When most people plan a weekend in Puerto Rico, they plan to visit a couple of colonial forts, catch some rays and maybe, if they’re very nerdy like me, check out the giant radiotelescope at Arecibo. Travis Ford and his Oklahoma State Cowboys may very well do some of that stuff, but they won’t put on the flip flops until they’ve gotten everything they can out of Pistol Pete’s butt-kicking boots.
The Cowboys were chosen third in the preseason Big 12 poll, but they have a golden opportunity to do something Kansas and Baylor — the programs chosen first and second — have not done. They can emerge from the very early gauntlet with a spotless record and a marquee win over a ranked opponent if things roll their way this afternoon. Granted, they have to play superlative ball to take down the No. 6-ranked NC State Wolfpack, but that scenario seems much more believable after the 62-45 pasting they laid on a talented Tennessee team in Friday’s semis.
It took Phil Forte free throws in overtime to get past Akron in the first round in Puerto Rico, and the Cowboys were expected to struggle without injured big man Jean-Paul Olukemi, but stellar play from the backcourt has kept Oklahoma State on an even keel. Philip Jurick was a serviceable option in the middle against Tennessee, but the trio of LeBryan Nash, Markel Brown and Marcus Smart did it all, combining for 47 points and an impressive 22 rebounds in the win over the Volunteers, who missed the tenacious play of Jeronne Maymon.
NC State is rather a different animal. Kenpom.com rates the Wolfpack’s interior defense 18th-best in the nation, and the perimeter defense is top-100 caliber. Overall, OSU’s defense is rated even better, but the Cowboy scoring attack has been a bit flaccid thus far. Without scoring big men, it may well be too one-dimensional to compete with the uber-talented Pack. But Travis Ford’s team is talented, hungry and seems to be gelling under tough circumstances rather than wilting and making excuses.
There may be plenty of empty seats in the Coliseo de Puerto Rico when the game tips at 6:30 pm tonight, but mainlanders should head for the nearest TV. At bare minimum, you’ll have a courtside view of the Markel Brown show. And who knows? You might see a Big 12 challenger emerge.
As Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Clayton Custer came off the floor after Loyola earned its spot in the Elite Eight after beating Nevada, he had to make a quick apology.
He had to tell the Ramblers’ star fan Sister Jean he was sorry. She, of course, had picked Loyola’s Cinderella run to end in the Sweet 16 in her bracket before the start of the tournament.
The apology was quickly accepted.
“I said I don’t care that you broke my bracket,” Sister Jean said. “I’m ready for the next one.
“For a nice little school like ours, we are just so proud of them.”
Historically known as a team that lived and died with the three-ball, No. 3-seed Michigan had spent the first weekend of the NCAA tournament proving history wrong.
In an ugly game in their opener against Montana, the Wolverines shot 5-for-16 from three while turning the ball over 14 times and managing a measly 61 points. Against Houston in the second round, Michigan shot 8-for-30 from beyond the arc, with one of those threes coming courtesy of Jordan Poole at the buzzer, sending the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win.
Put another way, Michigan looked the part of the defensive grinder that they turned into this season.
Against No. 7-seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, however, the Wolverines turned into the Golden State Warriors.
Michigan bested the number of three that they had made in the tournament to date, hitting 14-of-24 bombs while shooting 62 percent from the floor in a 99-72 win over an Aggies team that had finally, for the first time since November, looked the part of the SEC title contender that they have the talent to be.
Loyola is in the Elite Eight.
The Ramblers’ dream run through March continued Thursday as they knocked off No. 7 Nevada, 69-68, in South Region semifinal in Atlanta.
Loyola, an 11th seed making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, will play the winner of Kansas State and Kentucky on Sunday for a chance to return to the Final Four for the first time since it won the 1963 national championship.
Marques Townes hit a 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to play to put the Ramblers up four and put the game all but out of reach for Nevada. Townes finished with 18 points while Clayton Custer had 15. Loyola shot 55.8 percent from the floor for the game.
The Wolf Pack’s Caleb Martin had 21 points while Jordan Caroline had 19. Nevada shot 41.4 percent from the floor.
Nevada looked like it may overwhelm Loyola early as it built a 12-point lead less than seven minutes into the game. The Ramblers, though, struck back by keeping the Wolf Pack off the board for nearly the last 8 minutes of the first half to take a four-point lead into the break.
The strong play considered on the other side of halftime for Loyola, which astonishingly made its first 13 shots of the second half. Still, despite the perfect start, the Ramblers only briefly took a double-digit lead before Nevada sliced it back down below 10.
Loyola’s inability to build a substantial lead came back to bite it as Nevada, the comeback kids of this tournament, mounted its attack on the deficit and had it erased before the under-four timeout, setting up the final frantic minutes of a battle for a spot in the Elite Eight that the Ramblers claimed thanks to Townes’ late triple.
NBC Sports went into Times Square this week to ask basketball fans for their Sweet 16 picks.
The only problem?
The teams in the games are not actually playing in the NCAA Tournament.
They aren’t even actually teams.
Bruce Brown wants to hear what the NBA has to say.
The Miami sophomore has declared for the draft but will not hire an agent, the school announced Thursday.
The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during his second season with the Hurricanes. He did, though, see his shooting numbers take a tumble compared to his freshman season with his field goal percentage down from 45.9 to 41.5 percent and his 3-point shoot go from 34.7 to 26.7 percent. There’s also the matter of a foot injury that required surgery and kept him off the floor for the ‘Canes’ last 12 games.
By declaring for the draft, Brown can get in front of NBA teams, who will likely take a very close look at his shooting mechanics after that sophomore season downturn. It will also be an opportunity for him to build up his reputation in the professional ranks after spending much of his sophomore season injured.