NBE Basketball Report
NCAA Tournament

MERNAGH: TONIGHT’S NCAA SWEET 16 LINEUP

March 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Tonight’s games offer up four potentially excellent match-ups (the thing that everyone says this tournament, and really any basketball game played anywhere, is always about).

Here’s some thoughts on each game.

Syracuse vs Wisconsin

This one will be a battle of pace.

Syracuse wants to get out in transition, run and dunk, hit the trailer for three-point attempts and attack the basket off the bounce.

Wisconsin wants to take their time and get a great shot each possession. If they can’t get a great shot, they want Jordan Taylor to create late in the shot clock on the perimeter by either raising up for a 3, getting to the rim and getting fouled or finding open three-point shooters with kick outs. Or the want Ryan Evans to do the same in the mid-to-low block. Wisconsin wants the game in the 50′s or 60′s, Syracuse in the 80′s. Look for a heavy dose of short corner and free throw line finds in the half court action of the Badgers against the Orange 2-3 zone. Roc Christmas was outstanding against Kansas State in the place of Fab Melo. Another big aspect in this game will be how physical the refs allow things to get. I’m hard-pressed to call anyone a clear favorite here but I think Syracuse’s depth will win it for them.
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MERNAGH: SMART STICKS WITH VCU…AGAIN

March 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ray Mernagh

Another year is almost in the books except for sixteen lucky, and good, programs.

One of those programs that’s closed the season and already started a new one is VCU, and once again they’ve managed to sidestep the same oncoming locomotive they managed to elude following last season (high major programs trying to steal their coach Shaka Smart).

Last year it was NC State — and hey, that Gottfried guy is looking pretty good right about now — and Maryland and several others.

This year it was the Fighting Illini of Illinois making their pitch to Smart.

I consider Shaka Smart a friend. The reason I know him is because he was a young assistant at Akron when I was writing a book about the Mid-American Conference, as well as covering that league and others on my old websites HoopFactor.com and HoopWise.com (may they rest in peace). A lot of things I predicted in that book came true. A lot of opinions I had then have changed since 2004-2006. Some turned out to be false, flat-out wrong. But perhaps the one subject I was most right about was Shaka Smart. In the end of the book there’s a section entitled Post Script in which I update everyone on what’s happened with the subjects in the book since the end of the season. It was written in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh in late August of 2006 right before the book went to print, and the part about Shaka Smart follows in the italicized paragraph below.
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FROM 68 TO 16: ITS A BUCKEYE STATE OF MIND; CONFERENCE STANDINGS; REGIONAL TICKETS

March 19, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The state of Ohio is at the top of the college basketball world this Monday morning. The first week of the 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament is complete and for the first time ever four schools from one state have advanced to the Sweet 16. The state is Ohio as Ohio State, Ohio University, Cincinnati and Xavier have all made it to this week’s Regionals.

While Ohio State was expected to make it at the very least this far, the other three schools can be labeled as surprises. Cincinnati was the 6th seed and got past ACC Tournament champion Florida State, the #3 seed, last night. Xavier rallied from a large deficit against Duke-killer Xavier to join the Sweet 16 earlier in the evening. The biggest surprise is John Groce’s Ohio Bobcats, the 13th seed in the Midwest. After stunning Michigan in the Round of 64, DJ Cooper and company upended South Florida yesterday to make the round of 16 for the first time in over 40 years.

The Sweet 16 is still predominately a major conference party with 14 of the 16 teams coming from the 6 major BCS conferences. The only party crashers are Xavier and the aforementioned Ohio Bobcats. Below is the conference standings of the BCS conferences through the first three rounds of the 2012 NCAA Tournament:

Conference……………W-L………………Teams Remaining
ACC………………….5-3……………………2
Big 10……………….9-2……………………4
Big 12……………….6-4……………………2
Big East……………..11-5…………………..4
Pac 12……………….1-2……………………0
SEC………………….5-2……………………2

This year’s regional sites are TD Garden in Boston, Georgia Dome in Atlanta, US Airways Center in Phoenix and Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Our partnership with TicketNetwork.com allows you to pick the seats you want from their tremendous inventory at great prices. See below for 2012 NCAA Tournament Sites and tickets available right through the Regionals and Final Four:

REGIONAL FINALS (Sweet 16 & Elite 8):
BostonTD Garden

AtlantaGeorgia Dome

PhoenixUS Airways Center

St. LouisEdward Jones Dome

2012 NCAA FINAL FOURNew Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome

2012 NCAA TOURNAMENT: CONFERENCE SCORECARD & MORE

March 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Norfolk State?

Lehigh?

It has been 11 years since a 15 seed won a game in the NCAA Tournament and on Friday we saw two colossal upsets with Norfolk State beating Missouri 86-84 and Lehigh sending Duke packing, 75-70.

After a rather mundane Thursday opening to the Round of 64, the Madness returned to March Madness on Friday!

The upsets did not stop with Duke and Mizzou going down either. In all, seven double-digit seeds advanced on Friday to play on Sunday. Exactly half of the 16 games yesterday saw the higher seed advance.

Here is a look at how the 6 Power Conferences have fared to so far:

Conference……………W-L………………Teams Remaining
ACC………………….3-2……………………3
Big 10……………….5-1……………………5
Big 12……………….4-2……………………4
Big East……………..7-3……………………6
Pac 12……………….1-1……………………1
SEC………………….3-1……………………3

Last year it was the Round of 32 that decimated the BIG EAST, we shall see how the perform starting today. Right off the bat the Melo-less Orange take on Kansas State in front of a national television audience. It will be a tough test for the No. 1 seed Syracuse squad that has endured plenty of distractions this season.

Will this have of the early round stay to form? Or will they revert to the upsets of yesterday? stay tuned…and, make sure you get your tickets to see your favorite team in action for the regionals later next week! The great action on the court returns Thursday March 22nd for the Regional Semifinals (Sweet 16) and Finals (Elite 8] as tickets to the 2012 Final Four will be punched.

Be there when your favorite college team or alma mater hits the court and tries to make the Final Four in New Orleans.

This year’s regional sites are TD Garden in Boston, Georgia Dome in Atlanta, US Airways Center in Phoenix and Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Our partnership with TicketNetwork.com allows you to pick the seats you want from their tremendous inventory at great prices. See below for 2012 NCAA Tournament Sites and tickets available right through the Regionals and Final Four:

REGIONAL FINALS (Sweet 16 & Elite 8):
BostonTD Garden

AtlantaGeorgia Dome

PhoenixUS Airways Center

St. LouisEdward Jones Dome

2012 NCAA FINAL FOURNew Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome

FIRST FOUR DOWN; 2012 ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR BEGINS IN EARNEST THURSDAY

March 14, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The First Four in Dayton this week definitely provided some thrills, and spills. From Western Kentucky’s thrilling rally from 16 down in the last five minutes to overtake Mississippi Valley State to the nightcap where BYU rallied from 25 points down to win, Tuesday was an evening none will soon forget. Even Barack Obama made an appearance in Dayton to see some of the action Now, can WKU (vs No. 1 Kentucky) or BYU (vs. Marquette) avoid being lambs headed to the slaughter on Thursday?

There wasn’t so much drama in Wednesday’s doubleheader in Dayton as Vermont fought off Vermont, 71-59, and South Florida got the BIG EAST off on the right foot with an emphatic win over Cal, proving what everyone already knew about the Pac 12.

The First Four is now out of the way and the real action begins on Thursday…one of the best days of any year! However, there does not seem to be a series of compelling games in the first half of the first round tomorrow. Here is what we will be watching during the day on Thursday:

Tournament tips off with Colorado State and Murray State. Envisioning a double-digit victory for the Racers. In fact, much of the early slate will likely see the favorites cruise to victory. Kansas State and Southern Miss might be the most compelling, but expect Frank Martin’s club to end up in control of this game.
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2012 NCAA TOURNAMENT REGIONAL SITES & TICKETS

March 14, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament is here and already tipping off. The great action on the court returns Thursday March 22nd for the Regional Semifinals (Sweet 16) and Finals (Elite 8) as tickets to the 2012 Final Four will be punched.

Be there when your favorite college team or alma mater hits the court and tries to make the Final Four in New Orleans.

This year’s regional sites are TD Garden in Boston, Georgia Dome in Atlanta, US Airways Center in Phoenix and Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Our partnership with TicketNetwork.com allows you to pick the seats you want from their tremendous inventory at great prices. See below for 2012 NCAA Tournament Sites and tickets available right through the Regionals and Final Four:

REGIONAL FINALS (Sweet 16 & Elite 8):
BostonTD Garden

AtlantaGeorgia Dome

PhoenixUS Airways Center

St. LouisEdward Jones Dome

2012 NCAA FINAL FOURNew Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome

KIRSCHMAN & MERNAGH: 2012 NCAA TOURNAMENT MANIFESTO

March 13, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

March 13, 8:28 PM:
Gracious sakes alive in the name of John Wooden.

I can understand your dislike for this event I mean, dang, it’s not like some team from the CAA will get in unexpectedly, get routinely bashed by everyone from Joe Lunardi to Jay Bilas and, in-spite of all the negativity, still win five games to get to the final four….oh wait.

Iona vs BYU
Machado vs Carlino — two great guards with really good support. This could be a great game and the winner has a chance to win 1-2 “real” games afterwards.

Vermont vs Lamar
My hope for this one of Lamar’s seniors to hit a deep three from the corner to win it at the buzzer, dig a blunt out of his sock, light it up and blow the smoke in Pat Knight’s face. Would that change your un-American view of the First Four?
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Need tickets for 2012 NCAA Tournament?

Our partnership with TicketNetwork.com allows you to pick the seats you want from their tremendous inventory at great prices. See below for 2012 NCAA Tournament Sites and tickets available:

The First Four (Round One) – University of Dayton Arena
-Mississippi Valley State vs. Western Kentucky
-Lamar vs. Vermont
-BYU vs. Iona
-California vs. South Florida

ROUNDS 2 & 3 (Various Sites):
PITTSBURGHConsol Energy Center — Thurs/Sat
–Syracuse vs. UNC-Asheville
–Kansas State vs. Southern Miss

–Gonzaga vs. West Virginia
–Ohio State vs. Loyola (MD)

LOUISVILLEKFC Yum! Center — Thurs/Sat
–Kentucky vs. Miss. Valley St/WKU winner
–Iowa State vs. Connecticut

–Murray State vs. Colorado State
–Marquette vs.BYU/Iona winner

ColumbusNationwide Arena — Fri/Sun
–Michigan State vs. LIU-Brooklyn
–Memphis vs. St. Louis

–San Diego State vs. NC State
–Georgetown vs. Belmont

GreensboroGreensboro Coliseum — Fri/Sun
–Notre Dame vs. Xavier
–Duke vs. Lehigh

–North Carolina vs. Lamar/Vermont winner
–Creighton vs. Alabama

PortlandRose Garden — Thurs/Sat
–Wichita State vs. VCU
–Indiana vs. New Mexico State

–New Mexico vs. Long Beach State
–Louisville vs. Davidson

NashvilleBridgestone Arena — Fri/Sun
–Cincinnati vs. Texas
–Florida State vs. St. Bonaventure

–Temple vs. California/South Florida winner
–Michigan vs. Ohio

OmahaCentury Link Center — Fri/Sun
–Florida vs. Virginia
–Missouri vs. Norfolk State

–St. Mary’s vs. Purdue
–Kansas vs. Detroit

AlbuquerqueThe Pit — Thurs/Sat
–UNLV vs. Colorado
–Baylor vs. South Dakota State

–Vanderbilt vs. Harvard
–Wisconsin vs. Montana

REGIONAL FINALS (Sweet 16 & Elite 8):
BostonTD Garden

AtlantaGeorgia Dome

PhoenixUS Airways Center

St. LouisEdward Jones Dome

2012 NCAA FINAL FOURNew Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome

2012 NCAA TOURNAMENT FIELD OF 68 SET: SITE & TICKET INFO FOR MARCH MADNESS

March 11, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Selection Sunday has arrived and the 2012 NCAA Tournament field of 68 has been revealed. Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State head the field as this year’s #1 seeds. The BIG EAST also highlights the field, sending nine representative from the conference to the tournament.

The action will once again tip off Tuesday night in Dayton with the ‘First Four’, a pair of games on both Tuesday and Wednesday night, and this year’s final destination is New Orleans, the host city of the ‘Final Four.’

Below are where the teams ended up for their early round contests. Plenty of tickets are available and fans can get their seats through our relationship with Ticketnetwork.com. Do not hesitate, tickets will be going quickly now that the teams have been placed in their locations.

Our partnership with TicketNetwork.com allows you to pick the seats you want from their tremendous inventory at great prices. See below for 2012 NCAA Tournament Sites and tickets available:
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2012 NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT SITES & TICKETS

March 11, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Selection Sunday has arrived. It seems like just yesterday we were reporting on Midnight Madness activities and stories. Many tournament tickets have already been punched, but now fans have a chance to get their tickets at all the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament sites below. Get your tickets now to make sure in your the building to see the greatest sporting event of the year!!

The 2012 NCAA Tournament tips of Tuesday night with the ‘First Four’ doubleheader in Dayton, Ohio. Thursday the tournament will hit full speed with second and third round games being played in the following host cities:

Albuquerque
Columbus
Greensboro
Louisville*
Nashville
Omaha
Pittsburgh*
Portland

Atlanta, Phoenix, Boston and St. Louis will be 2012 regional cities.

The 2012 NCAA Tournament Final Four will be played at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans (LA).

Our partnership with TicketNetwork.com allows you to pick the seats you want from their tremendous inventory at great prices. See below for 2012 NCAA Tournament Sites and tickets available:
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Mernagh: Valley Recap Plus Some A-10 Stuff

March 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Creighton and McDermott Get Tested by Drake

Doug McDermott hit two big three pointers in the middle of the second half and it looked like the Valley’s Player of the Year and his teammates were ready to pull away from Drake. The young Bulldogs had other plans though, cutting a 13-point lead with a little over 4 minutes remaining to 3 –63-60 – on a Rayvonte Rice bucket with 1:24 left on the clock. Creighton was able to salt things away by hitting 5-6 from the stripe in the final minute and winning 68-61.

McDermott was brilliant in the second half and finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds for the game. Greg Echenique contested multiple shots in the last 3 minutes, blocking one by Drake’s Ben Simons that was huge down inside a minute left. Drake looks to have a bright future heading into next season while Creighton rolls into this afternoon’s semifinals in St. Louis where they will play Evansville. The Missouri Valley Tournament is a great event and anyone with a sports package on their TV can find it up in the Fox Sports Missouri/Midwest channels. Today’s games are usually the best. Tomorrow’s final will be on CBS I’m sure where it’s expected Creighton and Wichita State will slug it out (the greatest thing about this event is the expected rarely happens).

Evansville beat Missouri State 72-64 in the late game as Kenny Harris had 20 and Colt Ryan 19 to lead Marty Simmons’ crew. Evansville now plays #25 Creighton in what, judging by their two earlier games, should be a battle. The Purple Aces beat the Bluejays in Evansville and lost the game in Omaha in overtime.

Shockers Roll

The other semifinal features Wichita State going against Illinois State. The Shockers pounded a tired Indiana State club 72-48 in the Quarters while the Redbirds outlasted Northern Iowa. #14 Wichita State is 27-4 and led by a bevy of veteran players. The Shocks have had three different winning streaks of 8 or more this year and have an NCAA best record of 19-3 on the road since last season. The defending NIT champs are looking to make a deep run here in a few weeks (and with players like 7-footer Garret Stutz, Toure Murry and Joe Ragland, that’s a distinct probability).

Lowery Fired
Southern Illinois did the inevitable when, facing multiple consecutive losing seasons (including this year’s school record 23 loss campaign) they fired head coach and former Saluki player Chris Lowery. Lowery was the hottest name in the coaching business just four short years ago. He turned down more than one big six league job as SIU stepped up and rewarded him with a fat contract. That contract still had 2 years left on it – the buyout is $1.5 million – and in all likelihood was the only thing that kept SIU from pulling the trigger on Lowery last year. Lowery enjoyed great success, but is the latest example of how quickly things can turn on a coach when they lose players to transfer and miss on recruits. Hindsight is 20/20, but I’m guessing that Michigan job Lowery once turned down is looking pretty good right now.

A-10 Action at Noon
Rick – “I’m not a big Gay guy” – Majerus and his Billikens are coming to town to play Duquesne at noon. St. Louis is having a great year at 23-6 (11-4 in the league). I look forward to watching them play the always game at home Dukes at noon today.

UCONN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP MAKES IMPRESSION ON OMAR CALHOUN

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The saying ‘to the victor goes the spoils’ can definitely be applied to college basketball when the national champion prepares to hit the recruiting trail. This spring and summer when a staff member from Connecticut pays a visit to a high school, makes a phone call or walks into an event to evaluate and show their interest, recruits will take extra notice. The Huskies captured college basketball’s most coveted prize on Monday night and recruits have definitely taken notice as NBE learned from the father of prized 2012 shooting guard prospect Omar Calhoun Jr. this morning.

“He has great interest in UConn,” said Omar Calhoun Sr. to NBE’s Matt Whitfield in a phone interview earlier today. “Definitely with the success they’ve been having over the years. He thinks Coach Calhoun is a great coach and someone he’d love to play for.”

Connecticut is in a tough situation on the recruiting trail as well. The future of Coach Calhoun is often talked about. The Hall of Fame head coach was the oldest to capture a national title at 68 years of age and has battled several health problems in recent years, including two bouts with cancer. The continuing saga of an NCAA investigation over the Nate Miles recruitment continues to hover over the program following recent reports during the Final Four that Miles might be talking with the NCAA in the upcoming months.

Still, Omar Calhoun Sr. feels the UConn program will continue on with the success and tradition that Jim Calhoun has built and the success rate the program has in producing NBA players.
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CHAMPIONSHIP RUN FOR CONNECTICUT BEGAN MORE THAN 27 DAYS AGO

April 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Raphielle Johnson

To say the least, the national title game between Butler and Connecticut was no work of art for the casual observer, as the Bulldogs shot a record-low 18.8% from the field and UConn wasn’t much better (34.5%). But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone connected with the University of Connecticut willing to replay the game to see if something a bit more artistic transpires. But how did UConn, a team picked to finish tenth in the Big East back in October, get to this point?

The first seed was planted following their season-ending loss in the second round of the Postseason NIT at Virginia Tech, capping a disappointing 18-16 campaign. That group had three seniors in Jerome Dyson, Gavin Edwards and Stanley Robinson, none of whom were the vocal type. And as the season wore on it became apparent that the leaders by example were lacking as well. The nadir: getting whipped by St. John’s in the first round of the Big East Championship and looking like a team desperate for spring break.

The end of the Virginia Tech game marked the passing of the keys to Kemba Walker and Donnell Beverly, and they went to work quickly in getting all other on board to understand how hard they’d have to work. Beverly, one of three seniors (Kyle Bailey and Charles Okwandu), is a guy who gets left out by many due to his lack of playing time.

But that didn’t stop him from being a leader, and guys like him are almost as important as the stars when it comes to winning basketball. But Walker will be the play people think of immediately when discussing the national champions. And as important as his play was, the junior’s willingness to lead is what got the Huskies rolling.
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BIG EAST LESSONS PROVE FRUITFUL FOR NATIONAL CHAMPION UCONN

April 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The BIG EAST conference took its share of hits over the past three and a half weeks, and deservedly so. The conference sent an NCAA Tournament record 11 teams into the Madness and after the first weekend only two teams were left. Making matters worse Connecticut and Marquette advanced into the second week of the tournament by beating fellow conference rivals. In other words, the BIG EAST was 0-3 in Round Two against non-BIG EAST foes.

After that first weekend the conference was bruised and battered with a cumulative record of just 9-9. The top eight finishers in the league’s regular season all saw their season’s end without reaching the Sweet 16. All that was left was Marquette and Connecticut, two teams that finished 9-9 in regular season BIG EAST play.

“I heard some comments about our league,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun Monday night in Houston after the Huskies beat Butler 53-41 to earn the National Championship. “I’m a Big East parochial guy, and I have a reason to be.”

When Marquette was trounced by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 in Newark (NJ), Connecticut was left all by alone to carry the conference’s banner deep into the NCAA’s. A win over San Diego State in Anaheim put Jim Calhoun in position to reach his fourth final four since 1999 with one more victory. After surviving a last second attempt to win the game by Arizona, the Huskies moved on to Houston and two more victories later they were national champions for the third time.
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SPECIAL JOURNEY FOR UCONN ENDS WITH THIRD NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

April 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The 2010-2011 college basketball season came to a conclusion Monday night in Houston with Connecticut earning a 53-41 victory over Butler. It was not the most visually entertaining final for basketball fans, but it was just what UConn Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun needed, in this game and for this season.

“Very honestly, this group to me will always be incredibly special,” said Calhoun after the game. “They’re all special in their own way, but I needed this team. I need this team every day for 109 practice sessions, for their walk-ons, for everybody involved, they truly were brothers, they truly were trusting of each other and very, very special.”

The Huskies survived their own slow start offensively by holding Butler to just 41 points and 19% shooting from the field (12-64). The Bulldogs were an incredibly poor 3-31 inside the arc on two-point field goal attempts.

“I think eventually our quickness and length got to them,” said Calhoun.

Even though Monday’s final might go down in history as one of the ugliest games on the big stage of the Final Four, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and both teams gave it everything they had.

“Butler really plays defense…and I think we play defense,” Calhoun said. “But from a purist’s standpoint, you want to teach them defense, take a clip of both teams, you’d see some terrific defense.

“When I saw the kid (Matt) Howard hurt, I didn’t like that. I’m serious. I didn’t like that. Because he gave so much during the game. Both teams were matching that. To me that’s beauty. That’s what this game should be about.

“Damn, I loved it in the sense of the fact of the fight, competitiveness between the two teams.”
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MERNAGH: KENTUCKY/UCONN NATIONAL SEMIFINAL PRIMER

April 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Much like the first game I believe this one hinges on the play of one point guard (Brandon Knight of Kentucky) but with a twist.

I also think Alex Oriakhi in the post holds a similar key.

If Knight can go for 17-20 points, have 7 assists and 6 rebounds it gives Kentucky a fantastic chance to counter the dynamic duo (Kemba the Lion and Jeremy the Lamb) on the opposing side of the court.

If Oriakhi can match Josh Harrellson’s effort and physicality, UConn can give Jim Calhoun a chance to win his 3rd title Monday night and possible walk off into the sunset.

If Knight can have a productive game in all facets while sharing the ball Kentucky has a chance to win despite any Walker/Lamb heroics.

But if Knight has a poor shooting game it says here the Wildcats will be in no position to put the ball in his hands down the stretch in a one-possession game (a scenario Knight’s proven to be a cold-blooded killer in).

X factor is Terrence Jones. He goes postal — in a good way — and all of the above could be meaningless

Enjoy the game!




MERNAGH: RODRIGUEZ KEY IN BUTLER/VCU MATCH-UP

April 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The biggest key to this game, and whether or not Butler plays in a second straight title tilt Monday, is the Bulldogs ability to take away VCU’s Joey Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez struggles with turnovers the outcome is pretty consistent — VCU loses.

Ronald Nored, Shelvin Mack and Shawn Vanzant need to make Rodriguez as uncomfortable as possible.

If Butler does that it’s not going to matter what Jamie Skeen, Brandon Rozell or any other Ram does because all of their success is predicated on Rodriguez’ ability to run the show, whether that’s finding shooters, pushing the ball in transition, pulling up for three’s or taking it to the rim, everything starts and ends with the 5’8″ point guard from Florida.

Frustrate him, turn him over, get him out of his game — and his concentration off his ability to create havoc defensively — and Butler will win.

Let him control the game and VCU will continue their run.

There’s been a lot of analysis about transition (as in controlling VCU’s opportunities), and the half-court (Butler allegedly wants to play this way), and rebounding (Butler’s edge) but the young man VCU fans call J-Rod is the key.

If he’s missing three’s and turning the ball over and just downright uncomfortable Butler can choose whether they want to run up and down and blitz VCU or run their half-court sets.

None of the Rams get going without help from Rodriguez.

You can bet the top-notch coach over on Butler’s sideline realizes that.

Easier said than done thus far in the NCAA’s, but if Butler can manage it, it says here they will win.




FINAL FOUR SET; UCONN-UK REMATCH IN ONE SEMI, BUTLER/VCU IN OTHER

March 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

It could very well be the most unlikliest Final Four ever.

The much-maligned BIG EAST, who only saw two of their 11 NCAA Tournament participants make it out of the first weekend will be represented by Connecticut. The Huskies were only 9-9 in the BIG EAST regular season, losing four of their last five to close the regular season, but have now won nine in a row as they try to win the first national title for the conference since their title in 2004.

The SEC was almost a forgotten entity among the high-major conferences this past season. At times Kentucky looked too young, but John Calipari’s club is now on a 10-game winning streak and survived close encounters with Princeton and Ohio State along the way to reach Houston.

The cries were strong and consistent from all the analysts when the brackets were announced. VCU had no business being part of the Field of 68 was the message they fed the viewing public on every bracket show for 48 hours until the ‘First Four’ tipped off in Dayton. Afterall, the Rams finished 4th in the CAA regular season. Since that time Shaka Smart and his crew have sent a team from the Pac 10, BIG EAST, Big 10, ACC and Big 12 home to advance to Houston. Will they get a shot to complete the BCS conference sweep against a team from the SEC?

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FIRST HALF BLITZ BY NORTH CAROLINA ENOUGH TO END MARQUETTE’S NCAA RUN

March 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

by RAY FLORIANI

NEWARK, NJ- Roy Williams looked at the scoreboard early in the game. It read 10-8 in favor of Marquette. The next time the North Carolina coach looked at the Prudential Center scoreboard it read 40-15, in favor of the Tar Heels. What happened?

First off, UNC went on a 19-0 run the first half that all but sealed their 81-63 victory over Marquette in the Newark Regional semifinal. The run, or blitz, was fueled by transition and forcing turnovers.

“The first half was just very uncharacteristic of us,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “I think we didn’t do some things but you have to give North Carolina a lot of credit.

The first half we were pitiful,” Buzz Williams added. “The second half we shot 52% and they shot 38%. That’s normally what we do but you can’t have that for one half. Not against a team like North Carolina.”
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THE LION AND THE LAMB COME TOGETHER IN MARCH TO PROPEL UCONN TO ELITE 8

March 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Kemba the Lion has been a constant for Connecticut all season long. On Thursday night his running mate, Jeremy Lamb, showed he was ready to step his game up in March to another level to help the Huskies advance in the NCAA Tournament. Kemba Walker scored 36, Lamb 24, and UConn used a late run to move past San Diego State, 74-67, in the West Regional semifinals at the Honda Center in Anaheim (CA).

March is supposed to begin like a lion and end like a lamb, or vice versa, in these parts. Last night for UConn the Lion (Kemba Walker) and the Lamb (Jeremy Lamb) came together in March to help Jim Calhoun and his program advance to their 10th regional final in their history. UConn will meet No. 5 seed Arizona Saturday night. The Wildcats were a 93-77 winner of top-seeded Duke last night.

Down 54-53 with 8:10 left, Walker took over. The junior guard from New York scored all 12 points in a 12-2 run over a 2:54 span to push the Huskies to a 65-56 lead with just under 5 minutes to go. When the Aztecs mounted a rally, scoring 8 in a row of their own, it was Lamb delivering a dagger with a three-pointer with 1:42 left for a 68-64 lead.

“I’ve never been in an environment like this,” said Lamb after the game. “Kemba hit some big shots, I hit some big shots, and we were able to pull it out. They had a lot of fans. I’ve never played in a game like it.”

Lamb would then seal the deal with a steal and then receive a pass from Shabazz Naper to slam it home for a 70-64 lead with 23 seconds left. After a pair of free throws from Walker, Lamb provided the exclamation point with another dunk and the final points in a 74-67 win.

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UCONN LOOKS TO EXTEND RUN IN ANAHEIM AGAINST SDSU

March 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Nobody saw this coming.

After losing four of their last five games in the BIG EAST regular season Connecticut looked like a team that was finished.

Kemba Walker looked tired from carrying a young squad through the rigors of an 18-game conference schedule and challenging non-league slate.

The four freshmen seemed to have hit the freshman wall. The two sophomores in the rotation combined to score just seven points in their season-ending home loss to Notre Dame, leading exasperated fans believing they had regressed in their second season with the Huskies.

Despite playing a non-conference schedule that included beating Michigan State and Kentucky on a neutral floor in Maui and going to Texas and beating a red-hot Longhorns club, the BIG EAST schedule looked like it had taken a toll on UConn. Finishing league play at 9-9 the Huskies were limping into New York City and the BIG EAST Tournament as the conference’s 9th seed.

All of that seems like a LONG time ago because my how things have changed.

In a stretch of 12 days Jim Calhoun’s club has run off seven consecutive wins. In a league that sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament, they are one of just two remaining as they enter Thursday night’s Sweet 16 showdown against No. 2 seed San Diego State in the West Regional semifinal at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Even with the tough finish, Walker and his teammates knew they were good enough to compete with the top teams in the county.

“Maui tournament gave us the confidence to compete with the big dogs in college basketball,” said Walker on Wednesday.

Their run in the BIG EAST Tournament was unprecedented. After a Tuesday victory over DePaul, Connecticut would easily defeat Georgetown on Wedneseday. The Hoyas were a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Walker’s step-back jumper at the buzzer Thursday completed a rally against Pittsburgh, who earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. On Friday night the Garden was alive as UConn survived in overtime to defeat Syracuse, a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies capped off the run with a thrilling win over Louisville, a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, on Saturday night, 69-66.

“[We] caught fire in the Big East Tournament and won five games in five days and here we are,” said Coach Calhoun. “And we’re playing the best basketball right now and everything that could happen good has happened good.”

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