Pregame Shootaround 2.7.13: No. 1 Indiana’s visit a major opportunity for Illinois

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Game of the Night: No. 1 Indiana at Illinois (7:00 p.m.; ESPN) 

With a 2-7 conference record the days of John Groce’s Fighting Illini being a Big Ten title contender are long over, but this is a group in desperate need of a resume-building victory at this stage in the season. While much as been made of Illinois’ offensive struggles in conference play (40.5% FG and 25.4% 3PT in conference games) the fact of the matter is that they’ve struggled defensively as well. Illinois ranks dead last in the Big Ten in both field goal and three-point percentage defense (in conference games), and they cannot afford to defend at this level if they’re to beat Indiana.

Look for Victor Oladipo to get the assignment of guarding Illinois guard Brandon Paul, and with one of the nation’s best defenders on the floor points will be tough to come by for the home team. If Illinois can limit Cody Zeller’s quality touches (cannot allow him to have both feet in the paint when catching entry passes) they’ve got a shot. But that’s far easier said than done.

Who’s Getting Upset? No. 19 Oregon (vs. Colorado; 10:00 p.m. ESPNU) 

The Ducks’ chances of ending their current two-game losing streak hinge on the health of freshman point guard Dominic Artis. Without Artis (foot injury) last week, Oregon averaged 53.0 points and 21.0 turnovers per game in losses at Stanford and California. Tonight Oregon hosts a Colorado squad that needs all the quality wins it can get in the games leading up to March, and this is a group talented enough to make a run at their second consecutive NCAA tournament bid. But Andre Roberson, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie need to be consistent, and freshman center Josh Scott has to show up defensively against Oregon’s experienced front line. Look for Tad Boyle’s team to escape with a hard-fought victory.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Belmont at Murray State (8:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

This is a game many within the OVC were anxious to see when the Bruins officially became a member of the conference this summer. And it’s safe to say that Rick Byrd’s team has not disappointed, as they’re off to a 10-0 start in conference play with just two wins being by single digits. The backcourt tandem of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson is one of the nation’s best despite the lack of national publicity thrown their way, and the individual battle between Johnson and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan may be the best of the night in college basketball. The key for Canaan and company: taking care of the basketball. Belmont forces an average of 17.6 turnovers per game, and if Murray State doesn’t keep their turnover count down they’ll be in serious trouble.

Five Things to Watch

1) There’s a strong possibility that NC State will once again be without the services of starting point guard Lorenzo Brown tonight when they visit No. 4 Duke, as reported by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com. If that’s the case the Wolfpack will once again lean on freshmen Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis, both of whom were solid in Saturday’s close loss to Miami. But playing at Cameron is an entirely different animal, especially for young players.

2) Virginia won’t make national waves with a win over Clemson in Charlottesville, but a loss to the Tigers would be yet another dent in what has to be the nation’s most confusing resume. While the Cavaliers have some very good wins to their credit there are also glaring defeats, one of which being a 59-44 loss at Clemson on January 12.

3) The question of which team has the best shot of challenging Stephen F. Austin in the Southland will be answered tonight as Oral Roberts (9-1 Southland) visits Northwestern State (8-2). Warren Niles and Damen Bell-Holter lead the way for Scott Sutton’s Golden Eagles, who with a win tonight could be playing for a share of first on Saturday when they visit Stephen F. Austin. Forwards DeQuan Hicks and James Hulbin lead the way for Northwestern State.

4) In addition to the Colorado/Oregon tilt mentioned above there are two other key match-ups in the Pac-12: California visiting Arizona State and Washington taking on UCLA in Los Angeles. This weekend could go a long way towards sorting out the conference race with just over a month remaining in the regular season.

5) BYU and Saint Mary’s, two WCC teams who need to avoid stubbing their respective toes as they push towards a ticket to the NCAA tournament, have tough games on the road. The Cougars visit San Diego, who nearly knocked off No. 6 Gonzaga on Saturday, while the Gaels will need to slow down a Santa Clara squad led by guard Kevin Foster.

The Top 25 

No. 1 Indiana at Illinois (7:00 p.m.; ESPN)

NC State at No. 4 Duke (9:00 p.m.; ACC Network)

Pepperdine at No. 6 Gonzaga (11:00 p.m.; ROOT Sports)

Colorado at No. 19 Oregon (10:00 p.m.; ESPNU)

No. 21 Missouri at Texas A&M (9:00 p.m.; ESPN2)

Other Notable Games 

Clemson at Virginia (7:00 p.m.; ESPN2)

Jacksonville at Mercer (7:00 p.m.)

Oral Roberts at Northwestern St. (8:30 p.m.)

Washington at UCLA (9:00 p.m.; ESPN)

California at Arizona St. (9:30 p.m.; Pac-12 Networks)

Long Beach St. at Hawaii (12:00 a.m.)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

New LSU coach Wade unveils plan to awaken a ‘sleeping giant’

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Newly named LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade left little doubt about his intention to wear his players out.

It also sounded like the fresh-faced 34-year-old, who has known only winning in his four seasons as a head coach at Chattanooga and at VCU, knew better than to make immediate promises about turning the Tigers into champions before he’d truly discovered what he’s gotten himself into down on the bayou.

“You may beat us, but you’re going to know you’re in for a fight,” Wade asserted as he spoke of going “all out, all the time,” and defending “every floor board for 94 feet.”

“That’s going to be our identity,” Wade said.

At LSU, basketball has long been a sport that lags behind football and even baseball in popularity. The program’s history is one of inconsistent results and wavering fan support – despite considerable resources spent on upgrading practice and training facilities in recent years.

There are larger than life bronze statues of Hall-of-Famers Bob Pettit and Shaquille O’Neal in front of the basketball practice gym, and the Tigers’ home stadium is named for the legendary Pete Maravich. But LSU has been to a total of four Final Fours in program history. Its last Final Four in 2006 is the only one in the past three decades.

The top overall NBA draft choice in 2016 – Ben Simmons – played at LSU two seasons ago, but the team he led failed to make the NCAA Tournament. One season later, the man who recruited Simmons, Johnny Jones, found himself at the helm of a team mired in a school-record 15-game losing streak.

Now Jones, criticized by fans for allowing Simmons to put his personal goals before those of the team, is out after five seasons, and Wade has taken on the task of trying to turn things around.

Wade said he sees LSU, which went 10-21 this season, as a “sleeping giant.” He plans to wake it up with a high-energy approach and a focus recruiting the type of players who care about the way they represent LSU.

“We’re going to have unwavering commitment to put the team first,” Wade said. “This is a privilege to be here. This is not a right to be here.”

Wade also spoke of making sure his players are not only in class, but sitting in the first few rows. (Simmons was disqualified in college from receiving the Wooden Award, which takes academic performance into consideration).

“It’s all about culture from the start,” Wade said. “You’ve got to establish the way you’re going to do things and be absolutely uncompromising in those. … We’re not going to have shortcuts.”

Wade took his first head coaching job at Chattanooga following a stint as Shaka Smart’s assistant at VCU. Chattanooga was coming off consecutive losing seasons when Wade arrived and made them winners in his first season. Chattanooga won more than 20 games in Year 2 under Wade, who then took over at VCU when Smart left for Texas. Wade guided the Rams to a 51-20 record in two seasons and is now 91-45 overall as a head coach.

Wade acknowledged that the program he took over at VCU was “humming.” He was also at a school where basketball is king, and in a region known for college basketball.

But Wade said LSU offered something that some more traditionally successful programs could not – a chance to build something that represents his own vision of what a bigtime program should be.

“I really looked at this as an opportunity to try to put my stamp on something … and build it in the vision of how I would like it built,” Wade said.

After Wade’s ceremonial introduction at LSU’s student union near the center of campus, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was pretty specific about his expectations for the Tigers’ new coach.

“We should be one of the top teams in the SEC and go to postseason play on a regular basis,” Alleva said before dismissing the notion that it is somehow basketball’s lack of popularity at LSU that has made it hard for the Tigers to win consistently.

“Our fans are great, and if we win, they’ll come,” he said.

NTSB cites mechanical issue in Michigan plane incident

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YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) A preliminary investigation into the runway accident involving a plane carrying the Michigan men’s basketball team cites a mechanical problem.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday issued an update about the March 8 crash at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Township, near the Ann Arbor school. The aborted takeoff caused extensive damage to the aircraft but only one minor injury during evacuation.

The report does not list a likely cause of the incident, but it says flight data recorder shows the right elevator – the primary mechanism controlling an airplane’s pitch – didn’t move during the attempted takeoff.

The plane carrying 109 passengers and seven crew members skidded 1,000 feet past the runway. The team was headed to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten Tournament. They flew the next day and won the tournament and are now in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler, Purdue use true grit to get programs into Sweet 16

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Coach Matt Painter kept believing in his team even as he watched Purdue fritter away a 19-point lead.

He did, after all, recruit these players to excel in tough times. And he did spend two years using the lessons from consecutive overtime losses in the NCAA Tournament to show his team what it took to survive in March.

So when the Boilermakers steadied themselves, retook the lead and reached their first Sweet 16 in seven years, Painter wasn’t surprised. He simply knew the Boilermakers, finally, were tough enough.

“No question, having that grit back after not having it for a couple of years helps,” Painter said. “We put a lot of skill on the court, but we also have guys who are competitive.”

Painter, after all, grew up a fan of former Hoosiers coach Bob Knight, went on to play for Gene Keady and then served on Keady’s staff briefly before succeeding his former coach.

Experience has taught Painter just how delicate it can be to find the proper balance.

After finishing last in the Big Ten in 2013-14 with guys who were content to rely more on their athleticism than mental toughness, Painter changed course.

He brought in gritty overachievers who embraced old-school principles built on effort and led Purdue to its first outright conference title since 1996. Nothing reinforced those beliefs more than last weekend’s comeback against Iowa State.

“Leads are blown throughout March Madness, which is all about close games. I always tell the guys, `If it’s not a blowout, then it is a close game,”‘ junior forward Vince Edwards said Monday. “We have learned to be able to take a run – like Iowa State’s – and be able to withstand it.”

The best teams always do, which is why fourth-seeded Purdue will now face top-seeded Kansas (30-4) in one of Thursday night’s Midwest Regional semifinal games .

Finding players who are the right fit is a challenge for every coach and program.

At Butler, it’s a tradition that has been passed down through nearly a half-dozen coaches over a span of two decades. Former coach and current athletic director Barry Collier started the process by turning the Bulldogs from perennial also-ran into a regular conference contender and NCAA Tourney hopeful.

Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter kept the momentum going before taking other jobs, and Brad Stevens perfected the script as the Bulldogs posted consecutive national runner-up finishes.

Things didn’t always go smoothly. Fans still remember watching the Bulldogs blow an upset against Florida in the 2000 tourney and the inexplicable 2002 tourney snub.

Eventually, though, those painful moments gave way to a litany of program-defining memories.

Against Louisville in the 2003 tourney, a teammate handed his dry shoes to the late Joel Cornette so Cornette could help close out an upset against Louisville in 2003. In the 2010 title game, junior center Matt Howard had the foresight to set a pick and give Gordon Hayward a clean look on his half-court heave that just missed.

The next year, Howard managed to draw a foul in the waning seconds against Pittsburgh to keep Butler’s postseason run alive.

“The stories are unbelievable,” point guard Tyler Lewis said. “That was a special group because they really made the community believe Butler was not just some small school. Butler was a school you didn’t mess around with.”

Stevens and his predecessors moved the school up the pecking order by recruiting late-bloomers or players who were often overlooked by bigger schools. They asked them to play selflessly, a style that defines The Butler Way.

While that philosophy worked well in the Horizon League and the Atlantic 10, Chris Holtmann needed to make some adjustments to thrive in the stronger Big East. Holtmann has recruited better athletes and is looking for more physical players, but the same basic philosophy hasn’t changed.

“I think it (toughness) has been valued here at a really high level, from those who came before me,” Holtmann said. “I just hope I’m doing my job to carry it on.”

The good news is he hasn’t had do too much.

Here, players like leading scorer Kelan Martin don’t complain about coming off the bench if asked. Grad transfers like Avery Woodson and Kethan Savage are both happy to help any way they can in their first and only NCAA appearance.

And it will be that way again when fourth-seeded Butler (25-8) tries to upset top-seeded North Carolina (29-7) in the South Region on Friday night.

“What makes us so tough is that we believe in each other,” said Lewis, who started his career at North Carolina State. “It’s an honor putting on this Butler uniform because it reminds us of what the guys did that came before us.”

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.