NCAA Regional Diary From San Antonio

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Final
Teams: VCU, Kansas
Date: 27 March 2011

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is Always a Hit.

  • This is the second time in this Tournament that I’ve personally witnessed this happen (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s being the other).  Kansas’ strategy from the opening tip was to get the ball inside early and often to their big men, Marcus and Markieff Morris.  It worked in the beginning as the twins got KU off to a 6-2 start, but VCU started to figure out the entry passes, and before long the Kansas guards were trying to throw the ball into a quadruple-team underneath.  The perimeter players weren’t looking to score at all, and I sometimes wonder if a focused strategy to take advantage of a strength (as here) actually backfires in the sense that the perimeter players don’t have an opportunity to play offensively.  In the Richmond game, as a contrasting example, the KU perimeter players got going early and UR as a result was out of the game by the second television timeout.
  • I love Shaka Smart for many reasons, not least of which is his bulldog mentality of taking on all comers, but watching him get down into a defensive crouch on the sidelines as his players guard the ball on that side of the floor is phenomenal.  He moves his feet very well for his advanced age of all of 33 years old.  With Brad Stevens Lambeau Leap into the team circle after beating #1 Pitt last week, and Smart acting as a sixth defender for the Rams, youth in the coaching ranks is most definitely served.
Shaka Can!
  • Whew, Markieff Morris (eight turnovers) and Tyrel Reed (1-9 FGs) would like to have this game back.  Through the first twelve minutes of action, Markieff had already turned the ball over six times to VCU, including a ridiculous Ewing-step-through travel that he damn well knows better than to do in the college game.  Reed suffered a miserable game, and he never looked less comfortable than when Kansas was in desperate need of someone — anyone — to hit some threes down the stretch, but he was badly off on all of them.  It was pretty clear to me from my vantage point that both of these guys were feeling the pressure of expectations, and they were generally crushed by it.
  • I liked Self’s decision to try to get Josh Selby into the game early to combat the scoring woes of his team on the perimeter.  Other than Selby, none of the KU guards are elite talents capable of scoring on demand.  It didn’t work out today, as Selby went 1-5 for two points and clearly wasn’t feeling it, but it was still worth the gamble.  He couldn’t have done much worse than the pair of Reed and Brady Morningstar (2-16 FGs).
  • Speaking of Selby, has any freshman in America been a bigger disappointment this season?  Hailed as the possible missing piece to a dominant KU team, he looked good in December before tailing off completely the rest of the way to become nearly a late-season afterthought.  It’s not very often that high school players good enough to rate #1 in the nation by at least one scouting service will suffer such a weird diminishment of his playing time and influence.  Yet, had he been akin to a John Wall or even a Brandon Knight, Kansas might still be playing.  The perimeter absolutely killed the Jayhawks today.

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RTC Live: NIT Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

The NIT field has been whittled from 32 to four as the semifinalists take center stage tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York. Two top seeds have made it to the Big Apple, Colorado and Alabama, and they’ll play in the nightcap. The first game features Klay Thompson and Washington State going up against Wichita State, a team that knocked off #1 seed Virginia Tech in Blacksburg nine days ago. All four teams were in the NCAA Tournament picture late into the season so this should be an exciting doubleheader. Alabama and Colorado have not been significantly challenged in this tournament and that’s a credit to both Anthony Grant and Tad Boyle for keeping their respective teams motivated in the face of what they perceived as NCAA snubs. Motivation is always a question mark in this tournament and both teams have done a nice job putting the past behind them and focusing on the here and now. Washington State has rebounded nicely from Thompson’s suspension which took them out of NCAA contention with a late season loss to UCLA. The storyline around Wichita State is whether their head coach, Gregg Marshall, will remain in that position after this tournament. Marshall will be on the lists of some prominent programs and may leave Wichita for greener pastures. Join RTC Live from the Garden tonight for what should be a fun doubleheader.

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The Week That Was: From Sixteen To Four

Posted by jstevrtc on March 29th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

What We Learned

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your 2010 CBI Champions! (AP/E. Gay)

Throughout the regular season a lot was made about the lack of an elite team in college basketball. For about a month Duke fit the bill, but then Kyrie Irving hurt his toe and the Blue Devils lost their aura of invincibility. As the season wore on, Ohio State and Kansas emerged as the top two teams in the nation. They had all the elements of an elite squad — size, skill, experience and NBA talent — but no one would have confused the Buckeyes and Jayhawks with, say, 2009 North Carolina, 2007 Florida, or 2001 Duke. This year’s versions of KU and OSU were very good teams, but neither was at that usual level of “great” that at least one team achieves during a season. The NCAA tournament certainly has reinforced the good-but-not-great trend in college hoops this year. For the first time ever, there won’t be a single #1 or #2 seed represented in the Final Four, and the group of #3 Connecticut, #4 Kentucky, #8 Butler and #11 VCU comprises the highest combined seeding of any quartet in Final Four history. The games from the past two weeks show just how little difference there was from #1-20. Kentucky and Arizona looked every bit as talented as Ohio State and Duke, and neither victory felt like an upset. Yes, Butler needed a number of breaks to go its way to advance to the Final Four, but time and time again the Bulldogs made the necessary plays to win, and they never looked overmatched against any one of their higher seeded opponents.

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NCAA Tournament Photo Essay – Floriani Takes Newark

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is an RTC contributor. Ray chronicled his travails at the Prudential Center over the weekend and shares some of the sights.

The fates of the Newark Regional decided it was Kentucky’s destiny to spend this week in Houston. The 16 teams entered with high hopes and aspirations, though only one would emerge victorious. Getting this far is an accomplishment in and of itself and the regional took on an entire festive atmosphere. Hosting its first regional, Newark went all out. From its ‘Hoopfest’ to some great games at the relatively new Prudential Center, this Newark Regional was one to remember. In a final between two of college basketball’s bluebloods, it was a game, fittingly enough, not decided until the final minute.  A few sights and sounds from The Prudential Center, the day of the finals…

The Prudential Center. Both sessions saw crowds in excess of 18,000. It just wasn’t the numbers that made the experience great. The arena afforded spectacular site lines and provided the stage for a wonderful atmosphere. The drama and intensity of both Kentucky games helped a bit as well.
No beer for yours truly, but a stop at the Nasto’s stand. Located in Newark’s Ironbound section, this noted ice cream establishment specializes in making their own products, and making them well. On Sunday I sampled the cantaloupe ice cream. Needless to say, it was outstanding.

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Around The Blogosphere: March 29, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on March 29th, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Final Four Notes

  • Kemba & The Improbables Do It Again: UConn is Final Four-bound: “Somehow, someway, this impossible season is going to continue. Behind Kemba Walker and superstar-in-training Jeremy Lamb, UConn has beaten Arizona, 65-63, to win the West Regional tonight in Anaheim. I really don’t know what to say. That game had too many momentum swings, too many death-defying moments, and two great looks in the final seconds to put the dagger to our collective dreams. I suggest we all sit back and enjoy this.” (The UConn Blog)
  • UK Basketball: From the Outhouse, to the Penthouse, to (gasp!) the Final Four: “Where do I begin? How does one convey the emotions one feels when, at long-last, what it is one yearns for comes to fruition? For Kentucky Wildcat basketball fans the wait seemed eternal, but alas, it is now upon us. And depending on one’s point of view, either a year late, a year early, or 13 years too long (I fall into the latter category).” (A Sea of Blue)
  • Calipari Gets A Bad Rap, While Calhoun Skates Free: “John Calipari and Jim Calhoun are two of the top coaches of my generation. That is hard to dispute. However, many people like to discredit coaches based on NCAA violations. And that’s fine. That said, some people need to more carefully review the facts before choosing who to throw under the bus.” (Obsessed with Sports

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.29.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 29th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Head coach Brad Stevens believes that as long as he remains successful, he will keep being mentioned as a candidate for other jobs across the country. Stevens has been mentioned as a candidate for almost every major opening across the country, but the 34-year-old head coach is intensely focused on bringing the Bulldogs a title.
  • Junior guard Ronald Nored lost his starting spot and has been mired in a long shooting slump this season. However, without the defensive tenacity that Nored supplies off the bench, Butler might not be in the Final Four.
  • Last season, Butler was led by the trio of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. With Hayward gone to the NBA, Butler has forged on being led by Mack and Howard.
  • Every successful team needs to be led by a point guard. For the Final Four Butler Bulldogs, that role has been filled admirably by Mack.
  • A fun read about how the Chicago Cubs will invite Brad Stevens and VCU head coach Shaka Smart to conduct the seventh inning stretch at a game at Wrigley Field this season.

