Friday, March 20, 2009

Early Friday First Round Results

This was an afternoon for upsets, as opposed to yesterday's action, which went pretty much by the books.

In the East region, in what figured to be a close call, Oklahoma State (8) got by Tennessee (9) by just two points, 77-75, as Tyler Smith missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer. #1 seed Pitt escaped a scare from East Tennessee State, the 16 seed. The Bucs pulled to within 2 points in the waning moments, and the Panthers were sweating, but managed to step up the defense, hit a number of key shots and move on, 72-62, in the closest call yet for a #1 or #2 seed. DeJuan Blair was his usual unstoppable self, with 27 points and 15 rebounds.

Pitt squares off with Oklahoma State in the next round, and by all appearances, the Panthers will not be exactly waltzing into the regionals. With Kansas' win today, the Big 12 is 5-0, the best record of any conference.

There were just two afternoon games in the Midwest region, but one was the upset of the day.

Dayton led West Virginia (5) almost the entire game, eventually winning 68-60. The Flyers' Chris Wright led the way for the #12 seed with 27 points and 9 boards. The Flyers are a solid team with upset potential against anyone. They meet Kansas on Sunday, and that game has the potential to be a real treat. The Jayhawks are sound, but unspectacular. Dayton is gunning for more as the first small conference winner.

#14 North Dakota State hung with the Jayhawks most of the way, but eventually fell, 82-72. Kansas' big two, Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich led the Jayhawks. Collins had 32 points and 8 assists; Aldrich finished with 23 points and 15 boards.

In the South, Syracuse dominated Stephen F. Austin, 59-44 and #6 Arizona State slipped past Temple, 66-57, without breaking much of a sweat. The Sun Devils and Orangemen have a showdown set for Sunday.

6 seed Marquette's survival in the West was put to the test against the 11 seed, Utah State, as the Golden Eagles won by just a point, 58-57. Marquette's shelf life is down to minute by minute status, as they have to face up to Missouri in the next round, Sunday.

The Mizzou bumped off the Big Red of Cornell, 78-59. Leo Lyons scored 23 points and hauled in 11 rebounds.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday First Round Late Games

EAST Region

If A.J. Abrams scores 26 points, you can almost bet that Texas is going to win and that's what happened when the Longhorns eliminated Minnesota, 76-62. Minny never really belonged and making them a 10 seed was an insult to about 15 other teams. Texas has a nice blend of players who should give Duke a struggle in the next round.

Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham each scored 25 points to lead a come-from-behind win by the #3 Villanova Wildcats over a scrappy squad from American University. The Wildcats were down 41-31 at the half, but wore down the Eagles for the 80-67 win.

VCU has a pretty good hoops team. News Flash: UCLA is better. By a point, 65-64. Quite a few people liked VCU to pull off the upset and they almost did. Eric Maynor missed a shot at the buzzer that would have won it. If you stuck with the 11-time tournament champion Bruins, you're bracket looks a lot better than other people's.

#2 seed Duke outclassed tiny Binghamton (15), 86-62.

SOUTH Region

First mild upset of the tournament went to the 10th seed Wolverines of Michigan, after a lengthy absence of ten years, over Clemson, a seven, the first ACC team down, 62-59. Michigan's Manny Harris had his usual solid game, with 23 points, 7 boards and 6 assists. Michigan has a tougher task Saturday against the 2 seed Sooners.

#4 Gonzaga knocked out #13 Akron, 77-64. The Zips gave the Zags a good game for about 3/4 - a recurring theme this year - until Gonzaga asserted themselves late and pulled away. The game was essentially over with about 7 minutes left. Somebody please tell the Zips that its over.

#2 Oklahoma crushed #15 Morgan St., 82-54. Blake Griffin survived being flipped over the back of another player to score 28 points, while corralling 13 rebounds. Big 12 is 3-0.

Illinois became the second Big Ten school out, in the upset of the day, losing to Western Kentucky, the 12 seed, 76-72. The Illini trailed almost the entire game. The Hilltoppers

Early Tourney Returns: No Bracket Busters Yet

SOUTH Region

In the first game on the first day of the current edition of "Last Man Standing," LSU struck a blow for the SEC, knocking off a pesky Butler squad that didn't really go away until the final seconds, winning 75-71, to move on to the next round and a meeting with North Carolina in the South Region. Marcus Thornton scored 30 points for the Tigers, adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals in one of the best opening day performances.

The Tar Heels easily handled Radford, even without point guard Ty Lawson, 101-58. Wayne Ellison paced the Heels with 25 points and 9 boards. Tyler Hansbrough had 22, hitting a 12 of his free throw attempts.

WEST Region

Memphis survived a scare, down by 6 midway through the second half to Cal State Northridge, but nondescript Robert Sallie turned into super-sub, coming off the bench to hit 10 of 15 three-pointers and score 35 points. The Tigers pulled away late, outlasting the Matadors, 81-70. Also in the West region, #5 Purdue put down #12 Northern Iowa, 61-56. Texas A&M, a #9 seed, easily dispatched with #8 BYU, leading all the way for a 79-66 breeze.

#10 Maryland embarrassed #7 Cal (why were they seeded so high, when USC, winners of the PAC-10 tourney, is a 10?), blowing away their West Coast hosts, 84-71. The Terps look ready to give Memphis a tussle, though it's hard to determine whether Maryland is really good or the Bears were that bad. Looks like the latter.

The Connecticut Huskies, the region's #1 seed, made quick work of #16 Chattanooga, 103-47, more than doubling the Mocs' scoring in each half. So much for 1's losing to 16's this season, unless Louisville's starters oversleep tomorrow. The Huskies looked about as good as a #1 can without actually causing physical harm to their opponent.

More tonight, with late game coverage.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Getting to the Final Four: A Perspective

This is the day college hoops freaks like me - and hpefully, you - must finally make that leap of faith and make your picks in whatever pool or challenge or bracket breakdown you've chosen.

The 32 first round games are a mix of easy and "forget it" choices, with the 1-16 matchups nearly automatic choices, but where everything from 3-14 on up can turn into nightmares.

I've broken down the first rounds in previous posts, so all that's left is to figure out who's going to beat who to make it to the round of 16, then 8 then the Final Four. At the end, as always, there will be a champion, and some of us will have bragging rights for a few months. OK, I've dithered long enough, so, here goes...

Midwest: I'm taking the #4 seed, Wake Forest, to knock off the #1 overall seed, Louisville, in the Regional Semifinals on Friday, March 27. Both the Cardinals and Demon Deacons have superior credentials in comparison to the other teams in the top part of this bracket. The bottom side could produce anything from #2 Michigan State to #10 USC or #11 Dayton. The mid-range seeds - #3 Kansas, #6 West Virginia and #7 Boston College - could catch a break or get hot and reach the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29.

No matter which team emerges from the bottom of the bracket, they won't have a chance against Wake Forest. The Dekes have the talent, coaching and pedigree to go all the way to Detroit.

West: There are two teams which are obvious to many in this region: Memphis and Connecticut. The Tigers and Huskies have enough leadership, coaching and history to go deep into the tournament, but when comparing the two, Memphis - with their 25-game winning streak, incredible defense and John Calipari looking for a national crown to silence Conference-USA critics - is clearly Final Four material.

The Tigers did everything but win it all last season, when Kansas produced a miracle rally in the final two minutes of the last game and Mario Chalmers hit the game-winner with no chance for Memphis to get off a retaliatory shot. Calapari is a world-class coach and author of books about basketball. The only thing missing from his resume is a national championship, and this could be his year. Everything is coming together for the Tigers at the right time and their draw at the bottom of the braket doesn't look very tough.

Their toughest games will come in the second and third round. Either Cal or Maryland could pose problems if they get hot, but Memphis will probably pummel either of them in the second half. In the regionals, Missouri looks like the most likely foe, but they don't have enough scoring to worry the Tigers much. Sure, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are solid, but the rest of the team won't match up well. If not Missouri, either Utah State or Marquette could slip in, with the Aggies the more dangerous. Marquette is headed for an early out, and may even lose their opener to Utah St.

Once the Tigers dispatch with the their regional opponent, they're probably not going to face Connecticut. The Huskies are vulnerable to teams with strong guard play and almost anyone in their side of the bracket - BYU, Washington, Texas A&M, Miss. St., Purdue, Northern Iowa - could pull the upset. UConn won't last past the third round. Memphis will go to the Final Four to face the Midwest winner.

East: This region offers one of the easiest advances at the bottom for #2 seed Duke, which will have to get through either #3 Villanova, #7 Texas or #11 VCU, and they should reach the regional finals on Saturday, March 28. Their foe is more than likely to be the #1 seed in the region, Pitt, though #5 Florida State could hand Pitt their walking papers in the first regional game. If Florida State does that, they would give the Blue Devils one heck of a time, but, Duke has already beaten them 3 times this season, and that is an awesome advantage. If Pitt gets to the Regional Final, it could go either way. A lot of people like Pitt to win it all, but if DeJuan Blair gets into foul trouble, they are a different team. If he doesn't, they could just roll people.

I'll be hedging this bracket in my various bracket picks, but I'm really leaning toward the Blue Devils. They're easily as solid as any other team in the region, and who can doubt coach K's ability to make the Final Four. He's only been there about a gazillion times.

South: There's little doubt that North Carolina is one of the top three or four teams in the nation and they are the #1 seed. They should cruise to the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29, and probably match up with either #2 Oklahoma or #3 Syracuse, though #6 Arizona St. looms as a distinct possibility. Carolina's games will be interesting after the first round. Either LSU or Butler will play them petty hard, and they may have a real struggle if Gonzaga advances to the regionals.

Overall, however, the Tar Heels just look too talented and deep to not make it to the Final Four. If my selections are right, they could be the only #1 to make it, though Pitt could easily get there.

In the semifinals, Midwest plays West and East plays South. I like Memphis to beat Wake Forest in what could turn out to be a real pressure-cooker, and North Carolina to beat Duke, but Pitt to win it if they reach from the East. That sets up a final of either North Carolina or Pitt against Memphis, and I like the Tigers to beat either of them by 8 to 12 points.

Come Monday, April 6, the Tigers will be crowned national champions. (I hope)

Good luck to everyone with your selections. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

West Region Bracket Breakdown

1 Connecticut vs. 16 Chattanooga - If ever there was a game ripe for upset it is this one. UConn was #1 most of the season, but lost twice to Pitt late and were ousted from the Big East tournament by Syracuse. That 6 OT game may have had long-lasting fatigue and Chattanooga may be able to hang around just long enough and get a break to keep this close. Huskies are 20-point favorites, but the Mocs start 5 seniors and may come here very loose. I'm not saying that it will happen, but it could. The points seem a sure way to make a quick buck.

8 BYU vs. 9 Texas A&M - The Aggies were a marginal Big 12 team and a late at-large selection. BYU has the credentials - winning the Mountain West with a 12-4 record - to win, cover the 2-point line and move on.

5 Purdue vs. 12 Northern Iowa - Northern Iowa is pretty efficient and played well in the always-tough Missouri Valley. This is actually a good matchup for them beacuse Purdue doesn't exactly overpower people, but they are talented enough to win a couple of tournament games. The Boilermakers may be the best team from the Big Ten, but they'll have to prove it to cover the 8-point line. Northern Iowa is solid and hot, and the Boilermakers may have to step it up to win this.

4 Washington vs. 13 Mississippi St. - The Bulldogs probably should have been a 7 or 8, but they draw a 4 in the Huskies, and that's tough. I'd expect a close game, as Miss. St. is only a 5 1/2-point underdog and they play good defense. Washington won the PAC-10 outright and should not be taken lightly, but this will be a real test for them and help them in the next round.

6 Marquette vs. 11 Utah St. Utah State's record in the tournament isn't very encouraging and they have a tough draw against Marquette, but they are well-coached, won the WAC and could have been seeded higher. The Golden Eagles can get sloppy at times and they will certainly miss Dominic James. Marquette is favored by 4 1/2, but it actually seems like they should be getting the points. The Aggies will stun them and advance.

3 Missouri vs. 14 Cornell - Cornell is a good team, but they're not going to be beat Missouri. DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are just too much to handle up front. The Mizzou should cover the 13-points by half time.

7 California vs. 10 Maryland - This one could go either way, but Greivis Vasquez has carried maryland all season and will probably get them through this game. Cal is favored by 1, but didn't distinguish themselves down the stretch in the PAC-10 or in the conference tourney. Terrapins advance.

2 Memphis vs. 15 Cal State Northridge - Memphis is so good, I'm taking them as far as they go, giving points all the way. 19 1/2 here should not pose a problem.

Midwest Region Breakdown

1 Louisville 16 vs. Alabama St./Morehead St. - As usual, this will be a blowout by the top seed in the tourney. Anything less will be seen as a weakness. Pitino's guys are a pretty mature bunch

8 Ohio St. vs. 9 Siena - Ohio State just beat Michigan State three days ago, but lost to the Spartans twice during the regular season, along with double losses to Illinois and 2-1 against Purdue. The Buckeyes suffer from size disadvantages often and this will be no different. Siena went 16-2, won their conference and the tournament, winning their last three games by 25, 15 and 7 and have a bunch of double-digit wins. Losses to Tennessee by 14, Pitt by 13 and Kansas by 5 were quality outings. The Saints, getting 3 to 4 is a good deal because they could easily win this. In additon to their height advantage, their starters average one year more than the Buckeyes'.

5 Utah vs. 12 Arizona - This is a very tough draw for both teams in the opening round. This game is even. Arizona has been through the PAC-10 meat grinder and only won three games against ranked foes (Gonzaga, UCLA and Washington), but two of those games were among their highest-scoring outings. Utah has developed into a pretty good defensive team and have a solid big man in Luke Nevill and should prevail.

4 Wake Forest vs. 13 Cleveland St. - Cleveland State won the Horizon league tournament to get in, but get a very tough draw in the Demon Deacons, one of the elite teams from the ACC. Wake was #1 for a week this season, and were no lower than 15 all year nationally. They have all the elements to get to the Final Four and have wins over North Carolina, Duke, Florida St. and Clemson, twice. The Dekes should advance, but the Vikings, a talented team, may not fall by as many as the spread, which is 7 1/2.

6 West Virginia vs. 11 Dayton Somewhat of a surprise, West Virginia is an 8 1/2-point favorite. That owes to their run in the Big East tournament, finally falling to Syracuse in OT in the semis. Dayton lost to a solid Duquesne team that should have gotten a bid as well, in the semifinals of the A-10 tourney, but had beaten them reg. season. Also has wins over Marquette and Xavier. The Mountaineers were 1-6 against ranked teams in the Big East, the only win coming against Villanova. Dayton's defense could make this close and they could pull a big upset here.

3 Kansas vs. 14 North Dakota St. - It would be a huge upset for the Bison to upset Bill Self's reigning champion Jayhawks, and the 10-point spread probably isn't a difficulty for this high-quality group with championship experience in Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins.

7 Boston College vs. 10 USC - As hot as USC is, they're only 2-point favs, but, as inconsistent both of these teams have been, a BC win is not out of the question. There's a good probability that both of these teams were mis-seeded, BC too high and USC too low. The Trojans did, after all, win the PAC-10 tourney to get in. Winning a major conference tournament should be worth at least a 5.

2 Michigan St. vs. 15 Robert Morris - The Spartans are likely to make an early exit in the tournament, but probably not here, though it's not out of the question as long as Michigan State keeps shooting at low percentages. The team concentrates so much on defense, they sometimes cannot find a consistent scorer, which cost them only occasionally. Usually, teams have to come up with a huge effort to beat them. Winning a game by 16 1/2, when you're only projected to score in the high 60s, even against a warm-up team like Robert Morris, is a pretty neat trick. Whether the Spartans are up to it will likely be determined by the play of Kalin Lucas, their best player and point guard. Michigan St. has a significant size advantage here as well, which could prove critical.

Down To Business: Play-In: Morehead St. Eagles vs. Alabama St. Hornets

Alabama St. went 16-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Association won the conference tourney, has won 13 of its last 14 games and is a 2 1/2-point underdog to Morehead St., 4th in the Ohio Valley (12-6), lost its last 4 regular season games but won the conference tourney to get here.

The Alabama St. Hornets look capable of stinging the Eagles. Some early-season games with major conference teams should prove beneficial at this point.

Bracket Breakdown: South Region

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Radford - Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, 28-4, ACC vs. Big South. Carolina favored by 26 1/2 points. Any questions? The Tar Heels will cruise past Radford and get ready for the 8 vs. 9 winner.

8 LSU vs. 9 Butler - As befits an 8 vs. 9 game, this is one tough call. LSU is currently favored by 2 1/2 over the Bulldogs, but what happened to those national rankings? Butler was ranked 20 or higher almost all season, while the Tigers only got into the Top 25 in late February. LSU is one of only three SEC teams, so they're going to have to represent for the entire conference here, despite the tough draw.

Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton are the main scoring threats for the Tigers, though 6'11" senior center Chris Johnson could be a big contributor if he can handle Butler's power forwards, Matt Howard and rapidly improving freshman, Gordon Hayward. While Butler may eventually control the boards in this game and usually offers pretty stiff defense, the long, lean Tigers seem to be too much to handle for the returning Horizon League champs. LSU has lots of experience with three senior starters and their top two men coming off the bench, so look for LSU to advance, as these fellows don't want their first NCAA game of '09 to be their last. Butler's players will be back in 2010. They start three freshman and their elder statesman, Willie Veasley, is a junior.

5 Illinois vs. 12 Western Kentucky - The Hilltoppers are more athletic than the Illini squad, but Illinois is one of the better disciplined teams from the Big Ten, plus, Western Kentucky will find out that they really don't have an answer for 7'1" sophomore center Mike Tisdale, who has a nice touch from anywhere inside of 12 feet. Tisdale and his frontcourt mate, (another soph.) Mike Davis are likely to terrorize the smaller Hilltoppers. If that occurs, Illinois' backcourt is probably also an overmatch, so this could turn into a Big Ten blowout. Illinois is only favored by 4 1/2. Should be more like 12 1/2. Take note of the talent on Illinois. These guys could go deep.

4 Gonzaga vs. 13 Akron - Possibly the worst seeding of the entire tournament was making Gonzaga a 4, when they should have been a 2 in the West or at worst a 3. The 26-5 Zags blew through the West Coast conference and won the tourney easily. Since losing three straight to quality opponents (UConn, Portland St. and Utah) at the end of '08, they've won 17 of their last 18 and enter the tournament on a 9-game win streak. The Zips won't put up much of a fight - they are 12 1/2-point underdogs - as they duffer from a height disadvantage at every position and are especially overmatched inside. This should set up an interesting matchup in the next round vs. Illinois.

6 Arizona St. vs. 11 Temple - Most people know little about the Sun Devils and even less about Temple, but the skinny is that the Sun Devils are a high-quality team that can do harm to opponents from beyond the arc or in the lane, have plenty of experience and lost by just 3 points in the PAC-10 tourney final to USC, one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament. The Owls come back to the NCAAs for their second straight year and are looking to get past the first round, but it's a tough task. Their leader is Dionte Christmas, who may get into a "my best is better" situation with Arizona State's James Harden. Those two are the players to watch here, along with the Sun Devils' Jeff Pendergraph, who will have to deal with 7-footer Sergio Olmos inside. These are two great battles in the back and frontcourts which should be excitng to watch. This one could turn into one of the best games of the opening round.

Arizona State is a 4 1/2-point favorite, but this really could go either way.

3 Syracuse vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin - The way Syracuse has been playing of late - reaching the Big East tournament finals - one would expect them to be more than ready for the start of a nice run in the NCAAs, and the oddsmakers are thinking the same way, installing the Orangemen as 12-point favorites to knock off the Lunberjacks. An interesting matchup at point guard has smooth Jonny Flynn (who usually stays out of foul trouble) for the Orange against diminutive Eric Bell, who is only 5'3". Beyond that, SFA is not a great perimeter shooting team nor do they match up well inside, meaning that Syracuse can settle into their 3-2 zone, create turnovers and get out and run. This one shouldn't be very close.

7 Clemson vs. 10 Michigan - On paper, this 7-10 tilt looks like it should be a tight one - Clemson is favored by 5 - but, in reality, the Tigers are a far more talented bunch than the Wolverines, who probably are really a year away from being competitive in the NCAAs. The fact that they actually received an invitation is a tribute to coach John Beilein's reputation and early wins over UCLA and Duke. Michigan was just 9-9 in the sub-par Big Ten, while Clemson went 23-8 and 9-7 in the tough -as-nails ACC. The Tigers don't own any huge wins besides a 74-47 pummeling of Duke, but they do have three players who can really light it up: K.C. Rivers, Trevor Booker and Terrence Oglesby. If they get going, it will be a long day for Michigan, which relies on the 3-point shot heavily.

2 Oklahoma vs. 15 Morgan State - Nobody's saying much about Oklahoma except that Blake Griffin is one of the top big men in the nation and the Sooners are geared to go deep in the tournament. Morgan State is not going to pose much of a problem unless they stroke threes early and collapse their defense around Griffin. After all, the Sooners are 16-point favorites and appear capable of at least reaching the regionals. No sweat here.

Next: Midwest Region Breakdown

Monday, March 16, 2009

NCAA Tournament: East Bracket Breakdown

1 Pittsburgh vs. 16 East Tennessee State - No contest here. The Buccaneers are 20 point underdogs to the Panthers, one of the teams favored to win it all (current odds anywhere from 7-1 to 9-2), so the appropriate question is whether or not Pitt can cover the spread. To get an idea how unfair this matchup is, consider that the Bucs are 23-10, haven't played a top 25 team all season, have an RPI rating of 116, and gained entry to the tournament by winning the Atlantic Sun conference tourney. Right. Atlantic Sun. Meanwhile, Pitt went 28-4 in arguably the best conference in the country, the Big East, finishing second by a game to Louisville. Pitt's RPI is 2. They should win by 20, maybe 30. Look for Pitt sub Brad Wanamaker to get plenty of court time and DeJuan Blair to have a double-double before exiting with more than 10 minutes left in the game. With a week off after an early Big East tourney exit, Pitt will be ready to rumble.

8 Oklahoma State vs. 9 Tennessee - Probably the toughest call of all the 8-9 games in this field. Neither team has any reason to be here except that they need 64 teams to fill out the brackets. Tennessee can get up on the boards when they want to, but they're mighty inconsistent in almost all other aspects of the game. The Vols are athletic and have tourney experience, which should help, but they're one player away from a Sweet 16 style team. Unfortunately, that player is Chris Lofton, who graduated last year. His replacements in the backcourt - Scotty Hopson and Bobby Maze - aren't the answer though J.P. Prince should provide a lift. Wayne Chism has NBA talent and he'll be virtually unopposed in the low post against the undersized Cowboys. For more beef, the Vols can bring in 6'10" sophomore Brian Williams, who is a developing load.

Oklahoma State will go up-tempo from the opening tip to the final buzzer, especially at the guard spots. Their goal on defense will be to deny entry passes into the post, because they're vulnerable inside, but they'll even it out with 3-pointers from Keiton Page and heady play at point from Byron Eaton and all-around excellence in James Anderson, who can slash and burn on the wings. If any game is too close to call, this is it. Currnetly, Tennessee is a 2-point favorite. If OK. St. is cold from the perimeter, the Vols will win it inside. Somebody's making an early exit here. Personally, I'll take Tennessee in a luke-warm way due to the experience of Chism.

5 Florida St. vs. 12 Wisconsin - This game will prove two things: 1. Wisconsin should be playing in the NIT, and, 2. Toney Douglas should be in the NBA next season. FSU's Douglas is one of the most unstoppable forces in college hoops and his supporting cast is solid, if not special. The Seminoles made their way through the ACC with Douglas and defense as one of the best in the ACC in field-goal percentage and scoring defense, which should come in handy against lumbering Wisconisn.

The Badgers are very disciplined, but not very talented. Their points will come mostly from the wings, with Joe Krabbenhoft and Jason Bohannon responsible for most of the scoring. Together, they might match Douglas, but in the end, the Seminoles have too much talent and desire to do anything other than win and move on.

4 Xavier vs. 13 Portland St. - If you're looking for an upset or just a little extra loot, this game may provide one or both. The Musketeers are favored by 11 1/2, but Portland State is a very cohesive unit which can stroke it with deadly accuracy from the perimeter. Should the Vikings get hot early, this could turn into a real challenge for Xavier, a team which was probably a little overseeded at a 4. Still, Xavier has a huge height advantage at just about every position, so the undersized Vikings will have to be on their game.

Most people expect Xavier to move on easily here, but this could be a lot closer than expected. An upset special? Well, that's for the tournament gods to decide.

6 UCLA vs. 11 VCU - Is anyone not calling for an upset of UCLA here? There's reason for optimism at Virginia Commonwealth, and it comes in the form of one Eric Maynor, one of the top college talents in the nation, at point guard. Maynor can dribble-drive, dish or shoot the three, plus he's a more than adequate defender. His play against UCLA's Darren Collison, another proven commodity will be key if VCU is to live up to their promise.

Additionally, VCU has 6;10" Larry Sanders inside, who is developing into a force underneath. The Bruins haven't had an answer for an inside presence all season, and Sanders could be a huge factor. UCLA is not as deep as teams from the last two years, both of which went deep in the tournament. Plus, the Bruins have to travel East, while VCU makes the short trip to Philly. UCLA's out of conference losses to Michigan and Texas don't look good, but is VCU good enough to beat them? The oddsmakers say no, installing the Bruins as 7-point favorites, but with no inside force and a possible overmatch at point, a VCU win would not be a surprise.

3 Villanova vs. 14 American - Congrats to American for winning the Patriot League, but getting a game against Villanova - in Philadelphia - isn't exactly a gift-wrapped present. The Wildcats are deep, talented and have tournament experience. They're also 17-point favorites to win this game. American's backcourt of Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer are undersized at 5'11" and 5'9", respectively, and that's not going to help against 6'2" Scottie Reynolds and 6'5" Reggie Redding. Matching up with Dante Cunningham underneath will also be a difficult task for American. Too much to do. Mark Villanova into the second round.

7 Texas vs. 10 Minnesota - The Golden Gophers and Texas Longhorns are two teams going in opposite directions. Minnesota lost 6 of their last 9 games in a very soft Big Ten, then lost in the second round of the conference tourney to Michigan State. Texas won 5 of their last 8 and won two tournament games before being ousted by a very motivated Baylor squad in the Big 12 tournament. Despite the divergence down the stretch, these two do have one thing very much in common: neither can generate offense consistently. A.J. Abrams is the most dangerous shooter for the Longhorns, but he has little supporting cast. Minnesota can dominate inside but their bigs - Ralph Sampson III and Coulton Iverson - are both freshmen and very raw. Texas is favored by four, but this one could end up a 47-46 driller (a combination of dull and thriller) in which the last basket is scored with 3 minutes left in the game. Really, the shooting percentages are that poor.

2 Duke vs. 15 Binghamton - Uh, sorry to say, but winning the America East conference doesn't even get you into the conversation with any team in the ACC, let alone the Blue Devils. This half of the bracket seems destined for a Duke-Villanova regional matchup, and the Bearcaats aren't going to stand in Coach K's way. Besides, this Blue Devil team has a special player: Gerald Henderson, who does everything but mop the floor after the game. He's the ultimate team player and leader. Look for him to be at or near the top of the scoring charts in this region.

Next: South Region Breakdown

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Big East Snags 3 Top Seeds in NCAA Tourney

Here are some initial thoughts on the selection process. Bracket breakdowns will be provided Monday and Tuesday, with a Final Four prediction Wednesday.

Link to bracket diagram

I'm not sure if this has ever happened before in the history of the tournament: Three teams from the same conference - the Big East's Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Louisville - getting #1 seeds. It's fairly unprecedented, but in a year in which only four teams from non-power conferences received at-large bids, not surprising that the tournament committee would leave Memphis out of the #1 seed mix, including North Carolina instead.

This judgement call by the committee seems completely suspect. Connecticut was beaten twice by Pitt, which should have disqualified them. Pitt was knocked out of the Big East tournament in the first round, by West Virginia, which puts some doubt on their prospects of playing on a neutral court. I have no argument with Louisville, since they won the Big East regular season title and the tournament. I'm just not very impressed by them, though I'm not able to put my finger on exactly why. It could be their lack of star power. No individual player stands out, but, then again, isn't that the idea? Team play?

History provides many examples to the contrary, with big name players rising to the occasion and carrying their teams. That's usually how these things are sorted out. One player performs above and beyond to capture the flag. If that's the case, Oklahoma exists as a true sleeper with Blake Griffith arguably one of the best players in the nation.

Overall, Memphis looks like the best team out there, but the best team doesn't always win the tournament. The Tigers play an aggressive defense that not many teams can withstand for 40 minutes.

Getting into the #2s - Duke, Memphis, and Oklahoma look safe through to the regionals, but Michigan State could be toast, especially if USC beats Boston College. The 10-7 matchup is known for upset potential and with USC as the 10, this one looks ripe. Michigan State doesn't have the same athleticism that the kids from the West Coast possess and the Trojans could roll the Spartans on Sunday.

The PAC-10 teams - as per usual - have been given short shrift by fans and the committee alike. The weak links are Cal and UCLA. Washington, USC, are solid, but Arizona St. faces Akron and Arizona has Utah in the opening round. The likelihood of both Arizona schools get past the first round is about 50-50. The Zips and Utes have quality teams.

The SEC sent only 3 teams - LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee - which is difficult to argue against. The entire conference had a down year. The Big Ten sent 7, which is really a reach. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan could all be gone in the blink of an eye. Don't be surprised if only three or four Big Ten teams make it to the first weekend.

More thoughts tomorrow, plus a breakdown of the East and South regions. Tuesday, the Midwest and West. Wednesday, Final Four projections.

Boilermakers are Big Ten Champs

Purdue 65, Ohio State 61

After a 40-40 second half tie, Purdue used a 12-3 run to establish a solid lead and went on to capture the Big Ten tournament championship, besting a game Ohio State squad in the final.

The Buckeyes had knocked off two of the best in the conference - Wisconsin and Michigan State - to reach the final, but found Purdue too much to handle down the stretch. At 22-11, the Buckeyes look like a good bet to reach the field of 65.

E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilermakers with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Purdue gets the automatic bid from the selection committee and should fall into a 4-5 seed.

With conference tournaments wrapped up, the field will be announced at 6:00 pm, live on CBS.

Mississippi St. Plays Its way In; Duke Takes ACC

Mississippi St. 64, Tennessee 61

Phil Turner hit a 3-pointer to put Mississippi State ahead late and then made two free throws with 8 seconds left to lift the Bulldogs over the Tennessee Volunteers in the SEC Championship game. Turner finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the biggest game of his career.

The Bulldogs are 23-12 and went 9-7 in the SEC regular season, and were considered by many to be a bubble team that would not make it into the NCAA tourney without winning the championship. Mississippi St. beat the best the conference could offer, knocking off Georgia, South Carolina, LSU and the Vols over the four-day span and should have been considered already in, whatever the outcome of today's game.

That said, the Bulldogs get the automatic bid and will likely become a 7 or 8 seed.

Duke 79, Florida State 69

Gerald Henderson's three pointer seven minutes into the game gave Duke the lead and the Blue Devils ran away and hid from the upset-minded Seminoles to capture the ACC tournament title. Duke took a 35-21 lead into the break and were never challenged after that.

Henderson finished with 27 points, second on the Duke scoring ladder behind Jon Scheyer's 29. Toney Douglas scored 28 for the Seminoles.

Both Florida State and Duke were already assured of making the NCAA field, though now Duke seems almost certain to be a #2 seed. Florida State is projected as a 3 or 4.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Louisville Wins Big East Tournament

Louisville 76, Syracuse 66

Louisville used a 21-5 run coming out of half time to erase an 8-point Syracuse lead and went on to win the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden Saturday night.

The Orangemen led 38-30 at the half, but just 6 minutes into the second half, found themselves down 51-43. After a 6 overtime game on Friday night and a single OT in their win over West Virginia on Saturday, the Syracuse starters appeared fatigued and were not executing with the same sharpness as they displayed in the first half.

Take nothing away from the Cardinals, however, who used a swarming defense to take Syracuse out of their game. Louisville also turned up their shooting, hitting 48% for the game, including 10-27 from beyond the arc.

Louisville became the only #1 seed from the nation's Big Six conferences to win their tournament. Washington, North Carolina, LSU, Michigan State and Kansas all were booted from their respective conference tourneys without any of them reaching the finals.

Missouri Takes Out Baylor for Big 12 Title

Missouri 73, Baylor 60

Missouri won their first Big 12 tournament title in 16 years and heads to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. The Tigers shot 47%, including making 8 of 17 3-pointers to run away from the red-hot Baylor Bears, who will not receive an invitation to the NCAAs, as their conference record during the regular season was a sub-par 5-11. DeMarre Carroll scored 20 points to go with 9 boards for the Mizzou.

USC Wins First PAC-10 Tourney Title

USC 66, Arizona St. 63

Down by 15 points at the half, the USC Trojans battled all the way back, finally taking a 64-63 lead on a pair of Daniel Hackett free throws with 43 seconds left and Taj Gibson blocked a potential game-tying shot to hold off the Sun Devils and win their first PAC-10 title in the 12-year history of the tournament.

The Trojans fell behind 39-24 at the break, but outscored Arizona State 42-24 in the second half, with a combination of stout defense and timely shooting, including a game-high and career-high 25 points from freshman forward DeMar DeRozan.

The #6 seed in the tournament, USC beat Cal, UCLA and Arizona State to capture the title and the automatic invitation to the NCAA tournament.

SEC: Tennessee Will Face Mississippi St. in Final

The conference most overlooked this season - at some points not even having a representative in the Top 25 - is the SEC, where LSU and Tennessee seemed most likely to reach the conference tournament finals, Mississippi State came out of the shadows and emerged as the giant-killer and potential Cinderella.

The Bulldogs swamped the Tigers in a 67-57 defensive battle, wherein nether team shot better than 33%.

In the other half of the draw, Tennessee easily handled Auburn, 94-83, as Wayne Chism scored 27 points and grabbed 9 rebounds to pace the Vols.

Tennessee faces Mississippi St. in the conference final Sunday afternoon.

Memphis Should Get a #1 Seed

John Calipari's Memphis Tigers made it to the NCAA finals last season and after winning their 25th straight game in authoritarian fashion - whipping Tulsa, 64-39, in the Conference-USA tournament final - they deserve to receive a #1 seeding in the NCAA tournament.

Considering that they are one of the few #1 seeds in conference tournaments this season to survive, they should finally get the respect they crave. The Tigers' defense is among the best in the nation and they are as solid 1-7 as any team in the country.

Memphis sports the longest winning streak in the nation, last losing on December 20 to Syracuse and easily dispatched their toughest C-USA opponent - Tulsa - on Saturday, limiting the Golden Hurricane to 26% shooting.

Other possible #1 seeds - North Carolina, Pitt, Connecticut, Michigan State - have all suffered losses in their respective conference tournaments, so come 6;30 Sunday afternoon, expect the Memphis Tigers to be named the #1 seed in the Midwest, and, if Louisville loses to Syracuse tonight, they could be the overall #1.

It's about time. Memphis has done everything they can. Now it's up to the tournament committee.

Big Ten: Buckeyes Slam Spartans;

Ohio State 82, Michigan State 70

Ohio State figured they needed to make a good showing in the Big Ten tourney and by knocking off Michigan State, their message has been sent. Ohio state shot 52% for the game, took a lead early on and kept the Spartans at bay the rest of the game. Michigan State shot just 38% and hit just 3 of 28 3-pointers. Ohio State took their first lead just 6 1/2 minutes into the game and never gave it back, stretching it to as many as 16 points in the second half.

By reaching the finals tomorrow against Purdue, Ohio State has virtually assured themselves a spot in the NCAA field.

Purdue 66, Illinois 56

Purdue shot just 38%, but Illinois shot only 35%, and the Boilermakers used a 20-point half time edge to coast to a semifinal win in the Big Ten tourney. JaJuan Johnson scored 20 and Robbie Hummel had 19 to lead Purdue, who will face upset-minded Ohio State Sunday in the tournament final.

ACC: Duke Advances; FSU Upsets Tar Heels

The Madness that is March continued without interruption in the ACC, as Florida State upset #1 North Carolina, 73-70, in one semifinal contest Saturday afternoon. In the other half of the draw, Duke beat Maryland, 67-61.

In the Florida state win, North Carolina had a 9-point lead in the first half, but could not sustain it, as the teams exchanged leads throughout the game. though FSU held the advantage through much of the second half, but led by no more than 5 points at any time. Carolina's Danny Green tied the game on a pair of free throws at 69-69 with 2:03 left and Bobby Frasor gave the Tar Heels a 1-point lead a minute later, but FSU's Toney Douglas and Derwin Kitchen each made a pair of free throws and North Carolina was unable to score again. The Seminoles advance to the finals against Duke on Sunday.

Duke's win over a desperate Maryland squad was close until about halfway through the second half, when Duke went on a 12-2 run, stretching their lead to 56-43 with just over 5 minutes left to play. The Terrapins cut the lead to 4 points, but by then there were only 18 seconds left and Duke secured the win.

Conference Tourney Semis, Championships Matchups

Big East: Syracuse, Louisville Advance

After going 6 OTs on Thursday night, Syracuse needed just one extra period to knock off West Virginia, 74-69, to advance to the Big East Tournament Finals. Eric Devendorf led the Orange attack with 23 points, hitting 8 of 17 shots overall, including 4 of 8 three-pointers. The Orange shot only 42%, but hit the offensive boards hard, swiping 18 away from the Mountaineers.

Earlier in the day, Louisville lived up to the promise of their #1 seeding, kicking undersized Villanova into the ranks of the defeated, 69-55.

The Wildcats built an 8-point lead by the half, but Louisville used a 17-2 run at the start of the second period to grab a 43-36 lead. Villanova eventually tied the game at 50 on a Dwayne Anderson tip-in at 8:14, though they could not sustain their run as the Cardinals ran off 10 straight points to take control of the game for good, holding Villanova to just a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws over the final 8 minutes.

Earl Clark led the scoring parade with 17. Jerry Smith added 16 for the Cardinals.

ACC: Duke, N. Carolina Survive Scares

North Carolina and Duke appear headed toward a third showdown as they slipped past determined foes in the ACC quarterfinals on Friday. Carolina rode their big hoss, Tyler Hansbrough, to a 79-76 win in an afternoon tilt with West Virginia. Hansbrough scored a game-high 28 points, going 10-10 from the free throw line and hauling down 8 rebounds. Despite the game effort, the 18-14 Hokies will have to sweat it out until Sunday afternoon when the NCAA field is announced. With the ACC likely to send 7 teams to the tournament, W.Va. is probably headed to the NIT.

Later in the evening, Gerald Henderson's layup with 35 seconds left held up as Duke overcame Boston College, 66-65 to advance to the semifinals. duke scored on 22 first half points, and got just 3 points from their usually-productive bench, but Kyle Singler shouldered the load with 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocked shots for the Blue Devils. Both Duke and Boston College seem assured of getting NCAA invitations.

In the other two quarterfinal games, Maryland kept its hopes alive by downing Wake Forest, 75-64. Greivis Vasquez scored 22 points for the 20-12 Terps. Florida State took care of business, getting past gritty Georgia Tech, 64-62, to reach the semis.

On Saturday, the Seminoles play the Tar Heels at 1:30. Duke and Maryland go at it at 4:00.

Baylor to Meet Mizzou in in 12 Finals

In the Big 12, the Baylor Bears appear to have played themselves into the NCAA picture by winning three straight and reaching the finals of the conference tournament against Missouri. The Bears finished the regular season at 5-11 in the conference, but has knocked off Nebraska, Kansas and Texas along the way. Missouri advanced to the finals with a relatively easy win over Oklahoma State, 67-59. The Big 12 finals are at 6:00 pm Saturday. Baylor would appear to have to win the game, securing the automatic invite, in order to get into the main event.

SEC: Kentucky Down and Out

The Kentucky Wildcats continued their downward spiral, losing to LSU, 67-58, for their sixth loss in their last seven games. The Wildcats probably won't be a feature of the NCAA tourney, as they have floundered badly down the stretch. LSU appears to be on track to take the tournament championship after breezing to the SEC West title.

In other SEC quarterfinal games, Mississippi St. upset South Carolina, 82-68, winning their 4th straight, and possibly having donw enough to impress the tournament committee. The Bulldogs are 12-12 and went 9-7 in the SEC. They face LSU in one semifinal game on Saturday.

On the other side of the draw, Tennessee thumped Alabama, 86-62 and Auburn slipped past Florida, 61-58. The Tigers and Vols have a semifinal date Saturday, with the winner advancing to Sunday's final.

PAC-10: USC Surprises UCLA

USC played its way into the NCAA field by ousting UCLA from the PAC-10 tourney with a 65-55 win Friday night. The Trojans blasted the Bruins, sending them to an early exit along with PAC-10 champ Washington, which fell to Arizona St., 75-65. The Sun Devils pressured the Huskies into one of their worst shooting performances of the season, holding them to 37.5% from the field.

The Sun Devils play USC on Saturday for the automatic bid and PAC-10 tourney title. Tip time is 3:00 pm Pacific.

Big Ten: Buckeyes Only Surprise

The heavyweights in the Big Ten held sway in quarterfinal games, as Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois all advanced. Ohio State provided a mild upset, sending Wisconsin home with a 61-57 defeat.

The Buckeyes have the misfortune of meeting Michigan State in the semis on Saturday, but at 21-9, and 10-8 in Big Ten play, Ohio State has probably proven themselves worthy of inclusion in the NCAA field. Purdue and Illinois play in the other semifinal game Saturday. The Fighting Illini have won both meetings with the Boilermakers this season.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Syracuse Outlasts UConn in 6 OT Big East Classic

Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117

Jim Boeheim's Syracuse Orangemen and Jim Calhoun's Connecticut Huskies staged one for the ages late-night at the Garden with the longest game in Big East history and the second longest game in college basketball history.

The upset-minded Orangemen stayed right with highly-regarded #4 UConn every step of the way, leading through most of the first half, but trailing by as many as 6 points in the second in the nightcap of a wild Big East quarterfinal day at Madison Square Garden.

After a frenetic first 32 minutes, Kristof Ongenaet tied the score with a pair of free throws at 51-all and Andy Rautins gave the Orangemen the lead with a 3-pointer with under 8 minutes left to play. Craig Austrie quickly retied the game with a three of his own, but then Eric Devendorf answered with a trey for Syracuse.

After Jeff Adrian hit a two-point bucket, Syraucse point guard Jonny Flynn hit a driving layup, was fouled and hit the ensuing free throw to put Syracuse up 60-56 with 6:35 to play.

The Huskies had their chances, but Stanley Robinson missed 2 free throws and Haseem Thabeet converted only one of two and missed the front end of a one-and one as time wound under 5 minutes to play. The Orange took a five-point lead on Eric Devendorf's jumper, 62-57 and when Jonny Flynn fed Arinze Onuaku under the rim the Orange had a 7-point bulge with under 4 to go.

UConn responded with a 7-0 run, punctuated by Stanley Robinson's lay-in at 2:25 which tied the game at 64-all.

Arinze Onuaku, one of the worst free throw shooters in the nation at just 30%, made two clutch foul shots with under 2:00 to give the Orange a 2-point edge. Jonny Flynn added a pair, but UConn's Craig Austrie hit a big 3-pointer to cut the lead to 1, with 1:08 to play.

Devendorf was fouled and hit a pair to give Syracuse a 70-67 lead at 0:49. Thabeet cut it to one again with 31 second left.

Ongenaet gave the Orangemen a 2-point edge with 27 seconds left when he made one of two from the line. Kemba Walker scored a tip-in with 1.1 left to tie it at 71-71. Eric Devendorf's 23-foot bomb at the end of regulation was disallowed by the referees after a video review and the two teams headed to overtime.

Stanley Robinson, who hit only one 3-pointer all season, hit his second with 1:37 left in OT to give UConn a 80-76 lead. Rautins responded with a lazar 3-pointer to cut the advantage to 1 point at 1:17. The Huskies missed on their next possession and Syracuse had an opportunity to take the lead with 36 seconds to go, but Rautins missed a three and the Orange fouled Stanley Robinson at 0:15. Robinson hit one of two.

Flynn fed Rick Jackson for a dunk with 8 seconds left and UConn was unable to convert, sending the game to a second OT at 81-all.

With 1:58 to go in the second OT, UConn led by three, 86-83, but Jonny Flynn drove to the hoop, scored and was fouled, and made the free throw to tie the game.

Onuaku then fouled Thabeet on battle for a rebound off a missed Husky shot at 1:18, but Thabeet hit just one of two. At 0:57 Autrie fouled Devendorf, Syracuse's best foul shooter, but he made only one of two for the tie.

UConn could not convert a number of tip-ins on their next possession, and Syracuse has a chance to win it, but could not convert as time ran down sending the game to a third overtime at 87-87.

Syracuse entered the third OT with both of their big men, Onuaku and Ongenaet on the bench, having fouled out. The Huskies took advantage, scoring the first six points of the period. Rautins and Paul Harris each canned a pair of free throws to draw within two at 93-91, but A.J. Price's pair got the Huskies back up by 4. Jeff Adrian's jam at 1:58 pushed it back to a six point edge. Syracuse scored four straight to get back to within two at 97-95 with under a minute to play.

The Orange had opportunities after two missed Husky shots, but UConn controlled the offensive boards both times forcing Devendorf to foul A.J. Price with 21 seconds to go. Price hit just one of two for a three-point bulge. Andy Rautins lined up a three with 11 seconds to play and canned it to tie the game and force a 4th OT at 98-all.

Rick Jackson, Syracuse's 3rd forward, fouled out in the first minute of the 4th OT, but the Orange got a break when the 7'3" Thabeet fouled out just seconds later. Neither team could gain an advantage, as they traded misses and baskets, eventually getting to 104-all with 0:38 left, but neither team could covert: 5th OT.

A.J. Price scored the only points in the first 3 minutes of the first overtime on a 17-foot jumper and two free throws to give UConn a 4-point lead at 108-104. Devendorf fouled out with 2:01 remaining.

Jonny Flynn scored a layup at 1:55, and, after a UConn miss, Syracuse had another chance to tie with 1:30 to go. Flynn drove to the hoop and drew the foul, stepped to the line and hit both with 58 seconds left.

Scotty Haralson hit a bucket with 35 second left, but Flynn canned another pair with 20 seconds left. UConn could not score on their final possession forcing the 6th overtime.

Rautins gave the Orangemen their first lead after regulation with a 3-ball to open the 6th OT. After a travel by A.J. Price, Paul Harris finally got a layup to go down for a 5-point SU lead. Fatigue took its toll on the Huskies, as they missed badly on their first six shots in the 6th extra session.

Paul Harris made another layup with 2:36 left, was fouled and hit the free throw for a 118-110 lead. Syracuse led by 10, at 122-112 with 1:38 to play and held on for the win as both teams played sloppily the rest of the way.

Syracuse never led in any of the overtime periods except the last. Jonny Flynn scored 34 points, handed out 11 assists, was a perfect 16 of 16 from the foul line and played a Syracuse, Big East and probably a college basketball record 67 minutes. Paul Harris missed at least 6 layups in the last 3 OTs but still finished with 26 points and 22 rebounds. Devendorf had 22 points and Rautins scored 20. The game lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes, beginning just at 9:36 pm and ending at 1:22 am ET.

A.J. Price led the Huskies with a career-high 33 points before fouling out with 2:58 left in the 3rd OT. Four different Huskies had had 10 or more rebounds, led by Jeff Adrien's 16.

The game was the second longest in NCAA history, falling just one overtime short of the Dec. 21, 1981, 75-73 Cincinnati win over Bradley.

It was the sixth straight win for the Orangemen, who advance to the semifinals Friday to face West Virginia, a team they beat at home, 74-61, in the regular season. The Orangemen remained perfect in overtime games, at 4-0 this season.

After the long night (and early morning) Syracuse catches somewhat of a break, getting West Virginia at 9:30 pm tomorrow night. The Mountaineers upset Pitt earlier in the game.

Get some rest, guys.

Madness: Kansas, Oklahoma Out of Big 12 Tourney

Oklahoma State 71, Oklahoma 70

James Anderson calmly sank two free throws with 2.3 seconds left in the game as the Cowboys shocked the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 tournament. Anderson finished with 11 points, joining four other Cowboys in double figures in one of the team's best outings of the season. Byron Eaton scored 16 and Keiton Page had 15. The Sooners' Blake Griffith led all scorers with 17 points.

With the Sooners out of the way, the Cowboys have a path to the Big 12 tournament title and the automatic NCAA bid, especially since Baylor stunned Kansas later in the day.

Baylor 71, Kansas 64

Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn hit 6 of 11 three-pointers and was 9-16 overall for a game-high 24 points as the Bears made their shots and free throws down the stretch to upset the Big 12 regular season champions. Kansas led only one in the first half, at 1-0, as the Bears opened a lead of a many as 17 points. In the second half, Kansas actually took back the lead midway through, at 58-52, but could not hold off determined Baylor.

Baylor led 65-64 with just under 2 minutes to play, but held the Jayhawks scoreless the rest of the way while scoring the final six points of the game.

In the other quarterfinals, Texas held off Kansas State, 71-68; Missouri plays Texas Tech in the final game of the night.

Big East Stunner: West Va. Rocks Pitt

West Virginia 74, Pittsburgh 60

If they don't win another game at Madison Square Gardent, the West Virginia Mountaineers have made their case for inclusion in the NCAA tourney field, whipping #2 Pitt in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

Freshman Devin Ebanks scored a career-high 20 points and led the team in rebounds with 7 as the Mountaineers took a 2-point lead at half time and extended it to a double-digit advantage which they maintained throughout most of the second half. The Mountaineers' defense did a number on Pitt's DeJuan Blair, limiting the forward to 14 points and 5 rebounds in just 18 minutes as the All-American candidate was in foul trouble throughout. Pitt's point total was one of their lowest of the season.

Alex Ruoff scored 18 points, and Da'Sean Butler chipped in with 16. Pitt and west Va. had spilt home and home games during the regular season.

The Mountaineers can get to the finals by beating Syracuse tomorrow night.

In other quarterfinal action, Villanova slipped by Marquette, 76-75, on a last second layup by Dwayne Anderson. It was Anderson's only basket of the game. The Wildcats meet the winner of the Syracuse-UConn game in the other semifinal Friday.

Scottie Reynolds led all scorers with 21 points and Corey Stokes added 20.

Big 12: Red Raiders Roll Past Aggies

Texas A&M was nesting on the bubble heading into the Big 12 tournament, but their 88-83 1st round loss to Texas Tech may have been the needle that blew up their NCAA dreams.

Tech's Mike Singletary scored 43 points, a Big 12 tournament record, hitting 14-20 from the field, including 3-4 3-pointers and 12-14 free throws. Singletary was a one-man show, scoring 29 straight points for the Red Raiders during their comeback.

A&M took a 19-point lead into the half, 48-29, and led by 21 briefly in the second half, but the Red Raiders scored 59 second half points to surge to the win. It was the biggest comeback in Bg 12 tournament history.

At 23-9, the Aggies still have a legitimate shot at making it to the NCAA tournament. The Red Raiders, with a 14-18 record, can only hope to make the grade by winning the Big 12 tournament and gaining an automatic bid.

While the Texas Tech triumph was the big upset of the day, the rest of the Big 12 tourney games were in line with expectations. Baylor downed Nebraska, 65-49; the Texas Longhorns bullied Colorado, 67-56; and Oklahoma State cruised past Iowa St., 81-67.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Syracuse Blows By Seton Hall

Syracuse 89, Seton Hall 74

Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf each scored 19 points and Flynn dished out 11 assists, as the Syracuse Orangemen advanced to the Big east quarterfinals.

Seton Hall trailed most of the game, but scored the first six points of the second half to lead 37-36 and tied the game at 44-44, but from there, it was all Orangemen, as Syraucse built a lead that would expand to 24 points.

Syracuse faces the unwelcome task of having to play UConn in the quarterfinal round on Thursday. The Orangemen played at Connecticut on February 11 and were held to their lowest point total of the season in a 63-49 loss.

IN: Robert Morris Wears Northeast Crown

Robert Morris 48, Mount St. Mary's 46

Dallas Green made just one basket all night, but it was huge, lifting Robert Morris over Mount St. Mary's in the Northeast Conference finals.

Green's short jumper with just three seconds left to play gave the Colonials a two point lead and the game. The Colonials will be making their 6th NCAA appearance. Usually a 16 seed, they have compiled a record of 1-5 over the years. In 1982, they beat Georgia Southern, 64-54, in the first round before falling to Purdue, 55-53.

This will be their first trip to the NCAAs since 1992.

Jeremy Chappell scored 16 points to lead the 24-10, 15-3 Colonials.

Big East: Notre Dame Dumped

West Virginia 74, Notre Dame 62

Notre Dame's Luke Harangody scored 27 points, but the Irish were outplayed, outmuscled and outrebounded by Devin Ebanks and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Ebanks came off the West Virginia bench to dominate the boards, wiping the glass for a game high 18 rebounds.

Alex Ruoff scored 25 points and Da'Sean Butler had 20 for West Virginia.

The Irish, who have been fighting inconsistency demons all season were never really in the game. The Mountaineers scored the first 7 points of the game and never trailed, building up a 17-2 lead just 8 minutes in. With 7 minutes remaining in the first half, the Irish were down 26-6. The closest they got in the second half was 7 points, but they were turned back by the Mountaineers every time they made a run.

Notre Dame bested Rutgers in the opening round of the Big East tournament, but are now 18-14 and likely will not receive a bid to the NCAA tourney. West Virginia will play Pitt in the quarterfinals tomorrow night.

Elsewhere in the Big East, Providence held off DePaul, 83-74 and Marquette beat down St. John's, 74-45, getting 20 points from Wesley Matthews and 17 from Lazar Hayward.

Providence gets Louisville and Marquette will match up with Villanova in tomorrow's games. Tonight, Syracuse faces Seton Hall to determine which will play Connecticut in the next round.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Gonzaga and Siena Play Their Way In

West Coast Final: Gonzaga 83, St. Mary's 58

Gonzaga wasn't about to let a perfect 14-0 conference record be marred by one game and they opened full bore against the Gaels, scoring the first 8 points of the game.

St. Mary's didn't make a basket until nearly 6 minutes into the game. By then, the Bulldogs were off the leash and on the run. The Gaels pulled to within 5 points twice during the first half, but Gonzaga led by 13 at the break, 38-25. It got even worse as Gonzaga opened up a huge lead in the second half to secure their NCAA invitation.

Josh Heytvelt led the Bulldogs with 17 points. Micah Downs had a dozen points and the same number of rebounds.

St. Mary's Patrick Mills, in his second game back after sitting out since january with a broken wrist, wasn't a factor, hitting just 2 of 16 shots, including 0 of 7 from beyond the arc. His teammates didn't fare much better. The Gaels shot just 29% (19-66) for the game.

Metro Athletic Final: Siena 77, Niagara 70

The Siena Saints kept scoring, but they couldn't shake loose from the gritty Purple Eagles of Niagara. The score tied 50-50, with 8:39 left to play, Kenny Hasbrouck took matters into his own hands, scoring the next seven points for the Saints. When Ryan Rossiter scored to make it 59-51, the Saints were on their way to the NCAA tournament. Rossiter scored again and Hasbrouck added two more buckets in short order and Niagara could only respond with three points, making it 65-54 with 4:33 left.

Hasbrouck had 19 points. Rossiter finished with 16 points and 14 boards. Alex Franklin scored 16.

Niagara shot just 34%, but were busy on the boards, pulling down 19 offensive rebounds and 43 overall.

Chattanooga, VCU Earn NCAA Auto Bids

Southern Conference Final: Chattanooga 80, College of Charleston 69

With the game tied at 34-all at the half, Ty Patterson hit three 3-pointers from off the bench to key a 20-0 run by the Chattanooga Mocs that stunned the College of Charleston and sent the Mocs on to victory in the Southern Conference tournament finals and into the NCAA tournament field.

Patterson, a freshman guard, has been a key all season for the Mocs, contributing 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game on average, but in the biggest game of his short college career, he was almost perfect, hitting 4 of 5 shots from the floor. Keyron Sheard led the Mocs in scoring with 18 points. Patterson also grabbed 5 boards in his limited minutes.

After the big run, Chattanooga nearly collapsed, allowing a 14-point Charleston run to close the gap to six points, but the Mocs got it back together in time to remain in front the rest of the way.

Charleston's Tony White Jr. tried to keep the Cougars in the game, hitting 7 of 13 3-pointers and leading all scorers with 31 points.

Chattanooga will be making their 10th NCAA appearance, posting a 3-10 record. They lost to wake Forest in the opening round in their last trip to the big dance, in 2005.

Colonial Athletic Assn. Final: VCU 71, George Mason 50

Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders led VCU to an automatic NCAA bid by dominating George Mason in the finals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

Maynor led the scoring with 25 points while Sanders was a beast on both ends of the floor, scoring 18 points with 20 rebounds and 7 blocked shots.

The Rams led from start to finish, establishing a lead of as many as 13 points in the first half, keeping George Mason off-balance and out of sync throughout. The Patriots shot just 31% from the field.

The Rams will be making their 9th NCAA tournament appearance. Over the years, they've compiled a record of 5-8.

Conference Tourneys, Auto Bids on Line Monday

Four conference tournament finals will determine the same number of automatic bids tonight across the country. The Southern, Colonial, Metro Atlantic and West Coast conference finals conclude tonight as the bottoms of the brackets begin to fill.

In the Southern, Charleston 26-7 (Conf: 15-5) takes on Chattanooga 17-16 (Conf: 11-9) at 7:00 pm on the Mocs' home court in Chattanooga, TN.

George Mason 22-9 (Conf: 13-5) meets VCU 23-9 (Conf: 14-4) in Richmond at 7:00 pm for the Colonial title.

The Metro Atlantic Finals pits Niagara 26-7 (Conf: 14-4) against Siena 25-7 (Conf: 16-2) at 9:00 pm in Albany, NY and the west Coast conference will be settled when #12 Gonzaga 25-5 (Conf: 14-0) meets St. Mary's 25-5 (Conf: 10-4) at 9:00 pm in Las Vegas.

Gonzaga has won 16 of their last 17 games, including two wins over St. Mary's, though neither has been convincing. The Zags won at home, 69-62, and won again two seeks later at St. Mary's 72-70. The Gaels' star guard, Patrick Mills broke his hand in the first meeting, but is back and nearly 100%.

Chattanooga would be the most unlikely team to make the tournament. They lost their final three regular season games - one of those to Charleston (86-77), but bounced back in the tournament's first two rounds, beating Elon and Samford to advance to the finals. Charleston ousted Davidson and their star, Stephen Curry, 59-52, on Sunday, and have reeled off 8 straight wins.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

North Carolina Captures ACC Crown

#2 North Carolina 79, #7 Duke 71

North Carolina finished what had been their goal all season - to finish in first place in the ACC - by beating back their fiercest rival, Duke, 79-71, winning the ACC regular season title with a final record of 13-3. Duke will finish second, at 11-5.

Carolina put five players in double figures, led by Tyler Hansbrough, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Wayne Ellison scored 16, and Ty Lawson had another huge effort, scoring 13 points, with 11 rebounds and 8 assists.

The Tar Heels finish up the regular season with one of the best records in the country: 27-3, those few losses suffered against ACC opponents, Boston College, Wake Forest and Maryland. Next up is the ACC tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAAs for the winner, though the money is on North Carolina to at least reach the finals of their conference tourney and receive a #1 seeding in the field of 65.

Elsewhere around the conferences, #8 Michigan State beat #16 Purdue, 62-51, closing out their regular season with five straight wins and a #1 seed in this week's Big Ten tourney.

Northern Iowa had to go into overtime to finally subdue Illinois St., 60-57, to capture the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship and receive the automatic bid to the NCAA field.

In the SEC, Tennessee lost to Alabama on a last-second half-court shot, 70-67, though the game had no bearing on the standings.

Back in the ACC, Florida State solidified their credentials with a 63-53 win over Virginia Tech. The Seminoles improved to 10-6 in the conference and 23-8 overall, and are sure to get an invitation to the big dance. Virginia Tech, however, ended at 7-9 and 18-13, probably not good enough to earn a bid.

Louisville Wins Big East Title; Late Saturday Results

#6 Louisville 62, West Virginia 59

Getting a little help from Pitt, which knocked off Connecticut, the Louisville Cardinals took the opportunity to take the Big East regular season championship with a spirited effort at West Virginia.

The Cardinals enjoyed the luxury of playing UConn and Pitt just once each this season, splitting those games (lost to UConn, beat Pitt) and losing just once more (at Notre Dame) to finish 16-2, a game better than the 15-3 records posted by the Panthers and Huskies.

Senior forward Terrence Williams had one of his best games of the season, scoring 20 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, handing out 7 assists and pulling off 6 steals.

The win gives Louisville byes in the first two rounds of the Big East tournament, meaning they will next see action on Thursday, March 12. Winning the Big East tourney will certainly result in a #1 seed for the NCCA tournament, but the Cardinals are likely to have to face either Pitt or UConn in the finals.

There is now talk of 3 #1 seed coming out of the Big East, though that seems unlikely, since either North Carolina or Duke will get one, as will the winner of the Big 12 tournament, plus, Memphis made their case by completing their thrid straight undefeated Conference-USA season with a 74-47 thumping of Tulane, and are carrying the nation's longest win streak at 22 straight.

The PAC-10 is also being overlooked, even though last season, PAC-10 teams compiled the best record for a conference in the NCAA tourney. It might be a mistake to relegate #16 Washington (which took the conference with a 67-60 win over Washington St. Saturday) to a #2 seed and drop UCLA and Arizona St. to #3 or #4 spots.

While the PAC-10 may have had a down year, the conference as a whole may have simply been exhibiting better balance. Washington was 14-4, UCLA went 13-5 and Arizona State was 11-7. Those top three teams lost just 6 out-of-conference games and the most recent of those was on December 4, ancient history in college hoops.

It will be interesting to see how many PAC-10 teams make the field of 65 (Cal also finished 11-7; Arizona and USC were both 9-9.) and how high they will be seeded. The tournament could provide a relatively easier path to the elite 8 level for a number of PAC-10 squads.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Kansas Finishes their Business; Wraps up Big 12 Title

The Kansas Jayhawks would not be satisfied with just a share of the Big 12 title. They wanted it all and they got it Saturday afternoon with an 83-73 comeback win over Texas.

Sherron Collins scored 21 points for Kansas, adding 7 assists and 2 steals. Cole Aldrich recorded his 18th double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Jayhawks trailed the Longhorns by 7 at the half, but outscored them 46-29 in the second session.

Kansas, ranked #9 nationally, finished 14-2 in the Big 12, followed by #4 Oklahoma at 13-3 and #15 Missouri, 12-4. On Saturday, the Sooners downed Oklahoma State, 82-78, while Missouri coughed it up against Texas A&M, losing 96-86.

Kentucky May Be Left Out

The Kentucky Wildcats have not missed the NCAA tournament since 1991, but their recent performance - four straight losses, including Saturday's 60-53 defeat at Florida - bodes ill for one of the most storied programs in college basketball.

The Gators struck early, gaining a quick ten-point lead, and never let the Wildcats back in the game. After consecutive losses to LSU, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, Kentucky ends the regular season at 8-8 in the conference and 19-12 overall. They would conceivably have to reach the finals of the SEC tournament this coming week in order to have a reasonable chance of receiving an NCAA invitation and even then, it's an iffy call.

Elsewhere, Jonny Flynn scored 24 points and Andy Rautins hit 4 of 9 3-pointers in a 20-point effort, as #25 Syracuse upended #13 Marquette, 86-79, in overtime, helping their NCAA case as they get ready for the upcoming Big East tournament. Marquette has lost four straight - all to ranked opponents - and look ripe for an early exit from both the Big East and NCAA tourneys. Syracuse, on the other hand, has won 4 in a row. Both teams are nearly sure bets to receive NCAA bids.

Big East: Hungry Panthers Devour Huskies

#4 Pittsburgh 70, #1 Connecticut 60

The Pitt Panthers probably won't win the Big East regular season title, but after beating down Connecticut for the second time this season, they left the impression that they are the team to watch from the nation's deepest conference.

The championship went to Louisville, though the Cardinals have to thank the Panthers for their good fortune. Louisville (15-2) has only to wrap up against West Virginia at 9:00 pm ET tonight, though the outcome of that game has limited meaning, since the Cardinals beat Pitt in their only meeting of the season, 69-63, January 17 at Lousiville.

If the Cardinals win, there's no argument, as the Huskies and Panthers each have 3 conference losses.

Pitt built up a big lead early thanks to hot shooting and solid defense, keeping the Huskies in catch-up mode throughout the game.

The Huskies led only twice, at 2-0 and 12-11. Brad Wannameker's 3-pointer made it 23-13 with just under 12:00 left in the first half. Wannamaker, a sophomore guard, has been a valuable addition off the bench all season in Pitt's stacked back court, which includes Levance Fields (leads the NCAA in turnover ratio) and Jermaine Dixon, younger brother of Maryland's Juan Dixon, who lead the Terrapins to a national championship in 2002.

UConn's Hasheem Thabeet kept the Huskies in the game with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in the first half, but Pitt's senior forward Sam Young was more than equal to the task with 16 first half points and five boards. Pittsburgh led by 10 at the break, 38-28, holding UConn to just 34% shooting (11-32).

Pitt led by as many as 14 points twice in the second half, but UConn battled back and when Stanley Robinson elevated for a dunk at 8:26, the Huskies were down by just 2 points, 52-50. Pitt responded with a 9-3 run, punctuated by Sam Young's jam and three-point play at 4:41, to make the score 61-53. After Levance Fields made it 63-53 with under 4 minutes to play, it was all but over.

Playing in his final home game, Sam Young was sensational, leading the Panthers with a season-high 31 points and 10 rebounds. Wannamaker pitched in with 13 from the bench and Fields scored 10 while dishing 12 assists.

Pitt's two wins over Connecticut both occurred when the Huskies were ranked #1 in the national polls. It should now be clear to both voters and fans which team is superior. The Panthers will be in search of a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney as they make their way through this week's Big East tournament. Right now, they clearly look like the best team in the country, finishing undefeated at home, handing UConn their only road loss of the season in the process.

Xavier Tops Dayton for A-10 Title

#17 Xavier 76, Dayton 59

A little unfinished business from Thursday night: #17 Xavier took its third straight Atlantic-10 regular season championship, leading Dayton from start to finish to leave little doubt that the Musketeers are the class of the conference.

Dante Jackson and B.J. Raymond each scored 14 points and Jackson added 8 rebounds for Xavier (24-5, 12-3) Derrick Brown scored 11 and had 12 boards.

Xavier begins its quest for the automatic bid on Saturday as the A-10 tourney begins in earnest. The Musketeers play the Richmond Spiders. Dayton takes on a solid Duquense squad.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

More SEC Mayhem: Vols Trip Gamecocks for SEC West

Hanging around the upper echelon of the SEC East for the entire season, but never regarded as a threat, the Tennessee Volunteers (10-5, 19-10) got right when the getting was good, downing front-running South Carolina for the second time this season, this time on the Gamecocks' home court.

Tyler Smith. J.P. Prince and Wayne Chism stepped into their leadership roles gradually this season after the departure of 2007-08 leader Chris Lofton, but finally have gelled into the solid unit which delivered the death blows that knocked off the Gamecocks, 86-70 and captured the SEC West title.

In a truly dominating performance, Smith scored a game high 22 points, Prince had 20 and Chism finished with 15.

The game was close until the about five minutes into the second half when the Vols went on a tear that would seal the victory. Leading by just four at the half, the Vols stretched their lead to as many as 17 as time wound under six minutes. They would eventually lead by 20 as the clock ran down.

After losses by both Kentucky and Florida on Wednesday, the Volunteers found themselves in a flatfooted tie with South Carolina for the top spot in the SEC East at 9-5 and made the most of their opportunity. The result of their final regular season home game, on Saturday against Alabama (6-9, 16-13) is now immaterial, as they lay claim the division crown.

Elsewhere, in Top 25 action, #11 Villanova laid waste to the Providence Friars, 97-80, casting serious doubt on the Friars' post-season aspirations. The Wildcats (25-6, 13-5) are a shoo-in for a #3 or 4 seeding in the NCAAs, but the 18-12, 10-8 Friars will spend the next two weeks sitting atop the tournament bubble. Unless they produce some magic in next week's Big East tournament, their chances of making the NCAA field are virtually nil.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Nothing's Easy in Big 12, but Kansas Has Winning Look

Well, it is March, and the madness has already begun in the Big 12 as Missouri upset Oklahoma and virtually handed the Big 12 championship to Kansas, losers at Texas Tech, 84-65.

Missouri got off early against Oklahoma, had a 15-point lead midway through the second half and cruised to an upset win over the 3rd ranked Sooners, 73-64.

With the Missouri-Oklahoma score flashing on the scoreboard, Kansas knew they could capture the Big 12 title outright with a win at Texas Tech or at home against Texas on Saturday.

Kansas shot just 32% in the first half (8-25) as the Red Raiders forged a 39-28 lead at intermission, but the Jawhawks used an 11-2 run to start the second, drawing to within two of Tech. But the Red Raiders went on a run of their own, quickly rebuilding their 11-point edge.

The game devolved as time wore on and Tech continued to pour in threes. Kansas cut the lead to five at one point, but the players knew the game had lost much of its meaning. Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins suffered through horrible shooting nights, going a combined 4-22 and scoring a season low 19 points between them.

Kansas hosts Texas at 4:00 pm ET on Saturday.

Dropping Like Flies in SEC

Vanderbilt 75, #12 LSU 67 - In a game with little meaning for either team, LSU lost for just the second time in conference play.

Georgia 90, Kentucky 85 - Very damaging loss at home for the Wildcats drops them to 19-11 and 8-7 in the SEC. Third straight conference loss. Kentucky plays at Florida Saturday to finish the season.

Mlssissippi St. 80, Florida 71 - losses for leaders all around in SEC. Florida now 21-9, 8-7.

#6 Louisville 95, Seton Hall 78 - The Cardinals improved to 15-2 in the Big East, with only a game at West Virginia on Saturday between them and a possible conference title. If Pitt beats UConn on Sunday, Louisville would finish at 16-2, Uconn and Pitt, 15-3.

If the Huskies avenge an earlier loss to Pitt, they will be the outright champ.

#5 Memphis 65, Houston 60 - The Tigers host Tulane Saturday. A Memphis win completes a 16-0 regular season in Conference-USA.

Pitt Grounds Golden Eagles

#3 Pitt 90, #13 Marquette 75

Pitt needed a win to keep open hopes for the Big East title in their home spot against Marquette, which was trying to avoid three straight losses.

Pitt established an early lead and upped to to as many as 9 in the first half, but Marquette responded out of the break and lead by 5 early in the second half.

The Panthers responded with a 23-5 run that put them ahead 80-65 with under 5 minutes left to play. There was no answer for Pitt's DeJuan Blair in the low post. Blair overpowered inside for a game-high 26 points. Sam Young had 18, Levance Fields pitched in 17.

Pitt next hosts UConn at high noon on Saturday in a game that will determine the Big East regular season champion.

Northwestern 65 Purdue 61

With nothing to gain after Michigan State wrapped up the Big Ten title over the weekend, one might excuse the effort by the Boilermakers. This only serves to render Sunday's game at Michigan St. nearly meaningless for both teams. It will probably more resemble a shoot-around prep for the conference tournament.

#2 North Carolina 86, Virginia Tech 78 - Tar Heels host Duke Sunday for ACC title.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Duke Downs Seminoles, Sets Up Sunday Showdown With Tar Heels

#7 Duke and #24 Florida State engaged in pitched battle for 40 minutes, the lead changing hands over and over again, until finally Duke grabbed a lead late and sent the Cameron Crazies into a frenzy by downing the Seminoles, 84-81, setting up a showdown at North Carolina on Sunday afternoon with the ACC title on the line.

Gerald Henderson led the Blue Devils in scoring for the 4th straight game, with 21 points. Game high honors went to Florida State's Toney Douglas, who had 27, including 5 three-pointers.

11-3 North Carolina plays at Virginia Tech Wednesday night prior to the big event. Duke improved to 11-4 in the conference and 25-5 overall.

*** - *** - ***

Elsewhere around the college hoops universe, #18 Clemson powered past Virginia, 75-57, bolstering their credentials for an NCAA bid at 10-6 in the ACC and 24-6 overall.

#14 Gonzaga cruised past South Carolina Upstate, 90-40, getting scoring from 9 different players.

Having just been restored to the Top 25 on Monday, #25 Syracuse survived one of the worst halves of their season in the opening 20 minutes at home against Rutgers, hitting just 7 of 23 (30%) from the field and 1-8 from three-point range. Still, they trailed by just a point at the break, 20-19, as the Scarlet Knights shot just 26%.

The second half was another story, as the Orange hit 10 or their first 11 shots and went on a 14-0 run to open a 15-point lead at 43-28. From there it was all Orange in their last game of the season at the Carrier Dome, running away late for a convincing, 70-40 win.

Syracuse had lost 6 straight when trailing at the half but reversed that trend with their third straight Big East. They close out their season Saturday at #13 Marquette.

Oklahoma State moved into 5th place in the Big 12 standings, getting past Kansas State, 77-71, for their sixth straight win. The Cowboys are 9-6 in the conference and 20-9 overall. The NCAA selection committee always favors teams playing well down the stretch and Oklahoma State has been doing just that. They close out their regular season at #4 Oklahoma on Saturday.

Ohio State continued to cling to slim hopes of making the big dance, with a 60-58 win at Iowa. The Buckeyes are 19-9 and 9-8 in the Big Ten and close out their season hosting Northwestern on Sunday.

Late night in the ACC, #10 Wake Forest put the final nail in Maryland's post-season coffin and maybe ended the coaching reign of the Terrapins' Gary Williams with a 65-63 win at Maryland. The Terps have missed the NCAA tourney four of the past five years and with a record of 18-11 and 7-8 in the conference, Maryland faces a must-win situation Saturday at Virginia in their regular season finale.

Michigan State Big Ten Champs

#9 Michigan St. 64, Indiana 59

Capped by Raymar Morgan's offensive rebound and subsequent dunk with 35 seconds left, the Michigan State Spartans captured the Big Ten regular season title with a road win at Indiana. The stellar board work by the Spartan forward gave the Spartans a four-point lead, too much for the Hoosiers to overcome.

Morgan finished with a game-high 16 points, followed closely by Kalin Lucas, who tallied 15.

At 14-3, the Spartans can relax in their season finale against Purdue on Sunday. It will be a celebration for coach Tom Izzo's seniors, Goran Suton and Travis Walton, and a suitable prep for the upcoming conference tournament. Purdue has been chasing the Spartans all season, but at 11-5, they cannot hope to catch them, despite having mauled them, 72-54, at Purdue, back on February 17.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Irish Eyes Aren't Smiling; Longhorns Rebound

#12 Villanova 77, Notre Dame 60

Scottie Reynolds scored 23 points and hit 6 of 7 3-pointers, leading the 12th-ranked Wildcats past stumbling Notre Dame. Reynolds had one of his best games of the season, adding a pair of steals, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Running mate Dante Cunningham provided 18 points and 8 rebounds.

The win left Villanova at 24-6 overall, and 12-5, good for 5th in the Big East. For Notre Dame, the loss may have sealed their post-season fate. The Irish are 7-10 and 16-13 overall, records not likely to land an NCAA bid.

Texas 73, Baylor 57

Following a 59-68 road loss at Oklahoma St. on Saturday, Texas solidified its post-season intentions with a home win, improving to 20-9 (9-6 Big 12), while dropping Baylor into NIT territory at 7-10 and 17-12 overall.

The Bears, after a 3-1 start in conference play, have dropped 9 of their last 11.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Big Ten: Spartans Clamp Down on Illini

#9 Michigan St. 74, #20 Illinois 66

The Fighting Illini trailed the entire game - by as many as 11 points - against the visiting Spartans, who came in with a 1 1/2 game lead in the Big Ten.

The son of an Illinois legend, Jeff Jordan's (yeah, that Jordan) steal and layup at 7:14 in the second half capped a furious Illinois rally and the first tie in the game since the opening tip.

It was the last field goal the Fighting Illini would score until Chester Frazier dropped in a three with 34 seconds left. By then it was too late as the Spartans clinched at worst a tie for the Big Ten title.

Kalin Lucas had an exceptional game with 18 points. Michigan State's backcourt is as solid as there is in the nation, bestowed with exceptional quickness and ball-handling skills important in post-season play. Spartans' coach Tom Izzo has his troops ready.

Pound Salt: Kansas Crushes Missouri

#15 Kansas 90, #11 Missouri 65

Kansas left no doubt that they are ready for the post-season, whipping border rival Missouri into complete submission.

An overflow crowd descended on Allen Fieldhouse as the Kansas Jawhawks hosted the Missouri Tigers in the biggest Big 12 game of the year. Before fans could even get settled in their seats, however, the Jawhawks had streaked to a 21-5 lead, controlling the boards and getting out on the run. Just 7 minutes into the game, six different Kansas players were on the board.

The Jayhawks extended their lead to 26 points at the half, 45-19, when Tyshawn Taylor swished a three with 5 seconds left, getting significant contributions from freshmen twins Marcus and Markieff Morris, a pair of 6'8" forwards from APEX Academy in New Jersey, and sophomore Tyrel Reed, who canned a pair of timely three-pointers in the first half rout. The twins contributed a combined 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Not only was Kansas scoring at a solid pace, their defense was magnificent, holding the tigers to 21% shooting in the first half and 37% for the game.

Sherron Collins led the scoring with 25 points. Cole Aldrich was his usual bruising self inside, scoring 19 points and corralling 13 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season.

The Jayhawks (24-5, 13-1) need only win March 4 at Texas Tech and, at home, March 7 against Texas, to capture the Big 12 title.

Coach Bill Self has this team pointed to go deep in the post-season. Collins and Aldrich provide experienced floor leadership and there is no shortage of talent on the Kansas bench.

Lousivlle Slips Past Marquette

#6 Louisville 62, #8 Marquette 58

Concerned about having to replace fallen Dominic James (out for the season with a foot injury) with junior guard Maurice Acker, the #6 Marquette Golden Eagles entered their game at #6 Louisville feeling short-handed.

Despite poor first half shooting by Jerel McNeal (2-13), Marquette found themselves only down by 3 at Louisville, 28-25, as the teams headed to their locker rooms at the break.

The closeness of the game was no doubt due to poor shot selection by the Cardinals, who, despite a big size advantage inside,took most of their shots from the perimeter. Terrence Williams hit 3 of 6 3-point attempts for Louisville, totaling 12 for the half.

That all began to change at the start of the second half. After clanking two outside jumpers, the Cardinals started to press full court, which resulted in turnovers and layups for Louisville, scoring eight straight points on four shots from dunking distance to take a 36-26 lead just three minutes in.

Having established a lead and inside dominance, however, the Cardinals continued to settle for long-range jumpers, allowing the Golden Eagles to close the gap, finally getting to 61-58 with 23.4 remaining on a Lazard Hayward trey.

But that was as close as Marquette would get, despite a no-call on a Marquette 3-point lean-in attempt down just 4 with 16 seconds left and then inexplicably not fouling. Louisville escaped, though their play was not at a level one would expect this time of year.

Both Louisville and short-handed Marquette could become early victims in either or both the Big East tourney or the NCAAs if they don't step up their decision-making and overall percentages.

While Marquette's 35% shooting was due mostly to McNeal's uncharacteristic 3-19 performance, Louisville's 44% effort from the floor and 42% (5-12) from the line, has to be a cause for concern for coach Rick Pitino.

PAC-10: UCLA Only Team Capable of Tying Washington

After #22 UCLA beat Cal, 72-68, and #14 Arizona St. eliminated themselves from contention for the regular season PAC-10 title by losing at Washington State in overtime, 51-49, Saturday night, the Washington Huskies have already earned at least a share of the crown.

Only 11-5 UCLA can catch the 13-4 Huskies, and that's only if the Bruins win both of their remaining games - Oregon and Oregon St. - and the Huskies lose to Washington St. on Saturday, March 7. Might as well start etching the base and looking for a #2 or 3 seed in the upcoming NCAA tourney for the Huskies.

Elsewhere Saturday evening, #1 Pitt cruised past Seton Hall, 89-78, improving to 26-3 and 13-3 in the Big East, setting up the showdown for the conference title in a March 7 contest with the UConn Huskies at Pitt. The Panthers have a little work before then, however, hosting #8 Marquette on March 4.

#25 Texas will no doubt be removed from the rankings after losing at Oklahoma St., 68-59. The Longhorns dropped to 8-6 in the conference, tied with Kansas St. and Oklahoma St. Those three teams each have 9 losses, so their performance in the Big 12 tournament will likely determine which one (or maybe two) get NCAA invitations.

One team certain to make the field of 65 is #17 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs completed an undefeated conference schedule with a 58-46 win over San Diego Saturday night. With a 14-0 record in the West Caost Conference, the Zags are sure to recived a low number in the NCAA seeding process, probably a #3 or 4 position.