)
Big East (4-5)
Big Ten (4-1)
Big 12 (7-3)
Mountain West (2-4)
West Coast (3-0)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
So Long KU: Northern Iowa Shocks #1 Kansas
9 Northern Iowa 69
1 Kansas 67
Ali Farokhmanesh did it again. Just two days after his decisive three-pointed ended UNLV's dreams, the dead-eye senior guard knocked down a bomb that exploded the #1 overall seed Kansas. Wide open off the Kansas pressure, Farokhmanesh had a perfect look with 30 seconds left and a one-point lead burying his shot from the wing with less than 30 seconds left in the game. He finished with a game-high 16 points as the Panthers eliminated Kansas, widely believed to be the best team in the tournament and ranked #1 in the last polls.
Northern Iowa led nearly the entire game, but felt the pressure late, turning the ball over repeatedly on inbounds plays as Kansas turned up the heat. In the end, it was Kansas' inability to hit three-pointers, defend and rebound that cost them a chance at a second national championship in the last three years. The only time Kansas led in the game was at the start, when they opened with a 2-0 edge.
The Panthers improved to 30-4, advancing to the Sweet 16 to face the winner of the Michigan State-Maryland match-up.
11 Old Dominion 68
3 Baylor 76
LaceDarius Dunn scored a game-high 26 points to lead four Baylor players in double figures past Old Dominion. Dunn, a high-energy scorer, hit 9 of 16 shots, including 4 of 11 from beyond the arc. The Bears advance into the Sweet 16 and will face the region's #10 seed, St. Mary's, next Friday night in Houston.
11 Washington 82
3 New Mexico 64
It appears that offering just two invitations to PAC-10 teams might have been a huge mistake by the selection committee, as the Washington Huskies, the conference champs, easily dispatched the #3 seed in the East, New Mexico, after handling Marquette in the opening round. The huskies opened up a double-digit lead early and, after leading 44-32 at the half, coasted to the win, as Dairese Gary poured in a game-high 25 points.
With Cal beating Louisville on Friday, the PAC-10 is now 3-0 in the tourney. Washington, winners of nine straight, advances to the regional semi-final to face the winner of Sunday's West Virginia-Missouri game.
Butler, Vols Dance into Sweet 16
6 Tennessee 83
14 Ohio 68
Coach Bruce pearl let everyone get into the act as ten Tennessee players scored in the Vols second round win over upset-minded Ohio. The Bobcats stunned #3 seed Georgetown on Thursday to advance, but proved to be no match for Tennessee.
5 Butler 54
13 Murray St. 52
It wasn't very pretty, but the Butler Bulldogs, shooting only 36% for the entire game, survived a duel with fellow small-school rival Murray State to advance to the regional semi-finals. Sophomore Ronald Nored led the Bulldogs with 15 points and 6 assists. Horizon League player of the year, Gordon Hayward, scored 12 and pulled down 7 rebounds.
Big Trouble for Big East: St. Mary's Knocks 'Nova
10 St. Mary's 75
2 Villanova 68
Just as he did in their opening round win over Richmond, St. Mary's Omar Samhan dominated the interior - though this time with even more emphasis on the offensive end - scoring 32 points to lead the Gaels past the South region #2 seed, Villanova.
Samhan had 29 in the first round and upped the ante against the Wildcats, hitting 13 of 16 shots and 6 of 8 from the foul line. St. Mary's led by as many as 10 points in the first half, gave up the lead in the second half, but batted on and eventually overcame the higher-seeded Wildcats.
Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova scored 15 and 14, respectively. Both cashed key three-pointers late in the contest, especially McConnell, who banked one in from 35 feet with just over a minute left to play.
With the loss, the Big East drops to 4-5 in the tournament. Villanova was the highest seed to be ousted thus far.
Johnson's 23 and 15 for Purdue Friday's Top Performance
When the Purdue Boilermakers took the court against Sienna in their opening round game Friday night, they were well aware of two things: Sienna was a dangerous team that had produced upsets in each of their last three NCAA appearances, and that Purdue would have to find a way to win without Robbie Hummel, one of their best players.
Pudue found resolve in their defense and lane domination from senior center JaJuan Johnson, who posted 23 points and tied his career high with 15 rebounds in the 72-64 triumph. Johnson kept the Saints out of the paint with his imposing 6'10" frame and long wingspan, blocking 3 shots officially, but intimidating and changing quite a few forays toward the rim.
Johnson and his Boilermaker teammates will attempt to advance to the regional semi-final when they face the Texas A&M Aggies Sunday afternoon in round two.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Second Round Bound: Syracuse, Ohio State, Cal, Maryland
15 UC-Santa Barbara 51
2 Ohio St. 68
Jon Diebler drained 7 of 12 three-pointers, allowing Ohio State to coast to an opening round win over the gauchos. The Buckeyes meet Georgia Tech in the second round.
13 Houston 77
4 Maryland 89
Aubrey Coleman, the nation's leading scorer, has a game-high , but the Maryland attack was more balanced. Jordan Williams scored 21 points and snatched 15 rebounds to spearhead the effort which sent the Terrapins to a second round match-up with Michigan State.
9 Louisville 62
8 California 77
Cal opened the game with a 12-0 run and it was 22-4 before Louisville ever got involved. The Cardinals eventually cut Cals' lead to 4 in the second half, but then were shut out for nearly four minutes as the Golden Bears secured the win. Jerome Randle and Theo Robinson each tallied 21 for Cal, who will face Duke in the next round.
1 Syracuse 79
16 Vermont 56
Wesley Johnson scored 18 points to lead five Syracuse players in double figures over Vermont. The Orange face Gonzaga in the second round Sunday in Buffalo.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard (includes all 1st round games)
Big East (4-4)
Big Ten (4-1)
Big 12 (5-2)
West Coast (2-0)
Western Athletic (0-2)
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Blue Devils, Spartans, Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs All Advance
10 Georgia Tech 64
7 Oklahoma St. 59
The Yellow Jackets used swarming defense and balanced scoring to upend Oklahoma State and advance. Gani Lawal led the Jackets with 14 points. Georgia Tech hit 24 of 25 free throws.
12 New Mexico St. 67
5 Michigan St. 70
New Mexico State battled until the very end, but failed to upset favored Michigan State. Kalin Lucas scored 25 points to lead all scorers.
1 Duke 73
16 Arkansas Pine Bluff 44
Duke the South's #1 seed, dusted Pine Bluff without so much as breaking a sweat. Kyle Singler had 22 points and 10 boards, both game highs.
8 Gonzaga 67
9 Florida St. 60
After leading the Seminoles 35-19 at the half, Gonzaga held on for the win and the right to play top-seeded Syracuse in the second round on Sunday. The Bulldogs had four of their starters in double figures and no bench scoring.
Mizzou, Badgers, Aggies, Boilermakers Move Forward
10 Missouri 86
7 Clemson 78
In a literal battle of Tigers, Missouri broke open a close game with pressure defense and sharp floor skills. Keith english missed time due to foul issues, but returned to spark a second half run and join teammate Keith Ramsey with 20 points. Missouri advances to play West Virginia, with the winner advancing to the regional semi-final.
13 Wofford 49
4 Wisconsin 53
Bo Ryan's Badgers survived a serious scare from little Wofford, making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. Jon Leuer came up big late, scoring the final four points for Wisconsin, on a short jumper and a pair of free throws. Leuer finished with 20 points and 8 boards. Teammate Treveon Hughes scored 19. The Badgers face Missouri next.
13 Siena 64
4 Purdue 72
Purdue roared out of the intermission and turned a 3-point half time deficit into a 15-point lead in short order, then held on as Sienna eventually cut the lead to 5 points late in the contest. The Boilermakers were paced by JaJuan Johnson, who led in both points and rebounds, with 23 and 15, respectively.
12 Utah St. 53
5 Texas A&M 69
Texas A&M won the battle of Aggies, knocking off Utah State handily. Freshman Khris Middleton led all scorers with 19 points in 25 minutes of action. A&M took control early and was never seriously threatened.
Advancing: West Virginia, Cornell, Xavier Pitt
15 Morgan St. 50
2 W Virginia 77
Kevin Jones canned 7 of 8 shots and finished with a game-high 17 points and Devin Ebanks scored 16 to go with 13 rebounds, as the Mountaineers easily disposed of Morgan State in their opening round win.
12 Cornell 78
5 Temple 65
Louis Dale tallied a game-high 21 points and Ryan Wittman went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc as the Ivy league chalked up a win over A-10 rival, Temple. The owls trailed virtually the entire game, much of the time by double digits. Cornell advances to the second round where they will likely face Wisconsin, if the Badgers win their opening round game with Wofford. Cornell's win was the sixth by a double-digit seed in the tournament.
11 Minnesota 54
6 Xavier 65
The only Xavier player in double figures, Jordan Crawford poured in 28 points to lead all scorers as Xavier opened up late to hold off Minnesota, the first Big Ten team to see action in the tournament. Crawford has scored in double figures in 32 of Xavier's 33 games this season. It was his second-highest point total of the campaign.
Pitt put six players in double figures, exemplifying the kind of team effort the Panthers have relied upon all season, to leave no doubt against long-shot Oakland. The Panthers meet Xavier in the next round.
Samhan's 29 and 12 Thursday's Top Effort
Omar Samhan's domination in St. Mary's 80-71 opening round win over Richmond was worthy of player of the day honors. Samhan manhandled the Spiders inside, hitting 11 of 16 shots from the floor and 7 of 10 free throws en route to 29 points and 12 rebounds.
The 6'11" senior center has led the Gaels in scoring and rebounding all season, averaging a double-double (21.2, 11), so his continued strength inside will be important in Sunday's second round match-up with Villanova.
16 more games are on tap Friday, which will whittle the field down to 32 heading into the weekend. Thus far, the Big East looks like the most overrated of the conferences, checking in with a 1-3 record on Thursday. Four more Big East teams - Syracuse, Louisville, Pitt and West Virginia - will try to right things, though Syracuse, the #1 seed in the West, will be without the services of one of their starters. Arinze Onuaku is day-to-day according to the Orange, and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Kris Joseph, usually the first man off the bench.
Syracuse will sacrifice some heft inside, as Joseph is two inches shorter than Onuaku but nearly 50 pounds lighter. The fitness of the already-thin Orange will be tested in their opener against Vermont, as they normally only go 7 deep. Onuaku will likely not see much action Friday.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard - through games of March 18
Big East 1-3
Big Ten 0-0
Big 12 3-1
Mountain West 2-2
West Coast 1-0
Western Athletic 0-0
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Tennessee, Kansas, Wake Forest and New Mexico Advance
1 Kansas 90
16 Lehigh 74
Marcus Morris led Kansas with 26 points and 10 rebounds, as the tournament's top seed cruised past Lehigh. The Jayhawks will face #9 Northern Iowa in the second round.
6 Tennessee 62
11 San Diego St. 59
On a day in which 5 double-digit seeds won, Tennessee squeaked past San Diego State to advance to the second round against the University of Ohio Bobcats, upset winners over Georgetown, on Saturday. Melvin Goins, who hadn't scored in his previous two games, came up big down the stretch with key shots to carry the Vols to victory. Goins, who was 4 of 5 from 3-point range, joined teammate J.P. Prince with 15 points apiece.
9 Wake Forest 81
8 Texas 80 OT
Battling back from 8 points down in overtime, the Demon Deacons dispatched Texas in the opening round. The Longhorns, once ranked #1 in the nation, have to be considered the biggest collapse of the season. Led by forward Al-Farouq Aminu's 20 points and 15 rebounds, Wake Forest survived a see-saw affair, also getting 19 points and 12 boards from Ishmael Smith. The Deacons will face top-seeded Kentucky in the second round
3 New Mexico 62
14 Montana 57
Montana didn't make it easy on New Mexico, keeping the game close until the final minute, but the Lobos prevailed as Dairese Gary carried the team down the stretch. Roman Martinez led the Lobos in scoring with 19 points. Gary had 15. New Mexico will face #11 Washington in the second round.
NCAA Conference Scoreboard (through games of March 18)
Big East 1-3
Big Ten 0-0
Big 12 3-1
Mountain West 2-2
West Coast 1-0
Western Athletic 0-0
*Conferences with only one tournament team listed as "Other."
Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Washington Move on; Georgetown Stunned by Ohio
9 Northern Iowa 69
8 UNLV 66
Ali Farokhmanesh scored a game-high 17 points and gave Northern Iowa the lead on a long three-pointer with 4.9 seconds left as the Panthers moved into the second round. Farokhmanesh hit 5 of 9 from beyond the arc.
14 Ohio 97
3 Georgetown 83
If you're looking for the Cinderella of the 2010 tourney, look no further than the Ohio Bobcats, out of the Mid-Aerican conference. The Bobcats were the #9 seed in their conference tourney, winning four straight to earn the automatic bid. On the opening night of the tournament, Ohio took Georgetown out behind the woodshed for a good, old fashioned whipping. Ohio grabbed an early lead and never looked back, using deft passing and torrid outside shooting to establish, at one juncture, a 19-point lead.
The Bobcats were led by guards Armon Bassett and D.J. Cooper. Basset scored a game-high 32 points, while point man Cooper tallied 23, with 3 steals, 3 rebounds and 8 assists.
1 Kentucky 100
16 East Tenn. St. 71
No surprises as the Kentucky Wildcats, the nation's tallest team, dominated the interior and hammered East Tennessee State into submission and a quick exit. Freshman Eric Bledsoe and senior Patrick Patterson had 29 and 22 points, respectively.
11 Washington 80
6 Marquette 78
Quincy Pondexter scored on a drive to the hoop with 1.7 seconds left to supply the winning margin for underrated Washington, winners of the PAC-10 tourney. The game was another close call, evening Marquette's record in games decided by four points or less at 8-8, the most in the nation. Pondexter finished with 18 points; teammate Isaiah Thomas led the Huskies with 19.
Advancing: K-State, Murray St., St. Mary's, Baylor, Butler
Kansas State easily cruised past North Texas, the #15 seed in the West region. The Wildcats, the #2 regional seed, took command of the game early and were never threatened. Denis Clemente led the way to the 82-62 victory, with 17 points. Three other players scored in double figures for the Wildcats, who face BYU in the second round.
The upset of the day thus far belongs to the Murray State Racers, a #13 seed, taking out #4 Vanderbilt on a buzzer-beater by Danero Thomas, 66-65. The Racers clawed all day long to maintain short leads, but eventually found themselves down by a point with 4.8 seconds remaining. Thomas' 15-footer caught nothing but nylon as a celebration ensued with the ball going cleanly through the hoop. Murray State's next opponent is the winner of the Butler-UTEP game, the last of the Thursday day games. It was the second one-point win of the day.
The St. Mary's Gaels, winners of six straight, including the final of the West Coast Tournament over Gonzaga, took over after the break, and outgunned Richmond, the #7 seed from the Atlantic-10, 80-71. The big problem for the Spiders was 6'11" Omar Samhan, who scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both game highs. Samhan dominated the interior, while his teammates lined up open outside shots. The Gaels earned their first tournament win since 1959, shooting 49%. They face Villanova in the second round on Saturday in Providence.
Baylor unknotted a tight game with a late spurt to put down pesky Sam Houston, 69-58, in the South region. Ekpe Udoh registered a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds. The Bears advance to the second round game against upset winner Old Dominion on Sunday.
Trailing by 6 at the half, the Bulter Bulldogs advanced into the second round in the West region with a 77-59 win over UTEP, the region's #12 seed and will face upset winner, Murray State on Sunday. The Bulldogs roared out of half time, going on a 22-4 run. Shelvin Mack, on fire from outside, canned 7 of 9 3-pointers for a game high 25 points.
Nova Survives in OT; BYU over FL in 2OT; Old D. Ousts ND
BYU, which had led by as many as 13 points, needed two overtime periods to post a rare win for the Cougars over the Florida Gators, 99-92. Jimmer Fredette, one of the highest scoring players in the nation, was on the money for 37 points. The Cougars will face the winner of the Kansas St.-North Texas match-up in the West region.
Old Dominion dealt with Notre Dame's slowdown "burn" offense and added their own defensive touches, holding the Irish to 37% shooting and star Luke Harangody to a 2-for-9 effort and 4 points. The Monarchs march on to the second round with the 51-50 win.
Villanova needed to get a slew of questionable calls from the refs plus overtime in order to advance past a very capable Robert Morris squad, 73-70. The Wildcats were down by as many as 9 points and trailed the Colonials throughout the game. Villanova took 40 trips to the foul line, in comparison to just 26 for Robert Morris. Villanova played poorly most of the contest, though Scottie Reynolds managed to pull the Wildcats even late in regulation by making almost all of his free throws in the second half. He could have given Villanova the lead with under a minute remaining, but missed his only free throw of the game.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bracket Busters and Myth-Breakers
We've all heard just how rugged the Midwest region is supposed to be, wherein Kansas, the #1 overall seed in the tourney, will be hard-pressed by any number of teams, but that is a flawed idea, a myth, as Kansas will likely breeze through the first three rounds and only face serious competition in their regional final.
While the region boasts some quality teams, the best of them are in the lower half of the bracket, meaning Kansas will only have to play one of the better teams. Tennessee, San Diego State, Georgetown and Ohio Sate are all in the lower half, while the only quality teams in the Kansas draw at the top are Michigan State (5) and Maryland (4). The winner of the Northern Iowa-UNLV game may give Kansas some trouble for the first 15 minutes, but the Jayhawks simply have too much size and experience to imagine that they'd be ousted as early as the second round. Whether Maryland or Michigan State emerges from the other side of the draw, it won't matter. Kansas should handle either of them by ten points at least.
If either Georgetown or Ohio State match up in the regional final against Kansas, that game will provide a true test, though Ohio State has no depth, playing six men at most, and Georgetown, while very good, probably won't be able to keep up with Kansas for a full 40 minutes. That's the big myth this season. Kansas should cruise into the Final Four without breaking a sweat.
As far as bracket-busters are concerned, there are good prospects for upsets in each of the other regions.
#1 seed Syracuse will have its hands full, given they get past Vermont in the opening round. The Orange were upset by the Catamounts in the first round in 2005, though the Orange were a #4 seed that season and Vermont, 13. Figure Syracuse will not allow lightning to strike twice, but after that, it looks like Gonzaga next and then possibly Butler. The Zags haven't exactly knocked over the world this season, though early wins over Wisconsin and Cincinnati and a close loss to Michigan State gave them impetus to cruise through the West Coast conference with a 12-2 mark. A talented team, the Bulldogs are always dangerous, though Syracuse is probably much better.
The other Bulldogs in the draw, Butler, poses different dilemmas for the Orange. A disciplined, well-coached team with tourney experience and a solid bench. Forwards Matt Howard, Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley are slightly undersized, but match up well with the orange front line. The guard play is solid and Butler won't be intimidated by Syracuse's 2-3 zone. It's easy to see how the Bulldogs could create the first #1 casualty of the tournament.
If Syracuse survives to that point, Kansas State will likely end their Final Four dreams. The Wildcats would be a #1 seed were it not for the potent Jayhawks. K-State can run and score in transition, playing against one of Syracuse's weaknesses. The early games in the lower portion of this region could go any way, with the exception of K-State. Pitt, Minnesota, Vanderbilt or BYU all have solid teams.
