The Morning Mix

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Friday’s schedule may consist of just 11 games but there are some solid contests to check out, most notably No. 15 Georgetown visiting Cincinnati. The Hoyas can move into first place in the Big East with a win, while a victory for the Bearcats would strengthen their NCAA tournament credentials. Two schools separated by ten miles meet in Riverdale, with Iona taking on a Manhattan squad that’s played some good basketball of late. And there’s also the America East showdown between Vermont and Stony Brook, with the Seawolves looking to return the favor after they were on the receiving end of a beating at Vermont last month.

Let’s hit the links.

Friday’s Top games:
7:00 p.m. – Pennsylvania at Harvard
7:00 p.m. – Iona at Manhattan (ESPNU)
7:00 p.m. – Vermont at Stony Brook (ESPN3)
7:00 p.m. – North Florida at Jacksonville (ESPN3)
9:00 p.m. – No. 15 Georgetown at Cincinnati (ESPN)

Read of the Day:
This piece is lengthy but it’s well worth the read when it comes to collegiate athletics and the NCAA’s history of reform. Let’s just say the governing body doesn’t look too good by the end. (Inside Higher Ed)

Read of the Day:
It looks as if another columnist has decided to ask the question of whether or not college basketball is in bad shape. This piece was sparked by the torn ACL suffered by Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, and whether or not we agree with such questioning it’s good to get a variety of opinions on the subject. (New Yorker)

 

Top Stories:
Nonprofit group sues NCAA over rule barring of felons from coaching AAU teams: In an attempt to help clean up grassroots basketball, the NCAA implemented restrictions baring former felons from coaching in sanctioned tournaments. A nonprofit group has stepped forwward with the hopes to get the rule overturned.

Deep rotation, defense spark Louisiana Tech’s 12-0 WAC start: The Bulldogs are just one of eight teams that remained unscathed in conference play. While the conference’s infrastructure is almost non-existent, Michael White’s has been playing at an extremely high level and could be poised to make some noise in March.

Five future Kentucky Wildcats named McDonald’s All-Americans: The McDonald’s All-America Game rosters were announced on Thursday, with five players who will attend Kentucky next year being chosen. The Harrison twins, Marcus Lee, James Young and Dakari Johnson all made the cut, and with Aaron Gordon and Andrew Wiggins still undecided UK could very well see that number increase.

Aesthetics mean little in Minnesota’s win over No. 20 Wisconsin: It wasn’t pretty but when a team has lost six of its last eight games beggars can’t be choosers. And fans may want to get used to the Golden Gophers winning ugly games.

Weber State makes statement in win over Montana: Randy Rahe’s Wildcats may still trail Montana by a game in the Big Sky standings, but their 87-63 win over the Grizzlies was quite the statement.

Colorado will ultimately go as far as Spencer Dinwiddie takes them: Colorado avenged a controversial loss with a 71-58 win over No. 9 Arizona and their sophomore point guard was a major reason why. In fact, if Colorado is to win games in March, Spencer Dinwiddie will have to lead the way.

Hoops Housekeeping:

Drexel’s Fouch aiming for 2013-14 return: Drexel fifth-year senior guard will miss the remainder of the season due to a fractured right ankle suffered in November. And according the head coach Bruiser Flint the plan is to apply for a sixth year of eligibility. Fouch has already missed on season due to a torn ACL, which could help his chances of receiving a sixth year.

Observations & Insight:
– Stanford’s rally fell just short at home, and the end result is a one-point loss to USC that doesn’t help their chances of grabbing a bid to the NCAA tournament (San Jose Mercury-News) 

– It was far-fetched a couple weeks ago to even consider California for the NCAA tournament, but their play of late has the Golden Bears thinking that they can make a late-season run (The Dagger)

– Weber State looked like the best team in the Big Sky on Thursday night, and their play has led one writer to make that case (Big Sky Basketball)

– Just four players in all of college basketball attempt 80% or more of their field goals from beyond the arc. Two of them are VCU’s Troy Daniels and Boise State’s Jeff Elorriaga, who have been key cogs in the attacks of their respective teams (Sports Illustrated)

– It’s safe to say that South Carolina head coach is none too thrilled with his team right now, especially after a disappointing effort in a 64-46 home loss to LSU (Gamecocks Online)

– With a trip to Harvard on Saturday looming, Princeton refuses to look past their game on Friday night at Dartmouth. (Trentonian)

Odds & Ends:
– Former Providence forward Dickey Simpkins is being inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend (Friar Basketball) 

Photo of the Day:
https://twitter.com/BrucePascoe/status/302229571938426880

Video of the Day:
Can’t say that I’m a fan of Ke$ha but she provided the music of choice for Minnesota, who did some dancing to celebrate their win over No. 20 Wisconsin (h/t The Dagger). 

Video of the Day:
Valentine’s Day has passed but the ACC used to occasion to catch up with one of the greatest backcourts in the history of the league. N.C. State’s “Fire and Ice,” Chris Corchianni and Rodney Monroe.

Do you like the new Morning Mix? Hate it? Have a suggestion or want something featured? Troy Machir will take all your praise, insults and inquiries via Twitter (@TroyMachir)

Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Saturday, March 25

6:09 p.m., TBS, San Jose
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 Xavier (Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lewis Johnson)

8:49 p.m., TBS, Kansas City
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Oregon (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson)

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

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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Thursday brought us a thrilling night of college basketball. Oregon won a thriller. Gonzaga did, too. Kansas put on a show, toying with the Big Ten champs. 

And that was just the appetizer for what’s on tap Friday night.

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

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) vs. No. 4 BUTLER, 7:09 p.m. (CBS): As weird as it sounds for a team that finished second in the Big East, that swept Villanova and that has a combined three wins over Arizona and Xavier, Butler is basically back to being a mid-major in the South Region. That’s what happens when you get stuck in a region with three of the biggest brands in the sport.

And don’t think, for a second, that Butler is going to be overmatched here. They’ve proven, time and again this season, that they are good enough to play with the best of the best even if their roster, on paper, doesn’t look that way.

But here’s the thing about North Carolina: If they play their best basketball game, they should be able to run through the Bulldogs. That’s a big ‘if’, however, especially if Joel Berry II plays the way that he has played in the first two games of the tournament. North Carolina goes as Berry goes, and he’s 3-for-21 from the floor in those two games.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (-7.5)

No. 3 BAYLOR (-3.5) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:29 p.m., (TBS): Baylor’s front line is massive. Johnathan Motley is an all-american in the middle, Jo Lual-Acuil was one of the nation’s most improved players this season there’s an argument to be made that Terry Maston has been the most important player for the Bears in this tournament. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, and they play to it. The Bears want to play slow and they want to pound the ball into the paint.

Where Baylor struggles, however, is with their guard play. Manu Lecomte and Jake Lindsey are not exactly Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, and if we’ve learned anything about South Carolina this season, it’s that their defense can be a nightmare for opponents to try and run offense against. They don’t pressure in the full court, but their half court defense is just as tough and as physical and as frustrating as West Virginia’s. I think the first one to 60 wins this game, and I think South Carolina gets it done.

PREDICTION: South Carolina (+3.5)

No. 2 KENTUCKY (even) vs. No. 3 UCLA, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): Does it get any better than this?

Do you really need me to tell you that a matchup between two of the four best teams in college basketball, two teams that can legitimately win a national title, playing in the Sweet 16 is must-see TV?

You shouldn’t.

You probably know all the storylines by now, too, so I’m going to say this: I think this game comes down to how UCLA decides to matchup with Kentucky’s guards. My best guess at what happens is that Aaron Holiday chases Malik Monk around all those screens while Lonzo Ball draws De’Aaron Fox, mostly to save his legs but in part because he has the length to challenge a jump shot while playing far enough off to keep his from getting into the lane.

PREDICTION: I think Kentucky wins, but I love the over (165.5)

No. 4 FLORIDA (-1.5) vs. No. 8 WISCONSIN, 9:59 p.m. (TBS): Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They have length and athletes everywhere on the floor, and head coach Mike White knows it. They pressure, they overplay passing lanes and they make life miserable for opposing playmakers. Wisconsin, like Baylor, is a team that plays through their bigs, but unlike Baylor, a post-up for Nigel Hayes or Ethan Happ is like their point guard getting an isolation. Both guys are just such great passers out of the post that Greg Gard doesn’t have to worry as much about the lack of playmakers in his back court.

I think that is a huge advantage for Wisconsin in what could otherwise be thought of as a bad matchup.

But more than anything, I trust Wisconsin’s vets more in NCAA tournament games than just about anyone else. This is going to be the 17th NCAA tournament game for Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, the most of anyone in the tournament. They’ve both played in two Final Fours and two more Sweet 16s. Hayes and Koenig are the two career leaders in NCAA tournament scoring, and Koenig may be the single-most clutch shooter left in the tournament. I’ll bet on that.

PREDICTION: Wisconsin (+1.5)

No. 11 Xavier advances to the Elite 8 with upset win over No. 2 Arizona

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Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Malcolm Bernard scored all 15 of his points in the second half and No. 11 seed Xavier, despite being down eight points with less than four minutes left in the game, rallied to beat No. 2 seed Arizona, 73-71, to advance to the Elite 8.

Arizona is going to regret that loss. As good as Allonzo Trier was in building that eight-point lead — he finished with 19 points, including a run where he scored 15 straight points — he went into full hero-ball mode in the final minutes, a stretch where Arizona’s point guard issues came into plain view. I’m sure that there are going to be Arizona fans that are upset with Sean Miller about the way that the final four minutes played out, but remember: this Arizona team lost Ray Smith, Terrence Ferguson and were without Allonzo Trier for the first 19 games of the season, and Miller still led them to a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and the Pac-12 tournament title.

He’s an incredible coach.

Arizona is lucky to have him.

He’ll breakthrough eventually.

But the story of this game isn’t Arizona or Sean Miller, it’s Chris Mack. It’s Xavier.

The Musketeers have now won three games in the NCAA tournament. As of March 9th, the Musketeers had won three games in the previous five weeks — all three of which came against DePaul — and were heading into a game against Butler in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament with, quite literally, their NCAA tournament bid on the line. They were very much on the bubble, evidence being the No. 11 seed they earned after adding a top 15 win to their résumé.

The Musketeers have been without Edmond Sumner (torn ACL) since the end of January and without Myles Davis (left the team) since the beginning of January. They were two of the three most important players on the Xavier roster heading into the season, and as of today, head coach Chris Mack is fielding a name whose only point guard is a four-star freshman named Quentin Goodin.

They shouldn’t be here.

They shouldn’t be one game away from the Final Four, but this is what Mack does. He’s been a head coach for eight seasons, all of which have come at Baylor. This was his fourth Sweet 16, and the only time he actually entered the tournameht seeded higher than a No. 6 was last year, when the Musketeers were beaten in the second round by a Bronson Koenig buzzer-beater.

One thing that I’ve never really understood about coaching searches is why Mack’s name never gets mentioned with the likes of Dayton’s Archie Miller and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. Those are the two coaches outside the Power 5 leagues that get mentioned with every single quality opening. “Take a shot at Marshall and Miller, see if they’ll say yes, then move on.” Mack always ends up next on those lists, and I’ve never really understood why.

Part of it is probably because he’s already at a program that is in a high-major league. Part of it is because he’s a Xavier guy — he played there, spent eight seasons there during two stints as an assistant and is an Ohio native. Part of it is because Xavier is already a really good job.

But it does seem like Mack gets overlooked in all of these searches.

Take Indiana, for example.

Steve Alford is the first name everyone mentions with that job. Then it’s Miller and Marshall. If I’m Indiana’s AD, however, Mack is the guy that I go after, and not just because he’s proven that he can go into Indiana and recruit.

He’s just a flat-out terrific coach.

And if this run on top of his other three runs to the second weekend didn’t prove it to you, then the play that resulted in the eventual game-winning points should. It was simple, really, but it certainly was not something you see done in the college ranks all that often. With 50 seconds left and the game tied, Mack had his guys roll the ball up the floor and then used Bluiett, who is scorching the nets in this tournament, as a decoy, running him off of a screen to set up a duck-in for Sean O’Mara:

Not only was the play that Mack drew up beautiful, it took all of six seconds, which meant that Xavier had the lead and was guaranteed to have a shot to get the ball back to win the game regardless of what Arizona did at the other end of the floor.

That is great coaching.

And it’s past time for us to recognize that Mack belongs in the conversation among the best in the business.

No. 1 Kansas dominates No. 4 Purdue in style

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Kansas, the top-seeded team in Midwest region, didn’t just beat No. 4 Purdue, it did so in style. Fast break after fast break, 3-pointer after 3-pointer, dunk after dunk, the Jayhawks ran the Boilermakers off the floor, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 98-66 win on Thursday night in Kansas City.

It followed a familiar script as KU’s 90-70 win over No. 9 seed Michigan State in the second round. Only this time, the climax occurred sooner. Kansas was up 61-54 when Caleb Swaingan checked back into the game, playing alongside fellow Monstar Isaac Haas. Instead of Purdue’s size — the big advantage it had over Kansas — taking control, the only thing that grew was the deficit for the Boilermakers. Kansas went on an 11-0 run beginning at the 14:30 mark. By the time Haas was subbed out, the Jayhawks led 69-56. It never got closer.

Lagerald Vick threw down a 360 dunk … and the Jayhawks hadn’t even begun to pour it on yet. Now, that’s a team that’s playing with confidence.

Kansas shot 66 percent from the field in the second half and connected on 7-of-15 made 3-pointers on the evening. Purdue’s last lead was 35-33 with 4:54 remaining in the second half. That means the Jayhawks outscored the Boilermakers 65-31 for the remainder of the game.

For all that was made of Kansas matchup issues with Purdue, the Boilermakers never solved the matchup problems the Jayhawks presented. While Laden Lucas and the rest of the defense found ways to frustrate Caleb Swanigan (18 points, seven rebounds and five turnovers) and somehow, outrebounded the Boilermakers, Purdue never found a solution for penetration or 3-point shooting from KU’s stable of guards.

“Those guys, especially Caleb on the glass it’s hard to keep ’em off,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “If you look at Landen’s stats he only got four rebounds, but the story is Caleb only got seven. And if you had told this before the game that would be the give and take I would have sold out for that because he does a really good job of making sure neither one of them got it for the most part.”

Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham each had 26 points. Mason added seven rebounds and seven assists. Josh Jackson had a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk each recorded double figures too. Lucas’ play has improved as the season’s progressed. They aren’t just putting teams away in this tournament, they’re doing it in style. And it couldn’t be happening at the right time.

They know how win close games, but through three NCAA Tournament games so far, the Jayhawks aren’t willing to take any chances. They’ve elected to not just put teams away, they’ve decided to do so in style.

Kansas advances to play No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday in the Elite Eight.

WATCH: LaGerald Vick’s 360 dunk

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It takes a lot of confidence to throw down a dunk better suited for pre-game lay-up lines than the middle of a NCAA Tournament game.

But Kansas sophomore guard LaGerald Vick thought this breakaway opportunity in the second half of a Sweet 16 matchup against No. 4 seed Purdue was the perfect time to throw down a 360 dunk.