Posted on: March 20, 2010 12:34 am
Edited on: March 20, 2010 12:37 am

NCAA Tournament Cliche #452: The Overlooked Team


Before you say anything: yes, I'm aware that Cal was higher-seeded than Louisville (8 to Louisville's 9), and yes, I know that general knowledge is that the Golden Bears were no slouch. But let's all be brutally honest with one another -- there were a lot of people who had already begun trying to figure out what would happen when Coach K faced Rick Pitino in a Duke/Louisville second round matchup. Because a lot of people assumed this was Louisville's game, even though the Cards had the higher seed. Don't deny it. I have eyes. I have ears. And I heard a lot of chatter about it, as did you.

Unfortunately, though, the Cardinals were going to have to get past Cal yet. And Cal had a unique station this season, the role of secret agent. You see, the Pac-10, by and large, was not very good this year. In fact, it was only expected to net one Tourney bid, and that was expected to go to Cal, which had won the regular season handily and was expected to win the Pac-10 tournament just as handily. That didn't happen, and Washington edged Cal out in the Pac-10 tournament, grabbing themselves a bid and bringing the number of Pac-10 dancers to two. 

So no one east of the Mississippi had much reason to regard Cal as much of a threat. After all, they didn't win their conference and were rarely televised in the east this season. And perhaps that's why while most people had heard of Cal hero Jerome Randle, who became the school's all-time leading scorer this season, very few knew that Randle had a key backup man in Theo Robertson, who netted 21 points tonight in a stellar performance. Even Cal's center Max Zhang, who is from China and whom I assume to be approximately 5,000 feet tall, was swattin' tonight.

I'm not saying Pitino didn't know about these guys. I'm sure his scouts had him prepared. I'm just saying that on the whole, these guys weren't on the radar much of the season. And tonight they showed Louisville just how good they are. Did the Cards overlook them with an eye on the Blue Devils? We'll never know. Just as we'll never know the outcome of the hypothetical Duke/Louisville game. But Louisville never had the lead the entire game, was down as many as 18 in the first half and as many as 15 in the second half. They clearly didn't know what to do with the Bears. A frustrated Pitino even got himself slapped with a technical with about five minutes left to go. It would certainly seem that Louisville -- who has been top-notch lately -- wasn't prepared for something like this. 

Your result? Cal 77. Louisville 62 and the Golden Bears will try their luck against Duke on Sunday. Let's just hope Duke doesn't make the same mistake Louisville may have made tonight. You best do your homework against this Cal team, you hear?
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Cal, Louisville, South
Posted on: March 20, 2010 12:33 am
Edited on: March 20, 2010 12:50 am

Michigan State upsets Marvin Menzies

Thomas Beisner

After fifth-seeded Michigan State entered the half up 12 against the twelfth seeded New Mexico State Aggies, it appeared that the Spartans were ready to coast and save their legs for the winner of Maryland-Houston.

New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies wasn't having any of that, though.

After trying to inspire his team late in the first half by drawing a technical, Menzies went back to what has worked for him throughout his entire career, which has included stops as an assistant for Rick Pitino, Lon Kruger and Henry Bibby. 

He told his team that he was Elvin from the Cosby Show.

Given his distinct resemblence, Menzies has been able to pull of the trick throughout the years, sometimes using the "I went to Princeton so I'm smart" aspect of the character and sometimes using the hardcore chauvinistic personality that Elvin used so ineffectively in early episodes.  Tonight, though, he tried something different.  He used motivation and name-dropping.

"When I decided I was going to open that shop in Brooklyn and stop going to medical school," Menzies told his team, "Dr. Huxtabull told me that it wasn't about money or making anyone happy but myself.  He told me to look inside.  I urge you to do the same, gentlemen."

And, with that, the Aggies took to the court in the second half and unleashed a new inside-out attack, feeding the ball to Hamidu Rahman and Troy Gillenwater.  All of a sudden, that 12-point lead became only two at the 15:00 mark.  Then, five minutes later, the Aggies had a one-point lead and the back-and-forth tussle between the two teams would begin.

It was basketball in it's most exciting form.  Two teams with their post-season lives on the line, dueling each other with baskets and pushing their teammates for defensive stops.  We were destined for a great finish capped by a basketball play and not an officiating call, right?  Right?

With Michigan State seemingly in control, up four, with only 24 seconds remaining, New Mexico State grabbed an offensive board and kicked it out to Gillenwater, who drained a three.  The lead was now 1 with 24 seconds to play.

On the ensuing Spartan possession, Gillenwater fouled Raymar Morgan, a 65% free throw shooter.  Morgan stepped up to the line and rattled home the first before missing the second, giving the Aggies one last shot, down two with six seconds left. 

Or so they thought.

New Mexico State was called for a lane violation, which may or may not have actually happened, and Morgan got another shot.  In typical fashion, he knocked it down.  Down three with six seconds left, the Aggies missed two more attempts from downtown and Michigan State enjoyed a sigh of relief as they advanced to the round of 32.

Marvin Menzies?  Well, let's just say he left that cool, collected Elvin character behind.  New Mexico State's coach screamed at the officials, stomped around and , after briefly shaking hands with Tom Izzo and his kids, started up again.  There weren't enough pudding pops in the world to calm down his emotion. 

But, after the game, Menzies was again calm and fluttering between reality and fiction.  When asked about why he was able to finally calm down, he danced around the answer for awhile before mentioning his wife and a "Claire", who he said taught him a good, wholesome lesson in his younger years.  After much prodding, the NMSU SID provided with this video, apparently showcasing Menzies' lesson learned.

Michigan State will face the winner of the Houston - Maryland game on Sunday.  Marvin Menzies will resume to getting bossed around by Sonjia.
Category: NCAAB
Tags: West
Posted on: March 19, 2010 10:28 pm
Edited on: March 19, 2010 10:35 pm

'Zags fight off late Seminole rally

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Gonzaga, the Bulldogs are now in the second round of the NCAA tournament and making noise as the team that could upset a one seed.  The Zags are set to face top seeded Syracuse (pending Vermont upset) on Sunday after defeating Florida State 67-60 in the first round.

Matt Bouldin scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the second half to carry the eight seeded Zags to victory.  Steven Gray added 15 points, and Elias Harris and Robert Sacre each scored 13 of their own. 

While leading by 18 points early in the second half, victory seemed imminent for the Bulldogs.  But Florida State staged a late rally capped off by a Deividas Dulkys three-pointer with just over two minutes left to cut the Gonzaga lead to five.  However, the Zags held firm and knocked down 8 of their final 10 free throws to seal the deal.

Now, we're left with the same question we ask ourselves every year: how far can Gonzaga go?  If Arinze Onuaku can't play Sunday, can Gonzaga knock off Syracuse?  There have been so many good Gonzaga teams in the past few years that underachieve in the big dance.  Maybe this team, a team that lost four starters from last season to the NBA, will be the one to go deep into March.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 19, 2010 10:03 pm
Edited on: March 19, 2010 10:04 pm

Duke Sacrifices Arkansas-Something Something


Let's look back on Arkansas-Pine Bluff's great memories from this tournament. There was that day and a half they had between the play-in game to the first round, where they could get excited in the hours they weren't sleeping. So that's probably about twenty hours total of excitement and preparation. Then there's the long trip from Pine Bluff to Providence. The hotel check-in, where someone on the team probably said something funny and everyone laughed. Good times. Maybe someone made a funny face and someone else took a picture of it. Then it's off to Dunkin' Donuts Arena, where Duke's Kyle Singler shoots over you for roughty thirty-two minutes, and then it's back to Pine Bluff. Times to remember. 

Unfortunately for the Golden Lions, there's no charm for a charm bracelet that signifies "You worked your ass off in the play-in game and had less than a day to truly prepare to be fed to an unforgiving number one seed" (QVC, I'm working on that charm, so hands off). And while you might find the odd 16-versus-one seed game that looks competitive up until about five minutes into the second half, there's also that 16-versus-one seed game that just sits up in the corner of your screen, growing grimmer and grimmer, like something decomposing, and you're glad you didn't watch that game.

I did, in fact, watch that game. And in case you were wondering, Duke drilled Arkansas-Pine Bluff directly into the ground, 73-44. For some reason, it always seems to be Duke with the first-round demolition, probably because they're often a number one seed, and even when they're not, they're usually handed a piece of cake as a first game. 

But let us, tonight, not bury Arkansas-Pine Bluff but instead praise them. Because you can take nothing away from the Golden Lions. You guys made it here fair and square, and you deserved to be here. It's not your fault you were a sixteen-seed tournament champ who had to play the play-in. And it's not your fault that you drew number one seed Duke. But you know what? You made the Big Dance, Golden Lions. You were a part of the whole thing. Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg called your game, and Clark talked about your "strimpf." You earned the same treatment as anyone else in this tournament, and don't let this crushing get you down. You were here. And that's still a lot more than many teams will ever be able to say. So hold your head high. Remember you played your part in the 2010 NCAA Tourney. And don't forget to turn in your room keys to the front desk and pay for any incidentals incurred during your stay. See you later. 
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 19, 2010 10:00 pm

Five Takeaways From Georgia Tech's Victory


On a Friday full of games so bad that the One Blogging Moment Compound seriously considered turning them off to watch the premiere of "Justified" on DVR (you have to admit that Timothy Olyphant is an actor with a stellar voice), Georgia Tech's 64-59 victory over Oklahoma State at least contained some excitement.  The Rambling Wreck took a tie game at the end, made some key late free throws and moved on to the next round.  Five Takeaways from the game:

1.  Hitting Free Throws Can Win You Games

Georgia Tech was fouled early and often by Oklahoma State and seemed to spend the vast majority of the time on the free throw line.  In fact, the officials at the game seemed to be paid by the foul, as they robbed the game of any flow in the second half, by blowing their whistle at every nudge, slap or fart from either team.  But games like that happen in the NCAA Tournament and Georgia Tech responded, making 24 of 25 free throws during the game, including six key makes down the stretch.  When the referees kill a game (which happens all to much in college basketball), all you can do is make the resulting shots.  Tech's 96 percent shooting as opposed to Oklahoma State's 69 percent was the difference in the game.

2.  Derrick Favors is Good, But Needs Work

I spend most of my time covering John Wall and being able to see his greatness in person.  Most believe that along with Wall, Favors is the most talented Freshman in college basketball.  In fact, Favors was ranked over Wall by a number of recruiting services and was picked by many outlets as Preseason Player of the Year,  Against the Cowboys, he had 14 points and 9 rebounds and at times looked dominating.  But too often he stands around and lets less physically imposing players (like Oklahoma State's Matt Pilgrim) have their way inside and control the block.  He is very good and can get better...but he is no John Wall.

3.  Have an Opinion Spanarkle!

I like CBS announcer Jim Spanarkle.  He seems like a pleasant guy, has decent insight and when he calls a game, it allows me to scream out "SPANARKLE!" at opportune times.  But he needs to grow a pair when it comes to announcing during games.  On more than one occasion he would be asked about a key play and what he thought and he responded with "I dont know."  Look Jim, I dont know either...thats why they pay you. Tell me something, even if its wrong.  If what CBS wanted from their announcers were no opinions and blank personalities, they would hire the "Today" show staff.  You are better Jim.

4.  Paul Hewitt Gets Some Breathing Room

Paul Hewitt can't coach.  Actually I should say that the prevailing opinion of most in college basketball is that Paul Hewitt can't coach.  Even though he has been to the Championship game and finds his way to the Tournament most years, Hewitt gets no respect.  He recruits so well that people expect more than they get, and there are many who believe that he could be on the hot seat very soon.  If that is true, the win by Hewitt today helps silence some critics.  A big win over a major school in the NCAA Tournament.  Hewitt can probably take a safe, deep breath.

5.  Oklahoma State Ends With a Whimper

James Anderson is fun to watch, Matt Pilgrim has improved through the year and Travis Ford still seems to know what he is doing.  But yet again, Oklahoma State was in a winnable game at the end and played foolish in the final moments.  The offensive plan in the final four minutes seemed to be to give James Anderson the ball and let him force bad shots against a defense awaiting his every move.  This is a team that can beat anyone (see the Kansas win), but too often they disappoint at the end.  And they can't even blame Sean Sutton anymore for raiding the medicine cabinet and keeping the team from recovering from their injuries. 
Category: NCAAB
Tags: Midwest
Posted on: March 19, 2010 9:34 pm

Jamie Dixon Keeps Pittsburgh Rolling


When you are one of the top three seeds in a particular region, you hope or one thing in the first round of the NCAA be ignored.  For the top three seeds, the only way your game will be of interest to a national audience is if you are losing or taken to the wire by an underdog team.  Nationally, fans cared about Georgetown's game with Ohio and Villanova's nailbiter with Robert Morris. Those games mattered, whereas Kansas State, Kansas and Kentucky's games were probably never seen by you and you might even struggle to remember who they played.  But for those teams, that means job well done.

Today, Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh were completely ignored.  I sat at a bar with the expressed goal of covering Pittsburgh's 89-66 win over Oakland for this site and somehow I found myself watching virtually none of the game.  But for Jamie Dixon, that means the game went exactly as planned and his team is playing well.  Pittsburgh went on a run midway through the first half, broke out a double-digit lead and never looked back, taking the fun out of the game for all but the diehard Pittsburgh fans.

However that has been what Dixon has done all season.  There is likely no team in the country that is consistently more undervalued than Pittsburgh, and if you were to ask most college basketball fans to name the best programs in the country, the Panthers would almost never cross anyone's lips.  But they came within a hair of the Final Four last year, lost virtually all their scoring and rebounding, and somehow came into the NCAA Tournament again as a #3 seed.  And while the #2 seeded Villanova and #3 seeded Georgetown of the Big East both threw up stinkers last night, Dixon bored America with a game that took Oakland's will early and would not give it back.

So Pittsburgh now moves onto play Xavier in what will be one of the best games of the second round.  As of yet, you may not have seen Pitt play at any point this season and unless you were forced, you didnt see them today.  But on Sunday, take a gander at Jamie Dixon's squad as they go for their fourth straight Sweet Sixteen.  My guess is that, unfortunately for Jamie Dixon, it will not be boring. 

Category: NCAAB
Tags: West
Posted on: March 19, 2010 8:00 pm

A&M advances thanks to "Outlaw" Khris Middleton

Thomas Beisner


The Utah State Aggies seemed poised to make a statement to the world that they did in fact deserve their at-large berth. But, after they jumped out to a fast and furious 5-4 lead, the game took a page from an old western movie and called on a sharp-shooting stranger to save them from a first round death against a team who was supposed to have the sharpest aim in town.

When freshman “Outlaw” Khris Middleton knocked down the first of his five three-pointers five and half minutes into the first half, it was the start of a cool and collected shooting attack that could have only been more perfect if he came barreling through swinging doors and wearing spurs.

Middleton, who averaged 7 points per game on the season, would pour in 17 of his career-high 19 points in a 15-minute period that saw Texas A&M turn a one-point lead into a 14-point margin. The strong performance came on the heels of a three-game tear that has seen the 6’7” forward average 16 points after only hitting double digits in six of his team’s first twenty-nine games.

Thanks to Middleton’s shooting barrage, the Aggies (Texas edition) were able to make up for star guard Donald Sloan only scoring 10. A&M also benefited from 14 points from forward David Loubeau and 11 points from junior B.J. Holmes, who put on a shooting display of his own by going 3-5 from downtown.

Meanwhile, Utah State, winners of 17 in a row, ends their season with two consecutive losses, the last of which came in the most surprising fashion. Utah State is the one usually doing the sharpshooting.

Someone just forgot to tell the stranger with the deadly aim. 

Category: NCAAB
Tags: South
Posted on: March 19, 2010 6:18 pm
Edited on: March 19, 2010 6:25 pm

Mizzou sends Oliver Purnell and his jacket home


If you're going to succeed in March, it's all about what you bring to the tournament.

On one end, Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell packed his bright orange jacket for the big dance.

On the other end, Missouri packed its defense.  And we all know that's all the Tigers really need.

The tenth seeded Missouri Tigers used its stifling defense to defeat the seventh seeded Clemson Tigers 86-78 in a not-so surprising upset.  Missouri forced Clemson into 20 turnovers, including 15 steals, and contained Clemson's star player Trevor Booker for 35 minutes.  Booker scored just 11 points in the loss.

Kim English and Keith Ramsey each scored 20 points to lead Mizzou.  Lawrence Bowers added 15 points of his own to back them up.  

Missouri advances to play West Virginia in a very winnable game for the Tigers.  As long as they bring the defensive pressure, Missouri is a dangerous team.

For Clemson, it's the end of the road, obviously.  Oliver Purnell and his boys will return to South Carolina until next season.

As for the sport coat, it goes back into the NCAA's "Coaching Attire Closet of Fame."  That's right, the NCAA has an actual closet that houses college basketball's most distinct outfits.  Purnell's sport coat will join the likes of Bruce Pearl's orange jacket, Sidney Lowe's red sport coat, Pat Knight's sweater vest, and Mike Bray's t-shirt.

Bob Huggins mock turtleneck could be joining them very soon.
Category: NCAAB
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