Connecticut

  • UConn has followed a similar path of peaks and valleys to its opponent on Saturday, Kentucky. Both teams have evolved considerably since squaring off at the Maui Invitational in November. The Huskies’ freshmen have matured at an incredible rate, and Kentucky is feeding off of Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson more than Terrance Jones, who had the ball most of the time in the early going.
  • Kemba Walker was named a first team AP All-American on Monday, joining Jimmer Fredette, JaJuan Johnson, Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger. A Wooden Award and Final Four MOP award are still in Walker’s sights.
  • VCU gets plenty of attention for its improbable run (and should), but how about UConn winning nine postseason games in 19 days to reach the Final Four? This March run from Jim Calhoun‘s squad didn’t look to be in the cards when the season started.
  • The UConn women’s team is one win away from matching their male counterparts. The UConn double-dip has been accomplished twice, in 2004 and 2009, and comparing the runs is inevitable for Huskies fans, writes The Hartford Courant‘s Jeff Jacobs.
  • At the time of his recruitment, Kemba Walker was considered a backup plan to Brandon Jennings, who spurned UConn and Arizona to spend a season overseas before entering the NBA draft. Jennings is doing well, but second-best has worked out pretty nicely for the Huskies.

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NCAA Regional Diary From New Orleans

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: New Orleans, LA
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Florida, Butler
Date: 26 March 2011
Correspondent: John Stevens

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

Back to Butler…

There are only two possible options, and either one makes Brad Stevens look like a genius.

Here’s the situation. There are nine and a half minutes left in the Butler/Florida game and the Gators are starting to separate themselves a little. The Butler faithful — many of whom comprise the entire section behind the Bulldogs’ bench and have stood far more than they’ve sat in their seats during the game — haven’t been up for a while, and they’re starting to squirm in those chairs because they can feel it getting out of hand. So naturally, if you’re Brad Stevens, this is the time you saunter down to the end of the bench and put in — who else? — a kid who had scored a grand total of 29 points all season, had only played in 19 of the team’s games, and who averaged less than half an assist. If the sarcasm isn’t coming through, here, what we really mean to say is…are you kidding with this? And yet, what did Crishawn Hopkins do when Stevens tapped him with this most improbable of opportunities? Hit a cutting Matt Howard down the middle for a beautiful assist — immediately contributing more than twice his average in that category — and then hit a huge three, raising his yearly scoring output to 32 points. Sure, he committed a turnover moments later, and he was subbed out, but he changed everything. He provided that lift that comes when a kid who you never expected to come through ends up playing well; when that happens, the crowd gets back into the game and teammates who play the majority of minutes start playing with higher confidence. So, hands up, who predicted Crishawn Hopkins would turn out to be one of the most important players of the NCAA Tournament? When Hopkins sat down after being subbed out, he received a pretty loud ovation from the crowd. In fact, there was only one other player in this region who enjoyed a similar applause when he was removed from his game. It was Jimmer Fredette ending his career.

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Morning Five: 03.29.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 29th, 2011

  1. It is a good thing that Ken Krayeske was not from Kentucky or John Calipari might be having some YouTube-worthy press conferences as a new report indicates that Kentucky leads the nation in spending on basketball recruiting with a budget of $434,095 last year, which was significantly more than any program other than Kansas, despite the state (like many others) facing a large deficit. Before the Wildcat fan start ripping us apart, it is worth noting that the basketball program had an operating profit of $5.2 million last year.
  2. Late last week Ralph Nader questioned how athletic scholarships are handled, which started a small controversy online. Now David Steele has weighed in on the subject and says that while Nader was right to question how college athletics function he was wrong by focusing on the athletes and should have focused on the people in charge of the athletes.
  3. With the college basketball season nearing its conclusion many fans will start shifting their focus to whether certain players will declare for the NBA Draft. Michigan fans appear to be among the first to get that news as Darius Morris has decided to test the NBA waters although John Beilein believes that Morris won’t stay in unless he has a guarantee of being a first round selection. Based on what we have seen and heard we would expect Morris to be back in a Wolverine uniform if that is in fact true.
  4. UCLA fans were less fortunate as Tyler Honeycutt has declared for the NBA Draft and signed with an agent. They will have a new point guard though as Larry Drew II, the controversial former UNC point guard, has elected to play for the Bruins. Now we all have to hope for a UNC-UCLA match-up in Chapel Hill to bring up all the Larry Drew II-Kendall Marshall story lines again.
  5. The AP announced its All-American team yesterday and most of the selections won’t be a surprise. The notable parts of the selection process were that three senior were on the first team, which is the most since 2006, and there were no unanimous selections as Jimmer Fredette came the closest to being a unanimous selection, but was 1 vote short (time for an investigation). The one selection that might be a little controversial is JaJuan Johnson over Derrick Williams particularly after the NCAA Tournament, but other than that the team seems pretty sound and even the Johnson selection is defensible.
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RTC Final Four Snapshots: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by zhayes9 on March 29th, 2011

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. We continue the breakdown with Jim Calhoun’s fourth Final Four squad at Connecticut.

 

UConn celebrating their improbable Final Four berth

Crucial Tourney Moments: Connecticut had relatively smooth sailing through their first two tournament games against Bucknell and Cincinnati, but had to withstand strong rallies from both San Diego State and Arizona to advance to their second Final Four in three years. Jeremy Lamb made crucial buckets down the stretch in both affairs, none more important than his triple after an offensive rebound with under a minute to play against the Aztecs that provided UConn sufficient breathing room. Of course, it’s been Kemba Walker’s heroics late in games that have defined this team all season long. His setback jumper gave the Huskies a five-point lead with 1:18 to play against Arizona and sent them on their way. Connecticut has won an incredible nine games in 19 days.

Advantage Area: Jim Calhoun has changed lineups all season, alternating between a bigger unit with both Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu on the floor and a smaller lineup with Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel at the 4. Calhoun also begins the game with Kemba Walker orchestrating the offense at the point, but soon brings Shabazz Napier off the pine for 25-30 minutes that allows Walker to focus on scoring as a 2-guard. This type of flexibility and changeover could pose matchup problems for the Wildcats, especially if they involve Josh Harrellson in ball-screening action with Oriakhi that either forces a switch or allows Walker just enough time to penetrate in the lane where he’s virtually uncontainable. Not only does Napier allow Walker or Lamb free reign to run off baseline screens, but his pesky on-ball defense could frustrate the engine that runs the Kentucky offense, their point guard Brandon Knight and either Shelvin Mack or Joey Rodriguez in the final.

Potential Downfall: During the Huskies first meeting with Kentucky in Maui, freshman Terrence Jones torched them for 21 points on 11 shots, mostly because neither Oriakhi nor Okwandu could slow down Jones on dribble penetration. If Calhoun elects to put a quicker defender on Jones, the 6’8 frame of the former Washington commit opens up opportunities to post up and operate down low in the post as he did on a few occasions when Carolina big man John Henson was on the floor with four fouls. Jones has to be aggressive and demand the basketball, though, which is not always a given. Matching Kentucky from three could also be a downfall if Connecticut falls behind late. The Wildcats are the polar opposite of last year’s version, shooting a precise 40% from three as a team, seventh in the nation. UConn, on the other hand, shoots at just a 34% clip from deep, 201st in the country.

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NCAA Regional Diary From Newark

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

Location: Newark, NJ
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Kentucky, North Carolina
Date: 27 March 2011
Correspondent: Joe Dzuback   

The UK Defense Was Aggressive From the Start

 

  • And the word at the Rock all afternoon was “matchups.” This is a game of matchups. A strong team on Friday can look very bad on Sunday…why? The matchups. Kentucky Coach John Calipari found a way to neutralize Carolina’s heretofore dominant frontcourt trio. He did it by calling on veteran DeAndre Liggins to start the game – “It wasn’t no big deal. Coach say he was going to start me, no disrespect to Doron or anything like that,” replied Liggins to a question about the switch-up – and told the junior veteran to shut down freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. Liggins embraced his assignment, giving the freshman little room to pass or drive, forcing him to take shots when the clock ran down, or resort to the basketball equivalent of sending the puck into the corner and letting the wings – or in this case UNC’s forwards — dig it out. Though it worked on occasion, as Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes were able to score on a few put-backs, that tactic, combined with John Henson’s foul trouble, disrupted the Tar Heel offensive rhythm to the point where the Heels went into the locker room at the half down eight, 38-30, and their high octane, highly efficient offense, in shambles. So disruptive was Kentucky’s guard and forward pressure that North Carolina turned over 24.5% of their possessions and converted 28.6% of their three point attempts (2-7). Matchups.
  • At times the Heels appeared confused, falling back on attempted threes to draw iron and extend their possession. Barnes and Marshall combined for 14 three-point attempts, uncharacteristic for North Carolina Coach Roy Williams’ offense, and converting on only three (21.4%), unfortunately very much a characteristic of this Tar Heel team this season. “Their team (Kentucky) averages 39.6% from the three-point line and we don’t have anybody shooting better than 39.6%…it’s hard trying to overcome some things that are that big advantage. They scored 36 points from the three-point line and we scored nine.” When asked about the Kentucky game plan, Josh Harrellson responded, “the first five minutes of each half really dictates the game, you know, the first five minutes of the game we came out and we played aggressive, played together as a team…and I think we did a good job…running our stuff and keeping them out of their basketball game.” Keeping them out of their game involved keeping Zeller out of the low post – trapping big-to-big, “but the whole point was Josh (Harrellson)…you have to play this guy and don’t expect help,” and when Zeller posted on the left side, a guard would slide over to double. Matchups.

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NCAA Regional Diary From Anaheim

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend. 

Location: Anaheim, CA 
Round: Regional Final
Teams: Connecticut, Arizona 
Date: 26 March 2011
Correspondent: Andrew Murawa

  • In the preview for this game, I talked about the idea that it wouldn’t necessarily be the stars that determined the outcome of this game, but the role players. While Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams led the way with 20 points each, the two All-Americans combined to make just two of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc and to shoot a combined 12-30 from the field. The big difference between the two is that Walker was able to take advantage of all the defensive attention that was being paid to him and trust his teammates to make big plays. Walker wound up with seven assists as teammates like Jeremy Lamb (19 points, two threes) and Shabazz Napier (ten points, two threes) came up big when called upon.  “Arizona did a great job of throwing two guys at me and I realized it kind of late,” said Walker. “But I was able to get Jeremy involved and he was able to make so big plays for us. Jeremy was on tonight, and I wanted to keep going to him.”
  • According to Jim Calhoun, it was Walker’s suggestion to repeatedly run Lamb off baseline screens in several late-game possessions. “Kemba says, ‘We got to get the ball to Jeremy!’ Now, I’ve had a lot of great players, and great players want the ball in their hands and he did some great things down the stretch obviously, but he’s saying to the coaches let’s not run cage, let’s run circle for Jeremy, and obviously it paid off great. And he looked at Jeremy and he said, ‘And you’ll make those shots, too.’ I don’t think there is any kid in America doing that. He’ll carry us and take over the game but as good as it has been, his play was great, his leadership even better.”
  • Jeremy Lamb was asked in the postgame press conference to comment on a UConn assistant coach’s statement that the freshman had been so great in the Tournament that it was like he didn’t even know where he was. What followed next proved beyond all doubt that Lamb really didn’t know where he was, as he turned to Coach Calhoun and Walker with a confused look on his face, prompting both of them to begin cracking up, then responded to the reports with “you mean like — what do you mean?” Alex Oriakhi cleared things up a bit, telling Lamb, “he wants to know if you have a pulse.” Lamb responded: “Well, no, I mean, I haven’t thought about it sinking in yet, I just like to go out there and play. I don’t like to think about where we’re playing and how big the stage is. Right now I’m just having fun playing basketball.”
  • Some 27 years ago, Jeremy Lamb’s father, Rolando Lamb, hit a game winning buzzer-beater to beat a Calhoun-coached Northeastern team in the NCAA Tournament. According to Calhoun, all is now forgiven. “I think that after his shot that beat us when he played for VCU I told him he owed me one and he certainly has – he’s paid me back ten-fold. That was just one game.”
  • For the second straight game, the Huskies were the beneficiaries of their opponent’s star forward getting in early foul trouble. And in both games, after taking a solid lead into the halftime locker room, UConn had to withstand numerous second-half charges, playing in what was essentially a road game. “When teams make runs, we don’t let it get to us because I guess we know we’re going to make runs back with Kemba and Jeremy Lamb being able to score the ball the way they’re able to,” said sophomore center Oriakhi.

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Celebrate Good Times, Final Four Style

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2011

Over the weekend, four different schools of all shapes and sizes earned a berth into the 2011 Final Four.  From a historic blueblood to a modern one, a young upstart and a complete shock to the system, Kentucky, Connecticut, Butler and VCU are each a game away from the rare opportunity to play on Monday night. If you see/find any other good ones this week, send them to us at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Kentucky Fans Will No Doubt Bum-Rush Houston

VCU

We have no idea how someone got together a rap song to celebrate VCU’s Final Four run along with a pretty solid editing job, but here it is.  It’s really worth watching through to the end.

Butler

The Bulldogs held a 2 am pep rally in the venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse late Saturday night/Sunday morning.  The best part?  Matt Howard (we think?) talking about getting the “real call” from President Obama, and not the “runner-up call.”

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