Season in Review: Marquette Golden Eagles

Posted by Will Tucker on May 21st, 2013

The Golden Eagles earned a share of their first Big East regular season championship with their second consecutive 14-4 conference record. As the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament, Buzz Williams’ squad was dispatched in their first game by a lower-seeded Notre Dame team. But it rebounded in the Big Dance, visiting the Sweet Sixteen for the third straight year before suffering an Elite Eight loss to Syracuse in Washington, D.C.

Preseason Expectations

Despite coming off the program’s best season as a Big East member in 2011-12, most anticipated a rebuilding year as Buzz Williams sought to replace leading scorers Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. The Golden Eagles were tagged seventh at Big East Media Day (behind Pitt, Notre Dame and Cincinnati), while we here at the Big East microsite ranked them fifth (still behind the Irish and Bearcats) in what was perhaps our most glaring collective miscalculation.

(AP)

Vander Blue has spread his wings and flown away, but Marquette’s backcourt remains in good hands (AP)

The Good

The Golden Eagles surpassed everyone’s expectations, which in large part was attributable to the coaching abilities of Williams. Even with elite talent –– a luxury that Williams has never had –– nobody takes a program to three straight Sweet Sixteens without having a pretty good notion of what they’re doing. Vander Blue (14.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG) finally bloomed into the explosive scorer everyone expected him to be when he joined the program two years ago, becoming the team’s leading scorer while shooting 45% from the floor. Much in the way that Kadeem Batts developed in 2012-13, so too did Davante Gardner (11.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG) fashion himself into a trustworthy asset on both ends of the floor, becoming one of the best free throw-shooting big men in the league.

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Big East M5: 02.26.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 26th, 2013

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  1. Criticizing Marquette for its inconsistent play — especially as they sit just a game out of the top spot in the conference following last night’s big comeback win over Syracuse in Milwaukee — seems like nitpicking but that doesn’t mean the team’s schizophrenic play shouldn’t be a concern for Golden Eagles’ fans either. Buzz Williams’ team was supposed to take a step back this season after losing players like Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, but Williams has once again proven he is one of the best coaches in the country as his team has easily exceeded expectations and is competing for a league title without a true star. For all of the success that Marquette has had, including its impressive bounceback win over the Orange last night, they still seem to have the occasional lapse and have been shaky on the road. Williams and his club don’t have the luxury of winning games when they don’t play well because a lot of their success this season has been a result of hard work and grit. I don’t think anyone wants to play them in the NCAA Tournament, but if they can’t find better consistency and play with continued effort, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see Marquette bounced early from the Dance either.
  2. On one hand, it doesn’t seem fair to go after Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard for his team’s abysmal performance this season considering he lost two of his best forwards to injury, but at the same time, there is definitely something to be said for the fact that the Pirates’ roster is nearly devoid of true Big East-caliber players. Convincing the best players in the greater NYC area to eschew national powerhouses for a chance to return the Pirates to glory is hardly easy, but the Hall hasn’t even had a four-star player commit to Willard until Aquille Carr did this year and almost no one expects Carr to qualify. Also, where are all the kids from New Jersey? Three of the five New Jersey natives on the roster are transfers, and one other, Fuquan Edwin, wasn’t even Willard’s recruit. Maybe the best talent in the Garden State won’t want to play in South Orange, but certainly there are more gettable players from New Jersey who could make a greater impact than the four graduates of the Canarias Basketball Academy are making for the team currently.
  3. Of course that whole paragraph was written before Villanova made me look stupid by basically standing around while Seton Hall jacked up and made a bunch of three-pointers on their way to pulling off the upset last night at home. It doesn’t change the fact that the Pirates are terrible, but I don’t know what it means that VU head coach Jay Wright basically acknowledged he expects his team to struggle defending the three-ball followed by his team proving him prophetic. Seton Hall made 13 triples, including the game-winner from Edwin after Wildcats’ forward James Bell foolishly tried to split a double-team, and the Wildcats handed back all of the good will they earned by beating Marquette over the weekend. It’s hard to know what to make of the Wildcats’ resume at that — they have a trio of excellent conference wins, but they also have a number of truly terrible losses. If they can win one of their two remaining games against Pittsburgh and Georgetown and then perform admirably in the Big East Tournament, they can probably sneak in, but games like Monday night certainly don’t help.
  4. Speaking of teams who are making it difficult for themselves, the Cincinnati Bearcats have been turning in a series of stinkers that culminated in whatever that was called Sunday against Notre Dame. As The Dagger astutely points out, plenty of UC’s struggles can be blamed on the injury to point guard Cashmere Wright, who was basically acting as half of their offense while they were winning and has been far less explosive and dangerous since coming back. Now they are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament despite a resume full of solid wins both within and outside of the conference. They have just three conference games left, and considering winning in Louisville next Monday seems nearly impossible at this point, they need to beat Connecticut and South Florida to feel truly comfortable. But frankly, the team isn’t going to win if they can’t find some offense, and that firepower isn’t coming if Wright doesn’t magically get healthy soon.
  5. After its big Saturday road win over Syracuse, there are some willing to argue that Georgetown is good enough to be a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and that the Hoyas have the resume to back it up. But if I am John Thompson III, I am doing everything in my power to make sure my team comes to play Wednesday against UConn. The Huskies have nothing to lose in this game and they will be in front of a raucous Gampel Pavilion crowd ready to greet Georgetown for maybe the last time. The Hoyas should feel really good about where they sit, though. No one thought they were going to be this good this season, especially after they lost Greg Whittington, but now they are clearly one of the best eight teams in the country.  Still, if they start feeling too good about themselves, the Huskies are going to punch them in the mouth on Wednesday night.
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Marquette’s Buzz Williams Runs Silent and Deep

Posted by CNguon on February 23rd, 2013

Joseph Dzuback is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after spending an evening keeping a close eye on Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.

Why does Marquette, a school about to earn consecutive NCAA bid #8, still struggle to secure a spot in the national limelight? Part of the answer is no doubt rooted in their coach. Buzz Williams, 5’11” with that North Texas drawl, is hardly a presence at Media Day confabs. Unlike Marquette’s legendary Al McGuire, whose height and New York City accent (and ever so slightly too-loud voice) could turn heads and draw ears. Tom Crean, Marquette’s 15th head coach, came with all of the pedigree expected to head a National Championship, two-time Final Four program with 21 bids and previously headed by legends like McGuire, Hank Raymond and Rick Majerus. When he departed Marquette to rebuild a struggling Indiana program, Crean left Williams (head coach #16) with a cupboard full of prep school ballers. Harvested from some of the best recruiting seed beds on the East Coast and Midwest, these players earned Marquette (and Crean) notoriety in basketball circles even before taking their first shot in the Bradley Center. Williams spent his first two off seasons recruiting a raft of unknown players from junior colleges throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Buzz Williams might not be a media darling, but the man sure can coach (AP)

Buzz Williams might not be a media darling, but the man sure can coach. (AP)

Williams sustained the momentum established by Crean with junior college players like Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom, Joe Fulce, Jimmy Butler and Jai Crowder, who rounded out the nucleus that included Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Lazar Hayward bequeathed to him by Crean. The mix-n-match crew garnered Williams 47 wins and a pair of NCAA bids in his first two seasons. And in the course of his first three off-seasons Williams has found what Crean could not — not one but two low post players good enough to move the tweeners out of the rotation. Davante Gardner and Chris Otule have helped Marquette earn another 49 (and counting) wins in seasons #3 and #4. This season the win count is 16 and climbing. The Golden Eagles’ 10 conference wins put them in a three-way tie for first place in Big East conference play, but co-leaders Georgetown and Syracuse have drawn greater national recognition for their seasons.

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Big East M5: 02.07.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 7th, 2013

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  1. Providence got 26 solid minutes from junior forward Lee Goldsborough and 25 points from Kadeem Batts as they pulled the probable upset of the week, beating Cincinnati 54-50 to wreck the Bearcats’ momentum. Goldsborough is seeing increased minutes because Sidiki Johnson left the team and the little-used junior made the most of them by making all three of his baskets, grabbing four offensive rebounds, coming through with a number of excellent defensive plays as well. We just talked yesterday about the importance of Cooley finding players who actually want to be at Providence and hearing Goldsborough describe the way he was feeling as “over the moon” it sounds like the Friars have at least a few players who believe in the program and want to help it succeed.
  2. From the opposite perspective, this was a bad loss for a Cincinnati team that seemed to be finding its footing in the conference. The Bearcats’ offense was stagnant and listless all evening and coach Mick Cronin ripped into his team a little bit calling the loss “ugly” while also accepting blame for not getting the team ready to play. The Bearcats would have loved to head into their three-game home stand with a lot of momentum, but instead they let a vastly undermanned and disorganized Providence team jump out to an early lead and hold onto it in the second half. The team’s over-reliance on Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright for its offense is troubling and could be an issue when they play better teams. But for now they just need to make sure they don’t let this bad loss snowball and turn into a losing a streak that could knock them out of the conference race.
  3. St. John’s held off a furious second half rally from Connecticut last night to secure a much-needed seventh conference win. With nothing to play for, the loss stings the Huskies less and the win helps the Johnnies remain in striking distance of the teams at the top of the conference. Moreover, the Red Storm did it all without their starting point guard, Jamal Branch, and responded well when they were punched in the mouth at the start of the second half proving that this season’s team may have what it takes to keep from folding and make the NCAA Tournament. Branch’s replacement, Marc-Antoine Bourgalt, may not have the same playmaking ability, but he did provide a surprising scoring bunch (11 points) and helped lead an all-around impressive defensive effort. Now the Johnnies will begin preparing for road games at Syracuse and Louisville this week with a little bit of a buffer in the standings.
  4. After watching studs Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom leave for the NBA, everyone seemed to think that Marquette had an excellent team, they just weren’t sure who would step out from the pack and become to the go-to-guy. As conference play has got under way, junior guard Vander Blue has assuaged some of these concerns nicely. He had just 13 points in last night’s blowout win over South Florida but he has been a driving force offensively for the Golden Eagles. The once highly-touted guard has taken a few years to blossom, but his steady offensive presence and ability to defend multiple positions is one of the main reasons the Golden Eagles are surprising folks and sit close to the top of the Big East standings. It is indeed rather uncanny the way Buzz Williams develops one of these elite players every year .
  5. The last game of the night featured Louisville overcoming yet another sluggish first half to cruise to a 20-point win over Rutgers. The Cardinals were lethargic in the first half and then, as they have seemingly done all year, they turned up the defensive intensity in the second half and quickly sank the Scarlet Knights’ potential upset bid. The Cardinals will be able to get away with this type of Jekyl and Hyde style of play against lesser teams like Rutgers, but that inconsistency is exactly the type of thing that could derail Louisville’s national title hopes. They showed in the second half that when they are focused, they are a runaway steamroller. But they aren’t always focused and running smoothly, so figuring out how to become more consistent should be top priority for Rick Pitino the rest of the way.
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Big East M5: 11.30.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 30th, 2012

  1. The SEC/Big East Challenge got off to a competitive start last night with the conferences splitting four matchups and each conference scoring a decisive and impressive victory. St. John’s and Notre Dame each scored easy victories for the Big East while Marquette was blown out by Florida and Seton Hall lost a competitive tilt with LSU. The game of the evening was Notre Dame’s thorough dismantling of No. 8 Kentucky, 64-50. It was billed as a battle between youth and experience, athleticism and discipline, and after the Wildcats got off to a quick start, it quickly became apparent which traits would prevail. The young Wildcats struggled to find a rhythm in their first true road test and really look nothing like last season’s juggernaut, at least in the early part of the season. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish rebounded from a slow start and finished the game shooting 48 percent from the field and 53 percent from behind the arc. The low point for the Fighting Irish may have been when their fans RTC’d as the final buzzer sounded. The Fighting Irish are an experienced and talented team, so beating a bunch of freshmen still figuring out how to play together doesn’t count as a true upset, especially when they won so handily. Even guard Jerian Grant lamented the post-game celebrations telling reporters that the team expected to win the game. The fans should have expected that too.
  2. On the flip side, after Notre Dame handled Kentucky easily, Marquette had a chance to really put the Big East in the driver’s seat as they squared off against No. 7 Florida, and unfortunately, they ended up falling flat on their face. Coach Buzz Williams, ever the candid quote, called the 82-49 drubbing the worst loss of his career and said his team was “really bad in every way.” Williams knows his team better than anyone else, but some credit should go to the Gators, who look like one of the best teams in the country in the early part of the season. Yes, the Golden Eagles, with the exception of junior guard Vander Blue (20 points and four rebounds), were dreadful on both ends of the floor. But Billy Donovan’s club has experienced talent and depth up-and-down the roster, and Marquette is still trying to adjust to life without stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. It is clear Marquette is not as good as it was last year, and I think if the two teams played again in February the Gators would still win, but I would also bet that if that were to happen, we would see a different MU team than the uninspired club we saw last night.
  3. The other statement win for the conference came when the Red Storm stomped coach Frank Martin and South Carolina, 89-65 in New York. The Gamecocks’ lackluster defense allowed D’Angelo Harrison (26 points on 8-of-13 shooting) and his teammates to shoot nearly 57 percent from the floor for the game as the Johnnies controlled the game from the opening tip and overwhelmed the undermanned South Carolina squad. Steve Lavin‘s club is making noise like it could be a really good team as the season progresses, especially if Jakarr Sampson continues to blossom into a star and talented forward Orlando Sanchez gains his eligibility. The team’s two losses (to Murray State and Baylor) are respectable ones, especially for a team full of underclassmen just starting to play together, and the talent and upside of the roster is tremendous. They are deep and athletic across the board, even more so if Sanchez comes back, and they will only get better as the season goes on. Maybe the Lavin rebuilding project is further along than some think.
  4. The national contender that no one is talking about amidst this conference realignment hullabaloo is Georgetown. It makes sense since the Hoyas fields an FCS football program, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that while the Big East is crumbling, one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball remains. Coach John Thompson III didn’t seem too worried when he was asked about the changes, saying that change was inevitable in this day and age and that he didn’t want to get too caught up especially with Tennessee coming to town tonight. He also deflected questions about whether Georgetown would consider breaking off from the conference with other basketball-first programs like Marquette and Villanova to form their own conference built around basketball supremacy. It’s perfectly fine for Thompson III to focus on basketball since he will have very little influence on the direction the school takes, but school administrators and decision-makers should be very concerned about what the next step for their program is. They have a compelling product on the basketball court and multiple excellent athletic programs — albeit ones that don’t make as much money — and riding out the storm in a show of loyalty to the Big East sounds nice and all, but it could leave Georgetown in an unenviable situation should other programs like Connecticut and Cincinnati defect as they so desperately want to.
  5. DePaul appears to be on its way to another NCAA Tournament-less season, something that has become all too common in the last two decades for the Blue Demons, and to make matters worse, they still play in an outdated Allstate Arena that apparently is a real hassle for students and city-dwelling fans to get to. This piece is an excellent look at not only DePaul’s options when it comes to switching arenas when the lease with the Allstate Arena runs out after 2015, but also whether that will make any difference in the program’s long road back to respectability. One option being championed by the likes of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is a rent-free stay at the United Center, which seems nice until you start imagining what the United Center would look like for an early season thriller between DePaul and Austin Peay. The other, more tantalizing option is a new arena closer to campus that has the backing of none other than city mayor Rahm Emmanuel. The idea is the definition of preliminary and as the article pointed out, the new arena doesn’t solve the on-court woes, but it opens the door for improvement in student and fan turnout at the very least.
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“We Ain’t Come Here To Play School”: Todd Mayo Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 6th, 2012

Note: The hope is to turn this into a recurring feature that chronicles the academic troubles of Big East players that seemingly pop up every season. Of course if everyone in the conference hits the books and stays academically eligible, then this will be the only piece in this feature and I will feel foolish. Carry on.

The quote above came from Cardale Jones, the third-string quarterback for Ohio State who made waves on social media in early October when he tweeted out this opinion, letting the world know exactly how little he cared for academics. While Jones may have made for an easy target, he clearly is not the only elite athlete with disdain for schoolwork — just ask Marquette’s Todd Mayo, who will be academically ineligible until at least the end of the fall semester and won’t be allowed to practice or play with his team in the interim. Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles were hoping the dynamic Mayo would make some strides offensively, become more consistent, and play a major role in Marquette’s attempt to reload following the departures of stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Unfortunately for Williams and the rest of his team, Mayo didn’t come to Marquette to “play school.”

Todd Mayo Has Been A Continuous Source Of Frustration For Buzz Williams

If this were Mayo’s first off-the-court incident, the Marquette faithful and his coaches might be more willing to cut him some slack. But Mayo, the younger brother of Dallas Mavericks’ guard O.J. Mayo, has been with the program for less than two seasons and has already earned his fair share of negative headlines. Mayo was suspended last season for a game against West Virginia and suspended again during the summer for violating team rules. His teammates complained that he was aloof and didn’t want to be a part of the team, so Williams sent him home during the second summer session in hopes of helping Mayo mature and become more responsible. Apparently that strategy only worked for a while and now the Golden Eagles will be without one of their best scorers for the first part of the season.

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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #5 Marquette

Posted by Will Tucker on November 6th, 2012

Last year was Marquette’s most successful season since Dwayne Wade graced Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles finished second in the Big East for the first time ever, had a player named Big East Player of the Year for the first time since joining the league (Jae Crowder), and went to their second consecutive Sweet Sixteen. How will they rebound in 2012-13 after losing nearly half of their scoring and 12 rebounds per game in graduated seniors Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom? This question was magnified when we learned yesterday that Todd Mayo is academically ineligible and parked indefinitely on the bench. Mayo’s absence may have dropped Marquette in our predicted standings when our writers deliberated in October, but there’s no turning back now, and it’s hard to discount Buzz Williams’ coaching ability when he has any measure of talent to work with.

2011-12 Record: 27-8, 14-4

2011-12 Postseason: 2-1, Lost to Florida in the Sweet Sixteen

Buzz Williams Has Averaged Nearly 25 Wins Per Season at MU (Photo Credit: AP)

Schedule

Marquette faces one of the toughest non-conference slates of any Big East team this year. The Golden Eagles open the season on November 9 against #4 Ohio State in the Carrier Classic in Charleston, South Carolina. They’ll get an opportunity cut their teeth in home games against Colgate and Southland Conference pushover Southeastern Louisiana before then heading to Maui on November 19 to face Butler. Potential meetings with #11 North Carolina, Texas, Illinois and Mississippi State loom should they take down the Bulldogs. The warm weather continues through the end of November, when Buzz Williams’ team travels to Gainesville to seek redemption against the Florida team that knocked it out in the Sweet Sixteen. A week later, Marquette hosts #23 Wisconsin at home to conclude the most unforgiving leg of the non-conference slate. Marquette’s Big East schedule is pretty daunting as well, with home-and-homes against Pitt and Georgetown and road contests against Louisville and Cincinnati. The Golden Eagles are granted some reprieve in avoiding Syracuse and Notre Dame on the road.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Marquette Golden Eagles

Posted by mlemaire on August 6th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Marquette.

1. Will the Golden Eagles get Todd Mayo back and when?

Marquette Needs Todd Mayo To Provide Scoring, Too Bad He Is Suspended Indefinitely. Photo: Getty Images

As a freshman last season, Todd Mayo showed moments of brilliance for Marquette. Sure, he was a streaky shooter who took some questionable shots and turned the ball over a lot for a guy who doesn’t work with the ball in his hands all that often, but he was also a freshman, and a very talented one. Coming into next season, many have pegged Mayo as the team’s breakout offensive star thanks to the increased touches he is likely to see with Darius Johnson-Odom gone and the assumption he would improve his game over the course of the summer. Those plans have been put on hold for now though as in late June news leaked that coach Buzz Williams had suspended Mayo indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Since then, absolutely no information has been released about what the violation was or how long Mayo will be suspended, but some have speculated the sophomore will miss a large chunk of time if he even returns at all. Williams wouldn’t have suspended Mayo indefinitely unless it was warranted, but this is a disappointing turn for both Mayo and the program. The 6-foot-3 guard had the look of a breakout player poised to become one of the more versatile offensive weapons in the country and his team definitely needed that scoring punch. Now everyone will just have to wait until the powers that be decide Mayo has served his punishment or that he is not worth the trouble, and who knows how long that wait will take.

2. How will they replace Jae Crowder?

With Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan,Trent Lockett, and potentially Mayo all returning to campus with another season of experience under their belts, the backcourt should be one of the team’s strengths, even with the news that junior college transfer T.J. Taylor is leaving the program for personal reasons. The real question will be how the Golden Eagles plan to replace their do-everything forward and reigning conference player of the year, Jae Crowder. Crowder was second on the team in scoring, first on the team in rebounding and steals, and was an irreplaceable defender because of his athleticism and versatility. The onus now falls on forwards Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson. Both players were leaned upon heavily last season, and each showed flashes of their potential, especially Gardner who finished third on the team in scoring (9.7 PPG) despite starting just 19 games. Unless  Williams got hit on the head and changed his philosophy, the Golden Eagles will still be a stingy defensive team without Crowder, where Gardner and Wilson will really need to step up is on the offensive end of the floor and on the glass. The team has perimeter weapons, but in order to keep the defense honest, they will need one of their bruising forwards to become a consistent offensive threat. The presumptive favorite to fill that role best is Gardner, but he will need to stay healthy to make that happen.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by WCarey on March 23rd, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest Region

  • Kansas star forward Thomas Robinson’s personal tragedies have been well-documented. The junior, who just turned 21 last week, is the key player for the Jayhawks as they look to move into the Elite Eight.
  • Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor has faced a lot of adversity in basketball and in life. The guard from New Jersey has developed into a leader for Bill Self’s squad and he will look to lead the Jayhawks into an Elite Eight on Friday night.
  • Going into this season, there were many differing opinions regarding NC State forward CJ Leslie. Leslie has developed into a key player and a team leader for the overachieving Wolfpack that have already pulled two upsets in the NCAA Tournament.
  • When NC State athletic director Kay Yow named Mark Gottfried head coach last April, many people were surprised by the decision. As it turns out, Yow had the right idea, as Gottfried has led the Wolfpack through some hard times this season and into the Sweet Sixteen.
  • North Carolina star forward Harrison Barnes has a history as a saxophone player. Putting the music aside, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer is a key component to the team moving on in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Ohio head coach John Groce has seen his name tied to the openings at Nebraska and Illinois, but the Bobcats’ head coach will not say if he has any interest until his team’s run in the NCAA Tournament has concluded.

West Region

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ATB: Syracuse Survives, OSU Recovers, and Upset City in the West…

Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Half of our Elite Eight teams are set, with the East and West regions completing their semifinal matchups on Thursday night. The East Region in Boston finished as expected, with chalk advancing to the Elite Eight in the form of Syracuse and Ohio State for what should be a fantastic regional final on Saturday. But the story in Phoenix was much different, as the favored #1 and #3 seeds went down in games that were dominated by the lower seeds. Only one game on the night finished in single digits but there was plenty of exciting basketball that took place. And the one game that was a close one happened to be one of the Big Dance’s best. Let’s break it down… 

Your Watercooler Moment. Jordan Taylor’s Shot Falls Short, #1 Syracuse Survives.

Wisconsin is Devastated After Coming so Close Against Syracuse (Getty Images/J. Rogash)

Our first game of the night was a classic, one that featured two very different teams that both executed at an extremely high level offensively. Four-seed Wisconsin brought its patented ball-control, super-slow tempo game plan into Boston with hopes of knocking off top-seeded Syracuse with a methodical approach, good shooting, and strong collective defense. But no defense could stop what either team was bringing to the table in this one. The Badgers executed their plan offensively, hitting an amazing 14-27 from three-point range in a wonderful display of outside shooting that would usually be enough for a victory. But the Orange were just as strong on the other end, converting 55.1% of their field goals with easy baskets in the paint from a variety of one-on-one scorers. The two teams combined for just 12 turnovers and this game came down to the very last shot, one that fell short on a long three-point attempt from Jordan Taylor on a broken offensive play. Despite the fairly low 64-63 final score, the game featured crisp execution throughout its entirety. Syracuse was just one possession better, thanks to its easy offense earned through superior athleticism and playmaking in the half court. It’s on to the Elite Eight for the Orange!

Also Worth Chatting About. The First #1-Seed to Fall are Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Everyone knows that March is Michigan State’s month. Tom Izzo has brought the Spartans to six Final Fours in his tenure, and he had never been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament before the final weekend when his team was a #1 seed. That came to an end on Thursday, when Michigan State was outplayed from the start by Rick Pitino’s #4 Louisville Cardinals. The Spartans racked up more turnovers (15) than made field goals (14) while shooting 28.6% from the field. Louisville was too athletic and strong defensively, essentially beating Michigan State at its own game. The Cardinals won the battle on the boards, in the turnover margin, and from behind the arc (they shot 9-23 compared to 5-21 for MSU). Gorgui Dieng racked up seven blocks and three steals to go along with nine rebounds in an elite defensive performance, and Peyton Siva ran the offense well with nine assists. Izzo’s March mystique could not get his players to put the ball in the basket, and our first #1 seed finally goes down.

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Rushed Reaction: #7 Florida 68, #3 Marquette 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Florida Out-Toughed Marquette. Except for a few moments where Marquette brought its patented Buzz Williams hustle and toughness to the fore, the ‘soft’ Gators mostly out-toughed the Golden Eagles on this night. They beat them on the boards by one, blocked six more shots, and didn’t back down at all when MU got in their face. We’ve been critical of Billy Donovan’s teams (other than the “oh-fours”) in the past because of too much perimeter play and a lack of fortitude, but this bunch never wavered when facing a team that makes its living of off that stuff.
  2. Marquette’s Stars Never Seemed Comfortable. It’s hard for us to give too much credit to Florida’s defense, but something was definitely bothering both Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom tonight. The two players combined for a 10-30 shooting night, and without their offensive capabilities, Marquette was never going to seriously threaten the Gators. Perhaps worse than that, though, with the two stars struggling, the rest of the starting lineup didn’t do much better. Jamil Wilson, Vander Blue, and Junior Cadougan went for 11 total points on 4-20 shots themselves. Ugh.
  3. Gators’ Lack of Size Hasn’t Hurt Them Yet. This wasn’t the matchup where the Gators’ lack of talented size caught up with them, but you have to figure that it will eventually. Sometimes with the right matchups, though, a team can get on a roll, and that’s exactly what the Gators have done. Billy Donovan talked about how the team didn’t appear to play very well down the stretch of the regular season, but he attributed much of that to the level of competitions they were playing in those games. We’re not sure what that says about this year’s NCAA Tournament field (at least the Gators’ path to the Elite Eight), but with how well Louisville is playing, they’ll have to earn it on Saturday afternoon.

Star of the Game. Bradley Beal, Florida. Beal looked like the future lottery pick that he will be tonight, as he carried the Gators through some key stretches with his drives to the goal and timely three-point shooting. He ended up with 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists and only missed two field goal attempts on the night. Superb outing for the freshman.

Quotable. “Beal is their swing vote… because he’s so multi-talented.” Marquette head coach Buzz Williams, on the Florida guard’s play tonight.

What’s Next? Florida will advance to play the surging #4 Louisville Cardinals with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Billy Donovan, with two national championships and three trips to the Final Four on his resume, will play his mentor, Rick Pitino, with a single national title and five trips on his resume. Wow.

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SEC NCAA Tournament Primer: West Region

Posted by EMoyer on March 22nd, 2012

On Thursday night, Florida will play in its seventh Sweet Sixteen, facing Marquette . Here we preview the game between the Gators and Golden Eagles as well as the possibilities for the Gators in the Elite Eight. The West and the East are the two regions to feature four prior champions.

SEC NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal Capsule

WEST Region 

  • #7 Florida: Championship Appearances: 15; Record 31-12; Best Finish: Champion – 2006, 2007; How Qualified: At-Large, SEC; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, Elite Eight
  • #3 Marquette: Championship Appearances: 30; Record 38-30; Best Finish: Champion – 1977; How Qualified: At-Large, Big East; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, Sweet Sixteen
  • #1 Michigan State: Championship Appearances: 26; Record 54-24; Best Finish: Champion  – 1979, 2000; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Big Ten; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, Second Round
  • #4 Louisville: Championship Appearances: 38; Record 62-39; Best Finish: Champion – 1980, 1986; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Big East; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, Second Round
All-Time Meetings
  • Florida vs Marquette: Marquette leads 2-0; Last Meeting: Dec. 10, 1977 (Marquette 81, Florida 67)
  • Florida vs Michigan State: Tied 3-3; Last Meeting: Nov. 27, 2009 (Florida 68, Michigan State 52)
  • Florida vs Louisville: Louisville leads 7-1; Last Meeting: Dec. 11, 2004 (Louisville 74, Florida 70)

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