Kentucky probably has the easiest draw of any team in the tournament. They will dispose of East Tenn. St. in the opening round, then dust off the winner of the Texas-Wake Forest opener, probably the worst 8-9 match-up in the pool. After that, Temple, Cornell or Wisconsin all have equal opportunity to become the Wildcats' regional semi-final victim. Trouble looms in the regional final, where Marquette, West Virginia or New Mexico could emerge, though the Mountaineers seem to be the only realistic challenge to Kentucky. If West Virginia reached the regional final, their game with Kentucky could produce the national champion.
There's been some expression of a belief that Duke caught a break by getting into this regional draw, but there are minefields throughout what shapes up to be the most busted-up bracket of them all. Will the Blue Devils face Cal or Louisville in the second round? If the Golden Bears step up and beat the Cardinals, they could be the surprise of the tournament, as only two teams came out of the PAC-10. However, if Louisville plays to their potential, there aren't many teams they can't beat. Duke could be an early out.
Other sleepers in the top half of the draw include Sienna and Utah State, both of which are widely unknown, though Sienna has a history of knocking off higher-seeded opponents with regularity. They face Purdue in the opening round, and without Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers are already vulnerable. Sienna could cause a quick exit.
Even if Duke survives the first two rounds, a win over either Utah State or Sienna cannot be taken for granted.
The bottom of the bracket also features the weakest #2 in the tournament, Villanova, which proved in the latter part of the season to be somewhat overrated. They haven't got the size or the shooters to go deep this year and their draw is loaded. Notre Dame, Old Dominion, St. Mary's, Richmond or Baylor are all teams capable of high levels of play. Villanova is unlikely to last three rounds, maybe not even two.
Baylor or St. Mary's could emerge as a regional finalist and either could reach the Final Four, though Notre Dame and Old Dominion's chances are not bad either. In any case, Villanova is doomed and Duke will be thoroughly tested.
Pine Bluff Cashes Over Winthrop, Will Face Duke Next
Tiny Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a team which lost its first 11 games of the season, took a big step, knocking off Winthrop, 61-44, in the NCAA Tournament Play-in game Tuesday night in Dayton, OH.
Propelled by senior guard Allen Smith's four 3-pointers, the Golden Eagles took control of the game early in the second half and cruised past the flat Eagles, who hit just 2 of 21 3-point attempts.
Smith took just 5 shots - all 3-pointers - while playing the entire 40 minutes, but nailed four of them and added 2 of 3 from the foul line for his game-high 14 points. He also helped out on the boards with 6 rebounds and dished two assists.
Tyree Glass was a force inside for much of the game, scoring 10 points, but left after banging his right knee on a drive to the hoop midway through the second half and did not return. Fortunately, the Golden Lions didn't need his help down the stretch. It was unclear whether he could go against Duke, the #1 seed in the South region, on Thursday night in Jacksonville.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Tourney Play-in Game Tonight
The 19-13 Eagles are a 3 1/2 point favorite against the 17-15 SWAC champion Golden Lions. Winner of the play-in game will face Duke, the top seed in the South. Wintrop earned the right to this position by winning the Big South tournament, after finishing third behind Coastal Carolina during the regular season.
Only one player, sophomore Reggie Middleton averages in double figures for the Eagles, at 10.2 points per game.
That's a contrast to the Golden Lions, who have four players who score between 9.6 and 10.4 points per outing, led by guard Terrance Calvin. Pine Bluff also offers a deep bench with interchangeable parts, with 9 players who average 26 or more minutes of floor time.
Just in case you're a little over-hyped and need a game to calm your nerves, game time is 7:30 pm airing live on ESPN.
Take the points. It's time for a little March Madness.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Mississippi St. vs. Joe Lunardi
Let's go out on a little bit of a limb here and say that ESPN's Joe Lunardi (their bracketology expert) and the tournament selection committee is all wet if the Mississippi State Bulldogs don't catch a bid into the NCAA field.
Even though the Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker to Kentucky in the SEC final, losing in overtime by a 75-74 score, it was the second time this season they took the Wildcats into OT. They lost at home and now lose again here, but how can anyone deny that they are a quality team?
The very first player to receive Player of the Day honors this season will also be the last prior to the tournament. Jarvis Varnado kept the Bulldogs in the game with a superior effort of 18 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. The man is simply the best shot-blocker in the history of the NCAA, a fact proven by career stats.
Even though they ended their season on the short end of the scoreboard, the Bulldogs provided future opponents of Kentucky with a game plan. Spread them out, shorten the game, hit a bunch of treys and send the Wildcats to the line. It almost worked for the Bulldogs, and should have, except for DeMarcus Cousins' tip-in with 0:00.1 left on the clock, which sent the game into overtime.
Along with the Bulldogs, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, currently playing Ohio State for the Big Ten championship and an automatic bid, ought to get into the field. Again, Lunardi has had the Gophers on the outside looking in at various stages of development over the weekend.
If Lunardi is even partially right and one of these two teams doesn't get in, I will publicly heap profuse praise upon him in an upcoming post. If both Minnesota and Miss. St. make the field, I reserve the right to call Lunadri whatever names I choose, whenever I please. Childish? Yes, but, after all, we're only talking about basketball games.
Pre-Selection Cheat Sheet
Best Bets: Count on Kansas getting the #1 overall designation and going in the Midwest region. There are probably only two or three teams capable of beating the Jayhawks on a neutral floor, and even that's in doubt. Those three would be Kentucky, Ohio State and West Virginia. Depending on seedings, it appears that Kansas would only have to face one of these, that being Kentucky, and most likely in the tournament final. Count on Kansas to win five games minimum. The others look good for at least 3 wins, and, in Kentucky's case, 4, 5 or maybe all.
Vulnerable: The most vulnerable of the #1s is Syracuse. The Orange haven't really played well down the stretch and have actually lost two straight coming into the tourney after losing on the road in Louisville and in their first Big East tourney game, to Georgetown. The way to beat the Orange is to outrun them. If they can't set up in their 2-3 zone, they can give up loads of points in transition. They may be the first #1 to go down, possibly as early as the 3rd round.
Purdue is without their second-leading scorer and rebounder, Robbie Hummel. If the beating put on them by Minnesota is any indication, they cannot compete at a high level without him. It's tough, because with Hummel, the Boilermakers were a legitimate contender for the whole shootin' match. Depending on the seeding, the Boilers could go down in the first round. Surviving into the Sweet 16 would be a major feat.
Other likely high-seed teams in the "can be beaten early" camp include Villanova, Tennessee and Gonzaga. Villanova is limited by their size; Tennessee has struggled all season but still can get up and down with the best of them, but lacks solid outside shooting. Gonzaga seemed to be running on fumes late in the season, playing without purpose. They're likely to be over-seeded and overplayed. Expect an early out from them and surprises from St. Mary's who beat them in the WCC final.
The most-plausible 1st-round-out team is Texas. As chronicled throughout the season, the Longhorns have lost their way. They're a likely 8, 9 or 10 seed, meaning they'll have a tough match-up and probably lose.
Finally, every team besides Duke from the ACC can be beaten. The league was not very deep and 1st round upsets could happen to two or more of the five or six who get in.
Sleepers: West Virginia. They may have the X factor in coach Bob Huggins (coaching for the school he played for) and Da'Sean Butler, the ultimate buzzer beater. The ice in his veins is just a little colder than that running though Georgetown's Chris Wright's. Georgetown could make the Final Four or be out in the second round, they're so young (no seniors on the team).
Kansas State could reach the Final Four if there are some upsets ahead of them or they face off with Syracuse or Duke in a regional final. As mentioned above, St. Mary's looks excellent. All of the teams from the Mountain West - there could be four: BYU, Nw Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State - can go deep into the tourney. Two of them making the Sweet 16 would not be much of a surprise.
If Mississippi State gets in, look out. They are a tough bunch and Jarvis Varnado set the NCAA record for career blocks.
Tiny Dancers: Of all the small schools which played into the tournament, two stand out. Old dominion led the nation in defense, with the lowest opponent shooting percentage in the nation. If they play a team with any offensive weakness, they'll shut them down and romp. Cornell waltzed to the Ivy League title without much sweat. Senior-heavy, they led the nation in three-point shooting, but can do it in the lane as well.
Singler Leads Blue Devils to ACC Final; All In on Selection Sunday
The Duke Blue Devils can wrap up the ACC tournament with a win over Georgia Tech on Sunday, after surviving a scare from upset-minded Miami in their semi-final, eventually coming out on top of a 77-74 score.
As is often the case, when his team needed him to step up, Kyle Singler did just that, hitting 5 of 9 3-pointers (8 of 15 overall), to go with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Singler led all scorers and will have a shot at being named the tournament's MVP when he and his Duke teammates square off with Georgia Tech on Sunday in the tourney final.
Having already captured the outright regular season ACC crown, the Blue Devils have little to prove in their match-up with the Yellow Jackets, a team they lost to in January, but soundly trounced in early February, 86-67, though that win was on Duke's home court. A win by Duke would ensure a #1 seeding, most likely in the West Region. A loss could send that seed to Ohio State, if the Buckeyes handle Minnesota in their final.
Notable: There are just four games on Sunday to determine automatic bids. The ACC, A-10 and SEC tourney finals all begin at 1;00 EDT, while the Big Ten final is set for a 3:30 pm tip. In each case, the conference #1 seed is facing a team ostensibly on the bubble, though, in all likelihood, the four "bubble" teams - Richmond (A-10), Georgia Tech (ACC), Mississippi St. (SEC) and Minnesota (Big Ten) - have, by virtue of solid play to reach their conference final, already earned enough respect from the selection committee to make the field of 65 even if they lose.
It should be interesting to watch what happens especially to Minnesota and Mississippi State. Both have solid enough resumes to get them into the tourney, though some experts are calling them "first teams out."
We'll find out soon enough, as the selections are scheduled to be announced at 6:00 pm ET. Get your brackets ready!
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Jayhawks Reach Big 12 Final; Big East, ACC, Mountain West Show Depth
A model of consistency, the Kansas Jayhawks have steamrolled to the best record in the nation at 31-2 (15-1) and, after knocking off #23 Texas A&M, 79-66, in their Big 12 semi-final, will face Kansas State in the championship game Saturday afternoon.
Senior guard Sherron Collins led the scoring for both teams, hoisting up 26 points on 9-for-19 shooting (3-5 3-pointers) and added six assists. The team leader, Collins' work ethic and unflappable style exemplifies the core of the Jayhawk system. This is a no-nonsense group that is neither flashy nor flamboyant. They just go out and get the job done, game after game.
On Saturday they will face their toughest oppenent in Kansas State. The Wildcats came within two points of beating the Jayhawks back in January, losing 81-79, but when the teams met again at Kansas on March 3, it was all Jayhawks in an 82-65 rout.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday's Big 12 final, the Jayhawks will likely be awarded the top #1 seed in the NCAA tourney and play in the Midwest region. They will be the ultimate tough out in the upcoming tourney.
Notable: What to think of the various doings around the country's conference tournaments? Here's an angle that will be proven out in the upcoming NCAA tourney. Three conferences have produced various upsets, showing that they have real depth. The ACC, Big East and Mountain West have produced the best play, top to bottom. In the Mountain West, even though the top four seeds reached the semi-finals, both games were won by the unranked underdogs, setting up a #3 vs. #4 final as UNLV will face San Diego State. Along with BYU and New Mexico, all four teams should receive bids and all four should perform well in the national tourney.
The Big East final pits the #4 seed, West Virginia against #8 Georgetown. The Hoyas have stormed through the tourney, dropping South Florida, Syracuse and, on Friday, thumping a very solid Marquette squad, 80-57. The Mountaineers have just barely survived their two games, beating Cincinnati on a Da'Sean Butler buzzer-beater and holding off Notre Dame for a two-point win.
In the ACC, Duke has demonstrated that they are the class of the conference, but the rest of the league can scratch and claw with the best of them. Besides the Blue Devils, the remaining teams are Georgia Tech, NC State and Miami, the latter two having no hope of an NCAA invitation unless they win the tourney, while Tech has likely moved off the bubble and into the mix.
The SEC has produced no surprises, with Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi St. reaching the semis, while in the Big 10, Minnesota surpried Michigan State in overtime in one upset and Illinois regrouped for a win over Wisconsin. Ohio State and Purdue are the other semi-finalists, as expected.
In the PAC-10, Washington kept its hopes alive with a 79-64 win over Stanford, setting up a final with Cal on Saturday. The Huskies and Golden Bears split a pair of home wins this season, so even a close loss by Washington should be enough to get them into the NCAAs.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Cougars on the Prowl; Conference Tourneys Coast-to-Coast
#14 BYU advanced to the semi-finals of the Mountain West tourney with a 95-85 win over unranked TCU. They will play UNLV on Friday with hopes of reaching the final, ostensibly against #1 seed New Mexico, which has a date in the other semi-final with San Diego State. There's a good possibility that no matter which way the remaining games play out, all four semi-finalists could receive bids to the NCAA tourney. UNLV might be the last team out, so a win over BYU could be huge for them.
Leading the scoring barrage for the 29-4 Cougars was junior guard Jimmer Fredette, who poured in 45 points - his second-highest single game point total of the season - on 10-for-23 shooting and 23 of 24 free throws. Fredeete hit only 2 three-pointers, but also snatched 4 rebounds and dished out 6 assists without committing a single foul.
Fredette leads the Cougars in scoring and assists. BYU lost only three times in Mountain West play, twice to conference champion New Mexico. They split a pair of games with UNLV, each team winning on their home floor.
Notable: No bids were handed out on Thursday, but more are due each remaining day up to the Selection Sunday deadline. The Big East continues to prove itself the best conference top to bottom as three of the four teams which received double byes - Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh, were defeated, respectively, by Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame. The 4th double-bye entrant, West Virginia, needed a desperation 3-point bank shot by Da'Sean Butler at the buzzer to break a 51-all tie and send home Cincinnati.
Georgetown faces Marquette, while West Virginia will square off with Notre Dame, winners of seven straight, in semi-fianl games Friday night.
Texas proved to be vulnerable once again, losing to Baylor, 86-67, in the second round of the Big 12 tourney. The Longhorns appear to be headed for a one-and-done NCAA appearance after starting the season with a 17-0 record and going 7-9 since then. Among the Texas troubles are inconsistent guard play, no inside presence (Dexter Pittman is just a big lump most of the time) and a general lack of enthusiasm. They're likely to be seeded somewhere between a #8 and a #12, ripe territory for elimination.
The PAC-10 may send only one team to the tourney, as Arizona State lost to Stanford, 70-61 in the opening round of the conference tourney. The Sun Devils finished second to Cal in the standings, but now appear to be in jeopardy of missing out on further post-season play. Cal thumped Oregon in their tourney opener and seem headed to the final on Saturday. The only remaining hope for the PAC-10 would be Washington - third during the regular season - after their 59-52 win over Oregon State. The 22-9 Huskies face Stanford, while Cal plays UCLA in semi-final games Friday. Washington could get an invite with a win over Stanford, but beating Cal in the final would ensure an automatic selection.
It's official: Two stalwarts of the NCAA tournament, North Carolina and Connecticut, will be missing from this year's field. Both lost opening games in their conference tourneys and appear headed for NIT bids. North Carolina was bounced out of the ACC tourney Thursday by Georgia Tech. UConn lost to St. John's on Tuesday.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
James Guides Longhorns to Win; Two More Bids Resolved
On January 18, the Texas Longhorns were 17-0 and ranked #1 in the nation. From that point through the end of the regular season, they went 6-8 and as of the most recent poll had dropped right out of the Top 25, finally settling in the "other teams receiving votes" category.
Wishing to put the latter part of their schedule behind them, the Longhorns found new life as the Big 12 conference tourney began on Wednesday, getting 28 points and 16 rebounds from their floor leader, Damion James, as the Longhorns snuffed Iowa State, 82-75, advancing to a second round game against #21 Baylor, a team that's beaten them twice.
How Texas will do against the Bears and in the NCAA tourney (at 24-8, they're still considered a lock for an at-large bid) will depend largely on how short their memories are. If the Texas players can put the latter half of their season behind them, they have enough talent to reach the Sweet 16 and maybe beyond. Most teams have their ups and downs, but Texas has been particularly aberrant this season.
As for James, a senior forward, his game is still incomplete. Even though he was the game's high-scorer and rebounder against Iowa St., his play was faulty, as he hit just 9 of 20 shots (3 of 8 3-pointers), but was magnificent on the boards. His 28 points matched his season high. Still, Texas still needs to find more scoring options, and time is working against them.
Notable: Notre Dame got 20 points and 10 boards from Luke Harangody as the Irish topped Seton Hall, 68-56, winning their opening Big East tournament game and 5th overall. The win put the Irish on the list of teams that will almost surely receive an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
Also in the Big East was the upset of the day, as Cincinnati stormed back from a 41-32 half time deficit to knock off Louisville, 69-66, and advance to the quarterfinals.
Even though the Bearcats shot only 38%, they outrebounded the Cardinals, 54-32 (21-8 on the offensive end), and scored on numerous put-backs in the paint. Cincy can get after it on the boards and will face #7 West Virginia in the last of four games Thursday at Madison Square Garden. A win would almost surely put Cincinnati into the NCAA tournament. With an 18-14 record, they are still considered to be on the bubble.
Two more teams found their way into the main event on Wednesday by winning conference tournaments. Robert Morris held off a determined Quinnipiac squad, 52-50, to capture the Northeast Conference Tourney, and Montana got 42 points from senior Anthony Johnson to slip past Weber State, 66-65. Johnson brought Montana back from 22 points down early in the second half, scoring their last 21 points, but, even though the Grizzlies earned a trip to the NCAAs by winning the Big Sky tourney, they will probably be a one-and-done team against a probable #1 or #2 seed.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Providence's Peterson Goes for 38 and 16 in Loss
With all the conference tournaments underway, normally, the player of the day would go to a player who was a large factor in his team moving on, but the effort by Providence sophomore Jamine Peterson was just too good to be overlooked. Even though the Friars ended the season by losing 11 in a row and were ousted from the Big East tournament on Tuesday by Seton Hall, 109-106, Peterson did not let the team's woes weigh on him. In fact, he produced his best game of the season, a monster effort, resulting in 38 points and 16 rebounds (10 offensive).
The 6'6" force of nature hit 14 of 26 shots, including 1-for-5 from 3-point range, and 9 of 10 free throws. It was his 16th double-double of the season, and what makes his season and his final game (will he go pro?) so special is that he dd his work without much help. Providence is 12-19. Peterson led them in both points and rebounds. If he decides to return for another year, the Friars should fare better, though in the highly competitive Big East, nothing is certain.
Notable: Three more teams earned NCAA automatic bids on Tuesday by winning their respective conference tourneys. Butler thumped Wright State in the Horizon League final, 70-45; North Texas dropped Troy, 66-63, to capture the Sun Belt tournament; and, Oakland laid claim to the Summit League championship with a 76-64 victory over IUPUI.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
McConnell, Allen Lead Gaels in Rout of Zags; Four More Punch Dance Tickets
After losing twice to Gonzaga during the regular season, not many gave St. Mary's much of a chance against the Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference tournament final, but Mickey McConnell, who was shut out in the last meeting with the Zags, lit them up for 26 points and led the Gaels to the 81-62 upset win.
McConnell hit 10 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 from three-point range, as he dashed through the Gonzaga defense en route to equalling his season high. At 6'0", McConnell was like a gnat amongst the trees, slashing into the lane for shots or dishing to teammates. He had 6 assists along with 4 steals as the Gaels pulled away steadily in the second half.
Also providing a significant boost was Ben Allen, who played his best game of the season when it counted the most, nailing 8 of 11 shots from the field - including 4 of 6 3-pointers - for a season-high 20 points. Allen was also solid on the boards, snatching 9 rebounds.
The win gave St. Mary's the automatic conference bid. Gonzaga, already a sure thing to make the tourney, will have to wait until Sunday to see where they are seeded.
Notable: Along with St. Mary's, the other teams winning conference tournaments were Old Dominion in the Colonial, with a 60-53 win over William & Mary; Sienna, slipping past Fairfield in OT, 72-65 (Edwin Ubiles, 27 points) for the Metro Atlantic crown; and, Wofford, winning the Southern Conference tourney, will be making its first ever appearance in the NCAA tourney, after a 56-51 win over Appalachian State.
Monday, March 08, 2010
Morgan Cashes Season-High 22; Spartans Earn Share of Big Ten
When Raymar Morgan is on his game, Michigan State is a very tough beat. When the Spartans get Morgan involved early, less-talented teams generally fall behind early and never catch up. Such was the case Sunday afternoon when the Spartans earned a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a breezy, 64-48 victory over in-state rival, Michigan.
The final score did not nearly capture how one-sided the game was. While Morgan was scoring 13 of his season-high 22 points in the first half, Michigan state defenders were doing a number on the Wolverines, holding them to a mere 14 points for the half and opening up an 18-point lead. Morgan, a senior forward, hit 10 of his 15 shots from the field, all inside the three-point line and most of them on drives to the hoop, and canned 2 of 3 free throws while bringing down 10 rebounds for his 5th double-double of the season.
Michigan State finished the Big Ten season at 14-4, tied with Ohio State and Purdue. The Spartans are 24-7 overall.
Notable: After Cornell became the first team to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on Friday, three more teams did so on Saturday. East Tennessee State won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tourney with a 72-66 win over pesky Mercer; Murray State topped Morehead St., 62-51, winning the Ohio Valley Tourney, and; Winthrop won the Big South tournament and the automatic bid for the fifth time in the last six years, topping Coastal Carolina, 64-53.
On Sunday, Northern Iowa punched their dance ticket by winning the Missouri Valley tournament, beating Wichita State, 67-52.
Other conference tourneys are already underway in the Northeast, Metro-Atlantic, Colonial, Mid-American and a handful of others. The major conference tournaments begin in earnest on Tuesday, when the Big East opens. On Wednesday, the PAC-10 and Big 12 tournaments begin, followed on Thursday with opening tips in the Big Ten, SEC and ACC. The week-long smorgasbord of conference tourneys culminates with the Big Ten final at 3:30 pm, the last game before the field of 65 is announced late Sunday afternoon.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Kuric's 22 Drops Syracuse in Freedom Hall Finale
A little-known sophomore sub named Kyle Kuric scored a game-high 22 points - all in the second half - to lead Louisville to their second victory this season over #1 Syracuse in a fitting farewell to hallowed Freedom Hall in Louisville,Kentucky.
The Cardinals also became the only team to not only top the Orange twice this year, but the only team to beat them away from the Carrier Dome, as Rick Pitino's flow offense cut Kuric loose and produced a 78-68 win.
Not only was the win important for sentimental reasons, as Freedom hall has been home to Louisville Cardinals basketball teams since 1956, but the win virtually ensured Louisville a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals finished the Big East regular season 11-7, and are 20-11 overall.
Kuric, who averages less than 14 minutes per game, came up big in the second haf as he was pressed into action after starting guard Jerry Smith sprained his thumb just before half time. The spunky soph responded by hitting 9 of 11 shots, including four 3-pointers in a memorable career-high performance.
Cornell Captures Ivy; Earns Tourney Seed
With their 95-76 win at Brown Friday night, Cornell's Big Red locked up first place in the Ivy League, earning them an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Their remaining game at Yale tonight becomes inconsequential as Cornell already has a 12-1 record and 2nd place Harvard is two games back at 10-3, so, after Saturday's road finale, it will be back to the books for the brainy Cornellians, awaiting their fate from the selection committee on March 14. By the time Cornell players are back on the hardwood they will have had at least an 11-day layoff. That's a long time the Big Red can use to plot the overthrow of a #3 or #4 seed. They're currently ranked around 50 in the field of 65.
In Friday's win, the Big Red used long ball to demolish the Brown Bears, hitting 20 of 30 shots from 3-point range. Leading the long-range barrage was senior forward Jon Jaques, who 7 of 9, including 6 of 8 from downtown. A 48% 3-point shooter on the season, Jaques also handled 7 rebounds and led five players in double figures with 20 points.
The Big Red has demonstrated ability to score in all aspects of the game throughout the season, so their opponent in the first round of the NCAA tourney better come well-prepared.
Friday, March 05, 2010
Gibbs Beats Buzzer as Pitt Escapes Friars
It wasn't supposed to be a close game. After all, Providence had lost 8 straight games and #17 Pitt was on its home court. But the way the game turned out, the Panthers needed a near-mid-court heave at the buzzer from their best shooter, Ashton Gibbs, to finally take down Providence, 73-71.
Gibbs' trey gave him a game-high 25 points. Better yet, the win gave Pitt a double bye in next week's Big East tournament, and, with a win against Rutgers (another game Pitt is "supposed" to win easily) and a Villanova loss to West Virginia on Saturday would make Pitt the #2 seed in the tourney, an enviable position, ensuring that they would not have to face Syracuse unless it was in the final.
Gibbs, who hit 9 of 13 shots and 6 of his 9 3-point attempts, was not alone in his starring role. Teammate Jermaine Dixon poured in a career-high 24 points and added 12 rebounds for his first collegiate double-double. Providence was kept in the game largely due to the effort of their 6'6" sophomore stud, Jamine Peterson, who scored 24 points and hauled in 18 boards for his 15th double-double of the season. Despite the Friars being just 4-13 in the Big East, Peterson should get plenty of votes as conference player of the year. He has dominated the lane in just about every game this season.
Notable: Michigan State kept its hopes alive for a share of the Big Ten title Thursday night with a 67-65 win over Penn State in which the Spartans nearly blew a 10-point lead late in the game. The Spartans need a win over Michigan to tie Ohio State and Purdue, the Boilermakers expected to win their season-ender on Saturday at Penn State. In that case, all three would end with identical 14-4 records, but Ohio State would be the #1 seed in the conference tournament, Purdue, #2 and the Spartans, the #3 seed.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Maryland Is All About Greivis
One of the flashiest and most-outspoken players in college hoops, Greivis Vasquez - third all-time scorer for the Maryland Terrapins behind Len Bias and Juan Dixon - could easily just let his play do the talking, but that's not his style.
In Wednesday's showdown for the ACC top spot with Duke, Vasquez took the Comcast Center crowd along for a wondrous ride, continually exhorting the fans to make more noise as the Terps downed Duke, 79-72. Vasquez led the Terps in scoring with 20 hard-earned points, the biggest a running one-hander as he drove across and past the lane with 37 seconds left which gave Maryland a 73-69 lead that Duke could not overcome. In addition to scoring and cheerleading, Vasquez added 5 rebounds and 4 assists, putting Maryland in position to at least tie for the ACC championship.
Both teams are expected to win their final games this Saturday. Duke hosts North Carolina and Maryland travels to Virginia.
Notable: The Kentucky Wildcats secured at least a tie in the SEC East with an 80-68 win at Georgia, improving to 13-2 in the conference, a game ahead of 12-3 Vanderbilt, whom they have beaten twice. In their final regular season game against Florida on Saturday, the Wildcats can clinch the title outright with a win.
In the Big 12, Kansas locked up the championship with an 82-65 win over Kansas St. The Jayhawks are 14-1 with just Missouri left on the schedule, but they're 3 games ahead of 11-3 K-State. The win also gives Kansas a #1 seed in the conference tourney and a likely #1 seed in one of the NCAA regions.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
UTEP Captures C-USA Crown
After starting their Conference USA slate 1-1, the UTEP Miners went on to win their next 13 straight, culminating in Tuesday's 80-76 victory at Marshall, a win which clinched the regular-season championship.
Led by leading-scorer Randy Culpepper's 32 points, the Miners overcame a 7-point half time deficit with 51 second half points to post their seventh consecutive road win. Culpepper nailed 7 of 11 3-point shots and was 11-for-18 overall.
The 23-5 Miners are 14-1 in the conference and seek to wrap up the season in good fashion when they face 2nd place UAB at home on Saturday. Winning the regular season does not guarantee an NCAA bid, though the Miners - along with UAB - seem deserving. The winner of next week's conference tournament gets the automatic bid.
Notable: Playing for the first time since 1990 as a #1-ranked team, Syracuse easily handled St. John's, 85-66, assuring themselves of the conference championship and the #1 seed in next week's Big East tournament. The Orangemen, 28-2 and 15-2 in the conference, finish the regular season at Louisville on Saturday.
Ohio State earned the #1 seed in the Big Ten tourney with a 73-57 win over Illinois in their final game of the season. The win gave the Buckeyes a 14-4 record in the conference, assuring them of at least a share of the outright title. Purdue (12-4) has yet to face Indiana on Wednesday and finishes at Penn State, Saturday. Michigan State, also 12-4, finishes with a pair of home games, Thursday vs. Penn St. and Sunday against in-state rival, Michigan.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Mountaineers Hammer Georgetown
Led by senior forward Da’Sean Butler's 22 points, the West Virginia Mountaineers pummeled Georgetown, 81-68, in a game that wasn't nearly as close as even the lopsided final score would suggest.
The #10 Mountaineers, playing their final home game of the season, jumped all over the defense-challenged Hoyas and quickly opened a double-digit lead which expanded to a 43-27 score at the half. As the second half ensued, it got worse, as the Hoyas played sloppily on the offensive end (20 turnovers) and West Virginia extended the lead of as many as 27 points.
Georgetown eventually brought the advantage down to single digits, but by that time, it was too late. The Mountaineers made their free throws and scored key buckets late in the game. Butler, in addition to his 22 points, added six rebounds and six assists, helping the Mountaineers improve to 23-6. Their 12-5 Big East record also secured byes in the first two rounds of the conference tournament which begins next week. The Mountaineers join Syracuse, Villanova and Pitt with double byes in the upcoming tourney.
Villanova will host West Virginia on Saturday in the regular season finale for both teams. A West Virginia win would secure second place in the conference and an opportunity to play against the #1 Syracuse Orangemen in the final, if both teams reach that game.
The Hoyas, in free-fall since mid-February, lost for the 4th time in their last 5 outings and have dropped to 9-8 in the conference with a final home game against Cincinnati on Saturday. Another loss and an early exit from the conference tourney might endanger Georgetown's NCAA bid, though they are currently in 7th place, a half-game ahead of Notre Dame, who topped the Hoyas, 78-64, last week.
Monday, March 01, 2010
Syracuse Marches Into Madness As #1
The 27-2 Orangemen are ranked #1 for the first time during the regular season since 1990. They received 59 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the most recent AP poll (see sidebar, below), followed by Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas State. Ohio State moved up to #6.
Syracuse has not lost on the road this season, with an 11-0 mark away from the Carrier Dome.
Labels: Syracuse Orangemen
Purdue Loss to Michigan State Opens Door for Buckeyes
It wasn't pretty, but the much-ballyhooed showdown between Purdue and Michigan State eventually turned the way most expected it would - in favor of the Spartans.
Michigan State shot just 40% and turned the ball over 24 times, but Purdue, playing their first game without Robbie Hummel simply could not find the bucket, hitting only 15 of 50 shots from the field (30%) while being badly outrebounded, 46-20. Raymar Morgan stepped up for the Spartans, leading all scorers with 16 points and adding 11 rebounds for his 4th double-double of the season. The Spartans took control of the game late for the 53-44 win and a shot at first place in the Big Ten.
Ohio State was the main beneficiary of Purdue's demise. The Buckeyes lead the conference standings at 13-4, with Purdue and the Spartans tied for second at 12-4. With a win at home against Illinois Tuesday, the Buckeyes would capture the regular season title by virtue of a split of their two games with Purdue and a win in their only meeting with Michigan State. Ohio State already topped the Illini, 72-53, at Illinois, two weeks ago.