Game of the Weekend: No. 6 Syracuse at No. 1 Louisville (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ESPN)
Were you wondering who the best team in the Big East is this season? Well, you may be getting your answer on Saturday, as Syracuse heads down to Louisville to take on the Cardinals. At full strength, this would be a tough matchup for the Orange. As good as Michael Carter-Williams has been this season, he’s a bigger, slightly slower guard that is turnover prone. He’s going to have Russ Smith and Peyton Siva and Kevin Ware up in his jock for 40 minutes. That’s not exactly ideal for anyone, especially a guy whose dribble is that much higher than a standard point guard.
The other issue for Syracuse is that they will be playing without James Southerland, their best shooter and a key piece in their zone defense. What makes him so valuable is that not only can be be a zone buster and help get the Cardinals out of their 2-3, but he had the length and athleticism to be a threat defensively in the Syracuse zone. It will be interesting to see how Syracuse responds, but until Southerland returns to the lineup, Syracuse is going to be behind the 8-ball, especially on the road.
Six more games you have to watch
- No. 17 Missouri at No. 10 Florida (Sat. 2:00 p.m. ESPN): The big news here is that it looks like Laurence Bowers will be out on Saturday, meaning that the Tigers are going to be going up against one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams without their best offensive player. That doesn’t mean they won’t have a fighting chance, mind you; if Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross are hitting their threes, Phil Pressey is playing under control and the Tigers are defending, they are still a dangerous club.
- No. 12 Creighton at Wichita State (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ESPN2): Wichita State is getting closer to being back to full strength as they just got Carl Hall back from his broken thumb. He joins Cleanthony Early along the front line, meaning that the Shockers have the mismatch they can exploit against the Bluejays. Last season, with Creighton and Wichita State in similar situations from a nation perspective, the Shockers smacked Creighton around. If the Bluejays truly want to be the favorite in the Missouri Valley and prove they are a threat in March, they need this win.
- No. 21 Oregon at No. 24 UCLA (Sat. 4:00 p.m. CBS): Can you believe this? Two top 25 teams in the Pac-12, and they’re playing each other? For my money, these are the two best teams in the league. And while both like to get up-and-down the floor, the Bruins don’t play nearly as much defense or rebound nearly as well as the Ducks. That said, Oregon doesn’t have the same kind of talent on their roster. The key matchup: Kyle Anderson vs. whichever big man Oregon puts on him.
- No. 11 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State (Sat. 6:00 p.m. ESPN): The Buckeyes are coming off of a stellar win over Michigan on Sunday, but so much of that win had to do with the fact that Ohio State simply matched up well with the Wolverines. Will that be the case against the Spartans? OSU doesn’t have nearly the same amount of size, and if the Spartans go small and put Branden Dawson at the four, they can nullify Deshaun Thomas.
- UNLV at Colorado State (Sat. 7:00 p.m. NBC Sports Net): UNLV picked up a huge win at San Diego State on Wednesday night, but does this mean that they’ve gotten past their road woes? CSU is a tough team at home and they have a big, physical front line. If the Rams are truly going to make noise in the Mountain West this season, these are the kind of games they need to win.
- No. 9 Gonzaga at No. 13 Butler (Sat. 8:00 p.m. ESPN): This game took a bit of a hit last weekend when Rotnei Clarke took a nasty fall against Dayton and sprained his neck in a scary incident that required his to be taken off the court on a stretcher. But that doesn’t mean this won’t be an entertaining matchup. How about this: Kelly Olynyk matching up with the most physical defender he will have faced this season in Andrew Smith? Remember the job Smith did on Cody Zeller? If he can slow down Gonzaga’s Big Canadian, Butler will have a chance.
And the mid-majors?
- Stony Brook at Vermont (Fri. 7:00 p.m. ESPNU)
- La Salle at Xavier (Sat. 2:00 p.m.)
- Wagner at Bryant (Sat. 4:00 p.m.)
- Charleston at Davidson (Sat. 7:00 p.m. ESPN3)
- Tennessee State at Belmont (Sat. 8:00 p.m.)
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Even before Rhode Island’s NCAA tournament came to an end Saturday in the Round of 32 against Duke, speculation was running wild about the future of Rams coach Dan Hurley.
Stay or go. If it’s go, where to?
There was no clarity, but maybe some progress Monday.
Both Connecticut and Pittsburgh, the prime candidates to pry Hurley away from Rhode Island, spoke with the coach, but no decision had yet been reached, according to multiple reports.
Hurley was set to meet with Rams athletic director Thorr Bjorn on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. Heart Connecticut Media’s Jeff Jacobs reported that UConn was “closing in on an agreement” with Hurley but that Pitt was continuing its pursuit.
Hurley has led the Rams to the NCAA tournament the last two years and signed a seven-year contract with Rhode Island worth approximately $1 million per year last off-season. UConn was paying Kevin Ollie, who led the team to the 2014 NCAA title before being fired after this season, an average of $3 million per season while Kevin Stallings reportedly was due a buyout of nearly $10 million when he was fired by Pitt this season.
What Hurley will have to weigh beyond the financial circumstances will be his ability to win at either UConn or Pitt, should he decide to move on from Rhode Island.
Ollie – well, really Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright – showed you can win a national title out of the AAC at UConn. The league adding Wichita State only strengthens that point. Pitt, meanwhile, may be a tougher job now than it was when Jamie Dixon had it rolling since their move from the Big East to the ACC.
Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic joined Rob Dauster for an epic, two-hour podcast on the first weekend of the tournament. It was so good that we had to split the podcast into two parts. On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the South and West Regions, from Sister Jean to UMBC to Nevada’s comebacks to Kentucky’s chances at a Final Four.
On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the East and Midwest Regions, from Villanova and Duke steamrolling to Michigan State collapsing to Syracuse and Clemson and Texas Tech and Purdue. It’s all in there.
One of my favorite parts of the NCAA tournament is seeing who comes out of nowhere to turn into a viral celebrity during this month of madness.
By my estimation, we had eight true candidates for the award of March Madness Viral Celebrity of the Year. Here they are:
8. ROB GRAY’S LITTLE BROTHER
He was more fired up for Houston’s success in the tournament than any Houston fan in the history of basketball in the city of Houston.
7. JORDAN PEELE
Jordan Poole is spelled a lot like Jordan Peele, which inevitably led to people tweeting at Peele instead of Poole. Peele’s thank you tweet was a highlight of the first weekend.
6. TY JEROME DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR DUMB QUESTIONS
Having to answer questions from a bunch of reporters after suffering the most humiliating moment of your life is not an easy thing to do. Having to answer ridiculous and stupid questions could be intolerable, which is why I loved Ty Jerome’s response to a stupid question he was asked:
5. ROBERT WILLIAMS TEAMMATE
I loved seeing Robert Williams’ teammate do a panotmine windmill in the background while Williams was throwing down a windmill in real time on Providence:
4. MARIAH MUSSELMAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman has led his team to the Sweet 16, cussed on live television and gone shirtless to celebrate with his team, but the star of the Musselman family is his daughter Mariah:
3. MATT HAARMS’ HAIR
He really does have great hair:
This dude lived the dream of every twitter user out there. When your shot is there, you have to take it.
1. SISTER JEAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman went shirtless to celebrate his team’s come-from-behind win over No. 2 seed Cincinnati on Sunday.
I guess this is better than dropping F-bombs live on national TV. Maybe that’s why they had Steve Lappas talking over him …
The worst-kept secret in college basketball no longer appears to be a secret: Penny Hardaway is going to be the next coaching at the University of Memphis.
ESPN is reporting that a deal has been agreed upon. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal is reporting that Penny was waiting for his season to end with East High School before he made anything official. NBC Sports can confirm that an announcement is expected to be made early this week, likely as soon as Tuesday, to introduce the former Memphis and NBA star as Tubby Smith’s replacement.
The truth, however, is that we all knew this was what would be happening the second that Memphis formally fired Tubby Smith. Hell, we knew it a month before that decision was made final. This was always how it was going to play out.
What’s interesting to me is now the discussion of whether or not Penny will be able to handle being a Division I head coach, because it’s been hit or miss with basketball programs hiring legends of their past. Chris Mullin and St. John’s hasn’t exactly gone to plan but Fred Hoiberg was quite successful at Iowa State. Kevin Ollie won a title with UConn then fell off a cliff. Patrick Ewing’s start wasn’t great, but he was better than expected.
Where does Penny fall on this scale?
Well, let me just drop this section of a column from Geoff Calkins in here:
Hardaway isn’t a guy who woke up one morning and decided he’d like to be a Division I head coach. He’s not a former player who got bored with retirement and decided he’d like to do something other than play golf.
Hardaway started coaching at middle school. Middle school! Because an old friend needed some help.
Then he built one of the best AAU programs in the country. Then he spent years coaching a high school team.
Does that sound like someone who doesn’t want to roll up his sleeves and do the work? Does that sound like someone who is just in it for the glory and the glitz?
The truth is, if it weren’t for Hardaway’s iconic stature, he might be characterized as a grinder, as a guy who worked his way up from the lowest levels of basketball on the strength of his relationship with the kids.
I think that this is going to work out for both Penny and Memphis, especially if Penny hires a staff that can help him with the intricacies of running a college basketball program.