Marquette/Ohio State preview: Season kickoff in the Carrier Classic

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It’s finally here, folks.

The first full day of college basketball games (that actually count) is upon us, with one of the feature games being Marquette versus No. 4 Ohio State in the Carrier Classic at 7 p.m. EST on the NBC Sports Network. The two teams will get down to business aboard the flight deck of the USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

Ohio State enters the seasons with very few holes. Maybe none. Gone is Jared Sullinger, but DeShaun Thomas could’ve easily been an NBA draft pick, but he and his 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game returned for his junior season. The nation’s best on-ball defender in Aaron Craft comes back to terrorize any guard he mans up on. He’s probably going to be assigned to make Junior Cadougan and Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett’s nights a living hell.

Marquette has to replace two of the toughest players in the Big East last season, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. The aforementioned Lockett (13 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists with the Sun Devils last season) and Cadougan (5.4 assists per game in 2011-12) will anchor the backcourt, with Vander Blue in the mix. Chris Otule anchors an the front line.

It’s going to be tough-against-tough in this one. Thad Matta’s bunch pride themselves on a half-court attack offensively, where they work the ball from inside-out. Defensively, it’s all about swarming defense that starts with Craft on the perimeter and his 2.5 steals per game. LaQuinton Ross (6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 6-11 Amir Williams (29 games played in 2011-12) will do their best to fill the void left by Sullinger. Buzz Williams always has a bunch that’s not shy about being in the opponent’s face, leading the Big East last season by giving up only 65.9 points per game.

Also, watch how the outdoor conditions alter the playing style of both teams. The coastal winds will affect how much these team shoot and if that’s the case, the Buckeyes have the edge over the Golden Eagles with the size of Williams, Ross, Thomas and Co. This game is more about honoring our military — Williams has previously said this is “one of the top five things I’ve ever done in my life” — so a crowd of around 5,000 won’t affect the game much.

This should be a lot better than last season, organizationally, being that last season’s game between Michigan State and North Carolina had its kinks. We should all enjoy this one. After all, it’s time to start the season, what’s there to be upset about?

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David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: