Pregame Shootaround 12.29.12: Intrastate rivalry in Bluegrass State highlights Saturday’s action

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: No. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky

The biggest boost for Louisville Saturday is the news that center Gorgui Dieng will play against Kentucky. He won’t necessarily be 100 percent and back to his full playing capacity, but he’ll be an important frontcourt presence against the athletic Wildcats.

The other major matchup to watch is in the backcourt. Ryan Harrow had his best game of the season in his last game against Marshall, going for 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Can he replicate that against Louisville, or will the scoring duties fall back on the shoulders of freshman Archie Goodwin? Goodwin shot poorly from the field against Marshall (4-of-17) but was able to get to the line to boost his output (10-of-11 from the free throw line).

Russ Smith has shown a good deal of growth and maturation this season, leading to his 19.7 points per game, but Peyton Siva and his 6.3 assists per game are the engines for the Cardinals. Siva can’t have another six-turnover game like he did in a loss to Duke because turnovers will spur Kentucky’s transition game, where it is most dangerous.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Central Florida against Belmont

It might not be a massive upset, but this future Big East team is matching up Saturday with perhaps the toughest mid-major backcourt combo in the country. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson together average over 30 points per game and will put stress on the Knights’ backcourt to give an answer.

Expect Belmont to shoot well from the field as they typically do, which should help to minimize the impact of a possible rebounding deficit.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Valparaiso vs. Murray State

Valpo-MSU is a matchup between two mid-major stars: Isaiah Canaan and Ryan Broekhoff. Canaan is having the All-American season that was expected of him, averaging 20.9 points and 3.9 assists per game, while Broekhoff is one of the more unheralded impact forwards in the country with his 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Murray State will be pushing the tempo, but both teams shoot well from the floor. Keep an eye on who contains Ed Daniel in the paint for Valpo. If no one does, rebounding could be the deciding factor Saturday.

Five Things to Watch 

1. Having center Gorgui Dieng back from injury will help Louisville to contain the young and athletic Kentucky frontcourt combo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Dieng has been out since he fractured his wrist against Missouri during the Battle 4 Atlantis, and now returns just in time to combat the 18+ points and 14+ rebounds per game of the Noel/Cauley-Stein duo.

2. North Carolina was dismantled by a Myck Kabongo-less Texas team on Dec. 19 and now they face an 11-1 UNLV team that has won nine in a row. The Rebels will once again be without forward Mike Moser, but Pitt transfer Khem Birch has proven to be a capable fill-in since becoming eligible.

3. Florida lost its footing at home against then-unranked Kansas State last Saturday, but now has a chance to redeem itself against Air Force. The Gators are heavily favored, but they’ll need to keep an eye on Air Force guard Michael Lyons, who is averaging 20.5 points per game.

4. C.J. Leslie had a career-high 33 points in his last time out against St. Bonaventure. Saturday against Western Michigan, he’ll run into some solid size in 6-10 center Shayne Whittington and 6-8 forward Darius Paul, the team’s top two leading rebounders.

5. Tennessee has been prone to abysmal offensive outputs this season (37 points in loss to Georgetown, 38 in loss to Virginia). If they have that kind of output against Xavier on Saturday, freshman guard Semaj Christon had the ability to carry the Musketeers to a win.

Top  25 Games

No. 1 Duke vs. Santa Clara (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 2 Michigan vs. Central Michigan (7 p.m., Big Ten Network)

No. 4 Louisville vs. Kentucky (4 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 6 Kansas vs. American (8 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 9 Syracuse vs. Alcorn State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 10 Ohio State vs. Chicago State (4:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 12 Illinois vs. Auburn (2:15 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 14 Florida vs. Air Force (4:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

No. 16 Creighton vs. Evansville (8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 18 Butler vs. Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 20 UNLV vs. North Carolina (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 23 North Carolina State vs. Western Michigan (12 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 25 Kansas State vs. UMKC (7 p.m. ET)

Other Notable Games 

Delaware State vs. Maryland (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Virginia Tech vs. BYU (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Xavier vs. Tennessee (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Washington vs. Connecticut (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Harvard vs. California (8:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Like his career, Frank Martin has built South Carolina from the ground up

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NEW YORK — It was after he finished watching South Carolina cut down the Madison Square Garden nets, after he had spent the better part of 30 minutes giving interviews on the court, after he was spotted by the CBS cameras, with a fist raised and tears pooling under his eyes, that the enormity of what he had just witnessed hit Darius Rucker.

