Pregame Shootaround 2.11.13: Sunflower Showdown heats up

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Game of the Night: No. 10 Kansas State at No. 14 Kansas (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

We may still be more than a month away from the start of March Madness, but it’s hard to imagine much more riding on a game than there is tonight in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are coming off of a three-game losing streak, having their offensive issues supplemented with confidence issues that have put them in a position that we’ve rarely seen out of a Bill Self-coached team: second place in the conference standings. That’s right. Kansas, who has won at least a share of the last eight Big 12 regular season titles, is currently sitting a game behind in-state rival K-State for the Big 12 lead.

That should give you a sense of just how big tonight’s game is. With a win, the Wildcats would move two games up on Kansas with seven left to play. And those final seven games aren’t exactly a murder’s row. They get Baylor twice and have to make a trip to Oklahoma State. Beyond that? A lot of ‘meh’, which means that Kansas State is one win in Lawrence away from having the Big 12 title within their sights.

The Phog will be rocking tonight.

Mid-Major matchup of the night: Old Dominion at Delaware (7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSports)

Since firing head coach Blaine Taylor, Old Dominion has notched a win at Drexel and taken CAA leader Northeastern to overtime. Tonight, they visit Delaware. This Monarch team seems to have something to prove to the CAA. The Blue Hens better be ready for a fight.

Five Things to Watch For:

1) No. 15 Georgetown wil host No. 18 Marquette tonight in the Big Monday opener. There haven’t been ten coaches in the country that have consistently churned out winners like Buzz Williams. Every year, he loses a handful of pieces that make you think his program is ready for a rebuilding season. And by the time Big East play roles around, you realize that all he needs to rebuild in non-conference play. It will be interesting to see how the Golden Eagles handle Georgetown’s zone. They struggled with it the last time these two got together in Milwaukee, where Marquette survived when Greg Whittington missed a free throw with 2.3 seconds left on the clock.

2) Oklahoma will host TCU, who knocked off Kansas last week. The Horned Frogs then proceeded to lose by double-digits to West Virginia.

3) Don’t expect to see Sacred Heart visit Bryant of Central Connecticut State play Quinnipiac, as the northeast is still digging out from Winter Storm Nemo.

4) There are three teams sitting with two losses in the SWAC. All three — Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Southern, and Texas Southern — play tonight.

5) Norfolk State and North Carolina Central are both undefeated this season in the MEAC, but they won’t play unless they meet in the conference tournament title game. That said, both teams will take the court in league play tonight.

Top 25

  • No. 18 Marquette at No. 15 Georgetown (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 10 Kansas State at No. 14 Kansas (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

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.