Team of the Week: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Team of the Week: Minnesota

It’s crazy to think about, but Minnesota’s season may have been saved by six minutes of basketball from Trevor Mbakwe. He came out and set the tone against Indiana on Tuesday, knocking the Hoosiers — and, more importantly, Cody Zeller — back on their heels as Minnesota, for the first time in almost two months, looked like they were playing a confident brand of basketball.

And, in the end, that’s what the issue was for the Gophers. We knew that this team wasn’t going to win games based on talent alone. They don’t have a true point guard, they don’t have all that many shooters and they don’t have a great low-post scorer. What they do have, however, are a team full of players with size, athleticism and toughness. They’re at their best when they’re defending and crashing the offensive glass. Effort, hustle and determination are how the Gophers succeed, and they finally got back to those winning ways this week.

They have their senior center to thank for that.

Team deserving of a shoutout:

Creighton: Not only did the Bluejays go 2-0 this week and avoid the indignity of falling from the top 15 nationally to the bubble, but in the process they not only beat an in-conference rival in Wichita State, but they did so in the MVC regular season title game. Both the Shockers and the Bluejays were tied for the league lead entering the final game of the regular season, and Creighton won in dominating fashion. Think about this: They shot 33-47 from the field (70.2%), 11-21 from three (52.1%), 22-26 from inside the arc (84.6%) and 14-16 from the line (87.5%), which was why they were able to post 1.38 PPP.

VCU: What VCU did to Butler wasn’t exactly a surprise, as the Rams were playing at home against a team that was mildly overrated and at a complete disadvantage given how the two teams matched up. But that doesn’t change the fact that pasting the No. 20 Bulldogs 82-54 was about as impressive as wins get.

Louisville: The Cardinals picked up a big win on Saturday, as they went into the Carrier Dome and knocked off No. 12 Syracuse. The Cardinals have now won five straight games and eight of their last nine, but this was the first impressive win that Rick Pitino’s club has notched in a month. Hard to believe I’m typing this, but it feels like Louisville is a bit of a sleeper heading into the NCAA tournament.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles are still sitting there at the top of the Big East, tied with Louisville for second place in the conference, one game behind Georgetown, thanks to wins this week over Syracuse and Notre Dame. And, unlike a lot of other teams this week, their success wasn’t the result of a single virtuoso performance by one player; Marquette is as balanced as any team in the country this season.

Boise State: The Broncos have put themselves into great position to get into the NCAA tournament thanks to 38 points from Derrick Marks in a win over Colorado State on Saturday. with a trip to UNLV and a home game against San Diego State left before the MWC tournament, Boise State doesn’t have many chances left to make a major mistake before Selection Sunday.

UCLA: Believe it or not, UCLA is currently tied for the Pac-12 lead with a trip to the Washington schools standing between them and a share of the league title. Who saw that coming back in November, when the Bruins were hemorrhaging transfers, losing to Cal Poly and hearing on a daily basis about how Ben Howland was on the verge of being fired? This week, they beat Arizona State and Arizona in Pauley Pavilion.

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: