Team of the Week: The impact of good Tyler Griffey on Illinois

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Team of the Week: Illinois

Plenty of words have been written about the importance of this past week for Illinois. When you’re in the midst of a losing skid — the Illini had lost eight of their last 11 games — there really is no better way to snap yourself out of it than to beat the No. 1 team in the country (Indiana) and follow that up with a win over the No. 18 team in the country (Minnesota) on the road. All of a sudden, the Illini are back in bubble contention and, more importantly, are playing with confidence.

Personally, I think the reason for this turnaround is Tyler Griffey, and that’s before you factor in the game-winning layup he had to beat Indiana at the buzzer. Griffey had been mired in a devastating slump, missing 22 straight threes. He played just eight minutes against Wisconsin last Saturday. He had become a non-factor, and that was a huge problem for John Groce because Griffey’s versatility — his ability to pull an opposing center away from the rim — created more space for penetration and forced defenses into longer rotations. And while no one is going to confuse Griffey with Nerlens Noel, he’s big enough to block a few shots and grab a few boards. Illinois needs him on the floor, playing well and hitting shots. This week, he averaged 15.0 points and hit 6-13 from three.

Teams that deserve a shout-out:

Memphis: Is this a new year for the Tigers, or simply the same old narrative? Struggle through non-conference play only to turn things around against their weak Conference USA slate? Memphis took a two-game lead in the league standings thanks to an impressive win at Southern Miss on Saturday afternoon.

Oakland: Thanks to 54 points in two games from sharp-shooter Travis Bader, the Grizzlies were able to knock off both North Dakota State and South Dakota State this week, climbing into fourth place in the Summit League standings, just two games behind Western Illinois and a game behind both NDSU and SDSU. With WIU visiting the Dakota schools this weekend, Oakland has put themselves in a great position to make a run at a league title.

Miami: As of this moment in time, the Hurricanes are playing the best basketball in the country. They don’t have the best resume, they may not be the favorite to win the national title come March, but at this very second, there isn’t a team that I would pick to beat them on a neutral court. This comes after handing North Carolina a 26 point beatdown on Saturday afternoon.

Murray State: The Racers let the nation know that they’re still the biggest name in the Ohio Valley as the knocked off Belmont at home on Wednesday and followed that up with a 21 point win over Tennessee State on Saturday.

Wisconsin: After beating Iowa in double-overtime, the Badgers took down Michigan in OT thanks to this shot from Ben Brust. They’re now tied for second in the Big Ten standings.

They were good too: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Pitt, Virginia

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: