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Rating the regional sites and their ‘fun factor’

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With the Sweet 16 set, the most pressing question(s) shouldn’t be about match-ups and who will win (although that Kendall Marshall wrist injury is a pretty intriguing story line).

No, with 16 unique fan bases descending on four cities in this beautiful country, the most important discussion should be the amount of excitement one can have if attending any of these games.

Even if you have no rooting interest but live in Atlanta, Boston, Phoenix or St. Louis, you may want to get a quick education on what to expect if you plan on immersing yourself in the frenzy before, during, and after the games.

A brief overview on what to expect at each location is below…

South Region (Atlanta)

I pretty much decided to write this article based solely on the mayhem that is likely to ensue down in Atlanta.  The South Region is going to be ridiculous, and if you live in the area but have no affiliation to any of the four schools involved, I still highly recommend hovering in and around the Georgia Dome. Grab some of your friends, find a suitable watering hole, and just observe.

If there aren’t fist fights, there will at least be some fantastic banter between IU and UK fans. The Wildcats are the favorites; the Hoosiers beat them in December and want/need/gotta have this for affirmation of the reclamation of their program’s mystique.

Fan interest level (on a scale of 1-5): 7

Big Blue Nation, one of the few state schools in the country that pours all their emotions into basketball and not football, can already smell their team’s eighth National Championship. But the Hoosiers are also all-in on basketball, and this weekend could steer this program back to where they want to be.

Xavier, a small, basketball-first school, is also completely invested in hoops. While they’re a second weekend mainstay that  has yet to reach the Final Four, they’re thrilled to still be playing based on how this team seemed to fall apart post-Crosstown Brawl.

Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5

It’s going to be crazy, and based on location, all four fan bases will travel in droves. Wildcat and Musketeer fans will be co-mingling down I-75 en-route to Atlanta, with Hoosier fans likely joining them depending on where they’re packing up the mini-van

It’s a straight shot six-hour drive from Cincinnati (I made the trip to the Atlanta regionals in 2004), so there’s really no excuse not for any of these Mid-west fans not to road trip it down to the games.

East Region (Boston)

A great sports city that almost takes pride in being a terrible and apathetic college sports city, Boston at least boasts plenty of transplants from around the country, meaning there’s pockets of Badgers, Bearcats, Buckeyes and (especially) Orange fans in the area.

Tickets are already sold out, and because these schools all hail from a BCS-conference, the fan and alumni base is big enough to ensure a respectable turnout of fans taking up space at the row of bars outside the TD Garden on both Thursday and Saturday. In fact, the city expects this NCAA regional to generate triple the dollars than what hosting the regional did back in 2009, as that time around the four participating schools were much smaller.

Fans Interest Level: 4

And that’s only because I question Ohio State fans interest in this portion of the tournament. Think about it:  they’re football first, and have been a Final Four contender for the past few seasons. How jazzed are they, really, about the regionals?

That being said, I know that the Orange (it’s supposed to be Syracuse’s year) and Bearcat (first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001) fans are being completely unproductive this work week.

Projected nuttiness outside the Garden: 3

Syracuse is a four-hour drive from Boston, and their alumni are planted all over the East Coast.

Cincinnati fans don’t want to miss such a great opportunity to check out a new city with their team having a realistic shot of playing for a trip to the Final Four.

Ohio State is like a small country, so it’s a numbers game with them. You know they’ll fill their allotted tickets plus a few more.

Badger fans love to party so we welcome their drinking acumen into the Hub, assuming they show up.

For everyone that rolls into town: there’s about three dozen bars in a two block radius of the arena, so no shortage of options to drink up before game time.

West Region (Phoenix)

I know it’s impossible, but it would be great if we could suddenly relocate this section of the bracket to a more travel-friendly venue when there are no participating teams within two time zones of the place.

Consider: the campuses of Michigan State, Marquette, Florida and Louisville,  are all located located more than 1700 miles from the arena they must travel to compete for a trip to the Final Four.

Sort of impractical in these lean economic times, no? 

Fans Interest Level  (on a scale of 1-5):  4

What’s great about this region is its got three “basketball first” schools, and Florida, which just really enjoys winning things.

With both games up in the air – I have a sneaking suspicion about Louisville – nothing is certain. All four schools have been to the Final Four in the past 10 years, but only Michigan State has been since 2007. There’s a lot of pride at stake here.

Projected nuttiness outside the arena: 2

I’m sure each school well sell their tickets, but expect a dead arena for both Sweet 16 games, especially Michigan State – Louisville, which tips at 4:47 local time.

Downtown Phoenix is also infamous for being a ghost town, so if you are headed west for the games, I’d be interested to know how visitors spend their off-day free time (golfing in Scottsdale?) and pregaming before you enter US Airways Arena.

Midwest Region (St. Louis)

The region that was most flipped upside down in the first weekend, the Midwest could either be really great for the casual fan, or just really great for NC State and Ohio.

Let’s be honest, Cinderella stories are great, but they’re usually supposed to end right about now and make way for the big boys. But based on what transpired both on and off the court late Sunday night, the Midwest is anyone’s guess, and fans from any school should be willing to fork over some cash to attend, especially because of the proximity.

Fans Interest Level  (on a scale of 1-5):  5

And for a wide range of reasons.

Like they would for any second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, both Kansas and North Carolina fans have canceled all other social plans for the weekend to clear out space for one, maybe two big games this weekend, while Ohio and NC State are both ecstatic to be here, but have confident fan bases that are not satisfied.

Projected nuttiness outside the dome: 5

Two reasons: St. Louis is an underrated city to get wild in, and Ohio currently holds the title as the biggest party school in the country.

If the little guy is the one making the biggest scene during pregame “warm-ups”, then you know this is a recipe for an awesome weekend.

Why would Jayhawk, Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans want to get shown up?

Bobcat undergrads are sure to flood the Lou, as the eight hour drive from Athens to St. Louis is the perfect distance for a memorable road trip.

With Atlanta potentially being overrun with Kentucky fans, and Boston unlikely to have hoards of fans from all four participating teams, this region  would be my pick to attend if the cost of travel, accommodations and tickets to all three games were not an issue.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out): Did the Orange just lock up their NCAA tournament bid? It’s going to be close, after John Gillon banked in a 23-foot three at the buzzer to send No. 10 Duke back to Durham with a loss. Here’s how it stands for the Orange: They’s 17-12 on the season and guaranteed to finish at least .500 in ACC play. They now have six top 50 wins and nine top 100 wins, but they also have three losses to sub-100 teams, 12 total losses and they play at Louisville on Saturday. The road hasn’t been kind to Syracuse, either; they’ve won just two roadies this season, at N.C. State and at Clemson.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out): All of a sudden, Providence is one of the most interesting bubble teams in the country. Last week they beat Butler and Xavier at home, and on Wednesday night, they went into Creighton and picked off the Bluejays. The Friars are now 17-11 on the season with five top 50 wins, including three in the top 25. They are 8-8 against the top 100, but the problem is that they have one sub-100 loss and two more sub-200 losses, which is really, really bad. They won the games that they had to win to get themselves into this position, but I still would strongly recommend that they win out down the stretch.

Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game): I think the Pirates may have just punched their ticket to the tournament as they beat Xavier at home on Wednesday. They have four top 50 wins — two away from home — and seven top 100 wins with just a single sub-100 loss. I won’t say they’re a lock because a loss to DePaul would not be good for them.

Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out): The Demon Deacons are still in the tournament picture after landing a comeback win over Pitt on Wednesday night, but they have some work left to do. They have no bad losses and seven top 100 wins, but that 1-9 record against the top 50 is an eyesore. They get Louisville at home next week. That’s a game they have to have.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed): Arkansas kept themselves away from the danger of the cutline and just about locked up a bid with a win over Texas A&M on Wednesday. With three games left, and one of those three at Florida, it will be hard for the Razorbacks to miss the dance at this point. But this is also a team that lost to Missouri. They can pull anything off.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines avoided disaster on Wednesday night using a late rally to avoid what would’ve been a killer of a loss at Rutgers. They were already in the tournament with a little bit of room to spare entering today, and this win — however ugly it was — doesn’t hurt that.

VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed): The Rams beat Saint Louis on Wednesday night, which means that they didn’t lose to the Billikens. They are close to a lock by now, because two of their last three games are at Rhode Island and at Dayton — neither of which is a bad loss — and they close with GW at home. Even if they lose out, I think it will be hard for roughly ten teams to jump them in the bubble standings.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game): There’s no shame in losing at Kansas, which TCU did on Wednesday night, but they did miss out on an opportunity to land a résumé-defining win. The Horned Frogs are just 2-8 against the top 50 with just five top 100 wins, which isn’t a bad profile but it is one that lacks enough depth to feel anywhere near comfortable.

Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds beat Southern Illinois, so they’re still in the mix. But with just one top 75 win and three sub-100 losses, it’s going to be hard to get in if they don’t get that MVC automatic bid.

LOSERS

Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed): Cal is probably still safe after losing at home to No. 6 Oregon on Wednesday, but it sure isn’t going to feel good that they were up by 15 and blew a lead in a game that would have cemented their status as an at-large team. As it stands, Cuonzo Martin’s team is 18-9 on the season without a single bad loss, but they’re only 1-7 against the top 50, their only win over a tournament team is USC and they may not play another RPI top 100 team this season. Don’t lose anymore.

Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed): Bruce Weber really just cannot make this easy on himself. Kansas State lost for the seventh time in the last nine games on Wednesday, falling at home to Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have just four top 100 wins, but three of those are top 30 wins, two of them are on the road and one of those is at Baylor. That’s enough to keep them on the cut line for now, but with at Oklahoma, at TCU and Texas Tech left, I would urge them to find a way to turn this slump around.

Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out): The Vols may have finally played themselves off the bubble — which is an exceedingly difficult thing to do this season — by losing at home to Vanderbilt. In fact, I think I would go as far as to say that the Commodores now have a better chance of getting an at-large bid than Tennessee.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out): Pitt was in the picture because the bubble is trash. They had a chance to land a nice win at a Wake Forest team that has really good computer numbers … and then blew a 19 point lead. I can’t see them getting an at-large bid at this point.

 

VIDEO: Brooks hits 3-pointer with 0.2 left to lift Oregon past Cal

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Dillon Brooks did it earlier against UCLA. Wednesday, he added Cal to his list.

The Oregon junior hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.2 left on the clock to give the sixth-ranked Ducks a 68-65 victory over the Bears after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.

It’s the second time this season that Brooks, who finished with 22 points, has hit a game-winning three, and this one keeps the Ducks within a game of first-place Arizona in the Pac-12 standings.

The bigger story here may actually be Cal, as the Golden Bears gave away a 15-point lead in the final 10 minutes and a 10-point lead in the final five minutes in a game they desperately needed to win for their at-large résumé. Cal is just 1-7 against the RPI top 50 this season, and while they don’t have any bad losses to their name, this was their last chance to land a marquee win before the Pac-12 tournament.

I don’t think they’re in danger of missing the dance just yet, but I would not recommend tempting fate and losing down the stretch of the season.