Lineups for Bleacher Stream announced

Wisconsin and Kentucky mostly sticking with the same people as 2014

According to a joint press release by CBS and Turner Sports and I quote:

“The inventive concept will continue to present the game with unprecedented local flavor including comprehensive team and player storylines, custom graphics, music, graphics and show packaging, additional cameras and team-centric replays, custom halftimes with school features and more,” according to the press release.

Here’s the schedule and roster of talent for the Team Stream Presented by Bleacher Report.

All teamcasts will also be available online and via your favorite mobile devices:

Duke, on TNT: Tom Werme, play-by-play (host for the ACC Digital Network); Alaa Abdelnaby, color; Chris Spatola, reporter (analyst for both the CBS Sports Network and Pac 12 Network since 2012).

Michigan State, on truTV: Brian Anderson, play-by-play; Mateen Cleaves, color; Shireen Saski, reporter (also known as Shireen Starman, currently a reporter for the CBS Sports Network on their hockey coverage).

Kentucky, on TNT: Dave Baker, play-by-play (WKYT Sports Director since 1992); Rex Chapman, color; Michael Eaves, reporter (1994 UK graduate who currently does pre and post game for Anaheim Angels broadcasts on Fox Sports Live, along with similar coverage for the Los Angeles Clippers during the NBA season).

Wisconsin, on truTV: Wayne Larrivee, play-by-play; Mike Kelley, color; Phil Dawson, reporter (morning sports anchor for News/Talk 1310 WIBA and The Big 1070 in Madison).

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True heavyweights will occupy the 2015 Men’s Final Four

The games were not as anticlimactic as Saturday night was in the Midwest Regional final in Cleveland, or in the case of Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio.  If you have been following his picks, he had Arizona beating Wisconsin in the West Regional and the outcome simply went down in flames as he loses the Sheets of Integrity Challenge to Mike Golic for the fifth straight year.

Sunday afternoon in Syracuse and the 2016 Final Four city of Houston, there were some moments of true ebb-and-flow between the four remaining teams in the Elite Eight.  Only one school never made it to college basketball’s Promised Land.

East Regional

Louisville and Michigan State did five minutes better than the heart-pounding exhilarating affair between undefeated Kentucky and Notre Dame the night before.

The game was at a frenetic, hurry-up pace and Louisville was paced by senior Wayne Blackshear.  The Cardinals led 40-32 at the half.

But everyone in the country knew that the Spartans would turn up the defensive pressure and the Cardinals simply could not buy a basket.  Except for one hoop late in the half by Montrezl Harrell, Blackshear (the game’s high scorer with 28 points) was the only offense that consisted of three driving layups off Michigan State turnovers in transition.

Travis Trice and Bryn Forbes gave the Spartans the lead that they would not relinquish with back-to-back threes with eight minutes left.

The strangest moment of the day took place prior to the final TV time out.  With 3:57 showing on the Carrier Dome clock, Blackshear drove hard to the bucket and was fouled by Matt Costello.  After a few seconds, Wayne’s nose was bleeding.

NOTE:  This next paragraph is not for the faint of heart–so please read carefully.

While on the bench as the athletic trainer was trying to plug it shut, one of the nostrils spewed out blood like a running faucet.  A few minutes after heading into the locker room and putting on a fresh jersey, freshman Dillon Avare hit one of two free throws, but Blackshear managed to return just before the end of regulation time.

In a game which featured 11 lead changes, Louisville nearly completed its’ 12th trip to the Final Four.  With 4.9 seconds left, Louisville forward Mangok Mathiang hit his first free throw which the ball hit hard off the heel of the rim and bounced high before settling through the hoop.  The second attempt that could have given Louisville a possible victory, also hit the heel but bounced wide left.

Trice then spend up about 45 feet, but he could have taken one more dribble.  But by the time he launched his half court shot, there was still 1.2 seconds left.  The shot caromed hard off the top part of the backboard and the game went into overtime.
Gang Green did a complete 180 degree turnaround compared to a few weeks ago when they couldn’t dent the scoreboard at the United Center in Chicago during the Big Ten title game.

It started quickly with Forbes hitting a 3-pointer 26 seconds into the extra stanza.  The Spartans kept a one to two possession lead most of the five minutes.  Sparty managed to finally seal the deal in the final 31 seconds when Brandon Dawson put back a rebound to a missed three point shot as Michigan State went up 74-70.

Denzel Valentine (15 points) on the next possession batted away a interior feed by Quentin Snider, and Trice sealed the win by hitting two free throws with 10.1 seconds left.  Michigan State earned the school’s ninth Final Four appearance, and the seventh in 20 years for Head Coach Tom Izzo.

For all of the doubters out there, and yes–I was one of them…guilty as charged–Sparty rose to the occasion when things mattered most.

Besides being the third Number 7 seed to reach the Final Four, Coach Izzo became the first coach in history to take three separate teams to the Final Four with seeds numbered 5 and less.

South Regional

Gonzaga was trying to make its’ first ever trip to the Final Four, but for Duke–this was old hat to them down Tobacco Road.

But inside NRG Stadium, Gonzaga hung tough for a half only trailing 31-26 after the first 20 minutes.

The No. 2 seed (35-3) had taken a 38-34 lead less than 4 minutes into the second half.  This young group of Blue Devils briefly suffered their largest deficit of the tournament.  A 9-0 run turned the tide and Duke would turn things on cruise control, just like the 11 other times Coach K would guide his Blue Devils to yet another Final Four.  This is Mike Kryzyewski’s 12th overall appearance and that ties him with the legendary John Wooden of UCLA who did his 12 appearances in a much quicker span between 1964 to 1975.  This Duke run has been going on as long as the shot clock has been in existence–1986.  I hope you can look up those games on YouTube if you want to see how the game was played back then.

However, to Mark Few’s credit–Gonzaga did not flinch.

The Bulldogs got as close as two points with under 5 minutes to go, but could have tied it up before Kyle Wiltjer missed on an open layup.

Sophomore Matt Jones (no relation to Tyus) had 16 points on four 3-point baskets.  Senior guard Quinn Cook also finished in double figures with 10 points as Duke won going away 66-52.  Justise Winslow also had a nice game with 16 points, but had to miss 8 minutes of game action due to having briefly sprained his left ankle while going for a driving layup.

Just like Michigan State, this will mark Duke’s first appearance on college basketball’s grandest stage since Lucas Oil Stadium first hosted the Final Four in 2010.

We all know the rest of the story.

Lots of tradition coming to Nap Town

This will be the most combined Final Four appearances in tournament history–26 in all:

Mike Kryzyzewski, Duke 12

Tom Izzo, Michigan State 7

John Calipari, Massachusetts and Memphis (both later vacated) and Kentucky 4

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin 2

I am just barely scratching the surface.

In terms of my brackets, the only team I had wrong was Michigan State.  The other three Number 1 seeds, I was correct with Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke.

This Final Four has lots of tradition, and it promises to be loads of fun (even though things in most of Indiana are very tense at the time I wrote this blog– especially in Marion County, if you have been following the news since Governor Mike Pence signed that very controversial bill into law on Thursday).

Las Vegas oddsmakers have both Duke and Kentucky as 5 point favorites to beat the two Big Ten entrants.

Look for my extensive Final Four preview sometime later this week, as I will examine each team.  Not only will I highlight their key strengths, but I hope to also give an X-Factor on the guy you may not think may grab the instant Twitter fodder or blog headline from me and other fellow bloggers on Saturday night which could mean the difference between advancing on Monday night or just being a mere footnote in history, like Larry Johnson passing up on a potential three-point attempt at the former RCA/Hoosier Dome in 1991 when Duke played close to a perfect game and halted the last team to enter the Final Four unbeaten in UNLV.

For Big Blue Nation and all Kentucky fans, 38 is the current record.  But it will mean mostly nothing if they don’t get victories number 39 and 40.

But in my next blog, you will get the full roster of announcers that will be hired to do the Bleacher Streams:

Duke and Kentucky will have their in-school feeds supplied by TNT

Michigan State and Wisconsin will have their school colors represented by TruTV.

Even Dennis Miller is part of the three-hour pregame show.

And of course, TBS will give our information straight down the middle with hopefully a good side dish of “onions”–courtesy of one Bill Raftery working his very first Final Four for television after 20 years of doing similar coverage for Westwood One radio.

Finally, please continue to send your well wishes and prayers to the family of Craig Sager of Turner Sports as his leukemia has returned for the second time.  Sure hope he does well again during his upcoming treatment and hopefully, if not during the NBA playoffs–we will hope to see him back in a dugout in time for the baseball playoffs come October.

The upset that was not to be, so we will have a rematch for Indy on Super Saturday

“It was a great college game…we’re extremely disappointed.  We really thought that we had a great chance to beat them.”

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey moments after nearly derailing Kentucky’s pursuit to perfection at the Midwest Regional Final in Cleveland.

Simply put, Notre Dame did everything right.

And I mean everything…except for the final minute of play.

Eight lead changes and multiple ties later, the Fighting Irish did not commit any fouls from the halftime break until 10:12 elapsed into the second half.

Three things Mike Brey’s team had going for them were huge as the game wore on and this had the makings of a classic:

  • Notre Dame held its’ own in regards to points in the paint
  • Rebounding was close to dead even (Kentucky won that battle by a small margin of 28-25)
  • The three-point shot was available at key moments and the star players made the star plays from Zach Auguste to Patrick Connaughton and Jerian Grant.

Both teams played magnificently to a 31 all tie at the half.

Notre Dame led by as many as six points, 59-53 with 6:30 left.

But somehow, someway–the Harrison twins would not let Kentucky lose.  From the 2:30 mark onward was when the comeback took some very strange turns for all fans of the Fighting Irish.

The peculiar sequence began with 45 seconds remaining, as Notre Dame missed a shot.  Kentucky’s Tyus Jones clearly squeezed the ball too hard going for a rebound.  The ball went out of bounds with 37.1 seconds to go.

Problem was, did the shot clock run out before the ball touched the ground?
After five minutes of deliberating, the officials correctly ruled that the ball would be retained by Notre Dame.  But the Irish could not get a shot off in time.  After Mike Brey used his last timeout, Andrew Harrison drove to the basket and drew a foul against Jerian Grant.

Kentucky missed six free throws in this game, but Harrison did not miss either one.  With UK up two and six seconds left, and Patrick Connaughton dished the ball quickly to Jerian Grant.  Speeding up court as quickly as he could, he got into the left corner attempting what would have been an upset-making three (almost as close as Villanova over Georgetown in 1985 for instant reference), but his double-clenching shot attempt simply drew air and went long as the buzzer sounded.

Kentucky survived with more than their shoes on tonight.

Yes, even Coach John Calipari strongly hinted on Friday that his team was “not perfect, only unbeaten.”

Karl-Anthony Towns still had a field day in the low blocks, finishing with a game high and hard earned 25 points.  Auguste had 20 for the Irish, even finishing the game in foul trouble.  His 9 rebounds was also huge.  Against the best defense (probably) in college hoops (history), Notre Dame committed only seven turnovers.

The final score was 68-66, but on this being the 23rd anniversary of the Last Great Tournament Game when Kentucky was on the wrong end of a 103-102 overtime final when Christian Laettner completed his perfect shooting game of 10 for 10 from the field and 10 for 10 from the foul line during that year’s instantly memorable East Regional Final at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia–the Irish earned more than respect, since they proved all along that they can play with any team on any given night in any given venue.

But just like most bracketologists and experts in Las Vegas correctly predicted, we will have a rematch at the Final Four in Indianapolis.

California Dreamin’, Part II

With Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and girlfriend Olivia Munn in the crowd, the Wisconsin Badgers got off to a very fast start in the West Regional final in Los Angeles.

