College Hoops

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NCAA recommends expanding tournament field to 68, agrees to new TV deal with CBS

April 22, 2010

Amidst all the talk of Big Ten and NCAA Tournament expansion in recent weeks, the integrity of college sports appeared poised to take another blow.

Good news for college basketball fans on multiple fronts on Thursday. The NCAA unanimously passed a recommendation to expand the NCAA Tournament field by three teams and spurned ESPN’s bid for obtaining exclusive television rights to the tournament by agreeing to a new deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting.

College basketball fans were baffled when the NCAA began talking openly about expanding the tournament field to 96 teams. Public reaction to the rumors was extremely negative, and expanding the field by 31 teams would have created a logistical nightmare for fans, players, and coaches. Adding three additional teams is much more plausible. A final decision on expansion will come after the NCAA board of directors meets on April 29.

Proposed expansion hinged largely on the NCAA’s long-standing relationship with CBS.

The NCAA opted out of its existing deal with CBS last month, opening the possibility for ESPN to swoop in and grab exclusive television rights. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Thursday the NCAA announced it has agreed to a new 14-year television deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting worth over $10.8 billion dollars. The partnership will bring controversial and sometimes puzzling regional coverage to an end. According to CBS’ Gary Parrish, all games will still be viewable online.

The sanctity of the NCAA Tournament remains intact–for a few more years at least.

Saint Mary’s advances behind McConnell’s miracle shot

March 20, 2010

Saint Mary’s vastly outplayed Villanova for much of Saturday’s Second-Round game in Providence. But when things got close down the stretch, Micky McConnell hit what will be remembered as one of the biggest shots in school history:

Omar Sahman dominated the paint all day, finishing with 32 points despite being double-teamed. Saint Mary’s will face Baylor next week Houston.

Saint Mary’s led for much of the game as Villanova struggled to shoot from outside. Scottie Reynolds finished with just eight points on 2-of-11 shooting in his final college game.

McConnell scored 15 points and helped stabilize Saint Mary’s against Villanova’s aggressive defense.

In my relatively short lifetime, I can’t remember a tournament quite like this. Villanova’s loss to Saint Mary’s wasn’t overly surprising given the matchups and the Wildcats struggles in recent weeks, but not many people saw Northern Iowa upsetting Kansas, which looks more and more like it will happen.

You gotta love Bill Raftery, whose calls seem to be keeping broadcast partner Verne Lundquist alive.

Scottie Reynolds’ career comes to a puzzling conclusion

March 20, 2010

Reynolds' cold shooting and reluctant passing proved to be Villanova's undoing.

Scottie Reynolds made a career out of hitting big shots in big moments. Maybe that’s why his flaws went relatively unnoticed.

That began to change late in the season, and now after a dreadful performance in Villanova’s loss to Saint Mary’s, his storied career has come to what many feel is a premature end.

But a closer look at Reynolds’ numbers suggests that maybe college basketball fans should have seen this coming.

Reynolds finished his storied career at Villanova as the school’s second all-time leading scorer, trailing only Kerry Kittles and his $8,000 dollar parking ticket tab. He averaged 16.5 points and 3.5 assists while helping Villanova to a 99-40 record during his four years, including considerable NCAA Tournament success.

Despite all of the success throughout his career, Reynolds was prone to bad shot-selection and inconsistent perimeter shooting. His play in the NCAA Tournament was characteristic of his habit for dominating the ball, taking difficult shots, and doing little to help his team win.

Villanova ended up losing six of its final nine games this season despite having one of the deepest teams in college basketball. The Wildcats appeared to lack chemistry, as ball-movement virtually stopped and defensive rotations were slow.

Through it all, Reynolds just kept on firing. A career 36 percent shooter from 3-point range, Reynolds launched 25 3’s in the final four games of the season, connecting on just five. His 2-of-15 performance in ‘Nova’s narrow win over Robert Morris was filled with difficult runners and missed jumpers while he tried to shoot himself out of a slump.

A big part of college basketball is improvement. Unlike Steph Curry, Reynolds showed no interest in improving his play-making skills during his career despite being surrounding by a host of capable role players. His chances of making it in the NBA as a point guard just kept on getting worse.

Reynolds seems like a good dude, so the late-season struggles of himself and his team is tough to figure out. Maybe he was never as good as the numbers suggested. Maybe he just couldn’t shake his shooting guard mentality. Or maybe he was just plain selfish.

Villanova simply had way too much talent to be a one-man show. In the end, that’s why the Wildcats are going home early this year.

Report: Smith close to leaving Minnesota for Auburn

March 19, 2010

Tubby Smith is “close” to agreeing to become the next head coach of the Auburn Tigers, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported early Friday morning.

Smith’s name has surfaced in connection with a handful of openings across the country in recent days. He led the Minnesota Gophers to a run in the Big Ten Tournament that earned the school a second-straight NCAA bid.

No. 11 Minnesota takes on No. 6 in Milwaukee in a matter of moments. It will be interesting to see if Smith’s situation is addressed during the broadcast on CBS.

Dodd’s timing is quite curious to say the least, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is just trying to start a wild rumor.

Smith has certainly improved the Minnesota program, but hasn’t had a whole lot of success in recruiting aside from landing highly-touted Royce White, who has since been dismissed from the team. The Gophers lose several key players after this season, likely sending the program into rebuilding mode.

Meanwhile, Auburn is opening a new arena next season and would allow Tubby to return to a conference he certainly is familiar with.

It could come down to money.

Smith makes over $2 million per season in Minnesota. Auburn could perhaps match that number, but probably not exceed it. Oregon, which has been mentioned as another possible destination for Smith, could probably pay more given the school’s creepy connection to Nike.

Or it could simply come down to comfort.

Smith knows the SEC and is certainly comfortable recruiting in the southern part of the country. The SEC West could be flat-out awful next season, allowing for a fairly quick turnaround. The new arena will generate fan interest and support. Even if Smith takes a pay cut to bolt for Auburn, it’s still a pretty good deal.

More on this story as it develops.

Villanova struggles, but survives against Robert Morris

March 18, 2010

Evidently Jay Wright has some additional "teaching points" to address. (AP Photo)

Villanova was out of sorts from start to finish Thursday before escaping with a 73-70 win over Robert Morris in overtime.

Jay Wright benched his backcourt for the start of the game for what he called “a minor teaching point.” With Villanova finally on the verge of putting the game away in overtime, Reggie Redding passed on a open lay-up in order to waste an additional second of time before being fouled. He missed 1-of-2 free throws to keep Robert Morris within striking distance.

Then, in the closing seconds of OT with Robert Morris needing a 3 to tie, Wright presumably told his team to defend the Colonials straight-up without fouling. If he told them to foul, they didn’t listen. Either way, Robert Morris had a look to tie the game at the buzzer.

The Wildcats didn’t learn from their close-call a year ago against American. Instead, they were sluggish and selfish throughout the entire game, continuing an alarming trend that developed late in the season.

Scottie Reynolds has made a career out of being aggressive offensively. Wright gives Reynolds freedom in the offense, allowing him to dominate the ball and limit the effectiveness of Corey Fisher. It’s not clear if that was the “teaching point,” but maybe it should have been.

Reynolds’ big 3 overshadowed what was in reality a pretty awful game. He shot 2-of-15 from the floor, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range. His poor shot selection and love for launching the 3 became a problem down the stretch as Villanova lost five of seven.

Meanwhile, Fisher, arguably the more talented of the two players, took only four shots in the game and looked disinterested.

Jay Wright clearly has some coaching to do.

Awful shooting sends Harangody, Notre Dame home early

March 18, 2010

Luke Harangody has been one of the best players in the country throughout four years in South Bend. Thursday, his great career quietly came to a disappointing end.

Harangody failed to score until the final minute of No. 6 Notre Dame’s loss 51-50 loss to No. 11 Old Dominion in New Orleans. He finished with four points on 2-of-9 shooting while playing 23 minutes.

Meanwhile, Harangody’s teammates weren’t any better. The Irish shot a platry 6-of-27 from downtown against an ODU defense packed in the lane to prevent Tory Jackson from getting to the basket. Jackson and Tim Abromaitis combined to shoot 1-of-12 from 3-point range.

Yikes.

Old Dominion is a physical team and matched up well with Notre Dame. The Monarchs were content to play Notre Dame’s methodical style.

Mike Brey’s team showed improvement late in the season and interestingly, played its best basketball without Harangody in the lineup. Carelton Scott put up big numbers late in the season without dominating the ball. A better shooter than Harangody, he allowed Notre Dame to spread the floor.

From a statistical standpoint, Harangody will certainly be remembered as one of the best players in Notre Dame history, alongside the likes of Austin Carr and Adrian Dantley. Prior to this season, his numbers had always translated to success for Notre Dame. How quickly things can change in college basketball.

The Irish will need to replace three starters from this years team, including its starting backcourt. Next year could be a rough in South Bend.

Barbee the right man to resurrect Hawkeye basketball

March 17, 2010

Barbee's coaching ability and recruiting history make him a strong candidate. (Pic via CSTV.com)

The Iowa Basketball program has never been lower. Once a perennial power under the likes of Lute Olsen and George Raveling, the program was good for 20 wins a season and NCAA appearances galore under Tom Davis.

Steve Alford may have started the program on a downward spiral, but Todd Lickliter took it to unprecedented depths. His three-year stint was plagued by an alarming lack of fan interest, dwindling attendance, and little talent. A school-record 22 losses and a team divided finally led to his removal.

Now the real work begins.

Iowa A.D. Gary Barta, the man who hired Lickliter, now faces immense pressure to find a replacement that can turn things around quickly and find a way to reconnect with fans. The fact that Barta’s search has caused little interest across the college basketball landscape is a sign of how far the program has truly fallen.

Among the candidates rumored to be on Barta’s short list, one name stands out: Tony Barbee of UTEP.

Above all, Barbee is an experienced and unquestionably successful recruiter. He spent six years with John Calipari at Memphis, developing recruiting ties throughout the AAU circuit and within the city of Memphis. Barbee has five players on the UTEP roster from the Memphis area, including C-USA player of the year Randy Culpepper and NBA prospect Arnett Moultrie. If he can convince players to leave the home of the blues for gritty El Paso, Barbee should be able to lure players to Iowa City.

Lickliter’s reluctance to hit the AAU trail highlighted a lack of talent within the state of Iowa that many fans don’t seem to understand. For every Harrison Barnes, there are roughly two-dozen Brennan Cougill’s.

Recruiting is simply the quickest way of bringing a program to national prominence—or in this case, simply returning it to a respectable level.

Barbee can also coach, having helped UTEP finally unseat Memphis from the Conference USA thrown. His team plays an exciting, aggressive style. Barbee has molded Culpepper’s dynamic ability with Derrick Caracter, a former highly-recruited malcontent at Louisville, into a team with a legitimate inside-outside game.

Then there are the intangibles.

A native of Indianapolis, Barbee has no connection to Iowa athletic director Gary Barta. He has no connection to the state of Iowa. He has no tangible connection to coaching trees throughout the Big Ten. He coaches a team in a city on the border of the United States and Mexico.

Barbee would bring a clean slate, a new style, and energy and talent to the Iowa program.

Bringing in a former Big Ten assistant like Brian Gregory or reverting to nepotism with Keno Davis would be a mistake. Gregory’s Dayton team underachieved drastically this season, and saying Davis’ Providence club has been awful defensively during his two years is a huge understatement.

Even the fickle Iowa fans I spent years sitting next to inside Carver-Hawkeye arena would embrace Barbee, a personable father of two who has gotten involved with the El Paso community since becoming UTEP’s head coach four years ago.

For those of you don’t get the CBS College Sports Network and probably have never witnessed Barbee’s Miners in action, UTEP takes on Butler (how’s that for irony?) in the First-Round of West Region Thursday.

Keep your fingers crossed, Hawkeye fans. Help could soon be on the way.

TTT Bracketology: East Region

March 17, 2010

Coach Calipari and Kentucky should have an interesting ride along the road to the Final Four.

The NCAA Selection Committee never ceases to amaze. In addition to creating one of the most stacked Regions in history (Midwest) and one of the worst ever (South), the committee used the East Region to seed teams with similar–make that identical–styles of play and shortcomings. An intriguing 8-9 matchup between Texas and Wake Forest features two teams that crashed and burned late in the season. Marquette and Washington have strong perimeter play and no true inside threats whatsoever. Clemson and Missouri play a scattered pressuring style that looks great when it works and horrible when it doesn’t. Cornell is emerging as a popular tournament darling, and a win over a solid Temple squad would set up a matchup with Wisconsin featuring a plethora of skilled white dudes. West Virginia sits quietly at the bottom of the region as the No. 2 seed without much fanfare. Will the Mountaineers survive to meet Kentucky in the Elite Eight? Will Kentucky be dethroned by a slower, tougher team? This should be fun.

Best first-round matchup

No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 5 Temple

This could be one of the best games of the entire tournament. A bold statement? Maybe, but Cornell is a talented, experienced No. 12 and Temple could be the best No. 5 seed in the field. The teams play similar styles, with Temple having a slight edge in athleticism. Cornell’s Randy Wittman and Juan Fernandez of Temple are two of the best shooters in the country. Fernandez is also a good passer with the ability to create. Cornell 7-footer Matt Foote could be the difference if Cornell pulls off what amounts to a mild upset in Jacksonville. Both teams have a good chance of advancing to the Sweet 16, it’s too bad one has to lose.

Most likely first-round upset

No. 10 Missouri over No. 7 Clemson

Missouri has a veteran, balanced team with slightly better guard-play than Clemson. In a game featuring full-court pressure from both sides, that could prove to be the difference. Mike Anderson’s squad is well-coached, disciplined, and tough. Clemson has more talent than Mizzou but rarely ever seems to play up to its potential. Trevor Booker can be a dominant player when he gets the ball. Aside from Georgia Tech, few teams have a harder time feeding the post than Clemson. Even though Missouri forward Laurence Bowers is dealing with a significant wrist injury that will hamper his effectiveness, Clemson is often its own worst enemy. Missouri has a great chance to advance, setting up a potential matchup with West Virginia.

Falling Giants

No. 2 West Virginia

At last check, ESPN’s Jay Bilas was still sticking with his pick of Cornell over Kentucky. What courage, what foresight! Realistically, Cornell could easily lose in the the first or second round given the unfortunate seeding of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has a chance against Kentucky, but West Virginia seems more likely to fall. The Mountaineers had a strong case for a No. 1 seed, so it will be interesting if Bob Huggins employs his “us against the world” mantra he has used successfully with previous teams. Regardless, West Virginia lacks a true point guard and has looked rattled at times against pressure, meaning Second-Round games against Mizzou or Clemson could be tough. Further down the road, Marquette and New Mexico matchup well with West Virginia. It could be a brief stint for Huggy Bear this year.

Riding High

No. 3 New Mexico

Although the Lobos were defeated in the Mountain West Semifinals, it’s difficult to ignore their 15-game winning-streak at the end of the regular season. Potential matchups with Marquette, Washington, and West Virginia are very suitable for New Mexico. Steve Alford will have to get through that dreaded 3-14 First-Round game if he wants to be the first coach to lead the Lobos to the Sweet 16.

Fading Fast

No. 8 Texas

Is there any doubt? The Longhorns managed to land a No. 8 seed despite getting run out of the gym by Baylor twice in the same week and fading steadily after reaching the pinnacle of college hoops earlier this season. Even with season-ending injuries to Balbay and Ward, the Longhorns still have a ton of talent. For whatever reason, Rick Barnes seems to have lost his team. Damion James can be a dominant player, but Texas has looked absolutely clueless since the middle of January.

The Slipper Fits

No. 6 Marquette

This is a gutsy call to say the least, considering the Golden Eagles could easily lose to Washington or New Mexico. There is just something about Marquette; how’s that for insider analysis? The Golden Eagles have wins over Villanova, Georgetown and Xavier, one-point losses to Florida State and West Virginia on the road, and a pair of two-point losses to Villanova. Marquette could have had two or three additional huge wins with a little bit of luck despite having fairly average talent. Buzz Williams can flat-out coach. It seems very foolish to slight Marquette in this particular region.

Predictions

Elite Eight: No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 1 Kentucky Final Four: Kentucky

By far the most annoying an likely inaccurate portion of the ToTheTin Bracketology feature. With that disclaimer out of the way, Kentucky and Marquette are the picks to make the Elite Eight. The Wildcats sneak out a win against Wisconsin, Marquette edges West Virginia in a low-scoring affair. Cousins and Wall lead the young ‘Cats to Indianapolis with an easy win over Marquette.

Alford looking to forget 2006 NCAA Tournament memories

March 17, 2010

Alford and his former Iowa recruit Gary look to continue their storybook season. (Pic via USAToday)

It’s pretty easy to remember the last time Steve Alford was on the sidelines for an NCAA Tournament game in 2006.

Alford watched in shock as 14th-seeded Northwestern State rallied to defeat his third-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes in a huge upset. The game marked the beginning of the end for Alford’s coaching career in Iowa City.

While the Iowa program continues to sink into the murky abyss, things are all sunshine and rainbows for Alford in New Mexico.

The Lobos used a 15-game winning streak in a solid Mountain West Conference and non-conference wins over New Mexico State and Texas A&M to secure a No. 3 seed in the East Region.

Don’t expect history to repeat itself for Alford when New Mexico takes on Anthony Johnson and Montana Thursday in San Jose.

New Mexico compiled a 29-4 record and showed the ability to win both high-scoring games and defensive struggles. Talented forward Darington Hobson put himself on the NBA radar with a brilliant season, averaging 16 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. The Wooden Award Finalist has a nice supporting cast, led by Dairese Gary and senior sharpshooter Roman Martinez.

Alford has assembled a team with two legitimate stars and collection of willing role players. The Lobos can go eight deep and have the athleticism to play with any team in the East.

This isn’t a team with an inflated record by virtue of playing weak competition. The Mountain West has four legitimate teams in the NCAA Tournament Field, all of which have a good shot to win First-Round games. This isn’t a one-year wonder either. Alford is 74-24 in three seasons at New Mexico, and has a young team with Martinez as the lone senior. Even if Hobson goes pro, the Lobos will have a solid foundation in place.

Alford is on the verge of returning to the national coaching spotlight. An extended run in the tournament could prove to be the gateway to landing another job in a BCS Conference.

Bracket Buster Alert: Cornell Big Red

March 17, 2010

Wittman and Cornell matchup well with Temple, setting up an intiguing Second-Round meeting with Kentucky. (Pic via cornellbasketball.blogspot.com)

In addition to being known as an outstanding academic institution, Cornell is perhaps most famous for being the proud Alma Mater of Andy Bernard from “The Office.” The Big Red’s hoops squad gained notoriety by taking top-ranked Kansas to the wire earlier in the season at Allen Fieldhouse. Cornell is a talented, experience team with good size and a nice inside-outside scoring combination.

ToTheTin presents a closer look at the Cornell Big Red:

Key Wins: Alabama, Penn, Saint John’s, Vermont

Interesting losses: @ Kansas, @ Syracuse, @ Penn

Strengths

A veteran team with three good ball-handlers. Ryan Wittman, son of former NBA coach Randy Wittman, averages 17 points a game to lead the Big Red in scoring. But the most important player is seven-footer Jeff Foote, who commands double-teams in the post freeing up shooters outside. Wittman is one of five regulars who shoots above 40 percent from 3-point range. Cornell is accustomed to playing against good competition and certainly won’t be intimidated by the likes of Temple or Kentucky.

Weaknesses

Not overly athletic or quick. Cornell generally goes eight deep, but there is a big drop-off between starters and reserves. Non-conference schedule was pretty solid for an Ivy League school but not great overall. Foote’s physicality is rarely tested and double-teams will come faster against quicker NCAA Tournament opponents. Not surprisingly, there is not much depth behind Foote if he gets in foul-trouble.

Projection

On ESPN’s Selection Sunday Special, Jay Bilas said that nobody can match Kentucky’s talent–then promptly picked Cornell to upset the Wildcats. Talk about a bold move. Temple came on strong late in the year and presents a very formidable First-Round foe for the Big Red. The Owls are a good matchup for Cornell, but Kentucky is not. Cornell’s seeding makes a run to the Sweet 16 very unlikely. The 3-pointer can be a great equalizer, so you never know.

Previewing the Midwest Region

March 17, 2010

Collins and the Jayhawks find themselves in one of the toughest region's in NCAA Tournament History. (Pic via ESPN.com)

Kansas dominated a surprisingly tough Big 12 this season, winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles to earn the top-overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Time will tell if Bill Self’s squad is up for next challenge: survive in the brutal Midwest Region.

Jayhawk fans and college hoops fans in general were very puzzled when the brackets were unveiled, revealing a incredibly daunting Midwest Region and a horribly weak South Region. Thanks to the idiocy of the selection committee and the desire to have teams play close to home to boost attendance, things are likely to get very messy in the Midwest this year. With essentially two No. 1 seeds in Kansas and Ohio State, along with a Georgetown team that looked great in the Big East Tournament and a Maryland team that can play with anyone, this region is ridiculous.

Here’s a closer look at the Midwest Region:

Best First-Round Matchup

No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 7 Oklahoma State

It probably won’t be pretty, but it will almost certainly be close. Georgia Tech struggled through what many feel was a somewhat disappointing season but made an impressive run to the ACC Championship Game. Talented freshman Derrick Favors should be able to dominate Oklahoma State inside, but Georgia Tech is amazingly inept at getting the ball inside. The Yellow Jackets are one of the most turnover-prone teams in the nation and struggle to make entry-passes to Favors and Gani Lawal. Aside from Iman Shumpert, who seems to have more a scoring-guard mentality, Georgia Tech is not a good ball-handling team. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has James Anderson and little else. Obi Muonelo is an explosive scorer but very passive by nature. Matt Pilgrim and Marshall Moses are completely overmatched inside. Put it all together and you have the makings for a competitive, physical game in the 60’s with lots of fouls.

Upset Alert

No. 11 San Diego State vs. No. 6 Tennessee

Steve Fisher takes on Bruce Pearl in a game between old Big Ten foes. Rumors are swirling that Pearl will meet with Iowa athletic director Gary Barta about trying to clean up the mess Todd Lickliter made following Tennessee’s stint in the NCAA Tournament. With a First-Round opponent and a team not wanting to lose its lovable coach, the stint could be very brief. San Diego State has a veteran team but is led by one of the best freshman in the country nobody seems to be talking about. Kawhi Leonard put together a remarkable season with 17 double-doubles as a freshman and could cause UT fits inside. SDSU is a versatile team with weak guard play–very similar to Tennessee. Unlike the Volunteers, the Aztecs don’t rely heavily on streaky 3-point shooter to score. If guard D.J. Gay can handle Tennessee’s press, the San Diego State could bring Wayne Chism’s seemingly endless career in Knoxville to an end.

Falling Giants

So many choices. Because of the bizarre seeding, upsets are almost an inevitability in this region. Ohio State and Kansas could easily fall early on. Ohio State ‘s lack of depth will be a problem at some point, and a meeting with Georgetown could spell the end of the road for the Bucks. The Hoyas have a healthy Austin Freeman and Chris Wright’s busted out of a late-season slump with a dazzling performance in the Big East Tournament. Georgetown has the size and athleticism to contain Evan Turner–somewhat at least. At the top of the region, Kansas will be tested by Northern Iowa or UNLV in the Second-Round with a Maryland or Michigan State matchup up next. The Terps are talented and Michigan State always plays well in the Big Dance, regardless of how bad they have been playing late in the season. Thanks to the selection committee, Kansas might not even make the Elite Eight. Yikes.

Riding High

Few teams in the country are playing as well as Ohio State right now. The Buckeyes have won seven straight and 17 of 20 since Evan Turner returned from his back injury. Nobody in the Big Ten could even come close to slowing down Turner, but an athletic region will certainly present a challenge. Ohio State could prove that depth isn’t that big of a deal when you have one of the best players in the country.

Fading at the Finish

Michigan State has yet to reinstate suspended guard Chris Allen, Durrell Summers has been benched for long stretches, Delvon Roe’s knee is acting up again, and teams have finally figured out how to defend Kalin Lucas. Michigan State hasn’t been the same since a three-game losing streak in early February and has a difficult First-Round matchup with New Mexico State. The Spartans should be able to circle the wagons for the NCAA Tournament, but a deep run in this field would certainly be a surprise.

The slipper fits

There are hardly any teams in the Midwest Region that fit the criteria of being a true Cinderella. The best chance appears to be with a possible Northern Iowa or UNLV win over top-seeded Kansas in the Second-Round. San Diego State could easily win First-Round games, but getting much further seems unlikely given the matchups.

Predictions

This region alone could destroy everybody’s brackets. It won’t be easy, but I’m looking for Kansas and Georgetown to emerge from the rubble and crawl into the Elite Eight in the Midwest. Georgetown to the Final Four with a close win over KU.

Bracket Buster Alert: San Diego State

March 16, 2010

Talented freshman Kawhi Leonard leads a versatile frontline that has the ability to smother opponents defensively. (Pic via http://www.SDNN.com)

To be frank, San Diego State got absolutely screwed last year. The Aztecs’ played with more consistently this season before winning the Mountain West Conference Tournament to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Steve Fisher has found a way to manage egos and maximize the skill level of his versatile team. SDSU is certainly used to playing good competition given the success of the MWC this season.

ToTheTin presents a closer look at the San Diego State Aztecs:

Key wins: Arizona, UNLV (Twice, including in MWC Tournament Championship), New Mexico

Interesting losses: @Arizona State, @ Saint Mary’s (lost 80-58), BYU (Twice)

Strengths

SDSU is athletic, long, and versatile squad with eight legitimate players. The Aztecs get after it defensively and are a high-effort team. Kawhi Leonard, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas are basically interchangeable—long, lanky, and active. The freshman Leonard scored 16 points and collected 21 boards against UNLV in the MWC title game, giving him a remarkable 17 double-doubles this season. He is a solid NBA prospect with the ability to step outside on occasion. White, Thomas, and point guard D.J. Gay make San Diego State one of the more veteran teams in the NCAA Tournament.

Weaknesses

Gay has experience but he and his backcourt mates are clearly the weakest link. San Diego State lacks a consistent threat to get the basket and create a shot from the perimeter. Gay and Chase Tapley are decent 3-point threats, but the Aztecs are not a good shooting team overall. Free throws can also be a problem, making SDSU vulnerable in close games.

Projection

Tennessee is a perfect matchup for San Diego State. However, San Diego State is also a perfect matchup for Tennessee. The Aztecs could certainly advance, setting up an intriguing meeting with the best No. 3 seed in the tournament, Georgetown, in the Second Round. SDSU is a very good team with a tenacious mentality. In the immortal words of Kevin Garnett, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”

Bracket Buster Special: A closer look at Northern Iowa

March 15, 2010

The 7-1 Eglseder gives the Panthers a go-to guy in the paint. (AP Photo)

You might not recognize Jordan Eglseder. The center for one of the more underrated (and under seeded) teams in the NCAA Tournament recently cut his losses and finally shaved his balding dome. Eglseder now looks even bigger and more intimidating as the anchor of the Northern Iowa Panthers’ physical squad. UNI rampaged through the Missouri Valley, winning both the regular season title and conference tournament.

ToTheTin presents a closer look at the Northern Iowa Panthers:

Key wins: Siena, Old Dominion, Boston College, Iowa (just kidding)

Interesting losses: DePaul (seriously), @ Wichita State

Strengths

Think Wisconsin Badgers. Northern Iowa is the mid-major version of one of the nation’s most physical teams always able to get the most out of what is somewhat average talent. The Panthers are a very big team for a mid-major, with Eglseder and 6-8 Adam Koch on the frontline. Koch has never put up eye-popping numbers, but is very skilled and creates matchup problems for the opposition. A feisty backcourt led by Kwadzo Ahelegbe provides support for UNI’s interior players. The 6-2 Ahelegbe has the athleticism and strength to bother opposing guards. He also provides the Panthers with a legitimate creator off the dribble, able to get to the basket and generate his own shot.

Weaknesses

The Panthers rely on dictating the tempo. Speeding up UNI is easier said than done, but supremely talented opponents like Kansas could have success if they can open up the game. Northern Iowa has good depth up front but needs Ahelegbe to stay on the court to have a chance. Backcourt mate Ali Farokhamenesh is a nice complimentary player but not a true point. The Missouri Valley Conference isn’t one of the more athletic conferences traditionally, so an athletic—and smart—opponent could bother UNI. The problem is there aren’t very many teams who have demonstrated both those qualities in college hoops this season.

Projection

Here’s the problem for Northern Iowa: Several of the more athletic, experienced, and smart teams in the field have landed in the Midwest Region. Getting by UNLV is not a given, and thanks to the selection committee’s bizarre seeding, a Second Round matchup with Kansas seems inevitable. That could spell a very brief run in the 2010 NCAA Tournament for a team that would otherwise have all the qualities of a Cinderella. I imagine some people will pick UNI over Kansas, but I don’t have the courage.

Selection Sunday Reaction: Snubs, surprises, and bracket breakdown

March 15, 2010

Boeheim isn't the only one wondering why the Orange are headed out west. (AP Photo/Pic via Washington Post)

It’s that wonderful time of year again, where college hoops fans will sit around on their asses, stuff their faces with delicious food and beverage, and start cheering for schools they have never seen play. It’s March Madness; so sit back, relax, and strap it down.

Selection Sunday brings weeks of pointless and increasingly annoying speculation to a merciful end. The field is decided, the seedings are set, and all that’s left is to fill out the brackets. Almost.

Even though Billy Packer has finally faded to black, there still seems to be a sense of injustice hovering over Selection Sunday. Everyone knows somebody is gonna get screwed, it’s just a matter of who and how many. This year for once, the selection committee did a pretty decent job–decent–not great.

Snubs

Mississippi State’s performance in the SEC Tournament seemed to be enough to put them into the field. But when the dust settled, the Bulldogs were likely the first team left out. Some bad losses and a fairly low RPI could be used to justify their exclusion, but you have to wonder if the committee remembered what happened last year, when Mississippi State used a surprising run in the SEC Tourney to land a NCAA berth then played poorly in a first-round loss to Washington. Illinois faded a bit down the stretch but certainly could have landed a bid had they managed to knock-off Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals. In the end, a low RPI likely cost the Illini a spot. Virginia Tech has a good resume and is probably upset that Wake Forest is in the NCAA Tournament. No argument here, Wake’s selection was very surprising.

Surprises

Wake Forest? The Deacons lost five of their last six games, including losses to NC State and North Carolina. Wake’s best win came against Maryland, but aside from a non-conference win over Gonzaga their resume didn’t appear to be very strong. Eight mid-major teams received at large bids, which was also a surprise. I can’t argue with any of the selections, although I was a bit surprised that UTEP made the field after losing in the Conference USA title game. The Miners can play, that’s for sure. The seedings were once again very strange. Purdue has looked very average at best since losing Robbie Hummel and got obliterated in the Big Ten Tournament yet still landed a No. 4 seed. The Boilers do have to face a tough Siena team, but were lucky to get such a high seed. The same goes for Texas A&M, who got a higher seed than many people expected. Meanwhile, Cornell managed to land only a No. 12 seed and Maryland a No. 4 despite being the best team in the ACC for much of the season, including the recent win over Duke. I could go on, but in the interests of time, I’ll stop here.

Midwest Region is murderers row

Kansas may have earned the top overall seed, but the Jayhawks landed in a Midwest Region is absolutely stacked. Ohio State could have easily been a No. 1 seed, while Georgetown played like a No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament. Throw in Maryland, the best No. 4 seed in the field, along with teams like Michigan State, Oklahoma State, and Northern Iowa and you have one dynamic region. If Kansas makes it into the Final Four, it will really be an accomplishment.

West Region could be kind to Cuse afterall

Just about everybody is angry that Syracuse got sent out west instead of Duke. However, Syracuse appears to have the easiest road to the Final Four of the top seeds. The Cuse are clearly the most talented team in the region and hold a big advantage inside against nearly every team in the region, with the possible exception of a big Florida State team they could meet in the second round.

East Region tough to forecast

Kentucky appears to be the cream of the crop in the East, but the rest of the region could be filled with close games and upsets. A potential Wisconsin-Temple matchup in the second round could go either way, that is if Temple manages to get by a talented Cornell team seeded much too low. Steve Alford certainly remembers when his Iowa Hawkeyes landed a No.3 seed in the tournament and were upset by Northwestern State. History could repeat itself when New Mexico takes on Anthony Johnson and Montana in San Jose.

South Region the weakest link

Duke might not find the going very tough along the road to the Final Four. The South Region has a number of teams that appear to be seeded too high, including Baylor, Purdue, and Texas A&M. Throw in inconsistent teams like California, Louisville, and Villanova (as of late) and who knows what will happen.

Stay tuned

Stay tuned for a whole bunch of previews, coverage, and analysis throughout the next few days and the duration of the NCAA Tournament.

Team Spotlight: Siena Saints

March 15, 2010

Our man Bill Raftery has had many memorable calls, few more memorable than “Onions…a double order!” at the conclusion of one of the best games of the 2009 NCAA Tournament:

It doesn’t get much better than that. Siena replaced Kenny Hasbrouck, one of the best players in school history, rampaged through the Metro Atlantic during the regular season before needing a huge rally to defeat Fairfield to capture an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Saints (27-6, 17-1) are an athletic team with solid depth and valuable experience.

Key wins: Northeastern, Fairfield (3 times)

Key losses: @ Georgia Tech, @ St. John’s, @ Temple, @ Northern Iowa, @ Butler

Projected seed: 13

Analysis: Siena is led by four seniors, including leading scorer Alex Franklin, who averages over 16 points a game. Athletic swingman Edwin Ubiles, who has evidently inherited former Gonzaga star Austin Daye’s giant t-shirt, provides a nice compliment to Franklin’s inside game. Ronald Moore, the man responsible for Raftery’s double-order call last year, averages nearly eight assists per game while leading a potent Siena offense. Clarence Jackson has emerged as solid running-mate alongside Moore and can fill it up from 3-point land.

Strengths: With four legitimate double-figure scorers, Siena can score with just about anybody. The Saints scored at least 80 points in 12 games this season and are a very unselfish bunch. Having a dependable point guard makes a huge difference in the NCAA Tournament, and Siena is a very veteran team with valuable tournament experience.

Weaknesses: Somewhat undersized with very little depth. Siena played a brutal non-conference schedule this season to prepare for the rigors of the NCAA Tournament and is certainly be used to playing against tough competition. However, the Saints didn’t fare well outside of what was a weak MAAC, surrendering a late lead to Temple and suffering blowout losses to Northern Iowa and Butler. The lack of a quality win is somewhat alarming.

Tournament Prognosis: Obviously, it’s difficult to predict how a team will fare without knowing the matchups yet. Siena’s tournament experience and balanced attack makes them a challenge for any opponent. Realistically, the Saints will probably need a little magic to make a run in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Report: Lickliter to resign following Big Ten Tournament

March 11, 2010

The Todd Lickliter era is reportedly coming to an end in Iowa City. (Pic view QCTimes.com)

Todd Lickliter is expected to announce his resignation in the coming days, multiple sources are reporting Thursday afternoon.

KCJJ Radio first reported the story which has since been refuted by the University of Iowa. However, a source close to ToTheTin who accurately broke the news of the Jake Kelly situation a year ago, said today that Lickliter will step down citing health concerns. Lickliter battled a nerve condition early this season.

Iowa played competitively in Thursday’s first round loss to Michigan at the Big Ten Tournament after losing the final two games of the regular season by a combined 62 points.

The Hawkeyes finished the 2009-2010 season with a record of 10-22. The 22 losses are the most in school history.

Expect more on this story in the coming hours.

Saint Mary’s dominates Gonzaga, dances into March Madness

March 9, 2010

Sahman and the Gaels are burst their bubble Monday against the Zags. (Pic via rushthecourt.net)

Saint Mary’s entered Monday night’s West Coast Conference title game on the bubble for a second consecutive year. The Gaels won’t be have any anxious moments on Selection Sunday this year after a convincing win earned them an automatic bid to the Big Dance for the sixth time in school history.

The Gaels led by a single point at halftime but used a barrage of 3-pointers from Ben Allen and Tournament MVP Mickey McConnell to leave the Zags in the dust. When it was over, Saint Mary’s held a 51-33 scoring advantage in the second half.

Who needs Patty Mills?

Some NCAA Tournament prognosticators, including ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, already had the Gaels in the NCAA Tournament–but just barely.

Now that the Gaels are in the field, let’s take a closer look at their resume:

Saint Mary’s Gaels (26-5) WCC Tournament Champions

Quality wins: Gonzaga, San Diego State, Northeastern

Close Calls: Lost 72-70 to Vanderbilt early in the season

Projected Seed: 11

Key Players: Mickey McConnell and Omar Sahman provide a nice 1-2 punch. Sahman dominated the WCC in his senior season, averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds. McConnell shoots 51 percent from 3-point range and teams with Aussie Matthew Dellavedova to provide consistent perimeter scoring. Indiana transfer Ben Allen provides size and outside shooting to compliment Sahman’s game.

Analysis: Saint Mary’s has terrific size for a mid-major, with a much-improved Sahman anchoring the middle and flanked by 6-11 Ben Allen, and 6-7 swingman Clint Stiendl. The Gaels won’t be intimidated by size and have played in big games, so expect them to put up a fight no matter the opponent. Saint Mary’s could potentially struggle against quick, penetrating guards and needs Sahman to stay out of foul trouble.

Projection: Obviously difficult to forecast without knowing opponents or seeding, but Saint Mary’s is legit and could certainly win a game or two in the Big Dance.

Louisville’s Kuric provides fantastic prelude to March Madness

March 6, 2010

Louisville’s Kyle Kuric came into Saturday’s game against top-ranked Syracuse as a blip in the game notes and an afterthought in most people’s minds. No one knew he would author a stunning final chapter in the storied history of Freedom Hall.

Kuric scored 22 points in the second half on a variety of 3-pointers and soaring finishes at the rim to lift Louisville over No. 1 Syracuse 78-68.

Through an unlikely opportunity made possible by a thumb injury to senior Jerry Smith, Kuric started the second half and quickly sent shockwaves through Freedom Hall by splashing back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half. He showed off his athleticism by cutting to the rim and ramming the ball home. The crowd got louder with every basket, pushing Louisville farther ahead of what many consider to be the nation’s best team.

What Kuric did would be a big deal regardless of the circumstances, but the setting on Saturday elevates his performance to legendary status.

Playing in front of a ravenous crowd including many of the best former players in school history, the kid from Evansville stole the show. He turned what was simply a close game into a spectacle that had viewers on the edge of their seats. Casual observers became excitable cheerleaders as they watched the sophomore hit 9-of-11 shots over the final 20 minutes.

Suddenly, the fact that Freedom Hall’s 54-year run was coming to an end became a side note. It didn’t even seem to matter that Louisville, a team barely off the bubble, was about to hand the No. 1 team it’s first road loss since last season. All that mattered was a dude named Kyle Kuric making buckets from all over the floor.

Let the madness begin.

Purdue loses Hummel for season to torn ACL

February 25, 2010

Purdue got some horrible news Thursday when MRI results confirmed that Robbie Hummel has a torn right ACL.

Hummel’s right knee buckled while he was driving to the basket in No.3 Purdue’s 59-58 victory over Minnesota Wednesday night. He was unable to put weight on his right leg and doctors immediately suspected a torn ACL, Fox Sports reported early Thursday.

The 6-8 junior was averaging 15.9 and 6.9 rebounds this season. He was able to overcome the chronic back problems that plagued him throughout his sophomore campaign.

The Boilermakers (24-3, 12-3) will have to regroup quickly to prepare for Sunday’s battle against Michigan State. The loss of Hummel suddenly makes Purdue a very small team.

It will be interesting to see what adjustments Matt Painter makes as we head into March.

Former Michigan hoopster jumps into lake to evade police

February 19, 2010

Police wait for Ingerson to emerge from freezing Lake Merrit Wednesday afternoon in Oakland. (Pic via youbeenblinded.com)

It’s always interesting to monitor what happens to mediocre college athletes after their playing days come to an end. Former University of Michigan and University of San Francisco basketball player Dommanic Ingerson’s story is certainly no exception.

Ingerson was arrested Wednesday afternoon after stealing from two women in downtown Oakland, California.

Police say Ingerson jumped into Lake Merritt while being pursued and emerged naked after swimming about 400 yards across the lake. He was detained on suspicion with grand theft and taken to a psychiatric facility for further examination.

Ingerson’s bizarre journey began in high school and took him from Oakland to Santa Barbara, where he starred and attracted interested from several major programs. The 6’3″ guard signed with Michigan and averaged 8.1 points as a freshman, but clashed with Tommy Amaker and decided to transfer. He played three seasons at the University of San Francisco but did not finish school.

All signs point to Ingerson suffering from mental problems and drug use. Police have not formally charged him at this time.

Like Father, Like Son: Pat Knight goes nuts

The Big 12 said Monday that Texas Tech head coach Pat Knight will not be disciplined for his tantrum Saturday. Knight was ejected from the Nebraska game and came back for more. Go figure.

College Hoops Nightly Roundup: No. 1 UConn dominates, Kansas rolls, Butler upset

No. 1 UConn 68, No. 5 Louisville 51-The Huskies showed me something Monday night, dominating the paint and blowing out the Cardinals in Louisville. Jeff Adrien scored 17 points and grabbed 9 boards and Hasheem Thabeet scored 14 points, grabbed 11 boards, and had 4 blocked shots. Terrance Williams had a brilliant game for Louisville, scoring 26 points to keep the Cards close until the second half. Earl Clark shot just 2-16 for Louisville, which shot just 34 percent from the field in the game.

No. 21 Kansas 75, Baylor 65-I just love watching Sherron Collins. The stocky point guard was steady as usual Monday night to help his young teammates remain undefeated in the Big 12. Collins finished with 17 points and 6 assists and helped hold Baylor star Curtis Jerrells to 4 points on 0-7 shooting. I really liked the Bears going into this season, but they will have to finish strong to make the NCAA tournament.

Collins led the Jayhawks to another road win in the Big 12 Monday night

Collins led the Jayhawks to another road win in the Big 12 Monday night

Wisconsin-Green Bay 75, No. 11 Butler 66-Wisconsin-Green Bay improved to 10-2 in the Horizon league by stunning Butler at home Monday night. UW-GB made 30 free throws in the second half and never let the Bulldogs catch up. The loss hurts Butler’s chances to secure a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament, especially considering that the Horizon League is down this season. UW-GB lost at Butler earlier this season, but figures to have an excellent chance to beat the Bulldogs should the two teams meet again in the conference tournament.

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