Pregame Shootaround 2.26.13: Three ranked teams on the road

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Game of the Night: No. 19 Memphis at Xavier (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Xavier is in a tough situation here. They desperately need to pick up this win if they are going to have any chance of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid, especially after blowing a 17 point second half lead against VCU on Saturday.

The problem, however, is that Memphis isn’t exactly safe as an at-large bid, either. Yes, they have a 24-3 record and have won a billion games in a row, but look at who they’ve beaten this season: Southern Miss and … Southern Miss again. Tennessee is the only other team the Tigers have beaten that sits in the top 70, although feasting on the likes of Ohio, Harvard, and East Carolina has netted them a grand total of nine top 100 wins.

A couple of losses down the stretch could hurt the Tigers. Given that it’s been a while since Memphis has been on national TV, this is an opportunity that the Tigers need to capitalize on. Like it or not, there is always going to be an “eye test” influence, a human element, in tournament selections. Make a statement, feel a bit more comfortable with were you’ll end up being seeded.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 1 Indiana at Minnesota (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Minnesota is reeling. They lost two in a row last week (both games by more than 20), four of their last five and eight of their last 11. All of a sudden, this looks like a team that may be playing their way off the bubble. Tubby Smith’s job is in jeopardy. It’s difficult to stress just how important this game is for the Gophers. They won’t have another shot at a marquee win. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that their season is on the line tonight.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Towson at George Mason (7:00 p.m. ET, CSN)

This should be a fun game in Fairfax tonight, as the Tigers and the Patriots are two of the more talented teams in the CAA. Towson is tied for second with Delaware, sitting a game in front of GMU in the CAA standings.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Alabama lost in triple-overtime to LSU on Saturday, which was yet another in a string of bad losses for the Crimson Tide this season. Combine that with a really week league schedule, and Anthony Grant’s club is in a ways from being in the NCAA tournament. Losing to in-state rival Auburn tonight could kill those hopes. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

2) Valpo currently holds a one game lead on Detroit in the Horizon League standings with just two games left to play. The Crusaders can clinch a share of the league title tonight against Youngstown State.

3) Tennessee has slowly but surely started to gain some momentum late in the year, winning their last five games. They have a lot of work to do to get into the conversation for an at-large bid, but knocking off No. 8 Florida at home would be a good start. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

4) No. 17 Wisconsin hosts Nebraska. There may not be 80 points total scored in this one. Be sure to check the box score tomorrow. (9:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

5) Wake Forest scored a huge upset on Saturday as they knocked off No. 3 Miami in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons have been good at home this year. Can they pull off a road win against Florida State? A strong finish to the season may be what it takes to save Jeff Bzdelik’s job. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Top 25

  • No. 1 Indiana at Minnesota (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 8 Florida at Tennessee (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • Nebraska at No. 17 Wisconsin (9:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
  • No. 19 Memphis at Xavier (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

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.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

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.