NCAA Tournament Day 3 recap

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Game of the Day: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pitt 70

This wasn’t only the game of the day. This was one of the best NCAA Tournament games that I’ve seen in, well, ever. Butler and Pitt spent the first 39 minutes and change slugging this one out. Pitt kept trying to open up a lead, but Butler’s Shelvin Mack was playing one of the best games of his career. He finished with 30 points, hitting countless big jumpers, to keep the Bulldogs in it. As good as the game was, all anyone is going to talk about is the ending.

Pitt eventually took a 69-68 lead, but Butler had the ball with 7.1 seconds left in the game. They inbounded the ball to Shawn Vanzant, who drove and found Andrew Smith for a layup with 2.2 seconds left. Pitt didn’t have any timeouts left, so Ashton Gibbs led Gilbert Brown up the sideline when Mack fouled him with 1.4 seconds left. Brown hit the first and missed the second, but Nasir Robinson fouled Matt Howard with 0.8 seconds left on the rebound. Howard hit one of two, and Butler took out the first No. 1 seed.

Player of the Day: Kemba Walker, UConn

UConn may very well be the hottest team in the country, having now won seven straight games in March. And Kemba Walker could very well be the hottest player in the country. He scored 130 points as UConn won five straight games in the Big East Tournament before he went for 18 points, 12 assists, and eight boards in a first round win over Bucknell.

Kemba was just as hot against Cincinnati on Saturday night. He had 33 points, six boards, and five assists. More impressively, however, is that after struggling through the first 10 minutes of the second half — scoring two points as he battled what appeared to be a wrist injury — Walker scored 16 points to help hold off a scrappy Bearcat team.

Team of the Day: Wisconsin Badgers

I’ve said it numerous times in this space — Jordan Taylor is arguably the best point guard in the country and inarguably the most important player on the Wisconsin team. I’ve also said that Jacob Pullen is the guy that Kansas State needs to go off if they hope to make run in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday night, Pullen scored 38 points and showed off every reason he has cemented himself as a legend in Manhattan, Kan., while Jordan Taylor struggled his way to a 2-16 shooting performance.

But at the end of the game, it was Wisconsin — and Taylor — that made all of the big plays. The Badgers erased a six-point deficit late in the game, and after Taylor nearly blew a three-point lead by fouling Pullen on three point attempt (he missed the second), Taylor blocked a game-tying three point try from Pullen to seal the game. I don’t think anyone would have thought that Wisconsin had a chance to win this game if I told you that Pullen scored 38 points and Taylor went 2-16?

No. 2 San Diego 71, No. 7 Temple 64, 2OT: The Aztecs did everything they could to hand this game to Temple. They turned the ball over in the back court. They failed to win the game at the end of regulation and the end of the first overtime. But when the final buzzer sounded, SDSU picked up a win in the exact manner that you would expect. Kawhi Leonard, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas combined for 45 points, 31 boards (10 offensive), seven assists, five steals, and five blocks.

No. 4 Kentucky 71, No. 5 West Virginia 63: Just two days after hitting the game-winning shot — his only field goal of the game — Brandon Knight scored 30 points in a win over West Virginia. He sparked an 11-0 run to open the second half and erase an eight point half time deficit and then hit six free throws down the stretch to help seal the win. Of note — it was the first time in eight years that John Calipari was able to knock off Bob Huggins.

No. 2 Florida 73, No. 7 UCLA 65: Erving Walker was the hero against UCLA scoring 10 of the last 12 Gator points and hitting two huge shots down the stretch. Walker finished with 21 points on just eight field goals attempts. The other important note from this game is that Kenny Boynton rolled his ankle in the second half. He came back and tried to play, but he was limping badly and was completely immobile.

No. 3 BYU 89, No. 11 Gonzaga 67: After getting 24 points and six assists from Marquise Carter in an impressive win over St. John’s in the first round of the tournament, the Zags were trending upwards. Or some we thought. Carter was a no-show and BYU ran Gonzaga on the floor. Jimmer Fredette finished with 34 points and six assists and Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock combined for 29 points and six threes.

No. 12 Richmond 65, No. 13 Morehead State 48: Morehead State had no answer for Richmond’s Justin Harper, who finished with a game-high 19 points as the Spiders advanced to the Sweet 16. Kevin Anderson added 14 points. Kenneth Faried had 13 boards, seven on the offensive end, but only managed to score 11 points. Demonte Harper had just four points on 2-15 shooting.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”