Brandon Ashley got into early foul trouble and the Badgers took full advantage leading 10-2.  But somehow, the Wildcats chipped away even with Sam Dekker (27 points) and Frank Kaminsky (29 points) hitting nearly every shot each time they touched the ball.

Both teams shot a blistering 55 percent for the game, even though Arizona took a brief 33-30 lead into the halftime locker room.

But things started getting bleak for Sean Miller a few minutes into the second half.  While attempting to grab a rebound, Stanley Jefferson’s right eye contact nearly came loose.

After feeling jilted in the locker room, he could barely see straight.  Sideline reporter Rachel Nichols mentioned about Johnson, “not being able to read signs in the hallway.”

About 12 minutes (7 game minutes) later, the redness was there but he came back onto the court.  Good thing that injury was not as worse as it initially seemed to be.

But in the end, Wisconsin kept draining threes–10 of them to be precise on 12 attempts to win going away 85-78.  Arizona got within five with 2 1/2 minutes, but could not get any closer than the one point overtime heartbreaks of 2014 in Anaheim and more infamously, the 15 point meltdown against a zany bunch of Fighting Illini in Rosemont back at the 2005 Elite Eight.

This marked the sixth time since 2003 that Arizona has failed to advance past the Elite Eight–starting with Kansas advancing that year to New Orleans before losing the title game to Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse.

Mind if I briefly flashback to the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas–final seconds on the non-biased TBS call:

Will we have a similar type of ending here in 2015?
More on that in my Final Four preview sometime this coming week.

For now, let us catch our breath after one of the most dramatic games in college basketball history and I will hope to see you all here much earlier tomorrow night after the East and South regions are decided.  Michigan State and Louisville will battle again, along with Duke and a team trying to earn its’ very first trip to the Final Four in Gonzaga will round out the quartet and set up the other national semifinal game.

Change in announcer lineup for Cleveland Regional

No, Marv Albert is not doing boxing on NBC (although in my dreams, he would have been covering his New York Knicks in Chicago tonight).

Seriously, he is under the weather and Brian Anderson will be alongside Chris Webber and Len Elmore for the titantic Notre Dame vs. Kentucky matchup on TBS.

We will all find out together how the game turns out.

See you then for the key analysis and thoughts on both games.

Regional Finals schedule

For the first time, Elite Eight games will be on cable.

Saturday on TBS, with Inside March Madness airing at 5 p.m.:

6:09 p.m. Eastern from Los Angeles

(2) Arizona vs. (1) Wisconsin

8:49 p.m. from Cleveland:

(3) Notre Dame vs. (1) Kentucky

Sunday on CBS, with Road to the Final Four airing at 1 p.m.:

2:20 p.m. Eastern from Syracuse, New York:

(7) Michigan State vs. (4) Louisville

5:05 p.m. from Houston:

(2) Gonzaga vs. (1) Duke

Only Gonzaga has never appeared in a Final Four.

Only Kentucky and Notre Dame have not appeared in a Final Four while Indianapolis was the host city.

Gonzaga, Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State survive and grind their way to the Elite Eight

The key stars got it done on Friday night:

Houston Regional:

Even with those oversized black curtains and the cavernous environs inside NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant Stadium) in Houston, Gonzaga took UCLA’s best punch and two guys delivered big time for the Bulldogs.

Kevin Pangos scored 10 and the 7’1″, 288 pound center from Poland named Przemek Karnowski had the game of his life leading all scorers with 18.  Both teams shot an anemic 40 percent due to playing inside an NFL football stadium.

UCLA had 16 each from Norman Powell and Tony Parker, as the Bruins bow out in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.  Last year was expected, but this year was quite a surprise for most of the country since yours truly and other media members did not think this Bruins squad was worthy of any NCAA Tournament consideration.

But here they were, and they fought hard to the end.

Similar case with Utah, but Duke again made the plays that they had to make in squeezing out a hard-fought 63-57 decision.  Leading the charge for the Blue Devils was Justise Winslow with 21, while Tyus Jones had 15.  Utah got 15 points from Brandon Taylor and the Utes two other guys each scoring 10 apiece–Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl.

Although both teams shot well under 45 percent, Utah was whistled for 21 fouls during the game–Duke just 16.

The odd thing about the end of the game may have slipped a bit under the radar, but there was one foul with .7 second left.  The foul occurred before the final horn sounded.  Utah’s players suddenly left the playing floor to take the very long walk back to the locker room.

However, Duke’s bench remained on the floor waiting for the Utah players to come back.  Slowly, the Utes players walked past their cheerleaders and the final free throw were attempted and the time eventually ran out.

It will set up for a titanic regional final come Sunday afternoon.  More on that in a bit.

Syracuse Regional

Each game was nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth inside the Carrier Dome.  This will probably be the highlight of Syracuse all year (no pun intended).

Louisville and North Carolina State battled for about 28 minutes before Montrezl Harrell scored 24 and Anton Gill chipped in with 7 key points off Rick Pitino’s bench as the Cardinals shot 50 percent in a convincing 75-65 victory.

For the Cardinals, the have won seven of their last eight regional semifinal games.   Rick Pitino moved to 53-17 overall in tournament play, tying Jim Boeheim of Syracuse among active coaches in tournament wins.   Finally, this was the 21st Sweet 16 appearance as Louisville has made a school-record fourth straight trip this far in the Big Dance (includes two of the last three times they have reached the Final Four).

But the game of the night was the nightcap as Oklahoma and Michigan State played a thriller of a contest that reminded some of Loyola Marymount and Michigan way back in 1990–a basket every 7 to 8 seconds.

For Boomer Sooner, they dominated much of the first half.  Crisp passing and lots of wide open shots led to a brief 31-27 halftime lead.

The second half was all Sparty as Gang Green flexed their muscles to their fourth Elite Eight appearance since 2009 and their second straight trip to the Regional Final after a 62-58 come from behind effort over the third seeded Sooners.

Keying the comeback were the play-makers that helped the Spartans all season long:

Michigan State did not lead until 9:26 remained on the second half clock after Branden Dawson hit an 8-foot turnaround jump shot.  Both teams traded the lead four more times before Gang Green went ahead for good at the  6:42 mark.  Matt Costello scored on a putback off his own miss with a big-time dunk.

After that, Denzel Valentine it was scored 13 of his 18 points during the second half while Travis Trice chipped in with six of his 21 points in the final two minutes.  The final margin was delivered with six consecutive free throws made by the Spartans.  Early on, they missed 7 of their first 10 attempts but delivered big-time when it counted most.

Oklahoma got only 3 points off their bench, after combining to score 30 during their first two tournament games.

Michigan State made some history of a different kind on Friday night:

  • Overall record in tournament play is 62-27, which puts them in seventh place on the all-time victory list – one ahead of Syracuse.
  • The Spartans were also a No. 7 seed when they reached the Elite 8 in 2003.

This will be the third time in the last seven years that Louisville and Michigan State meet in the Big Dance, in this the fourth overall meeting in post-season play.

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Basketball Hall of Fame player and broadcaster passes away

Finally, on a sad note…

this blog is dedicated to Hot Rod Hundley who died of Alzheimer’s on Friday night at the age of 80.

The top overall pick out of West Virginia in the 1957 NBA Draft, Hundley only played in the league for six years.  His true calling was in the TV and radio broadcast booth as he stayed with the Jazz franchise during the first 35 years of the team’s existence (when Pistol Pete Maravich starred for the New Orleans Jazz, five years before they relocated to Salt Lake City and became the Utah Jazz).

He also was a commentator for CBS’ coverage of the NBA during the latter part of the 1970’s and also teamed up with a young Jim Nantz early in his career shortly after graduating from the University of Houston.

Here is a clip of both Nantz and Hundley interviewing future Basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton after a 1985 game at the old Chicago Stadium:

Hot Rod will forever remain a legend in West Virginia and the NBA.

He will be missed, may he RIP.

Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Arizona advance to Elite Eight

Kentucky extends NCAA record season start and sets new Sweet 16 record in the process

Only three games were really worth watching on Thursday night.

Cleveland Regional:

Notre Dame used some blistering outside shooting early before Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet gave the Wichita State Shockers a brief 34-33 lead early in the second half.  From that point on, it was all Notre Dame and the overall excellent play at both ends of the floor by Jerian Grant and Patrick Connaughton.  The Irish earned their first trip to the Elite Eight since 1979 with a convincing 81-70 decision over the Cinderella labelled Shockers.

But to Wichita State’s credit, they never gave up.  Most people in America thought they were good enough to reach the Sweet 16 in 2014, but ran into a a buzzsaw of a bracket with Kentucky in that St. Louis pod.

Luckily, they had the game of their lives on Sunday against Kansas–and at least for one season, they hold the state’s bragging rights.  I am sure Wichita State’s key cogs of Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, and Fred VanVleet will all make nice pros someday (maybe as second round picks).  But they will be remembered just like Davidson, Valparaiso, Bucknell, Bradley, and Hampton from years past as a true Cinderella darling that captivated the country with their down-home fun and that the guys really enjoyed playing together.

And I can also attest from listening to many games online from Shockers Radio in Kansas that they seemed to gel in many different ways.  One night, it was defense–another night a lot of dunks and three-point shots.

But they simply ran into a hot team at the wrong time.  And there was nothing LeBron James could do to stop it in his own house.

If Notre Dame plays like they did on Thursday night, they might be able to topple the juggernaut.

The key word here is MIGHT.

That is because Kentucky looked like Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang in the first three Rocky movies–unrelenting and unforgiving.

The second semifinal was never a contest, as Kentucky rolled to an 18-2 lead before the second TV timeout.  The final ended up being 78-39, and yes–poor Dexter Miles, Jr. proclaiming his Joe Namath-type “guarantee” on Wednesday.  He did not score a single point (wonk, wonk) as West Virginia was mostly stuck in neutral the entire night.

I guess someone put mint jelly accidentally over those John Denver records because it wasn’t that close.

And the record Kentucky broke, it was for the fewest points given up in the shot clock era during any Sweet 16 tournament game.  The old record was set by you guessed it, Kentucky when they only gave up 41 to Miami (Ohio) in 1999.  At least, most of the nation was spared the agony because CBS had regional control of that portion of the tournament at that time.

Meanwhile, TBS had the steamy games from Los Angeles…and they were pure donnybrooks to say the least:

Wisconsin and North Carolina both traded jabs and some body blows.  But in the end, with Green Bay Packers All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers sitting in the stands–Sam Dekker took on a starring role compiling a double-double (23 points and 10 rebounds).  All-American candidate Frank Kaminsky recovered nicely from a sluggish start to chip in with 19 points in a tense 79-72 decision over a gritty and determined squad from North Carolina.

In the second game, a similar ebb and flow featuring two schools which never met (like Georgetown and Utah in the Round of 32) as Arizona ousted Xavier in a real slugfest 68-60.

Like I said in my blog on Thursday afternoon, rebounding was the key and both games in Los Angeles had the victors edging out their opponents during pivotal stretches and it reflected in the final statistics.

So Los Angeles will get a rematch from the game in Anaheim last year, but Arizona wants a different result.

For the legions of Notre Dame fans, will this be the time to believe?

The time to really make things happen, as the most difficult challenge since facing Gregory Kelser and Earvin “Magic” Johnson way back in 1979 at the old Market Square Arena in Indianapolis will commence with a prime-time battle that will air on TBS.

That game follows the West Region Final, and for handy reference–

both tip times will be the exact same tip-off times for Super Saturday, April 4 in the cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the Final Four.

6:09 p.m. Eastern from Los Angeles:

(2) Arizona vs. (1) Wisconsin

8:49 p.m. from Cleveland:

(3) Notre Dame vs. (1) Kentucky

I will be back after Friday’s free-for-all tournament in Syracuse to recap those games and the remaining pair of mid-majors in Gonzaga and Utah hoping to keep their tournament runs alive at Reliant Stadium in Houston, the site of the 2016 men’s Final Four.

Good night, everyone.