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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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.22.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 22nd, 2012

  1. The Fighting Illini, it seems, will not be getting their man. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has been throwing everything at VCU coach Shaka Smart — it turned out to be a contract offer of $2.5 million a year to succeed Bruce Weber — and Smart turned him down, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. With the most high-profile candidate out of the picture (and others like Cuonzo Martin and Anthony Grant reportedly also not showing interest), what other options will Thomas have?
  2. Is John Beilein sitting somewhere wondering, “Is it something I said?” In a matter of hours Wednesday, it was announced that three Michigan players — including Evan Smotrycz, who started 18 games this season for the Wolverines — were leaving the program and that freshman phenom Trey Burke was testing the NBA draft waters. Those departures would leave some gaping holes but, with the way Beilein has been recruiting lately, there is potential for a silver lining.
  3. In other offseason news, there’s another coaching situation in the state of Illinois drawing some attention. The Chicago Tribune‘s Teddy Greenstein notes that the silence surrounding Bill Carmody‘s performance evaluation is leading some to speculate that there may be something bubbling in Evanston. Carmody has failed to lead Northwestern to that elusive NCAA Tournament berth. Is it time for a change?
  4. Back to teams who are actually still playing basketball, the Lansing State Journal‘s Joe Rexrode does not mince words when discussing the honors Draymond Green deserves this season. Rexrode says Green has been the best player in the country, particularly in the last month or two, and he knows he’s not the only one that feels that way. Green has already been named to multiple All-American first teams. But he’s got a few tall trees in Kansas and Kentucky uniforms to topple before being recognized as the country’s best.
  5. Throughout Will Sheehey‘s high school career, there may have been questions about whether he could compete at the highest college level. Tom Crean never had doubts. And now, the Indianapolis Star‘s Terry Hutchens writes, Indiana fans feel the same way. The Indiana guard’s jumper sealed the win against VCU to send the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 and he has had 12 double-digit scoring games despite missing five games early in the season with an ankle injury.
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits 03.21.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 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.

West Region

South Region

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A Closer Look: Michigan State vs Louisville

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 21st, 2012

For some pundits on the national scene, Michigan State is thought of as the team “after Kentucky” most likely to win a national championship. The Big Ten co-champs and Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green have a tough task ahead of them with #4 seed Louisville. It’s a rematch of the 2009 Elite Eight when Michigan State upset Louisville 64-52.  What will happen this time around?  Let’s take a look:

Can Tom Izzo lead Michigan State to another Elite Eight? (photo: AP)

1.  How will Louisville approach this game?  Last time these two teams met in 2009, Louisville came out with Rick Pitino‘s bread an butter–the full-court press. However, the Spartans were able to break the press and get some easy baskets, so the Cardinals backed off. Will Louisville decide to attack the Spartan guards again this time around? My guess would be yes. While Keith Appling is a solid ball-handler, he can be turnover-prone at times, as evidenced by his seven-turnover performance against Ohio State on February 11 and his five-turnover game in a loss to Illinois on January 31. The other guards charged with handling the pressure will be senior Austin Thornton (a shooter not known for his handle), Brandon Wood, and true freshman Travis Trice. Don’t be surprised if Draymond Green takes an active role in bringing the ball up the court in an effort to negate the speed and trapping abilities of the Cardinal guards. Louisville relies heavily on guys like Russ Smith (84 steals on the year) and Peyton Siva (63 steals) to create opportunities, and they will need their guards to be better than the Spartan guards if they hope to score the upset.

2.  Will Keith Appling once again be dared to shoot? In a surprising turn of events against Saint Louis, Keith Appling turned into Rajon Rondo. Meaning, the Biliken defense routinely sagged off Appling at the three-point line, daring the Spartan point guard to shoot the ball. It was perplexing to those who have followed Appling’s career because Keith has always been known as a scorer and a guy who certainly has three-point range. In fact, he started the year shooting 52% in the first six games of the year even going 3-5 in a win over Florida State. But the scouting report in this season cannot be denied: Appling hasn’t hit more than one three in a game since December 28. He admitted after the Saint Louis game that he felt disrespected by the defense, yet he was able to knock down a big outside shot late in the second half. Will Louisville employ the same strategy? And if they do, will Appling be willing to pull the trigger to try and make them pay?

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by AMurawa on March 20th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent.

The West Regional begins Thursday night in Phoenix with Michigan State vs. Louisville followed by Marquette vs. Florida. Our East Regional Reset published earlier today, while our South and Midwest Regional Resets will publish Wednesday. Make sure to follow RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Phoenix throughout the weekend.

New Favorite:  Michigan State, #1, 28-7. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Nothing has changed in the past week that would make the Spartans any less the favorite in the West, and in fact, the upset of Missouri in the round of 64 only further strengthens Tom Izzo’s odds of making it four-for-four in Final Four trips as a #1 seed. While Draymond Green has been excellent all year, if anything he has stepped his game up even more in the first two rounds of the tournament, and point guard Keith Appling has shown a toughness and an ability to make plays when they’re needed. The Spartans still have a very tough slate ahead of them, but of the teams remaining here, they are the slight favorite to advance to New Orleans.

Downtown Phoenix Hosts This Year's West Regional

Horse of Darkness:  Florida, #7, 24-10. They’re the lowest remaining seed in this region, and they haven’t really beaten anybody of great importance in their first two games, but they’ve beaten those teams with conviction. Their wins over Virginia and Norfolk State have come by an average of 30 points. And while all of their players deserve credit, freshman guard Bradley Beal may be the hottest of them all, not only scoring 14 in each of his games (with three threes mixed in there), but helping out the front line by averaging 10 boards. The Gators are still the underdogs in this region, but they match up well with a Marquette team that doesn’t do a great job of defending the three-point line, and, of course, Billy Donovan has a little bit of experience this deep in the tourney.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend):  Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84. This was really the only upset of even major proportions in the first weekend, and boy, was it a doozy. While the Lehigh upset of Duke may have earned more press among casual basketball fans just because of the Blue Devils’ reputation, the Spartan victory over Missouri was even more stunning. Not only was Mizzou a strong two-seed with an argument for a one-seed, Duke was generally considered a pretty weak two-seed. And Lehigh had a strong argument that they deserved a higher seed, while Norfolk State was plenty happy to avoid a 16-seed. In short, not only is the Kyle O’Quinn-led upset of the Tigers the most surprising result in the first weekend of the West region, it is one of the more surprising results in the history of the NCAAA Tournament.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 20th, 2012

  1. Normally, when players work hard and earn individual accolades, it’s an enjoyable accomplishment and a vindication for the sacrifices that they’ve made to reach that point.  But for Draymond Green, all the talk surrounding his outstanding season actually had the opposite effect.  Green admitted to reading media articles, listening to what folks had to say on Twitter, and it affected his game.  Instead of making things happen, he was worrying about what could happen, and that’s no way to lead a team through the NCAA Tournament.  Fortunately, the Michigan State senior has been able to lean on his coach, Tom Izzo, as he’s learning how to handle all his personal success.
  2. Plenty of attention is being paid to the Illinois coaching search, but there is another seat open in the Big Ten, and that belongs to Nebraska.  After parting ways with Doc Sadler, the Huskers are taking their time trying to find a new man to lead the program.  While it’s not the most high-profile job in college basketball, there still are expectations, and any viable candidate is going to be expected to compete and win in the Big Ten.  The latest coach to interview for the job is Oral Roberts head man Scott Sutton.
  3. While fading down the stretch and ultimately losing to Kansas was certainly disappointing enough for Purdue fans, watching Robbie Hummel play his last game as a Boilermaker was equally tough. Hummel’s career may be most remembered by outside fans because of the injuries he suffered while at Purdue, but the legacy he leaves is one of hard work and passion for the game. Hummel’s commitment to the program and to his teammates is unmatched, and that will be what he’ll be remembered for by Purdue fans, in addition to being a pretty good player when healthy.
  4. With all the talk of brackets, matchups, and dreams of Sweet Sixteen success, it can be pretty tough to remain a student-athlete.  Travel during the NCAA Tournament is hard enough from a physical standpoint, but add in school work, and you’ve got a lot of things weighing on young men’s minds. For Wisconsin, keeping up with their studies is obviously a priority for the players, and the coaching staff has been crafting practice schedules in order to accommodate the extra workload.
  5. Minnesota remains alive in the NIT, and the Gophers came out REALLY ready to play against Miami last night. Minny came out on a 12-0 run, and never trailed throughout the contest. Star forward Rodney Williams led the attack with 21 points.  Up next for the Gophers, they’ll head to Middle Tennessee on Wednesday night to try and continue its run toward an NIT championship.
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ATB: Sweet Sixteen Set – #1 Seeds Roll, Cinderellas Emerge, and It’s Good to be From Ohio

Posted by EJacoby on March 19th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. After one of the craziest nights in recent Big Dance history on Friday, perhaps we all needed a bit of a break from the chaos this weekend. Fortunately, that didn’t exactly happen. Most of the higher seeds advanced in the round of 32, but the Midwest Region led the way with some crazy results. Almost every season, we see a double-digit seed reach the Sweet Sixteen; this year, we have three, and it easily could have been five. Of the 16 teams remaining, four come from the Big East, four are of the Big Ten, and four represent the state of Ohio, including both of the guilty parties from the Crosstown Shootout Brawl back in December. It’s the first time ever that one single state sends four teams to the Sweet Sixteen. Let’s go over the great moments from the weekend…

Your Watercooler Moment. #13 Ohio University is This Year’s Cinderella Story

D.J. Cooper Hasn't Allowed #13 Ohio to Lose (AP Photo/B. Rucker)

What would the NCAA Tournament be without a mid-major, double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen? This year it’s Ohio, the #13 seed of the Midwest Region that had a fairly favorable draw in terms of matchups but still had to defeat two power conference teams on the way. A victory over #12 seed South Florida on Sunday sent the Bobcats to the second weekend of the Big Dance, pretty amazing considering they finished third in the MAC conference this season. But Ohio is no joke, as D.J. Cooper continues to prove himself as one of the best lead guards in the entire tourney. Cooper outplayed USF’s Anthony Collins in the round of 32 and tallied 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists with several big shots late in the game to help his team advance. The other recognizable name from this squad is Nick Kellogg, the sophomore guard who is the son of CBS analyst and former collegiate star Clark Kellogg. Clark’s son is a terrific shooter at 41.8% from three and 89.2% from the foul line, giving the Bobcats a nice one-two punch from the perimeter. Interestingly enough, Ohio now draws #1 North Carolina in the Regional Semifinal in what most would expect to be a blowout, but the Tar Heels just lost their indispensible point guard to a wrist injury, which will make things interesting next weekend. Could Ohio’s perimeter attack lead to a truly incredible Cinderella story with a win over UNC? Stay tuned.

Also Worth Chatting About. Kendall Marshall Suffers Broken Wrist for #1 Seed North Carolina

The single biggest storyline from the past weekend was not anything that happened in the box score or even in between the lines on the court. But when North Carolina’s star point guard and the nation’s leader in assists, Kendall Marshall, got fouled and pushed on a layup and landed on his right wrist in the out-of-bounds baseline, the entire dynamic of this NCAA Tournament changed. Marshall suffered a fractured wrist on this play with 10:55 remaining in the second half of Carolina’s game against #8 seed Creighton. Marshall continued to play in this game for a few minutes and wasn’t immediately in so much pain that he had to leave. It’s also an injury to his non-shooting hand, so it could have been worse. In addition, the sophomore is set for surgery on Monday which will leave him in a position to play shortly thereafter if he is able to tolerate the pain. Unfortunately, it’s a huge long shot to think that Marshall will be back and effective going forward. The injury he suffered usually requires three-plus weeks of a cast and rest, and even bracing the hand and tolerating pain to play will make for a huge liability on the floor. Already a weak defender, Marshall would be even less effective on that end and he would surely be forced to his right hand on offense by opposing teams. There’s just as strong of a chance that he’d be a detriment to UNC by being on the court than he would be a benefit, depending on the true impact of the injury. As things stand, Carolina needs to start preparing for a Championship run without its point guard, leaving that position to be filled by either unused backup Stilman White (4.2 minutes per game) or by a player like P.J. Hairston or Harrison Barnes in some sort of point-forward role. One of the most irreplaceable players in the country, Marshall’s injury leaves a giant question mark surrounding the Tar Heels’ title hopes.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Michigan State 65, #9 Saint Louis 61

Posted by WCarey on March 18th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Draymond Green is still the man. The senior do-everything man for Michigan State put up another terrific performance with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and six steals. In such a close game, the Spartans needed every one of those contributions from Green. Green was in such control for Michigan State that there were times late in the game during Saint Louis’ furious comeback that he was running the point for the Spartans. He is one of those special talents who can lead Michigan State all the way to the Final Four and beyond.
  2. Keith Appling is capable of making huge plays from the guard position. Amidst the furious Saint Louis rally with Michigan State’s lead cut to just four, Appling nailed a huge three-pointer from the corner with just 1:37 remaining on the clock. After that three, Saint Louis realistically only had a fighter’s chance of getting back into this one. The sophomore guard finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
  3. This is not the last we will hear from Saint Louis. Saint Louis is a very well-coached team who returns every contributor but leading scorer Brian Conklin. Starters Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jr., Dwayne Evans, and Rob Loe return next season for the Billikens. Key bench guys Cody Ellis, Jordair Jett, and Cory Remekun also return to build on this year’s 26-8 campaign. Rick Majerus‘ squad plays a tough-nosed style of play and will definitely be a major player in the Atlantic 10 next season.

Star of the Game. Draymond Green, Michigan State. The senior had another impressive performance here, accumulating 16 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Throughout the game it was more than clear that Green was the best player on the floor. Green really is a do-everything guy for Michigan State and that was more than evident again today.

Quotable. “We had to work today.” – Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Saint Louis gave the Spartans a very tough fight all afternoon and the outcome was in question until the final minutes.

Sights & Sounds. Seeing a Saint Louis fan play a trumpet in the stands was really a sight to be had. I have never seen something like that at a basketball game before and I really wonder how he got that trumpet into the arena. Nevertheless, it was definitely a fun sight.

Wild Card. It was definitely tough seeing how emotional both Rick Majerus and Brian Conklin were at the postgame press conference. It was obvious to everyone in the room just how much those two care for each other. Conklin seems like a first-class kid and definitely someone the Billikens will miss next season.

What’s Next. Michigan State moves on to the Sweet Sixteen where it will face Louisville in a matchup of two legendary coaches in Phoenix. Expect a hard-fought, gritty, sometimes-ugly style of basketball to be played with the deserving winner one step from the Final Four.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits 03.18.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 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.

West Region

South Region

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ATB: Absolute MADNESS – Chaos Ensues As Round of 64 Concludes…

Posted by EJacoby on March 17th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede – Thursday was a fairly slow first day of NCAA Tournament action, producing just two total upsets and leaving much to be desired in terms of thrilling finishes. Friday was a completely different story – two #15 seeds won on the same day for the first time ever, with the results coming just a couple of hours apart. We also saw a #13, #12, #11, and two #10 seeds come out victorious in one of the craziest days in Big Dance history. Half of the games on the schedule resulted in upsets, including seven of the final nine contests on this freaky Friday night. Without further ado, we provide everything you need to know in this installment of After The Buzzer…

Your Watercooler Moment. #15 Norfolk State Stuns #2 Missouri.

It was supposed to be the late afternoon game to fill the only quiet block of the evening. #15-seed Norfolk State against #2 Missouri, the exciting up-tempo team that produced the most efficient offense in the country this season with its four-guard attack. Mizzou was a very popular Final Four pick, considered the team with the greatest upside in the West Region. But then things got interesting; pesky Norfolk State was hanging around and had the game tied at halftime. Every time you looked up at the scoreboard in the second half, Norfolk was ahead or behind by a couple of points and that’s when it was time to tell all your friends that we might have a serious bracket-buster taking place. Sure enough, it happened. The Spartans of the MEAC conference became the first #15-seed to win an NCAA Tournament game in 11 years since a fellow MEAC school did it in the form of Hampton University over Iowa State in 2001. This year, it was dominant big man Kyle O’Quinn who paced the way with a monster double-double for a team that shot 54.2% from the field and went 10-19 from three. Missouri played fine offensively, shooting 52.7% itself, but the Tigers allowed the tournament’s least-efficient offense to hit shots from everywhere on the floor as well as out-hustle them to loose balls and open rebounds. Little did we know, the madness was only beginning on this night.

Also Worth Chatting About. Hours Later, #15 Lehigh Makes History

Most brackets were busted from Missouri’s loss alone, but those who happened to have the Tigers falling early in their pools surely didn’t survive the rest of the night, either. The 7:00 PM ET block of games blew the roof off of this tournament, beginning with the little guys from the Patriot League. #15 Lehigh had a terrific year led by mid-major star guard C.J. McCollum, but nobody thought this team had a chance against Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils, the most successful NCAA Tournament team of the past 20 years. #2-seed Duke, though, was vulnerable because of an injury to starting forward Ryan Kelly and an overall trend of weak recent play thanks to a porous defense. The Mountain Hawks took advantage early and often, leading this game early in the first half and continuing to put the pressure on Duke’s ‘D’. McCollum was the star of the show, Duke wasn’t hitting from the perimeter, and Lehigh really had a chance to win this game. Late in the second half it was anyone’s game, but McCollum made big play after big play while no Duke guard could counter. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Andre Dawkins combined to shoot 4-19 from three. Gabe Knutson matched Mason Plumlee inside going for 17 points on 5-5 shooting. And when the buzzer sounded, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks were winners in a thorough victory that made history. For the first time ever, two #15 seeds won in the same year of the NCAA Tournament. And it all happened on the same evening, just two-and-a-half hours apart.

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