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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 23:
• The best NCAA Tournament photos of the first weekend. For my money, sad piccolo girl was the star of the weekend. That's the face that captures what this tournament is all about for 67 of 68 teams.
• SEC West schools are realizing that basketball is a sport too. Mississippi State went out and got Ben Howland, who led UCLA to three straight Final Fours a few years ago, and Bama's taking a run at Wichita's Gregg Marshall. Call it the Bruce Pearl effect.
• Arnold Palmer Invitational champ Matt Every has an Oasis tattoo. Too bad for him they'll probably never get together again, at least until they go broke.
• This is just plain bizarre: Adrian Peterson rode into his 30th birthday party on a camel.
• Just when cops needed some good PR, this one helped a lady finish a race and became a viral hero.
• Paul Pierce shoved Omri Casspi into a little girl sitting courtside.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
West Virginia entered the opening round of the NCAA Tournament with TV experts hyping the return of Bobby Hurley, and with Buffalo planted firmly in their minds.
The country had not heard from Buffalo all season, but due to Hurley on the bench, the Bulls were poised to pull the upset of the tourney. The bad news for the Bulls was, Hurley couldn’t play. Although much of the broadcast was about the former Duke national champion, he did not make a shot, grab a rebound or have an assist. When it comes to shocking losses, ask Baylor and Iowa State.
Before the ink could dry on the bracket, analysts had the Bulls winning the No. 12 vs. No. 5 matchup. Three of those people beating the drum were Doug Gottlieb, Seth Davis and Jay Bilas.
Enter Bob Huggins.
When asked about the predictions, Huggins didn’t hold back. Huggs said he doesn’t put much stock in predictions from “a guy who couldn’t shoot 50 percent at the free-throw line and another guy who played intramurals at Duke.”
After West Virginia defeated Buffalo 68-62 to advance to the next round, Huggins would turn his attention to Bilas.
“I’m really going to have to lose my mind when I start paying attention to what Jay Bilas and those people say,” Huggins said via ASAP Sports.
“Jay always does those tweets, gotta go to work, I’m trying to wonder what that is. But I don’t pay any attention to those guys. I mean really, honestly, if they knew everything they probably would have a pretty good coaching job making a lot more money than they’re making sitting there in the studio. So we don’t pay any attention to that.”
Since then, West Virginia continues to prove the doubters wrong, and that continued on Sunday evening when the Mountaineers defeated Maryland 69-59. WVU will now face overall No. 1 seed and undefeated Kentucky on Thursday night.
“It seems like everywhere we go people say, well, it’s not pretty,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “Well I think it’s beautiful. I love it. I love the fact that we can not make shots and still win – still find a way to score."
Huggins added, “It’s hard work. It’s hard and it comes down to having a lot of heart.”
While most of the country is laughing at the idea of West Virginia pulling off the upset on Thursday, the Mountaineers will enter the contest with every intention of winning. This team has no fear, and they don’t fear Kentucky.
“I can’t tell you we are going to win, but I can tell you we aren’t going to be scared.”
Now the stage is set for old friends to face each other once again, and Huggins knows both sides will be ready.
“It’s not another game because it’s the Sweet 16,” said Huggins. “It’s the NCAA Tournament and it’s one-and-done, so you just can’t say it’s another game. I just told our guys to make sure they know (Kentucky coach John Calipari) is going to have them ready to go.”
West Virginia and Kentucky is set for a 9:45 p.m. ET tip on CBS on Thursday. The Wildcats opened as a 12.5-point favorite.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over, and in some ways there are relatively few surprises.
In a macro sense, it’s not surprise to see Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State or even UCLA here. The same great coaches keep advancing through the Tournament. Four of the five active Hall of Fame coaches are in the second weekend. The exception, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, is not allowed to be here.
The Sweet 16 and the first weekend of the Tournament brought their share of surprises, too. The ACC and Big East regular season champions aren’t in the field. Neither is Kansas.
These are some of the ups and downs and statistical highlights from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament:
Time since the field expanded the ACC and Big East regular season champions both lost before the Sweet 16. Villanova became the third outright Big East champion to lose in the round of 32 since 2008, joining 2011 Pittsburgh and 2008 Georgetown. Virginia became the first outright ACC champion to lose before the Sweet 16 since 2003. But both ACC and Big East champs losing in the first weekend of the same Tournament? That hasn’t happened in the 64-team era.
Only twice have teams that won a share of the ACC/Big East titles lost before the Sweet 16 in the same season. In 2001, outright Big East champion Boston College lost in the second round to USC while North Carolina, which tied for the ACC title with Duke, lost to Penn State. In 1997, outright ACC champion Duke lost to Providence in the second round while two teams that shared the Big East title lost in the first weekend (Boston College to Cal, Villanova to Saint Joseph’s).
The ACC is back to its roots, at least as far as the Sweet 16 is concerned. Three members of the Tobacco Road hub are in the Sweet 16. Duke, North Carolina and NC State are all in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 and only the fourth time in NCAA history.
Coaches with NBA coaching experience in the Sweet 16. Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger and Larry Krystkowiak all have been NBA head coaches and not great ones. Their collective record was 364-523, and none of them has a career winning record in the pros.
Times a Mark Gottfried team has upset a No. 1 seed to go to the Sweet 16. Since the field expanded, 17 No. 8 or No. 9 seeds have reached the Sweet 16, needing an upset of a No. 1 seed to get there. Gottfried is responsible for two of those. His eighth-seeded NC State upset Villanova this year, and in 2004, Gottfried led an eighth-seeded Alabama team that upset No. 1 seed Stanford 70-67. The ’04 Tide defeated Syracuse in the Sweet 16 before losing to UConn in the Elite Eight.
Speaking of those No. 8/9 seeds to reach the Sweet 16, they’re just as likely to reach the Final Four as they are to lose in the Sweet 16, historically speaking. Six No. 8/9 seeds that made it to the Sweet 16 won their regionals, including each of the last three. NC State will try to join 2014 Kentucky, 2013 Wichita State, 2011 Butler, 2000 Wisconsin and North Carolina, 1986 Auburn and 1985 Villanova in going from the 8/9 game to the Final Four. No. 8 Villanova is the lowest-seeded team to win a national championship.
Times Kansas has lost before the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed, most in NCAA history.
Wichita State tops Kansas to advance to Sweet 16. Kansas has 6 first-weekend losses as a Top-2 seed, most in NCAA Tournament history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 22, 2015
The losses are:
|Kansas First Weekend Losses as Top-Two Seed|
|Year||KU's Seed||Lost to...||Coach|
|2015||2||No. 7 Wichita State||Bill Self|
|2014||2||No. 10 Stanford||Bill Self|
|2010||1||No. 9 Northern Iowa||Bill Self|
|1998||1||No. 8 Rhode Island||Roy Williams|
|1992||1||No. 8 UTEP||Roy Williams|
|1990||2||No. 7 UCLA||Roy Williams|
Roy Williams’ record in the round of 64. Mark Titus at Grantland noted the North Carolina coach’s perfect first round record. Just for fun, let’s compare that to the other active Hall of Fame coaches, the two up for the Hall of Fame this season (Bo Ryan and John Calipari) and three other sure-fire Hall of Famers (Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and Bill Self).
|Coach||Career Round of 64 Record|
|Roy Williams, North Carolina||25-0|
|Mike Krzyzewski, Duke||26-5|
|Rick Pitino, Louisville||16-4|
|Bob Huggins, West Virginia||16-5|
|Jim Boeheim, Syracuse||26-5|
|Bo Ryan, Wisconsin||12-2|
|John Calipari, Kentucky||15-1|
|Tom Izzo, Michigan State||15-3|
|Bill Self, Kansas||15-2|
|Billy Donovan, Florida||11-3|
Schools Lon Kruger has taken to the Sweet 16. On Friday, Kruger became the first coach to win an NCAA Tournament game with five teams. He topped that Sunday by becoming the first coach to reach the Sweet 16 with four teams after the Sooners defeated Dayton 72-66. Kruger has gone to the Sweet 16 with UNLV (2007), Florida (1994) and Kansas State (1988). The two schools he’s coached not taken to the Sweet 16? Texas-Pan American and Illinois.
Times the top two seeds from the same region lost before the Sweet 16. No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Virginia both lost in the East Region before the Sweet 16, marking the sixth time since 1985 a region lost both of its top two seeds before the Sweet 16. The last time it happened, No. 1 Kentucky lost to UAB and No. 2 Gonzaga lost to Nevada in the first weekend of the 2004 Tournament
Longest Sweet 16 drought ended. By reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003, Notre Dame its ending the longest regional semifinal drought of any team reaching the second weekend. The Irish have lost in the first weekend six times since that trip. The biggest uphill climb, then, belongs to Utah. The Utes last reached the Sweet 16 in 2004, but they made the Tournament only once between then and now.
Teams that reached the Sweet 16 last season. Kentucky, Arizona, Michigan State, UCLA, Wisconsin and Louisville are all making back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16. Louisville has made four in a row.
Average margin of victory for No. 1 seeds in the round of 64. Never say never, but the prospect of a No. 16 seed upsetting a No. 1 seems as far as ever. Two No. 16 seeds playing in the First Four in Dayton and then racing to another Tournament site has made the job even tougher.
Combined record for No. 4 and No. 5 seeds. We’re not ready to swear off 12-5 and 13-4 upsets in our brackets just yet, but this was a startling number. For the first time since 2007, every No. 4 and No. 5 seed advanced to the round of 32. For the No. 5 seeds in particular, this is a reversal of a trend: No. 5 seeds were a combined 2-6 in the 2013 and 2014 Tournaments.
Consecutive favorites to win from Thursday afternoon to Friday night. If you were lucky enough to indulge in the Thursday afternoon games, congratulations, you witnessed all the upsets. After UAB, Georgia State and UCLA, the universe corrected itself and went chalk for 23 consecutive games. Even the No. 8 seeds swept the No. 9s, which in theory are the most evenly matched games in the field.
No. 14 seeds to move into the round of 32. UAB and Georgia State picked up the slack for the mid-major upsets. For the First time since 1996, two No. 14 seeds advanced to the round of 32. That year, Weber State upset Michigan State and Old Dominion upset Villanova.
Margin of victory for No. 7 Iowa over Davidson. The third-highest margin of victory in the round of 64 involved a No. 7 seed against a mid-major regular season champion. Iowa defeated Atlantic 10 champion Davidson 83-52. It was the only game not involving a No. 1 seed decided by more than 20 points.
Games decided by 1 point in the round of 64. This included:
• No. 8 Cincinnati 66, No. 9 Purdue 65
• No. 8 NC State 66, No. 9 LSU 65
• No. 11 UCLA 60, No. 6 SMU 59
• No. 14 Georgia State 57, No. 3 Baylor 56
• No. 14 UAB 60, No. 3 Iowa State 59
Record for the Big 12 in the first weekend the last two seasons. The most competitive league during the regular season again struggled in the NCAA Tournament. True, the league produced two Sweet 16 teams in each of the last two seasons (West Virginia and Oklahoma this year, Baylor and Iowa State last year), but the Big 12 also had seven teams bounced in the first round in the last two seasons and league champ Kansas in the second round.
Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. The Pac-12 is still working to catch up to the Big Ten and ACC, but at least as far as the Tournament is concerned, the Pac-12 has had a good showing the last two seasons. Arizona and UCLA have reached back-to-back Sweet 16s, Utah advanced this year and Stanford last season. Keep in mind, the Pac-12 had three Sweet 16 teams total from 2009-12.
Virginia Tech won at least 10 games in eight consecutive seasons from 2004-11. But the Hokies took a step back over the last three years, recording a 22-17 mark in that span. Coach Frank Beamer is also coming off his first losing record in conference play since 2002. While Virginia Tech’s win total has dipped recently, this program isn’t far from contending in the Coastal. The defense is one of the best in the nation, but the offense is once again under the spotlight in spring practice.
5 Storylines to Watch in Virginia Tech’s Spring Practice
1. Michael Brewer’s Development
Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores in his debut at Virginia Tech last season. The Texas Tech transfer helped to guide the Hokies to a win at Ohio State early in the year but also tossed 10 picks through his first five games. With a full offseason to learn the offense and develop a rapport with coordinator Scot Loeffler, will Brewer take a step forward in 2015?
2. Finding Answers on the Offensive Line
The offensive line is easily the biggest concern for Virginia Tech in 2015. Three players started all 13 games last year – Laurence Gibson, David Wang and Caleb Farris – and have expired their eligibility, while this unit returns promising younger players in guard Wyatt Teller and tackle Jonathan McLaughlin. Can line coach Stacy Searels find the right answers for a unit that gave up 34 sacks in 2014?
3. Establishing a Pecking Order at Running Back
Make no mistake: Virginia Tech has options at running back. Will the coaching staff develop a clear pecking order for carries this spring? Clouding the outlook is a knee injury to Marshawn Williams, as well as a suspension for Shai McKenzie. J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds and Joel Caleb will have first shot at claiming the top spots on the depth chart this spring, while D.J. Reid and Travon McMillian are ready to push for snaps off a redshirt season.
4. New Faces at Safety
With eight starters back, Virginia Tech’s defense will be among the best in the nation. Few question marks surround this group, but coordinator Bud Foster needs to restock at safety after the departure of Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner. Chuck Clark (73 tackles in 2014) is expected to move to safety after playing corner in 2014. The rover position is unsettled and could fall to C.J. Reavis or Der’Woun Greene.
5. Eliminate Turnovers and Mistakes
It’s difficult to predict or coach, but Virginia Tech has to find a way to limit the turnovers in 2015. The Hokies ranked near the bottom of the ACC with 26 turnovers lost in 2014 and also averaged seven committed penalties a game. If Beamer’s team can eliminate the mistakes, it should have a little better luck in close games after finishing 2-5 in one-score contests in 2014.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Virginia Tech in the ACC:
Similar to last season, the Coastal Division is filled with uncertainty entering spring practice. Georgia Tech is considered the favorite, but Virginia Tech isn't far behind. The Hokies are loaded with talent on defense and had some bad luck last season with 26 lost turnovers and a 2-5 mark in one-score games. If offensive line improves, and quarterback Michael Brewer develops in his second year as a starter, Virginia Tech has a chance to win the division and return to the top 25 in 2015.
Auburn wasn’t quite able to recapture the magic from its 2013 run to the national championship, but coach Gus Malzahn’s second season still resulted in an 8-5 record with two losses coming by three points. As Malzahn’s team works through spring practice, it’s clear this team will be in the mix for the SEC West Division title. New quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a rising star, and there’s no shortage of talent at the skill positions. The defense should benefit significantly from the addition of Will Muschamp as coordinator.
5 Storylines to Watch in Auburn’s Spring Practice
1. Jeremy Johnson’s Time to Shine
Nick Marshall had a successful two-year stint as Auburn’s quarterback, but the offense shouldn’t miss a beat with Jeremy Johnson under center. The junior has two career starts under his belt and passed for 436 yards and three scores in seven appearances in 2014. Johnson isn’t as mobile as Marshall, but coach Gus Malzahn will tweak the offense to fit his strengths. This spring is Johnson’s first to work as the starter.
2. New Faces on the Offensive Line
The Tigers must replace two starters on the line, including standout center Reese Dismukes. While Dismukes won’t be easy to replace, this unit does return left tackle Shon Coleman and promising sophomore Braden Smith, while guard Alex Kozan is expected to return from a back injury that sidelined him all of 2014. Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson could factor into the mix to replace Dismukes at center. This spring is all about finding the right players at the right positions.
3. Restocking the Skill Players
Talent is plentiful at the running back and receiver positions, but new faces must emerge to keep the offense performing at a high level in 2015. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are gone at running back, which leaves junior college recruit Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber as the team’s top three options. At receiver, Sammie Coates and Quan Bray depart, but Duke Williams turned down the NFL for one more year at Auburn. In addition to Williams, the Tigers will ask more of Marcus Davis, Ricardo Louis and redshirt freshman Stanton Truitt.
4. Getting Comfortable With the New Defense
After giving up over six yards per play in SEC contests in each of the last two years, Malzahn decided it was time for a change at coordinator. And Malzahn made one of the offseason’s top hires by landing former Florida coach Will Muschamp to call the defensive signals in 2015. Muschamp should bring immediate improvement to this unit and will have help with the return of end Carl Lawson from an ACL injury. How quickly will the players pickup and adapt to the new scheme?
5. Solidify the Secondary
The pass defense had its share of issues over the last two seasons, and this unit enters spring practice with holes to fill. Cornerback Jonathon Mincy and safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie must be replaced. Talent certainly isn’t an issue here, as Jonathan Jones is back at cornerback after a breakout season, and Georgia transfer Tray Matthews should help at safety. Joshua Holsey may claim the other starting cornerback spot, and Muschamp has options to fill the void left behind at safety. This unit isn’t necessarily a major concern for 2015, but it’s critical to establish a pecking order or begin to sift through the options.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Auburn in the SEC:
After a run to the national championship in 2013, the Tigers took a step back and finished just 4-4 in SEC play last season. However, this team will be one to watch in 2015. Auburn has all of the necessary pieces to make a run at the SEC title, especially if quarterback Jeremy Johnson performs as expected. The defense has been an issue over the last two years, but the addition of Muschamp will pay dividends. With Alabama visiting Auburn, it’s not out of the question to think the Iron Bowl could decide the SEC West champion in 2015.
For a moment over the weekend, Steve Nash stole the basketball world’s attention away from NCAA’s March Madness.
He did it by retiring.
The 41-year-old made the announcement via a column written for The Players’ Tribune. He gave props to former coaches, teammates and friends including Don Nelson, Mike D’Antoni, Dirk Nowitzki, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Michael Finley and Alvin Gentry in his piece.
Nash’s three-team career spanned nineteen years with three teams — the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns (twice) and Los Angeles Lakers. He won the MVP award two times, with the Suns in 2005 and 2006, while his D’Antoni-coached teams ran amok on the NBA with a devastating, revolutionary offense.
The Suns’ “seven seconds or less” attack could only have worked with Nash at its helm. His split-second decision making and almost unparalleled court vision were the modem for a team that turned otherwise boring regular season games into must-watch television.
Regrets? Nash has a few.
“It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn’t get the championship they deserved during our run,” he wrote. “Yes, we had some bad luck but I always look back at it and think, I could’ve made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass. But I don’t regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix.”
Nash’s career petered out in L.A. on a string of injuries, including some scary nerve issues, that were perhaps collected in the effort to get that championship.
“I will likely never play basketball again,” he wrote. “It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.”
— John Wilmes
The Sooners entered last season with loads of hype following a devastatingly impressive performance over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Many had Oklahoma winning the Big 12 title and participating in the College Football Playoff.
Neither of these will be a concern for Bob Stoops and his Crimson and Cream faithful this spring. This team should enter spring practice grounded after a Stoops-worst five losses last year — four of which came in the Big 12. The 5-4 mark was the worst conference record of Stoops' entire career.
With an overhauled coaching staff, a rebuilt line of scrimmage on both sides and questions under center, Oklahoma has its work cut out for it this spring. That said, this is still one of the most talented rosters in the nation led by one of the best head coaches, so expectations aren't going anywhere in Norman.
5 Storylines to Watch in Oklahoma’s Spring Practice:
1. The Quarterback Battle
Trevor Knight was supposed to be a Heisman candidate in 2014, but his season spiraled out of control after a pick-six cost the Sooners the TCU game. Now he is in a dogfight with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield and former OU baseballer (and spot starter) Cody Thomas for the Sooners' starting gig. Stoops and new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley need to depart spring camp with a good idea of the QB pecking order. The good news for Knight is that he brings something totally different to the table with his athleticism than either Mayfield or Thomas — IF that is what Riley wants under center.
2. Plug two big gaps at tackle
Departed defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Chuka Ndulue have left Stoops with a huge void in the middle of his defensive line. There are plenty of linebackers returning and despite issues giving up big plays, the secondary returns plenty of talent too. But those position groups may not matter if OU can’t hold the point of attack up front.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview
3. Rebuild the O-line
The quarterback position is critical and we will get to the backfield, but the biggest concern on offense for the Sooners is up front along the line. Four starters are gone from this unit, leaving Riley and Stoops to completely rebuild the offensive front. The first task will be at tackle where OU loses two first-team All-Big 12 players in Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson. Stabilizing this group will go a long way to helping develop a quarterback.
4. Divide the workload
This collection of ball carriers might be the best in Norman since the current regime arrived 16 years ago. Which is saying something for a school with Adrian Peterson, Quentin Griffin and DeMarco Murray filling up pages in the record books. Samaje Perine, Alex Ross, Keith Ford, possibly Joe Mixon and incoming freshman Rodney Anderson might form the best backfield in the nation and the new offensive staff needs to figure out a way to get as many of them involved as often as possible. Riley's background as an Air Raid disciple makes this storyline even more intriguing.
5. Stabilize the sideline
One of the biggest storylines for Stoops this spring might have nothing to do with his players. With an entirely new coaching staff around him, meshing on the sidelines and in meeting rooms is just as important as anything else in Norman. Lincoln Riley brings a new offense from East Carolina and designing the right system for the roster will be huge for the Sooners. A reinvention worked for Gary Patterson and TCU last year, the same could be true for Oklahoma.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Oklahoma:
Oklahoma is always one of the most physically gifted teams in the Big 12 and is led by a potential Hall of Fame coach. Needless to say, the Sooners are always a threat to compete for a league title, especially with one of the best running back corps ever assembled. However, this current roster doesn't feel like one of his best so Stoops will have to find answers under center, along both lines of scrimmage and on the sideline. Should things come together this spring, however, and double-digit wins in the fall appear to be well within reach.
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 13: Henrik Stenson
Born: April 5, 1976, Gothenburg, Sweden | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 (9 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,894,235 (49th) | World Ranking: 2
2014 Key Stats
Total Driving: 78 (2nd)
Greens in Regulation Percentage: 69.03% (8th)
Final Round Scoring Average: 68.92 (3rd)
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Stenson works with Pete Cowan who along with Butch Harmon is one of the giant-makers in today’s game. They more than any other teachers have an ability to make the best players even better. On the strength of a torrid tee-to-green game, Henrik has four top-five finishes in the majors since 2013, a year in which he also won the FedExCup and Race to Dubai, making him the first person to achieve this unique double. Given that this year’s major venues — three of which will be on the water’s edge — will require more brawn than touch, this could be the year that he breaks out of that group of players who are far too good to have never won a major. He turns 39 in April, meaning that his time may be running out, but all he needs is a slightly above-average year with his wedges and putter to put a bow on a great career.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T3
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - T14 (2014)
U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
British Open - 2 (2013)
PGA Championship - 3/T3 (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 9
Top-25 Finishes: 17
Missed Cuts: 9
Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
James Franklin’s debut at Penn State had its share of ups and downs, as the Nittany Lions started 4-0 but dropped six out of their last eight regular season games. A bowl win over Boston College propelled Franklin to a winning mark in his first season, and the program was able to ink a full class of players after NCAA sanctions limited scholarships in previous years. Penn State enters spring practice with question marks, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the Big Ten’s top players, and there’s plenty of returning talent on a defense that ranked among the nation’s best in 2014.
5 Storylines to Watch in Penn State’s Spring Practice
1. Improving the Offensive Line
Line coach Herb Hand is one of the best in the nation, and there’s no doubt Penn State’s offensive line should take a step forward in 2015. The Nittany Lions allowed 44 sacks last season, which was a big reason why the offense managed only 14 points per game in Big Ten play. How quickly can Penn State find the right mix up front? Keep an eye on junior college recruit Paris Palmer, along with redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell and incoming freshman Sterling Jenkins (enrolled in time to compete in spring ball) this offseason.
2. Depth at Running Back
Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak are out of eligibility, which leaves Akeel Lynch as the team’s only proven running back headed into spring practice. Lynch is capable of being an All-Big Ten back, but the Nittany Lions need depth here. Freshman Saquon Barkley will arrive this summer to add competition, but redshirt freshmen Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas have a chance to push for the backup job this spring.
3. Reload at Defensive End
Penn State’s defense was one of the best in the nation last season, limiting opponents to just 4.3 yards per play. Coordinator Bob Shoop is an underrated coach, and with six starters back, the Nittany Lions should be able to keep the momentum on defense. Shoop has a few personnel questions to address this spring, including the end spot with the departures of C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes. Garrett Sickels is a promising player for the defense, and redshirt freshman Torrence Brown is expected to push for snaps. Olaniyan and Barnes combined for nine of the defense’s 31 recorded sacks from 2014. Can that production be replaced?
4. Replacing Mike Hull at Linebacker
While the end spot is thin on proven options, the bigger concern for Shoop has to be the departure of linebacker Mike Hull. In his final season with the Nittany Lions, Hull registered 140 tackles and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. Franklin mentioned Nyeem Wartman, Gary Wooten and Ben Kline as the likely replacements for Hull prior to spring practice. Can one player leave spring with a clear edge at middle linebacker?
5. Finding a New Kicker
It may seem like a small part of spring practice, but Penn State needs to find a replacement for Sam Ficken. As a senior last season, Ficken connected on 24 of 29 field goals and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. The Nittany Lions won three games by three or less points last year. It’s critical to find a solid option this offseason.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Penn State in the Big Ten:
Penn State’s position in the East Division will largely be determined by how much its offensive line improves this offseason. Hackenberg is one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks, and there’s no shortage of skill talent. The defense has a few holes to address in the front seven, but this group should be near the top of the Big Ten. Ohio State is the clear favorite in the East, with Michigan State at No. 2. If the Nittany Lions get on track on offense, finishing third in the East with an improvement in the win column is very realistic.
For the second time since 2011, Florida enters a season with a new leader at the helm of its once pristine football powerhouse.
Jim McElwain comes to Gainesville checking every box that Jeremy Foley needed in a new head football coach. He wanted a guy with head coaching and SEC experience (check and check). He wanted a guy known for developing high-powered offenses at a championship level (check and check). He wanted a guy who will rally the fan base and build a quality staff (check and check).
But that doesn't mean McElwain doesn't have loads of depth chart issues to overcome in his first spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in Florida’s Spring Practice:
1. The Quarterback Battle
There is no doubt Treon Harris sparked the Gators' offense when he took over full-time midway through the season. But he was far from All-SEC good, completing just 49.5 percent of his passes and averaging just 126 yards per game in six starts to end the year. He will be pressed by a new coaching staff as well as redshirt freshman Will Grier. McElwain needs to figure out if either can be the future star at quarterback Gators fans have craved since No. 15 departed.
2. Replace four starters up front
The best way to help a struggling offense is to rebuild the offensive line, protect the passer and open up running lanes. That's been easier said than done for Florida lately and it won't get any easier for the new staff this spring. Only Trip Thurman returns to a group that needs to replace both tackles, the center and a guard all in one offseason. Remember, someone might just be keeping the seat warm for consensus No. 1 offensive tackle prospect Martez Ivey.
3. Develop some playmakers
This also has long been an issue in Gainesville but this is a program located in a state that should never want for playmakers. Demarcus Robinson has special ability and is back, but no other returning Gator caught more than 15 passes. Additionally, leading rusher Matt Jones left early for the NFL. McElwain has some nice pieces to work with in Robinson and Kelvin Taylor, but he needs to find All-SEC-type stars to get the football too. He did it at Colorado State with Kapri Bibbs and Dee Hart, he should be able to do it at Florida.
4. Fill Dante Fowler's shoes
Be it Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd or Dante Fowler, the Gators have long been inking five-star defensive line talent. CeCe Jefferson is the next in that long line but won't get to Gainesville until the summer. So with Fowler leaving, new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins needs to find a star pass rusher this spring. Jonathan Bullard can be a rock in the middle but isn't the explosive athlete Collins needs on the D-line. Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox both played significant minutes, combining for 10 sacks last fall. More will be expected of them this spring. The rest of the defense is stacked so a quickly developing D-line could give Florida the top defense in the division.
5. Get your swag back
These are the Florida Gators we are talking about here and this program needs to regain its former swagger. Part of the reason Will Muschamp was able to win 11 games in 2012 was the physical nature of the team and the overall confidence of the roster. This program has lost its confidence and Collins' defensive attitude needs to set the tone this spring. After all, this is a team that really won eight games last year (Idaho was cancelled) and was just quarters (not games) away from winning the East.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Florida:
The issues, in particular on offense, are obvious for the Gators: Develop a quarterback, find some playmakers and rebuild the offensive line. However, Florida isn't short on talent and there may not be an elite, playoff-caliber team in the East. This team wasn't nearly as bad last season as the headlines portrayed, so if McElwain is as good as advertised, this squad could easily be competing for an East title in 2015.
Mike Riley was a surprise hire at Nebraska, and the former Oregon State coach enters his first spring practice in Lincoln with key personnel question marks to address. The Cornhuskers return 12 starters, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong and standout defensive tackle Maliek Collins, but receiver Kenny Bell and running back Ameer Abdullah must be replaced. On defense, Nebraska has room to improve after allowing 5.5 yards per play in Big Ten games last season.
5 Storylines to Watch in Nebraska’s Spring Practice
1. Tommy Armstrong’s Development
In his first full season as Nebraska’s starter, Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards and 22 scores. He also rushed for 705 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games. Armstrong showed progress throughout 2014, which included his first 300-yard performance (USC). Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf will adapt to their personnel, but it’s notable Oregon State ranked first or second in the Pac-12 in passing in 2012 and 2013. Armstrong should still have opportunities to run in 2015. However, the offense needs him to develop more as a passer.
2. Replacing Ameer Abdullah
Ameer Abdullah finished a standout career at Nebraska with his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Nebraska isn’t hurting for options at running back to replace Abdullah’s production, but which player will emerge as the go-to back? Senior Imani Cross has the most experience, while Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby are two other capable backs for Langsdorf to use in 2015.
3. Rebuilt Offensive Line
Three starters – Jake Cotton, Mark Pelini and Mike Moudy – expired their eligibility after the Holiday Bowl. Despite the personnel losses, the Cornhuskers are in relatively good shape up front. Alex Lewis earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season and returns to anchor the left side at tackle. Zach Sterup started 10 games in 2014 and should start at right tackle. The interior spots are up for grabs and should be the focus of spring ball. There’s experience returning in the way of Paul Thurston, Zach Hannon, Chongo Kondolo, Ryne Reeves, Dylan Utter and Givens Price, while redshirt freshmen Nick Gates, Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster are also expected to push for time and add quality depth to the trenches.
4. Replacing Randy Gregory at DE
The biggest question mark for new defensive coordinator Mark Banker is the defensive end position. Randy Gregory was the unit’s top player over the last two years and accounted for seven of the Cornhuskers’ 29 sacks in 2014. The line isn’t overflowing with proven depth, but Greg McMullen and Jack Gangwish are experienced and should anchor the starting spots. However, Banker needs to develop depth here this spring. Will Joe Keels emerge as a key contributor in his second year in Lincoln? Players like redshirt freshman Freedom Akinmoladun, A.J. Natter and Peyton Newell need to provide quality snaps in 2015.
5. Find the Right Mix in the Back Seven
Banker inherits a defense that ranked fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense last season but allowed 206.8 rushing yards in Big Ten contests. Gone from last season’s unit are linebackers Zaire Anderson and Trevor Roach, along with cornerback Josh Mitchell and safety Corey Cooper. How will Banker solidify the linebacking corps and secondary this spring? Michael Rose-Ivey is back after missing 2014 due to a knee injury and could step into a starting role. Banker has options, but he just needs to find the right mix.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Nebraska in the Big Ten:
Wisconsin is the early favorite in the Big Ten West Division in 2015. Can Nebraska close the gap this spring? The scheme transitions on both sides of the ball present a challenge for contention in the West, along with a schedule that features a crossover game against Michigan State and a road trip to Minnesota. Riley is a good coach that won a tough place (Oregon State). If the personnel blends with the new schemes, Nebraska has a chance to win nine games in 2015.
Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan go in-depth with an early 2015 Pac-12 conference preview.
Has the Pac-12 caught the SEC as the nation's best conference? Is the Pac-12 South the best division in football? Or is this league too tough to produce a playoff team in 2015?
Is the State of Arizona or the City of Los Angeles better equipped to make a run at the Pac-12 South Division title? Is there someone other than Stanford or Oregon in the North that is ready to challenge for the crown?
The fellas touch on every team and how the predictions might shake out in the Pac-12 in 2015.
Baylor’s LaQuan McGowan is a very large man. According to the school’s official roster, the Texas native is 6-foot-7 and 410 pounds.
In the Cotton Bowl loss to Michigan State, McGowan showed off his athleticism by catching an 18-yard pass for a score.
And here’s the best part of this story: The coaching staff plans to give him more snaps at tight end this year.
McGowan added to his highlight reel with a catch in Baylor’s spring showcase:
Baylor 400-pound TE Quan McGown just hauled in a quick pop pass and destroyed the FS. This is happening, guys.— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) March 21, 2015
Don't get it twisted. Use of McGowan is not a gimmick or for show. "It's not for the notoriety, it's for the benefit of our football team."— Craig Smoak (@CraigSmoak) March 21, 2015
Coach, does McGowan need to learn how to tuck the ball? "Was that a ball? I thought it was a lemon drop. If he tucked it it might deflate."— Craig Smoak (@CraigSmoak) March 21, 2015
The hours are counting down in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and Gonzaga has plenty of energy. That’s what going to the Sweet 16 will do for you.
After Gonzaga’s 87-68 win over Iowa in the round of 32, forward Kyle Wiltjer shared this video of the postgame locker room celebration.
Eric McClellan did a backflip and then 52-year-old coach Mark Few attempted a hand stand.
The coach is quite nimble.
For Kansas’ sake, the Jayhawks should beg to schedule Wichita State soon.
In eight years, Gregg Marshall took a program that was already a solid mid-major and built it into a national power. That much was already established before Wichita State's round of 32 game against Kansas.
With a nucleus of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Wichita State went to the Final Four on year and started 35-0 the next. The Shockers have defeated Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Indiana in the NCAA Tournament.
The last remaining white whale was in-state blue blood Kansas, a team that hasn’t played Wichita State since 1993. The Shockers spent 22 years waiting for Sunday's 78-65 win for Wichita State.
Kansas is conquered, and now maybe Marshall won’t be quite as vocal about wanting a matchup with the Jayhawks.
“I'm fine letting the series lay the way it is right now,” Marshall told the media. “The series is good with me at this point.”
Kansas, meanwhile, is left wondering what happened. This Jayhawks team isn’t a vintage Bill Self squad. Its best pro prospect, Cliff Alexander, is sitting while the school figures out his standing with the NCAA. But Kansas also won the Big 12 for the 11th consecutive season and managed to get a No. 2 seed.
Downplaying this Kansas team is a disservice to Wichita State. This also wasn’t the same Wichita State team from the last two seasons without Cleanthony Early in 2014-15. The Shockers didn’t pick up a signature win until their final game of the regular season against Northern Iowa. They lost twice to teams that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, including Illinois State in the Missouri Valley tournament.
By avoiding Wichita State, Kansas put all the emotion in this game into Wichita State’s corner. Never mind that VanVleet, Baker, Tekele Cotton and Evan Wessel are all really, really good veteran players.
“They obviously were better prepared, ready for the moment better than us, and we didn't play very well,” Self told the media. “I obviously didn't get our guys to the point where we should play up to the ability that we should potentially play up to.”
Now, Kansas doesn’t have just a loss or just an NCAA Tournament loss or just an early exit. The Jayhawks won’t make it to the Sweet 16 because it lost to a program it long considered unworthy of its time.
It’s already started. Losses like this tend to magnify what evertyhing that happened before. Kansas has now lost in the round of 32 in each of the last two years, last year to No. 10 seed Stanford. Before that, a No. 1 seed Kansas lost to No. 4 seed Michigan in the Sweet 16.
Expect to hear Kansas’ Final Four in 2012 and national championship from 2008 mentioned a little less prominently.
By no means is this a program in turmoil. Kansas will be in a Final Four again soon enough and will keep cranking out Big 12 titles.
Wichita State, too, won't be the same program five years from than it was Sunday. Gregg Marshall, whenever he wants to leave Wichita State, will have his pick of places to go. VanVleet and Baker are juniors, and they have one more major thing to accomplish.
And it doesn’t involve Kansas.
On Friday, Oregon looked like highlighters in the Ducks’ round of 64 win over Oklahoma State.
On Sunday, the Ducks looked like their former national championship team. Oregon broke out throwback jerseys for the round of 32 game against Wisconsin, possibly trying to gain some karma from the Ducks’ 1939 “Tall Firs” team that won the first NCAA title.
Here’s what Oregon wore against Oklahoma State:
This year’s East region isn’t the craziest bracket in NCAA Tournament history, but it’s pretty darn close to the top.
In a matter of hours, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the region, Villanova and Virginia, lost their round of 32 games. That leaves No. 3 Oklahoma as the top dog in the East region — for now.
Not only did the top two seeds in region lose, the outright conference champions from the ACC and Big East lost in the round of 32.
How strange is all that? Here are a few answers:
• For the first time since field expanded to 64 in 1985, the ACC and Big East outright champions both failed to make it to the Sweet 16.
Now, the unbalanced schedule may have given Virginia a leg up in winning the ACC title at 16-2, one game ahead of Duke. But either way, the Cavaliers are the first outright ACC regular season champ since 2003 Wake Forest to fail to reach the Sweet 16. The 1997 Duke team that lost to Providence in the second round is the only other ACC champion since 1985 to fail to reach the Sweet 16.
Villanova was dominant during the regular season, winning the Big East with a four-game lead over Butler. That didn’t stop the Wildcats from losing to the sixth-place team in the ACC. Villanova is the sixth outright Big East champ to lose before the Sweet 16 and the third since 2008. Pittsburgh lost in the second round to Butler in 2011 and Georgetown lost to Davidson in the second round in 2008.
• For the first time since 2004, the top two seeds in a region lost before the Sweet 16. In 2004, No. 1 Kentucky lost to No. 9 UAB in the second round and No. 2 Gonzaga lost to No. 7 Nevada. Those upsets cleared the path for No. 3 seed Georgia Tech to reach the Final Four.
Only six times in NCAA history, including 2015, have the top two seeds in a region failed to reach the Sweet 16. Not only did it happen in two different regions in the 2000 Tournament, both regions lost their top three seeds, clearing the path for two No. 8 seeds to reach the Final Four (North Carolina and Wisconsin).
• Making the upsets more painful for Virginia and Villanova have to be the teams still playing.
Villanova defeated Xavier three times during the season by an average of 14.3 points per game, and the Musketeers are the only Big East team left in the field.
Meanwhile, Virginia was the first ACC team in nine Tournament games to lose. After NC State’s win over Villanova, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried went so far as to call the ACC “undervalued.” Presumably after Virignia lost to the third-place team in the Big Ten, Gottfried might choose different wording.
“In my opinion, it's an undervalued conference right now for how strong our league is,” Gottfried told the media. “So when you went on the road like we have and beat North Carolina or on the road and beat Louisville or beat a Duke team, it's not that you don't respect (Villanova). We respect Villanova, but we've seen good teams. We've seen a lot of them in our conference. You see them about every night. So a league like that prepares you for games like tonight.”
No, March Madness is weird, and something strange happens every year. This year, the strangest outcomes happened to be in the East bracket.
After No. 1 seed Villanova lost 71-68 to NC State in one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament, one piccolo player in Nova’s band briefly spoke for every Villanova fan out there.
Her perseverance to play on, to do her job, in the face of such emotion is an inspiration to us all.
Naturally, we get all the memes:
I'm probably going to hell for this. pic.twitter.com/0HTybgQToz— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 22, 2015
NOT MY TEMPO! pic.twitter.com/lQGtZXyR6r— Joe Morgan (@joe_morgan) March 22, 2015
And now it seems we have an ID on our piccolo player:
Villanova wildcat till I die, through the smiles and the tears✌️— Roxanne Chalifoux (@roxiechalifoxie) March 22, 2015
If your bracket wasn’t already toast, it might be now.
Villanova became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the NCAA Tournament, losing to an eight-seeded NC State 71-68.
The Wildcats are the 17th No. 1 seed since 1985 to fail to reach the Sweet 16. Last season, undefeated Wichita State lost to Kentucky in the round of 32, and before that Gonzaga lost in the round of 32 to Wichita State.
Even by upset standards, this one was weird.
Villanova was one of the best offensive teams in the country during the season, ranking fourth in offensive efficiency on KenPom.
Villanova couldn’t buy a basket in the lane as NC State outscored the Wildcats 34-14 in the paint. Villanova shot 10-of-33 (30.3 percent) from 2-point range — compared to 53 percent during the season. The Wildcats were 9-of-28 from 3-point range (32.1 percent) against NC State — after shooting 38.9 percent during the regular season.
Meanwhile, NC State needed LSU to miss its last 12 shots from the floor for a one-point win in the round of 64. Two days later, the Wolfpack led a 33-win team for the entire second half.
So what might this mean for next week for the Wolfpack?
Each of the last 8/9 seeds that upset a No. 1 advanced at least to the Final Four (2014 Kentucky, 2013 Wichita State and 2011 Butler). Of the 16 Nos. 8-9 seeds to reach the Sweet 16, the same number of them reached the Final Four as lost in the Sweet 16.
NC State wasn’t the most predictable team during the season. The Wolfpack beat Duke at home and Louisville and North Carolina on the road. NC State ended up a No. 8 seed by losing at home to Wofford and Clemson and on the road to Wake Forest and Boston College.
Those neutral courts, though, have been good to NC State.
|No. 8/9 Seeds to Reach the Sweet 16|
|Year||8/9 Seed||Defeated||Advanced to..|
|2014||Kentucky||Wichita State||National championship game|
|2013||Wichita State||Gonzaga||Final Four|
|2011||Butler||Pittsburgh||National championship game|
|2010||Northern Iowa||Kansas||Sweet 16|
|2000||North Carolina||Stanford||Final Four|
|1998||Rhode Island||Kansas||Elite Eight|
|1994||Boston College||North Carolina||Elite Eight|
|1990||North Carolina||Oklahoma||Sweet 16|
|1986||Auburn||St. John's||Elite Eight|
|1985||Villanova||Michigan||Won national championship|
*coached by Mark Gottfried
Georgia State coach Ron Hunter broke down during his team’s postgame news conference after his team lost 75-67 to Xavier.
The moment came to an end, and Hunter embraced his son when he left the court. R.J. is a junior and an NBA Draft prospect, so this may be the last time the two are on the same team.
Hunter got a little choked up as you might imagine.
Reporters and bloggers, don’t forget to tip your stenographers.
The NCAA Tournament is full of under-the-radar folks who don’t get the attention they deserve. Among those are the stenographers hired to transcribe every word from every player and every coach in daily press conferences at every site.
It’s a thankless job, and one not many players or fans will ever notice. Good on Wisconsin for making sure these folks get their due, and good on the Badgers for finding a creative way to do it.
Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes tested the press conference stenographers during the Badgers’ interview session during their practice day before tomorrow’s round of 32 game.
Via ASAPSports, here’s the transcript:
Q. Nigel, obviously if you look just statistically, you've taken quite a leap in the 3-point shooting, to whatever, and in other areas. Can you describe just the steps you took to kind of, you know, raise those parts of your game?
NIGEL HAYES: Hello, it works now. Before I answer that question, I would like to say a few words, cattywampus, onomatopoeia and antidisestablishmentarianism. (Laughs). Now, back to your question. It was just a lot of hard work, teammates giving me great confidence, and when you play with players that are very unselfish like the two next to me who also give you that confidence and involve the team, it's a lot easier to get things done.
Q. Why did you start off saying those things and then I have to followup.
NIGEL HAYES: Well, the wonderful young lady over there, I think her job title is a stenographer, yes, okay. And she does an amazing job of typing words, sometimes if words are not in her dictionary, maybe if I say soliloquy right now, she may have to work a little bit harder to type that word, or quandary, zephyr, Xylophone, things like that, that make her job really interesting.
But seriously - have you ever seen the magical powers of a stenographer? pic.twitter.com/36exonv2CG— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 21, 2015
If you were rooting for underdogs to advance through the NCAA Tournament, sorry, folks, you’re out of luck on Sunday.
Higher-seeded teams went 15-1 on Friday — the exception being No. 11 Dayton over No. 6 seed Providence — setting up a chalk-filled lineup Sunday.
Will the trend carry into the Sweet 16 or were all the upsets waiting for Sunday’s action?
NCAA Tournament Round of 32 Sunday Preview
All times Eastern
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Virginia
TV: 12:10 p.m., CBS
Site: Charlotte (East Region)
Preview: On the good side for Virginia, the Cavaliers put away Belmont in the round of 32, and Justin Anderson (15 points) came off the bench to have his best game since returning from injury. On the bad side, the Cavs allowed more than one point per possession for the fourth time in the last six games. That happened only four times in the first 28 games. Michigan State made things far too interesting late against Georgia but escaped with a 70-63 win. Given the way both of these teams have played recently, the final minutes will be dramatic. Virginia has been trending the wrong way while Michigan State is starting to put things together.
Prediction: Michigan State 64-61
No. 8 San Diego State vs. No. 1 Duke
TV: 2:40 p.m., CBS
Site: Charlotte (South Region)
Preview: The matchup for Duke, particularly in the offensive end, gets significantly tougher after the rout of Robert Morris. This will be a heck of a matchup in the offensive end for Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. San Diego State ranks fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency and will face the No. 2 team nationally in offensive efficiency. The Aztecs also make a living on the offensive glass. Could this be another big moment for seven-footer Marshall Plumlee, who had his first career double-double in the first round win over Robert Morris?
Prediction: Duke 70-58
No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 2 Kansas
TV: 5:15 p.m., CBS
Site: Omaha, Neb. (Midwest Region)
Preview: Thank you, selection committee. Wichita State has been begging for a shot at its in-state blue blood since their last meeting in 1993, and now the Shockers get to face Kansas with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Shockers point guard Fred VanVleet was magnificent against Indiana, shutting down Yogi Ferrell late and shooting 9-of-18 from the field. Even if he has the same success against Frank Mason, Wichita State can’t afford another cold shooting day from Ron Baker, who was 0-of-5 from 3 against the Hoosiers. Kansas forward Perry Ellis is still working his way back from injury, scoring nine points in 23 minutes against New Mexico State in the round of 64. If he’s at full strength, the 6-foot-8 junior will be a tough matchup for the Shockers.
Prediction: Kansas 68-67
No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
TV: 6:10 p.m., TNT
Site: Columbus, Ohio (East Region)
Preview: The Flyers keep defying fatigue and their roster limitations. Dayton will play its sixth game in nine days when it tips against Oklahoma, and this is with a shortened roster due to attrition in the frontcourt. Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas is averaging 15.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in the last four games, and Ryan Spangler is a rebounding machine (10.8 boards in the last four games). That’s a tough matchup for an undersized Dayton team, but it would be tough to doubt the Flyers now.
Prediction: Oklahoma 66-60
No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 3 Gonzaga
TV: 7:10 p.m., TBS
Site: Seattle (South Region)
Preview: Iowa has our attention after a 31-point rout of Atlantic 10 regular season champion Davidson. The Hawkeyes held the offensively minded Wildcats to 52 points and 0.82 points per possession. Now, Iowa faces a Gonzaga team can score in bunches, too, though the Zags aren’t likely to launch 28 3-pointers like Davidson did. The key matchup may be in the defensive end for Gonzaga as 7-1 Przemek Karnowski tries to slow the 6-9 Aaron White, who is averaging 23.8 points in his last six games.
Prediction: Gonzaga 79-70
No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
TV: 7:45 p.m., truTV
Site: Omaha, Neb. (East Region)
Preview: Wisconsin won’t have an easy trip to the Sweet 16 against one of the hottest teams in the country. The Ducks have lost once since Feb. 14 and that was Arizona in the Pac-12 championship. The Badgers will have to find a way to slow down Joseph Young, who is averaging 25.3 points per game since the start of February. Young grabbed 23 points in a nine-minute stretch alone against Oklahoma State. Wisconsin, the most efficient offensive team in the country, can match Oregon. The big question is who dictates pace of play. The Badgers rank 346th in tempo, while the Ducks rank 75th.
Prediction: Wisconsin 66-62
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 4 Maryland
TV: 8:40 p.m., TNT
Site: Columbus, Ohio (Midwest Region)
Preview: Maryland has the unenviable task of prepares for West Virginia on a short turnaround. The Mountaineers are the nation’s No. 1 team in forcing turnovers thanks to their constant pressure. They’re also prodigious on the offensive glass. West Virginia’s round of 64 game against Buffalo was more dramatic than it needed to be, though, because of missed layups. The Mountaineers won’t have as much wiggle room against a top-40 defensive team.
Prediction: Maryland 65-63
No. 5 Northern Iowa vs. No. 4 Louisville
TV: 9:40 p.m., TBS
Site: Seattle (East Region)
Preview: Maybe Louisville will be relieved that the big man the Cardinals will face is not UC Irvine’s 7-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye. Although if that opposing big man is Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle — merely 10 inches shorter than Ndiaye — maybe Louisville will reconsider. Tuttle will have his work cut out for him against the Louisville defense, but the Panthers may need Paul Jesperson and Matt Bohannon to knock down 3s to open up the floor.
Prediction: Northern Iowa 62-59
Cincinnati probably felt pretty good about itself after a close first half against Kentucky.
Then came Willie Cauley-Stein’s posterizing, demoralizing, roof-shattering dunk on Quadri Moore.
Kentucky started slow from the field in the round of 32 game against Cincinnati on Saturday, but Cauley-Stein’s dunk gave Kentucky a 25-24 lead amid a 10-0 run to end the first half.
If the dunk wasn’t demoralizing enough for Moore and Cincinnati, Bearcats forward Octavius Ellis, UC’s leading scorer, took a knee to the back, sending him to the locker room early.
Cauley-Stein has done this to dozens of players this season, but the dunks never stop being amazing. The stills here are almost as good as the video:
Posterized. pic.twitter.com/zedZnl7lF0— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2015
Willie Cauley-Stein's two-step process: pic.twitter.com/SOJF8DB0p5— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2015
No matter what happens in the Sweet 16, UCLA is in for a juicy matchup.
If UCLA faces Gonzaga, it will be a rematch of a 2006 Sweet 16 game. That game ended in an emotional Adam Morrison and a UCLA team headed to the national title game.
If UCLA faces Iowa, the former employer of coach Steve Alford. The separation wasn’t completely amicable.
Yet neither of these games should even happen.
Kudos to UCLA for taking advantage of the postseason life preserver the selection committee handed the Bruins. UCLA is heading to the Sweet 16 for the second time under Alford in a year when the Bruins probably should have made the NIT.
That said, UCLA’s wins the last two days still doesn’t justify the selection committee’s most controversial pick.
UCLA still made the field with an RPI of 48, lower than first-four-out teams Colorado State, Temple or Old Dominion. UCLA still made the field with no win as good as Temple’s win at Kansas. UCLA still made the field with three sub-100 RPI losses compared to none for Colorado State. UCLA still made the field with lopsided losses to Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah and Oregon.
The decision for UCLA to be in the field was still a blunder even though the Bruins are in the Sweet 16.
The trip to the Sweet 16 has proven that UCLA can beat SMU and UAB. The SMU win was only UCLA’s second over a top-25 KenPom team, and the Bruins needed a controversial goal tend call to do it. And beating No. 122 UAB was no different than beating Washington, Oregon State or San Diego, at least as far as the rankings are concerned.
A handful of NIT teams could beat SMU and UAB or any No. 6 and No. 11 seeds in the field. Kansas State has seven RPI top-100 wins and managed to miss the the NIT because of a losing record.
In other words, it’s possible to be in the Sweet 16 and not deserve to be there at the same time.
"The selection committee thought we were good enough to play in this tournament, and I think we proved it," forward Tony Parker told the media after the win over UAB.
Now, this isn’t to denigrate UCLA’s accomplishment the last three days. Seriously, good for Steve Alford and the depth-challenged Bruins for seizing the moment. We get to see another week of father and son in the NCAA Tournament, and that’s pretty cool. We get more Tony Parker soundbites. We’re going to get an entertaining Sweet 16 game.
These are all good things for college basketball fans.
They just never should have happened.
Officiating took center stage in the final minutes of yet another NCAA Tournament game when Maryland was not called for a foul on the final shot attempt in a 65-62 win over Valparaiso.
Up 3 in the final moments, Mark Turgeon inserted little-used 5-foot-9 guard Varun Ram as his roster battled foul trouble late in the game. Ram will go into the official record as defending Keith Carter on his potential game-tying shot as time expired.
Ram got a piece of Carter’s arm on the play, and Carter probably should have gone to the line for three shots. Certainly that’s not guarantee the game would go to overtime, but Valpo will never know.
This isn’t the first officiating issue in late games in the round of 64 and perhaps not the most egregious.
In an earlier game Friday, Louisville’s Terry Rozier was not called for a foul after reaching in on UC Irvine’s ball handler as the Anteaters weren’t able to get into their offense for the final play of a 57-55 loss.
The most controversial, though, will be the goal tend call that enabled UCLA to score the game-winning points against SMU. The Mustangs’ Yanick Moreira swatted the Alford 3-point shot on its descent, but the ball did not appear to be close to entering the basket. UCLA won 60-59.
The images from SMU's goal tend: