Posted on: December 8, 2011 11:40 am
Edited on: December 8, 2011 11:52 am

With Temple, we see what the A10 is/can be

By Matt Norlander

The talent in the Atlantic 10, the number of quality, tournament-worthy teams, hasn’t been much of a talking topic so far this year. It normally isn’t for that league until mid-January comes around. But I was thinking: How good is Temple? Like Syracuse with the Big East or Kansas with the Big 12, we often equate the A10’s stature each year by how strong Temple is. That’s not a fair barometer, but it is a comfortable one.

Plus, in years when the Owls are good, the league usually follows suit — at least at the top, when there are two or three clubs with the capability to steal some games in March. Temple makes the league want to be better when it is better. Xavier's been the better program for the past decade, but Temple still rules the roost. It's still older brother.

And maybe that’s why people haven’t talked that much about the league this year. Xavier's awesome but isn't being discussed as the Final Four contender is clearly is. Saint Louis still has its quiet critics. Richmond's down. Was that Dayton win over Alabama Wednesday night a fluke? A quiet Temple makes for a quiet Atlantic 10. They do seem to go hand in hand, don't you agree?

So, is this Temple team better than last year’s? Cop-out: I’m not sure. And neither are you. And, if you forced him to tell the truth, Owls coach Fran Dunphy would own up to not knowing yet either. Last year’s team went 26-8 and was a 7 seed, losing to San Diego State in its third-round (but really second-round) game. Unfortunately, the Owls no longer have Lavoy Allen, a player Dunphy says is one of the best defensive forces he’s ever coached. The Owls are 5-2, just pasted Toledo on the road Wednesday night, and now the next two games are against Villanova and Texas. They’re fairly critical. Outside of going 14-2 in the conference (hey, it did that last year!), if Temple drops both of these games, an at-large actually seems unlikely down the road. (Though they do get Duke at home in January, and what an opportunity that is.)

“We’re a little banged up right now,” Dunphy said, referring to losing Michael Eric for about six weeks due to a patella injury in his right knee. Eric is averaging 10.5 points and 11.3 rebounds. He’s 6-11. But without him, the team’s still “not sure how to play with him,” Dunphy said.

It lost Bowling Green in its first game following Eric’s injury. But the team’s rebounded since, even if it’s defensively not what it was last year. Losing Allen will do that to you. The Owls, who haven’t been ranked in either poll so far this year, are cruising along the radar, except in the Non-BCS Power Pyramid, where the faith is still being kept. What we've seen from Temple so far is a good team that's not yet hatched. The overtime win over Wichita State will be one that ages well.

They are enigmatic, though.

“We resemble that remark sometimes,” Dunphy said. “More than we should be. Part of that is we don’t have Mike.”

The team’s also had to rely heavily on Ramone Moore, who could be the conference’s second-best player — and the guy who plays more minutes than anyone in the nation this season. Moore is currently playing 95.2 percent of his team’s minutes, seventh-most in the nation. He's scoring 16.4 points per game and shooting almost 40 percent from 3. Critical play, for sure.

“I would rather that he not play as many minutes as he had, but we’ve had so many close games, we haven’t had a chance to sit him out,” Dunphy said.

Moore, Juan Fernandez and Khalif Wyatt are a triumvirate who mean more on offense than defense for Dunphy. The team is scoring better than 1.1 points per possession; it hasn't finished above that clip since 2007-08. It's been the necessary bonus for the Owls this year, since it's dipped in defensive efficiency.

“I think it’s always the same for us,” Dunphy said. “The defensive end takes precedent. Any time we can keep anyone below 40 percent shooting, that’s big for us. We also want no empty possessions. Empty possessions can lead to scoring on the other end.”

Moore and Fernandez should continue to be all league-level players. Once Eric comes back healthy in January, Temple should again be among the top six or seven non-BCS teams in the country. But they won't have him for 'Nova or Texas and probably not the Jan. 4 Duke game. If all of those are losses, it diminishes Temple's reputation, and in turn the A10's as well.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: December 5, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: December 5, 2011 12:02 pm

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 3

By Matt Norlander

Every Monday, we’re going to be giving you readers and fans and coaches more and more reason to hate us. How can we do this outside of just being our natural, irritating selves? By ranking as many teams in as many ways as possible, of course. And we won’t reserve our judgment for your scorn in big-boy country. No, we’d like to alienate ourselves to the fan bases around the nation, mid-major schools included.

