Are we headed for another sibling rivalry to settle a major sports championship? Everyone remembers the Harbaugh Brothers going it in the Super Bowl following the 2012 NFL season when John’s Baltimore Ravens nipped Jim’s San Francisco 49ers. Now the 2014NCAA Tournament has two brothers still coaching and both took their teams to the regional finals last night. It’s the Millers, Sean leading Arizona and Archie heading up Dayton that have their eyes on meeting in the NCAA final. Here’s a recap on their wins, along with the rest of Thursday in the Sweet 16…
Florida 79 UCLA 68: The Gators continue to be the tormenter of UCLA, eliminating the Bruins from the field for the fourth time in the last nine years. Florida’s done in UCLA in a national final (2006), and a national semifinal (2007), the opening weekend (2011) and now in the Sweet 16.
Last night’s game was a good one, though you had always had the sense Florida had UCLA at arm’s length. The Bruins couldn’t buy a three-pointer (3-for-18), while the Gators shot 50 percent from the floor. And Florida cleaned up on the boards, a 40-30 advantage, thanks to reserve guard Kasey Hall chasing own ten. Michael Frazier scored 19 points, keyed by five treys to lead the offense.
Dayton 82 Stanford 72: I continue to be baffled at how Dayton keeps getting it done. Stanford got a balanced scoring effort from their starting lineup and Chasson Randle scored 21. The Flyers got 18 from Jordan Sibert, but no one else really stood out. I guess I shouldn’t’ be mystified—it’s this little thing called team play that Dayton is mastering, including on defense, where they held Stanford to 38 percent from the floor.
Florida and Dayton will settle a Final Four spot on Saturday. Tip-off from Memphis is Saturday at 6:09 PM ET and on TBS.
Arizona 70 San Diego State 64: In a really good game, the Aztecs gave the Wildcats all they could handle. Xavier Thames scored 25 points, and Josh Davis pulled down 14 rebounds to key control of the glass for San Diego State. Their defense forced Nick Johnson into 2-for-12 shooting. But Arizona turned it to an opportunity to demonstrate true championship-quality, and it’s by winning against a good team on a night things aren’t going your way.
As it has all year, it starts with defense, and Arizona forced San Diego State into 38 percent from the floor. Aaron Gordon was able to produce down low with 15 points. T.J. McConnell chipped in 11 in the backcourt, and Rondae-Hollis Jefferson came off the bench to score 15 more.
Wisconsin 69 Baylor 52: Regular readers of TheSportsNotebook know I’m a Badger fan, and when I was at the gym yesterday playing hoops, I was talking to a friend and expressing hope that all the momentum Baylor built up on opening weekend would dissipate now that they’d gone back to campus, gotten patted on the rear end and told how great they were. From my perspective, it couldn’t have worked out any better.
Wisconsin dominated this game every which way, no one more so than Frank Kaminsky, who scored 19 points and repeatedly took control of the ball on the inside of the Baylor zone and either went strong to the rim or kicked it out for good looks. Then Kaminsky must have channeled his inner Patrick Ewing, because he blocked six shots on top of it.
Baylor scored only 16 points in the first half. After intermission, they seemed to realize they had players who could consistently score off the dribble and got several easy baskets in the half-court, but between starting too late and then not showing consistent effort on defense, it didn’t amount to anything.
It’ll be a Wisconsin-Arizona on Saturday for the Final Four. The game from Anaheim will be the second of the TBS doubleheader and tip at roughly at 8:49 PM ET.
Sweet 16 action continues Friday in the East and Midwest Regionals. TheSportsNotebook’s NCAA Tournament coverage will have previews of those brackets up in the late morning/early afternoon today.
Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament is a month away, with the bracket being announced on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Here at TheSportsNotebook we’re going to a weekly check-in on the top 16 teams, as seeded by ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi. The purpose will be to chronicle recent form, looking back on each team’s midweek game and ahead to the weekend. The Selection Committee seeds teams based on overall body of work, but we also want to know who’s really playing their best basketball as we build to March Madness. With that, here is a rundown on Lunardi’s Sweet 16…
#1 SEEDS: Indiana, Duke, Florida, Miami—I made no secret that I think Miami is the best team in the country, although the Hurricanes turned in a flat performance this week in beating Florida State 74-68. The ‘Canes got nothing from their inside people, and needed a combined 15-of-25 shooting from guards Shane Larkin and Durand Scott to get out of Tallahassee with a win. Clearly, it was not a championship-caliber effort from Miami. Just as clearly though, this was not an easy spot—they were coming off a big win over North Carolina, getting love from the national media and going into the building of an archrival. I’m ready to dismiss the result, and we’ll see what happens Sunday night when they visit Clemson.
Florida played a complete and well-balanced game in beating Kentucky 69-52 on Tuesday, a game remembered more for the sad season-ending ACL tear of Wildcat center Nerlens Noel. This makes Noel the second prominent SEC athlete to suffer a serious knee injury, joining South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. Just let these kids go straight to the pros. If a college degree is that important to them, they can get tuition written into their first contract.
Duke got a win over North Carolina, but the 73-68 result was more escape then decisive victory. Unlike Miami, this wasn’t a trap game for the Dookies—while it was against an archrival, it was also at home. In the end, the Blue Devils were saved by the fact this UNC team can’t do anything inside and has to try and win games by hitting three-pointers. They didn’t do that, it was enough for Mason Plumlee’s 18 points/11 rebounds to carry the day. Plumlee is nursing an ankle injury, but expected to play Saturday evening in Maryland (6 PM ET, ESPN).
I’m not at all sold that Indiana’s going to be on this top line—or even in the discussion for it—when we get to March 17. The Hoosiers still have road games with Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan. In the meantime though, IU buried Nebraska earlier this week and hosts Purdue on Saturday afternoon (2 PM ET, ESPN), so all will be well until Tuesday’s visit to East Lansing.
#2 SEEDS: Syracuse, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Michigan: These seed projections are up-to-date, so it includes Syracuse’s loss to UConn on Wednesday. The Orange were ice-cold from behind the arc, going 4-for-23 from three-point range. And that’s even with their main outside shooter, James Southerland, hitting 4-of-9. You do the math on how cold the rest of the lineup was. Syracuse goes to Seton Hall on Saturday, a game that should give them little trouble with getting back on track.
Michigan State is finally getting some attention after their 75-52 beatdown of Michigan, a win that was a complete team effort on both the scoring and rebounding fronts—and speaking of rebounding, Sparty hammered the Wolverines on the glass. I had liked the way Michigan State was playing and thought they would win at home, but the complete meltdown done by the Wolverines was concerning. UM has now lost three of their last four in a tough schedule stretch that sent them to Indiana and Wisconsin prior to Tuesday.
In those losses, freshman forward Glenn Robinson III has scored a combined eight points. Clearly, he needs to step it up dramatically. Although I won’t be as tough on the kid as ESPN analyst Dan Dakich was on Tuesday. Dakich seems to be carving out a persona as the angry coach on the airwaves, which only comes off well if you were actually a big winner as a coach yourself, or a top player. The man Dakich played for, Bob Knight, could pull it off. Michigan gets a needed respite in its schedule—they’ll play Penn State at home on Saturday, then get a week off. Michigan State visits Nebraska.
Gonzaga came up with an impressive road win last night at St. Mary’s, controlling the game throughout in a 77-60 win. The Zags were more efficient in every way that mattered. They controlled the glass, were more consistent inside the three-point line and forced the Gaels to try and win the game from downtown. St. Mary’s launched 35 treys and only made 12, making the result a virtual foregone conclusion. Gonzaga visits lowly San Francisco this weekend.
#3 SEEDS: New Mexico, Louisville, Arizona, Kansas—New Mexico is the most overrated team in Lunardi’s Sweet 16. The bracketologist knows much more about the process than I do, so I’ll grant that there’s probably a good reason or seeding them this high. But there is no way the Lobos will live up that. This is a team that barely got by a bad Fresno State team earlier in the week, falling behind 31-20, surviving 54-48, and doing nothing inspiring in the process. Center Alex Kirk hurt his hand in the process, though he’s expected to play tomorrow against Boise—a competitive team that’s fighting for NCAA consideration. If New Mexico really ends up a 3-seed, I know that’s at least one 6-seed I’ll pick to make the Sweet 16.
Louisville came back off that five-overtime marathon in Notre Dame last week to put on an impressive display against St. John’s. All the Cardinals’ key parts functioned in the 72-58 win. Russ Smith scored, knocking down 18. Gorgui Dieng crashed the glass hard, with 17 rebounds. And Peyton Siva distributed, handing out six assists. When Louisville plays like this, they’re tough to handle, and next up is a road game with mediocre South Florida on Saturday.
Arizona is now reeling, with two straight losses. Last night’s 71-58 loss in Colorado dropped them from a first-place tie in the Pac-12. The Wildcats need to get their defense back on track as they pay a visit to Utah on Sunday.
Kansas finally reasserted itself with its easy 21-point home win over Kansas State on Monday night. The Jayhawks played like a team who had lost three in a row and had an angry coach—by that I mean they played with some desperation and it showed in their 39-20 dominance of K-State in the rebounding category. It would have been enough to win even if guard Ben McLemore hadn’t lit it up for 30 points.
#4 SEEDS: Kansas State, Marquette, Ohio State, Georgetown—The Hoyas are playing the best basketball of this quartet, having knocked off fellow 4-seed Marquette back on Monday night thanks to a solid game from forward Otto Porter (21 points/7 rebounds) and a terrific defensive effort against Marquette’s Vander Blue, holding the Golden Eagles’ go-to player to seven points.
Even prior to Monday though, Georgetown has been coming on. It was their sixth win in a row and that includes Notre Dame, Louisville and St. John’s. The Hoyas play tonight at Cincinnati, a solid NCAA-caliber team in their own right. The Friday night game will be on ESPN at 9 PM ET and is being played tonight, because ESPN has empty space from its normal Friday NBA coverage due to the All-Star break. As for Marquette, they have a tough home game with Pitt tomorrow (1 PM ET, CBS) and since an early January run of three nailbiting wins, the Golden Eagles have yet to post a notable victory. I think their season’s best days are already done.
Ohio State beat Northwestern this week and visits Wisconsin for a big game on Sunday (1 PM ET, CBS). The Badgers are currently projected on the 5-line by Lunardi, so that game probably decides who will be in the 4-hole at this time next week. The Buckeyes are doing an adequate job getting scoring help for brilliant forward DeShaun Thomas, but need more rebounders to step it up.
Kansas State will look to bounce back from its Monday beatdown in Lawrence with a key Saturday night game against Baylor (7 PM ET, ESPNU). The Wildcats are still tied with Kansas atop the Big 12.
IF I HAD TO PICK TODAY: I’m settled on Miami as my team to beat for the national championship, and I’m comfortable with Michigan State as my second-best team. At this point, I’m not totally sold on anyone else, and would probably look outside the Sweet 16 seeds for a couple darkhorses for the Final Four (Butler might make sense, and if I’m really uncertain I’ll just go with my heart and pick Wisconsin). But beyond Miami and Michigan State, I’m waiting to find a couple more teams I can feel confident about in picking to get to Atlanta.
The college basketball season starts Friday, and TheSportsNotebook will tip the season off here today by running down the top 16 teams, as ranked in the preseason AP poll. Prior to Friday’s games we’ll take a look at an overview of the notable marquee games and storylines to watch for between and now and the New Year, when conference play begins. Here’s a concise summary of the AP’s projected Sweet 16…
1)Indiana—Cody Zeller, the 7’0” center named on virtually every preseason All-American ballot is the key reason for this ranking. Indiana has a versatile power forward in Christian Watford, who can hit the three-point shot and an athletic two-guard in Victor Oladipo. What IU is going to need is for Jordan Hulls to show he can be nationally elite point guard and for someone to step as a pure shooter to loosen up defense. Indiana is a good team, and at least in the early going might deserve this ranking. But I have a hard time seeing where they get a ceiling as the best team in the nation at season’s end.
2)Louisville—Peyton Siva is back as the quarterback of last year’s Final Four team, and Gorgui Deng is the big center, with Chase Behanan being a consistent small forward. The X-factor is freshman power forward Montrezl Harrell, who needs to be an immediate All-Big East kind of talent if Rick Pitino’s team is to fulfill these lofty expectations.
3)Kentucky—Who knows what to think at this point. John Calipari loaded up on another elite recruiting class to replace the freshmen who won the national title a year ago. Noel Nerlens at center is the best of the group, but it’s hard to imagine a second straight group of freshmen clicking at the level of last year’s team.
4)Ohio State—Thad Matta said goodbye to Jared Sullinger and underrated wing player William Buford. The Buckeye coach has a good backcourt combo of Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith and a solid power forward in DeShaun Thomas. But the latter tends to be more of a perimeter power forward and Ohio State needs to get the post filled effectively.
5)Michigan—The Big Ten might be terrible in football this year, but the AP is awfully confident about their basketball ability, putting a third team in the top five. I really don’t see this one at all. The backcourt, of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway is pretty good, but nothing spectacular. It all hinges on two freshman forwards, Glen Robinson III and Mitch McCrary. If they come through, this ranking could hold. But it’s a lot to assume in November.
6)N.C. State—Two solid veteran forwards, Scott Wood and C.J. Leslie, anchor this lineup and Richard Howell is a steady post presence. Lorenzo Brown is a solid at the point guard spot. This team has almost everything and if high school All-American Rodney Purvis can fill the two-guard, the Pack will have a great team.
7)Kansas—Another year, another solid Kansas team. The backcourt of Elijah Johnson, the senior leader on the point and Travis Releford shooting the trey, with Jeff Withey controlling the interior. Give Bill Self time to work new players into the other spots and book another Big 12 title and high NCAA seed.
8)Duke—The Dookies have the widest range of possible outcomes of the top teams. The starting lineup has a good core four, with Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee down low, Seth Curry at two-guard and a top freshman forward in Alex Murphy. If they had Austin Rivers back at the point, they’d be my preseason #1. But Duke’s rivals in Chapel Hill have found out how an otherwise good team can get stuck in the mud without a point guard. We’ll see if Coach K can get this position figured out. Either way, #8 is a difference-splitting number. If the point guard spot comes through, vault them to the head of the list. If it doesn’t come through, they won’t be top 16 material.
9)Syracuse—This ranking looks a little high to me, with only wingmen Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair to build on. A lot’s riding on the ability of freshman center Duane Coleman to replace Fab Melo.
10)Florida—Billy Donovan was on the brink of the Final Four before a late meltdown against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament and he’s got a shot at getting back with this year’s group. Kenny Boynton is a veteran point guard who can produce and the Gators have quality big men in Erik Murphy and Patric Young. Can dynamic sharpshooting freshman Dillon Graham fill a role in the lineup and open up defenses? If he can, Florida beats out Kentucky in the SEC.
11)North Carolina—Kendall Williams left early for the NBA after pulling the previously point-guard starved Tar Heels back from the abyss. Roy Williams has a serious rebuilding project on his hands, with only swingmen Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland to build on, and both need to make their own improvements.
12)Arizona—Mark Lyons transferred in from Xavier to run the offense and he’ll instantly help the man who originally recruited him, Wildcat coach Sean Miller who got his start back at the Jesuit school in Cincinnati. Lyons has an improving sophomore two-guard in Nick Johnson to run with and two intriguing freshman who are projected to start, in center Kaleb Tarczewskia and forward Brandon Ashley. I guess I still have a hard time seeing this team as a #3-caliber seed. Maybe Pac-12 champs though.
13)UCLA—Larry Drew was the point guard who caused North Carolina to stay stuck in the mud before Williams replaced him. Drew transferred to Westwood where he looks for redemption playing for Ben Howland. Also looking for redemption is center Josh Smith, who’s got a high ceiling, but is inconsistent. Whether UCLA earns this kind of ranking is dependent not only these two, but freshman scorer Shabazz Muhammad.
14)Michigan State—Keith Appling is the veteran quarterback running the offense. Beyond that, we’re just assuming Tom Izzo will produce a good team. As with North Carolina and Syracuse, it’s not a bad assumption, but let’ s at least understand we’re taking Sparty on faith in putting them this high.
15)Missouri—If Michigan State, North Carolina and Syracuse require faith, how much more does Mizzou require? They lost everyone from the team that won 30 games a year ago. I have no idea what to think or why coach Frank Haith gets this much credit. Not that he didn’t do a good job last year, but is his reputation really so sterling that we can’t make a preseason Top 16 without him? Because that’s what this ranking implies.
16)Creighton—The Bluejays have arguably the nation’s best player in Doug McDermott and between that and the general consistent nature of the program, I can see them making it to #16.
It probably came across in my comments that I don’t find any of these teams overly impressive, at least by Final Four or in some cases, Sweet 16 standards. But that’s the world of college basketball we’re in right now, with personnel turnover seeming to be more rapid each year. November and December are critical building months and by Friday we’ll take a look at some of the key checkpoints of these early weeks to watch.