“Gosh,” he said to everyone and no one in particular as he left the arena floor and made his way through the bowels of the Garden, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

The ‘that’ that Rucker, South Carolina’s most famous and, quite possibly, biggest fan, was referring to was a 77-70, come-from behind win over No. 4 seed Florida that jettisoned the seventh-seeded Gamecocks through the Elite 8 and into the Final Four. Prior to this season, the Gamecocks hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 13 years. They had been to four NCAA tournaments in the previous 43 seasons, and they had never won back-to-back tournament game.

As in not ever.

“We’re in the Garden, watching the Gamecocks play to go to the Final Four,” Rucker said. “If you’d have told me that ten years ago I’d have told you that you were on crack.”

That’s the program that Frank Martin inherited in 2012, when he left Kansas State following a falling out with his athletic director, John Currie. Like South Carolina, Kansas State was hardly considered a destination job when Martin was at the helm, but he was able to build off of a foundation created by Bob Huggins. Martin had been to four NCAA tournaments in five years with Kansas State when he made the decision to leave. Nothing is more important to Martin than loyalty. “He’s always had a core group of people that he’s counted on,” his agent, Bret Just, said, and Currie was not one of those people.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came during the 2012 NCAA tournament. Kansas State was a No. 8 seed, squaring off with No. 1 seed Syracuse when Martin was informed by Currie that Jamar Samuels, one of his best players, would not be allowed to suit up. The school had stumbled upon information that Samuels had received a wire transfer for $200 from his AAU coach, and he was going to be suspended.

And that was that.

Martin was off to South Carolina.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“It was a situation where we had to go,” associate head coach Matt Figger, who has been with Martin for the last decade, said, and it wasn’t exactly the easiest or smartest decision to leave. Most understood why Martin had to make the change that he made — he was offered a hefty raise and he had the chance to leave a place of employment where he did not get along with his boss — but it wasn’t as if Martin was climbing the ladder. If anything, South Carolina was a step backwards, as Martin took over a program with less pedigree and with a significant building job in front of them.

“I didn’t really know until I got into it. It was a much different deal. It looked easier on the surface than what it really was,” Figger said. “The best players transferred. Bruce Ellington, he’s with the 49ers now, he was the one guy that we could trust and he played football half the year. Couple of the guys that were the holdovers, I don’t think they believed in what our vision was. After a year, some of them left.”

“We had to start this from scratch.”

The process was slow in the early stages. Martin replaced Darrin Horn, who had won just 10 games and finished dead last in the SEC in his final season on campus, and didn’t post a .500 record until his third season in Columbia. Even then, that team went just 17-16. He won 15 SEC games in his first three years combined. After a late season swoon cost South Carolina a shot at the 2016 NCAA tournament, there was speculation that another year without a trip to the Big Dance could spell the end of Martin’s time with the Gamecocks.

“It was hard!” Martin’s wife, Anya, said. “You see he’s losing his hair. It’s all turning white. It was tough in the beginning. I had to ask him a couple of times, ‘Why here?’”

The easy answer is that it wasn’t Kansas State, but the truth is more complicated than that.

Martin is not a man that is afraid of a challenge. He’s not intimidated by a job that isn’t easy to do, not when you come from where he’s come from, when you’ve coached on the path that he has coached.

Martin got his first job when he was 12 years old, working at a Dairy Queen to help his mom pay the bills when his dad walked out on them. His coaching career started a year after he graduated high school, when he was just 19 years old.

“I tore my ACL the year before,” Martin said, “and my high school coach asked me to come help him, because the kids in the neighborhood respected me so much.”

He was nothing more than an assistant with the team at Miami Senior High School, helping out when and where he could, when the head coach of the JV team didn’t show up for work one day. Shakey Rodriguez, a legend in the Miami High School basketball community, told Martin he would be coaching that day, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“By his second season,” Martin’s mother, Lourdes, beaming as she held back tears of joy, said, “he was 22-0.”

Even as Martin was coaching, he was still working on the side, most famously as a bouncer in Miami’s nightclub scene. He needed a degree, so he took night classes at Miami-Dade College before enrolling part-time at FIU. His future was capped if he didn’t graduate.

“He made it out,” she added, holding on to her grandson to steady herself as the moment washed over her. “He had many, many jobs, and then God was up there and blessed him.”

Martin would go from the high school ranks to Northeastern, taking a paycut just to get his foot in the door. He spent four years as an assistant and met his wife — “My wife turned me down seven times to go out on a date,” he said. “Seven. Seven. And the day she made the mistake of going out on a date with me, I never let her go.” — before moving on to Cincinnati, where he joined forces with Bob Huggins, spending two seasons with the Bearcats before following Huggins to Kansas State. He replaced Huggins as Kansas State’s head coach a year after joining the program and just seven years after he joined the collegiate coaching ranks. He would take the Wildcats to more NCAA tournaments in his five seasons at the helm than they had been to in the previous two decades combined.

“Frank’s never steered away from a challenge as long as I’ve known him,” Anya said. “He’s overcome any obstacle in his way, just ‘I’m going to make it work.'”

“He’s a builder,” Just said.

And he’s done just that at South Carolina.

“I’m happy as any mom could be,” Lourdes said. “Speechless, but not all the way. I have to talk to him about my air ticket.”

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Martin spoke many times about the dream of leading this team to this moment, but he didn’t always believe that the dream of taking the Gamecocks to the Final Four was a realistic possibility.

“When we beat Duke, Frank said ‘Why not us?’” Figgers said, a motto that had become something of a rallying cry for the Gamecocks during the East Regional. “That’s the first time we really talked about [winning a title].”

The team and the coaching staff weren’t the only ones that never really gave this possibility much thought. College basketball at large — the fans, the media, opposing coaches — all had the same thought: “South Carolina in the Final Four? The same team that put up 86 points in four overtimes against Alabama? Lulz.”

They showed us.

Over and over again.

South Carolina’s star guard Sindarius Thornwell, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the East Region, mentioned in every press conference this weekend that no one paid attention to or respected the program prior to this run. Martin ranted earlier this year about the lack of local media coverage his team gets, particularly when they play on the road.

At this point in the season, most players get burned out of the media attention they get, answering the same questions over and over and over again.

I don’t blame them.

On Sunday evening, after spending 25 minutes up on the dais for a postgame press conference, Thornwell was finally en route back to the locker room to celebrate with his team when he was pulled aside by a television reporter that needed just a couple more minutes of his time.

Thornwell, decked out in a East Regional Champs shirt and hat with the remnants of a net dangling around his neck, didn’t mind.

“You gotta talk a lot,” Thornwell said, “when you win.”

Drake hires Furman’s Niko Medved to be new head coach

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Drake has hired Furman head coach Niko Medved to the same position, the school announced on Sunday.

The 43-year-old Medved has led the Paladins to back-to-back CIT appearances as he’s been the head coach there for four seasons. Also an assistant coach at Minnesota and Colorado State, Medved is a noted recruiter.

“I am ecstatic about the opportunity to be the next men’s basketball coach at Drake University,” Medved said in the release. “Drake University’s tremendous reputation partnered with its strong leadership and the thriving Des Moines community make this a special place.  I was born and raised in the Midwest and have so many strong roots in this part of the country.  My family and I can’t wait to get started.”

Medved was named the Southern Conference’s 2017 Coach of the Year for helping lead Furman to the regular-season title in the league.

The Bulldogs are coming off a last-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference as former head coach Ray Giacoletti was relieved of his duties in January. Drake only has one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1971 (coming in 2008) as the Bulldogs have struggled to remain relevant in a tough league.

VIDEO: North Carolina and Roy Williams dance in locker room after advancing to Final Four

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Watching Roy Williams dance never gets old.

The North Carolina head coach is taking his team back to the Final Four next weekend after the Tar Heels outlasted Kentucky in a thrilling South Regional final.

North Carolina is making its 20th appearance in the Final Four as they are going for the second consecutive season.

2017 NCAA Tournament Final Four schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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National Semifinals– Saturday, April 1

6:09 p.m. EST, CBS, Glendale
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Approximately 40 minutes after conclusion of first game, CBS, Glendale
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

VIDEO: The insane final 10 seconds of North Carolina’s win over Kentucky

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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North Carolina and Kentucky ended in legendary fashion on Sunday.

After freshman Malik Monk buried a heavily-contested three-pointer to tie the game at 73-all for Kentucky with under 10 seconds left the Tar Heels didn’t use a timeout as Theo Pinson found forward Luke Maye for the game-winning jumper.

These 10 seconds will go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.