This feature serves as a complement to the weekly Top 25 and One, which you can read right here.

No more ado — here’s how we see it, the 15 best non-BCS teams in college basketball as of Monday, Dec. 5, at 11 a.m ET.

Top Tier

1. Xavier (6-0). A Sentence: There’s a considerable difference between X and everyone else, when you take into account the Muskies’ wins over Vandy on the road and the comeback W against Purdue last week. A Statistic: The only major flaw with Chris Mack’s team right now is the free-throw shooting. X is under 60 percent as a team. Will get them eventually. The Schedule: at Butler Wednesday; vs. Cincinnati Saturday.

2. Iona (6-1). A Sentence: Saw this team in person a week ago, and no joke, they look incredibly dangerous for pretty much any team outside of the top five right now. A Statistic: The Gaels are scoring 1.14 points per possession, which is definitely good, but a little less than I expected from the highest-scoring and highest assisting team in the country. The Schedule: at Denver Wednesday; at Marshall Sunday.

3. Harvard (8-0). A Sentence: I’d love for Harvard to justify me putting them this high with a win Thursday, but they merely need to keep it compelling. A Statistic: The Crimson have been helped by a “defensive” stat they have such little control over: free throw defense. Opponents are shooting an NCAA-worst 54 percent from the line against them. The Schedule: at Connecticut Thursday; at Boston University Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. UNLV (8-1): A Sentence: Beating North Carolina, then losing on the road at a Power Pyramid Wichita State team equates to a UNLV team smelling the Pyramid’s ceiling. A Statistic: 52.2 was the percentage from 3-point range the Shockers put up against UNLV over the weekend. It was the first time this season Vegas has had a team shoot better than 50 percent against them from downtown. The Schedule: vs. NAIA Cal State San Marcos Wednesday; at Wisconsin Saturday.

5. Creighton (7-0). A Sentence: Greg McDermott’s team is playing so well because his son is on his way to an Adam Morrison-like year in terms of offense. A Statistic: Remarkably, the Jay’s effective field goal percentage has rise, up to a still-tops-in-the-U.S. 60.9 clip. The Schedule: at St. Joseph’s Saturday.

6. Gonzaga (5-1). A Sentence: I’m not quite sure what Gonzaga will become, but I do know they’ve got plenty of chances, plenty of talent, and believe they’d beat everyone below them here on a neutral floor more times than not (as of today). A Statistic: The game, and loss, to Illinois was the first road game of Gonzaga’s season. Last year, the team was 7-5 on the road, and didn’t get above .500 in that category until the end of the year. More road woes coming this year?. The Schedule: vs. Michigan State Saturday.

7. Saint Louis (7-1). A Sentence: Have been impressed with Saint Louis so far, but for reasons I won’t expound upon here and now, I still remain wary. A Statistic: Saint Louis is in the shorter half of D-I teams, and they’re rebounding like it. The 24.2 offensive rebounding percentage will eventually need to come up, unless the team’s able to keep the eFG% above 58 (which it is now). The Schedule: vs. Vermont Wednesday; vs. D-II Illinois Springfield Saturday.

8. San Diego State (8-2). A Sentence: Interesting about this team right now: the numbers don’t love it, but boy have I and so many others been impressed. A Statistic: Despite the strong start, Aztecs are 58 in KenPom. Where’s the love? BYU is 21! The Schedule: at San Diego Wednesday.

9. Memphis (4-2). A Sentence: Tigers had a couple of patsies last weeks, so they fall slightly be default. A Statistic: Just take notice of the team above and the team right here. One’s played 10 games, the other six. There is a lot of room to flex between groups right now; we’ll have a better sense of the Pyramid’s hierarchy in about three weeks. The Schedule: at Miami Tuesday; vs. Murray State Sunday.

10. Belmont (5-2). A Sentence: I’ll take this moment this week to say: Unless Belmont starts ripping up opponents by 20-plus on the regular, they’re just going to be a really good, nondescript team off most non-Pyramid radars until late February. A Statistic: Last year, Belmont was one of the best teams in the country at turning you over. This year, it’s the opposite. The 14.1 offensive turnover rate is third-best nationally. The Schedulevs. Tennessee State Tuesday.

Base Blocks

11. Northern Iowa (7-1). A Sentence: The Valley is going to be a multi-bid league this year, and UNI will be making the NCAAs — yes, I’m saying that on Dec. 5. A Statistic: The Panthers’ D, giving up .93 points per possession, hasn’t been given enough love so far. Let’s see if this team can become as good on the D end as the 2009-10 group. The Schedule: vs. Iowa Tuesday; vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee Saturday.

12. Temple (4-2). A Sentence: Pretty sure Owls are in a tough spot this week; they’ll most definitely need to go 2-0 to remain inside the Pyramid’s walls on Dec. 12. A Statistic: Owls senior Michael Eric is currently taking more of your misses than anyone else. He possess a 34.6 success rate at grabbing defensive boards. The Schedule: at Toledo Wednesday; vs. Villanova Saturday.

13. New Mexico (6-2). A Sentence: Sophomore guard Kendall Williams has turned into a better player than I’d expected and is the reason UNM keeps a logo on this graphic. A Statistic: 23-4. That was the opening run to start Saturday’s game against Missouri State, which was in the Power Pyramid last Monday. The Schedule: at USC Saturday.

14. Wichita State (5-2). A Sentence: Valley swaps one team for another, as the Shockers replace Missouri State this week, keeping three teams in the rankings. A Statistic: In the out-of-nowhere performance to date this season, senior Joe Ragland scored 31 in the 89-70 WSU W over UNLV, thanks to eight 3s. Ragland boosted his PPG average to 11.9. The Schedule: at Tulsa Wednesday; vs. Utah State Saturday.

15. Murray State (9-0). A Sentence: Small surprise of the season: Billy Kennedy’s former team has started out terrifically without him. A Statistic: Three of the nine wins have been against foes outside of D-I, so that’s a big caveat. Wins over So. Miss and Dayton were convincing, though, so I’ve got the heart to put them in, just ahead of Tulane and College of Charleston. The Schedule: at Memphis Sunday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦  Out this week: Missouri State, Marshall. In: Murray State, Wichita State.
♦  Marshall gets its chance to get back into the Pyramid if it beats Syracuse this week, and I think Murray State’s visit could be short-lived due to the Memphis matchup forthcoming.
♦  I know you’re unbeaten, Tulane. If you get through next Sunday with wins over Wofford and Jacksonville State — even though those aren’t great wins — I’ll get you in with an 11-0 D-I record.
♦ Brigham Young is the only highly ranked KenPom team not to make the Pyramid. Let’s see what happens Dec. 17 against Baylor and then we’ll assess.
♦ I considered ranking Northwestern until it got mollywhopped by Baylor. (I keed!)

Posted on: November 30, 2011 5:30 pm
Edited on: November 30, 2011 5:36 pm

Temple's Michael Eric out six weeks

By Jeff Borzello

As if the hot start of Xavier and the emergence of Dayton and Saint Louis weren’t enough, Temple’s trek in the Atlantic-10 just became more difficult.

The school announced Wednesday that Michael Eric will miss six weeks with a right patella injury. He suffered the injury during a practice last Friday.

Eric, a 6-foot-11 center from Nigeria, was leading the conference in rebounds at 11.3 per game. He also was averaging 10.5 points and 2.0 blocks per contest.

Eric did not play in Sunday’s loss to Bowling Green.

He missed the final 10 games of last season with a fractured right patella, but was seemingly recovered from the injury. Eric had already racked up two double-doubles this season, going for 12 points and 15 boards against Western Michigan, and 14 points and 12 rebounds vs. Wichita State.

In Eric’s place, freshman big man Anthony Lee will need to step up. He started in Eric’s place on Sunday, posting 11 points and nine rebounds against Bowling Green. For a team that doesn’t use too many bench players, though, this is a major loss for the next month and a half. The only other player besides Lee that is taller than 6-foot-6 is Jimmy McDonnell, who hasn’t played a minute this season. Forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson will need to contribute more on the glass.

Fortunately, Temple does not face Xavier until February 11, when Lee should be back to health. Will the Owls still be in contention at that point, though?

Photo: US Presswire 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 8, 2011 2:33 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 2:42 pm

Temple's Scootie Randall expected back in Dec.

By Jeff Goodman

Temple coach Fran Dunphy is optimistic that Scootie Randall is expected to return sometime in early December.

"He's such a voice for us - especially on the defensive end," Dunphy told CBSSports.com.

Randall tore his meniscus in the summer and is in the midst of the rehab process.

"He's doing well, but the doctors are being cautious," Dunphy said. "It'll be a couple of weeks before we have him. ... He's a big part of our chemistry and is a glue guy."

The 6-foot-6 senior averaged 10.7 points per game and shot 37 percent from beyond the arc. His spot will be filled by Khalif Wyatt.

Dunhpy's concern appears to be on the defensive end to start the season - as he'll be without Randall and also graduated senior big man Lavoy Allen.

"He was so good defensively in terms of positioning," Dunphy said of Allen.

Dunphy said that 6-foot-11 veteran Micheal Eric will likely play about 28-30 minutes up front and 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman Anthony Lee should get plenty of time as well.

The team will be anchored by its backcourt of Juan Fernanez and Ramone Moore - which combined to average 26.4 points last season.

Temple doesn't open with a cupcake, either. The Owls play Dunphy's former team, Penn, in the Palestra on Nov. 14.

- Dunphy shaved off his mustache on Oct. 6 to honor ex-player Dionte Christmas - who earned his degree. Now he's growing it back as part of "Movember" - a cancer awareness fundraising campaign. "I've got it growing back," he said. "I'm a week in - and it doesn't look too sporty. I've got a face for radio, anyway."
Posted on: November 1, 2011 4:09 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 4:13 pm

Big East hoops: Where UCF at SMU happens

By Gary Parrish

The Big East presidents have decided to rebuild their league by inviting Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only members, and SMU, UCF and Houston as all-sports members. So Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia will be replaced by Mustangs, Knights and Cougars -- three basketball programs that finished seventh, ninth and 11th in Conference USA last season.

Rick Pitino must be pissed.

Yes, I know basketball doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. But there was some thought that the sport I cover might matter some to the Big East because it's a brand most closely associated with hoops. Turns out, that thought was wrong. The league could've gone with UCF, Temple and Memphis for all sports and at least added two quality basketball programs to go with Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and Notre Dame. Instead, the Big East went with three schools that bring nothing to the basketball table, meaning the league will now be worse in football and way worse in basketball than it was a year ago.

I guess the Big East could still add Temple and Memphis at some point.

That's possible, I'm told.

But for now, yeah, Rick Pitino must be pissed.
Posted on: August 15, 2011 3:09 pm
Edited on: August 15, 2011 4:06 pm

A-10 Offseason Report

By Jeff Goodman

A-10 Offseason Report

Charlotte – The 49ers will play against Miami, at Memphis (12-31) and at Arkansas. Gokhan Sirin left the program and DeMario Mayfield is eligible after sitting out last season following a transfer from Georgia.

Dayton – The Flyers are in the midst of a trip overseas to Amsterdam and France. Archie Miller put together a staff of Kevin Kuwik (Ohio State), Allen Griffin (Hofstra), Tom Ostrom (Arkansas) and Bill Comar as the director of operations. The Flyers will play in the Old Spice Classic and also have non-league games vs. Alabama (11-7), vs. Seton Hall (12-21), vs. Mississippi (12-30) and at Miami. Brandon Spearman (Indian Hills) and Juwan Staten (West Virginia) left the program while Vee Sanford (Georgetown) transferred in. Kevin Dillard (Southern Illinois) is eligible this season after sitting out last year.

Duquesne – Ron Everhart’s team is in the tail end of a trip to Canada. Amadou Koundoul replaces Greg Gary, who left to go to Purdue. The Dukes will play in the Coaches vs. Cancer event and also have non-league games against Pittsburgh (11-30), against Penn State (12-10) and at George Mason (12-21). Joel Wright (Blinn JC) left and Rodrigo Peggau graduated early and enrolled at Seton Hall College.

Fordham – Derrick Phelps left his position as the video coordinator to join King Rice’s staff at Monmouth. The Rams will play at Syracuse (11-12), at St. John’s (12-17) and at Georgia Tech (12-29). Brian Freeman, Rayner Moquete and Fahro Alihodzic all transferred out of the program.

George Washington – New coach Mike Lonergan (above) brought Hajj Turner with him from Vermont – and added Pete Strickland (N.C. State) and Kevin Sutton (Montverde Academy) as well as former Maryland video coordinator Matt Lisiewski as his director of basketball operations. He also added former Vermont guard Maurice Joseph as his assistant DOBO. The Colonials will play in the CBE Classic against Cal and also will face VCU in the BT&T Classic (12-4) at the Verizon Center yet. GW will also play at Kansas State (12-1), at Syracuse (12-10), vs. UAB (12-28) and at Harvard (1-14) in the non-conference. Chris Fitzgerald (Columbia) and Tim Johnson both left the program.

La Salle – John Giannini and the Explorers just returned from a trip to Canada. La Salle will play in the Hoop Group Classic (11-25/26) and also has non-league games at Villanova (11-15) and at Pittsburgh (11-22). Aaric Murray (West Virginia) transferred out while Ramon Galloway (South Carolina) came in and will be eligible to play this season after receiving a waiver from the NBA. Taylor Dunn (Winthrop) is also eligible this season after sitting out last year.

Rhode Island – Larry Harris (N.C. State) replaced Kevin Clark (Towson). The Rams will play in the Legends Classic (at Texas on Nov. 15) and also in the UCF Holiday Classic along with James Madison and Stetson. Non-league games include at BC (1-2), at Nebraska (11-20), vs. Virginia Tech (12-7) and vs. Providence (12-23). Akeem Richmond transferred to East Carolina. Billy Baron (Virginia) and Andre Malone (Auburn) are both eligible after the first semester.

Richmond – The Spiders replaced director of basketball operations Marcus Jenkins, who left for Princeton, with Kim Lewis. Chris Mooney’s team will play in the Cancun Challenge and also has non-conference dates at Wake Forest (12-3), at VCU (12-10), at UCLA (12-23) and at home against Old Dominion (12-20).

Saint Louis – Rick Majerus is expected to go with the team from Aug. 19-29 to Canada. Porter Moser took the head job at Loyola-Chicago and Tony Young was promoted. The Billikens will play in the 76 Classic in Anaheim and also have non-conference games against Washington (11-20) and at New Mexico (11-31). Christian Salecich transferred to Missouri Southern while Jake Barnett (Toledo) is eligible this season and Kwamain Mitchell will return to the court after missing last year.

Saint Joseph’s – Phil Martelli’s team will play in the Charleston Classic and also has non-league contests vs. Villanova (12-17), vs. Penn State (11-26), vs. Creighton (12-10) and at Harvard (12-31). Carl Baptiste (Delaware) and Justin Crosgile (Eastern Washington) left while Todd O’Brien graduated early and has enrolled at UAB. Hanil Kanesevic (Hofstra) is eligible and should be an impact player for the Hawks immediately.

St. Bonaventure – Mark Schmidt’s team will play at Virginia Tech (11-27), at Illinois (12-7) and against N.C. State (12-20) in Rochester. Brett Roseboro transferred to UMBC.

Temple – Matt Langel got the head job at Colgate and was replaced by Dwayne Killings (BU). The Owls will play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and also have a non-conference slate that includes games at Penn (11-14), vs. Villanova (12-10), at Texas (12-17), vs. Duke (1-4) and vs. Maryland (1-21) at the Palestra. Dalton Pepper transferred in from West Virginia and will sit out this season.

UMass – Derek Kellogg’s team will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. The Minutemen will play at BC and against Siena. Chaz Williams is eligible after transferring in from Hofstra a year ago.

Xavier – Chris Mack replaced Pat Kelsey and Brian Thornton with Kareem Richardson (Drake) and Jeremy Growe. The Musketeers will play in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii (12-22/25) and also have a non-league slate that includes home games against Georgia (11-25), Purdue (12-3), Cincinnati (12-10) Gonzaga (12-31) and road contests against Vanderbilt (11-28), Butler (12-7) and Memphis (2-4). Jay Canty (Appalachian State) and Jordan Latham (Loyola) transferred out while Isaiah Philmore (Towson) transferred in. Andree Walker (Vandy) also came in and is eligible for his final year this season. Travis Taylor is also eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Monmouth. Justin Martin sat out last season due to academics.

Offseason reports: Big 12 Pac-12 | Big Ten | ACC | Big East | SEC

Photo: AP
Posted on: April 25, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 10:02 am

Temple's Moore opts not to file for NBA draft

Posted by Eric Angevine

Temple shooting guard Ramone Moore says he never intended to actually go into the NBA draft. He did, however, signal his intent to work out and gather professional evaluations as a nominal member of the Association's class of 2011. Where that temptation might have led, we may never know.

That's because, following a conference call with his parents and a mentor, Moore decided that his commitment to the Owls comes first. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer has the story:

"It was basically a family decision," Moore said in a statement about changing his mind. "We talked it over this morning and I realized that my main focus was to stay in school, earn my degree, and play my senior year at Temple."

According to a source, Moore "decided to enter his senior year at Temple without any distractions. He didn't want to make coach Fran Dunphy mad.

"He didn't want to make it seem all about him and his dream to make it in the NBA. That would have distracted from the team and the team's goal."

The logic is a bit strange, really. Testing the market is actually a pretty good idea for a talented junior. It lets him see what he needs to work on in his senior season. Dunphy himself seems completely unworried by the notion of Moore giving it a whirl. He told the Inquirer "Ramone is always a team guy. He would be a team guy if he tested the waters, and a team guy if he didn't test the waters."

U Mad, coach? No.

Moore was the team's leading scorer last season, averaging 15.4 points per game. He scored 23 in Temple's second round win over Penn State, and pitched in 17 in a double OT loss to San Diego State in the third round of the NCAA tournament in March. Last season he averaged 33 minutes per game, well above what he contributed in his first two seasons in Philly, when he averaged under 20 minutes per.

NBA Draft
With Moore set to return, Dunphy loses only 6-foot-9 Lavoy Allen from his rotation. Moore and Argentinian Juan Fernandez form a formidable senior backcourt alongside younger tourney-experienced junior guard Kahlif Wyatt and sophomore-to-be Aaron Brown. So far, Dunphy's lone recruit is Will Cummings, a true point guard from Florida. Rahlir Jefferson is a slender 6-6 wing who could concievably play beside Scootie Penn Scootie Randall (interesting cerebral flatulence there...) to form a shortish frontcourt, a situation that should be helped by the return of 6-11, 240-lb. Nigerian Micheal Eric, who missed most of conference play and all of the postseason this year due to injury. Dunphy still has his eye on local kid Jaylen Bond, a muscular 6-7 player who recently de-committed from Pitt and announced his decision to attend a year of prep school instead.

Even without a huge frontcourt, the return of Moore makes Temple an early favorite to lead the Atlantic 10 next season. Should Dunphy find another player to add beef and depth to the Eric-Randall tandem, we'll go Sharpie on that.

Photo: US Presswire
Posted on: April 5, 2011 5:30 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 5:30 pm

Counting down the top 10 moments

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Monday night’s title game between Connecticut and Butler ended the 2011 NCAA tournament on a somewhat sour note, as Butler had a historically bad shooting night and neither team was particularly impressive for 40 minutes. This year’s Big Dance, though, was a lot more than just the national championship game. The Final Four was the most unpredictable in history, with zero No. 1 or No. 2 seeds reaching the national semifinals for the first time ever. Two mid-majors reached Houston, including one that would not have been included in the NCAA tournament last season. There was Cinderella runs, upsets, buzzer beaters and outstanding individual performances – everything you could ask for in an NCAA tournament. When we reflect on the 2011 NCAA tournament, what moments will stand out? Here’s one man’s take.

10. John Calipari and DeAndre Liggins: The battle between Kentucky and North Carolina in the Elite Eight was one of the best games in the NCAA tournament. Big baskets by both teams, trash-talking from players, intensity all over the place. Up one with 35 seconds left, Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a four-point lead they would never relinquish. Liggins went over to head coach John Calipari, who hugged Liggins and gave him a kiss. Kentucky was going to the Final Four.

9. First day finishes: The first Thursday of the NCAA tournament is always must-see basketball. Last year was arguably the greatest first day in history, but 2011 gave it a run. Within the first seven games of the day, we had Butler senior Matt Howard’s game-winning layup against Old Dominion; Temple’s Juan Fernandez’s leaner to beat Penn State; and Richmond’s Kevin Anderson’s running fallaway with 18 seconds left to clinch a win over Vanderbilt. There were two other buzzer-beaters in that first set that we’ll get to in a bit.

8. Derrick Williams’ block: Similar to what he did against Washington in the regular season, Arizona forward Derrick Williams saved the Wildcats’ win against Memphis with his block of Wesley Witherspoon in the final seconds. It seemed as if Witherspoon had an open lane to the basket, but Williams stepped over from the other side of the basket to send Witherspoon’s shot the other way. Arizona would escape, 77-75.

7. Bradford Burgess’ layup: Down one with the ball under Florida State’s basket with 7.1 seconds left in overtime, everyone was curious what Shaka Smart was going to design. Bradford Burgess slid to the basket, though, getting a perfect pass from Joey Rodriguez and beating Derwin Kitchen for a game-winning layup. Florida State would fail to get a shot off at the other, allowing VCU to win, 72-71, and advance to the Elite Eight.

6. Title game guards: Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and Butler’s Shelvin Mack knocked down too many big shots throughout the tournament – we could make a top 10 of plays by just Walker and Mack. Walker scored 33 points against Cincinnati, 36 against San Diego State and hit a clutch step-back jumper against Arizona to help get the win against the Wildcats. On the other side, Mack simply refused to miss in the final minutes of games. He knocked down a huge 3-pointer against Florida with 1:21 left to give Butler a lead, then went on a tear against VCU in the national semifinals.

5. Demonte Harper’s jumper/Kenneth Faried’s block: This was another one of the fantastic finishes from the first Thursday. Trailing by two in the final seconds, Morehead State’s Demonte Harper hit a pull-up jumper from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds left to give the Eagles a one-point lead. At the other end, Louisville’s Mike Marra seemed to have an open 3-pointer to win it – but Kenneth Faried skied out and blocked the shot, preserving the first round’s biggest upset.

4. VCU beating Kansas: Everyone knew VCU needed to play the perfect game to beat Kansas. Well, the Rams weren’t exactly perfect – and they still managed to win by double-figures. They became the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four, but they were the first team that needed to win five games in order to get to the national semifinals. Just three weeks earlier, people had been complaining that VCU was even in the NCAA tournament – Shaka Smart and company proved everyone wrong.

3. Arizona vs. Texas ending: Talk about a change of emotions. Texas led Arizona by two in the final 15 seconds, when Derrick Williams was blocked by Tristan Thompson. Jordan Hamilton called timeout when he picked up the loose ball. On the ensuing inbounds, Cory Joseph was called for a five-second violation – although the five seconds were only about four and change in reality. Arizona would throw it in to Derrick Williams, who finished a 3-point play to give the Wildcats a one-point lead. J’Covan Brown missed at the other end – Arizona would survive. Again.

2. Brandon Knight’s game winners: Both of Brandon Knight’s last-second shots could be top-five moments. In the second round, Knight drove the lane and made his only basket with 2.0 seconds left to hold off upset-minded Princeton. Knight was at it again in the Sweet 16. Facing top-seeded Ohio State, Kentucky was tied in the final 10 seconds. Knight drove past Aaron Craft and pulled up from the right elbow, knocking down a jumper with 5.4 seconds left to give Kentucky the win.

1. Pittsburgh vs. Butler ending: As soon as it happened, everyone knew it would be the defining moment of the 2011 NCAA tournament. Andrew Smith gave Butler a one-point lead with 2.2 seconds left on a layup. On the ensuing desperation play, Pittsburgh’s Gilbert Brown was bumped out of bounds by Shelvin Mack. Brown went to the free-throw line, making the first. He would miss the second free throw, with the rebound falling in the arms of Butler’s Matt Howard. When Howard tried to turn and heave it towards the other end, Pitt’s Nasir Robinson barreled into him, committing a foul 90 feet from the basket. Howard would hit the game-winning foul shot and send top-seeded Pitt packing.

Photo: US Presswire

More NCAA tournament coverage
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