Weekend Preview: Syracuse-SDSU highlights a strong weekend slate

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Game of the Weekend: Sunday, 4:00 p.m. No. 9 Syracuse at No. 20 San Diego State (Fox Sports)

Syracuse flies out to sunny Southern California to take on the Aztecs in a game that was postponed from Friday evening due to a rainout. Seriously. With wet weather settling in over San Diego and the Battle of the Midway set to be played on the USS Midway, one of three aircraft carrier games this weekend, organizers were forced to move the game to Sunday afternoon. But regardless of when the game is played, the ‘where’ is going to be an issue for SDSU. Playing against a zone — especially one as long as Syracuse’s — this early in the season is never an easy task, and that’s before you factor in the complications that come with playing outdoors. There will be a breeze and there won’t be a typical shooting back drop, which means that perimeter jumpshots may not be falling. That would hurt the Aztecs quite a bit.

The other advantage that Syracuse is going to have will be on the interior. SDSU has a ton of good guards, headlined by reigning MWC Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin and the underrated Chase Tapley. But until James Johnson gets eligible in December, they are going to be small up front. Could the bigger Orange take advantage of their size? One guy to keep an eye on for the Cuse will be Michael Carter-Williams. He’s a 6-foot-6 playmaker in the back court that was stuck on the bench as a freshman. He’s expected to have a big year.

Five more games to watch:

  • Friday, 7:00 p.m.: No. 4 Ohio State vs. Marquette (NBC Sports Network): Another game that will be played on an aircraft carrier, this one taking place in Charleston, SC. And while it is difficult to make season-long assumptions based on the first game of the season, especially when it is played outdoors, this will be a good chance to get a gauge on both of these teams. Given what OSU has lost the last two season, particularly with Jared Sullinger entering last year’s NBA Draft, the Buckeyes have a lot of questions marks, the most notable being the absence of a secondary scorer alongside Deshaun Thomas. Marquette may be playing without the suspended Todd Mayo, but this is still a Golden Eagle team that is flying a bit under the radar. Buzz Williams always produces tough, disciplined teams that thrive in an underdog role. This group has more talent than they are being given credit for.
  • Friday, 8:30 p.m.: No. 3 Kentucky vs. Maryland in Brooklyn (ESPN): There is so much to talk about in this game. The new-look Kentucky roster, the addition of Dez Wells, the recruiting battle over the Harrison twins, the battle between Alex Len and Kentucky’s twin towers. But the most important point to make? Maryland, who is now a top four team in the ACC, will have a great shot to earn a win that will continue to earn dividends as the season progresses and Kentucky improves.
  • Friday, 8:05 p.m.: North Texas @ No. 16 Creighton (No TV): These may be the two best mid-major teams in the country. Creighton is a juggernaut on the offensive end of the floor that returns plenty of experience, while the Mean Green of UNT has quite a bit of young, inexperienced talent on their roster. This could end up being one of the five or ten most interesting non-conference games of the season. But it’s biggest selling point? First Team All-American Doug McDermott squaring off with future lottery pick Tony Mitchell. Yes. Please.
  • Friday, 9:00 p.m.: No. 10 Florida vs. Georgetown (NBC Sports Network): The more time passes, the more it looks like Georgetown will be able to pull off the upset against the Gators. For starters, two rotation players — Casey Prather (concussion) and starting PG Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) — are out for Florida. Kenny Boynton will be sliding over to the point. That could get interesting. But Florida also is a team that relies quite a bit on perimeter shooting, which is never easy outdoors. Throw in the fact that this Georgetown team has the kind of versatility, with guys like Otto Porter and Greg Whittington, to be a very good defensive team, and I like the Hoyas to pull the upset.
  • Friday, 5:00 p.m.: Lehigh at No. 19 Baylor (FOX Sports Southwest): There is one reason and one reason only that I’m so excited about this game: CJ McCollum vs. Pierre Jackson. McCollum is an all-american that finally made a name for himself after three sensational years at Lehigh by leading the Mountain Hawks to a win over No. 2 seed Duke in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Jackson is a guy that’s had his fair share of critics in his time in Waco, but I think he’s going to have a huge year. He’s as tough-minded and athletic as any point guard in the country, and this will be his team this season. Lehigh will have a shot at pulling this upset if Gabe Knutson can hold his own against Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers up front.

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

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

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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: