Florida wins in OT, both Carolinas and Kentucky advance to Elite Eight

SONG SELECTION:

“Eternal”, by Depeche Mode

Released March 17, 2017 via Columbia Records

South Regional definitely had true Southern cooking

Joel Berry II scored 26 points for the North Carolina Tar Heels in a 92-80 victory over gamed Butler.  There was one moment where Berry nearly turned his left ankle making a hard cut around the three-point line, but somehow he stayed upright and he finished the game.

Facing North Carolina Sunday afternoon at 5:05 p.m. Eastern time on CBS will be the second seed of Kentucky, who displayed a lot of leather in Coach John Calipari’s return to the place where he used to lead Memphis to a (now vacated) 2008 National Runner-up appearance.  Kentucky got revenge after losing their last two meetings to UCLA in a final score of 86-75.

It was a highly entertaining game, with both teams nearly matching shot for shot and point for point.  Even though the coach’s son Bryce Alford did all that he could to keep the Bruins close, in the end it was Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox who were both simply too much for UCLA to overcome.

Fox set an all-time, single-game freshman scoring record for any NCAA Tournament game with 39 points.  13 of those points came from the charity stripe in 15 attempts.

And UCLA will have to go forward without freshman sensation Lonzo Ball, as he has declared for the NBA Draft–this according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN and other credible media members.  Ball finished his last college game with 10 points and 8 assists.

Even bigger news came from Head Coach Steve Alford:

“I am 100 percent, not going to Indiana.”

In postgame remarks to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman inquiring about the Indiana coach opening

T.J. Leaf and Isaac Hamilton each had 17 points, since it was one of the few times all season that UCLA was held under 90 points.  They shot better, but Kentucky made the flashier plays and made the key defensive stops in the second half.  At times, it looked like UK was resembling Press ‘N Seal with its’ extended arms and UCLA basically standing around, waiting for something big to happen.  Whatever tactics the Bruins used to upset Kentucky in Rupp Arena this past December failed to materialize this time around.

And what a donnybrook we are in for on Sunday–two true bluebloods of the sport, as Roy Williams is in his 8th Elite Eight as a coach with North Carolina and John Calipari is in his 7th Elite Eight in nine years as Kentucky coach.

It will be all SEC showdown in the middle of Manhattan

Two semifinals in the Big Apple provided a lot of quality action.  In the end, South Carolina stunned Baylor 70-50 and Wisconsin fell on a last second three at the overtime buzzer to Florida.

Florida had their game in control for most of the second half before the Badgers rallied to tie things up and force the extra period.  In overtime, Wisconsin led 78-73 with 1:40 to play before Canyon Barry made a reverse layup.  Ethan Happ split his two free throw attempts with 1:09 remaining and 20 seconds later, KeVaughn Allen (who finished with a game high 35 points) made a driving layup to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 80-77.

Chris Chiozza made a jump shot to tie the game at 81 with 24 seconds left to play and MSG was going nuts.  Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin was later fouled with 4 seconds showing on the Madison Square Garden clock and nailed his two free throws.

Florida made one short pass and Chiozza did the rest.  Sprinting as fast and as hard as he could, he breezed past two Wisconsin defenders, briefly stopped behind the three-point line and got the shot off with half a second to go.

Swish–nothing but nylon.  Game over.  Florida upends Wisconsin 84-83.  Although Chiozza only finished with 8 points on the night/early Saturday morning, his last two shots add another chapter to the NCAA Tournament legend.

Nigel Hayes led five Badgers in double figures with 22, while Ethan Happ was close behind with 11 and Bronson Koenig chipped in with 13 as the Badgers limp home to Madison as tough luck losers again.

In my initial reaction, this game was not as thoroughly dramatic as a quarter century ago when Duke survived Kentucky in Christian Laettner’s perfect 10 for 10 night for the East Regional Championship inside the old Philadelphia Spectrum, but this 2017 East Regional semifinal game will certainly be remembered for years to come.

And that is what will lead off on Sunday afternoon with a 2:20 p.m. Eastern time tip.  Florida and South Carolina met twice during the regular season, with both the Gators and Gamecocks each winning on their home court on January 18 and February 21, respectively.

For the 4 seed of Florida, this will be their fifth Elite Eight appearance since 2011 and this will be uncharted territory for the 7 seed of South Carolina.  This means simply that new blood has entered in the penultimate showdown before the final weekend of play.  And yes, my online friends–Super Saturday 2017 is just around the corner.

Please try to get some rest, and we will see you after the games on TBS.

The fun begins at 6:09 Eastern time from San Jose, as Gonzaga looks to earn their first ever trip to the Final Four after so many near misses against the only double digit still alive in Xavier.  Then, at 8:49 p.m., it is off to Kansas City and a mostly pro-Kansas crowd hoping that Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk. will put most of their off-court shenanigans aside and try to take care of Oregon, looking for their first Final Four appearance since the very first time such an occasion took place inside the old Patten Gymnasium on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois way back in 1939.

 

 

 

Xavier Topples Arizona, Kansas Routs Purdue

SONG SELECTION:

Lana Del Rey, “In Love”

New album to arrive sometime in Summer 2017

Gutsy game plan pays off

The Xavier Musketeers stayed in step with Arizona the entire way at the SAP Center in San Jose.  Even after a missed 1-and-1 that could have iced the game with 22 seconds left, Alonzo Trier had all day to shoot.  His three point attempt to win it for the Wildcats went in and out.  As Xavier frantically grabbed the rebound, two Arizona players tried in vain to foul and stop the clock.  They couldn’t and a massive celebration was on.  The final score was 83-81.  Malcolm Bernard had 15 huge points and Trevon Bluiett again led the way with 25.

Their final opponent on Saturday night, 6:09 p.m. Eastern tip time will be the top seed of Gonzaga, who barely got by West Virginia 61-58.  Four of five starters for the Bulldogs finished in double figures.  Jevon Carter led all scorers for West Virginia with 23 in a tough luck defeat.

The Bulldogs led by eight points earlier in the second half before West Virginia’s press became a factor and they managed to make a game of it.  However, West Virginia failed to score a single point in the final 1:46.  Jordan Mathews three with under a minute left proved to be the winning margin.  However, West Virginia had Carter missing two straight-on three attempts in the final 22 seconds and that was the Mountaineers undoing.

The game also had 51 personal fouls, with West Virginia hitting 21-of-29 from the free-throw line while Gonzaga was 21-of-32 from the charity stripe.

Special history could await with Xavier

This was only the second time that an 11 seed beat three teams in the top six in their region.  The first to do it was way back in 1986 when LSU made their surprise run to Dallas and that year’s Final Four, the last season before the three-point shot came into play.  Besides LSU in 1986, only George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011 reached the Final Four as an 11 seed.

One more whisker and a blowout in Kansas City

The first game of the Midwest Regional semifinal featured Michigan and Oregon.  Early on, Michigan seemed to be in control hitting on three treys in their first four attempts in the first six minutes.  However, Dillon Brooks heated up and by the time the Michigan offense tried to catch up in the second half, it was too late.

Oregon’s Dylan Ennis missed on the front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds to play.  Walton sprinted downcourt and had a chance to win it for Michigan, but failed badly on a jump shot with a little over two seconds to play.

Brooks finished with 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting.  Tyler Dorsey led the charge with 20 points, including an incredible 5 of 7 from long distance.  The key stats in this game included the fact that there were 20 lead changes, both teams combined to commit only 13 turnovers (Michigan 5 and Oregon with 8).

Michigan guard Derrick Walton had 20 points to go along with 8 assists and five rebounds.  Zak Irvin also had a nice game with 19 points and a team high 8 rebounds.

The blowout happened in the second half as Kansas pitched a nearly perfect effort in mostly shutting down Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan as Kansas clubbed Purdue to the tune of a whopping 98-66 final score.  This total included 15 treys.

The Boilermakers shot over 55 percent in the first half to keep the game close, trailing only 53-51.  However, Kansas proceeded to score 19 of the next 24 points to put the game away.

With former Kansas coach Larry Brown in attendance, he and the fans watched in wonder as Frank Mason III led a balanced Jayhawks attack with 26 points, nailing 9 of his 11 shots from the floor.  This included an amazing 4 of 5 from long distance.  Mason pitched in with seven rebounds and seven assists.  Fellow guard Devonte’ Graham also chipped in with 26 of his own, as this was the first time any two Kansas players had at least a pair of 25 point scorers in an NCAA Tournament since 1971.  They have scored 90 points in their first three tournament games, matching a feat not seen since the early days of the Internet–when UConn did it in under Jim Calhoun’s long tenure in 1995.

Kansas shot 18 of 27 during the second half, while Purdue limped to the finish missing 20 of their 29 final shots from the floor.

Caleb Swanigan led the Boilers in a losing cause with 18 points, but only snagged seven rebounds–well below his season average.  P.J. Thompson had 12, while Isaac Haas had 11 points.  Dakota Mathias, one of the key cogs down the stretch for the Big Ten regular season champions was held to only one three-point basket.

See you all on Friday as the Big Ten is down to only one hope remaining with Wisconsin.  For the Pac-12 besides Oregon, all that is left is the all-time kings of the sport in UCLA.

John Thompson III fired at Georgetown

Make that five schools looking for new head coaches.

ESPN and other media outlets reported on Thursday that John Thompson III, the grandson to Basketball Hall of Fame and 1984 NCAA champion Coach John Thompson has left the Hoyas after 18 years.

During his tenure, Georgetown won three Big East titles and reached the NCAA Tournament seven times.  His most successful season was the surprise run to the old Georgia Dome in Atlanta reaching the Final Four in 2007.

No word yet on who will be his replacement.  Please stay tuned to this blog on this developing story, along with news that will come out of California, Oklahoma State, Indiana, and VCU in regards to their coaching search.

Wade Davis leaves VCU for LSU

That was a quick turnaround, similar to Brad Underwood leaving Oklahoma State after one year when he departed Stephen F. Austin and was recently named as the 18th head coach at the University of Illinois.

On Monday, LSU found their replacement for Johnny Jones as Wade Davis leaves VCU after two successful years–but his teams were not quite good enough to reach the NCAA’s during the very successful Shaka Smart era.

Still waiting on news to come out from California, Oklahoma State, and Indiana in terms of who will be leading their teams next fall.

In the meantime, the Sweet 16 is just around the corner.

I am planning to do a short podcast on Thursday prior to the games.

Paraphrasing the late, often frustrated but comical genius in Chuck Barris:

“I will be back online soon for more-er STUFF…right after this virtual message.”

(You weren’t supposed to be clapping in mid-sentence, that was part of the joke in 1977.  And did you know that one of the few hats which Barris wore while hosting The Gong Show and it actually fit him correctly was one for the ‘South Side Hit Men’, the 1977 Chicago White Sox baseball club which fell a few games short that year in the old American League West to then-perennial favorite Kansas City).

I guess it is only fitting ABC is doing a ten-episode revival this summer of the wacky, zany take on reality TV which NBC pioneered oh so many years ago.

Washington hires longtime Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins

The move was announced on Sunday, just four days after longtime coach Lorenzo Romar was fired from his alma mater riding the bench in Seattle for the last 15 years.

Hopkins, one might recall–was tabbed to be Syracuse’s Coach In Waiting in June 2015 when Jim Boeheim tabbed him as the successor once the longtime Syracuse coach presumably will retire in March 2018.  He played under Boeheim during the years 1989 through 1993 and returned as an assistant coach beginning in 1996.

At this rate, I would not be surprised if the Orange’s retirement party is put on hold…and maybe famous alum Mike Tirico will cover it in-between Olympics gigs hosting for NBC.

This leaves California, Indiana, and Oklahoma State conducting full-scale searches to hire their new coaches in time for the 2017-2018 season.

 

 

UPSET ALERT: South Carolina beats Duke

Huge second half surge catapults Gamecocks into Sweet 16

Most of Sunday’s action featured some close shave finishes, but only one big upset.  That took place in Greenville, South Carolina as Sindarius Thornwell torched the Duke Blue Devils for 24 points and six rebounds.  As a team, South Carolina scored a 1990 Loyola Marymount total of 61 points in the second half to end Duke’s rather up-and-down roller coaster type of a season by a final score of 87-81.

South Carolina did not start out well, hitting only 7-of-35 attempts from the floor during the first 20 minutes. The Gamecocks missed 20 of their last 22 attempts to trail 30-23 at the break.

Another telling stat from this game was the defensive pressure applied by South Carolina.  18 turnovers proved to be Duke’s ultimate undoing.

Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing 1 of 6 for 11 points before fouling out in the second half.  The Blue Devils made five of eight attempts from three in the first half, yet they only made 5 of 19 after the break.

Somehow, Chris Silva was not going to be denied.  He scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and his ten rebounds were huge in holding Amile Jefferson to only 14 points.  Grayson Allen led the way in a losing cause for Duke with 20 points.

Next up for South Carolina this coming Friday night in New York is Baylor, who outlasted a gutsy effort by USC 82-78 in Tulsa.

Other action from second round

In Indianapolis, the magic season of Michigan continues as they upended the second seed from the Midwest in Louisville 73-69.  A similar pattern happened in the second game as Kentucky had just enough weapons to get past Wichita State and in the process halt their 15 game winning streak.  That final was 65-62 in favor of Kentucky.

In the Tulsa pod, Josh Jackson lit up the Spartans for 23 as Kansas toppled Michigan State 90-70 ending a major streak for Tom Izzo reaching at least the Sweet 16 round.

In Greenville, Arkansas led by three late in the second half but was held scoreless over the final three minutes as North Carolina barely escaped with a 72-65 close shave win.  Next up for the top seeded Tar Heels is Butler in Memphis on Friday.

Finally in Sacramento, Oregon got a three pointer from Tyler Dorsey with 38 seconds left to overpower the tough Rhode Island Rams 75-72.

The final game had Lonzo Ball become a one-man wrecking crew for UCLA as he deposited 18 points to go along with seven rebounds in a nice second half comeback win over Cincinnati 79-67 in Sacramento.  The Bruins outscored the Bearcats 49-34 in the second half.

Here is your TV assignments for the Sweet 16 round.  All games will air also on Westwood One and each game is streamed individually on the TuneIn app:

First up is the Regional Semifinal schedule for Thursday:

CBS Midwest Regional–Sprint Center Kansas City, Missouri

7:09 p.m. Eastern–Oregon vs. Michigan (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

9:39 p.m.–Purdue vs. Kansas

TBS West Regional–Cow Palace San Jose, Calfornia

7:39 p.m.–West Virginia vs. Gonzaga (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

10:09 p.m.–Xavier (the last double digit seed remaining) vs. Arizona

Friday:

CBS South Regional–The Pyramid Memphis, Tennessee

7:09 p.m.–Butler vs. North Carolina (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

9:39 p.m.–UCLA vs. Kentucky

TBS East Regional–Madison Square Garden, New York

7:29 p.m.–South Carolina vs. Baylor (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

9:59 p.m.–Wisconsin vs. Florida

As for my picks, I went 13-3 in the second round.  Only one of my Final Four picks has completely crumbled in Duke.  Overall, I am 37-11 with only two Sweet 16 spots as no good–the other being Louisville.

Please have a good night and a great week ahead.