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Tournament’s first weekend shows you cannot script March

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As fun as an unpredictable NCAA Tournament can be for fans watching from home, it can make media people sweat – or at least draw criticism via social media – when a string of upsets make them look bad.

In the first weekend of the tournament there were a number of shocking results. Results that, when you  look back at the trends of both the winning and losing teams, you just shake your head and wonder why a career performance or off shooting night had to occur when money, maybe even a sliver of your reputation, were on the line.

Norfolk State and Lehigh? I’m not even going to try and quantify why those games played out the way they did, chalk both of those up to a bit of a bad-matchup for Missouri, a slightly soft Duke team, and an incredible effort from both.

There were, however, some interesting statistical anomalies that are worth noting from the weekend. Stuff that, frankly, you wouldn’t even write into a dramatic screenplay.

Basically, the following information can be used as excuses for that busted bracket you just threw into the trash.

UNC Asheville

What if I told you that before the Bulldogs tipped off against Syracuse, that their leading scorer Matt Dickey would shoot a not-so-robust 1-13 from the floor?

Blow-out, right?

Well, even though UNC – Asheville did have five players average in double figures this season, Dickey was essentially a no-show even though his team nearly pulled off the most improbable upset in NCAA Tournament history.

The fifth highest scoring team in the country this season, UNC – Asheville scored well below their 80.5 a game average against the Orange, but stuck around to give Jim Boeheim a real scare.

This might have been one of the greatest moral victories in the history of the tournament.

Cincinnati 

One of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, Mick Cronin’s club shot an impressive 19-23 from the charity stripe in their third-round game against Florida State, upsetting third-seeded Seminoles and providing the only shake-up in the East Region.

It was by far their best performance from the line all season; a slap in the face to anyone bracketologist who refused to advance this team to the second weekend of the tournament based on their foul shooting all season.

Had UC not shot well from the line? There would probably instead be only three teams from Ohio headed to the Sweet 16. Instead there are four, and we’re going to hear all about that this week.

Colorado

The Buffaloes best non-conference victory this season was against Georgia…by two points. They were the worst ranked BCS-conference team on KenPom.com, and were a program that had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1997.

So how they heck did they beat UNLV?

Well, to be fair, the Rebels were just ice cold for most of that game. As a team that attempted nearly 800 three-pointers this season – and made 36 percent of them – going 9-36 will hurt you.

“Our shooters felt comfortable. Everybody felt comfortable. We just didn’t make shots and they did,” guard Anthony Marshall told the media after the game.

Conversely, the Buffs turned the ball over  a season-high 23 times, but had their own season high 7-12 from beyond the arc.

Sometimes that’s not a result of great defense, just good luck.

North Carolina State

They were the last at-large team unveiled during Selection Sunday, and many people (including me) didn’t believe they belonged.

Now, here they are  in the Sweet 16 in year one of the Mark Gottfried regime.

Let’s be honest: the Wolfpack didn’t really beat anybody in the regular season. The only reason they’re here isn’t because they didn’t really lose to anybody, but now they’ve beaten two teams seeded ahead of them.

Against the Aztecs, NC State had their best shooting performance against anyone of significance this season, going 31-53 from the floor against a team that regularly held opponents under 40 percent.

Yesterday against the Hoyas, the Wolfpack, well, they shut down Henry Sims, among other thing. The senior fouled out in just 21 minutes of play, with a season low four points and three rebounds.

Who would have thought that could happen from an average defensive team?

VCU 

Wichita State gave us their worst offensive game of the season. OK so that stinks for them, but was it due to stifling defense from the Rams?

Probably, but the Rams weren’t very efficient on offense themselves.

Coming into the tournament, the Shockers were 14-1 when holding their opponents under one-point-per-possession, and the Rams were an average offensive team. In Thursday’s game, both teams score under one PPP.

A minor detail, sure, but for a higher seed to do what they needed to do defensively and not get it done is rare.

Hats off to the Rams, who came up just short against Indiana in their next game.

Wisconsin

Although I thought the Badgers were ripe for an upset against Montana, Bo Ryan continued this program’s tournament success, grabbing a win (they’re also in the Sweet 16) for the 10th time in 11 years.

The win shouldn’t surprise you too much, but how Bucky advanced past the Grizzlies may. A nine-point favorite, Wisconsin’s 24-point victory was the largest margin against the spread in the second round of this tournament, due primarily because it was their best all-around shooting performance in about a month (that Ron Wilson flurry in the Big Ten Tournament notwithstanding).

With the Big Sky’s Defensive Player of the Year Will Cherry in foul trouble early, the court was wide open for Jordan Taylor, as he led the Badgers to their best first half offensive performance since Christmas.

For Cherry, it was arguably his worst game of the season, as he was limited defensively and finished with just nine points on 3-14 shooting.

Had he given us at least an average game, it could have made a big difference here.

Indiana lands four-star Class of 2017 wing Justin Smith

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Indiana landed an athletic wing commitment on Monday night as four-star small forward Justin Smith pledged to the Hoosiers on Twitter.

The 6-foot-6 Smith is a native of Lincolnshire, Illinois and comes from Stevenson High School as he’s regarded as the No. 105 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2017 rankings.

A high-flying wing who is great in the open floor, Smith should fit the Hoosiers’ uptempo system perfectly and if he’s able to get a more consistent perimeter jumper then he has a chance to be a really nice piece for Indiana.

Smith joins three-star guard Al Durham in Indiana’s recruiting Class of 2017.

Michigan State addingTom Izzo Hall of History wing in remodeled Breslin Center

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this fall and the longtime Spartans head coach is receiving another unique honor in the remodeled Breslin Center.

The school announced over the weekend that the Tom Izzo Hall of History will be added to the Breslin Center renovations as the building is supposed to be completed by the fall of 2017.

“The Tom Izzo Hall of History will become a great gathering place on our campus where together we can celebrate the excellence of Spartan Basketball and MSU Athletics,” athletic director Mark Hollis said in a release. “When this facility project is complete it will be the finest college basketball facility in the country, so it’s only fitting that Tom’s name will be a permanent part of it.”

Overall, this is a nice addition to the Breslin Center, especially since Izzo and Michigan State basketball will forever be associated with one another. It should be cool for fans to go through it and re-live great moments in Michigan State history and the wing is another nice recruiting tool that can help point out all of Izzo’s biggest accomplishments.

 

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament moving to Orlando amid Zika concerns

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Amid concerns over the Zika virus, the annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off announced a change in venue on Monday. Rather than staying on the island, the tournament will move to Orlando and all games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney.

The dates and teams will remain the same for the event as it will be played Thursday, Nov. 17, Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20. The field for the event includes Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Tulane and Xavier.

“We enjoy the beauty and accommodations that are afforded in Puerto Rico and wanted to make every effort in playing the event in San Juan, but the concern for student-athlete and spectator welfare became the primary driver in the decision,” Pete Derzis, senior vice president of ESPN Events said in the official release.  “We intend to return to Puerto Rico in the future.”

Puerto Rico is currently under a Level 2 alert for Zika according to the CDC. Since there have been cases of Zika on the island with native mosquitoes, it’s probably a smart move to eliminate all concerns over the virus if they can easily move the tournament elsewhere. It probably isn’t ideal for fans who purchased travel packages to Puerto Rico to watch the event, but it’s a small price to pay for the safety of everyone involved.

The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is also upset with the decision as Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort released a statement on Monday night.

“We are disappointed about this decision that we believe has been based on fear not the facts about Puerto Rico,” the statement read.

“There is no public health reason to cancel the Puerto Rico Tip Off or any sporting event in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt that our strong fan base and local spectators would have turned out to support their teams. Less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million population has contracted Zika, a far cry from projections. The hype and misinformation is fostering irrational decisions.”

PHOTO: Purdue unveils statue of John Wooden outside Mackey Arena

John Wooden (Purdue Athletics)
Purdue Athletics
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John Wooden will forever be associated with the UCLA program for what he did while coaching there.

10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. Not bad, right?

What some people may forget is that before he got into coaching, Wooden was one of the best basketball players in the world. He played his collegiate ball at Purdue, where he was a three-time all-american and the 1932 National Player of the Year.

To honor Wooden’s legacy as one of the greatest Boilermakers ever, Purdue built a statue of Wooden and unveiled it in front of Mackey Arena this weekend:

“Not many people think of Johnny Wooden as a Boilermaker, but when I got here in 1957, some of the old-timers still remembered him as a player,” Jim Hicks, the alumnus that donated the statue, said. “I’m so delighted that people will see this statue and read his Pyramid of Success because I think the pyramid was his most important contribution.”

One of the neat touches of the statue: Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is right there for all to see.

North Carolina lands third commitment in 2017 class

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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North Carolina picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2017 on Monday in big man Brandon Huffman.

A four-star prospect who will play his final season of high school ball at Word of God Academy in North Carolina, Huffman’s strength at this point in his development is as a defensive presence around the basket. He stands 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and should be able to help replace Kennedy Meeks, who graduates this spring.

Huffman’s development on the offensive end of the floor isn’t quite there yet. A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Huffman is still learning how to be more influential on that end.

Huffman joins Jalek Felton and Andrew Platek in UNC’s 2017 class.