NEW YORK -- Kemba Walker dominated at Madison Square Garden again.
Tom Izzo suddenly has a dangerous basketball team again.
And Jimmer went Jimmer in a bigtime way.
Here's Friday's Wrap-up to recap a busy day of college basketball.
Best game: Big East semifinals. Connecticut vs. Syracuse. Did you really think it would end in regulation? "I didn't want it to go six overtimes again," said UConn's Kemba Walker, whose brilliance ensured it would not. The Huskies instead closed this one out in the first OT and advanced to Saturday's title game with a 76-71 victory over the Orange two years after the two schools played that six-overtime classic in this same building. Walker finished with 33 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and six steals, then spent some time chatting outside the media room with President Bill Clinton. Meantime, UConn coach Jim Calhoun used part of his postgame press conference to praise his star and highlight, for the 87th time this week, that one Big East coach didn't vote Walker First Team All-Conference. "He's the Most Valuable Player on any team in the country," Calhoun said. "I'm going to keep saying it."
Other best game: North Carolina was down double-digits to Miami at the half, at which point I openly wondered whether Larry Drew was back to playing point guard for the Tar Heels. Turns out, he was not. And that was never more obvious than when Kendall Marshall, Drew's more-talented mid-season replacement, drove into the lane in the final seconds of a tie game and found Tyler Zeller all alone under the basket for an easy layup at the buzzer that gave North Carolina a 61-59 win in the ACC quarterfinals. It was a play that capped an incredible run that allowed the Tar Heels to overcome a 19-point deficit in the final 10 minutes. It also reminded me of what Zeller told me about Marshall last week. "He does a lot of things that make our jobs easy," Zeller said. "He can pass you the ball and you just have to lay it up." As Miami now knows, that's exactly right.
Yet another best game: Virginia Tech probably secured an NCAA tournament bid with a 52-51 win over Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals, but the Hokies couldn't celebrate until Derwin Kitchen's shot at the buzzer that initially seemed to give FSU the win was waved off. The officials huddled around a monitor and correctly concluded that the ball was still in Kitchen's hands when time expired, but just barely. It was a wild scene in Greensboro. Seth Greenberg cried and everything.
Team whose dream remained alive: Whether Alabama can get an at-large bid remains debatable because the Crimson Tide have seven losses outside of the top 50, but their 65-59 overtime win against Georgia in the SEC quarters definitely enhanced their case. The Crimson Tide now have four top-50 wins to help offset those troubling losses, and they're at no risk of taking another "bad" loss before Selection Sunday (provided they meet Kentucky in the semifinals). As for Georgia, man, who knows? The Bulldogs have a better body of work than Alabama despite two losses to Alabama. But a bubble team blowing a double-digit second-half lead to a fellow bubble team is never a good final impression to leave with the Selection Committee.
Team whose dream was crushed: Jerry Palm projected Tulsa as the winner of C-USA's automatic bid after UAB lost Thursday, which means Tulsa entered Friday in the Field of 68 here at CBSSports.com. I'll be honest, it just looked weird. But that projection will change as soon as my colleague updates his projections because UTEP beat Tulsa 66-54 in the C-USA quarterfinals and eliminated the Golden Hurricane from NCAA tournament contention. Hey, it was fun while it lasted.
Performance I hope you witnessed: Walker's 33 at MSG was the biggest story of the night ... right up until Jimmer Fredette dropped 33 on New Mexico in the first half and finished with a career-high 52 in BYU's 87-76 win in the Mountain West semifinals. The CBSSports.com National Player of the Year was -- ready for this? -- 22-of-37 from the field, and only one of his points came on a free throw. If the members of the Selection Committee want to do the nation a favor, they'll put BYU and UConn in the same region and give us a possible Jimmer vs. Kemba matchup two weekends from now.
Performance I hope you missed: Wisconsin and Penn State did nothing to help the Big Ten's reputation as a slow and boring basketball league. In fact, they might've cemented the reputation by playing a game in which the winning team scored 36 points and the losing team scored 33. Penn State was the winning team, if you care.
Five things worth noting
1. Nolan Smith suffered a toe injury in the second half of Duke's 87-71 win over Maryland in the ACC quarterfinals and did not return. Mike Krzyzewski said afterward that he wasn't sure if Smith would be back before the end of the ACC tournament but stressed the most important thing is making sure the ACC Player of the Year is available for the NCAA tournament, which will begin for Duke, presumably, next Friday in Charlotte.
2. Memphis finally looked like a team with a roster built to overwhelm C-USA opponents during a 76-56 win over East Carolina in part because Joe Jackson finally looked like somebody worthy of the nickname "King of Memphis." The McDonald's All-American has gone from a local high school legend to a freshman starter for the Tigers to a part-time reserve in less than a year, and it's been tough on him. But Jackson was tremendous against ECU while scoring a career-high 24 points. He made 8-of-12 field goal attempts, 3-of-3 3-point attempts and 5-of-5 free throw attempts, and now the Tigers are just a win over UTEP away from earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
3. Southern California played its Pac-10 semifinal against Arizona without head coach Kevin O'Neill, who was suspended by his athletic director after a Thursday night incident with an Arizona booster. Assistant Bob Cantu coached the Trojans in O'Neill's absence. They lost 67-62 and are almost certainly headed to the NIT.
4. Ohio State entered this week in position to get a No. 1 seed regardless, but that doesn't mean the Buckeyes wanted or needed to lose their Big Ten tournament opener to Northwestern (if only because there's nothing cool about losing a Big Ten tournament opener to Northwestern). Thanks to Jared Sullinger they avoided the upset. The CBSSports.com National Freshman of the Year finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds in OSU's 67-61 overtime win. Worth noting is that Sullinger shot 18 free throws, i.e., just as many as Northwestern's entire team.
5. If you're surprised Tom Izzo has Michigan State operating at a high level then you haven't been paying attention for the past decade. Somehow, someway, this is what Izzo does. Regardless of whether the Spartans are great, good, average or terrible from November to March, by St. Patrick's Day each year Izzo gets them straight. So of course Michigan State will play in the Big Ten semifinals thanks to a 74-56 win over Purdue that took the Spartans off the bubble. They're now guaranteed to make the NCAA tournament. They'll probably make the Sweet 16, just because.
Final thought: Providence fired Keno Davis Friday and folks immediately started trying to explain why this didn't work. Among the common theories was because the Big East school hired him "with just one year of head coaching experience," which is both wrong and silly. Understand this: Davis didn't fail at Providence because he lacked significant prior experience. He failed at Providence because the school decided to hire the country's hottest young coach in April 2008 with little regard to how he fit with the Friars program. Davis was a bad fit -- and I hope Providence realizes that before it lures its next coach. Hire somebody with experience if you want; I'm not saying that's the wrong route. All I'm saying is that projected greatness and fit are way more important than past experience, and you can look elsewhere in the Big East to see it. Pittsburgh hired Jamie Dixon with zero years of head coaching experience while Marquette hired Buzz Williams with one. Things seems to be going well for those two programs, don't they?
Bottom line, what somebody has done at another school is important, sure.
But it's not nearly as important as what you think somebody can do at your school going forward.
Posted on: March 11, 2011 3:37 pm
Edited on: March 12, 2011 12:16 am